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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 28, Part One

The Super-Tuscans, Our Finest and New World Picks
by David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES November 28 release offers a once-a-year opportunity to buy all the major super-Tuscans in one fell swoop. And indeed they will be swooped. In most other places you could find them any time of year, but the system here forces them out through a window that can be only open for a matter of hours. I won’t rag on about that. Buyers of these very collectible wines already know that supplies are limited and the appetite is huge.

I thought it might be useful however to provide brief background on the super-Tuscans, and to compare the current offerings, to help you decide which ones to buy. I very conveniently had an opportunity to taste them shoulder to shoulder earlier this month. For starters all scored 90 points or better in my books – so yes they are excellent wines. But all sell for more than $100, with a couple nudging $200 and one at $250. One bottle of each will cost you $865! I have not scored any at 95 or better, which is where I think they should be at these prices. So if you are value shopping you might want to skip down to the other New World wines being recommended this week.

The original, core Super-Tuscans – the royal family – are Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Solaia, Luce and arguably Guado Al Tasso, that came along later. (I would add San Felice’s Vigorello to the list but it is not in the Nov 28 tranche). They were all hatched in Tuscany in the heyday of the New World expansionism – post 1976 Judgement of Paris when California wine’s bold, fruit forward style began seeping into European consciousness. The innovative Antinori and Frescobaldi clans of Florence said – ‘we can do that’. They planted cabernet and merlot in the Chianti hills, and especially along the warmer coast near Bolgheri. They practiced safe winemaking, coddled the wines in French barriques, established high prices and voila – they were a hit, first with news-hungry journalists, then with collectors.

But because they didn’t adhere to local DOC appellation regulations the new wines were only labeled as ‘vino da tavola’, the lowliest classification. It is still debated who coined the term super-Tuscan, but it was Wine Spectator magazine that at least made the name known worldwide. It stuck because it is such an apt name, still enduring 30 years later. And the word super has now been adopted by every Italian producer making non-DOC wines. There are about a billion of them by now. Super this, super- that.  Some not so super-duper at all.

My general sense of those being offered by VINTAGES on the 28th is that they are quite ripe (the summer of 2012 was hot), fairly supple, subtle, layered and refined – all good things. And they are very modern, with only Sassicaia leaning to a more traditional ambiance. I pinpoint my lack of 95-point enthusiasm more around lack of depth and length; and lack of wow factor. They are tidy, pristine and polished, but they are not world beaters; they are not magical or individual. This may be related to youthful reticence, and perhaps the hot summer has depreciated their acidity and nerve.

So here is my take on this royal family. Sassicaia is the leaner, age-worthy still very Euro cabernet, king of the empire, thin and wiry and ruling with a tight fist, but a recluse. Ornellaia, is the queen, a merlot based seductress with beguiling subtlety and depth of character. Luce, in this vintage at least, is the brute elder heir to the throne, muscular, a bit volatile and overripe – perhaps fearful of losing its rights to Guado al Tasso, the dashing yet substantial prince from the coast (and best buy of the bunch). And then there is Solaia, which in this vintage, for some reason, comes across like the court jester – notably sweet and engaging but lacking substance. Which is odd given it is the most expensive.

Here are recommended wines from the WineAlign court of opinion, not only on super-Tuscans and other wines from VINTAGES Our Finest selection, but from the New World offerings as well. Next week John leads off with Old World picks.

Super Tuscans

Ornellaia 2012, DOC Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy ($195.95)

John Szabo – In a side by side tasting of a half-dozen of the top 2012 super Tuscans, Ornellaia (and Sassicaia) came out measurably ahead of the pack. It was a warm and dry vintage with cool nights and a timely splash of rain towards harvest that shepherded grapes through to full and even ripening. The result is a marvellously composed, generous but balanced and seamlessly integrated edition of Ornellaia, bringing together a compelling mix or perfectly ripened fruits, integrated and subtle barrel spice, and slowly emerging earthy and savoury notes. The palate is pitch perfect, well structured, with fine-grained tannins and lively, vibrant acids building around a core of succulent fruit. Exceptional length. It’s not hard to see why this wine was nicknamed “L’Incanto” (The Enchantment) at the estate. Best after 2020, or hold until the late 2030s.

Sassicaia 2012 DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, Tuscany, Italy ($199.95)

Antinori Guado Al Tasso 2012 Sassicaia 2012 Ornellaia 2012John Szabo – The 2012 Sassicaia is surely one of the wines of the vintage in Tuscany, and one of the most impressive from the estate in the last decade. As usual, it delivers the most old world, Italianate expression amongst the elite of the 2012 super Tuscans, focused more on structure and finesse than sheer concentration. It’s very firm at the moment, offering fine detail and remarkable freshness, but still years away from full unravelling. Yet already an impressive mix of red and black fruit, fresh and lightly dried, and subtle barrel spice and dusty, savoury Tuscan character are revealed, boding very well for future development. Best 2020-2035+.
Sara d’Amato – There is a great purity to this Sassicaia, rustic would be too gruff but there is certainly an authentic beauty to this marvellously expressive wine. A classic incarnation of this Bordelaise blend with distinct Tuscan charm.

Antinori 2012 Guado Al Tasso,  Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany ($104.95)

David Lawrason – With the first vintage in 1990, Guado is the late comer to the Antinori super-Tuscan family, from an estate that rises from the sea coast into calcareous hills. It is a gorgeous, vibrant and refined, cabernet-merlot-franc-petit verdot blend with a fine sense integration. Best 2020 to 2030+. Best value among the super-Tuscans in my books.

Others from VINTAGES’ Our Finest

Barossa Valley Estate 2008 E&E Black Pepper Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($89.95)

David Lawrason – I am already quoted in VINTAGES magazine from a release of this wine last year, so I won’t go into full descriptive mode here. But an image came to mind as I tasted it – of a dusty black steam engine dragging a slow freight train across a weathered plain on rails of iron and graphite, spewing smoke and sparks as it goes. My top score of the Our Finest Collection.
Sara d’Amato – E&E’s small production has a cult following and for good reason. This classic, old vines Barossa shiraz is impactful, edgy and exotically spiced offering a complex, lengthy finish. Due to impressive structure and filling, you can happily tuck this one away for 5-10 years.

Catena Alta 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Historic Rows, Mendoza, Argentina  ($46.95)

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012 Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Barossa Valley Estate 2008 E&E Black Pepper ShirazSara d’Amato – Catena Alta’s limited production is sourced from top parcels at various elevations throughout Catena’s estate vineyards. High elevation cabernet sauvignon has a distinctly unique expression with a wild aromatic profile of violets, currants, sandalwood and pepper. A seriously sophisticated and structured offering with surprising approachability.
David Lawrason – This “Historic Rows” is from two older vines sites in the Agrelo heartland of Mendoza. It is deeply coloured with a lovely nose of ripe mulberry, sage, fine oak spice and vanilla. There is sophistication as well as generosity. The focus and length are excellent. Will age 20 years.

Joseph Phelps 2012 Insignia, Napa Valley, California($299.95)

David Lawrason – Here is a beautifully honed wine that showcases all kinds of sophistication through the winemaking, but doesn’t lose the lion-heartedness of cabernet sauvignon. Great aromatics here. It’s dense, continuous and deep. The length is outstanding.

Chateau Montelena 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga, Napa Valley, California  ($187.95)

John Szabo – Although roundly panned in the press, 2011 is proving to be one of my favourite vintages in the Napa Valley, forcing many winemakers into a generally fresher, firmer more balanced style. Not that Montelena needed a push in that direction; the estate has steadfastly produced wines of genuine finesse, complexity and elegance for decades in an unwavering style. The 2011 flagship estate cabernet is outstanding, a beautiful, lifted, fragrant and complex, marvellously savoury and vibrant vintage, with crackling red and black fruit, fully integrated wood, terrifically elegant tannins and exceptional length. This is all class and finesse. Best 2020-2035+.

Ridge 2013 Geyserville, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California  ($62.95)

Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2007 Ridge Geyserville 2013 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011John Szabo – 2013 yielded a terrific Geyserville from Ridge, with pitch-perfect balance, elegance and lingering finish. There are few wines that can carry 14.7% alcohol with so much grace and elegance; wood is not a flavour feature, but rather this is all about the wild and savage fruit flavours, and the California garrigue (resinous herbs). Best 2015-2028.

Quintarelli 2007 Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($104.95)

Sara d’Amato – Quintarelli is not exactly known for value but if you want to know what all the fuss is about for a relatively moderate price (in Quintarelli terms), then here is your chance. This is certainly no ordinary, basic Valpolicella, however, offering a perfectly matured, highly pleasurable experience. Its mid-weight frame belies its power and complexity. A sleek, harmonious and exceptional bottle of wine

Shafer 2013 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay, Napa Valley/Carneros, California ($76.95)

David Lawrason – This grand, opulent and silky chardonnay is not afraid to be California. The nose is quite spectacular – so tropical it’s almost as if some viognier is involved. Quite full bodied to be sure (14.9%) with some heat on the finish, and wood tannin as well, yet it has poise and depth within its large footprint.

Kistler 2013 Les Noisetiers Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($99.95)

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2012 Kistler Les Noisetiers Chardonnay 2013 Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 2013John Szabo – Steve Kistler has focused exclusively on mostly single vineyard pinot noir and chardonnay since 1978, and his mastery of, and consistency with these grapes is by now beyond question. Les Noisetiers is a Sonoma Coast blend of mainly Vine Hill, Dutton Ranch and Trenton Roadhouse vineyards, all planted on the region’s coveted marine sedimentary Goldridge soil. In 2013 the results are superb: creamy, ripe but still fresh, a complete wine with balance and concentration, complexity and intensity. Comfortably in the premium category. Best 2015-2023

Cloudy Bay 2102 Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand ($35.95)

David Lawrason – This an elegant, tart edged, cooler vintage chardonnay from Marlborough with a sense of tartness and austerity Shows lovely, almost satiny texture spread thin over sour, lemony acidity. Burgundian to be sure.

Other New World Whites

Josef Chromy Pepik Sekt, Tasmania, Australia ($26.95)

Sara d’Amato – A dry, refreshing and elegant traditional method sparkling riesling from Joseph Chromy, a venerable personality in Tasmanian wine who spent his life investing in and developing its wine producing landscape before opening Josef Chromy Wines at the age of 76. Try with shrimp tempura.
John Szabo – Leading Tasmanian producer Joseph Chromy, nicknamed Pepik, delivers here a fine, fresh and apple –flavoured, riesling-based sparkling wine in the traditional method, with 12 months on the lees adding just a touch of toasty-biscuity character. This would make a fine Sunday morning Brunch wine, not overly complex but refreshing and enlivening.

Spy Valley 2013 Envoy Sauvignon Blanc, Waihopai Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand ($29.95)

John Szabo – Spy Valley’s premium Envoy range is a considerable step up from the ‘regular’ range. Sauvignon Blanc from the gravelly Johnson Vineyard, Spy Valley’s oldest vines, is barrel fermented and aged on lees for a year before bottling, though wood is barely detectable. It has lovely wild yeasty aromatics with pungent green herbs and dense citrus-pear-pineapple flavours in palate arresting concentration and complexity. Fans of distinctive wines will revel in this.

Josef Chromy Pepik Sekt Spy Valley Envoy Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Tomich Woodside Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Delheim Family Chenin Blanc 2014

Tomich 2014 Woodside Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, ($16.95) (430660)
Sara d’Amato – Master of Wine John Tomich along with his son Randal are an innovative team creating new viticultural practices for cool climate growing regions such as their own Adelaide Hills site. Although there is no shortage of sauvignon blanc on the shelves of VINTAGES, here is one that stands out from the rest. Refined and elegant without overt grassiness or underripe vegetal undertones, it is lively and refreshing with notes of birch bark, lemongrass and quince.

Delheim 2014 Family Chenin Blanc 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95) (429720)
Sara d’Amato – Delheim is a consistent, value-oriented producer who has knack for chenin blanc. This lush and opulent example is sure to quell your craving for anything-but-chardonnay.

Other New World Reds

Lapostolle 2012 Canto de Apalta, Rapel Valley, Chile ($19.95)

John Szabo – Canto is the recently created second wine from Lapostolle’s excellent Apalta Estate in the heart of the Colchagua Valley, which, like the grand vin, is a carmenere-led blend, with merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah.  Wood, fruit concentration, acids and tannic structure are sensibly doled out in balanced measure, giving this high drinkability and an appealing, savoury-gritty edge. Best 2017-2022.

Clos De Los Siete 2012, Uco Valley, Mendoza ($23.95)

David Lawrason – This is one wine sourced from four French owned properties that have formed a foreign legion-like enclave at the base of the Andes in the Vista Flores sub-region of the Uco Valley. This a full bodied, warm, dense and powerful yet also vibrant malbec-based blend. Better than the 2011.

Stags’ Leap Winery 2012 Petite Sirah, Napa Valley, California ($39.95)

John Szabo – A perennial favourite of mine from Stags’ Leap, this savage and savoury petite sirah offers a fine mix of earth, resinous herbs and dark fruit character, and firm and burly tannins, but there’s more than ample fruit to ensure proper integration in time. Best 2017-2025.

Lapostolle Canto De Apalta 2012 Clos De Los Siete 2012 Stags' Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2012 Perez Cruz Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Dos 2 Estacas Reserva Malbec 2012 Montes Alpha Malbec 2012

Perez Cruz Limited 2012 Edition Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Alta, Chile ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is estate grown from selected higher altitude vineyard blocks. It rings of a cooler climate cabernet with medium weight and lifted, slightly herbal aromas of roasted red pepper, cassis and chocolate mint.

Dos 2 Estacas 2012 Reserva Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – Offering great value, this soft, seamless and compelling malbec has been only mildly oaked and offers impressive aromatics. The cooler, high elevation climate of the Uco Valley contributes the lively notes of pepper and violets on the nose and palate.

Montes Alpha 2012 Malbec, Colchagua Valley, Chile  ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is a shiny, vibrant and quite juicy young Malbec – with a typically slender Chilean feel as opposed to the chunkier malbecs form over the Andes in Mendoza.  Very nicely balanced and intense.

And that is a wrap for this edition. Tune in next week for a continued look at this huge release.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES November 28th, 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!

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 14, Part Two

Super-Sized and the Best of the New World
by Sara d’Amato, with notes from John Szabo MS

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Whether you saw it coming or not, the holiday entertaining season is upon us and with this comes some pretty fierce marketing directed at you, consumer. The LCBO and VINTAGES is now committed to convincing us to purchase premium products, and in this release, large format bottles are pushed. VINTAGES is featuring a “simple solution for elegant holiday entertaining: Ten favourite high quality wines in large format bottles.”

Given that the cost of a magnum is often significantly more than double the price of the same standard format 750 ml bottle, is it worth it? To answer that question, it is worth considering what is in the bottle and your intentions for its uses. For those of you, like most, who don’t have a great deal of experience with larger formats, our interaction is usually in the form of imposing bottles at the entrance of restaurants, aiming to impress. Their novelty factor makes us look but the fear of a hefty price tag makes most of us stay away.

It is an indisputable fact that large format bottles make a show-stopping impression. Open a large bottle at any dinner party and it is sure to make for a memorable evening. That dazzle alone is worth an extra buck or two, no? But is the industry just pulling the wool over your eyes or should premiums for large formats not sway your investment?

