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

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

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

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


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

Table 6

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

Sara d’Amato

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


Zoltan Szabo

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


John Szabo, MS

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


The Scoring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balderson Cheese

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LCBO Announces First Regional Specialty Store

by John Szabo MS, WineAlignMay 3, 2015


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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


John Szabo, MS

John Sazbo, MS

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Confident wines from Original Vines: Reasons to Drink Greek

Text and Photos by John Szabo MS
(with poetic quotes from Michael Godel)

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Wines that fulfill the original purpose of fermented grapes are rare birds. If you discount it as a water substitute (wine was a much safer alternative to dodgy water sources before modern municipal services were introduced), wine’s preeminent raison d’être has always been to show up at mealtime, as a counterpart to food, contrasting, complementing or simply rinsing between bites, occasionally fueling conversations or sparking poetic soliloquies around the table.

Yet many producers today feel compelled to make their wines a meal in themselves, isolated monuments, seeking not only to earn a living but also make a personal statement. Such wines can surely be impressive, stuffed full of everything, ageworthy, expensive. Others, at the opposite end of the spectrum, focus on blatantly commercial offerings, pandering to our primal love of easy, soft and sweet, making wines that seem designed to fulfill the role of a guilty, mid-afternoon muffin or unneeded dessert (and make lots of money).

Fewer, it seems, are those making wines to satisfy a simple but vital role at the table. Neither soft and easy nor intended to induce genuflection, these are wines of fervent character that don’t look to steal the show. They’re comfortably moderate in every way, confident enough to leave the house without makeup, and seek to be monuments to nothing other than a tradition or a grape or a place. They’re anything but one-note songs and not necessarily inexpensive (cheap), but by my definition need to make financial sense on a Tuesday night. These are the wines I want to drink while I’m eating. And I do that a lot.

If you share a love for such wines, then we probably already “align” on WineAlign. And if so, you’ll want to consider some of the recommended Greek wines coming out over the next couple of months in LCBO and VINTAGES Greek-themed releases.

Greece is after all a country steeped in the traditions of wining and dining. In fact, a glass of wine (or ouzo) on an empty table is a heretical modern phenomenon, sure to inspire a conspiracy theory, which the Greeks are expert at dreaming up. Greek wine producers have the domestic market to contend with, and in order to win over local consumers, wines need to deliver their pre-destined, food friendly character. Besides, anything else would be counter-nature, considering that Greece’s impressive collection of native grapes has been winnowed over millennia through natural selection aimed at delivering desired characteristics: vibrant acids, moderate alcohol and the sort of savoury, herbal, umami-rich, faded fruit flavours that resonate with food. How often do you see fresh fruit on your main course plate?

Despite domestic difficulties, or perhaps because of, Greek wineries are reporting strong export gains over the last couple of years. This coincides, not coincidentally, with the gathering worldwide momentum behind wines with high drinkability factor and some unique regional or varietal proposition. Greece is a rich source of original vines with singular flavours. Add in the Tuesday night pricing and the offer is strong.

Buyer’s Guide: Greece

(Note: the following wines are, or will shortly be available at the LCBO or consignment. Check WineAlign for current inventory or contact the agents for details.)

To find more Greek wines available at a store near you, please click here.

The Peloponnese 


The angular vine-and-olive-grove-covered hills of the northern Peloponnese are home to Greece’s largest red wine appellation, Nemea, and one of its most significant and charming varieties: agiorgitiko. The Boutari Agiorgitiko 2013 is a fine introduction, delivering plenty of exuberant strawberry and raspberry fruit, and big smiles, for the money. Also on the lighter side and best served with a light chill, the Mountain Fish Agiorgitiko 2012 is the sort of honest and lively, fruity and savoury type of wine I’d hope to encounter at this price, free from obtrusive wood flavor and focused on food-friendly acids and an herbal-resinous twang. The product is considerably better than the kitschy label would imply.

Boutari Agiorgitiko 2013 Mountain Fish Agiorgitiko 2012 Gaia Agiorgitiko Nemea 2013

A window on the potential grandeur of the grape is offered by the Gaia Agiorgitiko Nemea 2013 – a more genteel, polished red from a regional leader. The texture is all silk and the wine fills the mouth nicely with dark fruit and floral flavours on a back beat of salinity.

