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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 5, Part One

Fudging Sweetness: Notes from the New World
By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Without VINTAGES having a specific theme for the Sept 5 catalogue, we have decided to create our own themes for this release.  I make some New World recommendations this week, while John will lead off with European wines next week. That sounded like a straightforward assignment until I came to actually search for my best buy values. While I found some excellent whites, I discovered that there was only one New World red that makes the cut – the good ole’ Faithful Hound from South Africa. The dearth of value picks is partially explained by the fact there are no Australian reds being released, which is very odd. As well, there are only a handful of South American and South African reds. But the real reason for the absence of New World red values rests squarely on the strong core of American wines.

There are 15 American reds on the release – from California, Oregon and Washington. And there are some excellent wines, which Sara has pointed out. But none make my value cut because their prices are high (perhaps thanks to the weak Canadian dollar) and in many cases their quality suffers because of excessive sweetness.

Sweetness in lower priced/commercial American reds is nothing new. Most California reds on the LCBO’s general list have some perceptible sweetness. But I am discouraged that it is creeping into more expensive wines, and moving from California into Washington, in particular, and even into Oregon’s pinot noirs. Let alone into other countries.

It is obvious that American consumers, and many Canadian consumers for that matter, like sweet reds. They sell very well. I have always believed in the idea that ‘there is no wrong or right about what wines you like’; but as a critic who is supposed to be providing an objectively derived opinion on quality, it’s clear to me that excessive sweetness lowers quality – just as excessive alcohol, acidity or tannin lowers quality. It is a question of imbalance, of sweetness making the wines too thick, soft and soupy. They miss that key element of refreshment that underlies all great table wines and makes any wine “drinkable” through more than a few sips. It can also dumb down or mask varietal and regional expression.

It really is a matter of how sweet is sweet on a wine by wine basis. I am in the lucky position of being able to examine this wine by wine, but most consumers are not. There is usually no label indication that there is sweetness/sugar in red wines; one has to read into code words on back labels like ‘smooth’, ‘velvety’ and ‘fruity”. Why isn’t the industry brave and honest enough to call them what they are – sweet reds? Because the industry knows people like sweetness but would rather be perceived to be drinking dry (perhaps because we know a balanced dry wine is better?).

Eleven of the 15 American wines in VINTAGES catalogue are categorized on the LCBO’s official Perceived Sweetness Scale as D or Dry. The other four are categorized as Extra Dry. Which I guess means that Dry doesn’t really mean dry. In any event, in 13 of the 15 reds – including those labeled as Extra Dry – I perceived some sweetness – from the egregious sweetness of Conundrum, to more subtle sweetness in a wine like the very good Hess Select Cabernet (at $24.95 the only one to come close to being recommended on value). The two wines that taste clearly dry are the great Ridge 2012 Montebello ($190) and Grgich Hills 2012 Zinfandel ($49.95), but neither are good value. The LCBO often lists the actual grams of sugar per litre on their shelf tags and on their website, if you want to dig a little deeper.

Here are our picks:

California and New World Reds

Chateau Montelena 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, ($70.95)
Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 2012 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Sara d’Amato – Although this traditional beauty has seen a considerable increase in price over the past year, it has not faltered in its characteristic refinement and elegance. This very old world style evokes the delicacy of the wines of Margaux on Bordeaux’s left bank. If you’re thinking along this vein then the price might seem just right.

Ridge Vineyards 2012 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains, California, ($190.95)
Sara d’Amato – There is no great value here but Ridge’s Monte Bello site, located in the upper elevations of the Santa Cruz Mountains, consistently produces stunning results. Its cooler site gives the wine unusual elegance, a distinctly mineral component and a savory tartness that provides both energy to the palate and great potential longevity.

Hess Select 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino/Lake/Napa Counties, California, ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – This the best value of the Californians in this VINTAGES release and a consumer favourite. I especially appreciated the honesty, generosity and the dry, un-manipulated feel of this solid find.

The Hilt 2012 The Vanguard Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, California, ($64.95)
Swartland Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound 2012 The Hilt The Vanguard Pinot Noir 2012Sara d’Amato – Santa Rita Hills is a very special place for cool climate varietals, in particular, pinot noir. The vineyards are in relative close proximity to the ocean that blows in cool breezes and sweeping fog. This climatic influence gives the grapes of this southerly region freshness and delicacy. Dried leaf, musk and peppery spice enhance the juicy cherry fruit on the palate of this old world inspired but distinctly southern Californian pinot noir.

Mulderbosch 2012 Faithful Hound, Western Cape, South Africa ($20.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very impressive, dense and complex blend of six Bordeaux varieties with cab sauv and franc adding up to 50%. It is certainly ripe but it has impressive tension, complexity and depth at this price; with some Cape granitic minerality and herbaceousness. A classic example of the Old World-New World yin & yang of many South African reds.

Swartland Winery 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, South Africa($12.95)
Sara d’Amato – Who doesn’t love the combination of cheap and delicious? I can’t imagine that this will last long on the shelves so be sure to pick up in multiples this clean, natural feeling, and well-made Bordeaux blend from a winery known for their extensive bush vine plantings.

Ontario & New World Whites

Cave Spring 2013 Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($15.95)

Flat Rock 2013 Riesling

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2013 Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2013David Lawrason – This is a fine vintage of one of Niagara’s best on-going examples of this distinctively aromatic chardonnay clone. Expect fairly generous floral, lemongrass, lychee-melon and anise on the nose. It’s medium bodied, well-balanced, warm and quite powerful – a great choice for a late summer garden dinner.
Sara d’Amato – Chardonnay musqué is a clone that gives a unique flavour profile to the resulting wine of flowery muscat. This light and fresh example delivers lovely tension from vibrant acids and an elegant mineral component. Drink up – this might just make summer last a little longer!

Hidden Bench 2013 Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($28.95)
David Lawrason – For the past seven vintages Hidden Bench’s “basic non-single vineyard chardonnay” has achieved a 90-point WineAlign rating. This could be the best yet, from a great white wine vintage in Niagara. It is textbook premium Niagara chardonnay – very refined, solid and complex with the ability to age. It has become too easy perhaps to call chardonnay like this Burgundian; but it truly does have a core and elegance mindful of a fine example from the key villages of the Cote de Beaune.

Flat Rock 2014 Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($16.95)
David Lawrason – A stunning riesling and a heck of a good deal – this tense, nervy, mid-weight style delivers tingling vibrancy to the palate which balances its just off-dry character. One of my favourite vintages yet of this consistently good quality find.

Henry Of Pelham 2013 Estate Chardonnay, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)
KWV The Mentors Chenin Blanc 2014 Te Whare Ra Toru 2014 Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013David Lawrason – Yet another lovely and nicely priced 2013 Niagara chardonnay! It is silky yet poised with well integrated, subtle and complex flavours of ripe yellow pear, butter, almond, toast and vanilla cream. It will equally comfortable as a sipping style, or with grilled white meat dished.

Te Whare Ra 2014 Toru, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – I am not a big fan of aromatic blended whites. Most of them are toss offs to use up spare batches of cheaper wine. So you might at first glance think this rather expensive for a blend. But there is a difference here. It is an organically grown, single vineyard blend of three varieties – gewürztraminer, riesling and pinot gris – that have been co-fermented (not combined after the fact). So not only is it fragrant and well balanced, it has a real sense of integration and completeness.

KWV 2014 The Mentors Chenin Blanc, Paarl, South Africa ($29.95)
David Lawrason – The Mentor’s series are the top wines in the KWV range – changing from year to year, but always sourced from the best older vine sites in this large company’s portfolio of vineyards. This oaked chenin shows great power, depth and exotic, very spicy flavours, right down to a sense of minerality on the finish.
That’s a wrap for this week. If you are reading this over the weekend of August 29 to 31 think of us as at the World Wine Awards of Canada where we tasting through an international selection of wines available somewhere in the country. All to keep you abreast of what’s new and what’s good in more affordable wines.

Cheers
David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Sept 5, 2015
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

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


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Season 5, Table 14 – The Grand Finale of “So, You Think you Know Wine?”

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
(aka “Surf’s up on Meat Beach”)

Welcome to Table 14, the Grande Finale of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

After weeks of battling for position and points, everything comes down to the final wine. Finalists John Szabo MS, Sara d’Amato and William Predhomme face-off for all the glory with their own compelling arguments as to what’s in the glass. Tune in to see who gets it right and, as host Seán Cullen would say, who gets it more right.

Watch the Finale

Table 14 – The Finalists

Sara d’Amato

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

Sara d'Amato

John Szabo, MS

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

John 1

Will Predhomme

Will Predhomme is a prominent Canadian Professional Sommelier, beverage business development specialist, and industry liaison. Will’s experience reflects a career based in the beverage alcohol, hospitality, education, government and private sectors. For several years, he was the Senior Sommelier at Canoe Restaurant. Now he teaches WSET courses, is o-producer of Ontario and Oregon-made wines, host of The Globe & Mail Wine Basics videos, and is Managing Director of Predhomme Market Insights. He is an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and in 2010 he won the title of Best Ontario Sommelier.

will

Watch the Finale

The Scoring

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

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

Score Card:

Click on the score card below to see how the semi finalist and finalist were selected.

The Scorecard

 

Thank you for watching this fifth season of “So, You Think You Know Wine?” We hope that you found this new series entertaining and that you had as much fun watching as we did filming. As usual, please send your comments to feedback@winealign.com and feel free to share this video with your friends and family.

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

Table 1 – Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013
Table 2 – Creekside Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Table 3 – Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Table 4 – The Grinder Pinotage 2013
Table 5 – Faustino VII Tempranillo 2012
Table 6 – Gnarly Head Pinot Noir 2012
Table 7 – Laroche Chablis St. Martin 2012
Table 8 – Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2010
Table 9 – Root: 1 Carmenère 2012
Table 10 – Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2012
Table 11 – Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012
Table 12 – [Semi Final #1] Sterling Chardonnay 2012
Table 13 – [Semi Final #2] Fontanafredda Barolo Nebbiolo 2010

For those of you new to our video series, “So, You Think You Know Wine?”, you can watch all previous seasons under the Videos tab.

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


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John Szabo’s Free Run – Digging for Minerality

By John Szabo MSAugust 24, 2015

 

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

There’s ample anecdotal and empirical evidence that soils affects the smell, taste and texture of wine. Scientists, however, still struggle to pinpoint exactly why and how these differences arise – the direct and indirect effects of soil chemistry on wine are challenging to identify and even harder to quantify with scientific certainty. It’s nearly impossible to isolate soil mineral content alone as the difference between the chemical content of wines, as the number of variables is staggering. But knowing empirically that soils play an important role, it seems impossible not to attribute and connect differing characteristics to a wine’s geological origins, sketchy science and all.