To answer the question of why they cost so much I spoke with Marlize Beyers at Hidden Bench winery in Niagara who has a good breadth of experience with bottling both magnums (1.5 L) and 3 L bottles (sometimes called Jeroboams, or more prosaically, double magnums). She says: “First, we only consider wines that are age-worthy to go to large format, usually single vineyard pinots and chardonnays from outstanding, cooler vintages. We do not release these wines for at least 2 years after bottling, so there is a storage cost involved, they take up a lot of room.” In addition, the packaging material is significantly costlier, for example, glass for magnums are 4.2x more expensive than a standard glass bottle, corks to match the wider diameter are 9.7x more and labels are 16.8x more expensive due to unique size and small runs.

Because the large format bottles are too large to fit onto a regular bottling line, Beyers needs a week or more to transfer the wine (for just over 500 bottles) to kegs after which they are filled by hand. Everything must be done manually in a smaller scale winery. “To conclude,” says Beyers, “it takes tremendous‎ time, effort, dedication, labour and detail to bring these to fruit and that is why they are worth more.” And although the costs for large format bottling are less for a commercial-scale winery, they are still significant.

But does it taste better and does it last longer? The prevailing opinion is that magnums age more slowly and perhaps result in a greater degree of harmony in the long-term than do smaller formats. The physical explanation for this is that the amount of space between the level of wine in the bottle and the bottom of the cork, known as the ullage, is roughly the same in various size bottles but the volume of wine is significantly different. Therefore, more oxidation would occur in smaller formats than in larger formats. More oxidation leads to more rapid ageing. However, whether such a small amount of oxidation makes a difference is inconclusive. In addition, often times the neck opening is slightly larger in a large format bottle so the difference in oxygen contact may not be that significant. Slower oxidation through the cork may also have an impact, but currently this is more of a hypothesis than a conclusively proven fact. Certainly, experiential and anecdotal evidence seems to point in the direction of slower ageing of large formats and if true, then the bottles clearly have more value in the long term.

The Finest BubbleInterestingly, all is different with Champagne bottles. We have more than anecdotal evidence and more science to demonstrate the intrinsic value of these wines in large formats. There seem to be significant differences in the flavour profile and in the way a Champagne magnum ages that is unlike any still wine bottling. The reason why has to do with a couple of key factors: carbon dioxide and autolysis. If you have ever used a gas preservation system like “Private Preserve” to keep your unfinished bottle of wine fresh, you’ll find that your wine will get a day or two of extra life. The spray is made up of carbon dioxide and nitrogen mix that settles on the surface of the wine preventing its exposure to oxygen. The same principle applies in Champagne where the natural carbonation will help preserve the wine from oxidation, slowing its development. Slower oxidation plus the high level of acidity characteristic to Champagne gives it a longer life in any format. Therefore, Champagne makes an ideal, age worthy addition to a collector’s cellar.

There is yet another factor that sets magnums apart. A degradation of yeast cells into “lees” – known as autolysis – also takes place differently in a large format bottle of Champagne. The explanation given by Nick Baker’s The Finest Bubble, a successful UK-based merchant of Champagne, is that the process “can take up to four weeks longer, but magnums also have proportionally more glass surface than [standard format] bottles, allowing more contact between the lees on the inside of the bottle and the wine. This results in magnums displaying much more roundness as the wine ages and crucially, much more complexity.” In short, a magnum of Champagne has a more extensive lees ageing process in a large format bottle resulting in a more complex wine.

A final factor in the value of a magnum is rarity. Like anything that is rare or scarce, a higher value will be attached to it. A winery may only choose to bottle in large formats in special vintages or for special clients but the runs in almost all cases are limited. A special bottling of your favorite wine may then be of interest to seek out from a collector’s standpoint just like that rare, signed baseball card.

As far as I’m concerned, the worth of a magnum is dependent on what is in the bottle. A large run of a large format by a large producer has very little intrinsic value – you will get wow factor for the bottle, but essentially the same product inside as two standard bottles. If the awesomeness of a large format is what you seek and can’t spend the big bucks, then the acquisition may just be worth a small additional cost. A large format bottling of Champagne, however, seems to be inherently different than standard formats and have value beyond the cost of their production. Thus, they may very well be worth the investment. If you collect, than a rare, large format bottling of your favourite wine is also worthy of your attention. As Marlize Beyers of Hidden Bench highlights, what makes it into these magnums are special wines, often from exceptional vintages that are naturally more age worthy. These large formats are a labour of love for small to mid-sized producers and they can make a very special part of your collection.

In any case, if you find yourself in possession of a magnum, be aware that they come with special needs. Some tips – chilling a white or sparkling wine must be irksomely done outside of the confines of a fridge, in icy water. Use two hands when pouring or decant into two standard size decanters. If you do not have room in your cellar for large formats and thus store them upright, make sure that are they regularly placed on their sides, propped securely, so that the cork stays fresh and moist.

Here are our top picks from this mini release of magnums. Unfortunately there are no whites or sparkling wines in this offering but there is a range of both affordable and collector-worthy bottles. We also offer recommendations on the new world portion of the VINTAGES release. Check last week’s recommendations to find the best of the old world.

Buyers Guide For November 14th: Large Formats

Masi 2009 Riserva Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva, DOC, Veneto, Italy ($149.95, 1500mL)

John Szabo – This is precisely the sort of wine you want to have in magnum, one that will age for a very long time indeed. It’s still another 4-6 years away from prime enjoyment I’d suspect, but already shows terrifically richness, balance, and complexity. Masi is one of the undisputed masters of the appassimento genre. Best 2019-2036++.
Sara d’Amato – The quality of this Masi offering is no surprise as this top producer of Amarone is a consistent overachiever. The wine offers great poise and depth of flavour as well as the structural framework that will allow for masterful evolution over the next 5-10 years.

Domaine Du Vieux Lazaret 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone, France ($84.95, 1500 mL)

Sara d’Amato – With a traditional feel, this wonderfully complex, fleshy and slightly lactic southern Rhone blend offers a great deal of bang for your buck. A deal at less than twice the price of a standard format bottle.

Masi Riserva Costasera Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 2009 Domaine Du Vieux Lazaret 2012 Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012 Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Santa Carolina 2008 Reserva de Familia Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley Chile ($37.95)

John Szabo – Here’s the best value going in this magnum feature, a nicely mature, savoury, herbal, earthy and balanced cabernet from Santa Carolina, hitting full stride now. Best 2015-2023.
Sara d’Amato – This well-priced magnum is ready to impress and perhaps the best value in this release. There is nothing pretentious about this approachable and gently matured cabernet from Santa Carolina.

Robert Mondavi 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, USA ($70.95)

John Szabo – An excellent value in the rarefied world of Napa cabernet, Mondavi’s 2013 finds a comfortable balance between well-measured fruit and wood, and savoury-earthy components. Tannins are still grippy and angular, in need of another 3-5 years to smoothen out, but this hits all of the right measures in an elegantly styled cabernet. Best 2018-2033.
Sara d’Amato – A solid, dry and age worthy example of Napa cabernet with a tannic firmness that requires three or more years to resolve. A splendid addition to your cellar at a fair price.

Buyers Guide For November 14th: New World White & Red

Jost Vineyards 2014 Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – Although there are some great Canadian finds in this release, I am particularly enthusiastic about this bright, cheerful and playful blend from a pioneer wine producer of the east coast. If offers elegant notes of mineral and white peach along with a hint of effervescence that adds to its refreshing character.

Bachelder 2012 Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula Canada ($44.95)

John Szabo – This is one of the more refined and fine-grained, sinewy and linear chardonnays in the excellent Bachelder range, with gentle lees influence and salty finish. It’s showing nicely at the moment, but one of the intriguing features of Bachelder’s wines is their ever-changing character, revealing new facets with each bottle. It’s a wine to buy several bottles of to track its fascinating evolution. Best 2015-2022.

Jost Vineyards Tidal Bay 2014 Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 Stratus White 2012 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013

Stratus 2012 White, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake Canada ($44.20)

John Szabo – The 2012 is one of the finest Stratus white blends to date, densely woven, creamy, honeyed, very far from the Ontario white wine paradigm and much more at home in some old world, warm climate region (southern Rhône white?). I really appreciate the depth and the extract, almost thick but not heavy. I’d like to see this again in another year or two when the masses of dried fruit will have subsumed and integrated with the non-fruit flavour. This should age well. Best 2017-2024.

Flowers 2013 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, USA ($64.95)

John Szabo – Flowers remains a leader in the Sonoma Coast AVA, on the second ridge in from the Pacific in a decidedly cool slice of California. The natural vocation thus is to produce wines (chardonnay and pinot) of terrific precision and tension. This 2013 represents nicely: pure, fragrant and floral, gently reductive, succulent and savoury, salty and tight, but also generous and mouth filling, achieving a fine power-finesse balance. Best 2015-2023.

Rustenberg 2010 Buzzard Kloof Syrah, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – The Buzzard Kloof vineyard is located on one of the coolest sites of Rusternberg’s estate and produces a unique, peppery syrah that is terrifically compelling. The site is named after the Jackal and Steppe Buzzards that circle the thermal currents which rise above the ravine (kloof) adjacent to the vineyard.

Grand Vin de Glenelly 2009 Red, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95)

John Szabo – Bordelaise doyenne May-Éliane de Lencquesaing (of Pichon Lalande) is behind the Glenelly Estate in Stellenbosch, so the class, balance and composure of this shiraz + Bordeaux varieties blend is no surprise. What is surprising however is the exceptional; this ticks all of the boxes of top wine. Best 2015-2021.

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2010 Grand Vin De Glenelly Red 2009 D'arenberg The High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Strewn Canadian Oak Meritage 2013 Stratus Red 2012

d’Arenberg 2012 The High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($19.95) (943456)

Sara d’Amato – This highly acclaimed wine has been produced for four decades now and is sourced from the first of d’Arenberg’s vineyards (planted in the late 1800s) to be trained above knee height. The power and elegance offered here for under $20 is nothing short of impressive.

Strewn 2013 Canadian Oak Meritage, Niagara-On-the Lake, Ontario, Canada ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – Although not a new product, Canadian oak is not widely used nor mass-produced and thus you may not be aware of its existence. This elegant Bordelaise blend is a lovely introduction to our tight-grained, homegrown oak that (arguably) some describe as adding a slightly spicy, maple flavour to wine. Regardless, there is freshness but not under-ripeness to this ready-to-drink offering from Strewn.

Stratus 2012 Red VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada ($44.20)

John Szabo – Stratus winemaker J.L Groux evidently had an excellent 2012 season, hitting the both this flagship red, as well as the white, out of the park. It’s an impressive Bordeaux style blend that would be equally at home in Tuscany, with its high-toned, floral and dusty-herbal red and black fruit, thanks in part to long hang time, and long ageing in wood to develop complexity. The style is unique to be sure for the region, but it works very well here. Drinking now, but better in another 3-5 no doubt. Best 2018-2025.

If you don’t already have your tickets for the 2015 Gourmet Games featuring, you are not too late! John and I will be your sensory guides through this great evening of food and fun. WineAlign members will get a $25 discount on tickets AND a $25 Special Gift Certificate. Click on the ad below for all the details.


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES November 14th, 2015

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
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!

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
The Gourmet Games

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 14, Part One

Our Finest from Europe
by John Szabo MS, with notes from Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

November 14th marks the first major holiday release at VINTAGES, with nearly 170 wines and spirits arriving (or re-arriving) on shelves. The theme is “our finest”, which means a healthy collection of premium products that stretch into the upper echelons of price. On that note, in this report I offer some perspective on wine pricing, before Sara and I line up our recommendations from Europe ranging from $17 to $100+ (David is hopping across Canada to raise funds for Canadian athletes via Gold Medal Plates and returns to cover the November 28th release). The rest of the world follows next week.

Read to the bottom for details on upcoming events and tastings, including the Gourmet Games, the Thirty Bench Wine Makers’ dinner, the Food and Wine Show Tutored Tasting on Volcanic Wines, and an upcoming grower champagne masterclass.

Is Wine Overpriced?

First, a warning: You may find some of the recommendations in this report expensive. $50 or $100 is after all a considerable sum to spend on a bottle of fermented grape juice. Even $20 can seem unnecessarily high. I’ve been among the first to lament the steadily increasing baseline price of decent wine, and even more so the ever-inflating price of premium bottles. So, are wines overpriced?

A recent experience helped me regain some perspective. The scene was a new hipster juice bar in Toronto, the kind that serves fresh-pressed juices from exotic organic ingredients that have popped up like mushrooms after the rain across the city. I ordered the Refresher, a healthy-sounding mix of cucumber, romaine, celery, ginger and green apple. The price? $7 for a 500ml plastic cup’s worth. I wasn’t shocked; that’s a standard ticket for such juices. But then I paused to reflect on what it takes to make them.

The cost of ingredients is of course minimal, even for grade A organic produce. Inventory costs are equally low, since the majority of ingredients come in and out in a matter of days, or hours. No special expertise is required to acquire or process the materials – it’s basically a shopping list, fulfilled with a quick call to a supplier or two, or a few minutes at the Ontario Food Terminal. If one supplier is out of an ingredient, you can go to another without compromising your product. There’s no cost to train the servers behind the counter to prepare the beverages; a couple of minutes on how to operate the juicer should do it. Packaging is cheap, a few pennies per unit, less for the straw. There’s little marketing or promotional necessary. The space was small and décor minimal. There’s no commission to pay, and no shipping and handling fees. They don’t give out free samples to convince you to buy a whole cup, and no one returns the juice because they don’t like how it tastes. There’s no special added juice tax that pays for health care and infrastructure, so beyond standard HST, all of those 7 dollars go towards the shop’s revenue.

In the food & beverage industry, that’s about as low risk as it gets. People were lining up for these juices; evidently, no one was balking at the cost.

Now consider the wine business. Decent quality grapes cost anywhere from about $3 per kilo (you can find cheaper, but you usually get what you pay for), and up to $30 in extreme, ultra premium cases, which is about what you need to make one bottle of wine. The cost of purchasing land, and planting and maintaining a vineyard to supply your own needs is extravagant to say the least. Then, growing grapes and making wine competently requires years of schooling, training and practical experience, or paying someone else handsomely to do it for you. And don’t forget that grape growing is fraught with countless perils, at the mercy of everything from a long list of diseases, to heavy rain, wind, frost, drought, hungry birds and animals, and other sundry acts of God that can severely reduce or entirely decimate a year’s harvest. The worse the year, the higher the farming costs; and even with zero crop, you still have to pay.

Production and equipment costs make accountants weep. A new oak barrel alone immediately adds $3 to the cost of a bottle of wine. And fine wine, as you know, needs to rest in the cellar before release, a massive inventory expense. The cost of bottles themselves, and closures and labels and cartons add up quickly, at least another couple of dollars/bottle.

And you’ll need to get your message out if you expect to sell anything in such a saturated, hyper-competitive market. That means building a tasting room and staffing it with properly trained people (it takes considerably more than a couple of minutes to teach a wine salesperson the necessary production details and the messaging you want to convey), travelling extensively (airplane tickets, hotels, meals, etc.) to pour and talk about your wines with professionals and consumers, paying for expensive stands at wine fairs, buying advertising, giving away free samples to writers, distributors and sommeliers, among other activities. And really, I’ve only scratched the obvious surface costs that need to be covered by the price of a bottle of wine; lots more lurk at every turn.