Other producers in Canada to watch for: Domaine Tselepos, Lantides Estate, Cavino, Parparoussis


Tselepos Classique Mantinia Moschofilero 2013 Boutari Moschofilero 2014The most celebrated white wine region in the Peloponnese is called Mantinia, the appellation named after the 650 meter-high plateau where the grape moscophilero delivers its most fragrant expression. This is Greece’s slightly more exotic equivalent to pinot gris/grigio, light, crisp and fragrant, as demonstrated by the ever-reliable Boutari Moschofilero 2014. This is perfect for al fresco dining.

When fully ripe, the skins of moscophilero turn pinkish-red (like pinot gris), and top examples often have a slight pinkish hue, as with the Tselepos Classique Mantinia Moschofilero 2013. Like Yiannis Tselepos himself, this is a forceful, boisterous wine, particularly aromatic with an almost muscat-like perfume, and uncommonly rich, mouth filing palate (this has 13% alcohol declared, a good 1% higher than the regional average). It’s perfect with lightly spiced, aromatic fare, southeast Asian-style. “An example for racing Moschofilero against Pinot Grigio and passing it on the stretch from the outside lane”, suggests Michael Godel. “World turning acidity and length as long as the Nestani’s walk to Demeter’s Temple.”

Other producers in Canada to watch for: Spiropoulos

Northern Greece

Naoussa (Macedonia) 

As an introduction to northern Greece and its more earthy, angular reds, try the Kir Yianni Paranga 2012, a blend of local xynomavro complemented by syrah and merlot. It’s a consequential, firm and plummy wine with uncommon depth and concentration for under $15, ideal for roasts and BBQs. From the same producer but a step up in complexity and structure, the Ktima Kir Yianni 2011 is an assertive, powerful estate blend of 60% xinomavro and 40% merlot. It’s redolent of freshly turned earth, savoury herbs, and dusty red fruit, in other words, very much like a modern Tuscan sangiovese blend. But the texture is firm and puckering – there’s definitely no pandering to commercial soft and cuddly tastes here. An authentic and tight, chewy and rustic red wine in the old world style.

For a taste of xynomavro is its pure and traditional form, Boutari does it as well as anyone else. The Boutari Grande Reserve 2008 is crafted under the watchful eye of chief winemaker Yiannis Voyatzis, who has xynomavro planted in his own small project and knows it intimately. Anyone used to paying $30+ for Barolo or Barbaresco should take note: this is a terrific bargain for fans of distinctive, leather-bound, old world reds with its dusty, herbal flavours and firm tannins and acids. Considering the bottles I’ve had from Boutari back to the mid-1980s, this will age very well.

Kir Yianni Paranga 2012 Ktima Kir Yianni 2011 Boutari Grande Reserve 2008 Kir Yianni Akakies Rosé 2013

West across the mountains from Naoussa is Amyndeon PDO, the only appellation in Greece for rosé. Xynomavro is called to action again, a grape supremely well-equipped to produce versions in the dry, tart and herbal spectrum, as in the spunky Kir Yianni Akakies Rosé 2013.

Other producers in Canada to watch for: Thymiopoulos, Domaine Karydas

Epanomi (Thessaloniki)

The vineyards of Epanomi south of the city of Thessaloniki would remain largely unknown in the broader world were it not for the pioneering, and ongoing work of Vangelis Gerovassiliou. Widely acknowledge as one of Greece’s top winegrowers, he rescued the now much-admired malagousia grape from near extinction (or, “resurrected it like a Greek Jesus”, in Godel’s vision) and continues to produces its most distinctive version, the superb Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagousia Vieilles Vignes 2013. This terrific old vines cuvée is an intensely aromatic, pungent, floral, viognier-like white wine with full body and stacks of tropical fruit. It’s for fans of rich and thick whites, though marked salinity and a streak of underlying acids keep it lithe and lively. “It would be hard not to fall for this Adonis of Greek whites, a strikingly beautiful Phoenician whose drops of liqueur turn to liquid alloy in a glass”, continues Godel.

