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(Re-)Discovering Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene

Text and photos by John Szabo MS
with additional notes by Treve Ring

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Prosecco may very well be the most successful wine story in all of Italy, and surely one of the most successful sparkling wine stories in the world. What’s the secret? For one, at its most basic, prosecco is inexpensive, easy to understand, and even easier to drink. It’s light-bodied (c. 11%-11.5% alcohol on average), engagingly fragrant (fresh pear and green apple are signature aromatics), more gently effervescent than traditional method sparkling wines, and just sweet enough to appeal widely, without tripping over into genuine sweetness.

The name is easy to say, and at once brings a grape, place and wine style to mind without unnecessary complications. And at under $20 / bottle in general, and with many cuvees under $15, it fills an important niche in both the on and off-trade: everybody needs an affordable bubbly to pour by the glass, or to sip with friends or serve at parties when champagne is not in the budget. It would be unthinkable to spend a day in Venice without stopping in for a glass of prosecco as you wander along the canals.

So it’s no wonder that sales have increased year on year for as long as I can remember, nearly tripling in just the last half-decade. In 2010, about 130m bottles were sold, by 2015, sales had jumped to c. 306m bottles and the retail value was 515 million Euros. 44 percent of that was for the export market, led by Germany, Switzerland, UK, USA, Austria and Canada.

The Region: Starts with the Soils

The surface simplicity of the prosecco world belies a much more complex and intriguing reality. For many, basic Prosecco DOC, produced in industrial quantities from the flat lands north of Venice, will remain the daily bread and butter. But for those ready to take the next step into the more artisanal world of prosecco, one that’s rapidly expanding thanks to a growing cadre of ambitious producers bankrolled by the region’s sales juggernaut, there’s plenty to explore.

Giuseppe - Welcome to Prosecco

Giuseppe – Welcome to Prosecco

You’ll want to start in the historic heart of the production zone, a hilly area nestled between the towns of Conegliano in the east and Valdobbiadene in the west, a little more than an hour due north of Venice. The the two towns are approximately 40km away from each other, the terroir is markedly different. Conegliano in the east is a mix of clay-rich glacial, alluvial and morainic soils, yielding richer, fruity and structured wines. In the west, in Valdobbiadene, the soils are ancient seabeds veined with moraine and sandstone, resulting in finessed, finer, floral-scented wines. The landscape gets progressively more hilly and steep heading east to west in the zone, and by the time you’ve reached Valdobbiadene, slopes can be downright precipitous. Vineyard work hours also rise precipitously, from some 120 hours/hectare/year in the plains to over 800 hours in the steepest parcels.

This is where the finest wines have always originated, and in fact where prosecco the sparkling wine was born, thanks to Antonio Carpenè Malvolti over a century ago. Malvolti also founded Italy’s first school of oenology in the town of Conegliano in 1876, which contributed in no small measure to the rise in wine quality in the region, and throughout the peninsula.

Antonio Carpenè Malvolti, Oenology school, Conegliano

Antonio Carpenè Malvolti, Oenology school, Conegliano

The Prosecco Pyramid : Climbing Higher in Quality

There are five quality levels of Prosecco. Prosecco DOC and Prosecco DOC Treviso (556 and 95 municipalities, respectively) make up the largest group, at the base of the pyramid. Atop of that rests the Colli Asolani DOCG Prosecco Superiore, a thin layer with 17 municipalities from the hilly area of northern central Veneto. From there, you move into the heartland of production, which in other parts of Italy would have been called the “Classico” zone, but in prosecco’s case could not be because of the possible confusion with metodo classico, or traditional method sparkling wines, which prosecco is mostly not. Officially recognized in 2009 as the Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, this covers about 6800 hectares across 15 municipalities. Here, free-draining hillsides and cooler temperatures result in higher natural acids and greater aromatic development, compared to grapes grown on the plains. But there’s more to it than that; vine age is also older on average, and there’s much greater genetic diversity – more variations on glera, the principal grape (re-baptized in 2009 from prosecco) – from centuries of massale selection, and about 10% of vineyards are planted to other local authorized grapes, like verdiso, bianchetta, perera and glera lunga, which each add their unique twist to blends. Plantings on the plains are generally much more recent and composed of a small handful of glera clones, so the same degree of complexity and balance is nearly impossible to achieve.

Entering Valdobbiadene-3763

Entering Valdobbiadene

Digging a little deeper, and climbing higher in the quality pyramid, are an additional 43 single vineyards or crus. These single vineyard Rive (the Venetian dialect for “steep slopes”), have been identified within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore zone, and often found on the choicest part of the best hillsides. Rive proseccos, by law, are made from lower yields and hand harvested grapes, and must be vintage dated. Some are shared between producers, others are monopoles.

At the top of the pyramid, one large, south-facing hillside area, historically recognized as producing the very top proseccos, has its own appellation: Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG. Prosecco from the 107 ha Cartizze hill is the most expensive in the appellation, often three or four times more than a producer’s regular cuvée. Producers can label their wines Superiore di Cartizze, without the word “prosecco”, to futher emphasize the special site. In addition, Cartizze must only be vinified within the Valdobbiadene municipality.

Sunset over Cartizze Hill-3783

Sunset over Cartizze Hill

The most vexing thing about Cartizze, however, is that the cru has been historically made in a ‘dry’ version, which is of course to say quite sweet, with up to 32 grams of residual sugar, a tradition that most producers still seem content to follow. In the past, Cartizze was surely the one zone where grapes would ripen sufficiently and consistently enough to produce a rich, off-dry style wine, a distinctive trait. But today, with sugar ubiquitous, anyone can make sweet prosecco. And adding sugar has the effect of homogenizing, if not fully eliminating, any nuance that comes from place. Admittedly I have found few Cartizzes I’d been willing to pay for – if you want sweet, you may as well by a straight Prosecco DOC ‘Dry’ for a fraction of the price. The sweeter the wine, the less regionally distinctive it tends to be.

The Future : Dryer, Site-Specific Wines

Compared to the gloried Cartizze, Rive proseccos, on the other hand, come much more frequently in brut versions (maximum 12 grams of sugar). For me, this category represents the future for Prosecco, especially if the goal is to trade consumers up to more distinctive wines at higher prices. That’s not to say that cru proseccos are uniformly better, however. There’s much to be said about the advantage of blending from multiple vineyards to create a better-balanced, complete wine. But the Rive category at least moves prosecco out of the simple commodity market and into a space where meaningful discussion about regional variations in terroir can take place.

One heartening trend overall is the move towards more truly dry styles. Over the last 20 years the Brut category has grown dramatically, representing about 40% of total production; dry versions now represent less than 10%, while the in-between Extra-dry category (with 12-17 grams of sugar) accounts for about half of all production.

Vineyards, Valddobbiadene-3759

Vineyards, Valdobbiadene

Col Fondo prosecco is another ancient style that is regaining popularity. “Col Fondo is the oldest version of prosecco”, Maurizio Favrel of Malibràn tells me. “It’s the type that existed before the charmat method became popular, born surely from a mistake”. Favrel claims to be the first producer to revive the style commercially, which was essentially an ancestral method sparkling wine made by bottling still-fermenting must. “It was the wine we had at home. It would be a pity to lose this tradition”, Favrel continues.

Today the process is not left to chance. Favrel makes his from a dry, still base wine, bottled with sugar and yeast as for traditional method sparkling, but the wine is not disgorged or filtered so remains cloudy, like bottled-fermented ale. Malibràn’s is bone dry and with under three bars or pressure, less than classic prosecco, and only about half the effervescence of traditional method bubbly. About half a dozen producers are making Col Fondo style prosecco today, though the category is sure to grow.

So, if you’ve relegated prosecco exclusively to the fun and frivolous category until now, it’s time to explore what the historic region has to offer. Quality, availability, and stylistic diversity have never been better. Start your exploration by tracking down some of the bottles below.

Strada del Prosecco-3747

Strada del Prosecco

Buyers’ Guide to Prosecco

These wines may not currently be available in your province, but if you have a chance to taste them, we recommend you do.

2013 Ruggeri Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut Vecchie Viti

Ruggeri’s superb Vecchie Viti (“Old Vines”) is harvested from individual old vines (mixed in with younger plantings), selected from 12 growers in 12 different parcels, some 2500 individual vines in all. This may sound like excessive labour, but the results are clearly worth it – this wine ranks in the very top echelon in the region year after year. The 2013 offers terrific aromatics, really just starting to emerge, while the palate is dry but rich, full, substantial. I love the mouth filling density and the range of white-fleshed fruit flavours, ginger spice, fresh green herbs. Excellent length. Lovely wine all in all. 5000 bottles made annually. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 94

Villa Sandi Cartizze Brut Vigna la Rivetta Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Brut

Although aromatic intensity is relatively modest, Villa Sandi’s Cartizze, a rare brut from this celebrated hillside (most are made in a dry style, which is to say, sweeter), is all about texture and mouthfeel. It’s a clearly ripe and generous wine, barely off-dry, at the upper end of brut, very vinous and complex, and with very good length. I’d put this clearly in a superior quality category, less for titillating aromatics, but rather for its genuine complexity and depth. I’d love to see more Cartizze wines take this drier, more site-driven approach. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 93

2009 Bisol Relio Metodo Classico Extra Brut VSQ

This is a fairly rare traditional method glera, aged three years on lees, yet shockingly fresh, with little obvious autolysis. The palate is delicate, silky, seamless, very surprising – this is amazingly complete and lively. The florality of glera has been only partially sacrificed, while white-fleshed fruit still dominates. Very good length. I love the salty-sapidity – the most mineral glera I’ve come across. 12% alcohol, 4 grams dosage. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 93

2013 La Farra Brut millesimato Rive di Farra di Soligo Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore

Crafted in a gently oxidative-floral, style, this is a big, more concentrated, powerful version of prosecco overall, firm and well balanced, very dry, with terrific intensity and length. A top example. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 92

Vineyards, morning, Conegliano-3742

Vineyards, morning, Conegliano

2014 Adami Vigneto Giardino Rive di Colbertaldo Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

From the Rive di Colbertaldo, a south east facing, hilly site 220-300m in altitude comes this generous, dry (20 g/l RS) fizz. The sweetness is deftly handled by a racy backbone of acidity, bringing a nimble briskness to the palate. Generous cushion of asian pear, light yellow apple, macedonia (fruit salad) finishes entirely asciutto – grippy, drying and fresh. A beauty. Treve Ring – 92