And don’t forget that a winery only sees about a third of the dollars you spend on wine in Ontario; the rest goes to the government, shippers, brokers and agents. A $7/500ml juice, the equivalent of about $10 worth of liquid in a 750ml bottle, made from fermented grapes and imported into Canada, would retail on our shelves at close to $30 (you can roughly calculate how much a winery actually gets from the sale of a bottle by dividing the retail price by 3). But compared to the juice shop model, the actual profit margin for the winery is incomparably lower, if there’s any left at all.

Most start-up wineries, even those with hopes to charge premium prices, count roughly a decade and a half before expecting to see the account books turn black, and that’s not including initial capital expenditures – I’m talking break even on operating expenses. Starting a winery from scratch these days is almost invariably the folly of the ultra-wealthy in search of tax deductions, for which the wine business is unparalleled.

So despite rising prices, wine growers are not getting any richer, if anything, the wine business is growing less and less profitable. I see many, even multi-generational vignerons all around the world struggling to keep their businesses afloat in a frighteningly competitive market, which only grows more cut-throat each year.

These thoughts and others crossed my mind as I sipped my fancy juice. You can only conclude that A) taxes, shipping and commissions on wine are too high; B) wine is necessarily a costly luxury; C) starting a winery is a bad idea if profit is your goal, or D) starting a juice business is an awesome idea.

But it’s unfair, at least in most cases, to conclude that wine is overpriced. Wine is not expensive, even if it costs a lot.

It’s something to think about as you contemplate the seemingly inflated price tag on any of the recommendations below. Or maybe, you’ll open a juice bar.

Buyers Guide For November 14th: Our Finest European White

Terradora 2014 Falanghina IGT Campania, Italy ($16.95)

John Szabo – Falanghina is a great entry into the compelling whites of Campania, a region with as much history as another in Italy – this grape was planted in the vineyards of Pompeii. While it’s not the top cultivar in terms of depth and complexity (look to Greco and fiano for that), in the hands of Terradora, it hits a perfect mix of terroir and pleasure at the price.
Sara d’Amato – Although one of southern Italy’s largest wineries, Terredora produces dynamite Falanghina that can be happily found on the VINTAGES shelves year after year. Falanghina is a varietal known for its floral aromatics and flavours of fresh lemon, lime and tangerine, as are notable in this example. The grape is widely planted around the volcanic soils of Mount Vesuvius. This lovely vintage is fresh and fruity, very characteristic and perfect with pan-seared white fish.

La Chablisienne 2012 Montmains Chablis 1er Cru, France ($32.95)

John Szabo – The cooperative La Chablisienne continues to impress, and this 2012 Montmains was a standout from my last visit and tasting across the entire range in 2014, and again now in international context. It comes from mostly from the Butteaux sous-climate (95%) of this left bank hillside cru, strikingly mineral and notable earthy – a wine that “looks down” for its more earthy-stony stylistic guidance, in the words of director Hervé Tucki, a more clay-rich cru that gives a powerful, dense expression with terrific length. Best 2015-2022.

Terredora Falanghina 2014La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012Domaine Billaud Simon Chablis Premier Cru Mont De Milieu 2010Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuissé 2013

Domaine Billaud-Simon 2010 Mont de Milieu Chablis 1er Cru AC, France ($44.95)

John Szabo – Striking Chablis from a terrific vintage, hitting a beautiful stage of maturity now, though with lots of life ahead; be sure to use large glasses or decant before serving to give it some air. This has density and complexity at grand cru level. Best 2015-2025.

Louis Jadot 2013 Pouilly Fuissé, Burgundy, France ($35.95)

Sara d’Amato – With verve and energy, this upbeat Pouilly Fuissé is fresh, enticing and packs a punch. Although it still has some years ahead, this chardonnay can be pleasurably enjoyed now with soft, ripened cheeses.

Buyers Guide for November 14th: Our Finest European Red

Château Croze de Pys 2010 Prestige Malbec, Cahors, Southwest, France ($16.95)

John Szabo – This is a terrific find for fans of solid, well-built wines, ready to enjoy alongside some salty protein. It blends the iron-like minerality of classic Cahors, but with ripe fruit and tannins that are firm but not hard or astringent. Best 2015-2022.

Château De Ségure 2012 Fitou, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($16.95)

Sara d’Amato – Fitou is located in southeastern Languedoc where carignan and grenache make up the majority of the blends. It butts up against Corbieres and although very similar, Fitou insists on remaining proudly independent. This sultry, voluptuous and peppery example is also juicy and fresh with characteristic notes of licorice and raspberry and blackberry. Won’t disappoint – an excellent value.

Château Croze De Pys Prestige Malbec Cahors 2010Château De Ségure Fitou 2012Boutari Grande Reserve Xinomavro 2008Cantina Del Taburno Fidelis Sannio Aglianico 2011

Boutari 2008 Grande Reserve Xinomavro, Naoussa, Greece ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – As usual, the Boutari Grande Reserve is an outstanding value. Older vintages of xinomavro such as this allow full expression of this age-worthy varietal. From a hot and dry vintage, this mid-weight example is wildly complex and savory with notes of dried herbs and cherry along with earth and fig. Ready to drink.

Cantina del Taburno 2011 Fidelis Sannio Aglianico, Campania, Italy ($19.95)

John Szabo – Benevento province is Campania’s source of softer and riper versions of Aglianico, relative to Taurasi or Monte Vulture in Basilicata, the other two main regions of production, as reflected nicely in this wine. The accomplished coop of Taburno has rendered a polished and appealing style, without abandoning the grapes typical savoury dark fruit. A satisfying mouthful, ready to enjoy or hold until the early ‘20s.

Château De Nages 2012 Vieilles Vignes Costières De Nîmes, Rhône, France ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – Located in a cool pocket in the southern Rhone, Costières de Nîmes is influenced by the Mediterranean breezes of the Camargue, the warmth of the Languedoc and soils similar to that of the southern Rhône. This nexus of a locale is responsible for some pretty intriguing wines. This old vines example from leading producer Michel Gassier is farmed organically with grenache and syrah that make up the majority of the blend along with mourvèdre, the up-and-comer of the region. This cooler vintage is easy to drink with a lovely peppery character and an abundance of red and black fruit.

Château Rahoul 2010, Graves, Bordeaux, France ($29.95)

Sara d’Amato – This old school charmer exhibits a little funk and rusticity but also with characteristic Graves minerality and extensive breadth of flavours. Drinking beautifully now but can do with another 2-3 years in cellar.


Marchese Antinori 2012 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($32.95)

John Szabo – I’m glad the marketing department at Antinori put Tenuta Tignanello on the label, a reminder that I can drink three bottles of this for the price of one bottle of this wine’s big brother, Tignanello without giving up too much. It’s mature, savoury, earthy and dusty, i.e. a classic Tuscan expression, classy, sophisticated and elegant. Best 2015-2027.

Poggio Verrano 2005 Dròmos, Maremma Toscana, Tuscany, Italy ($39.95)

John Szabo – Your ticket for a perfectly mature Tuscan red (alicante, cabernet, cabernet franc and merlot), with terrific complexity. I love the earthy, wet clay, succulent ripe blue fruit character and leathery notes, with fully integrated wood and great length. Best 2015-2020.

Alvaro Palacios 2013 Velles Vinyes Les Terrasses, Priorat, Spain ($46.95)

John Szabo – Priorat pioneer Alvaro Palacios’ old vines 2013 is a dense and full, concentrated and balanced wine, with great palate presence, offering loads of immediate pleasure up front though will surely hold, and improve, over the next decade or more. Best 2015-2028.
Sara d’Amato – Breaking the noteworthy familial tradition of production in Rioja, Alvaro Palacios, a winemaker with serious clout (years at Chateau Petrus), is considered a pioneer of modern Priorat. Progressive and dynamic, like the wines he creates, Palacios’ old vine blend of almost equal amounts of garnacha and cariñena is distinctively heady and aromatic, intense but polished.

Château Haut Corbin 2000 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France ($58.95)

John Szabo – A very good choice for those seeking classic Bordeaux, with age. This is pretty much at full maturity, on a plateau no doubt for another half dozen years or more judging on structure. Best 2015-2020.

Alvaro Palacios les Terrasses 2013Château Haut Corbin 2000Le-Serre-Nuove-Dell'ornellaia-2013Masi-Amarone-Della-Valpolicella-Classico-Campolongo-Di-Torbe-2009

Le Serre Nuove Dell’Ornellaia 2013 Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany, Italy ($59.95)

John Szabo – It’s entirely inadequate to call this a second wine from Ornellaia – at any other estate this would be a highly respectable top wine. The 2013 is really singing – evidently an excellent vintage. Leave this in the cellar for at least another 4-5 years, or hold into the late ’20s. Best 2020-2030+.

Masi Campolongo di Torbe 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto, Italy ($101.95)

John Szabo – When it comes to dried grape wines, few can match the technical prowess and fine vineyard sources of Masi. Campolongo di Torbe is for me the more elegant of this great house’s single vineyard Amarone, though 2009 is a massively structured wine to be sure, crafted with that hard-to-achieve balance between full ripeness, lack of green/vegetal flavour, and no appreciable volatile acids (varnish), often inevitable in this style of wine. It’s at least a decade away from prime maturity, and surely more. This should reach into the ’40s without a stretch. Monumental. Best 2024-2045+.

Buyers Guide For November 14th: Our Finest European Fortified

Sandeman Vintage Port 2011Lustau East India Solera SherryLustau East India Solera Sherry, Spain ($24.95)

John Szabo – A terrific bottling from Lustau, medium-sweet, rich, treacly and caramel-flavoured, with tremendous length and depth, and the lovely aromatic lift of wines that spend years in barrel. I love the salted caramel and pure hit of umami on the finish. A beautiful sipping wine, or for hard cheese, nuts, figs dates and pecan pie.

Sandeman 2011 Vintage Port, Portugal ($70.00)

John Szabo – Dense, intense, incredibly ripe and powerful, decades away from prime enjoyment – this is a real tour de force. Tannins are big, thick, rich, puckering. To be revisited after 2026 or so. A spectacular vintage for long ageing. 2026-2050.

Upcoming Events

The 3rd Annual Gourmet Games

525x225-JPG VersionThe Gourmet Games is a food and wine experience that goes beyond simply consuming food and wine. It aims to educate, excite, and challenge. Wineries and distilleries from 18 global regions will sample over 75 products at the Games. With many 90+ rated wines in the room, the Gourmet Games offers an array of exemplary taste profiles to satisfy every palate. Buy tickets now – Save $25 .

When: Tuesday, November 17th, 6:30 – 11pm
Where: Gladstone Hotel
*Special offer for WineAlign Members*

An Exclusive Dinner Celebrating the Best Small Winery of the Year – Thirty Bench Wine Makers

Thirty BenchOn Thursday, November 19th, WineAlign and Thirty Bench Wine Makers are pleased to present a special winemaker’s dinner celebrating the 2015 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada’s Best Performing Small Winery. Buy tickets now.

When: Thursday, November 19th, 6:30 – 10 pm
Where: Holts Café (Holt Renfrew)

Gourmet Food and Wine Show Tutored Tasting: Volcanic Wines

Tutored Tastings - GFWEFrom the Ring of Fire to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the meeting of the Eurasian and African Tectonic plates in the Mediterranean, join Master Sommelier John Szabo for an exotic tour of the world’s best volcanoes! Or rather, the exceptional wines that grow on them. Since the dawn of time, humankind has been drawn to these lethal but irresistible fissures in the earth, not least because the soils surrounding them are incredibly mineral-rich and whatever grows on them, including grapes, has flavours as intense as a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. Salty, gritty and powerful — these are the world’s best volcanic wines. Buy tickets now

Host: John Szabo, Master Sommelier
When: Friday November 20th, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Cost: $85

Maison Bereche Champagne vineyard

Maison Bereche Champagne vineyard

IWEG Masterclass: The Intrigue of Grower Champagne

Hosted by John Szabo, Canada’s first Master Sommelier and IWEG WSET Diploma Graduate, experience the nuances that make grower Champagne so exceptional and unique! Taste 8 premium single estate Champagnes produced in limited quantities, most of which will not be available in the LCBO.

Event Details:

When: Tuesday, November 24th, 7-9pm
Where: IWEG Drinks Academy, 211 Yonge St., Suite 501
Cost: $105 / $95 for IWEG alumni

Sign up at


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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES November 14th, 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!

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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

Buy The Case: Azureau Wines and Spirits

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

Buy the CaseIn this regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We 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. 

For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here

November – Azureau Wines & Spirits

Where are some of the world’s great new white wines lurking? That would be Spain, from grape varieties like grenache blanc, viura, godello and albarino being grown (often organically) on old vines ekeing out their existence in very rocky granitic and slate soils. Very few of this new breed of well made, minerality-studded whites are finding their way to the LCBO, but a couple of gems lurk right under our noses in the portfolio of Azureau Wines & Spirits. There are two huge Spanish white bargains among a diverse collection that also includes an affordable, cellarable Napa cabernet and other new world reds.

Below our critics have assembled their picks submitted for tasting in October, and they suggest reasons why you might consider buying by the case.

Or you can try them for yourself on November 17 at “The Gourmet Games”, a public tasting and food pairing event created by Azureau. The event is typical of CEO Dan Rabinovitch’s role as an importer. “Moving beyond the traditional agency’s role of simply representing a winery to a customer, Azureau also takes on the role of managing the entire brand experience of the winery in Canada. This entails developing engaging experiences–such as winemaker dinners and special events–in this market where consumers can taste the wine and get a taste for the passion that went into its creation”. (Special to WineAlign subscribers, a ticket purchase ($95) includes a $25 gift certificate redeemable towards a wine purchase the evening of the Games.)

The Spanish Collection

Señorio del Bierzo 2012 Godello, Bierzo, Spain ($24.95)

Mas Igneus White 2013 Senorio del Bierzo Godello 2012John Szabo – Excitement has been gathering in this cool northwest corner of Spain for some years now, mostly for the red wines, but indigenous whites are proving to be just as compelling. This is a fine and flavourful, rich and minty example from 100 year-old vines, with evident depth and concentration. Partial barrel ageing contributes more texture than flavor and the aromatic range is impressive. An affordable curio that over-delivers in the premium white wine category.
David Lawrason – This is a very nicely made, smooth yet fresh and almost elegant white from the local godello grape in the Bierzo region of northwest Spain. Quite exotic ripe yellow fruit (melon/pineapple) aromas are gently infused with herbs, wet stone, fennel and lemon meringue. The flavours have good focus and continuity; the length is excellent. A curio to be sure, but also priced for fine meals and gatherings at home.
Sara d’Amato – The modish winery of Senorio del Bierzo aims to promote the indigenous varieties of mencia and godello in the most expressive fashion possible. This clean and tangy example is pleasantly smoky with a mineral and saline component that adds freshness as well as a food-friendly character. The wine from these 100-year old vines is aged on the lees contributing additional body and complexity. A lovely “anything but chardonnay” house wine to have on hand for unexpected guests or for personal nighttime drinking pleasure.
Michael Godel – The rise of the Galician white grape Godello is happening, in part because it’s new and exciting to those who don’t know about it. But it’s also vindication for those who do. This example is both enervating and profoundly complex. It has the kind of white to make it a real autumn white wine. Fine as a restaurant pour as well.