Under the umbrella of minerality, myriad geological formations such as slate, shale, schist, granitic, basalt, tuff, limestone, chalk, river bed and countless more have been called into action to explain the unique flavor profile that certain, invariably much admired, wines have. How else to distinguish the very good from the very best in an ever-increasing worldwide offering? Wines with minerality have a sacred link to their place of birth, presumably thanks to the special geology of their origins, and are thus more valuable than other wines. The trouble is, there’s very little evidence to support this. Yet scientists be damned. So far, their efforts to explain wine character have been as effective as the laws of physics have been to explain psychology. Minerality does exist, but perhaps not in the way you thought.

Defining Minerality

The main trouble with the term minerality is that it has no definition. There’s no consensus among either winemakers or wine tasters on what exactly constitutes minerality. Researcher Jordi Ballester at the Centre des Sciences du Goût in Dijon among others has studied the use of the term, and found widespread differences in a large sampling of tasters in when and how it was applied. For some it’s an aroma (flint, wet stones, riverbed, oyster shell, etc.), for others it’s a taste (salty, metallic, or a particularly vibrant type of acidity). Yet others claim to detect minerality in the texture of a wine, offering supporting terms like chalky or granitic, which evoke additional geological mental images.

What it Isn’t

What is abundantly clear is that minerality doesn’t exist in the literal sense. The above-mentioned characteristics don’t arise directly from geological minerals in wine, as nice and neat as that would be. Alex Maltman, Professor of the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at the University of Wales, is a well-known debunker of the minerality myth, and has written convincingly on the impossibility of actually tasting minerals in wine. “Whatever minerality is, it cannot literally be the taste of minerals derived from the vineyard geology”, he concludes. Minerals themselves have no taste. According to Maltman, the levels of even the most abundant elements in wine like calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium are present at sub-threshold levels: “Potassium rarely exceeds a few hundred parts per million (ppm) with a few tens of ppm for calcium and magnesium… these are tasteless anyway and their concentration in wine are below sensory thresholds measured in water. In fact, the total inorganic content of wines typically ranges between only 0.15 and 0.4%”, he continues. Categorically, says Maltman, there is no direct link between rocks and wine flavour.

Professor Alex Maltman

Professor Alex Maltman excitedly debunking minerality at the i4c conference in Niagara this past July 2015. Photo credit: Steven Elphick (L) @TheWineSisters (R)

As he and others quite rightly point out, the aromas and flavours associated with minerality – seashells or gunflint or wet stones or whatever – are due to organic compounds, not the minerals these things are made of. But unlike, say, descriptions such as “vanilla” or “butter” or “green pepper” for which scientists have identified the main source compounds that cause these sensations in wine (vanillin, diacetyl and methoxypyrazines, respectively), the compounds responsible for “minerally” flavours aren’t as clear. Plenty of suspects have been put forth, such as volatile sulphur compounds derived from reductive winemaking (flinty, matchstick), or the esters formed by the interaction of alcohol and organic acids, or volatile thiols, the precursors for which are naturally present in certain grapes (such as Benzenemethanethiol (BMT) in sauvignon blanc, which apparently smells like gunflint). Of course none of these derive directly from soil. And logically, until everyone agrees on what minerality is, a single cause for it can’t be found.

So really, it’s time to redefine minerality. It doesn’t arise from a collection of measurable inorganic chemicals, sucked from rocks through vine roots and finishing up in a glass of wine to give it a special taste.

Metaphorical Minerality

But scientists have missed the point, missing the forest for all the trees. Minerality needn’t be taken so literally. All wine description is based on metaphor and analogy – there’s no other way to describe a sensory experience. And science is incapable of expressing such things in a helpful way. When a wine is described as floral or peachy, no one thinks for a moment that flowers or peaches were used in its production. Similarly, “minerality” and all its variations are helpful to describe and convey differences, and even suggest the quality associated with a distinctive personality, without implying that geological minerals somehow ended up in the wine.

Minerality is a useful umbrella term to describe wines that don’t fall into basic fruity, floral or spicy categories. There will probably always be multiple definitions. Its derivatives help further express even finer nuances. Used metaphorically, it’s as valid and useful at expressing the essence of a wine as any other descriptive term. Just be clear on how it’s used.

And Besides, Minerals do Affect Flavour!

Although the connection between a sensation of minerality in wine and vineyard geology cannot be literal and direct, we shouldn’t give up on minerals affecting wine flavor just yet. Not even Maltman closes the door on the role of mineral nutrients: “It may turn out with further research that the nutrient minerals of geological origin in vines and wines − minuscule in concentration and virtually flavourless though they may be themselves – are pivotal in determining wine character and flavour.” I know a thousand winemakers who would agree.

Citing just one of the possible ways in which minerals might influence flavour, Dr. Jamie Goode points out that it seems plausible, even likely, that varying concentrations of mineral nutrients could alter gene expressions in the vine, and hence the chemical composition of its grapes and the wines made from them.

I’d argue, contrary to Maltman, that there are cases in which elements like potassium, magnesium and iron do affect wine taste and flavour, and likely texture, too. In my travels and research for my upcoming book on wines from (invariably mineral-rich) volcanic soils, I’ve come across many examples of notably salty wines, my personal signature for minerality, a sensation too temptingly linked to particularly high levels of soil potassium. And I’ve seen the chemical analyses that also show shockingly high levels of potassium in the finished wines. Could the saltiness be potassium in its salt form, even if some would precipitate out during winemaking? It’s worth further investigation. (In some cases, admittedly, the salty sensation comes from run-of-the-mill sodium chloride from high water tables, or comes right out of thin air, deposited directly on grapes in seaside vineyards.) In another interesting twist, high potassium in soils is known to buffer wine acids and raise pH, yet the best of these wines remain fresh, thanks at least in part to their salinity – perhaps it’s that tangy, electric acid sensation that many associate with minerality.

Chemical analysis on Olivier Humbrecht’s masterful Riesling Rangen de Thann Grand Cru from Alsace, a “terroir” wine if there ever was one, also had measurably more mineral ash (sugar-free dry extract) than rieslings from his other sites. Is the wine distinctive? You bet. Does the mineral ash play a role? Unquestionably.

The influence of soil chemistry is surely complex and circuitous and much research is needed, but in the end “minerality” makes its contribution. There’s simply too much evidence to ignore. All those winemakers and wine tasters claiming that the geology influences flavour may one day be scientifically vindicated after all. But in the end, who cares. Let’s just go and have a glass of singular, minerally wine.

Szabo’s Guide to Minerally Wines:

Maximin Grünhäuser Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett 2012

Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009

Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009, Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia, Canada – Yes, Nova Scotia does minerality, especially in the careful hands of Benjamin Bridge, one of Canada’s most serious bubbly producers. Each year the vineyard team turns in grapes with the sort of analytical numbers that are dreamed of in champagne. Even this, their non-reserve brut, has surprising weight and even a touch of fat – call it vinosity – to soften the stony impact.

Maximin Grünhäuser 2012 Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany – A dazzling Mosel Kabinett from arch-traditionalist Maximin Grünhäuser, barely off-dry but balanced by crackling acids, driven more by honey-slathered wet slate than mere fruit. Best 2015-2027.

Argyros 2014 Santorini Assyrtiko, Greece – A superb Santorini, bone dry with electric acids, and a finish that shows the future salinity that will dominate this wine in time, in another 1-3 years, along with the ash taste that marks so many volcanic wines.

Domaine Laroche 2013 Chablis Saint Martin, Burgundy, France – Regionally accurate and representative wine here from Domaine Laroche, on the broader side of the Chablis spectrum, fullish and ripe, but still sufficiently tight and minerally to satisfy purists.

Domaine Drouhin 2012 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Oregon, USA – A fleshy and fullish, well-balanced and generously proportioned pinot noir from the iron rich, red volcanic soils of the Dundee Hills, with distinctive sanguine tang and salinity.

Argyros Santorini Assyrtiko 2014 Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2013Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2012Aglianico del Vulture Elena Fucci Titolo 2011Fontanafredda Barolo 2010

Elena Fucci 2011 Aglianico Del Vulture Titolo, Basilicata, Italy – Titolo, the sole wine made from Fucci’s 6 hectares – among of the highest and oldest vines on Mount Vulture, an extinct volcano – is an extraordinarily dense and complete wine, with a staggering streak of iron-graphite like minerality and palpable saltiness. Don’t touch for several years. (The equally excellent 2012 is available in consignment in Ontario through Le Sommelier).

Fontanafredda 2010 Barolo, Piedmont, Italy – A terrific buy for Barolo fans, and indeed for fans of all savoury, firmly structured, minerally, complex and succulent reds. This is the best yet from Fontanafredda.

Bonus Round

I asked several Oregonian winemakers for their thoughts on minerality. Here are a few of the more interesting answers:

“I use the term minerality to describe aromas and tastes that remind me of rock (flint, chalk, crumbled stone). Unlike “earthiness,” which is deeper in tone, minerality is a high note that is often accentuated by a resonant “electricity” in the wine, often (but not always) related to the acid backbone.” – Anthony King, (formerly of Lemelson Vineyards)

“It smells like minerals/stone. Sometimes it is almost dusty and sometimes it smells like the first rain on dry rocks. Elusive. Am aware of a growing number of voices declaring that there is no such thing. I think that there is-I can smell it and I know what minerals and rocks smell like, but like so many words, it has been overused ad nauseam. There is no way words can accurately describe this quality.” – Kelley Fox, Kelley Fox Wines

“One aspect of complexity is certainly minerality, though I admit that the word is probably used to describe many different things.  Some sites are generally fruit-driven, but many of our vineyards show earthy aromas and flavors that range from dark, loamy earth to wet stones.  We tend to use the word minerality to describe the more ‘wet stone’ style of earth.  We see it in many varieties, usually from volcanic sites. It seems to be more than just an aroma or flavor.  At its best, it seems to also be part of the structure and texture of the wine, a quality that you can feel as well as taste.” – Dave Paige, Adelsheim

Keep digging.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 22, Part Two

Finding Value over $20
By Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo MS

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Last week David Lawrason highlighted some of the best money could buy in this upcoming release for under $20. This week we focus on some higher priced offerings.

