Find the right wine at the right price, right now.

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 5, Part One

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are our picks:

California and New World Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ontario & New World Whites

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

Flat Rock 2013 Riesling

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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

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

Squealing Pig Sauvignon Blanc 2014

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

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 22, Part Two

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

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Von Hövel Scharzhofberg Saar Riesling Auslese 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cakebread Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Château La Bienfaisance 2010

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

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


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


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES August 22nd, 2015

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

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

Squealing Pig Sauvignon Blanc 2014

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

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 22, Part One

Super Values Under $20
By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Here at WineAlign we score wines on their quality. Yet value is the reason we usually highlight certain wines in these VINTAGES preview newsletters. This week Sara and I highlight super values under $20, and next week John Szabo returns from vacation to join us in putting forward values over $20. Which makes the essential point that value is not just a matter of lower price, and that it can be found, or at least argued, at almost any price point.

I have long struggled with whether to include a separate value rating with my reviews. In fact I did use a three-star value rating, as well as a score, at one point when reviewing for Wine Access. As did John. I have two counter arguments. One is that value does get a bit more subjective, and two, that readers engaged enough to be reading wine reviews in the first place are entirely capable of making that value judgement themselves, and can fit it into their own budgetary parameters.

But the temptation to rate value remains large. What is our job if not to find the best wines at the best possible price? At WineAlign we are currently tinkering with mathematical methodology to design a meaningful value rating system, and due to the size and history of our database we should be able to arrive at a fairly accurate statistics-based scale.

I guess the question is whether you, dear reader, want it. We would love to get your feedback in our Comments forum at the end of this newsletter.

Meanwhile, here are some super values for late summer enjoyment.


Grace Lane 2013 Riesling, Yakima Valley, Washington ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Yakima Valley is a large, high desert region with controlled irrigation from water descending the Cascade Mountains. Its situation allows for hot days and very cool nights – the ideal setting for growth of high quality wines. Grace Lane specializes in riesling and this excellent value, off-dry example is dynamic, nervy and surprisingly complex.
David Lawrason – Riesling is the #1 white variety in Washington and underpriced due to lower land costs and a softer market for riesling in the US. But here in Canada we know good riesling when we see it. It’s quite fulsome, ripe and rich with generous aromas of pineapple, yellow plum, honey and spice. It’s medium bodied, fleshy, off-dry and quite concentrated.

Von Buhl 2012 Armand Riesling Kabinett, Pfalz, Germany ($18.95)
David Lawrason – True Pfalz! This is great value in organically grown riesling from a classic producer. It’s very pretty and complete with refined aromas of pineapple, peach and lemon; some white flowers and clover honey. It’s light bodied (9.0%) yet fleshy and delicate. Such precision!

Man Vintners 2014 Free-Run Steen Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region, South Africa ($13.95)
David Lawrason – Free-run chenin blanc is not quite the same as say, free run chicken. But there is a similar sense that quality should be better. (Free run juice flows freely out of the grapes without pressing of the bitter skins and should therefore be more delicate). This shows authentic and generous aromas of quince, honey and candle wax of Cape chenin. Quite substantial and complex for the money. MAN might seem an odd name but it is actually a compilation of the initials of the names of the wives of the three couples that own this winery.

S. Cristina Massoni 2014 Lugana, Lombardy, Italy ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – The northern Italian region of Lugana is well-known for its structured, mineral influenced and aromatic whites made principally from the turbiano variety (or Trebbiano di Lugana). Here is a classic example that is zesty, nutty and lightly tropical with fresh acids and a little lees contact. A wonderful treat for the last, lazy days of summer. (DL agrees!)

Grace Lane Riesling 2013Reichsrat Von Buhl Armand Riesling Kabinett 2012Man Vintners Chenin Blanc 2014S. Cristina Massoni Lugana 2014

De Wetshof 2014 Limestone Hill Chardonnay Unwooded, Robertson, South Africa ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Unique and intriguing! From limestone soils in the hot inland region of Robertson, this is bold, ripe yet firm unoaked chardonnay. There is some flinty sulphur on the nose, but also very generous green melon, wildflower and vague orange scents. It’s medium weight, fleshy, elegant and loaded with exotic flavour. Danny De Wetshof has long been considered one of the best chardonnay producers of the Cape.

Koncho & Co. 2012 Tsinandali, Kakheti, Georgia ($12.95)
Sara d’Amato – Nervous about picking up an inexpensive Georgian wine from the shelves? Don’t be! This is a gem of a find and one at a price that is notably low for VINTAGES. Tsinandali wines are generally made from a blend of rkatiteli and mtsvane and have a relatively long ageing process of several years in order to develop a more integrated, complex profile.

Henri Bourgeois 2014 Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc, Vins de Pays du Val de Loire, France ($15.95)
David Lawrason – One of the best sauvignon producers of Sancerre goes outside the zone to lower the price on a very well defined Loire sauvignon, that is both sleek and structured. It shows nicely lifted mint, lavender, grapefruit, green apple and pepper on the nose, with very good focus and length.

Paco & Lola 2013 Albariño, Rías Baixas, Spain ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This is a lovely albarino with snap and crunch, very good depth and well defined, lifted aromas of pineapple/starfruit, fresh herbs and yellow flowers. It’s mid-weight, very fresh and well structured, with great acidity and a sense of minerality.

De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay 2014Koncho & Co Tsinandali 2012Henri Bourgeois Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc 2014Paco & Lola Albariño 2013


Herdade do Rocim 2011 Red, Alentejano, Portugal ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is a quite charming, juicy yet substantial red with lifted aromas of currant/raspberry fruit nicely inset with oak spice, toast and light char. It’s medium weight, a bit tart and green on the palate, but I like the tension and length for the money.
Sara d’Amato – From Lower Alentejo in southern Portugal, Herdade do Rocim is a state of the art project which produces widely appealing blends. The indigenous varieties of aragonez, touriga nacional and alicante bouschet are represented in this savory blend along with spicy syrah. Try with barbecued short ribs.

Château Des Moines Menodin 2010, Bordeaux Supérieur ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Great Bordeaux authenticity and half-decent depth and complexity for the money. For two years now I have been singing the praises of this vintage in Bordeaux. Do not overlook 2010 while it is still hanging around.

Herdade do Rocim 2011 RedChâteau Des Moines Menodin 2010La Ferme Du Mont Le Ponnant Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2012

La Ferme Du Mont 2012 Le Ponnant Côtes Du Rhône Villages, France($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – La Ferme Du Mont’s grenache focused wines of Provence are often top value. Here is a wine with a traditional feel – a little earthy, funky and rustic. It is well seasoned with saline and black pepper which nicely compliments the juicy cassis fruit.

Palacios Remondo 2014 La Vendimia, Rioja, Spain ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – This is a fresh, youthful Rioja with very little oak blended from grenache and tempranillo. Despite the plump, plummy fruit on the palate, this year’s Vendimia shows surprising restraint and elegance. A sultry and aromatic find.

Palacios Remondo La Vendimia 2014Tahbilk The Tower Shiraz 2013Viña Maipo Gran Devócion Carmenère Syrah 2012

Tahbilk 2013 The Tower Shiraz, Central Victoria, Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is a quite intriguing, somewhat sinewy shiraz that harkens back to the northern Rhone to some degree. Not great power or depth but I like the weave of pepper, vanillin, blackcurrant, vague mint and resin. There is grip and intrigue unexpected at the price.

Viña Maipo 2012 Gran Devócion Carmenère/Syrah, Maule Valley, Chile ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – An intense and concentrated blend with the elegant dried herbal notes of carmenere and the peppery vibrancy of syrah. Focused and impressively structured for the price.

That’s a wrap for this week. Tune in next Thursday for our more expensive recommendations.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES August 22nd, 2015
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews

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

Squealing Pig Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Pacific Northwest Tasting - Aug 17th

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

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages December 8th Release – Six Fine Pairs, Twelve Great Buys

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The last Vintages release of 2012 is a monster, with many interesting wines to be explored – so make sure you spend time poring over all the wines that I reviewed, not just those featured here.  There is no particular theme to the release so here – to whet your appetite – I simply highlight some of the best wines and best values.  And I have done this in pairs, so that if one is not available you should be able to find the other.