Mas Igneus 2013 White, Priorat, Spain ($39.95)

David Lawrason – Whites are rare in Priorat, but perhaps should be more prevalent. When I visited the region in May I was taken again, and again, by the whites. I love the tension here from the slate soils, the sense of balance and finesse. It’s aromatically generous with oak spice, stone and vague green melon/pear fruit. It’s medium-full bodied with a sense of power yet restraint. I was reminded flavour-wise of a fine white Bordeaux.
Sara d’Amato – White Priorat is a rare treat to find in Ontario but this 100% white garnacha happily fills the gap. Brimming with nervy zest and energy and showing delicious purity of fruit, this is a sophisticated find that will have you mourning its quick departure from your glass. Sharing a case is the way to go with this premium priced curio selection.
Rioja Vega 2013 Paco & Lola Prime Albarino Lias 2011John Szabo – Split a case of this with a like-minded friend who finds occasions from time to time at the table for a heady and sumptuous white, like, say, with that roast lobster or wild mushroom risotto. Priorat may be far better known for its reds, but this organically-grown white is outstanding, very ripe and intense, wood-tinged, and amazingly complex. It’s is the sort of wine you can spend a lot of time tasting and unraveling, and enjoying its savoury, succulent saltiness.
Michael Godel – Garnatxa Blanca (Grenache Blanc) is one of northern Spain’s best kept secrets and one of the world’s wondrous whites. Whether from Aragon or here in Priorat, when it refreshes while walking the oxidative wire with intensity and complexity, it is a real treat.

Paco & Lola 2011 Prime Albarino Lias, Rias Baixas, Spain ($29.95)

Sara d’Amato – The Adega of Paco & Lola is one of the largest in the DO whose distinctive polka dot bottles have taken the export market by storm.  The Lias is a step-up from their entry albarino. This version is made from the free run juice winery’s oldest vineyards is aged on fine lees for 6 months. Although it sees no oak, it is lightly creamy, round and fleshy.  Due to its attractive packaging and price point, it makes an excellent gifting selection.

Rioja Vega 2013 Rioja, Spain ($15.95)

John Szabo – A great little house red or by the glass pour here, not your grandfather’s Rioja but rather a fresh and fruity, young and vibrant red for immediate enjoyment. A touch of CO2 prickle boosts the impression of liveliness.
David Lawrason – This is a fresh, young Rioja with minimal barrel ageing if any, letting the lift floral, raspberry/strawberry fruit of tempranillo shine through. It is light to medium weight, with some sense of fruit density and smooth texture, but it is the liveliness and evenness that is most memorable. Not much tannin here, but there is fresh acidity and lovely berry fruit jam on the finish. Ideal house red for casual meals and restaurant pours.

New World Reds

Girard 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa County, California ($44.95)

Salentein Numina Spirit Vineyard Gran Corte 2012 Girard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012David Lawrason – In the over-hyped world of Napa cabernet, it’s pretty rare to find authenticity at a decent price. I am finding many 2012 Napa cabs a bit shut down and blocky at the moment, but this has all the right cabernet blackberry/currant fruit, sage, oak spice and vanillin. A touch earthy as well. It’s full bodied, fairly dense, warm and a touch sweet, with considerable tannin. A wine to cellar for sure; best 2018 to 20122.
Michael Godel – This is the kind of Napa Cabernet that offers a generous amount of wine for the money. Really stylish Napa Cabernet at a very affordable price. The kind of recognizable wine to split a case with friends.

Salentein 2012 Numina Spirit Vineyard Gran Corte, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($34.95)

Sara d’Amato – A favourite at the Argentina Wine Awards early this year, Salentein winery is located high up in the Uco Valley and focuses on premium, sustainably produced wine along with fostering an economically stable community by creating fair wage jobs. This high elevation blend of five Bordeaux varieties is a unique style which is most expressively found in Argentina’s wine regions of Mendoza and Salta. Peppery and floral with an abundance of blue and black fruit, the tannins are ripe and silky but there is a fresh backbone which gives the wine lift and elegance.

Alpha Crucis 2012 Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($74.95)

David Lawrason – Named for the brightest star in the Southern Cross, this  is from a single limestone based vineyard in central McLaren Vale. It was made by Rebecca Willson, who also makes the wine at Bremerton, and she has gone the unusual and effective route of ageing in Hungarian oak barrels. This is certainly a big, rich and complex shiraz but within its weight class I still found considerable elegance and great fruit depth that manages to hide its 15% alcohol. Very impressive concentration and excellent length. I would age it another year or three. Given the price, split a case with like-minded fans of premium Aussie shiraz.

Casa Viva 2013 Carmenere, Rapel Valley, Chile ($15.95)

David Lawrason – Excellent value here in a fairly smooth yet vibrant young carmenere, but you need to enjoy the grape’s greener side. It offers up typical black and red currant fruit, vanillin, the fresh green herbs/juniper for which carmenere is known, and Chile’s familiar meaty note. It’s mid-weight, even and fairly soft, with easy tannin, making it easy going for immediate enjoyment. By the glass.
Sara d’Amato – A juicy, very pleasant carmenere showing some distinct varietal character such as dried herbs, soy and spice. Rather plush with velvety tannins and good colour. Nicely concentrated, open and generous. Ready-to-drink.

Alpha Crucis Titan Shiraz 2012 Casa Viva Carmenere Reserva 2013 Cocchi Vermouth di TorinoVarnelli Sibilla Amaro

And the Grand Finale

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Italy $29.95

John Szabo – Artisanal vermouths are making a big comeback in the cocktail world, with bartenders ditching the industrial stuff for fortified/aromatized wines with genuine complexity, made from a quality base. Cocchi’s vermouth should be on hand in every liquor cabinet for those more sultry cocktails, like a smoky Manhattan, or in fact anything with bourbon or rye, with its intensely medicinal, beeswax and honey, burnt orange peel and caramel flavours. But it’s also interesting and bold enough to be the main show itself, served over ice.

Varnelli Sibilla Amaro, Marche, Italy

Margaret Swaine – Made since 1868, the first product of founder Girolamo Varnelli, from herbs, roots and barks (including quinine from the cinchona tree) and local honey, this is medium brown in hue. Intense aromas of coffee, vanilla, black walnuts and herbs overlaid with honey carry through on the palate. Coffee and honey linger on the finish. An elegant amaro with lots of personality and complexity; long aging and decanting help to give it smoothness with just the right touch of bitterness. This is great as a digestive after a hearty winter meal or on the rocks with lemonade in summer.

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 Azureau Wines & Spirits. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Azureau Wines & Spirits has provided the following agency profile.

About Azureau Wines & Spirits

Azureau Wines & SpiritsAzureau Wines & Spirits was founded on a basic principle: Inspire Loyalty. From the quality of products to their price to the sales person who represents them, a standard must be upheld that keeps clients coming back for more. Company founder, Dan Rabinovitch, learned the value of this credo from his years as a marketing manager at Vincor where he managed the Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin brands. “I learned this business at the feet of giants in Canadian wine sales. Pioneers like Don Triggs, Allan Jackson, and Donald Ziraldo understood how competitive this business is and how we have to over-deliver every day to keep our clients happy,” explains Rabinovitch.

Azureau began in 2007 with a handful of boutique wineries from the Mediterranean. Hence the name: Azure for blue and Eau for water. “I have found the wines of Southern France, Spain, and Italy to be some of the most exciting and best values out there today,” says Rabinovitch whose portfolio covers every notable region in Spain including the Iconic Bodegas Roda, Rioja Vega, and Enrique Mendoza.

The agency’s focus has broadened over recent years with the addition of several best-in-class wineries like Casas del Bosque (Chile), Clos Pegase (Napa), Giullio Cocchi  (Piedmont), and Bodegas Salentein (Argentina). “We don’t feel our portfolio needs to be everywhere; just excellent wherever we are,” Rabinovitch says with pride. The agency has a comprehensive process for vetting new suppliers which includes pre-tasting any wines with its network of leading Toronto sommelier-buyers. The agency turns away many more wineries and distilleries than it eventually works with in this process to ensure every product that comes to market is outstanding. “Our products have become an important component of some of Ontario’s leading restaurants; places like Bar Raval, Patria, and the Distillery Group of Restaurants. I don’t think you can achieve that without hard work and eye for quality,” concludes Rabinovitch.

Azureau Wines & Spirits has six sales representatives covering the province of Ontario.

How to order:

Order by E-mail: or Phone: 416.940.1641



Gourmet Games - Nov 17th

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An Exclusive Dinner Celebrating the Best Small Winery of the Year – Thirty Bench Wine Makers

A Niagara benchmark sets the standard for ‘Small is Beautiful’.

On Thursday, November 19th, WineAlign and Thirty Bench Wine Makers are pleased to present a special winemaker’s dinner celebrating the 2015 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada’s Best Performing Small Winery.

Winemaker Emma Garner wooed the National Wine Awards of Canada judges, flight after flight, with some very impressive rieslings including a platinum award winning Thirty Bench 2013 Riesling Small Lot Triangle Vineyard Riesling.

This is a sponsored event article.

Thirty Bench Photo

Quebec City Judge Remy Charest said “I’ve always loved the Thirty Bench rieslings, especially Triangle, which has a great mix of energy, depth and complexity, and it was great to find out that I liked them just as much when tasting blind. Emma Garner does truly terrific work there, in reds too.” Two golds and a raft of silver medals sealed the deal and we couldn’t be happier for Emma. Thirty Bench is focused on estate wines grown only on the Beamsville Bench within the Niagara Peninsula appellation and, as you might expect, production is limited.

WineAlign’s John Szabo MS and Thirty Bench Winemaker Emma Garner will guide you through this spectacular 5-course dinner paired with award-winning Thirty Bench wines.

*A very limited number of wines will be available to order at the event for direct to home or office delivery.*

Purchase Your Tickets 

Thirty Bench Wine Makers logo s

The Art of Making Wine

Thirty Bench is a producer of premium wines grown exclusively on estate vineyards in the Beamsville Bench appellation, a superior winegrowing region on the Niagara Peninsula.

At Thirty Bench, we focus on what the vineyard does best, growing Riesling and classic red varietals on vines managed for low yield and maximum fruit intensity. Our wines are carefully crafted by a skilled winemaker in small lots, ensuring every single bottle of Thirty Bench wine boasts exceptional quality and flavour.

Many of our wines are rare and hard to find, but they are even harder to forget.

The Winemaker – Emma Garner

Emma Garner - Thirty Bench Winemaker

Emma Garner’s passion for great wine and food was fueled by travel to Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany and British Columbia while completing Brock University’s Oenology and Viticulture program. Upon graduation, she focused her continued hands-on learning in the vineyards and cellars of Niagara.

In 2005, Emma embarked on a small journey west from her position at Trius Winery to Thirty Bench Wine Makers. After spending five years getting to know the nuances of the Beamsville Bench, Emma was thrilled to become Winemaker for this one-of-a-kind winery that had won a special place in her heart.

Emma’s approach to winemaking, which is based on allowing the vineyard to express its own voice by making wine with minimal intervention, has caught the attention of the Canadian wine community. In 2015 she was awarded the coveted distinction of Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards. That same year Thirty Bench Wine Makers was recognized by WineAlign as Canada’s Best Small Winery.

Emma particularly enjoys working with rieslings. Her signature method of fermenting at low temperatures creates enhanced aromatic compounds in wines that burst with complexity and intensity. In 2015 Thirty Bench’s 2013 Small Lot Triangle Vineyard Riesling was awarded a Platinum in the Wine Align Awards of Canada and the 2013 Small Lot Riesling Wild Cask was recognized with both a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Ontario Wines and a Gold in the Wine Align Awards of Canada.

Purchase Your Tickets 

Event Details:

Date: Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Sparkling Reception: 6:30 pm (Guests will enjoy an exclusive pre-release tasting of the Thirty Bench Sparkling Riesling, to be launched in early Spring 2016.)

Dinner: 7 pm – 10 pm

Location: Holts Café (Holt Renfrew, Mezzanine Level), 50 Bloor St West, Toronto, ON M4W 3L8 (*Please note that Valet Parking will not be available for dinner patrons.)

Tickets: $125 (+ taxes and fees)

Please note tickets are limited to 37. Our events sell out quickly so please book early to avoid disappointment.

Purchase Your Tickets 


Pickle Carrot “Tar Tar”
Coconut Yolk, Sesame Chip
Wine pairing: Thirty Bench 2013 Riesling Small Lot Triangle Vineyard

Platinum: WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada 2015
Gold Outstanding: International Wine and Spirits Competition 2015
Silver: International Wine Challenge 2015


Sea Scallop
Brown Butter, Blood Orange, Gaufrette
Wine pairing: Thirty Bench 2014 Riesling

Gold: Intervin International Wine Awards 2015
Silver:WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada 2015
Silver: All Canadian Wine Championship 2015
Silver: Los Angeles International Wine Competition 2015


Roasted Quail
Spätzle, Pancetta, Chantrelle, Reduction
Wine pairing: Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Merlot

Silver: WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada 2015
Silver: International Wine and Spirits Competition 2015
Silver: Ontario Wine Awards 2015


Duo of Lamb
Braised Croquette, Seared Loin, Raspberry, Mint
Wine pairing: Thirty Bench 2012 Small Cabernet Sauvignon

Silver: WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada 2015
Silver: International Wine and Spirits Competition 2015
Silver: Ontario Wine Awards 2015
Silver: Intervin International Wine Awards 2015


Ontario Cheddar Panna Cotta
Fig “Jam”
Wine pairing: Thirty Bench 2012 Benchmark Red

Gold: Ontario Wine Awards 2015
Silver: WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada 2015
Silver: International Wine and Spirits Competition 2015
Silver: Los Angeles International Wine Competition 2015
Silver: Intervin International Wine Awards 2015


*There are no substitutions*

Purchase Your Tickets 

About Matthew Hickey – Executive Chef, Holts Café

Matthew Hickey - Executive Chef, Holt RenfrewBefore joining Toronto’s Holt Renfrew team as Executive Chef in 2014, Matthew Hickey developed his signature style working with culinary teams around the globe. His culinary travels included time in Britain where he was the Chef at Soho House, an exclusive private member’s club in central London. Upon returning to Canada, Matthew assisted industry legends including Mark McEwen and the Oliver and Bonacini team with a variety of Toronto fine dining efforts and special events.

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 31, Part Two

Schooling on Tuscany and Red Raves
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

After spending a couple of hours tasting through the Tuscan wines being presented by VINTAGES this weekend I came to the conclusion that all is well in Italy’s most famous wine region; that this assemblage of big name, larger volume producers who export to Canada are doing a good job of making wines that well represent the various sub-districts and styles of this very advanced region. As a previewer/reviewer on your behalf there are very few that I would not recommend, but on the other hand, few that I fervently recommend. What we have here is a classroom on well-made Tuscan reds. Which spawned an idea.

Many, many people in Ontario are now enrolled in wine education programs – through WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust), CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers), George Brown College and Humber Colleges in Toronto, Algonquin College in Ottawa, and Toronto’s Sommelier Factory. In all my years I have never run across so many people studying wine. It’s almost an epidemic of earnest souls delving deep into the grape, and we hope, loving every moment.

So I am going to take this Tuscan release and divide it into three bottle (beginner), six bottle (intermediate) and nine bottle (advanced) study packs. If you can afford them yourself great, but you may want to cobble together a study/tasting group to make a joint purchase. What I do recommend is that you open and compare all of them directly – perhaps meeting late Saturday afternoon to taste then having them all with a Tuscan dinner. I leave the recipes to you.