At these price points, we know that your expectations run high and so do ours. Wines recommended at this level tend to be excellent examples of classic styles and varietals that are characteristically representative of their region. However, they must be more than that to achieve top marks. They must excel in the categories of complexity, structure and finesse. Let it be known that our scores are not impacted by price although scores tend naturally to be higher at these price points. For example, when a wine achieves a score of 88+ at under $20, you can bet we are screaming at you to check it out. At the upper echelons of price point, more of these high scores should be expected.

What makes a wine worthy of a hefty price tag? There is no debate that a great wine costs more to make, as much as the bargain hunter in us would like to believe otherwise. There are more and better quality wines available now at low prices, in particular, from such regions such as Portugal, Argentina and Chile. However, great wines, more often than not, cost more.

Here are just a few reasons why. First, labor costs are higher. Consider, for example, how labor intensive it is to maintain an organic vineyard without the wave of a chemical wand, the work that is required to bury vines and uncover them as is done in the high quality production of Prince Edward County wines, or, how in the upper Cru Classé of Bordeaux’s left bank, an individual is assigned to manage every row of vines. A Bordelaise winemaker once told me of Chateau Margaux: “On brosse les dents des vignes” referring to the painstaking detail that goes into maintaining each vine. Triple sorting, manual de-stemming of grapes and small lot punch downs by hand are a few of the labor-intensive techniques that may go into the production of a fine wine.

In addition, better quality grapes involve lower yields in the vineyard, which impact the quantity, quality and thus the price significantly. The use of high quality, new oak barrels for long periods of time, uniquely designed amphorae, or the use of a new fleet of concrete eggs can also lead to an increase in cost. You will see below that we have highlighted for you some of these special techniques.

Due to the high quality and limited production of our top picks, many of our $20+ recommendations are in short supply. As such, some of these wines fall into what the LCBO used to call “ISD” (In Store Discovery) and is now referred to as FSE (Flagship Store Exclusives). Technically these wines offered in limited quantities are part of the VINTAGES bi-monthly releases. The listings can be found both in the VINTAGES catalogue and online. As the name suggests, these wines are available only in select stores. This category is often overlooked and, not surprisingly misunderstood, but there are some real gems to be found.

Without further ado, the best bets for your cellar, for good friends and for yourself:

WHITE

Von Hövel Scharzhofberg Saar Riesling Auslese 2011

Charles Baker 2012 Picone Vineyard RieslingCharles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($35.20)
John Szabo – Not to be shown up by the Germans, Niagara, too, has its special sites, like the cru-worthy Picone vineyard and its 35 year old riesling vines. Baker’s interpretation is crackling, sinewy, as mineral as they come. And thanks to riesling’s dark shadow, you’re getting one of Ontario’s best wines for under $35. If it were labeled chardonnay, nobody would blink at double the price.
Sara d’Amato – Often, slightly warmer years like 2012 produce more interesting and age-worthy rieslings in Niagara and here is a spot-on example. The clay-limestone soils of the small but mighty Picone vineyard are uniquely suited to this finicky varietal. Only free-run juice, not pressed, is used to make this consistently memorable wine.

Von Hövel 2011 Scharzhofberg Saar Riesling Auslese ($48.00)
David Lawrason – This 21 acre estate was taken over by 7th generation winemaker Max  Schatzi in 2010, who began immediately to convert the site to organic viticulture.  This is not cheap, but it is a gorgeous, precise example of late harvested Saar riesling. Sweet of course but ultra-refined with lacy acidity and such tenderness. Love the ripe apricot, melon, honey and floral aromas and flavours.
John Szabo – As I never tire of saying, German Riesling is one of the world’s greatest values. Period. Here’s an unimpeachable bottle of poetry from one of the country’s greatest vineyards, the majestic Scharzhofberg, in auslese ripeness (late harvest, medium-sweet) for under $50. Laughable. The depth of flavour on a 7% alcohol frame is nothing short of astonishing. I’d like to see this again in another half dozen years. Best 2020-2030.

Buena Vista 2013 Chardonnay, Carneros, California ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Since being taken over by Boisset of Burgundy Buena Vista wines are indeed striving for finesse and layers. This is a quite rich, elegant and complex chardonnay with lifted very toasty, nutty, slightly caramelized\fried onion aromas, with honey and corn in the background. Quite exotic.

Vidal Fleury 2012 Condrieu, Rhône, France ($49.95)
Sara d’Amato – We rarely see whites of the northern Rhône in Ontario much to shame. This 100% viognier offers a lush texture and notes of peaches and cream. Unfined, produced using wild, indigenous yeast in small lots, and after, spend 12 months on their lees. Available in limited quantities as a Flagship Store Exclusive.

Buena Vista Chardonnay 2013 Vidal Fleury Condrieu 2012 Beringer Luminus Chardonnay 2013 Domaine Cordier Père Et Fils Maçon Fuissé 2012

Beringer 2013 Luminus Chardonnay, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, USA ($39.95)
John Szabo – In the oft over-priced world of Napa chardonnay, here’s an example that shines for far fewer dollars than most. This has nothing to do with the blowsy, woody Beringer wines of yore – it’s far more “luminous”, truly enlightened, lively, and well balanced, from one of the cooler pockets of the Napa Valley. There’s genuine length and depth here, too. Best 2015-2021.

Domaine Cordier Père et Fils 2012 Mâcon Fuissé, Burgundy, France ($29.95)
John Szabo – Burgundy is frequently skewered for its poor value quotient, but the savvy know that there are plenty of brilliant values as soon as you step off the Route des Grands Crus. The town of Fuissé in southern Mâcon has enviable terroir, and the Cordier family coax out it’s best. Yes, fine white Burgundy for under $30. Best 2017-2022.

RED

Cakebread Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Thirty Bench 2013 RedThirty Bench Red 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($24.00)
Sara d’Amato – An underpriced, stunning red which from a high achieving winery at this year’s National Wine Awards. This knockout Bordelaise blend delivers both power and elegance along with enticing notes of smoky herbs and spicy black pepper.
David Lawrason – Thirty Bench was named Best Small Winery in Canada (under 10,000 cases) at the 2015 WineAlign National Wine Awards, partially because winemaker Emma Garner snagged medals across a range of wines, including a bronze for this wine. It’s a nervy, juicy Niagara red from a cooler vintage that avoids the greenness and sourness of many others. It has lifted aromas of cedar, currants, tobacco and graphite. It’s not at all heavy but flavour concentration is very good to excellent.
John Szabo – A classic cool climate Bordeaux-style blend done very well, showing the touch of a gentle, deft hand. It’s not for nothing that Thirty Bench earned the inaugural Best Performing Small Winery award at this year’s nationals. This is all elegance and class at a rare price. Best 2015-2023.

Cakebread 2011 Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA ($162.95)
Sara d’Amato – Cakebread can do magnificent work with cabernet sauvignon making it elegant, polished and playing up its complexity. Here is an open and revealing wine, not masked by over treatment and showing off ingredients of superb quality. The cooler vintage adds to the wine’s refinement and dimension with notes of wild, dried herbs and acids that peak out from behind the fruit.

Cantina Del Pino 2010 Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy ($37.95)
Sara d’Amato – In the shadow of its more renowned neighbor, this Barbaresco is testament to the appellation’s undervalued nature. This offering easily rivals the complexity and structure of your average Barolo with great intensity and potential longevity for much less of a price.
John Szabo – If, like me, you liken Piedmont to Burgundy (similar philosophy-obsession of expressing vineyards through a single grape), the former can be considered great value. This “village”-level equivalent from various vineyards averaging 40 years old is a perfect example, in perfect sync and harmony, from a cracking vintage. Best 2017-2025.

Mocali 2009 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($44.95)
David Lawrason – One of the great joys of Brunello is that its long ageing at the winery renders it ready to drink. Add the lushness of  2009 vintage and the efforts of one my fave small Brunello producers, and this is a winner. This is very fragrant, tender yet intense Brunello to enjoy right now- so elegant, supple yet not at all blowsy. The tannin is well fitted. Excellent to outstanding length.

Poggio Bonelli 2011 Poggiassai  ($31.95)
David Lawrason – Available only in Vintages Flagship stores, this is a very impressive modern Tuscan red from sangiovese and 25% cabernet sauvignon grown on a classic 81 ha estate near Siena. It has a lifted, very engaging nose of blackcurrant, coffee, sage and cured meat, with underlying green olive/caper notes. It’s medium weight, fairly juicy and tender, with a certain vibrancy. Very Italian! Excellent to outstanding focus and length.

Cantina Del Pino Barbaresco 2010 Mocali Brunello di Montalcino 2009Poggio Bonelli Poggiassai 2011 Castello di Gabbiano Bellezza Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2011  Finca de la Rica El Nómada 2011

Castello Di Gabbiano 2011 Bellezza Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG, Tuscany, Italy  ($39.95)
John Szabo – $40 Chianti you say? This is every bit as good as any Brunello, which start at $40 and move quickly up in price. While not exactly classic sangiovese (it reminds me more of old school Spanish Rioja), this is a big, bold and impressive wine to be sure, with terrific complexity and length. Best 2015-2026.

Finca de la Rica 2011 El Nómada, Rioja, Spain  ($24.95)
David Lawrason – From a south facing vineyard near the village of La Bastide, “The Nomad” is a smart, tense yet delicious young Rioja, made from 90% tempranillo and 10% graciano, aged 16 months in French oak.  It shows nicely concentrated and ripe currant/berry fruit integrated with pine/herbal notes, gentle oak and savoury notes. I like tension, juiciness and depth here.

Château La Bienfaisance 2010

Domaine Durieu 2012 Lucile Avril Châteauneuf du PapeDomaine Durieu Lucile Avril Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012, Rhone, France ($44.95)
Sara d’Amato – An offering that should go straight to your cellar. A finely crafted Châteauneuf-du-Pape that is built to age and needs time for its tannic toughness to soften up.

Château La Bienfaisance 2010 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux ($39.95)
David Lawrason – The excellent 2010 vintage strikes again. This is a nicely fragrant, complex St. Emilion with a sense of elegance and precision.  Classic Bordeaux cedar currant/raspberry, tobacco, wood smoke and foresty aromas are very attractive. It’s mid-weight, firm and well proportioned – a bit on the light side. Not quite ready yet thanks to its firmness, but its showing fine promise.

~

We return next week with fall offerings (already!) as we move into what is best when the air becomes crisp. At that time we will be deep into sorting out our top international picks at the World Wine Awards of Canada that begin on August 27th. We are pleased to have some of Canada’s top palates from coast to coast with us in Toronto to help with this enormous task. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @WineAlign #WWAC15 for live updates of the awards.