Sparkling Openers

There is a decent slate of bubblies on the Dec 8 release in the run–up to New Year’s Eve.  I am already on record in the soon-to-be-published January issue of Toronto Life that Ontario sparkling wine is all one really needs if quality and value are part of your New Year’s sparkling wine purchases. However, although the two Ontario sparklers on this release are very good they are not quite top wrung values.  Instead, I draw your attention to BLUE MOUNTAIN BRUT from the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia as the single best buy in fizz on this release. Combining equal parts estate grown parts pinot noir and chardonnay, with six per cent pinot gris, it’s a classically made via second fermentation in the bottle, and for only $27.95 it delivers excellent complexity, structure and length. Blue Mountain was one of the very first serious sparkling wine producers in B.C. and the experience shows.

Beaumont Des Crayères Grand Prestige Brut ChampagneRuhlmann Signature Jean Charles Brut Crémant D'alsaceIf it must be Champagne, BEAUMONT DES CRAYÈRES GRAND PRESTIGE BRUT CHAMPAGNE also offers excellent quality for $46.95, which is in the lower price tier for Champagne. But for the same price you could buy two bottles of RUHLMANN SIGNATURE JEAN-CHARLES BRUT CRÉMANT D’ALSACE ($19.95).  Cremant d’Alsace – which is made in the same method as Champagne – is riding a huge wave of popularity in Europe at the moment, with the best bringing in a new set of flavours thanks to the varied Alsatian grape varieties. In this case pinot blanc, auxerrois and pinot gris create a certain richness that make the wine work well as sipper or with food.  The winery website suggests “gastronomic occasions throughout the meal from foie gras to seafood, poultry to desserts”.  But this is a dry wine in the end. Ruhlmann is 30 hectare family company not often seen here.

Fine 2009 Red Burgundy

Louis Jadot Domaine Gagey Clos Du Roi Marsannay 2009Domaine Chanson Beaune Clos Des Marconnets 1er Cru 2009The 2009s in Burgundy are frowned on by classicists as being too soft, fruity and obvious – due to the heat of the season. Well that may be true in some cases but it would be foolish not to keep tasting for those gems that do stand up – especially if you already enjoy riper pinots from New Zealand, Australia’s Mornington Peninsula and California’s Sonoma Coast. There are two Burgundies on this release that catch great balance and a sense of being very complete. LOUIS JADOT DOMAINE GAGEY CLOS DU ROI 2009 MARSANNAY ($34.95) is one that classicists should actually enjoy too – with a very fine sense of restraint, balance yet some charm. Typical of Marsannay it is not a wine of great depth but I can see it sailing through a meal of equal refinement – whether seafood, poultry or veal.

If you want depth and wow factor look no further than DOMAINE CHANSON 2009 BEAUNE CLOS DES MARCONNETS 1ER CRU at $49.95. This historic company’s purchase by Bollinger in 1999 spawned the re-fitting of its spectacular cellars within the walled ramparts of Beaune, and the arrival of winemaker Jean-Pierre Confuron. The result is a brilliant portfolio of whites and reds, the latter dominated by the company’s large holdings in the Beaune AC itself. Marconnets is 3.8ha site high on the hillside with classic southeast exposure.

Classy German Rieslings 

Reichsrat Von Buhl Forster Jesuitengarten Riesling Spätlese 2009St. Urbans Hof Riesling 2011This release offers a two-wine clinic on fine German riesling. It’s astounding to me that such wines are selling so cheaply. Such is the fickle finger of fashion, I guess.  At the risk of sounding too old I remember the days when finding a riesling from the Forster Jesuitengarten was something very special indeed. I recall poring over the incredibly detailed Hugh Johnson’s Atlas of German Wine, trying to sort out all the ‘einzellagen” (vineyards) and ‘grossenlagen’ (vineyard groupings). And Forster was one that always intrigued, perhaps because Johnson himself seemed intrigued by Forst’s unique black basalt laden soils.  Tasting REICHSRAT VON BUHL 2009 FORSTER JESUITENGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE ($24.95) I discovered such a sense of refinement and minerality that when I got home I went back to yee-old Atlas to double check on the basalt connection.  My increasingly spotty memory had served me well.

ST. URBANS-HOF 2011 RIESLING OLD VINES ($16.95) did not require the same level of research and Ontario riesling fans may be aware that St. Urbans-hof has a very strong connection to Niagara. It is the winery that first sent riesling cuttings to Niagara where they were planted in the St. Urbans Vineyard at Vineland Estates in the late 1970s.  It was the Weis clone, named after the family that owns St. Urbanshof, that dominates Niagara riesling today.  Anna Weis emigrated to Canada soon after and married into the Pennachetti family that has done such great work with riesling at Cave Spring. So you can ruminate on this as you try this electrifying riesling, perhaps opened alongside a Niagara off-shoot for the fun of comparison.

Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2010Fontodi Chianti Classico 2009 Excellent Tuscans Under $30

Vintages continues to offer up a strong Tuscan presence, with some fine wines surfacing in just about every release. There are some Brunellos again this time, but it was a pair of excellent 90 point Tuscans under $30 that caught my attention.  Tuscan sangiovese can and should be mid-weight wine of nerve and charm – much like pinot noir actually. Too often they are overripe or overoaked, or too sour.  FONTODI 2009 CHIANTI CLASSICO ($29.95) finds the handle and delivers a delicious, authentic Chianti experience with confidence and a sense of fun.  TENUTA SAN GUIDO 2010 LE DIFESE ($26.95) does likewise. Given its 70% cabernet sauvignon component, and the lean reputation of its more expensive stable mates like Sassicaia and Guidalberto I expected this to be a rather tough nut, but it is very balanced and complete, with the 30% sangiovese providing just the right amount of Tuscan attitude.

If I could stray from Vintages for a moment I also want to alert you to a terrific buy in Tuscan sangiovese-cabernet blend that is only available by the case on consignment. CARPINETO 2011 DOGAJOLO ($14.95) is simply delicious – juicy, charming, aromatically piquant, fairly complex and easy to drink, with just three months in old oak to soften the edges.  This wine has appeared before at Vintages and done well, but in Quebec it is so popular that it is selling 25,000 cases a year.  At this price, a case would make a great gift for those who have always wanted their own Italian house red.  Contact Mark Bruni at RKW Imports  416-883-3580 or email .

Collector Cabs from Sonoma

Stonestreet Monument Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cépages 2008
Napa cabernets tend to get all the California attention when collectors look to stock their cellars, but there is a concerted effort to make great, age-worthy cabernets and blends in Sonoma as well; particularly from mountain/hillside sites in the warmer areas of the Alexander Valley and Dry Creek.  To my mind the best have even more structure and age-ability than many of the smoothies from Napa’s valley floor.  STONESTREET MONUMENT RIDGE 2007 CABERNET SAUVIGNON from Alexander Mountain Estates  is a classic example at $49.95.  More famous, and more pricy, is  CHATEAU ST. JEAN 2008 CINQ CÉPAGES Sonoma County at $75.95.  Cinq Cepages now has a 20+ year lineage since it was created in 1990 as one of the first California wines to adopt all five Bordeaux varieties. This is a sturdy, quite lean and complex wine that will definitely reward patience in the cellar.

Domæne Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner 2011Lailey Unoaked Chardonnay 2011

$15 Sipping Whites

There are always occasions to have a fine sipping wine ready to go during the holidays, often as an aperitif. As such it is often the first wine of the evening, and it receives more attention than those that come after. Here are two subtle yet fine, dry whites that will attract attention and praise. DOMÆNE GOBELSBURG 2011 GRÜNER VELTLINER ($13.95) from Austria’s Niederösterreich region is just so classy for the money – again no drama but quietly confident and poised.  Gobelsburg is one of my favourite white wine producers in all of Europe. And from much closer to home don’t miss LAILEY 2011 UNOAKED CHARDONNAY at $15.95. We are well used to winemaker Derek Barnett’s work with powerful, barrel-aged wines designed for cellaring, so it is good to see that he can also work very efficiently with unoaked wines, all of which is testament, in the end, to the quality of the fruit at the Lailey farm.

Teaching WSET is My New Endeavour for 2013

For most of the years that I have been writing about wine I have also been teaching – something I find almost more rewarding due to the sharing of the tasting experience and the feedback from students. I have not been teaching as much recently so I have jumped at the chance to join Fine Vintage Ltd that delivers the London-based WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) program.  WSET is the global, English language standard for structured wine education, with clearly defined curriculum, expertly produced materials and stringent exam procedures.  It is the world’s best recognized training ground for those seeking careers in the wine world, or simply wanting a structured education.