2014 Ruggeri Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut Giustino B. Extra Dry

The Giustino B. bottling is assembled in March following the vintage, a selection of the top vineyard lots, including some old vine lots. The 2014 is still tightly wound on the nose, but the palate is rich, off-dry as advertised, peachy and pear-flavoured, with very good length, an excellent wine all in all, which, along with Ruggeri’s Vecchie Viti, can be counted among the region’s best. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 92

2014 Valdo Brut Cuvèe del Fondatore millesimato Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore

This fairly deeply coloured prosecco offers intriguing riesling-like florality, with peach-apricot, pear, and pineapple aromatics, while the palate is vinous and fleshy, with higher intensity and density than the mean, with more generous alcohol. This is clearly a more concentrated and serious example, though oxidation is starting to creep in, so enjoy now or over the near-term. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 91

Col Vetoraz Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry

Here’s a textbook example of Cartizze made in the traditional ‘dry’ style (which means of course that it’s off-dry), though with better balance than the mean, built more on acids than sweetness alone. It shows as a lovely, particularly elegant wine, with beguiling aromatics, all fresh white-fleshed fruit and white blossom florality. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 91

Panaroma from Cartizze Hill-3789

Panaroma from Cartizze Hill

2013 Malibràn Cinque Grammi Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut

Malibràn’s Cinque Grammi (“Five Grams”, referring to the low sugar, virtually dry style), is crafted in a powerful, ripe, full bodied style within the prosecco category, focused less on aromatics, and more on fruit ripeness and concentration, and palate richness and extraction. It comes across as a slightly more rustic wine than the mean from Valdobbiadene, but highly characterful, a strong personality, and one that certainly appreciate. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 91

Adami Col Credas Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rive Farra di Soligo

Serious Prosecco. Think single vineyard, steep sloped, ‘cru’ Prosecco, sustainably farmed old vines from 300-350 metres rooted in poor, dry clay soils. The Adami family have been farming these soils for three generations, more than 90 years of experience in the terroir of Valdobbiadene {say it with me: val-dough-bee-add-den-nay}. The dedication shows in dry, characterful wines like this one. Brut (only 4 g/l residual sugar, with tight green apple, light almond, faint white acacia, bitter citrus pith and stone. The nimble palate rips along with driving acidity, leaving just a bit of textured mineral stoniness in its fresh wake. Tasted December 2015 – Treve Ring – 91

2014 Bisol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry

Bisol’s bottling of Cartizze is on the drier side of ‘Dry’  (23 grams of sugar), lighter on the aromatics, but well-endowed with flavour intensity on the palate. Acids are quite high, balancing the sugar, and brought further into equilibrium by the relatively rich and full body. Good to very good length. A fine prosecco all in all, though at a considerable premium price. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 90

Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut

A flagrantly aromatic, very floral, almost muscat-like expression of prosecco here from the Bronca sisters, full of orange peel and orange blossom aromatics, alongside more classic fresh, white fleshed fruit, pear and apple. The palate offers a vaguely sweet impression thanks mostly to ripe, concentrated fruit, in a widely appealing style. All in all this is lovely and fullish prosecco with genuine character and style, and very good length. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 90

2014 Malibràn Sottoriva Col Fondo Per Tradizione Vino Frizzante Colli Trevigiani IGT

Col Fondo is the prosecco designation for what’s essentially an ancestral method sparkling wine, bottled before the primary fermentation has finished. Spent yeast cells remain in the bottle, and the pressure is slightly lower than standard charmat method prosecco. Malibràn produces their version from pure glera grown in their vineyards all within the DOCG zone, though because it’s bottle under crown cap, it looses appellation status. The 2014 is very lightly cloudy, crisp, dry, appley, bone dry in fact, very pure and pleasant to drink. Although the complexity is ultimately modest, I love the purity on offer – this is delicious stuff. It’s a wine for the table, served alongside something like boudin blanc or fatty sausage.  Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 90

2014 Masottina Extra Dry Rive di Ogliano millesimato Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore

The touch of sugar here in Masottina’s Extra-Dry single vineyard prosecco really lifts the aromatics; this is highly fragrant, reminiscent of off-dry riesling, one of the most fragrant in its class. Although it’s not terribly complex overall, it appeals above the average with its gentle and easy drinking manner. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 89

Vineyards, Conegliano-3743

Vineyards, Conegliano

Sommariva Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut

Sommariva could be called a” grower prosecco”, with sufficient estate vineyards around the town of Conegliano to supply all of their grape needs. This a classic Brut Superiore, bottled one month ago, composed of mostly 2014 vintage, with a touch of 2015 blended in to refresh. Grapes from a mix of old and young vines are given a short maceration before fermentation with selected yeast, and the wine is bottled with 10 grams residual sugar. The result is a rather dry, fleshy, flavourful, classically pear flavoured bubbly. Concentration and density are above the mean, as is the length. Textbook prosecco. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 89

2014 Astoria Brut Casa Vittorino Rive di Refrontolo millesimato Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore

Astoria’s single vineyard bottling is done in a lightly oxidative and floral style, with gentle spring blossoms and pear/apple fruit mixing with more exotic tangerine-mandarin notes. The palate fullish and balanced-fresh, indeed nicely crisp and essentially dry. Gently effervescent drives the finish, of very good length. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 89

Tenuta degli Ultimi Brut Biancariva Rive di Collalto Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore

Ultimi’s Biancariva offers relatively subtle aromatics on a dry, attractively svelte and tight frame. I like the tighter and more upright style, firm and coiled, with lots of tension but also elegance. Authentic. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 89

Vettori Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut

A classically light, oxidative-floral-lemon peel scented prosecco, like a refreshing gin & tonic, while the palate is dry, pleasantly lean and tight, balanced, crisp and lively. Solid substance and length. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 89

Costadilá Prosecco Col Fundo

This will change your perception of Prosecco. “Col fundo” signifies ancestral method, and is a style that a number of independent, adventuresome producers are exploring in Prosecco. Costadilá has made this wine naturally – no added sulphites or sugar, and with one fermentation in bottle (as it was in past times). Dry, crisp and exacting, with ample oxidative notes, apple cider, delicate stone, dried grasses, white peach blossom and delicate shortbread notes. Very light frizzante bubbles (3.5 bars of pressure) to gently lift the 11 percent alcohol. The bottle is not disgorged and has fine sediment in the bottom of the bottle. The winemaker recommends decanting, but I prefer to gently tilt the bottle back and forth to mix the sedimentary lees throughout. The result is a cloudy pour, but one with texture and interest. Tasted February 2016 – Treve Ring – 88

Desiderio Bisol-3768

Desiderio Bisol

Bisol Desiderio Jeio Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

The Bisol family has been farming the famed hill of Cartizze since the 16th century. This, their lower entry tier of wines, is named for Desiderio Bisol, the current winemaker. Glera makes up the majority of this cuvée, accompanied by verdiso, pinot bianco and chardonnay. Crisp and bright, with the 9 g/l RS gobbled up by crunchy acidity. An appealingly dry riff of peach fuzz lingers on the finish. Treve Ring – 88

2014 Canella Prosecco Superiore di Conegliano Valdobiadene

Crisp apple, light stone and apple open this fresh prosecco, and carry on to the bright palate along with tight lemon blossoms, peach and pear. Subtle hint of bitter melon before a kiss of sweetness on the finish. Lovely for brunch or with prosciutto wrapped melon. Treve Ring – 88

Nino Franco Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Nino Franco was founded in 1919 and is one of the oldest wineries in Valdobbiadene, and the winery is now overseen by the forth Franco generation. Fresh and juicy, with golden apple, white peach, tight pear and subtle hay. Lime pith acidity cuts the residual sugar handily, leaving the finish crisp and dry. Treve Ring – 88

Ruggeri Santa Stefano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Dry DOCG
Fresh peach, pear and pink grapefruit blossoms fill the mouth of this ‘Dry’ prosecco from the high-altitude sub-zone of Santo Stefano. The bracing acidity handles it very well, leaving an impression of mandarin orange. From one of the steeper and higher sub-zones in Valdobbiadene, most of the Santo Stefano fruit goes to the Ruggeri. The residual sugar in this prosecco ranges from 17 to 32g/l making it more of a patio sipper preferably with panettone or even fruit but you could pair it up with some spicy Asian rolls. Tasted February 2016 – Treve Ring – 88

2013 Ruggeri Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Giustino B

Ringed with crisp, pithy pink grapefruit acidity and tight minerality, this extra dry prosecco is sourced from the hilltop ridges bordering the Dolomites. Refined and bright, with green apple and orchard pear, this carries the 16 g/l RS very well, leaving only pithy citrus in its wake. Pair with salads or sashimi. Tasted February 2016 – Treve Ring – 88

Giusti Asolo Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry

Sourced from vineyards in the hills of Asolo, this pretty prosecco is extra dry, though it’s not overtly noticeable though the pithy pink grapefruit acids. Peach fuzz, red apple, pear blossom and gentle acacia fill the palate, one cushioned by the sugars and streamed by the high acidity, especially when kept nice and chilled. Melon and prosciutto, here you are. Tasted February 2016 – Treve Ring – 88

2014 Foss Marai Prosecco Superiore Guia Millesimato Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

The steep hilled vineyard was first planted in the early 1900s by winemaker Carlo Biasiotto’s grandfather. A garden of white flowers and fine, green apple in this finessed Brut. Brisk pithy pink grapefruit acidity snaps on the finish. A delicate, feminine style. Tasted February 2016 – Treve Ring – 88 


Bisol – Valdobbiadene

Bisol Jeio Prosecco Colmei Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Extra Dry

Jeio is the nickname for Desiderio, the founder of Bisol and the grandfather of the current generation, also Desiderio, to run the family company. This cuvée was first made in 1999. This bottling is all from the 2014 vintage (though labelled as NV), from grapes grown across the DOCG in both Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Stylistically it’s on the more fragrant and floral side of the spectrum, offering light spice, ginger and fresh herbs, while the palate is noticeably off-dry (with 16 grams of residual sugar), which broadens the appeal, but in a more commercial sense. Perfectly serviceable and fairly priced in any case, even if I’d love to see a brut version of it. Tasted December 2015 – John Szabo – 87