Cheers,

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES August 22nd, 2015

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 22, Part One – Super Values Under $20

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


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Season 5, Table 13 – Semi-Final #2 of “So, You Think you Know Wine?”

Fontanafredda Barolo 2010 (aka A Knife Fight at a Spanish Prison)

After weeks of battling for position and points, only six contestants have advanced to the Semi Finals of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

Last time, at the first semi-final (Table 12), we saw Will Predhomme and Sara d’Amato tie and advance to the finals, while Bill Zacharkiw went down in flames. This week, John Szabo, David Lawrason and Jennifer Huether battle it out for the last coveted seat in the finals.  Table 13 is an extremely close match with all three “experts” demonstrating why they made it to the semi finals.  Watch to see who will move on to the final.

with play button

Watch Table 13 or read on to learn more about the contestants and the scoring method.

Score Card:

Advancing to the Semi Finals are:

Group 1 : Sara d’Amato, Bill Zacharkiw and Will Predhomme  (Table 12)

Group 2: John Szabo, Jennifer Huether and David Lawrason  (Table 13)

Click on the score card below to see how the semi finalist were selected.

RankingsUpTo_5-13

Table 13

Jennifer Huether, MS

Jennifer is the first and only female Master Sommelier in Canada. She has a wealth of experience in hospitality and restaurant managment which includes creating award-winning wine program as head sommelier for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. She then went on to become brand ambassador and education director for Cliff Lede Vineyards and now is brand ambassador for Jackson Family Wines.

Jennifer

John Szabo, MS

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

John 1

David Lawrason

David is a principal critic and VP of Wine for WineAlign. He is also co-head judge for the National Wine Awards of Canada and the World Wine Awards of Canada. He is wine columnist for Toronto Life and Ottawa magazine, a WSET instructor with Fine Vintage Ltd, and National Wine Advisor to Gold Medal Plates, a chef competition held in ten cities that raises funds for Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes. He also reviews Ontario wines for www.WineryToHome.com.

david

 

The Scoring

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

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

Let the games begin! Pour yourself a glass of wine and watch Table 13.

For those of you new to our video series, “So, You Think You Know Wine?”, you can watch all previous season under the Videos tab.

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

Table 1 – Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013
Table 2 – Creekside Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Table 3 – Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Table 4 – The Grinder Pinotage 2013
Table 5 – Faustino VII Tempranillo 2012
Table 6 – Gnarly Head Pinot Noir 2012
Table 7 – Laroche Chablis St. Martin 2012
Table 8 – Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2010
Table 9 – Root: 1 Carmenère 2012
Table 10 – Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2012
Table 11 – Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012
Table 12 – [Semi Final #1] Sterling Chardonnay 2012

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 8, Part Two

The Wines of EcoTopia
By David Lawrason with wine notes from John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

This weekend VINTAGES releases 24 wines from British Columbia, Washington and Oregon – collectively the Pacific Northwest. It is a generous feature compared to many of late, and it hits all the right buttons in terms of identifying grapes and styles that define the region. The selection is centred on the average $19.95 price point that VINTAGES calls home, with a subsequent good to very good, 85 to 88 point scoring range generally defining the quality. The exceptions are some more expensive and higher quality Oregon pinot noirs. To delve into a wider and higher end selection, you could attend Vintages Goes Northwest event at Toronto’s Corus Quay Building Atrium (Queens Quay & Lower Jarvis) on Monday August 17. I hope to see you there!

The Pacific Northwest prides itself on a certain eco-freshness and sensitivity. An intriguing book called The Nine Nations of North America published in 1981 by American journalist and professor Joel Garreau, parsed the continent by geographic and economic influences – instead of the arbitrary political boundaries imposed by colonial powers in the 19th Century. It called the Pacific Northwest nation – wait for it – EcoTopia. I have never forgotten that name, or concept, because it is just so right. And if you don’t think so, just ask a resident of EcoTopia. They will set you straight.

What does this mean in wine terms? Well I look for freshness at these northerly latitudes and altitudes, and it does underpin the wines, especially when comparing them to the softer wines of California – the great southern seductress. But something else strikes me about PNW wines – a sense of winemaking newness and trying-too-hardness. There seems to be a pre-occupation with winemaking over terroir. Over-oaking is frequent, as well as pushing alcohol levels. And in some wineries – especially on the American side – pushing sweetness. It may just be at the quality and price level of this release, but that is what is being presented to you this time out.

It is of course still relatively early days for the Pacific Northwest, a premium wine region just 30 years, or one generation, down the track. And given its mountainous spine, there are great terroirs to be had – even if still being prospected. Many of the regional appellations on PNW labels, duly noted in VINTAGES catalogue, remain rather broad. The only real exception I noted in the release is the Similkameen red by Sandhill, which catches a riveting mineral nerve and less ripeness.

Here are some of the better and more definitive wines on the PNW feature, plus other reds of note. Last week John Szabo covered off the Loire Valley and other whites.

Pacific Northwest

Cedar Creek 2013 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($18.95)
David Lawrason. CedarCreek remains at standard-bearer for Okanagan wines of great clarity and varietal definition. This is a light, tart and juicy riesling loaded with green apple, lime and some flinty minerality. CedarCreek, along with winemaker Darryl Brooker (formerly of Flat Rock and Trius in Ontario) was recently acquired by Mission Hill.

A To Z Wineworks 2013 Chardonnay, Oregon ($19.95)
John Szabo – A to Z may be Oregon’s largest producer, but the range is highly competent. This is clean, fresh, nicely representative chardonnay from grapes sourced from throughout the state, mostly from the south. Oak is not a feature – this is all about the apple-citrus fruit in a cool climate idiom.
Sara d’Amato – America’s best selling Oregon chardonnay has thankfully graced us with its presence and offers a great deal of complexity, charm and vibrant energy for the price. The oak here, although present, is nicely restrained and bolsters the elegant fruit. Sip on its own or with buttery shellfish.

CedarCreek Riesling 2013 A To Z Wineworks Chardonnay 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2013 L'école No 41 Semillon 2013

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington ($16.95)
David Lawrason – Chateau Ste. Michelle has long been known as a riesling specialist, and this nods to that experience. It’s not a profound, complex example but the acid-sugar balance is very fine, and I really like the peach, floral and spicy nose that is nicely clean and expressive.

L’Ecole No. 41 2013 Semillon, Columbia Valley, Washington ($24.95)
David Lawrason – The little schoolhouse on the road to Walla Walla has become synonymous with this wine region. They have been making semillon from day one – and I can’t think of another American winery that has. This has a rich, dusty, spicy semillon nose of fresh fig, some blossom florality and candle wax. It’s quite full bodied, fleshy and spicy.
Sara d’Amato – This striking semillon offers fresh acids but more body and viscosity than its more famous South African counterparts. Lush and appealing with just a touch of funk to keep it interesting.

Adelsheim 2012 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($41.95)
John Szabo – David Adelsheim may be best know for having brought the “Dijon” chardonnay clones from Burgundy to Oregon in the early 1990s, but his pinot noirs are certainly among the best in the state. Even this non vineyard-designated example delivers the bright, savoury, crunchy red fruit and elegance that makes Willamette pinot so intriguing.
David Lawrason This is a very bright, generous, structured, quite youthful pinot with surprisingly lifted floral, raspberry plum fruit plus a hint of beetroot. It’s medium bodied, quite firm and tart with a mineral edge.

Domaine Drouhin 2012 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Oregon ($45.95)
David Lawrason – This is an In Store Discovery in limited release, but well worth seeking out. Drouhin was the first Burgundy producer to invest in any pinot noir region outside of Burgundy. This has a reserved, very pretty nose of red cherry, nicely fitted with seamless oak vanillin, spice and cedar. Very delicate and fine aromatics! It’s medium weight, supple and refined.

Adelsheim Pinot Noir 2012 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2012  Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2013 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir 2011

Burrowing Owl 2013 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($40.95) (556613)
Sara d’Amato – These ambitious pinots tend to evolve unpredictably and with varying degrees of success but I am particularly pleased with this example at this point in time. Mid-weight but voluminous with bright acids, supple tannins and lovely woody integration.

Sokol Blosser 2011 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Oregon ($34.95)
John Szabo – Be sure to give this some time in the glass (or decanter, or cellar), this is very reductive (grapefruit-tinged) off the top, from a cool vintage. But the palate delivers fine, succulent balance, inviting savoury acids, and genuine mineral-saline character. All in all, a classic Jory-volcanic soils, Willamette pinot. Best 2015-2019.

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $26.95
David Lawrason – This VINTAGES Essentials has taken one of two golds in the Cabernet Sauvignon category at the 2015 National Wine Awards. It is a really stylish, well composed red with generous oak melding nicely with currant/blackberry fruit. There are herbal notes, vanillin, tobacco and spices – all nicely integrated.
John Szabo – Perennial performer Mission Hill presents a nicely polished and firm, classically styled cabernet, with all of the necessary elements at the price: dark spicy fruit, integrated wood, balanced-crisp acids and fine length. Comfortably in the premium range. Best 2015-2022.

Sandhill 2012 Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet Merlot, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – The Similkameen – a parallel valley west of the Okanagan – is emerging has a great zone for energetic, granitic/mineral reds. This single vineyard red has a lifted nose with blackcurrant, herbs and spice. It’s medium weight, terse and coiled with intense slightly green flavours.

Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Sandhill 2012 Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet MerlotAirfield Estates Runway Merlot 2012 Lone Birch Syrah 2013

Airfield Estates 2012 Runway Merlot, Yakima Valley, Washington ($22.95)
John Szabo – A rare firm and dusty, grippy merlot, with no concessions to the typically soft and oaky style prevalent in eastern Washington. I like the herbal flavours and vibrant acids, as well as the lingering finish. Another year or two will benefit this to be sure. Best 2016-2022.

Lone Birch Syrah 2013, Yakima Valley, Washington ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – This sustainably farmed syrah, well priced and upbeat, is substantial, rich and modern in style. It offers harmony, style and concentration in a widely appealing package.

Other Reds

Espelt Viticultors 2013 Old Vines Garnacha, Emporda, Spain ($14.95)
David Lawrason – What a great summer burger and ribs red! It is a lovely, supple yet fairly rich and powerful garancha that shows off the fragrant strawberry/cherry jam fruit of the variety without soupy or confected excess. Pretty floral peony and white pepper aromas as well.
John Szabo – A hell of a wine for $15 from a little known corner of northern Spain, this should be bought by the case for summer BBQs, and/or winter stews. It’s big, ripe, wild and savage, balanced even at 15% alcohol, with inviting Mediterranean scrub-herbal flavours and firm acids/tannins. Best 2015-2023.