Fine Vintage Ltd is just one of several WSET schools around the world, founded in Vancouver by Master of Wine James Cluer, who has now expanded to 13 cities in Canada, the Western USA and recently Tuscany.  Fine Vintage earned the Riedel Trophy for WSET Wine Educator of the Year in 2011. I had the occasion to audit several classes recently and I was convinced that this is indeed a serious, well-constructed program, not least of which is due to the high quality of the wines served.

My role will be to teach weekend programs at the Foundation, Intermediate and eventually the Advanced levels in Toronto. In 2013 I will also help get a school running in Ottawa and teach some English language programs in Montreal.  So if you want to get yourself started in 2013, with a voice that is somewhat familiar, checkout the schedule, fees and requirements at

We will back before Christmas

And so this concludes the Vintage releases for 2012. But don’t go away as we roll through December. The WineAlign team will continue to taste and deliver interesting themed newsletters as we move toward and through the Holidays. And we have some pleasant surprises in store.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the December 8th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews


Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Rosehill Wine Cellars

Filed under: Wine, , ,

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Oct 27th Release

Bordeaux 2009s, California Boutiques, Super Tuscans and Discoveries

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The LCBO’s annual Fine Wine Auction – held last weekend – has become the symbolic kick-off for Vintages fine wine season. From here through mid-December we will be inundated and titillated by big name wines and big vintages, at big prices.

The October 27 release gets it rolling with the 2009 Bordeauxs, California “boutique” wines and some super-Tuscans, which I will take on in due course. But I must warn you at the outset that I am getting pretty cynical about all this. My gripe is that these over-hyped wines are just too expensive and the value is not there.

I also sense that the glory days of collector wines from Bordeaux, California and Tuscany in particular, are just about over. Quality has become so good at lower price points, great wine has become global, and there is a new generation of winemakers who care more about expressing their place in the world, than what price they will fetch at the next auction. At the same time wine consumers are smarter and wiser and ready to make their own decisions; which is why my job is now more about aiding discovery rather than re-enforcing the status quo. And I will get to “discoveries” below.

Vintages’ Bordeaux 2009s Disappoint

Let the hype begin, with this Robert Parker mouthful reprinted by Vintages. “Given the overall style of the 2009s, which combine creamy voluptuous textures and sensational fruit-driven opulence, with remarkable finesse, precision and vibrancy, the best of the little wines will be delicious young, as will many of the classed growths. This is a magical vintage” 

So where is the magic in this Oct 27 spate of “little” chateau wines? I was disappointed on my first taste through. I figured that maybe I was just grumpy that day so I returned to the Vintages lab three weeks later and tasted them all again. They are average 85 to 89 point wines that for the most part are over-priced. Three reach 90 points, none surpass. Some did show that sense of ripeness and fine structure that Monsieur Parkaire extols above, but styles were all over the map. There were overripe wines and green wines; soft wines and lean wines; funky wines and clean wines. This really points out the problem with vintage hype. Climate is only a framework, a barometer of how easy it is, or isn’t, to ripen the grapes. From that point there are hundreds of human-controlled variables that have a more dramatic influence on the final quality and taste.

Château De CruzeauChâteau Sénéjac 2009Château La Gravette Lacombe 2009But if you want to dip your toe into 2009 Bordeaux, here are my picks. Cru Bourgeois Château la Gravette Lacombe from the Médoc, is quite a savoury, smoky young wine in a very modern style, and excellent value at $19.95. Château Sénéjac, Haut-Médoc is a bit more traditional, complex and nicely balanced and fair value at $28.85. My personal favourite of the batch is Château de Cruzeau, Pessac-Léognan, again a modern wine with nicely lifted, well integrated, classic Pessac currant, pine and wood smoke, that is a decent price at $27.95.

California Boutiques

To boutique or not to boutique? That is a good question nowadays. It is such a seventies term. And it carries other freight as well – namely the insinuation that small is beautiful (thus big is not). Actually small, family wineries are often stylistically idiosyncratic and patchy quality-wise, depending on the winemaker’s motivations and experience. Wines from big wineries that have to compete tooth and nail in the big bad world, cannot afford to be idiosyncratic or poor quality. They may be more predictable, and commercial, and have sameness, but they are usually well made.

PB Hein Cabernet SauvignonBeringer Cabernet SauvignonWhich is the theme in this Tale of Two Napa cabs. PB Hein 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($46.95) caught my attention for delivering all kinds of classic if edgy cabernet character. It’s from a small winery opened very recently by Paul Hein, a fifth generation Napan whose forebearers had vines on Mount Veeder. Contrast this to the very well layered, subtle, more corporate Beringer 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($39.95) which is also excellent quality, if in a more familiar and likely more broadly appealing style.

There are several big name California cabernets on the release, notably Dunn Howell Mountain 2005 and Chateau Montelena 2008 that are excellent quality, but disappointing at the price. Which goes back to my gripe with hype. These wines were all the rage and highly coveted in the 1980s and 1990s as newly wealthy boomers latched onto the California wine revolution. They have managed to maintain their inflated prices because they have name recognition, but frankly I, for one, am simply not that interested. And they have a ton of new competition.

The competition was very evident at the eye-opening Rogers and Company consignment portfolio tasting held this month at Brassai. Rogers has always been a leading importer of high end California wines, but the selection unleashed this day was truly impressive. There was one table devoted to triple digit “boutique” mid-90s scoring “super premium” California wines with names I did not recognize: like Tim Mondavi’s Continuum, Kapscandy’s Endre, O’Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cab, Tierra Roja, Ovid and Dancing Hares. Another table of more mainstream California reds featured the likes of Caymus Special Selection, Quintessa and Ehlers 1886 Cabernet. I would have loved to spend two days tasting this portfolio, which also spanned Italy, France and Australia. The quality was very high across the board – even among less expensive wines. So if you aren’t on Rogers list of customers and “invitees” you may want to get in touch at

Super-Tuscan Time

Tenuta Sette Ponti CrognoloRocca Delle Macìe Tenuta Sant'alfonso Chianti ClassicoAntinori Solaia 2009The October 27 release also features super-super Tuscan Antinori 2009 Solaia, a ground breaking cabernet launched in the eighties when the notion of cabernet in Italy was still revolutionary. And the 2009 is an excellent 92 point wine, in my books anyway. It has very modern, California influenced, French oak driven “international” styling, and carries it off well atop impressive structure. But the price is a choker at $251.95! I would much rather buy a case of Rocca delle Macìe’s 2009 Tenuta Sant’Alfonso Chianti Classico at $21.95, or nine bottles of Tenuta Sette Ponti 2009 Crognolo at $32.95.  Sette Ponti is a great little property by the way, making very stylish mini-super Tuscans. And there are many more, very fine up-and-coming estates in them thar olive and vine strewn Chianti hills – indeed all over Italy – that are begging for your attention.

And allow me one last be-labouring of my point, based on vertical tasting of Luce that I was invited to this week. Luce was created out of a handshake deal back in 1993 when Napa’s Tim Mondavi went to the Frescobaldi family in Florence in search of a joint venture project. This was in Mondavi’s era of global outreach, also forming partnerships with the Rothschilds of Bordeaux, and Chadwicks (Errazuriz) of Chile. So Luce too was revolutionary – a new wine – combining Tuscany’s sangiovese with upstart merlot, grown in Montalcino, a bastion of Brunello-based tradition. It was newsmaker! And today the 2009 vintage is selling at Vintages for $99.95.

In a previous tasting, I had not reviewed the 2009 Luce Della Vite all that kindly and I tried it yet again to lead off the vertical tasting led by Lamberto Frescobaldi at Trattoria Giancarlo in Toronto’s Little Italy on College West. And again it was very oaky and somehow too loose and hot. The ten vintages preceding it were all of similar international style, but they improved with age as the wine “digested” the obvious oak – a very apt observation by Lamberto. My favourite vintages were the more mature 2006, 2004 and 2001, where the structure and Italianess of the wines shone through, and alcohol levels were a bit lower. And by the way, the Luce partnership dissolved in 2004 when Constellation wines purchased Robert Mondavi. “It’s not that (Constellation) aren’t nice people” said Lamberto, “but the magic was gone” Indeed.


So enough harping on the old order. Time for some value-surfing and discoveries from the October 27 release.