Valdo Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Marco Oro

This consistent extra dry Prosecco comes from the heartland of the region, Valdobbiadene DOCG. Candied grapefruit acidity gobbles up the sugar fairly well in this extra dry style (from 12-17 g/l RS), leaving an impression of sugared pear, candy apple, juicy peach, white flowers and candy necklace. Treve Ring – 87

Sorelle Bronca Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore Particella

The 68 on the label refers to the official land registry plot number for the exact part of the hill in Colbertaldo where these grapes are grown, 250-320m high. Glera is splashed with Bianchetta and Perera, here creating a near-dry fizz with light white flowers, lemon peel, tight pear and yellow apple. Some powdered stone texture and bitter pear skin closes out the light palate. Treve Ring – 87

Bottega Gold Prosecco

Even though the distinctively blinged out Bottega Gold doesn’t carry DOCG on the label, it is entirely DOCG quality fruit. A quirk in the appellation laws dictate that the bottle has to be made of clear glass in a limited range of shades. Blingy, to be sure, but it’s what inside that counts. Very concentrated nose, with yellow apple, ripe pear and light toast throughout the creamy, gently frothy palate, and a perfumed floral note that floats the finish. Presents on the upper sweetness level for Brut. Unlike most charmat-produced Prosecco, Bottega Gold Bottega Gold is obtained from Glera grapes, but unlike other standard Proseccos, it is produced to order via just one fermentation in the winery’s specialized pressurized cuve close tanks for forty days. Treve Ring – 87

Terra Serena DOC Prosecco Treviso Frizzante

Ripe pear, pink florals and a fine pink grapefruit pith carry this simple, light (10.5 percent) Prosecco. Hints of almond tuck in on the bright palate, finishing with a brisk peach fuzz bitterness. Chill, use in cocktails or enjoy solo at breakfast/brunch. Tasted August 2016 – Treve Ring – 86

Follador Extra Dry Prosecco

Very perfumed florals, apple blossoms and pear throughout this sweeter prosecco (18 g/l RS). Tight citrus and crunchy pear acidity, finishes bright but with a twist of bitter fruit. Simple, chilled, for breakfast or tea time. Tasted June 2016 – Treve Ring – 86


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If I could buy only one – Aug 20th, 2016 VINTAGES Release

As part of our VINTAGES recap for August 20th, we asked our critics:

If you could buy only one wine from this release – which one would it be and why?

Here’s what they had to say about the release. You can find their complete reviews, scores and store inventory by clicking the highlighted wine name or bottle image below.

John Szabo – Great value whites are always in demand, at the tail end of summer, and always. And Soave is fertile hunting ground, where quality has risen astonishingly since the turn of the millennium, with prices yet to follow suit. La Cappuccina 2014 Soave is a fine example of the value to be found, a gentle but fresh and nectarine-flavoured wine with appreciable character and evident depth and concentration, not to mention an extra dimension of stony-minerality on the long finish.

La Cappuccina Soave 2014

David Lawrason – I have known Norman Hardie’s pinots from the beginning, watched his evolution in the County over the years, and tasted every vintage multiple times. So call me a homer if you want, but there is an aromatic thrill in this pinot that I don’t get anywhere else. And I will never tire of it.  As in my review – gorgeous, impeccable pinot nose with vibrant cherry/strawberry, light spice, lazy woodsy smokiness and wet stone.  You can judge its weight or lack thereof as you will, but great wine captivates on the nose. And this is great value in the pinot firmament, even at its new $45 price.

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2014

Michael Godel – The label on this four endemic varietal red blend from the Douro tells us it’s “unoaked.” This seemingly insignificant bit of marketing is simply brilliant. Such knowledge is power and usually reserved for whites, especially chardonnay. Why not tell us your red wine spent no time in barrel? This is nothing short of awesome for the consumer. And so we have pure fruit and a simple, unadulterated experience. Quinta Nova de Nossa 2011 Senhora do Carmo is a terrific summer red (especially with grilled chicken on the BBQ) when procured with a chill that will serve and protect your palate and your will. At five years of age it has held up beautifully, a testament to hands off and trustworthy winemaking.

Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo Colheita Tinto 2011

Articles covering the VINTAGES August 20th release:

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES

For Premium Members, use these quick links for immediate access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release including John Szabo’s First-In-Line.

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
All August 20th Reviews

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Editors Note: You can access critic reviews and scores by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews and scores 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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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – August 20, 2016

The Next Big Thing, Again? Let’s Focus Instead on Real Big Things.
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The main theme for the August 20th release is ‘the next big thing’. It’s a common vinous leitmotif that I’m sure must drive winemakers and winery owners wild. Countless articles are dedicated to reporting on the hottest, latest, trendiest things in the world of wine: new grapes, emerging regions, cutting edge or re-discovered ancient techniques, and anything else that might be deemed the next big thing. Journalists by nature, and necessity, are desperate for news, which consumers are eager to lap up to stay ‘in the know’. Many sommeliers have built careers and reputations by listing only new, fashionable, invariably obscure wines. I am guilty on several counts. But, for a change this week, let’s focus instead on genuine big things. Here’s why.

The trouble with chasing the next big thing in the world of wine is that making the stuff – and here I mean the kind of wine that causes pause for intellectual or artistic reflection – is a pursuit of incredible patience and unswerving dedication to an ideal, not a trend. The reality is that, cosmetic changes aside, the wine industry is as nimble as an aircraft carrier. It’s impossible to re-tool your operation overnight to produce the latest shiny object for people to chase. It takes at least 4-5 years to establish a vineyard, and another decade or so before its full potential begins to reveal itself. Establishing the sort of cultural framework that gives rise to a distinctive and identifiable regional style – the old world appellation model – takes much longer still, generations in fact of doing the same thing over and over. Overnight success, as they say, is a lifetime in the making.

Sure, you can graft new varieties onto the roots of existing vineyards and change your production from one year to the next. It’s frequently done. But that’s the game of corporate wine factories, chasing trends like a dog chases its tail, seeking quarterly profits, not meaningful cultural patrimony. Step one: plant the darling grape of the day, say, chardonnay. When consumer preferences shift to red, graft the vineyard over to cabernet. Then a movie comes out and everyone wants pinot noir. Then pinot grigio is all the rage. Or is it moscato, or fiano, or trousseau? Vineyard managers and nurserymen are ever grateful for the next big thing. They’ll never be out of work. But the results of flip-flopping your vineyard or planting what’s trendy, not necessarily suitable, are predictably poor – basic commercial wine at the lowest level.

On the contrary, memorable, distinctive wine is by definition the antithesis of trendy, born of a long, well-crafted story arc, not a loose reality TV script. It takes years to create, fine-tune, and perfect. And when you start, predicting trends at least 15 years into the future is both impossible and foolish, doomed to fail. You’re far better off focusing on what your patch of dirt will likely do best, and dedicating all efforts to maximize that potential, not guessing at what hipsters will be drinking in 2030. There’s always a market for quality, timeless fashion.

That’s why slavish devotion in the media and sales to celebrating the newest and shiniest, at the expense of the established and reliable, must really cause winemakers deep exasperation. It can jeopardize a decade’s, or several generations, worth of effort, as consumers are encouraged to forget the old and embrace the new, until something newer comes along.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t experiment, explore and discover. That’s what keeps us – writers and sommeliers, passionate wine drinkers and yes, even winemakers – permanently engaged, and keeps the industry evolving positively. But it shouldn’t be your exclusive MO. Save some liver function for those old-time, non-trendy classics. They deserve the lion’s share of the spotlight. So let’s forget the ‘next big thing’ this week, and focus instead on the wines that have earned the right to call themselves a genuinely big thing.

Our Top Picks from the August 20th VINTAGES release:

Big Thing Sparkling & Whites

The region of Champagne has been producing wine since Paris was a swampy village, even if champagne as we know it today, sparkling, is only about three centuries old. But hell, let’s call it established anyway. I was floored by the Guy Charlemagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Réserve Brut Champagne, France ($61.95), an archetype in every way from a family-grower operation founded in 1892. From all grand cru-rated chardonnay vineyards in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, next door to Champagne Salon’s vineyards, it offers classic blanc de blancs finesse and precision, balanced on razor-sharp acids, and blends a just measure of white chocolate/blanched almond-brioche character from reserve wines and sur lie ageing, with zesty-bright green apple and citrus fruit showing no signs of tiring yet. It’s for fans of refined and sophisticated champagne with no small measure of depth and power in reserve.

Chablis has rightfully established itself as one of the most original places on earth to grow chardonnay. It was trendy perhaps half a century ago, now a genuine and lasting big thing. Why would anyone want to make anything other than classic Chablis in Chablis? Tinkering with it would be like trying to perfect the wheel. For example, try the Jean Collet & Fils 2014 Montée de Tonnerre Chablis 1er Cru, France ($37.95). It’s a lovely, balanced, convincingly concentrated Montée de Tonnerre with exceptional length, while flavours are absolutely textbook, all quivering stones, fresh cream and lively green apple and citrus – a superb value in the realm of fine white wine. It’ll be better in 2-3 years, or hold into the mid-’20s.

Guy Charlemagne Blanc De Blancs Grand Cru Réserve Brut Champagne Jean Collet & Fils Montée De Tonnerre Chablis 1er Cru 2014 Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo 2014 La Cappuccina Soave 2014

At the risk of appearing trendy, I’m including Mastroberardino’s 2014 Greco di Tufo, Campania, Italy ($19.95) in this list. But while greco may not be a household name, the grape has been planted in Campania for at least two thousand years, and Mastroberardino is the grand old company that brought it back to prominence starting in the early 20th century. The current generation, Don Piero Mastroberardino, is most decidedly not chasing trends. This latest release is sharp and phenolically rich, putting the variety’s almost extreme minerality on display. A lively streak of acids pins down the ensemble – a crackling backbone of energy, while fruit is very much a secondary feature. There’s plenty of wine here for the money, but it needs at least another 2-3 years to really start showing its best.

Once ultra-trendy Soave is thankfully past that awkward era in the ‘70s when practically anything wet and white would sell under the regional name. Now it’s so untrendy in fact that winemakers can (have to) again focus on quality, which has risen astonishingly since the turn of the millennium, with prices yet to follow suit. La Cappuccina 2014 Soave, Veneto, Italy ($15.95) is a fine example of the value to be found, a gentle but fresh and nectarine-flavoured wine with appreciable character and evident depth and concentration, not to mention an extra dimension of stony-minerality on the long finish.