Vicchiomaggio 2010 Agostino Petri Riserva Chianti Classico Docg, Tuscany, Italy ($29.95)
John Szabo – Classy and refined, elegant Classico with terrific balance, succulent acids, and fine-grained tannins. The perfumed finish lingers nicely. Best 2015-2022.
David Lawrason – Indeed a classically style, for the short term cellar, although you could aerate and drink now as well.

Espelt Viticultors Old Vines Garnacha 2013 Vicchiomaggio Agostino Petri Riserva Chianti Classico 2010 Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2010

Dei 2011 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy, ($27.95)
Sara d’Amato – A producer who stands its ground often producing wines of spectacular heights. Despite the obvious concentration and approachability, there is a traditional feel here with impressive structure and compelling notes of  briny black olive, peppery violets and succulent black currant. Excellent value.

Paolo Conterno 2010 Riva Del Bric Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($39.95)
David Lawrason – A great vintage, a great price, a great producer. Can’t go wrong here! It is not a powerhouse or a dynamo, but it is well woven, complex, complete and well structured. The nose weaves classic nebbiolo sour cherry, spice, herbs, leather and earth – again all juxtaposed so well. The length is excellent.

Cosme Palacio 2009 Rioja Reserva, Spain ($22.95)
John Szabo – Lovely, succulent and harmonious Rioja, entering a fine stage of maturity, infinitely drinkable. Tannins are still firm, but the saline-juicy acids will keep you coming back for more. Nice stuff. Best 2015-2029.

Cosme Palacio Reserva 2009Château de Lancyre Esprit de Garrigue 2013Château Plaisance 2009Clos des Brusquières Châteauneuf du Pape 2012

Château De Lancyre 2013 Esprit De Garrigue, Languedoc, France ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Great value is charming, juicy summer red – a syrah, grenache blend that over-delivers! It is fairly pale but has a lifted very savoury, indeed garrigue nose, with pepper, balsamic, lavender and wild strawberry “fraise du bois” fruit.

Château Plaisance 2009, Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Great value in Bordeaux can be hard to come by so this stunner for under $20 made me take note. Matured but still pleasantly youthful. This nicely composed blend is dry and savory with grippy tannins and elegant floral notes. Wonderfully balanced and ageworthy.

Clos Des Brusquières 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône, France ($47.95)
Sara d’Amato – This small producer in Châteauneuf was one of the first in this prestigious appellation to bottle its wines to current standards in the early 1900s. Super traditional, the wine is fermented stem and all in concrete and barrel and is a blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. This was an immediate hit with me and is a textbook example of this distinguished wine offering plenty of muscle, earth, leather and garrigue.

Ramos Pinto 2013 Duas Quintas, Douro, Portugal ($17.95)
John Szabo – Another fine vintage for this Douro table classic, the 2013 is forward, dark and deeply fruity with sweet currant and blackberry inflected with floral and old wood spice notes. I appreciate the succulence and density, the fine-grained but firm tannins, the impressive weight and length. Terrific value. Best 2015-2023.

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas 2013 Angove Vineyard Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Penfolds Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Angove Vineyard 2013 Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia, ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – Bad Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon is hard to come by so you’ve got great odds when something like the Angove Vineyard Select graces our shelves. A joyful example of this standout style that offers delightfully sweet brine, a touch of iodine along with an abundance of fruit peppered by notes of violets and roses.

Penfolds 2013 Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia ($23.95)
David Lawrason – This is a new mid-priced multi-regional blend from Penfolds. It sports great cabernet lift with soaring eucalyptus, searing blackcurrant, cordite and black pepper aromas. It is full-bodied, dense, tense and focused with great fruit and mint arching across the palate.

And that’s a wrap for this week. I will return next week with the lead up to the August 22 release that features wines scored 90 points by someone, somewhere. As we are not interested in promoting or debating scores by other reviewers we will pass on that theme and simply work to find you the best values, at any price or score. As we always do.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES August 8th, 2015
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Part 1: Wine to Chill

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 8th, Part One

Loire Valley and Smart White Buys
By John Szabo MS with wine notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Loire Valley is one of my favourite regions. Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé remain world sauvignon benchmarks. Cabernet franc from the appellations around Tours and Saumur define the perfumy cool climate style. Chenin reigns supreme east of Tours and south of Angers, challenged only perhaps by South Africa for its most singular expression, though the Loire wins hands-down on diversity. And Muscadet remains, dollar for dollar, the best value white wine on the planet (if you define best as dry, stony, lean and taut, as I do). The moments when my home Muscadet supplies run dry are very dark indeed.

The August 8th VINTAGES release features a competent but limited selection from the banks of France’s longest, languidly lumbering river, enough to get you started. We reveal our top in this report, along with a miscellaneous assortment of attention-grabbing whites. Next week David leads off on the larger Pacific Northwest thematic and other memorable reds. I won’t keep you any longer; there’s mid-summer sipping to be done.

Buyers’ Guide for August 8th 2015: Loire Valley

Domaine Bonnard Sancerre Rouge 2013

Domaine des Côtes Blanches Sancerre 2013Domaine des Côtes Blanches 2013 Sancerre, Loire, France ($24.95)
John Szabo – An arch-classic, old school, very chalky-flinty example of Sancerre, with fine depth and length. Textbook. Love the dusty texture and ripe-creamy-taut texture, as well as the length.

Domaine Bonnard 2013 Sancerre Rouge, Loire, France ($23.95)
John Szabo – Pinot noir was more widely planted in Sancerre before phylloxera, and is slowly making a bit of a comeback. Attentive viticulture is key, but even still these are light, transparent, fragrant versions without the meat and fat of even lighter-style Burgundy. But that’s their charm: all lace and grace, pinots to drink with a chill. Bonnard’s fits perfectly within the regional idiom, crunchy and leafy.
Sara d’Amato – This light bodied, fragrant pinot noir is an absolutely delightful sipper. Cherry, thyme and dried rose add elegance and intrigue to the palate. Chill slightly for ultimate refreshment.

Bouvet Nv Brut Excellence Crémant de Loire, Loire, France ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Good Loire chenin sparklers can be great value when they deliver – and this delivers. It is brightly fruity – loaded with chenin’s pear/quince waxy fruit, lemon and a touch of biscuit. It’s light, slender, a touch off-dry with brilliant acidity and fruit on the palate. Quite delicious, penetrating and very good value.

Clos Les Montys 2013 Vieilles Vignes Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie, Loire, France ($13.95)
John Szabo – Lean, crisp, bright, totally transparent and bone dry, in other words, textbook Muscadet. Complexity and length are ultimately modest, but at the price, this delivers everything it needs to and more.
David Lawrason – It is simplistic, but a light, polished, super fresh young Muscadet with green apple fruit, lime/grapefruit and vague stoniness. It’s quite juicy and tart with some bitterness on the finish. Wanted a bit more complexity for a higher rating (87) but at $13.95 who’s complaining.

Bouvet Brut Excellence Crémant De LoireClos Les Montys Vieilles Vignes MuscadetChâteau Favray Pouilly Fumé 2011

Château Favray 2014 Pouilly Fumé, Loire, France ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – Upon the pebbly Villiers limestone soils, sauvignon blanc flourishes in Pouilly-Fumé. This dynamite offering from Château Favray exemplifies the region’s characteristic flinty, mineral character, with racy acids that are refreshing as opposed to austere.
David Lawrason – This is from a 15 hectare estate on pebbly limestone soils, owned by a gent named Quentin David who revived an ancient property in 1980 that had been laid low by phylloxera in the 19thC. It’s an excellent buy in a solid, firm and nicely complex sauvignon with grapefruit, green pear, spice and dried herbs. It’s medium weight with taut acidity, some warmth and very good to excellent length. The herbal elements carry well on the finish, to excellent length.

Buyers Guide for August 8th 2015: Smart Whites

Wegeler Sweet Riesling 2012

Rieflé Steinert Pinot Gris 2010Rieflé 2010 Steinert Pinot Gris AC Alsace Grand Cru, Alsace, France ($24.95)
John Szabo – A pinot gris in the opulent, late harvest, distinctively Alsatian style, dense and robust, from the calcareous Steinert grand cru. Fans of exotic, flirtatious fruit underpinned by residual sugar and acid take note. Would be a treat with roasted pork or chicken, or soft cheeses.

Wegeler 2012 Sweet Riesling, VDP Gutswein, Mosel, Germany ($19.95)
David Lawrason – I looked up Gutswein (good wine) and found the following definition: “VDP GUTSWEIN, or regional wines, originates from an estate’s holdings within a region. They are entry-level house wines that meet the general standards prescribed by the VDP and provide a good introduction to the VDP’s hierarchy that inherently links wine quality with origin”. Well this certainly out-performs that definition. It is a lovely, pristine, off-dry riesling with classic Mosel charm, delicacy yet authority. Expect lifted floral, honeyed, peachy fruit with some lemon. Great fruit here; real precision that only the Mosel can really deliver.

Contrade Di Taurasi 2012 Grecomusc’, IGT Campania Bianco, Italy ($32.95)
John Szabo – An utterly arresting wine made from the unique and rare Rovello grape, formerly known as Grecomuscio (no relation to Greco), this has substantial complexity in a decidedly non-fruity style. It’s focused entirely on stony-flinty-chalky flavours on a lean, almost austere, taut frame, not a crowd pleaser by any means. But I love the tension and the quivering acids, and the green herbs and sea salt wash on the long finish. Very original.
Sara d’Amato – This Campanese rovello is a stunner with the potential for interesting evolution. The broad and complex palate is dizzying and offers compelling notes of honey, stinging nettle, parsnip, lime and white tea. Collectors take note!

Domaine Lafage 2013 Côté Est, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is an exotic, bloomy and spicy young white that combines Mediterranean varieties grenache blanc and vermentino. I would have bet on some muscat as well, but apparently it is the vermentino providing all the lemongrass and floral lift. It is very crisp, tidy and well-balanced, with a tart, stony finish. The catalogue says it is “new at VINTAGES” but it was actually on the General List some years ago and was just as good then.
Sara d’Amato – A grenache blanc and vermentino blend perfect for summer sipping. A sure-fire crowd pleaser, this dry, punchy, flavourful white is well-priced enough for everyday drinking.

Contrade Di Taurasi Grecomusc 2012Domaine Lafage Côté Est 2013Vicente Gandía Nebla Verdejo 2014Santa Tresa Rina Lanca Grillo Viognier 2013

Vicente Gandía 2014 Nebla Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Attractive tropical notes have been coaxed out of this fleshy verdejo whose bright acidity provides freshness and focus. To boot, you can put your conscience at ease as this 125-year old, highly-awarded Valencian winery is well-known for its sustainable winemaking and social responsibility practices.