Fess Parker Viognier 2010Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc 2011Among whites, three very aromatic, pure and bright wines caught my eye. Fess Parker 2010 Viognier ($24.95) from California’s Santa Barbara County is a tactful model of exotic viognier fruit expression and charm, without being overly heavy. Jules Taylor 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95) from New Zealand’s Marlborough region explodes with complex aromas and delivers on a very racy chassy. Mas des Bressades 2011 Cuvée Tradition Blanc ($14.95) compiles a terrific, juicy and firm blend of four grapes from the south of France – grenache blanc, roussanne, marsanne and viognier.

Domaine Cros De Romet Cairanne Côtes Du Rhône VillagesMalivoire Albert's Honour Old Vines FochAmong reds, we start on the home front with Malivoire Albert’s Honour 2010 Old Vines Foch at $24.95. It struck me as I tasted this that very few hybrid red table wines remain on the market in Ontario, but this complex, rogue red proves there is room for well made, old vine editions, and there perhaps should be more of them in a region starved for “big reds”.

From Hawkes Bay New Zealand Alpha Domus 2010 The Barnstormer Syrah ($22.95) is indeed a barnstormer. Not in the sense of being a big, thick, rich Aussie-style shiraz but for its aromatic very Rhonish syrah punch. And still with syrah, Domaine Cros de Romet 2010 Cairanne Côtes du Rhône-Villages is yet another syrah-based star out of the southern Rhone, and a great buy at $21.95. And finally Palacios Remondo 2011 La Vendimia from Rioja, Spain is about as friendly a little sipping red as you are likely to find, and a steal at $14.95.

That’s a wrap for this time. Happy shopping, with WineAlign at your side and in your pocket. I am a recent convert to iPhone by the way, and I love using our WineAlign app while at the LCBO!

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the October 27th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2010

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , ,

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Oct 13th Release

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Australian and Chilean Values, Great Chardonnays,
Coudelets and Fine Italian Whites

It’s a huge, wide ranging release this week, with some of the most interesting wines hitting out beyond the advertised features on Australia and Chile. I have tasted almost every wine – 130 in all – which was done over three days. My featured wines below include some more expensive chardonnays and Rhônes from Beaucastel, but all others are great $20 range or under buys that have simply risen to the top. And there is nothing like the experience of tasting all the world’s wines side by side to experience quality rising to the top, no matter where they are from.

Australia’s Push Back

Colleague John Szabo has gone into depth on the Australian collection featured in this release, and discussed that country’s resurgence and re-branding – after taking a severe hit in the marketplace in the latter half of the last decade. There is no doubt that there is a concerted marketing effort at play here, both through Vintages releases, Wines of Australia and through visits by Aussie winemakers. In the past month we have seen Wolf Blass himself, Peter Gago of Penfolds, Ben Glaetzer, Grant Burge, Bruce Tyrrell and Louisa Rose of Yalumba all touch down in Toronto.

But something else is happening too. I am simply enjoying big, rich Aussie reds of late; seeking that sense of comfort, that flood of flavour. Is that a personal shift in taste, or is because the wines are better balanced – less hot, less sweet and more streamlined? I think balance is probably the main factor. I am still marking hard on wines that are too gratuitously sweet and/or cocoa-fied, and those with excessive afterburn. But I am now frequently over 90 points based on the complexity, depth and sense of perfect ripeness of many reds. And I am finding these qualities often in wines that are not too expensive.

Paxton AAA Shiraz GrenacheFirst Drop Half & Half Shiraz MonastrellTwo on this release are prime examples. First Drop Half & Half 2010 Shiraz/Monastrell is from the Barossa in South Australia, at $21.95. I usually have low expectations from wines with too-cute names like First Drop, that promise “life, flavour and fun” in every bottle. Nothing against life, flavour and fun mind you, but really – all that for only twenty bucks? I am much more interested in the fact that it is a fairly rare (for Australia) and effective blend of shiraz and monastrell, with the firm tannin structure and somewhat wild meaty complexity of the latter grape (also called mourvèdre) adding structural dimension to Aussie shiraz, as it so often does in the south of France (see Coudelet de Beaucastel below).

Paxton AAA 2010 Shiraz/Grenache from McLaren Vale, South Australia is a Rhone-inspired blend too, and another hit at $19.95. The mantra of this biodynamic producer is “heads down and tails up”. And rather than their bottles promising everything except cash for life, Paxton is only striving to provide “a snapshot of a vineyard and a vintage in one moment in time”. This is big wine; very rich and rambling, but packed to the gunwales with flavour without tipping the boat. It’s Triple A good.

Chile’s Nooks and Crannies

There is a mini-feature on Chile on this release, which of course doesn’t do the country justice as a whole. Chile is busting ahead on so many levels. One level is introducing winemaking “Sustainability” nationally as discussed by WineAlign’s Janet Dorozynski after she moderated a panel discussion on the topic in Toronto in early October. Quality and value continue apace in Chile as well, but I am most interested, again, in new explorations and new wines – the nooks and crannies out of the Chilean mainstream.

Falernia Reserva SyrahKorta Barrel Selection Reserve Petit VerdotFalernia 2009 Reserva Syrah from the Elquí Valley is not new at Vintages – indeed this is at least its third appearance. But at $15.95 I just can’t resist re-introducing it to those of you yet to discover the secluded, precipitous Elqui Valley several hundred kms north of Santiago on the southern fringe of the Atacama Dessert. The wine is rather oaky, but it has incredible concentration and structure for the money; I think as a result of the low yields from those very rocky soils. The only vineyards not clinging to hillsides in Elqui are planted on the incredibly stony flats of an old riverbed.

Korta 2010 Barrel Selection Reserve Petit Verdot from the Lontué Valley in southern Chile is also a great buy at $14.95. Korta is a family enterprise with the winery morphing from a fruit growing business in 1997. Petit Verdot is always an intriguing variety for its aromatic complexity and acid structure, but often its unripe elements get in the way. So winemakers are hesitant to make petit verdot solo. This is one of those quite rare examples that achieves enough ripeness, and has plenty of concentration to boot – surprisingly so at $15. It could be a great variety for Chile, much in the same vein as carmenere.

Three 90+ Chardonnays

Almost every release has a handful of excellent chardonnays, but it is now almost a rule of thumb that they will be somewhere around $40. Which is okay by me, because that’s what it takes to make chardonnay intriguing whether from a cool or warm climate. If I want to drink white under $25 I will usually go to other varieties.

Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard ChardonnayYabby Lake Single Vineyard ChardonnayBeringer Private Reserve Chardonnay

Hidden Bench 2009 Felseck Vineyard Chardonnay ($38.00) is a Beamsville Bench classic from Niagara. Felseck, which apparently means “corner of the cliff” was first planted in 1992 – including a large 3.3 acre chardonnay block – and purchased by Hidden Bench in 2007. The intrinsic depth and complexity being delivered from the almost 20 year old vines combines with the great acid structure of the 2009 vintage to provide one excellent chardonnay.

Yabby Lake 2010 Single Vineyard Chardonnay ($39.95) is yet another fine cool climate chardonnay from the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria, Australia. We have had several in recent weeks, which should put this ocean-side jut of land squarely on your fine wine GPS. This is classically made “non-interventionist” style from three blocks in a single vineyard in Tuerong. It’s barrel fermented in older French oak, using natural yeasts, then aged ten months on the lees without malolactic fermentation. In other words, rather riveting stuff in a bare bones way.

Beringer 2010 Private Reserve Chardonnay ($44.95) from Napa Valley is another beauty, if for a different reason. Sourced from more than one site, in cooler areas of Napa, it is a masterpiece of tender and thoughtful winemaking. Yes it is rich and soft, yet impeccably balanced, layered and supple. Certainly a more restrained style of modern California chardonnay, but not relying on “cool climate” tension and minerality of the two mentioned above. Delicious! California chard fans will be in heaven.

Beaucastel’s Coudelets

Coudelet is a vineyard lying adjacent to the famous Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, separated only by a motorway (that’s a big European road). Like Beaucastel it is owned by the Perrin family, and always touted as a good value, mid-tier label. In some vintages I am underwhelmed by the value proposition of Coudelet, but the one-two punch of the 2011 Blanc and 2010 Rouge on this release is a different matter.

Coudoulet De Beaucastel Blanc

When I visited Château de Beaucastel with a large group of Canadian oeno-tourists in May, Thomas Perrin opened the tasting with one of my favourite white wines of all time – the Vieilles Vignes Beaucastel Blanc made 100% from 65 year old roussanne vines. It is a silken masterpiece with haunting depth. And I got something of that same vibe from the 2011 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc ($33.95). Interestingly it contains no roussanne at all – rather the other four Rhône white varieties: marsanne 30%, viognier 30%, bourboulenc 30%, clairette 10%.  Great winemaking here!