Big Thing Reds

Montalcino came perilously close to collapsing under the sinister pressure of international trends last decade when the excessive use of new barriques and illegal grapes conspired to thicken, darken and denature the gorgeous perfume and delicacy of many of the region’s Brunelli in an effort to make everything taste like then-fashionable cabernet. Many wineries were accused, and some convicted, of blending grapes other than sangiovese in the ‘Brunellogate’ scandal, since Brunello must be 100% sangiovese by law. The region subsequently voted narrowly in favour of keeping the appellation pure, a clear victory for the anti-trend faction.

For a taste of what Brunello should be, cursed trends aside, try the Caparzo 2010 La Casa Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($73.95). This is Caparzo’s single vineyard expression from the premium north side of Montalcino in an excellent vintage, a wine of exceptional structure, depth and character. Don’t expect it to bowl you over with masses of fruit; it’s a toned and firm expression, lithe and sinewy, energetic and tightly wound the way we like it, still a couple of years away from prime drinking. Length is terrific and complexity will only continue to build from an excellent, savoury, umami-laden base in classic sangiovese style. Best 2018-2028.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley has arguably done a better job than any other new world region in forging an identity within a single generation based on regional vocation, not pie-in-the-sky trend chasing (only Marlborough Sauvignon comes close). Pinot noir was among the first grapes planted in 1966 and today still accounts for the overwhelming majority of production. And remember, that pre-dates the big trend for pinot by over three decades – no one succumbed to the temptation to plant cabernet in the interim (which would never have ripened anyhow).

Caparzo La Casa Brunello di Montalcino 2010 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2013 Viña Olabarri Crianza 2011

Domaine Drouhin’s excellent 2013 Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills sub-AVA ($52.95) is a classic of the genre: light, fresh, balanced, firm but not hard, with a scratchy bit of minerality on the palate, generous tart red berry flavours and impressively long finish. It’s fitting, too, that Drouhin was the first major foreign investor in the valley in 1987, and from Burgundy no less. Was Véronique Drouhin chasing a lucrative trend? Hardly. Most Americans at the time didn’t know pinot from peanuts. She simply understood that the Dundee Hills would make an excellent place to grow pinot, now robustly proved.

Rioja, and indeed all of Spain, is living on the edge of a dangerously trendy abyss, emerging as the nation is from its 20th century isolated slumber. So many wineries/regions/wines are seeking a foothold in the 21st century, tempted by various fashionable styles. Viña Olabarri’s 2011 Rioja Crianza ($14.95), however, stands steadfast in traditional garb. It delivers the classic resinous/balsam/sandalwood flavours of abundant American oak, in use since the 16th century, (albeit in rustic form), with a nice dose of tart red and black berry fruit. Tannins are a little rough-and-tumble, but nothing that some grilled, salty, fatty protein couldn’t soften at the table. It’s a decent little value for fans of traditional style Rioja.

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


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES August 20th, 2016

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – August Whites

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium 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!

For Premium Members, use these quick links for easy access to all the Premium Picks:

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
All August 20th Reviews 

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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If I could buy only one – Aug 6th, 2016 VINTAGES Release

As part of our VINTAGES recap, we asked our critics this question:

If you could buy only one wine from this release – which one would it be and why?

Here’s what they had to say. You can find their complete reviews, scores and store inventory by clicking the highlighted wine name or bottle image below.

John Szabo – This is for all of you who believe that a wine’s first duty is to be red. For many reasons, some of which I don’t understand, white wine has developed a reputation of being lighter, simpler and more easy-drinking than red wine, a more “serious” expression of fermented grapes. Here’s a wine that belies that nonsense. Fiano has been prized since at least the first century (it was widely planted in Pompeii, for example), and this example from Romano Clelia, one of the finest vignerons in the region, is extraordinary. It’s from the small village of Lapio in Avellino where the grape is believed to originate and where the best and most ageworthy wines from volcanic ash-sprinkled soils are produced. It’s very ripe and smoky, dense and concentrated, lightly salty. I’d buy a few bottles to watch it evolve over the next decade; I suspect this will be at it’s finest sometime around 2020, with lots of pleasure on either side. In any case, it has every bit the depth and complexity of any fine, serious red wine. I’d even serve this with steak.

Colli Di Lapio Fiano Di Avellino 2014

David Lawrason – They say that wine is like music, with one sip able to transport you to a time and place. This very good cabernet franc did just that. It beamed me right back into the vineyards of Bourgueil in 1984, on a cloudy September day, when the ripe grapes were heavy on the wine. There was a heady earthy scent in the air. It was the first time I had set foot in a French vineyard. I tasted the ripe grapes. And this wine tastes exactly as I remember. It has a very lifted, woodsy/leafy nose with juicy blackcurrant, red peppers and evergreen notes. Very countryside fresh. It’s quite tart-edged and dry but that same juicy generosity floods onto the palate. The Vignoble des Robinières l’Alouette Bourgueil is charming and authentic, and under $20 I may buy more than one, just for memory’s sake.

Vignoble Des Robinières L'alouette Bourgueil 2014

Michael Godel – Whilst we find ourselves suspended in the throes of a scorching Ontario summer there can never be such a thing as too many thirst quenching white wines. Greece is the word and in terms of go to Greek whites moschofilero may play second violi to assyrtiko but Mantinia is a special place for the aromatic Peloponnese variety. This ripping example from Troupis should not be missed. At this price ($17) the value quotient is simply crazy good, bordering on ridiculous. Assyrtiko by the sea? Sure. Moschofilero by the lake or the pool? Bring it on.

Troupis Mantinia Moschofilero 2015


From VINTAGES August 6th, 2016

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium 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!

For Premium Members, use these quick links for easy access to all the top picks in our New Releases:

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
All August 6th Reviews


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Buy The Case: Vintage Trade’s Global Reach

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by David Lawrason

Buy the CaseIn this regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in this Buy the Case report. Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines. 

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

Vintage Trade

I have known David Thompson of Vintage Trade from his beginnings in the wine industry in Ontario many years ago. He is a man smitten by the grape to be sure, but also meticulous and keen to succeed in the difficult task of running a small, quality focused importing agency in Ontario.

“Some people say I have the best job in the world.” David says, “In some ways that may be true, but keeping wines available and working through the LCBO provides great challenges. The ‘best’ part of my job is finding interesting, and often, unique wines that deliver more than you expect. I am actively travelling to seek out new gems”.

David is joined by three accomplished wine professionals, Alex Hamilton in Toronto, John Kent in Waterloo, and Aaron Shaw in Ottawa, the latter a former winner of Tony Aspler’s “Ontario’s Best Professional Blind Taster” award.

Vintage Trade has a thoroughly global view of the wine world – with representation in this offering from Italy, Australia, Austria, New Zealand and France. So I was very curious to have this opportunity to sit down with John Szabo, Steve Thurlow and Michael Godel at WineAlign, to taste some of the portfolio Vintage Trade is offering to Ontario licensees and consumers.

As usual with this Buy the Case feature – when discussing wines only available by the case – we offer some thoughts on how you might consider using the wines you purchase.

To order any of the following wines please visit Vintage Trade, contact or call 1 (866) 390-8745.


Rabl 2015 Grüner Veltliner Spiegel, Kamptal, Austria ($17.95)

David Lawrason – This fine young gruner veltliner has some delicacy yet excellent tension, with classic grüner white pepper, lemon blossom and waxy notes, with some pear fruit. Certainly a fine summer wine (this summer or next). Moderately priced to pour by the glass, from a highly reputed Austrian producer. Move customers and friends up and over from pinot grigio.
John Szabo – 2015 is turning out to be a very appealing vintage in central Europe, and Austria has turned out some lovely, ripe and immediately friendly gruner, such as this one from Rudi Rabl, a perennial favourite in the Vintage Trade portfolio. It offers plenty of fleshy, ripe but fresh orchard fruit, Asian pear, spiced apple and nectarine, with crunchy acids and length very good. This would make a terrific house pour this summer.
Michael Godel – Rabl’s Spiegel is so young and fresh it pops and spins in grüner veltliner mineral centrifuge, easily and clearly speaking in the classic nature of the variety. It’s time to go grüner on the patio, dock or any space in the afternoon sun. House Wine.
Steve Thurlow – Spiegel grüner is dry and quite rich with zesty lemony acidity and, as usual, it’s good value for money.

Feudo Disisa 2015 Grillo, Sicilia ($19.95)
Steve Thurlow – Grillo is in my opinion the finest of Sicily’s many indigenous white grapes and this is an excellent unoaked example. Expect fine aromas of pear, melon and pineapple fruit with floral and ginger spice notes. The palate is very smooth with the fruit well balanced by firm vibrant acidity. Long lingering fruity dry finish. Excellent length. Try with baked salmon or roast veal.
David Lawrason – This fine grillo has aromas mindful of fresh fig, even banana peel, with hints of exotic elderflower and anise. It’s medium weight, dry, yet fleshy with pleasant grapefruit bitterness and stoniness on the finish. Very nicely balanced with excellent focus and length. Worth exploring by the case and sharing a few with friends. although you might decide to keep it all for yourself.

Rabl Gruner Veltliner Speigel 2015 Feudo Disisa Grillo 2015 Giusti Prosecco Rosalia Middle Earth Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Giusti Prosecco Rosalia, Veneto, Italy ($14.95)

Michael Godel – Really lively Prosecco to sip alone, by mimosa or in a fraises. Can’t think of any reason not to pour it whenever bubbles are required. Restaurant pour by the glass.
David Lawrason – A decent Prosecco at the price in a category where qualitative differences are measured by a hair’s breadth. Chill and dispense liberally at large functions.

Middle Earth 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Nelson, New Zealand ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This is a crisp, compact Nelson sauvignon blanc – not as intense and brash as many from neighbouring Marlborough, and leaning green with aromas of green pepper/asparagus, green apple and a slightly earthy note. It’s bright, lively and fresh with a touch of rounding sweetness. Another by the glass summer selection. Nelson, by the way, may not be technically Middle Earth in the Tolkien-esque sense, but it is the middle geographic point of New Zealand.