Santa Tresa Rina Lanca 2013 Grillo Viognier, Terre Siciliane, Italy ($13.95)
David Lawrason – Located on 50 hectares with a surface layer of light red sandy loam over well-drained limestone base in the vicinity of Mt. Etna, this is great value at $13.95. It’s a sub-tropical, semi-exotic white that combines perfumed spicy viognier with Sicily’s grillo grape of similar aspect. Look for fairly ripe star anise, pineapple, licorice and spicy aromas and flavours.

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

From VINTAGES August 8th, 2015
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

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


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Southbrook Vineyards

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 25th, Part Two

Argentina: Not Just a One Hit Wonder
By David Lawrason with wine notes from John Szabo MS

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Argentina is featured on this release, and I am newly enthused by goings-on after two visits there within the last year. In fact five WineAlign writers have been there in recent months, and we have published the first article of a comprehensive two-part national series that delves deep into the current state of that nation (read part one here). If Argentina wasn’t confident about what’s going on they wouldn’t be inviting the world to have a look. The nub of the story is that Argentina is evolving into something more than a one-hit malbec wonder.

You have an opportunity to explore this in more detail as 20 producers arrive in Toronto next week (July 29) at Wines of Argentina’s Wine Jam and BBQ at the St. James Cathedral. (Find out more and get your promo code here.)

Before continuing I refer you to a ‘letter to the editor’ by Christopher Freeland of the LCBO in response to my June 27 release commentary on VINTAGES handling of the pre-Canada Day selection of Ontario wines. Please go to Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 27 – Part Two and scroll down to the comments section. And yes there is a connection to Argentina.

Mr. Freeland delivers an impassioned and detailed defence of the LCBO’s treatment of Ontario wine, and chastises me for not recognizing everything the LCBO is doing around homegrown wines. Fair enough, but I was not discussing the LCBO’s overall program, only VINTAGES lack of ability to create a meaningful focus on Ontario wine on that pre-Canada Day release.

I repeated the complaint two weeks later around VINTAGES’ Spanish feature, and I will say it again this time, with VINTAGES slender selection of six Argentine wines. Yes, there are already other Argentine wines on the General List and VINTAGES shelves. But why not really make this a feature and give 25 new Argentine reds a shot at a spot? Or 50? The reasons VINTAGES cannot do this are in my original discussion around Ontario wine.

VINTAGES is not being ‘unfair’ to Argentina, Spain or Ontario. They are actually being overly fair to all wines around the world (which makes Ontario wineries crazy). They are limited in what they do because they are in the end the one and only retailer and unable to provide the depth of selection one can find in other major North American markets. If it ain’t at the LCBO it ain’t on shelves anywhere in Ontario – which has underpinned my criticism of the LCBO from the start.

Back to what Argentina is doing now, and how that is reflected on this release. The selection only has one malbec, which indeed recognizes Argentina’s growing diversity. There are two cabernet sauvignons, which is a nod to the importance of this underrated grape, but neither are truly memorable cabernets. There is a Patagonian cabernet franc that is very much worth a look, and it is a variety on the up-tick throughout Argentina. But why no Patagonian pinots, and cab franc from Mendoza? There is a terrific torrontés value, but why not three for the dog days of August?

And none of the wines mentioned so far are above $20, which dismisses legions of premium wines that are available. In limited distribution as an In Store Discovery there is Catena’s excellent icon red named for founder Nicolas Catena. But where are the bonardas, many more great red blends, the biodynamic wines, the unoaked amphora wines from Sebastian Zuccardi, the brilliant French influenced reds from Monteviejo and the other member wineries of Clos de Los Siete, the great cabs and tannats from Cafayate, the syrahs of San Juan, the new lovely roses made from the pais grape.  We just have to wait and hope I guess.

With Sara d’Amato still on vacation John Szabo and I present our value picks from Argentina, as well as other New World and Europe.

Argentina:

Nicolás Catena Zapata 2010

Desierto 25 Cabernet Franc 2012

Pietro Marini 2013 TorrontésPietro Marini Torrontés 2013, Salta ($12.95)
David Lawrason – Torrontés is found in most regions but hits its freshest and most exotic heights in the northern province of Salta. Grown at 1750 metres in the Calchaqui Valley this is huge value! It has a billowing aroma of lemongrass, tangerine, spearmint and licorice – very exotic. It’s mid-weight, nicely smooth and a touch sweet, with great acidity and some warmth. Deep chill for garden sipping.

Desierto 25 Cabernet Franc 2012, Patagonia ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This hails from a remote, parched landscape (see label) in southern, cooler Patagonia. But cab franc is on the rise farther north in Mendoza as well, both as a blender and stand alone varietal. This is nicely done and every Canadian interested in one of our country’s better red varietals should be having at peek at this Patagonian.

Nicolás Catena 2010 Zapata, Mendoza ($110.00)
John Szabo – Yes this is certainly expensive, but if you’re a serious collector, it’s worth your attention. In the context of impressive, age-worthy wines, it’s comfortably in the upper echelon, made since 1997 from Catena Zapata’s top lots of cabernet and malbec. Indeed, I’d say it has better structure and balance than many similarly-priced wines from the new world, and would give plenty of pause to the classics from the old as well. Tuck this in the cellar for another 5-10 years minimum and then stage your own “judgement”-style comparative blind tasting. It’s rare to say, but I’d prefer a single bottle of this to a half dozen commercial, typically, sweet, over-oaked Argentine malbecs. David Lawrason – Ditto :)

Euro Reds:

San Fabiano Calcinaia Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Maçanita 2012 RedMaçanita Red 2012, Douro, Portugal ($18.95)
John Szabo – From the dynamic team of Joana and brother António Maçanita (the latter of Fita Preta in Alentejo and the Azores Wine Company), this is a cleverly made wine with wide appeal. 60% Touriga nacional and 40% tinta roriz combine to make a generous, ripe, fruity and floral blend from the Douro, well within the typical flavour wheelhouse, with added polish and well-managed, succulent, rounded texture. Best 2015-2022.
David Lawrason – Very nicely made modern Douro lacking just a bit of depth for 90 points, but close and still good value.

Carpineto 2010 Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon, IGT Toscana Italy ($27.95)
John Szabo – Tuscan cabernet is rarely a detour for me, but I was stopped in my tracks by this concentrated and structured wine from Carpineto. The website provides no real insight (“grown in vineyards considered particularly suited for the production of great wines”, and, “scrupulously field selected”), but marketing fluff aside, I’d speculate that the vineyards are indeed special, as this delivers the type of depth, complexity, structure and length that can’t be manufactured in the winery. Genuinely great wine at a great price. Best 2015-2025.

San Fabiano Calcinaia 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, IGT Toscana Italy ($24.95)
John Szabo – Like the Farnito above, and against all odds, this second Tuscan cabernet in the same release also caused the world to stop spinning for a moment. It’s a hell of a mouthful for $25, full, firm, highly extracted, with immense tannic structure and abundant wood influence. Don’t touch it for at least another 3-5 years, but it’ll never be soft and polished so plan ahead with some salty protein and a decanter at the ready. Best 2018-2028.

López De Haro Crianza 2008

Tessellae Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2013

Prunotto 2012 MompertonPrunotto Mompertone 2012, Monferrato, Italy ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Monferrato is an underrated  DOC region sandwiched between the powerhouse regions of Piedmont and Tuscany in NW Italy. From a leading peimontese producer this is a refined, well balanced if not showy young red with classic, perfectly ripened blackberry, floral and herbal nuances.

Tessellae 2013 Vieilles Vignes Carignan, IGP Côtes Catalanes, Southwest France ($17.95)
John Szabo – Another terrific value from the Roussillon, showing the wild and savage depths of which old vine carignan is capable. I love the scorched earth, the wild, resinous herbs, the dark fruit, the spice notes, not to mention the superior depth and structure at the price. Best 2015-2023.

López De Haro 2008 Crianza, Spain ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is a good buy at $15, if you like lighter reds, and Spain’s Rioja reds in particular. Lopez de Heridia is one of the great classic, traditional wineries of Spain, indeed of Europe. That they have delivered a minor classic at this price is a very pleasant surprise. It’s lighter, tight and elegant – quite tender in fact.

New World Reds:

Melville Verna's Estate Syrah 2012

Blue Pyrenees Shiraz 2012

Paxton AAA 2012 Shiraz GrenachePaxton AAA Shiraz Grenache 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Paxton is a leading biodynamic producer in McLaren Vale, with their minimal intervention mantra stated on the back label. This is big and edgy but like so many BioD wines it delivers consistent, complex, profound flavours of excellent to outstanding length. Compelling if not soothing. Should age well for five years.

Blue Pyrenees 2012 Shiraz, Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Festooned with award competition medallions, this bottle hails from the remote, arid and intriguing Pyrenees region 200kms NW of Melbourne. It’s medium-full bodied with great granitic acidity/minerality, fine tannin and juicy, savoury flavours. Excellent length. The medals are deserved.

Melville 2012 Verna’s Estate Syrah, Santa Barbara County, California ($37.95)
David Lawrason – Santa Barbara, with coastal influence at a warm latitude, is one of the great sources of syrah in California. And I find most examples echo the cooler northern Rhone more so than Aussie shiraz styling. This is a classic – full bodied, fairly dense, racy and refined. The focus and length here are excellent.

And that is a wrap for this edition. Next week John and I will return to lead off commentary on VINTAGES, August 8 release, which features the Pacific Northwest and Loire Valley. (I promise not to gripe about lack of selection).  And next week also stay tuned for the results of the National Wine Awards of Canada.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES July 25th, 2015
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Part 1: Wine to Chill

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


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Pacific Northwest Tasting - Aug 17th

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 25th, Part One: Wine to Chill

By John Szabo MS with wine notes from David Lawrason

Don’t Forget to Chill Those Reds

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

A water-and-ice-filled bucket might just be the greatest wine gadget ever invented. Just a few minutes in one of these simple but magical devices can turn your red wine from a flabby, alcoholic and soupy drinking chore, into a crisp, fresh and fruity thirst-quenching delight. Not only in summer, but throughout the year, red wines are almost always served too warm; anything above 20ºC is a service faux-pas akin to aerating in a blender. For many reds, 12º-14ºC is far better. Most restaurants are guilty of this disservice. All of those open reds sitting out on the back bar in July? Forget them. That goes for January too. Don’t be afraid to ask for the ice bucket when dining out. At home, you’re in full control, so use the fridge, or your own ice bucket, to bring those reds into the best temperature zone to maximize enjoyment.