Malagousia gets palate-stretching drive and an acid kick from assyrtiko in the Domaine Gerovassiliou White 2014 – a very fine, weighty, fleshy and fruity 50-50 blend. Some barrel notes are still marked for the time being, but there’s ample fruit intensity to ensure full integration in time, another 6 months-one year should be sufficient.

Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagousia Vieilles Vignes 2013 Domaine Gerovassiliou White 2014 Domaine Glinavos Primus Zitsa 2013

Zitsa (Ioannina, Northwestern Greece)

Zitsa PDO near the northwestern border of Greece is obscure even by Greek standards. Domaine Glinavos is the standard-bearer for the region, and the Domaine Glinavos Primus Zitsa 2013 nicely captures the lightly floral and herbal, resinous (terpenic) notes of the local debina grape in a crisp and dry style. For the money, this is a more than adequate food friendly white.

The Aegean Islands

The Caldera, Santorini-0127


Of all the Greek wines that have made it to international markets, none have equalled the impact of Santorini. These are whites of majestic power and frighteningly electric, salty-minerality, the kind that catches the uninitiated completely unawares. They’ve caused more than a few sprained palates along the way. If you’ve yet to experience the forces of nature that are distilled through a few drops of assyrtiko grown on the pure volcanic rock and pumice soils of the island, ease your way in through the Argyros Atlantis White 2014. The vines for this assyrtiko-based wine with a splash of athiri (another indigenous Santorini grape) are from the “younger” parcels on the island, less than 50 years old (many vines on the island are speculated to be over two centuries old), yielding a wine focused on freshness with a streak of salty character that highlights white-fleshed grapefruit flavours.

Argyros Atlantis White 2014 Santo Assyrtiko 2014 Argyros Santorini Assyrtiko 2014

A middle ground is provided by the Santo Wines Assyrtiko 2014 an excellent example from the much-improved cooperative, the largest producer on the island. This is crafted in a lighter, fruitier style than the mean for Santorini, relatively speaking of course, but still highly distinctive. Michael Godel describes it more evocatively as “Assyrtiko seemingly dredged in volcanic tuff erosion and tightly wound by straight-shooting citrus smack.”

Then when you’re ready to step it up, introduce your tongue to the searing, razor-sharp, bone-dry beauty of the Argyros Assyrtiko 2014 Santorini. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly open, fragrant and pretty aromatics buoyant fruit – the wine is not yet ready for you and will change. A couple more years are required for the volcanic smoke to clear and for the crackling acids and marine flavours to mellow, morphing into a dopplegänger of your favorite white wine (think Chablis, Mosel or Alsatian Riesling, Wachau grüner veltliner… you can fill in the blank).

Other producers in Canada to watch for: Domaine Sigalas, Gaia Estate

To find more Greek wines available at a store near you, please click here.

GreeceJSYianni Paraskevopolous, Gaia Estate, and a very old vine, Santorini-0261

For more exciting news for Greek wines, the LCBO has announced a pilot project to create regional specialty stores. The first one is planned for the flagship location on the Danforth in the heart of the Greek community. Read more here: LCBO Announces First Regional Specialty Store

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

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

Sunset from Imerovigli, Santorini-0231

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 2nd – Part One

Ontario Shakes Up Retail Alcohol Sales; Next Generation Germany; Smart Reds
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Before we get to our picks this week, a word on some other important recommendations announced late last week. The big news in the Ontario beverage alcohol industry was of course the government’s announcement to shake up The Beer Store, the foreign-owned monopoly that accounts for 80% of beer sales in Ontario, forcing it to give local brewers better access to market. The government is also moving forward on the recommendation to allow the retail sale of beer in up to 450 grocery stores across the province. The move stems from a report commissioned by the government to find ways to generate more revenue from provincial assets.

On the surface it looks like a big change (and Wynne touts it as the biggest change to alcohol retailing since the 1920s when the LCBO was created), and it’s been a long time coming, but underneath the recommendations are a typically Canadian assemblage of compromise and concession and a game of shells. And consumers appear to be far down the list of interests to please. But it’s better than nothing.