But first a background. What makes Tuscan unique among Italian wines is a sense of sophistication and refined tension or backbone. They are not heavy, ponderous, thick wines. Instead they are fleet, often nervy yet elegant, with sour red fruit aromas, more so than the riper black fruits of warmer regions. Tuscany’s climate is best described – like Bordeaux – as moderate in the global scheme of things. This creates a sense of balanced acidity upon which all else is built, and the workhorse sangiovese grape also has fairly high natural acidity. In the higher, cooler elevations of Chianti the acidity is even more pronounced. If you go southwest toward the warmer coast through Montalcino and Maremma the acidity lowers and body weight increases. Directly west of Chianti in warmer coastal Bolgheri cabernet sauvignon takes over as the main grape with its different, lifted aromas and firmer tannin. But across the board there remains a sense of fine-pointed balance.

The Tuscan Three-Pack  (Total cost $92.85)
This covers the three basic styles of Tuscan red, all made in a more modern idiom (fruitier, French oak). Chianti is always the touchstone so start your tasting with the sangiovese based Rocca Delle Macìe 2011 Riserva Chianti Classico ($22.95). Then move on to Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2013 ($29.95) to understand the difference between sangiovese and cabernet/merlot based reds. And then go upscale to an intentionally more mature, longer barrel aged sangiovese Poggiotondo 2010 Brunello di Montalcino ($39.95).

The Tuscan Six-Pack (Total cost $161.75)
Start with the basic, light, tart, more traditional Piazzano 2013 Chianti ($14.95), then go to the still traditional, more aged Castelli del Grevepesa 2011 Clemente VII Chianti Classico ($17.00). From here branch out to a warmer, more inland region using a fragrant sangiovese clone called prugnolo gentile in Poliziano 2012 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($29.95). In fourth spot introduce a sturdier sangiovese, cabernet, merlot blend grown in central Tuscany: Ruffino 2011 Modus ($29.95). Then out to the Bolgheri coast again with elegant cab-merlot based Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2013 ($29.95), and finally into Montalcino with the aged Poggiotondo 2010 Brunello di Montalcino ($39.95).

The Tuscan Nine-Pack (Total Cost $293.60)
The first third of this tasting should be spent with Chianti. Begin again with the classic, lightweight traditional Piazzano 2013 Chianti ($14.95), then move to the maturing, lightweight Castelli del Grevepesa 2011 Clemente VII Chianti Classico ($17.00), and end the flight with the top tier San Felice 2010 Il Grigio da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico ($46.95) a profound, more aged single vineyard wine from a leading estate and an excellent vintage. The next trifecta brings cabernet and merlot into the mix. Wine four should be the Borgo Scopeto 2011 Borgonero ($19.95) a maturing sangiovese-cabernet blend from a lighter vintage. Then go to Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2013 ($29.95) to grasp the essential Bolgheri coast cabernet difference; then return to central Tuscany and go way upscale and modern with Tenuta Sette Ponti 2012 Oreno ($77.95) a very youthful, impressive blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. The last stage delves into more evolved Tuscan reds. Marchesi De’ Frescobaldi 2013 Campo Ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino ($21.95) is calendar young but has a smooth, gentile aged feel central to wines from Montalcino. Follow on with big brother Poggiotondo 2010 Brunello di Montalcino ($39.95). Then finish with a fully mature Cafaggio 2006 Cortaccio ($24.95) a 100% cabernet sauvignon.

But if you are not going to school and simply want to enjoy fine Tuscan wine at your table, here are our picks from this release.

Buyers’ Guide for October 31st: Tuscan Picks

Il Grigio da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2010

Poliziano 2012 Vino Nobile di MontepulcianoPoliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2012 ($29.95)

David Lawrason – Whereas most Chianti sangiovese show red currant fruit, the prugnolo gentile clone used in Vino Nobile expresses a riper, more cabernet like blackcurrant note. Here it’s nicely meshed with oak vanillin and cedary spice and evergreen. It’s medium-full bodied firm and dry so set it aside for about two years.
John Szabo – Poliziano is a reliable name in Vino Nobile. The 2012 offers significant fruity aromas and flavours, with plenty of room to evolve. Indeed, it’s still youthful and undeveloped, firm and tightly wound, with abundant, dusty-drying tannins, furthering the case for additional time in the cellar, another 2-4 years or so, at which point it should have evolved nicely. Best 2018-2028.
Sara d’Amato – Vino Nobile is often described as having the aromatic delicacy of a Chianti Classico and the opulence of a Brunello. This classic example from Poliziano shows just this distinctiveness and with refreshing verve and elegance. Tuck this away for another 3 years for optimum enjoyment.

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

John Szabo – The Gran Selezione category is proving to be by and large not just a way to charge more for Chianti, but also a cue for consumers to find excellent, properly-aged wines. This is great stuff, elegant and refined and savoury, with terrific complexity, already seamlessly integrated. Best 2015-2025.
Sara d’Amato – Only the best quality, estate grown fruit makes it in to this Gran Selezione Chianti Classico from this progressive producer. Gracefully maturing, there is still a great deal of power behind the wine’s elegant frame. Smart and sophisticated – the Sophia Lauren of Chianti Classico.

Antinori 2010 Pian Delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino ($69.95)

Sara d’Amato – Although a long time favourite, the Pian della Vigne has had some bumpy vintages of late. The newly released 2010 is a return to a classic interpretation of Brunello and happily marries flavours of cherry, cocoa, fig and leather on the palate of impressive depth. A charmer from the excellent 2010 vintage.

Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi 2013 Campo ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino ($21.95)

David Lawrason – Rosso di Montalcino is a less aged, earlier drinking version of Brunello. This sports a lovely, fragrant nose,  a nicely harmonious gentle palate and very good length. A nice choice if you find Chianti too lean.

Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino 2010 Marchesi De' Frescobaldi Campo Ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino 2013 Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2013 Le Volte Dell'ornellaia 2013

Tenuta San Guido 2013 Le Difese ($29.95)

John Szabo – A highly respectable “second wine” of Sassicaia, authentically Tuscan in style, dusty, resinous, earthy and herbal, with all of the positive connotations. Drink or hold mid-term. (70% cabernet and 30% sangiovese). Best 2015-2023.

Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2013 ($29.95)

David Lawrason – This is of course not as rich, deep and refined as the world famous merlot-based Ornellaia, but I have always admired the same attention to detail applied to a lighter frame of this ‘second wine’. This is not flamboyant on the nose but it is appealing, complex and ripe with wildberry/currant fruit, background oak and herbs. Very refined. Cellar it for now. Best 2018 to 2023.

Buyers’ Guide for October 31st: Other Rave Red Values (Chilean selections were published here last week)

Lavau 2012 Vacqueyras, Rhône Valley, France ($24.95)

John Szabo – Wow, what a mouthful of wine, certainly equal to many southern Rhône reds at twice the price. Fans of massive, big-structured wines will revel in this. Best 2015-2022.
David Lawrason – This is a quite charming, rich and smooth almost creamy young Vacqueyras that is texturally ready to drink in one sense, but I just know it will be more expressive in a couple of years.

Dutton Estate 2011 Karmen Isabella Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County ($49.95)

David Lawrason – Dutton Ranch is one of the great California sites for pinot, with several wineries sourcing here. This is a lovely fragrant, complex slightly edgy, cooler climate pinot with cran-cherry fruit, spice, evergreen forest and nuanced meaty notes. It’s mid weight, fairly firm but not the least austere.

Purcari 2013 Rara Neagra de Purcari, Nistreana, Moldova, ($19.55)

Sara d’Amato – Moldova has been quietly gaining its wine footing after the disbanding of the Soviet Union in the early 90s. This lightly oaked example of the indigenous rara neagra grape is surprisingly robust and mouthfilling as it is a grape that is thin skinned and generally produces light, fresh and early maturing wines. A curio selection with a widely appealing nature.

Lavau Vacqueyras 2012 Dutton Estate Karmen Isabella Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2011 Purcari Rara Neagra De Purcari 2013Château Pey La Tour Réserve Du Château 2010J. L. Chave Sélection Offerus Saint Joseph 2012

Château Pey La Tour 2010 Réserve du Château Bordeaux Supérieur, Brodeaux, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason –  A great buy in modern merlot-based red from a fine property between the city of Bordeaux and the right bank. It’s mid-weight, fairly dense, well balanced and structured, as are so many 2010s. Just right ripeness with black fruit, cedary oak, fresh herbs and pencil notes.

J. L. Chave Sélection 2012 Offerus Saint-Joseph, Rhône Valley, France ($33.95)

David Lawrason – Great value in classic northern Rhone syrah. This has an impressive nose of well integrated cherry, pepper, smoked cured bacon and fine basil herbs. It’s medium-full boded, nicely dense and compact but attenuated by fine acidity and minerality. Pitch perfect Saint Joseph.

Val Auclair 2013 Les Barras Rouge, Vallé du Paradis, Roussillon, France ($19.95)

John Szabo – A fine and spicy, carignan-led blend with syrah and grenache from the deep southwest corner of the Roussillon, farmed organically. I love the spicy black pepper and stemmy/leafy notes, the vibrancy, the freshness and the ultimately drinkability of this wine, succulent, salty and juicy. Best 2015-2021.
Sara d’Amato – Domaine Val Auclair is an estate built by the renown family of Saint-Exupéry in the late 19th century. Organically farmed, the estate is home to a plot of hundred-year-old carignan as well as high elevation plantings of syrah and grenache. This unoaked blend of aforementioned classic southern varietals exhibits lovely notes of black pepper and lavender on a firmly structured palate. Excellent value and attractive packaging.

Socré 2011 Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy ($29.95)

John Szabo – Excellent value, all-estate, family-run, perfumed and mature nebbiolo in the classic spectrum, with well-balanced palate to match. This has terrific depth and intensity for the money, as well as a whack of savoury, umami-laden flavours. The length is excellent, too. Best 2015-2023.

Domaine Val Auclair Les Barras 2013Socré Barbaresco 2011Feudi San Pio Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2013Bodegas Mas Alta Artigas 2008 Heartland Spice Trader Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Feudi San Pio 2013 Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – This Ripasso is more akin to a baby Amarone – memorable and wildly complex. Attractive notes of smoky cherry, fresh earth and fennel seed are knit together with delicate spice and rich but not heavy texture. Generous, stylish and well-suited to wintry gatherings.

Bodegas Mas Alta 2008 Artigas, Priorat, Spain ($37.95)

David Lawrason – If you are curious about Priorat, here is a great, affordable window into its soul. And it’s maturing into drinkable form. Blended from garnacha, mazuelo (carignan) and a touch of cabernet sauvignon, the nose shows lovely complex currant/pomegranate/wildberry fruit nicely framed by oak vanillin, graphite and gentle cedary herbs. It’s full bodied, quite soft and dense, with almost velvety tannins.

Heartland 2013 Spice Trader Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, Langhorne Creek, South Australia ($17.00)

Best Performing Small WineryDavid Lawrason – Not all inexpensive Aussie reds are heavy and sweet. Thanks to the special maritime terroir of Langhorne Creek this sports a lovely nose of fresh mint, eucalyptus, dark chocolate, graphite and ripe blueberry/pomegranate fruit. It’s full bodied, smooth and richly fruity, then narrows to a saltier, mineral finish. The tension and purity are excellent.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. In the meantime, check your inbox for news on upcoming events and tastings. John and Sara will be your sensory guides at the Gourmet Games next month and stay tuned for details on a special winemakers dinner celebrating the Best Performing Small Winery of the Year – Thirty Bench Wine Makers.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES October 31, 2015

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide Part One: Chile and Top Whites Picks

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!

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 31, Part One

Chile and Top Whites Picks
by John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Fall is a frenetic time of year in the wine world, and not just for winemakers. This year in particular has been non-stop, with multiple invitations for tastings squeezing into my inbox almost every day, featuring visiting winemakers and winery principals. Canada, it seems, has become a real “focus market”, which is great news for us. It means more great wines in our market, even if you’ll have to go direct to agents for many – there are only so many open SKUs at your local retail monopoly store. We’re doing our best at WineAlign to keep up with tastings and posting reviews of both LCBO and consignment portfolios, so if you’re looking for off-the-path great wines, set your filter to “All Sources” when using the wine search function.

This week we bring you a wine-packed report on the very good Chile feature, hitting VINTAGES on October 31st, along with an eclectic selection of recommended whites from around the world. Read to the bottom for details on upcoming events and tastings, including the annual Chilean Wine Fair (special offer for WineAlign readers), and upcoming grower champagne and volcanic wine masterclasses.

Chile: Getting its Due

Earlier this year I reported on some of the exciting developments that have shaken up the staid, traditional foundations of Chile, a well-established wine producer and exporter, in the last handful of years. In that piece, I list ten things you should know about Chile (that you may not have known already), including discussion on some of the most exciting winery projects, fruit of a visit there last November. Yet sadly, so many of the wines that we discover and get enthusiastic about on such trips abroad, and write about, fail to ever reach our shores. It makes me wonder what the point is.

But happily, the October 31st VINTAGES release featuring Chile gives us hope that somebody is listening, or at least doing their own research to properly represent the country on our shelves. A couple of my picks even came in, so to speak. Projects like Luis Felipe Edwards exceptional LFE 900 range, from some of Chile’s highest elevation vineyards where naturally balanced, exceptional reds are standard, or Pedro Parra and friends’ Clos de Fous project, whose stated aim is to seek out and express “extreme terroirs in Chile: altitude wines, coastal wines in front of the Pacific Ocean, or Southern Wines coming from Malleco, 700 km South Santiago”, will help to broaden and deepen the field beyond the familiar. If you’ve never found Chilean wines particularly exciting, give these a try.

View from Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 project vineyards-6955

View from Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 project vineyard

But the selection is not all radical. In fact it’s rather well thought out with some classics like Concha y Toro’s excellent Terrunyo cabernet (and also revisit winemaker Marcelo Papa’s enlightened new direction with the ultra-traditional Marqués de Casa Concha line, especially the cabernet sauvignon from 2013 on, a VINTAGES essential). The De Martino winery under Marcelo Retamal has been innovating for a decade already and his fine sauvignon blanc is on offer.

Sara and David include their visions of quality and diversity, bringing a recommended white blend, carignan, pinot noir, carmenere and syrah into the discussion. Indeed it’s a testament to the broad stylistic range and the generally high quality on offer that there’s virtually no alignment of picks this week between David, Sara and I. It’s not because our palates don’t align, they do (albeit not always), but rather because there was lots of choose from in a wide variety of styles.

Diversity is one of Chile’s best new strengths, and it’s heartening to see Chile getting its due. Read through the reviews to find the wines that match you.

Buyers Guide For October 31st 2015: Chile

Clos Des Fous 2012 Grillos Cantores Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Valley, Chile ($17.95)

Terroirist Pedro Parra-5641

Terroirist Pedro Parra

John Szabo – Four crazy friends, Pedro Parra, Albert Cussen, Paco Leyton & Francois Massoc are behind the excellent Clos des Fous project, focusing on Chile’s radical terroirs at the forefront of change in the country. The cabernet from the Grillo Cantores vineyard in the Alta Cachapoal D.O. on volcanic alluvial soils with limestone is like no other cabernet you’ve had from Chile. It smells like wine: no artifice, no exaggerated ripeness and no wood. Acids are firm and fresh, and tannins are well managed and fine-grained, infinitely drinkable. A great wine for the table with its appealing salty streak.
Sara d’Amato – From ungrafted, high altitude vines, this captivating cabernet is generous yet still showing some restraint. There is a lot to look forward to here in this red fermented and aged in concrete vats. There is good potential for graceful development over the next 3-4 years.