Coudoulet De Beaucastel

Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2010 ($29.95) is also impeccably made, and a fine insight into the excellent 2010 vintage, and a preview of 2010 Château de Beaucastel itself. Both wines use a higher proportion of mourvèdre than most wines in the area, providing fragrance and complexity on the one hand, and a bit more sinew and structure for aging. The 2010 should be tasted now to get a sense of its finesse, then the rest stored for at least two years.

So Fine Italian Whites

I’ve said it so often before; Italian whites are among the most intriguing on the planet. They have been cleaned up by modern winemaking, and actually treated with viticultural respect by a new generation keen to translate the unique character of many of the native varieties. This release has no less than three $20-range whites flirting with 90-point scores, and their story is the same – complexity, brightness, precision, and new flavours for the palate tiring of conventional whites. Buy the set and go to school.

Prà Soave ClassicoTerredora FalanghinaCastello Della Sala Bramìto Del Cervo Chardonnay

Prà 2011 Soave Classico ($19.95) from the garganega grape in Veneto is one of the most fragrant, complex yet tender examples of this appellation in recent memory. Terredora 2010 Falanghina from Campania delivers a bold and juicy interpretation of this exotic, ancient southern variety. You can’t afford not to explore it at $14.95. And okay, Castello della Sala 2011 Bramìto del Cervo Chardonnay from Umbria is not a native variety. But at $21.95 it is a great buy in chardonnay with classic Italian flair and energy while remaining understated at the same time.

Bargain Iberian Reds

Pedro Martínez Alesanco ReservaMaritavora DouroAnd we end with a pair of very good buys from Portugal and Spain – both countries quite well represented on this release, at least in terms of well-priced wines. Maritávora 2008 Tinto from Portugal’s Douro Valley is yet another example of the incredible refinement emanating from the new generation of table wines in port country – a steal at $15.95 and worth cellaring for a while. Pedro Martínez 2006 Alesanco Reserva from Rioja in Spain is already nicely mature but can stretch even longer. I love how this wine integrates its wood, which means the fruit quality and concentration was excellent at the outset. It too is an excellent buy at $17.95.

That’s it for this week. Tune in again on October 25 when I have a look at the 2009 Bordeaux and other picks from the ever-enlarging fall releases.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the October 13th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay

Filed under: News, Wine, , ,

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Sept 29th Release

Super Tuscans, Power Pinots, Giants of South America and Bargain Whites

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Vintages September 29 release is in most respects a tour de force – with brilliant if small collections from the hills of Tuscany, the pinot fields of Australia and New Zealand, the energized valleys of Chile and Argentina, and arguably from a laid back California (although hardly a good value selection in this instance except for the 2010 Artezin Zinfandel).

There are also many interesting whites and reds from the various corners of Europe, making this a release to pore over carefully as you research your purchases on WineAlign, then pour generously when the time comes to indulge.

Tuscany Defined

I very much enjoy both tasting and drinking Tuscan reds. And it goes deeper than all that Tuscan romance – you know – those warbling tenors strolling amid the olive groves, non-chalantly leaning against crumbling stone walls and soulfully serenading star-crossed lovers in village trattorias. I like to taste Tuscan reds because they are challenging and complicated, and I like to drink them with food for exactly the same reason. They are almost never boring,  even if they can sometimes go the other way and become too jarring.

Vintages has done a fine job collecting some excellent examples while presenting a cross section of prices, styles, regions, big names and little names. Someone really thought this through; in fact if I were to conduct a one-day course on Tuscany I would grab each and every one. So its rather hard to isolate a very few to highlight here (I have gone for value), and I urge you spend time researching all the selections.

Remember that most are variations on a sangiovese theme, a grape with an often tart and impudent reputation. Some are aged longer, some shorter, some in old Slavonain oak, some in new French barriques, some blended with merlot, cabernet and syrah to in-fill sangiovese’s aggressiveness, some straight-up. The only thing relatively new under the Tuscan sun are the cabernet-merlot sangiovese-free reds from the coast in Bolgheri.

Poggio Al Tesoro SondraiaSo let’s begin in Bolgheri with the very sensous 2008 Poggio Al Tesoro Sondraia, which beautifully defines ultra-modern sensibilities at a comparatively reasonable price of $44.95. The most famous wines of the region – Sassicaia and Ornellaia – are five times this price, and believe me, they are not five times better. (I recently scored 08 Sassicaia under 90). Sondraia was made by a young Nicola Biasi, working at a new winery founded recently in part by the Allegrini family of Verona in northeast Italy. Knowing this after having tasted put the style very much into perspective. Allegrini wines are always sleek, layered and accessible. This one also has impressive depth that belies its sculpted ease.

Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti RiservaLivio Sassetti Brunello Di MontalcinoBy contrast, Livio Sassetti 2005 Brunello Di Montalcino is more rustic, mature and typically Tuscan. And in the world of Brunello, Tuscany’s “biggest” sangiovese, it is very well priced at $39.95. There are two other excellent brunellos on the release as well but this conveys a bit more excitement and sensuality, which is something Tuscan red should always have. Grown on the Pertamali estate owned by the Sassetti family for three generations, this is traditionally made 100% sangiovese grosso aged three years in old Slavonian barrels.

The 2008 Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti Riserva at $15.95 is a more basic Chianti, but this repeat listing gets a mention once again due to its great value. It is indeed lighter and shorter than the more expensive wines above, and it does rely on quite generous oak. But in behind the lushness lurks a finesse and again, sensuality, that rarely found in any wine at this price.

Aussie & Kiwi Power Pinots

After buying all the Tuscans, I would love to buy virtually every pinot noir on this release too.  Vintages has focused on a mittful from the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria, Australia and Central Otago in New Zealand, and there is an excitement factor across the range that should convince the last die-hard Burghound that there are great pinot sites in the New World. Indeed all of them up the wattage over Burgundy, without sacrificing the nuance and complexity that makes pinot noir so intruiging in the old country.

Kooyong Estate Pinot NoirRiorret Merricks Grove Vineyard Pinot NoirKooyong Estate 2010 Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula is one of several bottlings en route to Ontario from this cool climate pinot specialist. The others are single vineyard wines made at the striking Port Philip Estate winery situated in the Red Hill area in the heart of Mornington. It is powerful, riveting, bold fruited yet natural pinot that should be cellared, but it captures amazing character $49.95.

Riorret Merricks Grove Vineyard 2009 Pinot Noir, also from Mornington Peninsula, is the real sensualist. Riorret, which is “terroir” spelled backwards, is a line of single vineyard pinots from giant De Bortoli of the Yarra Valley. Merricks Grove is a cooler, north-facing, red soiled site in central Mornington planted in 1992. This is a very complex, intriguing, and almost haunting, offering plenty of funky character at $34.95

Tarras The Canyon Single Vineyard Pinot NoirThe 2008 Tarras The Canyon Single Vineyard Pinot Noir ($46.95) from Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island is perhaps the most intense and heady. Tarras, named for a nearby town, only ramped up in 2007, and almost immediately won a slew of international honours. The Canyon vineyard is on terraced high ground on a Bendigo sheep station that was planted to several French clones in 2003.

91+ South American Reds

Still below the equator, Chile and Argentina each put forward intriguing wines in this release. I have visited both countries in recent years and I am keenly aware of the huge resources, talent, energy and ambition that is at work on both sides of the Andes. Anyone who still views South American winemaking as a third world enterprise needs to give their head a shake. The advances are shocking in their scope and velocity.

Catena Zapata Nicasia Vineyard La Consulta MalbecLuca MalbecIn Argentina, much of this has been driven by a huge company called Catena, but nowadays dozens of others have picked up the baton. One of the great challenges facing Argentina is to convince the world it can make top tier reds to compete with the best of France, California, Italy and California. It’s easy to slap a big price on the wine but it has to excel in the glass, and usually expensive Argentine reds do not.  So at $89.95 the success of Catena Zapata 2008 Nicasia Vineyard La Consulta Malbec is critical. Many will still balk at $90, but I must tell you that it has rare elegance, layering and precison for malbec that is all the more impressive given its richness and weight. The 2009 Luca Malbec, also from the Catena fold, and from the Uco Valley, is one-third the price at $29.95 but still very impressive and an opportunity to school yourself on the discussion.