It’s staggering to think that successive Ontario governments over nearly 90 years could have allowed The Beer Store (TBS), which is owned by Molson-Coors, Labatt (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev) and Sleeman (owned by Japan’s Sapporo), all with head offices outside of Canada, to exist at the expense of local enterprise. For the small boys, access to market has always been the number one concern.

Now the government intends to require TBS to allow local brewers to buy shares in the distribution monopoly, which might suit the not-so-micro breweries like Mill Street or Steam Whistle just fine, but just how many truly micro-brewers will be able to play in the game remains to be seen, and many remain skeptical. In any case, apparently no more than 20% of shares will be offered, keeping the foreign ownership intact.

The government is also insisting that TBS invest $100m over four years to modernize what is surely one of the most drab retail environments in the developed world. But I’d wager that consumers are more interested in convenience and selection than fancy beer shops. How about allowing the Ontario Craft Brewers Association to open up their own shops? That would be true and fair access. “This would immediately increase distribution, visibility and availability of local craft beers as well as putting the profits back into the brewers to foster their growth and economic development”, says Dave Reed of the Forked River Brewing Co. in London, a recent micro start-up.

The plan to sell beer in grocery stores is also promising, but not as revolutionary as it seems, nor as helpful to small brewing businesses as other changes might have been. The Advisory Council has recommended that the LCBO be the sole beer wholesaler to grocery stores, which suggests that breweries will still need to churn through the administrative mire of the LCBO, as they already do for the privilege of selling through their retail network, before they can access grocery stores. Essentially, its looks like a monopoly expansion via the franchising of LCBO beer sales, rather than a true opening of the marketplace.


And there are still a lot of unanswered questions on how it will happen. “Will we run into Listing Fees? Shelf Fees? What products will they want to carry? They mention that 20% of shelf space will be reserved for Ontario craft beer, but how much of that will be for smaller brewers who perhaps cannot supply all their stores in Ontario?”, Reed asks.

There is also the risk that the move will only create a collection of smaller regional monopolies, as the equitable distribution of such precious retail beer licenses will be fraught with challenges. For this reason, don’t expect to see much beer in grocery stores anytime soon. “This new channel should be phased in over time with up to 150 outlets in operation by May 1, 2017”, says the Advisory report. Things move slowly in Ontario.

I’m reporting this not only because I drink beer, but also because the same discussion is playing out over changes to wine retailing, of keen interest no doubt to readers. The same Advisory Council is still currently reviewing options for wine distribution, and further recommendations for changes to the LCBO are forthcoming.

The Ontario wine industry is naturally observing the situation with great interest. Most local “craft” wineries complain about the access to market, which, outside of the winery itself, a handful of farmer’s markets, the lottery of an LCBO listing or costly hand-to-hand guerilla sales to restaurants, doesn’t exist.

Richard Linley, President of the Wine Council of Ontario, is “encouraged by the recent report on improving retail conditions for Ontario craft beer”, and trusts that “similar changes will be made for wine retailing in Ontario”. Ontario VQA wineries, he states, want an opportunity to compete, “but in a growing market that gives wine consumers new choice and increased convenience”.

Veiled in under these hopes is the reality that NAFTA and other international trade agreements make it illegal for Ontario to favour the sale of local wines at the expense of foreign products. (Since beer distribution is already controlled by the biggest multinationals, they’d never complain, while other craft local breweries around the world are, by most definitions, for locals and won’t likely be interested in taking on the Canadian government for trade violations.)

But wine is a different matter, with countless large, well-funded foreign companies, not to mention regional and country associations, chomping at the bit for access to a piece of our pocketbooks. So don’t expect an all-VQA wine shop or wine section in a grocery store anytime soon.

Allowing grocery stores to sell wine will raise all of the questions that beer retailing has raised, and many more. Franchising LCBO selections to grocery stores may improve convenience, a welcome change, but it would obviously not improve selection, either for Ontario or out of province/country wineries.