De Martino 2014 Legado Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($16.95)

John Szabo – Chilean sauvignon blanc is one of the better value countries for the grape, with even premium versions like this rarely cracking the $20 ceiling. De Martino’s winemaker Marcelo Retamal is among the most forward thinking (which often means backwards thinking) winemakers in Chile, and here he has crafted a sharp and fresh version with a blast of citrus and light tropical fruit, with fresh wintergreen mint flavours. This should satisfy both old and new world sauvignon fans.

Luis Felipe Edwards 2012 LFE 900 Single Vineyard Blend, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($29.95)

John Szabo – the “LFE 900” project is surely one of the top terroirs in Chile, a rocky (volcanic) vineyard 900m above sea level in the Colchagua Valley were the ripening cycle is much longer and natural balance is regularly achieved. Based on cabernet and syrah, this has genuine cut and class, freshness and refinement. Tannins are beautifully ripe and fine grained, and acids life-preserving. Terrific stuff, best 2015-2027.

Concha Y Toro 2012 Terrunyo Andes Pirque Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Las Terrazas Block, Pirque Vineyard, Maipo Valley, Chile ($29.95)

John Szabo – Terrunyo is the premium range of single vineyard “terroir” expressions (terrunyo in Spanish), and this 2012 cabernet from the gravels of Pirque is finely balanced, rich and succulent but well-cut with a terrific salty note. There’s real drive and depth on the palate; this expands nicely across several flavour dimensions. Best 2015-2022. 

Clos Des Fous Grillos Cantores Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 De Martino Legado Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 Single Vineyard Blend 2012 Concha Y Toro Terrunyo Andes Pirque Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Las Terrazas Block

Signos De Origen 2014 La Vinilla Chardonnay/Viognier/Marsanne/Roussanne, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – This singular blend from the cooler region of Casablanca is a product of organic and biodynamically grown fruit with little oak and body-enhancing lees ageing. Wildly complex with an abundance of tree and tropical fruit.

Sara d’Amato – From ungrafted, high altitude vines, this captivating cabernet is generous yet still showing some restraint. There is a lot to look forward to here in this red fermented and aged in concrete vats. There is good potential for graceful development over the next 3-4 years.

Cono Sur 2013 Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir, San Antonio Valley, Chile ($18.95) (419010)

Sara d’Amato – San Antonio’s cooler, ocean influenced terroir makes growing pinot noir a breeze. This single vineyard, sustainable selection is a typical example of Cono Sur’s reliable value.

Ventisquero  2012 Grey Glacier Single Block Carmenère, Trinidad Vineyard, Maipo Valley ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is a single vineyard (albeit large vineyard) carmenere from the lower Maipo Valley. It has a lifted, very minty/juniper nose with pure blackcurrant, light cedar and vanillin. It’s medium weight, tense, firm and juicy with excellent length.

Signos De Origen La Vinilla 2014 Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2013Ventisquero Grey Glacier Single Block Carmenère 2012 Morandé Edición Limitada Carignan 2011Montes Alpha Syrah 2012

Morandé 2011 Edición Limitada Carignan, Loncomilla Valley, Maule ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Carignan grown in old vine sites in the coastal Maule region is the new, rising star of Chilean wine. There is even an association called Vignos devoted to the genre and it may become a DO (but Morande is not a member). This has lifted, grapey, blackberry fruit with a hot red brick oven minerality that is distinctly carignan.

Montes Alpha 2012 Syrah, Colchagua Valley ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Although deeply coloured and ripe many Chilean syrahs are going for a lighter, juicier feel than examples from Australia, South Africa or Chile.     This is a very pretty, supple and tender syrah with ripe blueberry aromas, considerable oak vanillin, dried herbs, chocolate and lead pencil.

Buyers Guide For October 31st 2015: Miscellaneous Whites 

Casal di Serra 2014 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Classico Superiore, Marche, Italy ($17.95)

John Szabo – I’ve been admiring this wine for many years, originally a single vineyard selection but now a blend of top lots from 4 parcels in Jesi. Quality remains high: 2014 is a fullish and flavourful, solid mouthful of a wine, with great acids and pronounced stony-minerality. Lees contact contributes notable smokiness on the palate.
David Lawrason – Verdicchio remains one of the world’s most undervalued white wines. It is capable of greatness and this comes close – a bright, polished solid and firm white that with a richness and complexity more mindful of White Burgundy. Great acidity and power here.

Demorgenzon DMZ 2015 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa ($14.95)

John Szabo – Terrific value chenin, fresh, with ripe apple and lightly honeyed flavours, and real phenolic grip on the palate from low yielding, relatively old vines. I like the density and intensity, especially at the price – this packs a solid winey punch.
Sara d’Amato – A wonderfully representative South African chenin blanc from 35 year old, low yielding vines. The name DeMorgenzon refers to ‘the morning sun,’ as it is the first part of the Stellenboschkloof valley to see the sun due to its high altitude location and orientation. Bonus, its stylish packaging makes it a dinner table conversation piece.

Casal di Serra Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi 2014 Demorgenzon DMZ Chenin Blanc 2015Inniskillin Reserve Chardonnay 2013Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2013

Inniskillin 2013 Reserve Series Chardonnay VQA Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($18.95)  Chardonnay

John Szabo – Inniskillin has been tweaking their chardonnay style over the past few years, and this vintage really hits the mark. It’s very pretty, fruity, well-balanced and firm-fresh, with light oak influence and engaging citrus fruit. A light lactic touch gives this an almost Chablisienne profile. Best 2015-2020.

Burrowing Owl 2013 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($34.95)

Sara d’Amato – Savory, dry, focused and mineral-driven – this nervy, almost Chablis-like chardonnay is a head-turner. A wine sure to make an impression at your next dinner party.

Château De La Ragotière 2014 Sélection Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Loire, France ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – The Terra Vitis designation on the label is indicates that sustainable viticultural practices were used. Produced from wines aged 30-60 years old, this “sur-lie” melon de Bourgogne is punchy and brimming with orchard fresh pear, fleshy peach and typical cool stone.

Château de la Ragotière Sélection Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2014 Ferrari Carano Fumé Blanc 2013 Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Ferrari-Carano 2103 Fumé Blanc, Sonoma County, California  ($22.95)
David Lawrason – The well known Mondavi Fume is on this realease as well, and its very good, but this is better. The complex reminds me of corn shoots and fresh peas, with gentle oak spice/nutmeg. It’s quite full bodied, plush, sweetish and warm but the flavour intensity is admirable. Good value within the genre of barrel aged sauvignons

Stoneleigh 2014 Latitude Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($21.95)
David Lawrason – Very complete, refined NZ sauvignon with not a hair out of place.  Nicely lifted, very peppery (green and black) aromas with chive, grapefruit, passion fruit and lime. Its mid-weight, very bright intense and even.


Upcoming Events

Tutored Tastings - GFWEGourmet Food and Wine Show Tutored Tasting: Volcanic Wines

From the Ring of Fire to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the meeting of the Eurasian and African Tectonic plates in the Mediterranean, join Master Sommelier John Szabo for an exotic tour of the world’s best volcanoes! Or rather, the exceptional wines that grow on them. Since the dawn of time, humankind has been drawn to these lethal but irresistible fissures in the earth, not least because the soils surrounding them are incredibly mineral-rich and whatever grows on them, including grapes, has flavours as intense as a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. Salty, gritty and powerful — these are the world’s best volcanic wines. Buy tickets now

Host: John Szabo, Master Sommelier
Friday November 20th, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Cost: $85


Maison Bereche Champagne vineyard

Maison Bereche Champagne vineyard

IWEG Masterclass: The Intrigue of Grower Champagne

Hosted by John Szabo, Canada’s first Master Sommelier and IWEG WSET Diploma Graduate, experience the nuances that make grower Champagne so exceptional and unique! Taste 8 premium single estate Champagnes produced in limited quantities, most of which will not be available in the LCBO.

Event Details:

When: Tuesday, November 24th, 7-9pm
Where: IWEG Drinks Academy, 211 Yonge St., Suite 501
Cost: $105 / $95 for IWEG alumni

Sign up at


Discover the Flavours of ChileChilean Wine Festival - Oct 27

Q: Where can you sample over 120 great wines from 30 different wineries along with regional cuisine?

A: The Chilean Wine Festival taking place Tuesday, October 27th at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Purchase your ticket with the WineAlign promo code and save $10.


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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES October 31, 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!

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 17, Part Two

Barolo with Feeling, and other Autumnal Reds
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Recently I brought a bottle of Ascheri 2010 Barolo to a birthday gathering at a BYO restaurant in Toronto that features Italian/Mediterranean cuisine. It is nicely typical Barolo, and a Gold Value Medalist at our WineAlign World Wine Awards. I had checked out the restaurant’s menu and the uninspired house wine list on-line ahead of time, and figured this reasonably accessible yet still firm nebbiolo from the excellent 2010 vintage would work with whatever my immediate dinner companions might order.

Focusing more on my own pleasure, I had my mind set on a risotto. But the only risotto (when I looked more closely at the menu on arrival) was seafood. I wanted a meatier match so ordered an Italian sausage penne. Bad move. It turned out to be very robust, hot and spicy, tomato based penne, that fire-stormed the subtle nuances of the Barolo. The acidity and tannin of the nebbiolo grape waged gallant battle, but lost in the end. Other guests at the table seemed not to care; one went back to white wine.

This vignette is meant to illustrate some fundamental truths about Barolo – the  famous and quintessentially Italian red that is featured on VINTAGES October 17 release. But therein lies its first problem. Notoriety has jacked the price of what – in its soul – is a sinewy peasant red. And it has jacked up expectation likewise. Where in fact it is only a slightly more structured and deeper version of many Piemontese reds that show very, very similar characteristics. And it is nothing like rich New World reds, or amarone.

I really admire Barolo, Barbaresco and other nebbiolo grape based reds from the Langhe Hills in northwest Italy. I am a pinot noir fan, and the nebbiolos from Piemonte, for me, are the pinots of Italy. (Burgundy lies at similar latitude o’er the Alps to the west). I love nosing Barolo, and therein lies its essential “tar and roses” greatness. Along with its mouth-watering acidity and almost parching tannic tension (that pinot does not have).

But for so long, too many buyers of Barolo have harboured the idea that it is a powerful, dense, bulldozer red designed to withstand any manner of culinary tsunami. Not so. And for many who fork out the big bucks for Barolo and cellar it for years, that can spell disappointment. It is in fact an elegant, age-worthy, nuanced, if masculine red. (Men can have nuance too). So save Barolo for moments when it can strut its stuff against nuanced dishes that speak of aged meats, mushrooms, truffles and forests. And it doesn’t have to be Italian in nature.

Hhmm – sounds like a menu for October in Ontario! Good timing VINTAGES. Here are our WineAlign critic’s picks from Piemonte, plus other assorted autumnal reds.

Piedmont Reds

Silvio Grasso 2010 Bricco Manzoni Barolo, Piedmont ($89.95)
David Lawrason – So here is the classic! Great aromatic lift and complexity here with currant/sour cherry fruit, leather, wood smoke, truffle and earth. Great tannin structure, warmth, flavour depth and integration as well, with a core of volatility that contributes energy without distracting the flavours. Into the cellar for at least three years. It is from a .7 ha plot planted in 1968.
John Szabo – This may be the most expensive Barolo in the release, but it’s also the class. Bricco Manzoni is one of Federico Grasso’s top bottlings, and with less than a hectare in this cru, he has little to go around. Bricco Manzoni is in the commune of La Morra, in the heart of the region’s most elegant and finessed production area, like the Margaux of Bordeaux, or the Chambolle of Burgundy. This has real Barolo pedigree and depth, succulence and genuine weight, with a full package of fruit, earth, structure, length and age-ability. Best 2017-2025.
Sara d’Amato – A sophisticated, elegant Barolo, nervy and with youthful austerity. Enticing with notable restraint but great potential. Best to wait awhile for this distinctive beauty.

Tenuta Rocca 2010 Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($36.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a highly attractive, forward, relatively fruity Barolo in the modern style, polished and ready to drink while waiting for the more serious 2010 crus to mature. Abundant but ripe tannins washed in a big mouthful of fruit bring joy. Best 2015-2020.
Sara d’Amato – Poise and balance aside, this is a tremendously enjoyable wine. Classic with notes of licorice, roses, tar, cherry and briny black olive. The nose will have you sold before you make it to the palate. Try to keep this one under lock and key for another 3-4 years.

Silvio Grasso Bricco Manzoni Barolo 2010 Tenuta Rocca Barolo 2010 Prunotto Barolo 2010 Fontanafredda Serralunga d'Alba Barolo 2010


Prunotto 2010 Barolo, Piedmont ($40.95)
David Lawrason – Here is living proof that not all Barolo’s are brooding monsters. This is a very pale garnet-shaded, slender and almost tender. It has a fairly generous and well-integrated nose of cranberry/redcurrant fruit nicely framed by oak vanillin, herbs and spice. A modern and effective take. Try it out on folks new to Barolo, and pinot lovers.
Sara d’Amato – This cooler vintage Barolo from Prunotto, under the auspices of the Antinori family, is a complex and expressive wine with tremendous length. With the advantage of early accessibility due to a relatively moderate tannic structure, the wine is ready to enjoy now.

Fontanafredda 2010 Serralunga d’Alba Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($44.95)
John Szabo – A smart value, well-managed, classically styled Serralunga Barolo from this storied estate, which once belonged to King Vittorio Emmanuele II of Sardinia, producing wines since 1878. It has manageable tannins, still firm and upright but balanced, and solid scaffolding all around, clearly from a great vintage. This is just about ready to start drinking (decant) or hold another half dozen years. Best 2015-2020.

Other Reds

Cathedral Cellar Petit Verdot 2013

J.L. Chave Sélection 2013 Mon Coeur Côtes du RhôneJ.L. Chave Sélection Mon Coeur 2013, Rhone Valley, France ($21.95)
David Lawrason – Mon Coeurs is fairly recent “negociant” red from purchased syrah, but the great winemaking of J.L.Chave – a 16 generation legend in the Rhône – is clearly at play. This far over-delivers for a basic Côtes du Rhône. The nose is complex, generous and classic, with ripe plum/blackberry fruit, fennel, meat and lavender. Do not dither on this one – it will sell fast.
John Szabo – A spot on example of northern Rhône Côtes du Rhône (syrah), and a nice entry point into the exceptional portfolio of Jean-Louis Chave, one of the Rhône’s leading references. Classic peppery-reductive notes, fine-grained tannins, succulent acids and very good length put this into the arch-classic category. Best 2015-2023.
Sara d’Amato – The Chave family has been vignerons in the Rhône for an unbelievable 16 generations and have been tremendously successful. The “Sélection” négociant series of wines is a great way to get a taste of Chave for a much more appealing price. So far, I haven’t met a Sélection I didn’t like and this is no exception. Great value.

Cathedral Cellar 2013 Petit Verdot, Western Cape, South Africa ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Petit Verdot is a hearty guts and glory red with firm acidity, tannin and often a meaty character. It’s a natural for South Africa that routinely makes reds of this style, but here in the Cape this late ripening red ripens very well indeed adding more fruit and flesh. Expect complex with blackberry, sage, graphite and some meaty notes that carry to excellent length. Lots here for $16.
Sara d’Amato – True to form, this is a deeply coloured red that delivers impact and a powerful punch of flavours. Great value here with the smoky distinctiveness of the Western Cape and unending flavours of blackberry, pepper and exotic spice. Dry with both power and elegance.