Polkura SyrahTerranoble Gran Reserva CarmenèreOver in Chile two great values piqued my interest. I approached the Terranoble 2009 Gran Reserva Carmenère from the Maule Valley with little expectation, but was greeted with a wonderful nose that effortlessly combined deep seated fruit, luscious oak and carmenere’s distinctive herbaceousness. Quite elegant and a great buy at $17.95.

While yet another lesser known house has delivered the astounding Polkura 2009 Syrah for only $23.95. Polkura is a syrah project, founded by Chilean winemaking friends who had travelled together in the south of France. In 2004 they planted a 14 ha syrah vineyard sculpted within a crater-like hillside in the lee of the coastal ranges of western Colchagua. It doesn’t get full-on Pacific influence but enough that you will recognize the cool climate black pepper side of syrah. More importantly, it has some poise amid that drenching of cassis/cherry fruit.

Bargain Whites Under $20 Picks

And as usual I would like to quickly point you to three terrific white wine values. This is becoming a regular habit, and I hope a useful feature. And I have noticed it tends to highlight more Euro whites than new New world whites. If there is a bias at work it is unintentional, but it probably has to do with the higher level of acidity and lower level of alcohol in the Euro whites. As well, modern winemaking is now giving greater freedom to express the subtle aromas of white grapes and preserve their inherent freshness.

Markus Molitor RieslingRudolf Rabl Löss Grüner VeltlinerChampy Signature Chardonnay BourgogneMarkus Molitor 2011 Riesling is a cracker, dry Moesl riesling at only $18.95. As much as I technically admire the complex, riveting Molitor single vineyard rieslings, I do find them overbearing at times. While this is one to reach for every day and still be impressed. Likewise with the apparently simple 2011 Rudolf Rabl Löss Grüner Veltliner from Kamptal, Austria at a mere $13.95. It is very well made, subtle and well balanced – the ideal chef’s white when preparing your evening meal. And chardonnay fans shouldn’t miss Champy Signature 2009 Bourgogne at only $18.95, a wine with surprising complexity and depth under $20. I visited this very small negociant property in Beaune in May. Under new owndership since 2007, it is in the midst of restoring its reputation with some brilliant winemaking and by aggressively buying vineyards to build its domain portfolio.

Up Coming Events:

Next week is a big one for wine events.

The annual Chilean Wine Festival runs Tuesday evening, October 2nd at the Royal Ontario Museum and WineAlign readers can still take advantage of a savings through a promotional offer here. Presented by Wines of Chile and the Chilean Trade Commission, over 30 wineries will be pouring over 150 wines – a great chance to explore varieties, regions and meet winemakers themselves. Those attending the afternoon trade-only session will enjoy a seminar moderated by WineAlign’s Janet Dorozynski, who will also write a wrap up piece here next week.

The very next evening, October 3rd, you can attend Sip and Savour Ontario at the Distillery District. This is the annual event that showcases winners of Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and raises funds for This year there is a new twist as about 30 Ontario wineries are joined by six celebrity chefs. Full details and tickets are available at

That’s a wrap for this week. From here through December the Vintages releases get bigger and even better, so don’t go away.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the September 29th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews


Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2009

Chilean Wine Festival

The Wine Establishment - Code 38 Stealth

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , ,

Lawrason’s Take On Vintages Sept 15th Release

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Talking Ontario, Great Cabernet Taste-Off, Five Cellaring Reds, Fine Whites and Bargains

Ontario Wine: People are talking, and talking… Called People are Talking, the largest LCBO promotion of Ontario wine in history kicks off this weekend, with a wide-reaching program of in-store tastings and spotlighting of new and old wines. It is impressive on paper – 142 wines highlighted (whatever that means) at LCBO stores, with 24 new wines among them. There will be 1,200 in-store tastings, and they will be out collecting consumer testimonials at the same time. Vintages is releasing 21 local wines this Saturday (see my picks below), and has published a long conversation among its buyers, sommeliers and writers.

But so much of this, like other regional promotions at the LCBO, is smoke and mirrors – or perhaps I should say, just talk. Where are price reductions that would really drive traffic? Where are the political initiatives to really help local wines by creating stand-alone Ontario wine stores? As it is now, most Ontario wine is not available at the LCBO, and most wineries can otherwise only sell out of their tasting rooms or on-line with direct delivery to restaurants and individuals, (while B.C. wineries by comparison have four retail streams). There is indeed a lot of excitement and talk around the wine quality itself; but until government gets itself out of the way too few people will be exposed to what Ontario is capable of doing.

And here at WineAlign we are talking about Ontario wine too. Colleague John Szabo has penned a terrific piece on WineAlign called Does Buying Local Make Sense?, in which he very cogently tackles complex issues around diversity, quality, value and the importance of “necessary” wines in Ontario. And I have published an opinion piece in Grapevine magazine titled: Canadian Wine’s Coming Freedom from Over-Regulation, arguing that due to the quality now being achieved it is indeed time for governments, and even Canada’s VQA program, to back off and let we consumers decide which Canadian wines we can buy, as well as decide where, when and how we want to do that. We are paying the freight. The full text is at

2027 Cellars Falls Vineyard Riesling 2011Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2010Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2010Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2010

As you read these pieces, open any of the following wines from the September 15th release, and it will all make a lot more sense. Vintages has done a good job focusing squarely on the five wines/styles Ontario does best – riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet franc and icewine/late harvest. Riesling is well represented with four strong candidates, but I particularly liked the tension and depth of 2027 Falls Vineyard 2011 Riesling from Vinemount Ridge ($18.95). Among the chardonnays, Bachelder 2010 Niagara Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95) is a brilliant and thoroughly modern example of Ontario’s potential with this grape. Featherstone 2010 Cabernet Franc, also from Niagara Peninsula ($16.95) is also a great example of new thinking around this plentiful grape, (and I can let you in on a little secret that 27 Ontario cabernet francs have won medals at the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards, including four golds). And finally, although I found the Niagara pinots on this release a bit difficult, I am very pleased with the slim, tidy and long finishing Norman Hardie 2010 County Unfiltered Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County ($35.00). My full review is also in the Vintages magazine.

Wolf Blass’ Great Cabernet Blend Taste-Off

If you have been partaking of the Toronto International Film Festival you are likely aware that Australia’s Wolf Blass is the exclusive wine sponsor. Ontario has been a key market for Wolf Blass over the years, often a launching pad for new brands, and for several years Yellow Label was the top-selling wine at the LCBO, at any price. So Wolf Blass himself has been in red-carpet-ville much of this week, along with chief winemaker Chris Hatcher. They used the occasion of TIFF to conduct a most interesting tasting on Tuesday, where 30 top, most respected Cabernet Sauvignon blends of the 2008 vintage from Bordeaux, Australia, California and Chile were blind tasted by ten wine writers and sommeliers assembled from across Canada. The same tasting was held in Melbourne two weeks ago and next month will be replicated in London, England.

Chris Hatcher - Winemaker

Chris Hatcher, Wolf Blass

It was not billed as “competition” but of course blind tasting by its nature engenders competition, and yes, Wolf Blass Black Label ranked number one, to which Chris Hatcher said “thanks for that mates”. It was picked ahead of all the first growths of Bordeaux, most of super-second growths, Opus One and Insignia from California and Almaviva from Chile. What I enjoyed most about this exercise was simply trying to delineate which regions the wines were from, and I was right at least 50% of the time. But I was surprised about how many Bordeaux I picked as New World wines, even in a more spare vintage like 2008. Bordeaux loves to talk about its classicism and sense of place, but some examples wore so much new oak, and fully ripened structure that it was hard to pin them as Bordeaux. And on the other side of the ledger the New World examples were trying to dial back the ripeness and oak in search of elusive Bordeaux restraint.

In the end the vast majority were excellent wines. I only scored two less than 90 points – but excellent quality should be routine at the triple-digit price of all these wines. And for the record, I didn’t score Black Label the highest. It was in my top third at 94 points, but a couple were higher, with my favourite being the electric Chateau Lascombes 2008, a Margaux that actually has a higher merlot content. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 2008 and Almaviva 2008 were at 95 points, with six at 94. I hope one day soon to publish complete reviews from this tasting on WineAlign, but there was no time for this newsletter.

Five Great Cellar Reds That Don’t Cost over $100

Now back to earth and this release, where there were few themes other than Ontario. So I would like to simply present five excellent 90+ point reds that are accessible, available and don’t cost hundreds of dollars.