Striking the Right Balance - Report

Ed Clark, principal author of the report, stated on the CBC that the pre-NAFTA, grandfathered wine retailing licences enjoyed by a very few large Ontario wineries, the ones that bring you the Wine Rack and The Wine Shop kiosks and stores, need to be protected in any future changes to wine retailing. Anything that favours the sales of Canadian products is highly valuable, he said with patriotic grandeur. I wonder if Mr. Clark has any idea that the majority of the non-VQA wine sold in those shops is actually imported foreign bulk wine, blended and bottled in Canada. Are those licences really worth protecting? How about converting them to real private wine shop licences, with a requirement for minimum Can-con? I’m sure Harper can finesse that agreement with his delicate diplomacy.

“Allowing for beer and wine in grocery stores doesn’t go far enough toward allowing for true, independent retail which would offer consumers the best selection of wine, beer and spirits”, writes Heather MacGregor, Executive Director of Drinks Ontario, the association representing the majority of beverage alcohol agents and suppliers in Ontario. And I agree.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: private, independently run wine shops in Ontario (with the parallel existence of the LCBO) would increase consumer selection, provide access to market for local, out of province and foreign wineries hitherto excluded, create jobs, generate revenue for the province, download some of the retailing costs to private business instead of taxpayers, and well, make people happy. The model exists. No need to write yet another report. Your comments?

For details on how it can work, visit the Wine Council of Ontario-run website

Note: the opinions of the author don’t necessarily represent the views of WineAlign nor any of its contributors.


Next Generation Germany 

If you’re still with me, let’s get on to this week’s recommendations. The May 2nd VINTAGES release sees a terrifically well-chosen selection of German wines arrive just ahead of the “Next Generation Germany” taste event in Toronto on May 21st. David Lawrason will be leading a trade tasting in the afternoon along with German Wine Queen Janina Hahn, exploring new developments and celebrating the latest generation of German vintners to crush the grape.

Vineyards in the Kaiserstuhl, Baden-9872

Vineyards in the Kaiserstuhl, Baden

I had the pleasure of the queen’s company for a couple of days this past March as I toured from Mainz down to Baden in search of volcanic terroirs and fine wine. But aside from the queen’s beauty, I was most struck by the change in attitude that has occurred over the last few years in Germany. Not so long ago, German vintners (like many Canadians), were almost apologetic about their cool climate and their “struggle” to ripen grapes, especially red grapes. That was during the bigger-is-better era of wine production.

But as the whimsical tide of fashion invariably changes, cool climates have become all the rage. Now, warm regions bend over backwards to be cool, going ever higher up mountain peaks or further out to the coast, stopping only short of floating vineyards on barges in cold seas. German vintners are now delighted to trumpet their natural coolness, and are enjoying a return to mainstream fashion.

Truthfully, German wines haven’t changed radically. They didn’t need to. The wine was always good, and many estates have multigenerational track records to prove it. So it’s not you, Germany, it’s us who have changed, and we’re glad to have you back.

The renewed self-confidence has had an impact however on the next generation. According to German Wine Institute chief Stefan Schindler, enrolment in viticulture studies is exploding. And it’s not just the sons and daughters of winemakers, but also many students from non-traditional wine families. A third winemaking school has opened in Neustadt, and all the courses are fully subscribed. Winemaking, too, has become cool. The future of more unapologetically cool climate, great German wine seems assured.

The selection offered on May 2nd includes some new and welcome names to the market, with most worth checking out. There’s also plenty of Alignment amongst the crü, so if you’re not afraid of being cool, there are several low-risk, high-pleasure options, and not just Riesling (though there’s brilliant riesling, too). My only regret is the absence of any German red wines, especially pinot noir, which is rapidly gaining prominence in Germany and abroad for good reason.

We’ve also included a handful of smart, miscellaneous red suggestions in this report, since not all wine can be white.

David follows up next week with an equally exciting range from New Zealand and the customary spring rosé collection.