This report focuses on and handful of reds (and whites), which are particularly sensitive to temperature. The LCBO calls them “Wines to Chill” – the main theme for the July 25th VINTAGES release. David and I have included our top picks that are best with a chill, including whites. Read on to find out why temperature matters, or just skip to the recommendations.

Why Temperature Matters

When it comes to eating and drinking, temperature matters. Cold cheese straight from the fridge, for example, offers only a shadow of its aroma and flavor potential. Warm soft drinks are mostly sugary, aggressively carbonated, and hard to swallow. Chefs also know that any dish served cold, such as terrines, patés, or soups, need to be slightly more salted than the same dish served hot, because your perception of salt decreases at lower temperatures; that’s to say things taste less salty. The interplay between temperature and sensory perception likely occurs by many mechanisms, including the direct action of temperature on sensory receptors, but in any case, it’s clear that people’s taste receptors are modulated by temperature change. Basically, the same foods and wines taste different at different temperatures, so when you’re serving wine, consider the effects, both positive and negative, of the wine’s temperature.

Aromatics

Temperature dramatically affects aromatics. At a chemical level, when a substance is warm, its molecules vibrate fast. When cold, they slow down. In other words, the colder a wine is, the slower and less volatile its aromatic compounds are, and thus the less aromatic a wine will be. At the other end, when a wine is too warm, many of the enjoyable aromatic molecules are so active they’re gone before you can smell them, leaving little but the light burn of alcohol vapors. It’s always smarter to err on the side of too chilled than too warm – cold wine will warm up. The only solution for a glass of hot red wine is an ice-cube, which is not ideal.

Taste and Texture

Beyond aromatics, temperature also affects wine texture and taste. Wine served cold seems more acidic (which makes it more refreshing), fruitier, and more tannic (which makes it more astringent and bitter). This is why red wines are generally served warmer than whites: they contain tannin (the substance in wine that causes the astringent, drying, mouth-puckering sensation), while whites and rosés rarely have any tannin at all. The curious thing about tannin is that you perceive its drying effect more at lower temperatures. That means if you take the same tannic wine and serve it at both 10ºC and 18ºC, the cooler sample will appear more astringent and more bitter, perhaps unpleasantly so. At 18ºC the wine will still be tannic, but much more tolerable. Then when decanted and served with a little salty protein, the tannins may no longer be a significant factor at all.

But many reds grapes have naturally low tannin levels such as Gamay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Tempranillo, and Barbera. These wines are more enjoyable when served with a chill, as are most unoaked reds of any variety. You can increase the fresh, fruity aspect without danger of making them too astringent. Creeping alcohol levels across the world is yet another reasons to serve reds chilled to knock down the burn of alcohol. And because the majority of red wines produced today are intended for immediate consumption, that is, with little tannin, you can serve just about every thing in your cellar at least slightly chilled, especially in the summer and with spicy foods. Even your most prized bottle of massive, concentrated red wine is best below room temperature, which for most folks is above 20ºC.

Bottom line: serving wines cooler increases their crispness, fruitiness, and astringency, and decreases aromatic intensity. Serving wines warmer makes them seem more sweet, flabby and alcoholic, less fruity and less astringent.

Buyers’ Guide: Reds To Chill

Remelluri Lindes De Remelluri 2010 Viñedos De Labastida, Rioja, Spain ($22.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a classy, polished, well composed and elegant “second” wine from the respected Rioja house of Remelluri. Made from vineyards in the village of Labastida, adjacent to the historic Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri estate, it’s neither ultra modern nor traditional in style, finding it’s own just balance. I appreciate the finesse and elegance; a very classy wine over delivering by a wide margin. Best at 16ºC, from 2015-2022.

The Good Earth 2012 Gamay Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.95)
John Szabo – Gamay is a classic candidate for chilling, capitalizing on the variety’s mists of strawberry, raspberry and red currants, and increasing the cut of its juicy acids. The Good Earth’s wines have improved notably since bringing on winemaker Ross Wise (also at Keint-He), and this 2012 is delightful, especially alongside a plate of charcuterie or grilled sausages.

Remuelluri Lindes de Remelluri Viñedos de Labastida 2010 The Good Earth Gamay Noir 2012 Seven Terraces Pinot Noir 2013 Lailey Merlot 2013

Seven Terraces 2013 Pinot Noir, Canterbury, New Zealand ($19.95)
John Szabo – Lighter style pinot, like this crunchy, leafy, cool climate example from Canterbury on New Zealand’s south island, needs a light chill to deliver its full message of refreshment.

Lailey 2013 Merlot, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($24.95)
John Szabo –  Merlot swings both ways, from delicate and elegant to dense and extracted. Derek Barnet’s version leans to the former style, an open, honest, no-nonsense wine with lovely fresh herbal notes, lively red and black fruit, minimal oak and maximum floral-violet character. It’s reminiscent of cool climate malbec, a positive association.

Buyers Guide: Whites (To Chill)

Dog Point Vineyard 2012 Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand ($42.95)
John Szabo – This is a chardonnay of terrific intensity, so be sure not to serve ice cold (10-12ºC would be about right). Though the lovely, edgy, reductive-flintiness character will shine through at any temperature. A classy example from one of New Zealand’s most reliable and accomplished producers, and fine value in the worldwide context of premium chardonnay. Best 2017-2026.

Jean-Max Roger 2013 Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre, Loire, France ($26.95)
John Szabo – Here’s another terrific Sancerre from the ultra-reliable Jean-Max Roger, this one very floral and mineral, like an essence of chalk dust and sweet green herbs. Best 2015-2020.

Dog Point Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre 2013 Momo Pinot Gris 2014 Bailly Lapierre Réserve Brut Crémant De Bourgogne

Momo 2014 Pinot Gris Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
John Szabo – Tone down the impression of sweetness in this rich, Alsatian-style gris with a proper chill. It’s quite unctuous and indeed off-dry with overripe orchard fruit, yet balanced by more than sufficient acids. Length and depth are excellent for the money – a terrific option with spiced-up dishes.
David Lawrason Momo is a second label of Seresin, a prominent organic producer. NZ tends to like its ‘gris’ on the lush side. This has generous ripe peach cobbler, bready, honey and floral notes. It’s quite full bodied, fleshy and warm with some firm acidity. I wouldn’t open it for refreshment in the hot sun, but over an evening meal of chicken, pork – with Asian accents – it could perform very nicely.

Bailly Lapierre Réserve Brut Crémant De Bourgogne, Burgundy, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – Bubbles last longer in chilled wine, and are perceived as less aggressive. Low temp also hides the pinch of sugar added to virtually all sparkling wines to balance their ripping acids. This is a beautifully balanced crémant, elegant and fresh, with a fine streak of stony flavour, hazelnuts and marzipan, and fresh brioche. And half bottles ($11.95) are perfect for two.

Tenute Messieri 2012 Visioni Offida Pecorino, Marche, Italy ($16.95)
John Szabo – I love the unusual herbal and resinous, licorice, tarragon and citrus zest notes in this pecorino, a wine to take you out of the rut of standardized fruity white wines. Perfect for fresh herb-inflected salads and fish dishes on the terrace, chilled, of course.

d’Arenberg 2014 The Stump Jump White, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is a creative blend from one of the iconic producers of McLaren Vale, nicely combining riesling, sauvignon with Rhone white varieties like roussanne and marsanne. It is mid-weight and quite fresh without distinct characteristics, as often is the case with blends. Nicely bridges refreshment and richness, and it has the weight to stand up to grilled foods.

Tenute Messieri Visioni Offida Pecorino 2012 d'Arenberg The Stump Jump White 2014 Crossbarn Chardonnay 2013 Wolfberger Signature Muscat 2013 Miraval Rosé 2014

Crossbarn 2013 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($29.95)
David Lawrason – This is from Paul Hobbs, a very successful international winemaker born and raised in a vineyard in upper New York State, and currently consulting at Stratus in Niagara.  The oak is very nicely played here – supportive of the peach fruit with leesy/vaguely toasty complexity. It’s mid-weight, serious yet fresh. A style to which more California wineries should aspire.

Wolfberger 2103 Signature Muscat, Alsace, France ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This is a dry muscat, a style that Alsace is doing better than any other region. I love the soaring aromas of lavender, spice, shaved ginger, orange marmalade and persimmon. Exotic indeed. Chill well and serve with Asian inspired salads, pad thai. I was reminded of Argentine torrontes.

Miraval 2014 Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This is perhaps the best ‘Brangelina’ rose yet (by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). It’s more restrained and lower alcohol than previous years. Very pale pearl pink colour typical of Provence. Lovely soft and pure aromas of red plum, watermelon with vague herbs. It’s mid-weight, very smooth, dry and elegant. A fine afternoon sipper but do not overchill.

Ktima Gerovassiliou 2014 White, Epanomi, Greece ($18.95)
David Lawrason – No austerity measures here. This is a lively, firm blend of malagousia and assyrtiko – two principal indigenous grapes of Greece. It has a quite lifted, exotic nose of lychee, pineapple, fennel and clover honey, with some white pepper. It’s mid-weight, fresh, lively and quite spicy on the palate and finish. Very good value.

Ktima Gerovassiliou White 2014 Jermann Pinot Grigio 2014 Dal Cero Pinot Grigio 2013 Louis Jadot Clos de Malte Santenay Blanc 2011

Jermann 2014 Pinot Grigio, Venezia-Giulia, Italy ($31.95)
David Lawrason – I am dead certain most would never venture $30 on an Italian pinot grigio, but this does not mean the category can’t attain these heights. For a generation Jermann has been a leading producer of Italian white wines. And if you prize, elegance, purity, subtlety and finesse you will love this understated wine.

Dal Cero 2013 Pinot Grigio, Veneto, Italy ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This was not highlighted in VINTAGES Chillable feature but add it to the list.  It is a quite lovely, light, fresh and pure pinot grigio with apple, florals and lemon. Straightforward, zesty and pure with very good length. Ideal for an Ontario summer.

Louis Jadot 2011 Clos De Malte Santenay, Burgundy, France ($39.95)
David Lawrason – A good buy in serious white Burgundy – and underpriced because Santenay doesn’t have the cachet of neighbouring Chassagne-Montrachet.  It is quite powerful, well-structured and complex with lifted notes of barrel toast, lemon curd, pear puree, candle wax and toasted almond. It is mid-weight, firm and quite dry. Excellent length. Drink over the next three years (maybe longer).