Castello di Ama 2010 San Lorenzo Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, Tuscany, Italy ($45.95)
John Szabo – This is easily the finest Chianti Classico Gran Selezione I’ve yet tasted, a magnificent wine full of grace and finesse, elegance and refinement. “The hills and valleys surrounding the castle of Amma are the most beautiful in all of Chianti, superbly tended with fertile grain fields, olive groves and magnificent vineyards”, wrote Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Habsburg-Lorraine in an 18th-century Report. San Lorenzo is one of those magnificent vineyards, one of three cru Gran Selezione wines produced at Ama. Tannins have reached a perfect stage of evolution, and the entire wine is suffused with balance and poise. Drink or hold another decade. Best 2015-2025.

Couvent des Jacobins 2002, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé, Bordeaux ($45.95)
Sara d’Amato – Couvent des Jacobins has one of the most impressive networks of underground tunnel cellars in the village of St. Émilion to store a drool-worthy amount of back vintages. This stellar 2002 might just make you forget about your obsession with the left bank due to its grand complexity and age-worthy character. It is not at the peak of maturity yet but close and is undeniably enjoyable at present.

San Lorenzo Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2010 Couvent Des Jacobins 2002 Château Renard Mondesir 2009 CVNE Imperial Reserva 2009 Monasterio de las Viñas Reserva 2006

Château Renard Mondesir 2009, Fronsac, Bordeaux ($26.95)
David Lawrason – Surprisingly and deliciously, this fairly weighty 2009 is just moving into prime time – still showing ripe, classic merlot plum-berry fruit with a trace of iodine I expect in Fronsac (although soils here are clay-limestone). There is a certain toughness and ruggedness here, but also a fine sense of proportion. Very good mid-term cellar starter red.

CVNE 2009 Imperial Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($38.95)
David Lawrason – CVNE (Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana) is one of the great, classic producers of heavily wood influenced Riojas. This is from old vines in Rioja Alta with 85% tempranillo, graciano, mazuelo aged two years in wood and three in bottle. It is very rich, silky and profound with excellent length. Ready to roll with your next roast, or cellar for another decade.

Monasterio De Las Viñas 2006 Reserva, Cariñena, Spain ($14.95)
John Szabo – Quality, mature red for under $15? I’m in. This is lovely value, fully ready to enjoy, with plenty of dried fruit, and a dash of twigs and leaves to add complexity. Fine-grained tannins give this almost pinot-like finesse.

Lenton Brae Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Adanti 2007 Sagrantino di MontefalcoAdanti Sagrantino di Montefalco 2007, Umbria, Italy ($35.95)
Sara d’Amato – In the shadow of Tuscany, Umbria produces some exceptional wines that often lack the prestige they deserve. Sangrantino is a highly specialized variety only grown in this small hilltop region of Montefalco. This version is may very well induce a wine coma so beware. Still quite youthful due to its big structure, its palate offers enticing notes of ripe cherry, fresh fig, baked pecan, smoky thyme and mineral. Keep a bottle of this on hand when you need to impress.

Lenton Brae 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia ($65.95)
David Lawrason – This is great cabernet, and if compared value wise to peers in Napa or Bordeaux, it is a slam dunk winner. Lenton Brae is one of the pioneering wineries in a region I believe ranks in the world’s top five for cabernet. This wine hails from estate grown old vines Wilyabrup – the heart of the matter. Great bones and structure with finely detailed flavours nicely shrink-wrapped overtop.

And that is a wrap for this edition. We are now entering prime time of deeper, wider and longer VINTAGES releases in the run up to the Holidays. We are pedalling hard to keep pace. Meanwhile, we look forward to seeing you at the Wines of Chile event coming up October 27th (use our WineAlign promo code and save $10 on your ticket).


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES October 17, 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!

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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

Buy The Case: Noble Estates Wine and Spirits

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

BuyTheCaseLOGOimageAs a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We 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.

For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here

October – Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Noble Estates is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, an accomplishment in itself in this tough, government-constrained market, but there are plenty of more recent developments to toast. The company profile has risen substantially in the short time since Craig de Blois purchased Noble Estates in December of 2013; prior to this the focus was almost exclusively on sales via the LCBO’s retail network. De Blois, a respected wine industry veteran with over a decade’s experience with Lifford Wine Agency, a company he helped build into the one of the most successful agents in the province, has rebalanced Noble’s strategy to include a substantial consignment portfolio as well as continuing to source products for the government monopoly. The rapid increase in sales directly to licensees and private clients has allowed Noble to grow their allocated consignment space, while also expanding into the high volume consignment (HVC) and LCBO Licensee only programs. All of this is welcome news for both restaurateurs and private buyers.

Multiple high-profile wineries have been added to the portfolio in the meantime, such as Far Niente, Sonoma Cutrer, Torbreck, Kanonkop, Ken Forrester, Hundred Acre, and Malivoire, adding to an already solid core of well-respected brands. There are now nearly 60 suppliers on the Noble books, and the company is also the largest supplier of classified Bordeaux to the province via negociant Nathaniel Johnston. Ten new employees were hired in the first year, including two certified sommeliers, a marketing manager with a wine MBA from Bordeaux, and a former LCBO buyer. If this all sounds very ambitious, that’s because it is. “We inherited a great company, and our goal from the start was to be the best wine agency”, says De Blois.

The WineAlign team sat down to taste nearly two-dozen Noble Estates selections in late September, finding plenty to recommend, filling most of our “reasons to buy” categories.

Restaurant Pours by the Glass

Harlow Ridge 2012 Zinfandel, California ($18.99)Fontanafredda Eremo Langhe Rosso 2012 Harlow Ridge Zinfandel 2012

David Lawrason – This is a nicely bright, lifted zinfandel that delivers fresh cran-raspberry fruit, green tea, even peppermint aromas and flavours, and thankfully avoids oak confection. Very approachable and quite delicious, exactly the kind of wine that restaurants can pour by the glass as a sipper or with casual pub fare.

Fontanafredda 2012 Eremo Langhe Rosso, Piedmont, Italy ($22.99)

David Lawrason – This is an ideal, good value red either as a house pour in an Italian restaurant, or to have stocked at home for get togethers involving Italian cuisine – i.e. pizza and game night. This mid-weight, lively and juicy nebbiolo. Not as refined and deep as neighbouring Barolo, but it gives a great sense of what nebbiolo is all about at half the price.

Cellaring Wine

Hedges Cuvee Marcel Dupont Syrah Red Mountain Les Gosses Vineyard 2012, Washington, USA ($49.99)

David Lawrason – A central tenet of collecting is to stock a great, age-worthy wine that will not often come your way. Washington syrah is so much under the radar, but this is one to shout from the rooftops. Not only is it wild and edgy, it has some cool textural elegance and minerality on the palate. And great depth, internal combustion, density and outstanding length. Best 2017 to mid-2020s.
Sara d’Amato – Admittedly, I have a weakness for syrah, for expressive cooler climate styles that rock you with spicy pepper, earth and an undercurrent of vibrancy. I find all of this in this complex, swoon-worthy example from Washington’s Hedges Cuvée Marcel Dupont. Sensual, musky and oh-so memorable.
Michael Godel – This has the je ne sais quoi of Syrah meets Red Mountain AVA, in fact it has the JNSQ of anywhere in the Syrah diaspora. A 10 year cellar-worthy syrah.

Collectible WineEn Route Les Pommiers Pinot Noir 2013Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle Grand Cuvée Hedges Cuvee Marcel Dupont Syrah Red Mountain Les Gosses Vineyard 2012

Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Grand Cuvée, Champagne, France ($199.00)

John Szabo – This is expensive like all premium champagnes, but the emphasis here is on premium. This is a terrifically elegant, vivacious, very refined and beautifully detailed Grand Siècle, the very essence of delicacy, up there alongside the greatest and worthy of a splurge. I’d leave this in the cellar for another 2-3 years to develop a little more toasty complexity.
David Lawrason – It would great to have a bottle or two in your cellar, but this is too good to be poured only in celebration (where the celebration is centre stage). This Grand Siecle is gorgeous! So rich yet refined with subtle, layered aromas of fresh peach, lemon poppyseed loaf, a hint of vanillin and slivered almond. Such great weave!
Sara d’Amato – Hands-down, a Champagne worth the investment. The Grand Siècle Cuvée is blended from various vintages of Grand Cru wines and offers, sophistication and complexity. Impressive – fresh and lifted with exceptional length.

En Route 2013 Les Pommiers Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California, USA ($99.99)

Sara d’Amato – My husband couldn’t stop sipping on this when I brought it home after review – it is an addictive pinot noir with all that is glorious and catchy about the new world style. Beautifully executed with flavours of wild flower, smoke, plum and dark cherry fruit.  Organically farmed to boot!

Seasonal Wines

Umani Ronchi 2012 San Lorenzo Rosso Conero, Le Marche, Italy ($19.99)

John Szabo – This Montepulciano-based red from Le Marche is compellingly dark and savoury, woodsy, resinous, and swarthy, delivering great character for the money. It’s a perfect autumn wine, when game and wild mushrooms hit the table.

Personal House Wines

Domaine Pfister 2013 Pinot Blanc, Alsace, France ($22.99)

John Szabo – I often find myself short on reasonably priced, versatile white wines in the cellar (because I always drink them), and this Alsatian pinot blanc, fresh and delicate, full of white flowers and white-fleshed fruit, fits the bill nicely. Gentle acids and balanced palate make this suitable for just about any occasion, and it’s fully ready to enjoy now, or hold for another year or two without concern.
Michael Godel – I have tasted this 2013 more than 15 times and it always come up the same; clean, polished and lithe. Sips alone and swallows alongside much varied gastronomy.
David Lawrason – This a nifty wine priced well enough to be your house white, or served at a somewhat upscale function. Perhaps even a restaurant pour buy the glass, if you think your clientele will venture into Alsace. It is a classic pinot blanc with a compelling combination of breadth and richness yet focus and minerality for good measure.

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

Michael Godel – Unique, as always and very gamay. Will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight. Might best be typecast as a M-T-W-T-F-S-S wine.

Umani Ronchi San Lorenzo Rosso Conero 2012 Domaine Pfister Pinot Blanc 2013 13th Street Gamay Noir 2013Fontanafredda La Rosa Barolo 2008 Xavier Cuvée Anonyme Châteauneuf Du Pape 2011

Wine Pooling

Fontanafredda 2008 Barolo La Rosa, Piedmont, Italy ($64.95)

John Szabo – This is precisely the type of wine I love to have around for occasions when something above the mean is needed, though a full case will make a dent. Solution: share the case with 2-3 friends and keep a small cache. It’s drinking beautifully at the moment – sleek and sensual, with a terrific range of savoury, resinous, floral and earthy notes in the classic nebbiolo register – though will also sail gracefully for a few more years.
David Lawrason – This is a real find in the sense that it is an excellent Barolo that is now moving into prime, at a reasonable price in the Barolo-sphere. Love the lifted nose with roasted chestnuts, leather, chinotto, caraway, dried roses and warmed cherry jam fruit. So yes you might want to share a case and cellar a bottle or three at home – it will hold for five years. But it really deserves to reside on fine Italian wine list.

Xavier 2011 Cuvée Anonyme Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France ($62.95)

David Lawrason – Chateauneuf is certainly a cellarable wine but Xavier is making a smooth, elegant, silky style that is approachable now as well. And it is delicious. I would love a handful of bottles in my cellar but not a full case at the price. It is a case I would split with two or three friends.
Sara d’Amato – A gutsy and traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape with great body and concentration. The blends builds nicely to an epic climax that will have you quaking. Age-worthy and quite special.

Curio Selections

Planeta 2014 Etna Bianco, Sicily, Italy ($29.99)Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2014 Planeta Etna Bianco 2014

John Szabo – Regular readers are familiar with my fascination for wines grown on volcanoes, but this wine goes beyond the merely volcanic curio into fine white wine territory. 2014 was a terrific vintage for Planeta’s Etna Bianco, the finest yet in my experience. I love the crisp, tense structure, the evident salinity-minerality – a rare unoaked white with genuine drive and power. Drink now, or even better, hold for another 2-3 years to allow the more visceral, salty-stony character of the volcano to emerge.
Michael Godel – This is a near perfect vintage for such a wine, made from carricante, one of the most ancient of Sicilian grape varieties. Ideal for splitting a case with one or two friends.
Sara d’Amato – Made from the carricante varietal, a staple of the wines of the volcanic soils of Mount Etna. Vivacious by nature, it is often tamed by malolactic fermentation, lees ageing and some oak. This example was picked at the peak of ripeness and needs little intervention save some partial fermentation in oak. Nervy with great minerality, perky lemon and saline featured on the palate. A wine sure to whisk you off to a beautiful realm. Good news, it is available now, by consignment.

Planeta 2014 Cerasuolo, Sicily, Italy ($28.99)

David Lawrason – It is perhaps pricy as an everyday, personal house wine, but it is a curio that will appeal to wine explorers, so I would buy a case to share/gift to those who you think might be interested. It is delicious and charming. A fresh, grapey, soft yet poised red that blends nero d’avola and frappato, the former a much more well-known Sicilian variety than the latter. I thought of Spanish garnacha but it is livelier.
Sara d’Amato – A wine that will shortly be available by consignment and worth the wait so it is recommended to order soon. This reminded me of a really good Cru Beaujolais aped up with saline, dried mint and a deliciously smoky character.
John Szabo – Like my chronic shortage of versatile whites, light and spicy, crunchy reds also disappear with alarming speed from my cellar. If only I had more cases of wines like this nero d’avola-frappato blend, a lovely, fresh, floral, finely detailed, seamless, and silky red, I’d have fewer moments of disappointment. But this is not just simple and easy-drinking; it also has exceptional depth and length.

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 Noble Estates Wine & Spirits. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Noble Estates has provided the following agency profile. 

About Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Noble Estates Wine & Spirits is an independently owned company that has been serving the Ontario market for 25 years. Our team is made up of passionate and knowledgeable wine lovers who proudly represent a unique portfolio of hand-selected wines and spirits. Our range includes many of the top producers from around the world. We pride ourselves on building and maintaining strong, long-term relationships with all of our suppliers and our valued customers.

For more information, please visit our website at

How to order:

If you have any questions, or would like to place an order, please contact Ian at Delivery options vary depending on your location.

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 17, Part One

Strength in Napa and World Whites
by Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo MS

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Napa: the elite of the American wine world, the region that made zinfandel chic and cabernet king. This small but mighty wine region exploded onto the wine world in the mid 70s when the area wasn’t considered quite so elite. Its transformation since that time has been fraught with challenges and continuing hardships but with true western American gusto, it has persevered and triumphed.

Next week’s substantial VINTAGES release is ripe with the fruits of Napa and puts some of the region’s best results forward but also highlights what makes the region vulnerable and its style open to question. (John Szabo has also suggested several non-LCBO selections from agents with broad Californian portfolios below. )

So the questions I put forward are, what makes Napa great? Does it deserve the prestige is commands?

Recently, I was afforded the opportunity to visit this illustrious valley and discover for myself what makes it pulsate. For the most part, producers were frank, welcomed discussion and graciously answered when put to task on difficult and skeptical questioning. For that generosity I was sincerely grateful.