Buyers’ Guide to Germany

Markus Molitor 2013 Haus Klosterberg Riesling, Mosel Valley, Germany ($20.95)

John Szabo – Triple alignment on this terrific riesling from Molitor, unsurprisingly, one of the Mosel’s leading producers. It’s at the drier end of the spectrum, and reverberates on and on with terrific energy and vibrancy. Best 2015-2023.
David Lawrason  – Young riesling is aromatically challenging off the top. Then add in Molitor’s aromatically reserved style. The result is a slow starter on the nose. But this is a very compact, well balanced and in the end riveting riesling, that just shouts Mosel in its own stern way.
Sara d’Amato – A serious riesling of tremendous value. The rather heavy stony soils of Klosterberg with high iron content produce mineral-driven and earthy wines with delicate fruit and great syle.

Konrad Salwey in the Kaiserstuhl-9903

Konrad Salwey in the Kaiserstuhl

Salwey 2013 Pinot Gris, Baden, Germany ($21.95)

John Szabo – Like David, I spent an afternoon with young Konrad Salwey last month and believe him to be making some of the Kaiserstuhl’s, and all of Baden’s, best wines. This pinot gris represents the (excellent) entry level, focused on refinement thanks in part to a change in philosophy as of 2011. “I was caught in the German quality system. Very often we left the grapes out too long. We could have gotten much more elegance if we had harvested earlier. This is the result of the shift. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – In 2014 I spent a fascinating afternoon tasting is the cellars of the inquiring, intense Konrad Salwey. It started as a gentle fencing match as we felt each other out, but after a couple of pinot gris (before the pinot noirs) I knew I was in the company of a winemaker extraordinaire, and by the end of the day he was opening some great aged pinot noirs. This is lower tier in his range but very nicely done.

Sander 2013 Pinot Blanc Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany ($15.95)

John Szabo – Pinot blanc (aka weissburgunder), may get little airtime, but it was the variety that most captivated me by its unexpected beauty while in southern Germany. This is a fine example of its delicate floral aromatics and neither austere nor overly soft texture. It would make a superb sipping wine for spring and early summer dining al fresco.
David Lawrason – I have been quietly intrigued by pinot blanc (weissburgunder) since first visiting Germany’s Baden years ago.  The interest re-kindled at a tasting of German pinot varieties in Mainz in 2014. The biodynamically produced Sander encapsulates everything I love about this grape, about which I plan to write more soon enough. Don’t miss this bargain opportunity to get to know it for yourself.

Ruppertsberger 2014 Linsenbusch Gewürztraminer Spätlese Prädikatswein, Pfalz Germany ($17.95)

John Szabo – A medium-dry version that delivers all of the perfumed richness and flavour intensity one would hope for from the grape and the price category. This is tailor-made for afternoon sipping, or with richer pâtés, foie gras, spicy Asian-inspired fare or softer cheeses.

Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013 Salwey Pinot Gris 2013 Sander Pinot Blanc Trocken 2013 Ruppertsberger Linsenbusch Gewürztraminer Spätlese 2014 Klumpp Riesling 2013 C.H. Berres Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2012

Klumpp 2013 Riesling Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany ($19.95)

John Szabo – Klumpp is a rapidly emerging star from southern Germany that I’m happy to see in Ontario after tasting some superb wines in Deutschland. This vineyard blend offers both fleshy orchard and ripe citrus fruit along with the merest hint of sweetness. Fine value in a well measured style. Best 2015-2023.

C.H. Berres 2012 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany ($24.95)

David Lawrason – This shows surprising ripeness for a kabinett (almost spätlese level), with classic peach, honey and stony aromas and flavours. Really quite delicious. Markus Berres is only the 21st generation to run this family winery in Mosel, and he has gone to screwcap. Good move.
Sara d’Amato – Consistently a top scoring wine, this Kabinett once again proves generous, rich and zesty with a great deal of character. So pleasurable now but hold onto it for another 5-6 years to experience the lovely honeyed, nutty and petrol flavours that come with evolution.

Buyers’ Guide to Miscellaneous Smart Red Wine Buys 

Marqués De Cáceres 2005 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($29.95)

John Szabo – While tasting wines like this I’m constantly reminded of the value that Spain offers, and it’s so very kind of them to cover the expense of storing wine for many years on top of it all for us. The reliable Marqués de Cáceres offers us a ready to drink gran reserva of tremendous complexity and superb balance, not to mention length, for a modest sum. Best 2015-2025.