Rust en Vrede 2012 Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($59.95)

David Lawrason – My highest scoring wine (93) from the Vintage Trade collection is from a classic Stellenbosch estate. It’s medium-full, slender and with riveting acidity and structure, plus excellent to outstanding length. A bargain for those who normally spend way more on classic Bordeaux style reds.
John Szabo – Cape classic Rust en Vrede crafts fine traditional wines, and this 2012 estate cabernet-shiraz blend, with a splash of merlot, is a classy beauty. The nose is chalk-full of ripe but fresh dark fruit and spice, integrated, high-quality barrel notes, and the first signs of mature, bottling ageing, savoury aromatics. This expands impressively on the back end, and complexity is already solid, and will only get better. Try after 2018 for a fully evolved and complex expression; well worth the premium price.
Steve Thurlow – This is a beautiful red blend from one of the Cape’s top estates. It is classically styled and like many South African wines sits between old and new world. The palate is smooth and rich and very even with a beautiful structure to the fruit. It is very harmonious and very elegant with excellent length.
Michael Godel – A big, hearty and beefy mess of an iron-rich cabernet sauvignon and syrah dominated red blend, massive and balanced. It can be done, especially when Stellenbosch is rendered in such a clean way. Will drink in perpetuity. I’d be happy to open this and reminisce in 2027. Cellaring Wine.

Rust En Vrede Estate 2012Giusti Antonio 2014Chateau De La Charriere Santenay 1er Cru Les Gravieres 2014

Giusti 2014 Antonio, Veneto, Italy ($39.95)

John Szabo – The most impressive wine in the Giusti portfolio, this is a polished, stylish, modern Venetian red blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and little-known local variety recantina. It’s more elegance than power, with fine-grained tannins and lovely crisp acids. This is fine wine, not yet at peak; in 2-4 years this will be very seductive I’m sure.
David Lawrason – Here’s an unusual, delicious and well structured red for the esoteric Italian wine list or collector’s cellar. Quite lovely, with lifted floral plummy, berry aromas – quite floral actually. It’s medium weight, fresh and lively but also shows some elegance and restraint.
Steve Thurlow – This is a delicious full-bodied red still very youthful with the oak not yet well integrated on nose and palate. The palate is well balanced with firm acidity and mature tannin. Very good to excellent length.

Chateau de la Charriere 2013 Santenay 1er Cru “Les Gravieres”, Burgundy, France ($51.95)

Michael Godel – Les Gravieres has always been for me a Santenay climat that gives generously, of sweet red fruit and the balancing underlay of earth. It also does so with organza texture and litheness. Charriere’s 2014 matches that ideal. This is fine and exemplary Gravieres with five healthy years ahead. Gifting Wines of Six Packs – please.
David Lawrason – We so seldom see Santenay – the more moderately priced yet serious pinot from the southern end of the Cote de Beaune. Collectors might want to grab a case, and split – or not. This mid-weight pinot nicely combines the elegance of fine Beaune red with the somewhat chunkier character expected of Santenay. The length is excellent. Approachable now, should hold through 2022.

Bibi Graetz NV Casamatta Rosso, Tuscany, Italy ($17.95)

John Szabo – An intriguing, ‘solera’ style red blend where younger wine is blended with older wine to develop complexity and smooth out vintage variation. This is not your average sub-$20 new Tuscan release to be sure, but rather one for fans of mature, savoury pleasantly rustic reds. Tannins are light and dusty, and this would best be served at the table with some salty protein, salami and the like. An idiosyncratic wine perhaps, but elegant and highly appealing, not to mention fine value.

Bibi Graetz Casamatta Rosso Zorzal Terroir Único Malbec 2014 Hamelin Bay Shiraz Merlot Cabernet Rampant Red 2012

Zorzal Terroir Unico Malbec, Gualtallary, Uco Valley, Argentina ($17.95)

David Lawrason – Grown in one the highest sites in Mendoza this young malbec has a lovely, lifted, almost floral nose with mulberry jam, some fresh sage/thyme and vaguely earthy notes. It is medium-full bodied, with great energy, acidity and life. A little extra lift here in a category than can be too heavy-handed. By the glass in a steakhouse or BBQ restaurant.

Hamelin Bay 2012 Rampant Red, Margaret River, Australia  ($22.95)

David Lawrason – This is an easy going blend of shiraz, merlot and cabernet from a WA property dating back to 1992. A bit pricey but it’s has generous, slightly candied Aussie blackcurrant, menthol/eucalyptus, black pepper and oak spice. It’s mid-weight, loosely structured and tannins are quite soft. By the glass and BBQ red, lightly chilled.


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

About Vintage Trade

Vintage Trade

Vintage Trade is a small yet passionate team of wine professionals who meet the highest service standards. We represent well researched boutique wines that offer value, winemaking excellence, and exceptional vineyard quality and management.

Vintage Trade has been working with the liquor board, private consumers and the hospitality industry for 15 years, taking pride in offering exclusive wines from exceptionally dedicated vintners and actively traveling to seek new “gems”.

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If you have questions about the ordering process, please contact Cheryl Edgecombe, or call 1 (866) 390-8745.

If you have questions about any of the wines, please contact David Thompson at or call him at 289 242-1496.


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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – August 6, 2016

Value in the Southern Hemisphere
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week I’ve highlighted some especially good southern hemisphere wines from the August 6th VINTAGES release. Australia is the main thematic, but I was so enthused by wines from New Zealand and especially South Africa that I had to include them in this report. The wines of the Cape are particularly attractive these days with the free fall of the South African Rand vis-à-vis international currencies, Canadian dollar included, over the last few years. The top bottles from the Cape’s winelands are ferociously competitive against their strong Euro and USD equivalents in particular. It’s a great time to explore.

Fans of Australian wine in Ontario are also rejoicing this week, thanks to the launch last Friday of the LCBO’s newest “Products of the World” specialty boutique featuring Australia. “The destination store at 65 Wicksteed Avenue in Leaside [Toronto] will offer around 200 Australian wines, which is believed to be the best single-store assortment available outside of Australia”, says LCBO media relations coordinator Christina Bujold.

About 40 of the listings are from LCBO’s Consignment Program, now available to customers by the single bottle, rather than full case lots, for the first time outside of bars and restaurants. Theoretically, customers should be able to order any of these selections for no-charge delivery to their local store, anywhere in Ontario.

And to get you in the mood, grab a glass and read the recent WineAlign three-part series covering the Australian wine scene’s history, evolution, and revolution.

Destination Australia: LCBO opens new “Products of the World” store

And finally, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m happy to report that the first release from a small vineyard project in Hungary I’ve been involved in since 2003 is hitting shelves on August 6th. J&J Eger is a joint venture with my parter János Stumpf, and the wine, the Eged-Hegy Vineyard Kékfrankos, reflects the old-vine spiciness of this central European variety, the hillside’s limestone, and the region’s cool climate, no more, no less. For obvious reasons, I have not written a full review, but I do hope you’ll check it out!

Next week the WineAlign crü will be back with all of the top picks from the August 6th release.

Buyers’ Guide: Southern Hemisphere Whites

I must doff my cap to the KWV, formally the Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Suid-Afrika in Afrikaans (or “Co-operative Winemakers’ Society of South Africa”) the former government-supported, nationwide cooperative that for years churned out forgettable plonk. Since evolving into a private corporate structure in 1997, quality has risen substantially, especially in the premium (but still inexpensive) range. For a sample, try the Cathedral Cellar 2010 Blanc De Blanc Brut, Méthode Cap Classique, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($16.95). You’d be hard pressed to find a better traditional method sparkling wine at the price, attractively open and fragrant, mixing lively citrus with fresh brioche on a mid-weight frame, framed by sharp acids.

I was prompted to double check the price on the Thelema Mountain Vineyards 2012 Sutherland Chardonnay, WO Elgin, South Africa ($15.95), convinced there was a pricing error. Sutherland is Stellenbosch-based Thelema Mountain Vineyards’ cool Elgin property in the southern Cape, and this chardonnay is stunning value. It’s crafted in the smoky, flinty/sulphide-driven style, that’s so very post-modern and popular in sommelier circles. There’s a lot going on here for the money, to say the least, and it easily competes with similar style wines at significantly higher prices.

Cathedral Cellar Blanc De Blanc Brut 2010Thelema Sutherland Chardonnay 2012 Hill Smith Estate Chardonnay 2014

For a fine example of the balance and finesse achievable in the cool Eden Valley of South Australia, try the Hill-Smith Estate 2014 Chardonnay ($19.95). It’s a very classy, nicely measured, silky-smooth textured chardonnay, with gentle wood toast and spice, and terrific length in the price category. Drink or hold short term.

Buyers’ Guide: Southern Hemisphere Reds

South Africa is also the origin of two excellent reds in this release, albeit in two radically different styles. Drinkers of bold and spicy wines will enjoy the Fairview 2014 Shiraz, WO Coastal Region, South Africa ($17.95), a dark and dense, plush, wood-inflected shiraz with juicy acids and appealing medicinal complexity. It’s an ideal smoky BBQ wine, best 2016-2020.

Fans of contemporary, lighter style reds should opt instead for the Kloof Street 2014 Red, WO Swartland, South Africa ($19.95), the second tier range from the talented duo of Chris and Andrea Mullineux. It too is a shiraz-led blend (86%, with splashes of grenache, carignan, mourvèdre, tinta barocca and cinsault), from the very hip Swartland region and its wealth of old, often abandoned vineyards, now being rediscovered. This beauty is dressed in an attractively smoky-savoury guise, very floral and pot pourri-scented, with a light volatile lift. The palate is well structured with lively, vibrant acids, very food friendly and balanced, with great complexity for the money. Best with a light chill, 2016-2020.

Fairview Shiraz 2014 Kloof Street Red 2014 Kilikanoon Killerman's Run Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 Momo Pinot Noir 2013

There were three Rhône-style blends from Australia in the release, a growing category, of which my preferred was the Kilikanoon 2013 Killerman’s Run Grenache/Shiraz/Mataro from the Clare Valley, South Australia ($19.95). It has the edge in balance and drinkability, offering vibrant, nicely pitched fresh dark fruit flavours and just the right amount of peppery spice, without sacrificing the generosity one hopes for in Australian reds. Best 2016-2019.

And representing New Zealand is a fine value pinot for fans of the classy, cool climate, old school style from biodynamic producer Seresin. The Momo 2013 Pinot Noir from Marlborough under the estate’s second label is a lovely, light, leafy, dusty, tart red berry-flavoured example, open and honest. I like the gently high-toned floral notes, the fine-grained, dusty-light tannins, and the pleasant, lingering finish. Best 2016-2020.