 

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

From VINTAGES July 25th, 2015
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

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


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Squealing Pig Sauvignon Blanc 2014


Argentine Wine Jam & BBQ

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Buy The Case: Cavinona Wine Agency

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario

BuyTheCaseLOGOimage

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

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

July – Cavinona Wine Agency

Cavinona was launched close to a decade ago as an independent business mainly to supply the Terroni Group of restaurants with unique Italian wines. The original company remit was to fill the gaps in selection of Italian wines then available through the consignment program in Ontario, which at the time was heavily skewed towards the usual name brand appellations. Traditional producers in under-represented regions were the focus, especially from the south. Such was the success that the portfolio was expanded significantly, and now covers a broad swath of the Peninsula (still exclusively Italian). Demand has also led to direct-to-consumers sales. But Cavinona’s emphasis on small-scale, regionally authentic producers, with few exceptions, remains largely intact. The wines provided to WineAlign for review represent just a fraction of the portfolio; the full selection can be sampled at any of the Terroni locations in Toronto, with many available by the glass. – JS   [Disclosure: John Szabo used to consult for the Terroni Restaurant Group]

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

Cellaring Wine

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano Montefalco Sagrantino 2011

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano Montefalco Sagrantino 2011John Szabo – Sagrantino is a burly wine at the best of times, but in the hands of ultra-traditionalist Francesco Antano, following in his father Milziade’s footsteps, this example is a massive grizzly bear of a wine, with Amarone-like dried fruit extract. And at 15.5% alcohol there’s a significant dried grape component to be sure. This is how I imagine wine might have been made in Umbria in the 16th century (although probably sweeter). Tannins are thick and chewy – you’ll need a chain saw to carve a path to the finish if you open it now. It’s not to be touched without a giant roast of beef or lamb on the table, or hard cheese, or anything with salt and protein to soften the impact. Better yet, tuck this away for a decade; it will reward patience. For the Cellar.

David Lawrason – This is pricey, but not out of the realm at $50. This traditionally rendered example is 100% sagrantino aged over three years in large oak, and several months in bottle before release. It pours deep ruby black. The nose is chock full of blueberry/prunish and black olive fruit well framed by spicy, woodsy oak and licorice. It’s full bodied, dense and firmly tannic and drying yet surprisingly, not too austere. The length is excellent. Ready to drink now despite the tannins suggesting otherwise. They will melt into a hearty stew or lasagna.

Steve Thurlow – Though this is fine to drink now it will surely improve in the cellar over the next decade if one can resist. It is a deep almost opaque ruby red made from the sagrantino grape with an appealing elegant nose of black cherry fruit with a floral tone plus licorice, black olive, prune and tar. The fullbodied palate is well balanced by soft acidity making it feel lighter and adding to the elegance. The finish is dry with the fruit persisting well. Excellent length. It is fine now but will reward from some time in the cellar.

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano 2011 Montefalco Rosso Riserva

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2011David Lawrason – Proprietor and winemaker Francisco Antano is making quite traditional, concrete fermented, long aged reds in Montefalco. The ‘Riserva’ is based on 65% sangiovese with sagrantino, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, aged 36 months in large barrels. This is a very seductive, rich but old-styled, slightly oxidative and volatile red. The bouquet nicely weaves complex leather, dusty wood, forest notes and curranty fruit, with a touch of acetone. It’s full bodied, dense and smooth with impressive texture. The acetic notes creeps on the finish. The length is excellent. Needs a rich meat dish.

Michael Godel – The WineAlign team tasted three wines by Milziade side by side by side. This was a great learning experience and a portal into their style. It also allowed us to imagine the aging potential of these monster reds from Umbria. This is Italian wine to define the meaning of provinciale, deeply ingrained for place, history and tradition. This Riserva is a perfect candidate for up to 10 years in the cellar.

Function Wines

Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé, Lombardy

Steve Thurlow – This is a very classy rose bubbly that would be a sure hit at an upmarket reception if those attending are Champagne lovers. It is a pale caramel in colour but there is little sign of worrisome oxidation to its complex nose of white cherry fruit with mineral and brioche aromas plus some floral and mild toffee notes, which could easily be mistaken for real Champagne. The palate is lightweight with a touch of sweetness and lively vibrant acidity. Finely balanced with very good to excellent length.

David Lawrason – This very pale, almost pearl pink traditional method rose is made from 60% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir, part of which was aged in barrel as a first wine. Together they were aged 24 months on the lees. It has a fairly generous, vaguely sour cherryish fruit, bready and mineral nose that could easily be mistaken for Champagne. It’s light-bodied, slim and quite elegant with a touch of sweetness. Really very tender, but not soft. The length is very good to excellent. Good value in elegant rose bubbly.

Micheal Godel – Franciacorta is not the most well-known or understood bubbles but it can be fascinating stuff. This is a total, classical, storied package of gastronomy in a bottle. Not so much Rosé as much as bubbles with a fostered history of age.

La Cavalchina 2014 Bardolino Chiaretto, Veneto

La Cavalchina Bardolino Chiaretto 2014 Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta RoséMichael Godel – It’s summer and with outdoor functions in full swing, every host needs to have a Rosé on hand. Bardolino from Verona in the Italian Veneto does blush in a beautifully subtle way. This Chiaretto is a true food Rosé. It has everything you might want or need to pair with a feast of cuisine.

David Lawrason – This pale coppery, onion-skin shaded rose is from the shores of Lago di Garda in northeast Italy. Chiaretto is the local name for the rose genre in this area. It has mild and subtle nose of dried strawberry and herbs. It’s light to medium bodied with firm but not tart acidity, a hint of background sweetness yet a dry, slightly mineral and earthy finish. Nice sense of poise and polish, with very good length.

Personal House Wines

Terre Di Giurfo 2013 Kudyah Nero d’Avola, Sicily

John Szabo – This is a pretty, floral, rather elegant version of Sicily’s flagship red variety, with fine-grained, dusty tannins and lively acids. I love the freshness and balance here, often missing in many over-wrought versions of nero d’avola. It’s the sort of versatile, easy-drinking, but authentic and characterful wine you want to have around at all times. Drink with a light chill.

Michael Godel – Kudyah is the arabic name for the Sicilian town of Licodea Eubea nearest to the producer Terre di Giurfo’s vineyards. Nero d’Avola not shrouded in oak, full of red fruit and all about simple, direct pleasure. A stress reliever. What else can you ask to get out of a house wine?

Contadi Franciacorta N/V Brut, Lombardia

John Szabo – No house should be without a stock of bubbly on hand, and this Franciacorta plays double duty: classy (and expensive) enough to impress on special occasions, yet not so far out of reach that grabbing a bottle on Tuesday night will end in financial ruin. Contadi (est. 1987) is a quality spin-off operation from the excellent Bellavista winery in the same region (under the Terra Moretti umbrella), a lovely fullish and fleshy Franciacorta, on the richer side of brut to be sure, ample, mouthfilling and satisfying.

David Lawrason – Franciacorta is considered the finest classic method sparkler of Italy. It’s a nicely slim, fairly intensely flavoured bubbly with a hint of sweetness cushioning the tart acidity. Expect complex aromas of dried pear/apple fruit, almond, light toast and an undercurrent of mushroomy earthiness. Lively, light and pleasant on the palate, with serious flavour depth. Excellent length; very good value.

Terre di Giurfo Kudyah Nero d'Avola 2013Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta BrutCarvinea Frauma 2008

Gifting Wines

Carvinea 2008 Frauma, IGT Salento Rosso, Puglia

John Szabo – Although this is a thoroughly modern wine made by consulting oenologist Riccardo Cotarella in his unabashedly international style, and has little to do with Pugliese traditions, it’s nonetheless a bottle with massive appeal that will impress widely. The blend of 60% Aglianico, and 40% Petit Verdot yields plenty of dark, ultra ripe fruit, very dense, battling with generous lashings of coffee-flavoured oak for domination on the palate. This could handily compete with many in the super Tuscan genre; be sure to share with your naysaying friends who believe that Italy begins and ends in Florence.

David Lawrason – Wow – great aromatic fireworks here, with considerable depth and elegance. No wonder it has earned a rare three glasses from Gambero Rosso. The winery is small but consulting winemaker Riccardo Cotarella is a big name in Italian wine. Love the lifted, complex riot of dried currant/pruny fruit, soya, balsamic, olive and smoked herbs. It’s full bodied, intense yet silky on the palate, with excellent to outstanding focus and length. Love the mineral/pencil lead trail petit verdot leaves on the finish.

Steve Thurlow – This is an excellent complex Italian red that would be a good restaurant wine by the glass since it is from a relatively unknown region and is consequently well priced for such a complex wine and would benefit from some promotion (plus any wine remaining in an opened bottle would probably improve over several days). It has a very enticing nose of dried blackcurrant, black cherry and prune fruit with smokey bacon, dried herbs, kelp and tobacco. The palate is midweight and very juicy with fine balancing tannin and vibrant acidity. Excellent length and great focus. Will gain in complexity as the tannins fold into the wine.

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For more reviews, visit the agent’s profile page on WineAlign: Cavinona Wine Agency. Because these wines are not in stores, remember to click “All sources” and “show wines with zero inventory” to see all of the reviews.

Cavinona Wine Agency

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

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

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Cavinona Wine Agency

Cavinona Wine AgencyCavinona is an Ontario-based wine agency that imports Italian wines.

Cavinona has handpicked over fifty wine producers throughout the Italian peninsula and distributes their wines exclusively to the Terroni family of restaurants and to private consumers through our online store at www.cavinona.com.

We seek out small regional producers who are driven by passion for quality and devotion to traditional Italian culture. All our wines come from producers who go against the grain of mass marketing and the homogenization of wine. Rather, they strive to uphold the principles of regional diversity. Our producers create wine that reflects the indigenous grape varieties and the soils and climate of their region.

Our goal is to offer the best expressions of Italy’s enormous range of native grape varieties. From vintners whose winemaking philosophies tend toward tradition and minimal intervention, we invite you to discover wines that are true to the grape, the people and the place.

For consumers living within the Toronto area we offer daytime delivery to your home or office starting at $10.50 for the first case (5 cases or more are free). For clients living outside of the Toronto area we can also ship wines to an LCBO of your choice at no extra cost. The shipment usually takes 2-4 weeks, but may take up to 8 depending on the business of the season and distance the case must travel. Your chosen LCBO store will give you a call to let you know when your order has arrived.

You can subscribe to our Newsletter here.

www.cavinona.com – (416) 203-6108

 


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