D’angelo 2010 Aglianico Del Vulture, Basilicata, Italy ($17.95)

John Szabo – Tired of tutti frutti wines? This is for you. I love the absolutely fruitless, savoury, pot pourri-scented character of this wine, crafted in the very old school one from of Italy’s most swarthy red grapes and traditional producers on the slopes of the extinct Vulture volcano. It’s like wet, hot gravel and rusted iron. Sounds delicious, no? Best 2015-2020.

Terra Noble 2011 Gran Reserva Carmenère, Maule Valley, Chile ($18.95)

John Szabo – A tidy little value offering a wallop of sweet herbs and black fruit, and excellent depth and concentration for the money. Best 2015-2019.

Marqués De Cáceres Gran Reserva 2005 D'Angelo Aglianico Del Vulture 2010 Terranoble Gran Reserva Carmenère 2011 Château Tour Saint Vincent 2010

Château Tour Saint-Vincent 2010 Médoc, Bordeaux  ($23.95)

David Lawrason – The 2010 vintage continues to impress, a vintage where lower priced, unsung chateau rise up with structure and depth beyond their station in life. This is an 11-hectare cru bourgeois estate with thirty year old vines – 60% cabernet sauvignon and 40% merlot. It has power, depth and tension. Try one now and cellar a few.

G.D. Vajra 2011 Barbera d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy ($21.95)

David Lawrason – This is one of my personal favourites on this release, from a smallish, very enthused and engaged family winery. Barbera is never easy, but this fine somewhat juicy example builds in just the right fruit depth and complexity.

Somontes 2009 Reserva, Dão, Portugal ($18.95)

David Lawrason – Once or twice a year in comes a really fine Dao.  Long time readers might recognize my enthusiasm for this hilly, mineral rich region in the heartland of Portugal. This is one I would not hesitate to buy if you like nervy, wild berry-scented yet delicious reds.

G.D. Vajra Barbera d'Alba 2011 Somontes Reserva 2009 Cathedral Cellar Triptych 2012 Lanciola Le Masse Di Greve Chianti Classico 2010

Cathedral Cellar 2012 Triptych, Western Cape, South Africa ($16.95)

Sara d’Amato – High quality parcels of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot and tannat are blended to form Cathedral Cellars excellent value Triptych. Revealing, honest and ready-to-drink with compelling notes of smoke, pepper and plump, plummy fruit.

Lanciola 2010 Le Masse Di Greve Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($23.95)

Sara d’Amato – Almost entirely sangiovese, this traditional Chianti Classico is made up from Lanciola’s premium vineyard sites in Greve. A discreet and elegant wine but with a great deal of charm. Drinking optimally right now.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES May 2nd, 2015:

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

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

Beringer Knights Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Wine Tour to the County



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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 18th – Part One

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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

Whites and a Rosé

Trimbach 2011 Réserve Riesling, Alsace France ($29.95)

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

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

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

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

Hugel 2012 Riesling, Alsace, France ($24.95)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muga 2014 Rosé, Rioja Spain ($13.95)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brigaldara 2013 Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($14.95)

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

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 18th, 2015:

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

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

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011

County in the City - Toronto - April 16

Exclusive Beringer Winemaker’s Dinner – April 14 – Ottawa

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 4th – Part Two

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

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

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

Off the Beaten Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cálem Lágrima White Port

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

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

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

British Columbia & Ontario

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

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

Golden Mile Bench - Culmina WineryGolden Mile Bench - Culmina Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Canadian Sommelier Competition

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

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

Élyse Lambert - Best Sommelier of Canada 2015

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

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

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

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

Travaglini 2007 Gattinara, (Nebbiolo) Piedmont, Italy

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

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

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

Until next week!

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES April 4th, 2015:

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

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

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

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011

County in the City

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 4th – Part One

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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

Traditional Easter Lamb

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


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


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

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

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

Recommended Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moroccan lamb loin chops

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


– 12 lamb shoulder chops (3oz.)