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


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES August 6th, 2016

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium 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!

For Premium Members, use these quick links for easy access to all the top picks:

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
All August 6th Reviews 

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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The (Not So New) Wines of Greece

Text and photos by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Earlier this month the WineAlign crü sat down to taste a couple dozen currently available wines sent by Wines of Greece. This buyers’ guide lists our favorites. Whether you’re already familiar with Greek wines and would like to explore further, or you’ve yet to experience Greece in your glass, this is a great list to get you going. There’s really never been a better time to drink Greek wine. And for the very keen, read on for some thoughts on how the recent tough times in Greece have had unexpected benefits for North American wine drinkers.

The Benefits of Crisis

The mood in Athens was buoyant and lively. The streets were packed with people strolling with leisurely purpose in the warm sun. Restaurants spilled outdoors onto sprawling terraces occupying the sidewalks, chairs filled, tables laden with family-style platters of typical Greek foods and glasses filled with wine. Traditional bouzouki players plucked their instruments, wandering like minstrels through the crowds. There was no particular holiday or festival happening, just weekend business as usual in the nation’s capital.

What’s perhaps surprising is that this is not the retelling of a scene played out years ago, before the current financial wobbles that have plagued the Greek economy since about 2009, or the well-publicized austerity measures that were first introduced in 2010. This is the scene I observed, unexpectedly, just last month on my latest visit to the country. Had I just crawled out of a cave where I’d spent the last half dozen years and landed directly in Athens, I might have believed that Greece was booming, as though they’d just discovered a whole chain of marble mountains ready to be carved into expensive kitchen countertops and sold around the world. It’s of course not the case. But when it comes to eating and drinking, spending time with friends and just celebrating another day, the plucky Greeks seem impervious to doom-and-gloom headlines.

Busy Monastiraki neighborhood under the Acropolis, Athens-5358

Busy Monastiraki neighborhood under the Acropolis, Athens

I suppose this philosophical outlook is born of the understanding that things will eventually improve, as they have after every other crisis that has befallen Greece over the last few thousand years. However the party-like atmosphere does obscure the reality that high-end restaurants and premium wines are struggling. Unemployment, increased taxation, and capital controls, such as restricted daily bank withdrawals, mean less money in Greek pockets. And while nothing will stop them from taking to the streets for a good time, the average spend is down. That wine filling all those glasses? You can be sure it’s not the country’s finest; although a reported 98% of all wine consumed in Greece is of Greek origin, it’s not the top stuff. Strong tourism may keep the economy of hospitality rolling for some time, but can only take it so far.

But the Greek debt crisis has had an unexpected silver lining for wine consumers around the world. The faltering domestic market has forced Greece’s top producers to look outside the country, and focus more effort on export markets, much like Argentinian producers had to do when the peso was de-pegged from the dollar after the turn of the century. “Greek winemakers have started being more extrovert, and most importantly, have started working together. All these new developments are paving the way to [export] success”, writes Stellios Boutari of Kir-Yianni Winery in Naoussa.

And timing, strangely enough, couldn’t have been better. Had the crisis occurred a decade earlier, most attempts to break into foreign markets would have been ahead of their time, the wines totally foreign, the grapes unknown, the flavours too far from the mainstream. But as most overnight successes are years in the making, so too had the groundwork for export success, especially into North America, been laid.

Century-old xinomavro at Alpha Estate, Amyndeon, Macedonia-5290

Century-old xinomavro at Alpha Estate, Amyndeon, Macedonia

The organization formerly known as The New Wines of Greece has, for over a decade now, been educating North American trade and media through countless tastings, workshops, winery roadshows and in-country visits. Utterly foreign, formerly unpronounceable grapes like moschophilero [moss-koh-FEE-le-roh], assyrtiko [ah-SEER-tee-koh], agiorgitiko [ay-your-YEE-tee-koh] and xinomavro [k-see-NO-ma-vroh] have become, well, a little less unpronounceable and certainly more familiar in flavor. They turn up regularly on restaurant wine lists and in recommendations in the press. What must have surely looked like a herculean task in the early 2000s has paid dividends. In recognition of this, the trade organization recently dropped the “New”. Now they are simply “Wines of Greece”, back to being ancient and respected.

Exports to North America have risen sharply. According to data released by EDOAO, the national inter-professional organization of vine and wine, Greek wine exports to the United States and Canada in the last five years have increased by 39% and 55%, respectively. [Source: Greek USA Reporter, Ioanna Zikakou]

Old basket vines at Argyros Estate, Santorini-5408

Old basket vines at Argyros Estate, Santorini

These figures are expected to rise even higher in 2016. “We export 60% of our products abroad. “The demand is so great”, said enologist Erifyli Parparoussis in the northern Peloponnese. The growth of the wine industry has been one of the most positive stories to emerge from Greece since the national soccer team won the European Cup in 2004, which seemed only slightly more unlikely. “There are now few North American sommeliers who do not know about Greek wines and who do not include at least one label on their list. Their popularity has surpassed all expectations”, says Sofia Perpera, director of the Greek Wine Bureau in North America, who, along with partner George Athanas, has worked tirelessly over the last dozen years and has been instrumental in raising the international awareness of Greek wines.

Canada, and especially Ontario and Québec, have been particularly receptive markets, with sales showing impressive gains over the last half decade. “Greek wines have shown strong growth”, confirms LCBO Media Relations Coordinator Genevieve Tomney. Sales at LCBO and VINTAGES combined are up over 20% since 2012-2013, increasing from 3.4m to 4.1m in 2015-2016.

Part of the increase in Ontario can be attributed to the launch of the LCBO “Destination Greece – Products of the World” specialty store in Toronto’s Greektown on Danforth Ave. The program is designed to offer the broadest selection available from a given country, drawing not only on regular LCBO and VINTAGES listings, but also wines from the consignment program, previously only available directly from the importing agent and sold by the case. Greece was the first Products of the World specialty store, officially opened a year ago in August 2015. “We’ve seen sales of Greek products at that store increase by 140 per cent over last year”, continues Tomney.

Winemaker Angelos Iatridis of Alpha Estate in Northern Greece-5276

Winemaker Angelos Iatridis of Alpha Estate in Northern Greece

Steve Kriaris of the Kolonaki Group, the largest importer of Greek wines and spirits in the province, has also seen significant benefits: “The Greek specialty store has been a blessing for us. It has helped our consignment volume go through the roof. We are finally able to expose far more consumers to premium Greek wines and spirits. We’re now selling great quantities of bottles in the $30 to $50+ range, wines that previously were only available by the full case. And this is only the beginning. I expect total sales volume to double in the next 10 years”, he says enthusiastically.

The Products of the World program was the initiative of former VP, now President of the LCBO, Dr. George Soleas. Soleas was recently honoured with the 2016 Greek Wine Industry Award in Athens in March, an award given to individuals who have made a significant contribution to the Greek wine industry. “As a Canadian of Greek-Cypriot origin, I have always believed in the potential of Greek wines to measure among the best on the world stage. And now they do,” said Soleas in a subsequent press release. “The Greek wine industry has evolved significantly over the past 25-years and I could not be prouder of all it has accomplished.”

So what’s all the fuss about? It’s clearly not just marketing savvy and “fam trips” for sommeliers. To gain long-term traction in the market, wine quality must also match expectations. And to a large degree, it does. One of the main strengths is the wealth of indigenous grapes – some three hundred or so – which over centuries have survived a Darwinian selection process. These are the varieties that proved adaptable to radically diverse growing conditions across the country, yielding naturally balanced wines that require little adjustment in the winery. And unique flavours and minimally processed wines happen to match the current zeitgeist – this is precisely what many wine drinkers are seeking.

Mountains of Achaia, Northern Peloponnese, source of excellent Roditis-5368

Mountains of Achaia, Northern Peloponnese, source of excellent Roditis

Earlier this month the WineAlign crü sat down to taste a couple dozen currently available wines sent by Wines of Greece. Here are our favorites; whether you’re already familiar with Greek wines and would like to explore further, or you’ve yet to experience Greece in your glass, this is a great list to get you going. There’s really never been a better time to drink Greek wine.

Greek Wine Buyers’ Guide: White

Greek Wine Cellars 2015 ‘Apelia’ Moschofilero 2015 (1000ml – $10.60)

David Lawrason – Can’t think of a better summertime value. It’s a bit light and short, but clean as a whistle, refreshing and almost biting, with pretty lemon blossom, vaguely minty green notes and a touch of resin. Move over pinot grigio.

Skouras 2014 Moschofilero, PGI Peloponnese ($15.25)

John Szabo – Moschophilero is a lovely, fresh, intensely aromatic white variety, and this is a great example. It’s just beginning to shift into wildflower honey aromatics, alongside a bowl-full of fresh tropical fruit, nectarine, mango, honeydew melon and more. Acids are bright and crisp, alcohol a refreshingly moderate 12% declared, and the length is certainly impressive in the price category. Infinitely sippable.

Apelia Moschofilero 2015Skouras Moschofilero 2014 Troupis Fteri Moschofilero 2015

Troupis 2015 Fteri Moschofilero, Arcadia IGP, Peloponnese ($15.60)

David Lawrason – Good value here in a very clean white with subtle floral notes plus fennel, lemongrass and some yellow fruit. It’s light bodied, slightly spritzed and very refreshing. Need a break from sauvignon blanc?

Troupis 2015 Mantinia Moschofilero, PDO Mantinia ($16.95)

Michael Godel – Mantinia is a special place for moschofilero and this ripping example from Troupis should not be missed. At this price ($17), the value quotient is simply crazy good bordering on ridiculous. Whole grilled Branzino or Porgies with lemon and olive oil would make for a perfect foil.
Sara d’Amato – A zesty, dynamic and very pretty moschofilero from the cool growing region of Mantinia located in the high Arcadian plateau in the Peloponnese.  Characteristically aromatic with exotic fruit spice, dry and with racy acidity, the wine is undeniably refreshing. Given the price, I would stock up on this go-to summer white before word gets out.