Stags' Leap Winery Petite SirahTwo Hands Lily's Garden ShirazFrom California Stags’ Leap Winery 2008 Petite Sirah ($44.95) is perhaps the best single bottle of petite sirah I have ever had. Also called durif, this syrah-like variety has always had a bit of cult following in California, but has rarely topped the charts because it usual lacks finesse and flavour depth. This one captures both.

From Australia, Two Hands Lily’s Garden 2010 Shiraz ($62.95) from the McLaren Vale is a minor masterpiece, very sumptuous but finally tuned with calvacade of flavours. It is aged entirely in American oak for almost two years, but it is amazingly not-very-oaky, which speaks to the fruit depth achieved.

From the Rhone Valley of France, Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($37.95) is yet another testament to the quality of this vintage in the south of France. It is reserved so it was not an immediately obvious hit, but it has good density, poise and length that will reward five years in the cellar. The 14 ha family vineyard owned Corinne Mestre is naturally farmed, and the wine is concrete fermented and aged in large, old oak foudres.

Chateau Musar 2002Ruffino Ducale Oro Chianti Classico RiservaDomaine De La Côte De L'ange Châteauneuf Du PapeFrom Tuscany, Italy comes one of the great classics. Ruffino Ducale Oro 2007 Chianti Classico Riserva ($43.95) is just hitting prime time. It’s a classic take on Tuscany; chock full of rusticity and richness. If you are fan on Brunello di Montalcino you should enjoy this just as much, for a few dollars less than most brunellos.

And finally from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley comes one of the great, traditional classics. Chateau Musar 2002 is ready to drink, in fact should be drunk within a couple of years. You may balk at $54.95 for Lebanese wine but it is worth every inch of that price as a lesson in wine maturing and the weave of texture and flavour into a harmonious whole.

Fine Whites Under $30

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon BlancRolly Gassmann Stegreben De Rorschwihr GewurztraminerNals Margreid Pinot GrigioFrom Marlborough, New Zealand, Villa Maria Cellar Selection 2011 Sauvignon Blanc only strengthens my impression that Villa Maria is making some of the best wines of any of the larger NZ houses. The wines have such composure! So if you are avoiding NZ sauvignons because they are too aggressive give this a try, at only $21.95.

From Alsace, France comes a monumental Rolly Gassmann 2009 Stegreben de Rorschwihr Gewurztraminer, for $27.95. I say monumental not because it is huge in stature, but because it so statuesquely defines Alsatian gewürztraminer. So it is a monument to the genre for those who want a first class education.

From Italy’s Alto Adige comes the lovely mountain-rendered Nals Margreid 2011 Pinot Grigio ($17.95). This is a co-op winery with over 100 growers, but a modern co-op founded in the mid-eighties that employs the latest thinking in terms of viticulture and winemaking. And this is more than your average Italian pinot grigio.

And a Pair of Great Little Bargains

Azul Portugal Vinho TintoDomaine Jacky Marteau Sauvignon TouraineIf you are always on the look-out for great buys cheap, don’t miss the spry, juicy little white Domaine Jacky Marteau Sauvignon Touraine from the Loire Valley at $12.95. Or the surprisingly well structured, complex if not hugely deep Azul Portugal 2007 Vinho Tinto from Portugal’s Bairrada region. Again, only $12.95.

That’s it for this release. I hope to see some you Monday (Sept 17) at the sold-out Penfold’s Single Bottle dinner, which by the way, has changed location to House of Moments in the Riverdale area of Toronto. I can’t make it to the Boekenshoutskloof event with Marc Kent but I have enjoyed his wines immensely and he is one of those engaging and very interesting winemakers who is totally tuned into the global wine scene.

See you next time,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the September 15th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

WineAlign is pleased to present our Winemaker Series 

These intimate and exclusive events allow our members the opportunity to enjoy great wines with some of the most famous winemakers in the world.

Sept 18th – Paired Tasting Dinner with winemaker Marc Kent

Boekenhoutskloof Winemaker Marc Kent

Founded in 1776, Boekenhoutskloof Winery experienced a re-birth in 1993 when Marc Kent took over. Marc’s skill as winemaker soon shone bright and he started to catch the eyes of wine lovers and writers around the world, garnering the only FIVE star rating for a South African winery from the esteemed Robert Parker. In addition, Boekenhoutskloof was recently awarded “2012 Winery of the Year” by Platter’s South African Wine Guide.

Join Marc and WineAlign’s Zoltan Szabo on September 18th for an exquisitely paired tasting experience at Barque (one of Toronto’s best new restaurants – Toronto Life) with a lineup of eight of his wines that will quickly convert those new to South Africa.  Event details


Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz

The Wine Establishment - Code 38 Stealth

Filed under: Wine, , , , , ,

Lawrason’s Take On Vintages Sept 1st Release

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Russian River Gold, NZ Beyond Sauvignon, Great Bargain Whites and Petit Verdot

The last Vintages release of the summer or the first of fall (you decide) is a large and rambling affair, as usual. As I tasted through the Vintages lab lineup there seemed to be so many wines scoring in the predictable 84 to 88 range, many lumped into Vintages Outdoor Entertaining feature. But then along would come a nugget of value, or a surprising high end wine. And speaking of high end I hope you don’t mind if I pass on featuring the triple-digit TIFF Champagnes. They are the wines you want to be seen enjoying, not really wines you want to have to pay for yourself. Actually, colleague John Szabo has nicely isolated the pair under $100 that do offer plenty of character and might be a better fit financially.

Rush to Russian River

The most exciting mini-theme in this release is the snapshot of California’s Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. All of California’s wine regions are achingly beautiful, and worth a visit, but for me, when I add in the wine excitement factor, the Russian River comes out on top. And yes, that means I would rather visit and taste in the Russian River than Napa, Paso Robles or Santa Barbara. The fact that this Pacific cooled, forest clad and vineyard carpeted region is all about pinot noir and chardonnay is a big reason that I am so attracted. Visit the website ( for the Russian River Winegrowers Association (featuring 85 wineries), and you can read all about the climate, topography and history that makes the region special. But to really understand the attraction, treat yourself to some of the top notch wines Vintages has assembled for this release. I only wish there were more.

De Loach Green Valley Pinot NoirPaul Hobbs ChardonnayPaul Hobbs 2009 Chardonnay ($44.95) is a beautiful piece of work by a now famous global wine consultant who learned all he knows in the Russian River (even though he grew up in Niagara County NY and planted family vineyards during the summer as a teen). He describes his modus operandi as “meticulous vineyard management followed by minimally-invasive winemaking”. There is nothing new in this philosophy – nor in using techniques like natural yeast fermentation and no fining or filtering. But having the ability, patience and vision to do everything required is perhaps what sets him apart. This is a lovely chardonnay.

I was also delighted by the very fine De Loach Green Valley Pinot Noir 2011 ($44.95). This is one of the pioneering Russian River wineries, planted in 1973 at the beginning of California wines rennaissance. When it was purchased 30 years later by Boisset, the largest wine company of Burgundy, there was concern about the direction it would take. But the doubters under-estimated Jean-Charles Boisset’s commitment to quality among top wines. Merry Edwards Pinot Noir(He was the French impetus behind Niagara’s Le Clos Jordanne in Niagara). He converted the property to bio-dynamic viticulture, installed open top fermenters, and in this bottling has created a most elegant, very Burgundian pinot. The Russian River pinot style, by the way is quite rich and floral with raspberry-cherry fruit; this one is just a touch leaner.

On the other hand, Merry Edwards 2009 Pinot Noir ($64.95) is full-on Russian River pinot – a drop dead gorgeous wine from one of the leading properties. Merry Edwards has been a marquée California winemaker from the days she founded Matanzas Creek in the 80s, to the opening of her own pinot-focused winery in the Russian River in 2008. There are five single vineyard bottlings, with this Russian River label being an assemblage of left overs. I don’t often quote winemaker/marketers descriptions of their own wines but the following nicely captures what I experienced when tasting this wine. “The largesse of the fruit spills over into the palate resulting in a deeply succulent mouth-feel. There is a sophisticated balance here, found in the seamless evolution of this wine from start to finish”

New Zealand Beyond Sauvignon

Momo Pinot GrisThere are some snapping good New Zealand sauvignon blancs on the Sept 1st release, but there are also three very good non-sauvignons. Have you noticed, by the way, the growing presence of New Zealand wines in Vintages and on the LCBO general list? The tiny green land is starting to feel like a major force in the marketplace, thanks I suspect, to the generally very clean, generous and precise varietal character of its wines. There are few negative surprises.