Let’s start with the basics. Napa is located just north of San Francisco and just inland of Sonoma. It is a great deal smaller in area than Sonoma, warmer but still benefits from the influence of the San Pablo Bay fog brought in by cool winds from the south. The fog created by these cool winds and inner warmth is most notably influential in the valley floor. In contrast, the diurnal temperature fluctuations due to altitude affect the hillside sites. Hillsides vs. valley floor make up the most dramatic differences in terroir that affect style and flavour in the wines.

Fog rolling in below Spring Mountain at Cain Vineyards

Fog rolling in below Spring Mountain at Cain Vineyards

The relatively small valley, about 50 km long and 8 km wide is dotted with impressive peaks that produce inspired wines with tension and impact. This “mountain fruit” from the hillsides is fresher with its own particular brand of “garrigue” – leafy and shrubby herbs such as laurel can be found on the hillsides as well as the idiosyncratic tarweed, which lend notes of jasmine and citrus to the aromatic profile of the wines. Much of this varied shrub growth is maintained and encouraged in order to prevent erosion of these poor soils.  In contrast, Napa’s valley floor is able to produce distinguished wine of great power, concentration and longevity. Morning fog cover of the valley keeps the temperature low before it is hit by warming sunshine in the afternoon, allowing for definition in the wine.

Throughout our Napa Valley Vintners wine experience, my Canadian and UK colleagues and I got to experience Napa from all angles – from being put to work in wineries during harvest, to intimate dinners with winemakers, to chats with industry pioneers amongst the Redwoods. At one such “fireside chat” mediated by MS Matt Stamp, our preconceptions were disarmed.

Producers were asked to talk about the pursuit of balance that turned into a discussion of the “pursuit of acidity.” In Napa the element most challenging in the production of a balanced wine is certainly a lack of acidity. That acidity is hard to come by in warmer conditions and to hold on to it can be fraught with complex choices for winemakers. Vintage dependent, producers may have to take a hit on the phenolic ripeness of the grape in order to preserve enough natural acidity for perfect poise. Acidification can be a default position but it is not ideal, often resulting in unnatural flavours and textures.  This balance is more easily achieved at higher elevations with a greater diurnal temperature shift.

View of Napa Valley from above

View of Napa Valley from above

However, Cathy Corison, a much admired and longstanding winemaker/owner of Corison Vineyards in the Valley, has the following to say about ripeness and alcohol being a representation of terroir in Napa: “In my opinion, the high alcohol, extracted style of Napa Cabernet is a stylistic choice and fashion comes and goes in wine styles. Grown right, cabernet can achieve phenolic ripeness at lower sugars. Balanced vines on well-drained soils where there is enough heat to ripen cabernet, have managed to get the right amount of air and light in to the fruit, yield ripe tannins.” In other words, Corison suggests that preserving acidity as well as phenolic ripeness in Napa is possible in most years but requires a thorough understanding of soils. Every wine region has its challenges, it is how winegrowers have evolved and adapted to their environment that dictates the potential for great wines.

When challenged to dispel the myth that Napa only creates big, “bombtastic” (i.e., explosions of a fantastic nature) wines, producers had mixed opinions. The most brazen owned up to the fact that “bombtastic” was part of their unique character, the very cultural definition of their wine that is a natural product of their terroir. Others agreed that because of the region’s almost effortless ability to produce bold wines, careful vigor management and site selection along with earlier harvest dates had to be controlled. The human element of terroir might just be the most complex component and the most variable. Thus, what we discovered in Napa was a range of wine with varied interpretations of Napa’s terroir.

Beth Novak Milliken, CEO of Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery had the following to say regarding challenging preconceptions of Napa Valley wine: “ . . . we want to make sure that Napa Valley is not somehow defined as a region that produces only ripe, oaky, full-throttle cabernets that cost a great deal. . . . there are many great wines made here that, thankfully, do not fit that monolithic stylistic profile. This needs to be communicated.”

The most ardent difference is felt in the wines of the weirdly wet and cooler 2011 vintage. These wines are characteristically earthy, herbal and refreshingly lean. Some, in fact, were too lean and others showed remarkable elegance and a transparency that was welcome. These best examples, often from the hillsides with better drainage, were like portals, a quick, rare and intimate peek into the inner workings of the complex structure and character of Napa wine. This is not a vintage that has been critically lauded; it is atypical with mixed reviews but also compellingly unusual. When botrytis on cabernet sauvignon makes an appearance you can be sure that Napa producers were shaken up in a refreshingly topsy-turvy way (most enjoyed the challenge!) What came of this vintage is that elegance, transparence and freshness is now on the radar. For some, this may even influence future growing and winemaking decisions but only time will tell.

Different but still unusual, the 2015 vintage has been rife with irregular fruit set, “coulure” and uneven ripening. Producers will likely see a shortfall in quantity and varied quality. Good quality wines will demonstrate very good concentration and a dark, inky colour. There are a multitude of reasons why 2015 has been such a difficult vintage to manage but some of it has to do with irregular temperatures as well as the long drought faced by Napa.

An unending drought, a looming risk of the incurable Pierce’s disease and continued strain with transitioning old, non-Phylloxera resistant rootstocks does not make Napa safe under the sunshine and forces it to be innovative and non-complacent. From this, Napa producers draw strength, forced to find new and creative ways to adapt to changing realities.

That being said, Napa is not a place to look for value. Given our economic climate and the dollar giving us close to 15% less than it did at this time last year, the price reflects that increase and we can feel that increase in this release. Further to this, value is not part of the equation in Napa. It is a premier region with such a reputation that the value of the name Napa on the label guarantees a higher return.  Almost everything that is produced is “haut de gamme” from small wineries. Although California produces 90% of US wine, only 4% comes from Napa. It is a place, however, to look for wines of impressive crescendos that deliver broad, bold strokes. If managed properly and all conditions favorable, Napa wines can take us to great heights and blow off their international competition as it has done in the past.

Welcome to Napa Valley

Although fashion, fad and trends have floated Napa wine to the top, its international emergence had nothing to do with trend. In fact, the very opposite, California wine was the dark horse. The judgment of Paris in 1976 that slotted California’s few and finest against much more highly lauded wines France had a transformative effect on the region. No longer were American wines the underdogs, they, in a spectacular showing due to a convalescence of favorable factors; made an even stronger showing than their prestigious French counterparts. In this regard, Napa is a true American dream story with great cultural resonance.

So whether it be empathy for the underdog, a desire for bold flavours, an attraction to the prestige or a simply a love for these expressive wines with potential for development over decades, Napa can hook you, if you can afford it. Certainly look outside of the shelves of the LCBO for a greater selection of these wines that can deliver surprising freshness, balance and restraint. Now enough from me and on to the top picks from our thirsty critics.

(John Szabo has also suggested several non-LCBO selections from agents with broad Californian portfolios below . )

Buyers’ Guide to Oct 17th: Napa Valley

Chateau Montelena 2013 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($62.95)

John Szabo – For fans of more reserved and composed Napa chardonnay, crafted in the traditional Montelena style. This gives little on the nose for now, but compelling depth and structure on the palate, so tuck it away for another couple of years at least. But the bottle shows depth and poise, already well-integrated wood and bright, sharp acids. Best 2017-2025.
Sara d’Amato – Characteristically elegant, this chardonnay does not disappoint offering finely integrated French oak, lemon and crisp green apple. Richly textured but a touch austere at present. Let this one develop for another 2-3 years.

Stonehedge 2013 Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($22.95)

Sara d’Amato – One of the better values in this release, I love how the fruit take center stage here, how the oak plays a supportive role and that a beautiful floral element is expressed. Elegant but not without the distinctive concentration of Napa Valley.

Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2013 Stonehedge Reserve Chardonnay 2013 Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Joseph Phelps 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, St. Helena, Napa Valley ($51.95)

John Szabo – Admittedly Napa sauvignon rarely excites – it’s simply too warm to make wine of genuine interest, and the prices are astronomical, but here’s the exception that proves the rule. Although from a warm area – the Spring Valley Home Ranch in St. Helena, in a warm vintage, this manages to stay sharp and finely detailed. It’s ripe to be sure – fruit is comfortably in the gently tropical and ripe orchard categories, and wood is noted but well rounded and integrated, but acids are seamless. Best 2015-2021.
David Lawrason – This is a gorgeous, well structured, Bordeaux-like barreled sauvignon. Sauvignon does not produce intense NZ style wines well in Napa, but every Napa winery achieved this level of quality, it could replace chardonnay as the white of choice. Terrific wine; only at Flagship LCBO stores.

Black Stallion 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($32.95)

John Szabo – The best value Napa cabernet in the release, rich, ripe and generously proportioned, black fruit-dominated, ready to drink or hold short term. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – Black Stallion is hoeing a difficult row in trying to make high quality, value oriented Napa cabernet, which is now almost by definition one of the world’s priciest wines. This does a decent in a quite gentle, elegant if not deep style. I like the sense of restraint, dryness and attention to detail. Best yet from Black Stallion. Tasted Oct 2015

Black Stallion Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Freemark Abbey Merlot 2012

Heitz Cellar 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($89.95)

John Szabo – The classiest cabernet in the release comes from the aristocratic Heitz winery, a notably lively and even lightly herbal 2010, in a positive sense, with fine balance and genuine zestiness. This should age well, too. Best 2015-2025.
David Lawrason – Compared to many other iconic Napa cabs that command well over $100, this is a bargain. It is such a refined, tense and deep young cabernet, with the benefit of having some bottle age. Lovely texture and vibrancy.

Paul Hobbs 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($99.95)

John Szabo – Paul Hobbs has crafted the most opulent and voluptuous cabernet in the release, with impressive density, weight, and depth, yet still nicely defined. This is a complete and appealing package within the bold Napa genre. Best 2015-2026.

Freemark Abbey 2012 Merlot, Napa Valley ($39.95)

David Lawrason – Freemark Abbey has just sort of been hanging around in Napa, rarely rising to great heights. But this textbook merlot at a decent price. Nice complexity, well structured, firm and hitting very good to excellent length.
Sara d’Amato – A wine with old world sensitivities, both compelling and charming. Dried leaf and cigar box compliment the gracefully maturing fruit on the palate. There is a great deal to love here at a relatively reasonable price.

Beringer 2012 Quantum, Napa Valley ($69.95)

Atalon Pauline's Cuvée 2012 Beringer Quantum 2012Sara d’Amato – A bolder, more muscular style, this cabernet blend delivers a great deal of impact and opulent flavours. Beringer’s Quantum is a blend of small parcels intended to deliver a complex result with vintage variation.

Atalon 2012 Pauline’s Cuvée, Napa Valley ($36.95)

David Lawrason – This is 63% merlot, 31% cab franc and 6% cabernet sauvignon – with the cab franc component adding great lift to the aromas. This is very pretty, medium weight, elegant, racy and smooth with good energy.  Decent value to boot.
Sara d’Amato – A largely merlot blend with gorgeous aromas and tannins that have yielded enough for immediate drinking pleasure. There is a complex, feminine character to this wine that draws on right bank Bordeaux for inspiration.

Buyers’ Guide to Oct 17th: World Whites 

Jané Ventura 2010 Reserva de la Musica Brut Nature, Cava, Penedès, Spain ($17.95)

John Szabo – Terrific cava for the money, bone dry, sharp, toasty, tight and riveting. Aperitif hour calls.

Tawse 2014 Sketches of Niagara Riesling, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($17.95)

John Szabo – A perennial value favourite that delivers yet again in 2014: crisp and pure, barely off-dry and appley, nicely representative of Niagara.

Zolo 2013 Torrontés, Mendoza, Argentina ($13.95)

Sara d’Amato – Torrontés is most often good value but the best examples show restraint and elegance with brightness on the palate to balance what can be cloying sweetness. This example is on the dry side of the spectrum with discreet floral notes and upbeat fruit on the palate. Easy-drinking, pretty and pleasant.

Jané Ventura Reserva de la Musica Brut Nature 2010 Tawse Sketches of Niagara Riesling 2014 Zolo Torrontés 2014 Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2012

Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier Scharzhofberger 2012 Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany ($22.95)

David Lawrason – It’s almost the complete opposite of the stolid Trimbach riesling above. This is light, pristine and tender off-dry riesling with classic, quite ripe aromas of MacIntosh apple/peach, white flowers and honey.
John Szabo – An absolutely cracking, riveting, off-dry, fleshy, flavourful, genuinely concentrated Saar riesling at a giveaway price. Would be hard to imagine stuffing more flavour onto an 8.5% alcohol frame. Best 2015-2025.

Louis Moreau 2013 Vaulignot Chablis 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($34.95)

John Szabo – Beautifully detailed, lean, bright, sharp and minerally, with textbook nutty notes. This delivers all one could want from the region, with real depth, drive and power, and capacity to age a decade. Stock up on the 2013s while they’re around – 2014 was much more challenging – and while Chablis remains the best value in white Burgundy. Best 2015-2023.

Louis Moreau Chablis Vaulignot Premier Cru 2013 Trimbach Riesling 2012 Beyra Vinhos De Altitude 2014 Domaine Jaeger Defaix Rabourcé Rully 1er Cru 2012

Trimbach 2012 Riesling, Alsace, France ($21.95)

David Lawrason – Another classic, solid performance in a dry riesling designed to age. It gathers all of aromatic and structural attributes into one very focused and complete wine. A clinic on Alsatian styling that should fabulous with roast pork and richer fish dishes, now through 2019ish.

Beyra 2014 Vinhos de Altitude, Beiras, Portugal ($12.95)

Sara d’Amato – We seem to still have a few nice days left for sipping on light, fresh and fabulous whites. This lovely value hails from the Beiras region of interior of Portugal – an area whose wines have little representation in Ontario but are worthy of attention.

Domaine Jaeger-Defaix Rabourcé 2012 Rully 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($35.95)
David Lawrason – I am paying a lot of attention to chardonnays coming from the Chalonnaise villages of Rully. Montagny and Mercurey. The value quotient is very high. They may lack the sheer power and depth of Meursault and co. but nor do I also want power. This is poised and stylish with lovely complexity.


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES October 17, 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!

And More Napa
by John Szabo, MS

There’s a much deeper selection of Napa wines available in Ontario then what’s on shelves at the LCBO. I spent a week in Napa earlier this year researching my upcoming book on volcanic wines and have added another 50 top wine reviews to the WineAlign site. Set your filter to California and search away (just make sure the maximum price bar is set high). Here is a handful of producers to search for in particular, with their Ontario agents listed, who also have some of the richest Napa wine portfolios in the province. Visit their respective sites to view their full selections.

– Cliff Lede (Halpern Enterprises)
– Corison (Kylix)
– Diamond Creek Vineyards (Lifford)
– Grgich Cellars (Rogers & Co.)
– J. Davies (The Vine – Rob Groh)
– Michael Mondavi Family Estate (Mark Anthony Brands)
– Peter Franus (Profile Wine Group)
– Storybook Mountain (The Vine – Rob Groh)
– Viader (Small Winemakers)

One Night in Napa Valley: VINTAGES Around Tasting, Toronto, October 26th, 2015

Those who like to taste before buying (a smart strategy when the stakes are high) will want to mark October 26th on the calendar. You’ll taste 70 wines from over 30 Napa producers under one roof. I’ll be there to lead a sit-down tasting beforehand (sorry, sold out), but stop by to say hello after and get some insiders tips on what to try. Participating wineries include Araujo Estate, Cakebread Cellars, Cliff Lede Vineyards, Dalla Valle Vineyards, Duckhorn Vineyards, Far Niente, Heitz Cellars, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Pahlmeyer, Paul Hobbs Winery, Shafer Vineyards, Spottswoode Winery and more. See more at:


Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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