Troupis Mantinia Moschofilero 2015 Santo Assyrtiko 2015 Argyros Santorini Assyrtiko 2015

Santo 2015 Santorini Assyrtiko, Santorini ($14.95)

John Szabo – Move quickly to buy this if you’re a fan of structured, powerful whites – this price can’t be sustained. The cost of grapes on the island of Santorini have more or less tripled in the last year, demand is up sharply, and supplies are scarce. The Santo cooperative is the largest producer on the island, producing about half of the appellation’s output from some 300 member-growers, but even still this wine must be at or even below cost, thanks to stern LCBO pricing negotiations to get this on to the general list. But it’s not just that – the wine is excellent, too, a typically subtle assyrtiko, more stony than fruity, with crackling acids – it needs another year in bottle at least to show its best.  You’re getting a lot of wine here for $15 to be sure. Decant if serving now; will also age into the early ‘20s.
David Lawrason – This is a medium weight, fleshy, bright assyrtiko with intriguing complexity. Immediately refreshing but more than that, with aromas of guava, lemon peel, white pepper and candle wax.
Michael Godel – Assyrtiko in 2015 from Santo just seems to evoke and spew a slow lava flow of a narrative, to tell a story that is pure Santorini. At $15 this is a steal. Neither price nor any sort of quantity in hand will last very long.

Argyros 2015 Santorini Assyrtiko, PDO Santorini ($22.95)

John Szabo – Argyros Estate draws on a marvellous collection of old vines to produce this bottling, although in this case, the vines are ‘only’ about fifty years old. It’s an archetype for the island, saline, firm, powerful, still tightly wound. It’ll be spectacular in a year or two. 
Michael Godel – This essential Argyros always offers the pleasure to bathe in its saline, sunlit waters and drink of its energy. Never failing Assyrtiko. Can you not imagine the stone crag, the whitewashed mineral cliff, the late afternoon sunshine gazing into the shimmering Aegean from an Oia perch?

Greek Wine Buyers’ Guide: Red

Idaia Winery 2010 Kotsifali/Mandilaria, Crete ($14.75)

John Szabo – Kotsifali and mandilaria are Crete’s two star red varieties, often sensibly blended. The former adds colour, flesh and fruit, the latter acids, tannins and savoury flavour. Idaia makes a pleasantly rustic, dusty-earthy, version, a little firm and tight, but balanced and food friendly. Best served at the table with some grilled meat or other salty, umami-rich foods; a tidy value overall.
David Lawrason – Great value here! Better structure and complexity than expected. It’s fairly elegant yet dense with a nose of very ripe blackcurrant/blackberry jam, vanillin, brambly notes and some earthiness. And there is a lead pencil character mindful of Bordeaux.

Alpha Estate Turtles Vineyard Syrah, PGI Florina, Macedonia ($21.95)

Michael Godel – The area of Petron Lake at Alpha Estate was an ancient nesting place for the local species of Chelonii on the Amyndeon plateau in northwestern Greek Macedonia. Some syrah in parts of Australia smell just like this; smoky, meaty, peppery and just plain strong. That it comes from Greece shakes the foundations of thought and adds Amyndeon into the syrah front page discussion.

Idaia Kotsifali Mandilari 2010 Alpha Estate Turtles Vineyard Syrah 2011 Alpha Estate Axia Red Blend 2012

Alpha Estate 2012 Axia Red Blend, PGI Florina, Macedonia ($17.95)

John Szabo – This is a stylish, succulent, fine-grained syrah-xinomavro blend, elegant and inviting. I love the mix of violets (syrah) and sundried tomatoes and olives (xinomavro – northern Greece’s finest red variety, reminiscent of nebbiolo), and the kirsch fruit and fresh black berry. Tannins are light but firm, bolstered by lively acids. Lovely stuff.
David Lawrason – I like that both the syrah 50% syrah and 50% xinomavro, step up to offer their strengths. Ripe cherry and smoked meat character of syrah dominate the nose; xinomavro kicks in just enough acidity to maintain ballast and some freshness. A quite rich and warming red, with fine tannin.

Domaine Glinavos 2007 Dryades, PGI Epirus ($22.95)

John Szabo – Well, here’s an intriguingly spicy and complex red blend from a regional leader, including the rare indigenous Vlahiko and Bekari grapes of northwestern Greece, along with cabernet and merlot. It’s fully mature and savoury, offering an aromatic experience that’s like walking through a North African spice market, with old leather, dry earth, dark spice, and so much more. This is surely not for everyone (even the WineAlign cru was divided) but I find it fascinating. There’s no questioning the amazing range of flavours, even if it’s outside most drinkers’ comfort zone, nor the fine depth and length on the palate. Give this a chance, perhaps with a Moroccan spice lamb tagine or similar.
David Lawrason – This is an impressive, complex, savoury and mature red with old school but well managed leather, sandalwood and spicy aromas and flavours. The fruit is very ripe, almost pruny and there are dried herbs in there as well. It’s medium-full bodied, quite dense but even keeled.  Try it with lamb.

Domaine Glinavos Dryades 2007 Katogi Averoff 2012 Boutari Agiorgitiko 2015

Katogi Averoff 2012, Metsovo ($16.95)

Sara d’Amato – A very traditional and distinctive blend of agioritiko and cabernet sauvignon from the mountainous Metsovo in northern Greece. Crunchy acids and saline with impactful flavour and very little oak influence make for a compelling and expressive red. Be sure to decant well or hold for another 2-3 years.

Boutari 2015 Nemea Agiorgitiko, Peloponnese ($13.10)

John Szabo – This is a fine, friendly, smooth and spicy Greek red, highly versatile at the table with distinctive old world styling. Agiorgitiko provides a nice range of tart and baked red fruit flavours, suave tannins, resinous herbs and Mediterranean scrub, putting this somewhere between the southern Rhône, Chianti and Rioja in style. Enjoy with a light chill.
Sara d’Amato – A super value, everyday table red that is fleshy, appealing and has gusto. Peppery and musky with rich fruit in an easy to appreciate package. There is nothing particularly complex or challenging, which is sometimes just what you want to unwind.


John Szabo MS

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

Caldera view, Santorini-8215

Caldera view, Santorini

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If I could buy only one – July 23rd, 2016 VINTAGES Release

As part of our VINTAGES recap, we asked our critics this question:

If you could buy only one wine from this release – which one would it be and why?

Here’s what they had to say. You can find their complete reviews, scores and store inventory by clicking the highlighted wine name or bottle image below.

David Lawrason – My highest scoring wine of the release is the gorgeous Flowers 2014 Chardonnay combining depth and finesse. It shows classic and complex aromas of pear, almond, gentle toast, vanilla, lemon custard and spice. My score may raise eyebrows and expectations, but that rating is based above all on its impeccable detailing and balance – not some onrush of power. I have always been a chardonnay fan but will not spend on cheaper versions that don’t rise to this grape’s potential. This is expensive but I would buy it, so it’s a good thing I am only allowed to buy one wine.

Flowers Chardonnay 2014


Sara d’Amato – A rosé that feels effortlessly beautiful – Hecht & Bannier Bandol Rosé 2015 – a French stereotype. I was swept away by this beauty before I had left for the heart of Provence. I find it genuine with a natural feel, subtle yet unrestrained. There is colour here, but not too much, and a fluidity on the palate that will bring calm to your summer nights.

Hecht & Bannier Bandol Rosé 2015


And, you might need to buy two bottles of this wine!

John Szabo – It’s perhaps a little more expensive than the typical house pour (I guess it depends on the house), but there are several reasons to stock up on the William Fèvre 2014 Champs Royaux Chablis. For one, 2014 is an absolute cracker of a vintage in Chablis, for many producers the best in recent memory, and Fèvre has found another gear for the generally excellent entry level bottling. It has an extra measure of depth and especially stony-mineral character, and I love the sharp acids and the perfectly chiseled citrus/apple fruit, as well as the very fine length. If you love classic Chablis, this is it. And secondly, considering that the region has lost over two-thirds of the 2016 harvest to dramatically bad weather (so far; the seasons is only half over), prices will inevitably rise, so stock up while you can. This will also handily age until the early twenties, so there’s no rush to drink, although it is delicious now to be sure.

Michael Godel – Having just returned from a week in Chablis and now spending four days in Niagara at #i4c16, the Burgundian outpost and chardonnay are front and centre and in my thoughts. It’s been a catastrophic spring there; hail, snow, rain, hail, frost and mildew. Fèvre’s winemaker Didier Seguier makes many great wines and his entry-level Champs Royaux is the perfect lead into the estate’s oeuvre and the crux of Chablis. It is a generalized but oh too important expression from kimmeridgian soil, hedged and qualified from all over the area’s hills, valleys and les clos. It is textbook Chablis, a guarantee of quality, especially out of the cracker 2014 vintage. Lets give Chablis some love.

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2014

From VINTAGES July 23rd, 2016

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES
John Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Lawrason’s Take
All July 23rd 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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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – July 23, 2016

Spanish Cante Jondo, and the non-linear price-quality relationship of sauvignon blanc
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In flamenco music there’s a style known as cante jondo (aspirate that ‘j’), which means literally “deep song”. It’s said to be the purest form of flamenco, unchanged over centuries (watch this short clip). On a parallel plane, this week’s report takes us deep into Spanish wine, exploring the country’s wealth of ancient vines, handed down to us by generations of growers, and less well-travelled regions, seemingly untouched for centuries. This is Spanish wine in its purest form. I’ve highlighted my top picks from the Spanish-themed VINTAGES July 23rd release, as well as some excellent wines from a new Spanish specialist in Ontario, Cosecha Imports. These are some of the most exciting Spanish wines to reach our market in the last decade, available by private order, but well worth the effort.

I also have a look at the curious price-quality relationship of sauvignon blanc. It’s a wine that appears to be priced based entirely on origin rather than quality, which means that some inside information is needed to find the best values in this minefield. I pick a quartet of smart buys to illustrate the point. Read on for the details.

Buyer’s Guide: Spanish Cante Jondo

Alejandro Fernandez, the founder of the Grupo Pesquera, is the man largely credited with putting Ribera del Duero on the map, starting in 1972. Tinto Pesquera is still one of the appellation’s top wines. Fernandez added three other bodegas over the years – Condado de Haza (Ribera del Duero), El Vínculo (La Mancha), and Dehesa la Granja (Castilla y Léon) – and it was wine from this last estate that caught my attention in this release, the 2008 Dehesa La Granja, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León ($22.95). The vineyards around Zamora deep in old Castille are not particularly well known for top quality wine, but this is exceptional tempranillo, unabashedly spicy and wood-inflected, exotic and complex, full of cedar and sandalwood scents in the traditional Spanish style. It’s the best Dehesa I can remember tasting, and superb value at that. Beware the heavy sediment; you’ll want to stand this up for a day and decant. Best 2016-2028.