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


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

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

Recommended wines:

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

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

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

Mendel 2011 Malbec Mendoza Argentina ($27.95)

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

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

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

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

Barque Smokehouse: Smoked Lamb Ribs

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


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

Barque RibsRub:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside

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

Pomegranate Molasses BBQ Sauce:

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

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

Smoker Method (see below for backyard grill instructions):

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

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


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

Set and serve with lime wedges.

Backyard Grill Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended wines: 

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-Dinner Sipping wines

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

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

Krauthaker 2013 Grasevina Kutjevo, Slavonija Croatia ($23.95)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And For Dessert

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

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

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 4th, 2015:

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

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

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011

County in the City - Toronto - April 16

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Ode to the Hills: Why Hillsides Make Better Wine

Szabo’s Free RunMarch 23, 2015

Text and photographs by John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

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

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

Kevin Pogue in the future grand cru of Walla Walla

Kevin Pogue in the future grand cru of Walla Walla

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

The Douro Valley

The Douro Valley

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

It’s About the Drainage

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

Here’s the simplified version.

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

Ürziger Würzgarten, Mosel, looking at 3rd rate flatlands

Ürziger Würzgarten, Mosel, looking at 3rd rate flatlands

Terraced Vineyards on the slopes of Mt. Etna-7482

Terraced Vineyards on the slopes of Mt. Etna

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

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

Nutrient Poor

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

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

Rangen de Thann, Alsace

Rangen de Thann, Alsace

Napa Hills vs. the Valley Floor-8363

Napa Hills vs. the Valley Floor

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

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

No Modifications Required

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

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

Hillside vineyards in Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

Hillside vineyards in Orvieto, Umbria, Italy

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

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

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

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

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

Mt. Badacsony, Hungary-5037

Mt. Badacsony, Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

Studert Prüm 2012 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany

Laurel Glen 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Mountain, California

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

Ridge Vineyards 2011 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains, California

Aurelio Settimo 2010 Barolo, Piedmont, Italy

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

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


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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

Montresor Amarone della Valpolicella


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 21st – Part Two

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Pont-Valentré, Cahors. (Photo from

Pont-Valentré, Cahors. (Photo from

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: Riesling Rules!

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

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

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

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

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

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: More Smart Buys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES March 21, 2015:

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

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

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011

County in the City

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

Ontario Wine ReportMarch 16, 2015

Text and photographs by John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frozen Niagara River and Sluggish Falls

Frozen Niagara River and Sluggish Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Winemakers


2027 Cellars Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2012-9352

2027 Cellars Fox Croft Block Chardonnay

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

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

Big Head 2013 Chenin Blanc ($22)

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

Andrezj Lipinski and his Big Head Chenin Blanc 2013-9353

Andrezj Lipinski and his Big Head Chenin Blanc

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

Jay Johstone and his Flatrock Cellars The Rusty Shed Chardonnay

Flatrock Cellars 2012 The Rusty Shed Chardonnay ($24.95)

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

Marty Werner and his 2013 Ravine Chardonnay-9404

Marty Werner and his 2013 Ravine Chardonnay

Ravine Vineyard 2013 Chardonnay ($25)

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

Stratus Vineyards 2012 White ($44)

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

Westcott Vineyards 2013 Estate Chardonnay ($26)

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

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

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

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

Victoria and Garett Westcott and their Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2013


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

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

Dave Sheppard’s Vintage 30 Cabernet

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

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

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

Creekside Estate Winery Broken Press Syrah 2011 ($39.95)

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

Derek Barnett and his Lailey Impromptu 2012-9386

Derek Barnett and his Lailey Impromptu 2012

Rob Powers and his Creekside Broken Press Syrah 2011-9470

Rob Powers and his Creekside Broken Press Syrah 2011

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

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

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

Emma Garner and her Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2012

Craig MacDonald and his Trius Grand Red 2012-9395

Craig MacDonald and his Trius Grand Red 2012

Trius Winery Grand Red 2012 ($55)

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

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

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

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

Len Crispino and his Foreign Affairs and his Petit Verdot 2012

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

Brian Schmidt and his Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012

Vineland Estates 2012 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($40.00)

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

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

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

County in the City

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008