The roots of the Merayo family run deep in the region of Bierzo (northwest Spain), and they have always owned vineyards, and occasionally made wine. But in 2010, a definitive step was taken to establish a commercial winery. On July 23rd you’ll see the 2014 Merayo Las Tres Filas Mencia, DO Bierzo, Spain ($19.95) reach LCBO shelves, a bright, ripe, red and black cherry flavoured red drawing on the wealth of 80+ year-old mencía vines in the family holdings. I like the rustic, deeply honest country styling; tannins are a little rough and tumble, but in time – 2-3 years – this should soften up nicely. Acids provide necessary energy and tension, and the length is excellent. Best 2018-2024.

Alejandro Fernández Dehesa La Granja 2008Merayo Las Tres Filas Mencia 2014 Almansa Laya 2014

Almansa is hardly a region that flows off the tongue in general wine conversations, even amongst professionals. But this backwater in the country’s deep southeast corner (province of Albacete, Castilla-La Mancha) has plenty to offer, including high elevations to temper heat, ranging from 700m up to 1000m above sea level, and just enough water-conserving limestone in the soils to keep vines alive. The ambitious Gil family, who also bring us excellent values from Jumilla D.O. under Bodegas Juan Gil, are behind Bodegas Atalaya, and the 2014 Laya, DOP Almansa, Spain ($15.95) is another terrific bargain for fans of bold, ripe, oak-influenced wines. A blend of garnacha tintorera and monastrell gives rise to this modern style, full-bodied red, generously endowed with spicy, vanilla-tinged oak flavour, smoky, like well-peated Scotch, and wild resinous herb notes to round out complexity. Best 2016-2022.

Cosecha Imports – Some Producers to Track Down

In May I sat down with Philip George of Cosecha Imports, a new player in the field focusing exclusively on Spanish wines. The company has managed to scoop a handful of “New Spain’s” most exciting producers, exploiting little-known, ancient regions and old vines, and applying post-modern techniques – earlier harvests, old wood, whole bunch indigenous fermentations and a host of other hip practices – that yield, when done correctly, beautifully perfumed and balanced wines, and above all, infinitely drinkable. This is vino jondo.

Rafael PalaciosRafael Palacios is among the portfolio headliners. A scion of the famous Rioja winemaking family, he struck out on his own in 2004, settling on the northern region of Valdeorras in Galicia to make his mark. He works exclusively with the native white godello, making some of Spain’s most exciting white wines today. Bolo (c. $20) is the excellent, stainless steel fermented entry level version; vine age, complexity and ageability are ratcheted up in Louro, which includes a splash of native treixadura and is fermented in old 3000l cask, in my view the best value in the lineup, while the top in the portfolio, As Sortes ($70), made from vines approaching a century old and fermented in demi-muid, is a wine of astonishing depth. These are all worth seeking out.

Commando GCommando G is another cultish producer turning heads around the world. It’s the project of Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia, who selected the remote Sierra de Gredos area about an hour’s drive outside of Madrid as their regional canvas, already painted with garnacha reaching up to 80 years old. Farming is organic/biodynamic in these small parcels, necessarily without machinery, which rise up over 1200m above sea level. If you think garnacha is heavy and alcoholic, you must try these wines, suffused with elegance, freshness and finesse. The prices of the ultra-limited cuvees rise steeply, but I loved the entry point 2014 Bruja de Rozas (c. $30), a vino de pueblo (village blend) of wonderfully silky and spicy garnacha, fresh and mid-weight, very Burgundian in feel.

Other excellent producers to look for in the Cosecha portfolio include Joan D’Anguera in Montsant D.O. and Pardas in the Penedès. It’s so great to see the Spanish wine offering expanding in the province.

On the Curious Relationship between Sauvignon Blanc and Price

The price of sauvignon blanc in LCBO VINTAGES is curiously predictable. It seems to be based on origins, rather than any notion of quality, however slippery that is to define. Chilean and South African sauvignon is invariably in the mid-teens. So too is basic Touraine or Bordeaux, while Aussie sauv seems able to fetch a dollar or two more. New Zealand hovers around $18, occasionally just over $20, alongside Friulian sauvignon, while Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé will set you back somewhere in the mid-twenties. Napa is in a neighbourhood of its own, in which $40 seems to be the standard point of entry.

Are these prices tied to how delicious the wines are? Hardly. It would be an eye-opening exercise to buy a range of sauvignons from $12 to $40 and taste them together, blind, with origins concealed. The results will surprise you. You’ll find that the cost appears much more directly linked to the wine’s home address than any other aspect of enjoyment. You might then buy 3 or 4 wines from the same region at the same price and repeat the exercise, observing how quality diverges at identical cost.

Now, wine pricing is a complex calculation to be sure. It’s based in part on hard production costs, including real estate and labour, currency exchange, and no small measure of regional and winery brand recognition, with a dash of speculation thrown in. Most regions are constrained to offer their wines in a more or less fixed range of prices, as the cost structure, and market tolerance, is similar for all (minus the individual brand recognition and speculation factor). But for sauvignon blanc, the price range is amazingly consistent, and narrow, from region to region, more so than for any other variety. It’s as though the producers get together to set a standard price for all. Even pinot grigio comes in greater price variation, based to some degree on quality. Why is that? Is it because sauvignon blanc is more a commodity than it is wine? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

In any case, as a buyer, it’s frustrating knowing that a wine fetches a price based on birthright, not merit. But then again, as a smart buyer, I know that when looking for a typical sauvignon blanc experience, I needn’t overpay, either, just for the smart neighbourhood (unless I’m drinking the label). I can get a similar experience in an underprivileged neighbourhood for far less. It’s something to be aware of.

Below is a quartet of sauvignons that can be considered the nicest houses on their respective blocks. You only need choose what neighbourhood you want to live in.

Buyers’ Guide: Sauvignon Blanc

Roger & Didier Raimbault 2014 Sancerre AC, Loire Valley, France ($26.95) A Sancerre archetype: more stony than fruity, more citrus than tropical, more herbal than vegetal. The length, too, is excellent. Textbook. Best 2016-2024.

Domaine de la Commanderie 2014 Quincy AC, Loire Valley, France ($19.95) The so-called Sancerre satellite appellations (i.e. Reuilly, Quincy, Menetou Salon) are usually about 20 percent cheaper than Sancerre, but can offer a similar, lean and brisk profile in the classic Loire style. This is a fine example, a nicely tart, lemony and lightly stony sauvignon, brimming with green herbs and citrus. It’s perfectly satisfying; a classic oyster wine.

Roger & Didier Raimbault Sancerre 2014 Domaine De La Commanderie Quincy 2014 Boya Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Boya 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley, Chile ($15.95) Chile just may offer the best value sauvignon on the planet, especially if you prefer the pungent and smoky, vegetal/green pepper/pyrazine-driven style. Cool coastal regions like the Leyda do it best, and the Garcés Silva family (of Amayna) do it as well as anyone. Boya is the fine ‘entry range’, and this youthful 2015 offers great acids and a nicely acidulated, citrus fruit finish. There’s a lot of energy and life in this bottle for the price.

Sutherland 2014 Sauvignon Blanc WO Elgin, South Africa ($14.95) South Africa also vies for a spot at the top of the southern hemisphere sauvignon heap of value, again drawing from cooler areas, like southerly Elgin, to produce pungent gently smoky and green pepper-inflected wines. Sutherland is well-established Thelema Mountain Vineyards’ newish project in Elgin, and this 2014 is a compelling, if slightly unusual sauvignon. Fruit shifts into the orchard spectrum, like nectarine and green peach, while the palate is quite broad and deeply flavoured, with earthy-medicinal character alongside the ripe-tart fruit and smoky-leesy character. It’s a wine of strong personality. 

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


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All July 9th Reviews

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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If I could buy only one – July 9th, 2016 Release

As part of our VINTAGES recap, we asked our critics this question:

If you could buy only one wine from this release – which one would it be and why?

Here’s what they had to say. You can find their complete reviews, scores and store inventory by clicking the highlighted wine name or bottle image below.


John Szabo – At this time of year I find myself searching the cellar for light summer reds, the kind you can chill and sip alongside just about everything, both refreshing and satisfying. These wines disappear more quickly than any others, and I’m always short. So this release I’ll be buying a few bottles of the Hubert Brochard 2014 Les Carisannes Pinot Noir, a wine that fits the bill perfectly. From a small, 5-hectares family estate just outside the Sancerre appellation yet still on prized-flinty-limestone soils, it’s an absolutely delicious, highly drinkable Loire pinot, with lovely, light, high-toned aromatics, all fresh-tart red berries, strawberry-raspberry, and some attractive leafy flavours. Don’t forget to serve lightly chilled.

Hubert Brochard Les Carisannes Pinot Noir 2014


Michael Godel – In a word, Riesling. Charles Baker is one of the torch bearing varietal leaders in Ontario and it is his Ivan Vineyard 2015 that you can approach with regularity beginning this summer. From rich limestone and sandstone beneath clay, the 1.1 acre (also known as) Misek vineyard sits on a southerly ledge up from Highway 8 and an easterly hill down from Cherry Avenue. In 2015 Ivan delivers the labour of ripe, concentrated fruit, by lower yield, alcohol and spine. I can think of 100 reasons to drink this repeatedly now and over the next three years while the more structured Ivans (and Picone Vineyard) ’13 and ’14’s continue to mature. Three good reasons would be breakfast, lunch and dinner, from scones, through croques and into fresh, piquant and herbed shrimp rolls.

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2015


Sara d’Amato – If you’re unfamiliar with müller-thurgau, start with one of the best from a historic property that specializes in this varietal grown on precipitous, high-elevation slopes. In the Abbazia di Novella 2014 Müller-Thurgau the grape achieves a unique expression in this terroir whereas elsewhere in the world it can be quite bland. The fruit in this example is lush and aromatic and the palate is crunchy with sea salt and lemon giving the palate pep and refreshment. This may just be the perfect summer sipper and at under $20 I’m stocking up!

Abbazia di Novacella Müller Thurgau 2014


From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s I4C Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES
All July 9th 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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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008