Momo 2011 Pinot Gris ($19.95) is a great example of the purity, generosity and drinkability of NZ whites in particular. Momo is an off-shoot brand of Seresin, using grapes from bio-dynamically farmed sites. The grapes were fermented with natural yeasts and 70% was put in barrel for five months to build palate weight. Works very well too, as I describe this has having almost Alsatian pinot gris feel and richness, without oak even crossing my mind. It is delicious.

Trinity Hill SyrahMohua Pinot NoirTrinity Hill 2010 Syrah from Hawkes Bay on the North Island is stupendous value at $20.95. This much awarded property, founded by veteran winemaker John Hancock (ex Morton Estate) and British partners in the 90s, focused on the Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawkes Bay. Given the huge portfolio they should be more prevalent in Ontario, but perhaps that time is coming. Anyway, if their $20 syrah made from several Hawkes Bay sites can offer such terrific syrah purity and richness, I can’t wait to try their iconic Hommage Syrah that sells for $120 in New Zealand.

Mohua 2009 Pinot Noir from Central Otago ($25) is from a line of less expensive wines by Peregrine Winery, one of the icon labels of this now fashionable and exciting pinot noir region, located in the mountainous interior of the South Island at 45 degrees of latitude. (Prince Edward County by the way is at 44ish). This wine doesn’t have the depth or seamless finesse to score 90, but it handily expresses all the complexity and energy I have come to love about Otago. It’s a great pinot for autumn drinking at a fair price.

Petit Verdot Struggles for Respect

Southbrook Winery in Niagara has a petit verdot very cleverly and aptly called “So Who are you Calling Petit?” It perfectly captures the false bravado of wines made from this difficult red grape. When it does fully ripen its wines can be riveting, statuesque and powerful; but it hardly ever achieves this because it ripens later than most others. Thus its name, which loosely translates as “small green one”. The result is wines with impressive colour, great aromatics (including signature graphite and some meatiness) and very good density. But they also can have searing acidity and astringency. It is a real problem in cooler Bordeaux where it is one of the five blending varieties. But in warmer climes, where ripening should be easier, there is growing interest in PV, and I have noticed growing presence at Vintages, including three on this release.

Casa De La Ermita Idílico Crianza SelecciónThorn Clarke Shotfire Petit VerdotRuca Malen Reserva Petit VerdotMendoza, Argentina is one region that has great potential. Ruca Malen, a modern enterprise founded by French partners in the Uco Valley is one winery taking a serious shot. The 2010 Ruca Malen Reserva Petit Verdot ($17.95) is a huge wine, thick and drenched with flavour, yet still unmistakeably sinewy on the finish. Stick some in the cellar.

Tepid Australia should also be ideal for PV, and wineries like Pirramimma have made it a real success (with their PV joining the general list this autumn). Thorn-Clarke 2010 Shotfire Petit Verdot ($25) from an eight hectare block in the Eden Valley sub-region of Barossa, once again starts full of promise but loses its way with a leaner, angular palate.

So maybe the answer, as always has been done by most Petit Verdot practitioners, is to blend. One of the most successful examples has turned up from a surprising source. Casa de la Ermita 2006 Idílico Crianza Selección ($19.95) is from the hot Jumilla region of eastern Spain. There is some confusion on the company website about the use of petit verdot in this blend with mourvedre, but it certainly appears to contain petit verdot, and tastes as if does, with classic PV graphite. But finally, here, there is fine sense of poise and balance.

Bargain White Trio

As summer draws to close I can’t resist one last shot at highlighting some terrific white wine bargains.

Schloss Reinhartshausen Erbacher Schlossberg RieslingChâteau Ka Source BlancheSchloss Reinhartshausen Erbacher Schlossberg Riesling Spätlese 2005 is a remarkable value at $19.95. Schloss Reinhartshausen (est 1337) is the largest privately owned estate in the Rheingau with 15 vineyards totalling 80 ha. Which explains why it has had the inventory to continually send older vintages our way. This brilliant, classic is a late-picked (spatlese) riesling from a single 15 ha “monople” vineyard wholly owned by the Schloss. If Niagara was turning out riesling like this for under $20 we would all be howling with amazement.

Pedro Escudero Fuente Elvira VerdejoChâteau Ka Source Blanche 2010 from the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon is the surprise white of the release – partially because of its origin in tumultuous Lebanon; but also because of its composition and success at only $15.95. Lebanese native Akram Kassatly opened the winery in 2005, but only after a long career in wine making and selling that saw him working in Burgundy as well as Lebanon. It is actually a perfect late summer wine with flowery but subtle muscat, viognier and sauvignon blanc elements calming together very nicely.

Pedro Escudero Fuente Elvira Verdejo 2010 from Spain’s Rueda region is a wonderful expression of the verdejo grape at only $14.95. Its soaring, exotic, semi-tropical aroma transported me back a year to my visit to this region northwest of Madrid, and how I was impressed by the growing importance of the regions wines. The Pedro Escudero clan has owned over 30ha of old vine verdejo for several generations, which explains the concentration and complexity in this wine.

WineAlign Welcomes Grant Burge

As far as I am concerned Labour Day is the New Year’s Eve of the wine world. The harvest is days away (depending on where you live) and the marketplace begins its slow build toward the Holiday crescendo. It promises to be a very busy autumn for WineAlign, starting September 13 with a special tasting event with Australia’s Grant Burge at the terrific new Arcadian Lofts.

Grant Burge LogoI had the pleasure of sitting down with Grant at a similar trade tasting about a year ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him. As a pioneer of Barossa and still one of its most successful family wineries, he has much to say about Australian wine past and present, and makes no bones about speaking his mind. And you will come away feeling immersed. The tasting will be co-hosted by WineAlign’s Sara d’Amato, who promises to be the perfect foil for the garrulous Mr. Burge as he leads you through eight wines. For a sneak peek, whether you can make it to the event or not, don’t miss Grant Burge Miamba Shiraz 2010 arriving any day on the LCBO general list.

That’s it for this edition. I’ll be back next week with a special update on happenings in B.C. following two weeks of travel in August centred on the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards. My thanks to Sara for stepping in to cover the Aug 18 release.

From the Sept 1st, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews


David Lawrason
VP of Wine


Wolf Blass Red Label Shiraz Grenache

The Wine Establishment - Stealth Cork Screw

Filed under: Wine, , , ,

David Lawrason’s Take on Vintages August 4th Release

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Great Germans, Bargains Under $20, New World Family Reds, Top Ten I4C Chardonnays

It seems that every August I get grouchy about Vintages offerings. Maybe it’s because in July I am looking forward to an August vacation (see below). But I think it’s also a reflection of the way Vintages bundles many less good wines into the dog days of summer when fewer people are paying attention. The quotient of wines scoring 85 or lower is much higher than normal − 27 in all, out of 98 tasted. By the way, a wine below 85 might still be good, but some kind of flaw or imbalance is perceptible, or it may be plain dull. But fear not, there are still many worthwhile wines in the August 4th release.

A Terrific German Trio

With only seven wines the German mini-feature is not as wide-ranging as it deserves to be given the great quality, history and culture of German wine. If this is all that Vintages feels we consumers can take of Germany then its wines are indeed in trouble. But German winemaking needs to look inward too. I was not thrilled with three of the selections. But another three exquisitely rendered wines do carry the banner high. And if there is an upside to Germany’s downturn, the prices for these three are ridiculously low for the quality they represent – pushing value through the roof.

Königschaffhausener Vulkanfelsen Trocken Pinot GrisMarkus Molitor Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling SpätleseReichsgraf Von Kesselstatt Scharzhofberger Riesling KabinettFrom a great estate on the steep forest and vineyard clad banks of the narrow Saar River Valley, comes a light mature, riesling that is pure poetry. Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2006 should be mandatory drinking for anyone remotely interested in riesling – a first class lesson in delicacy and ethereal complexity – for a shocking $17.95. At the opposite end of the style spectrum, and farther north on the Mosel River, Markus Molitor Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese 2008 ($26.95) presents a powerful, tooth-rattling riesling that almost breathes minerality from the de-composed slate of the 2.9ha Himmelreich vineyard. But the great value and sentimental favourite is not even riesling, or from the Rhine. Several years ago in the cellars of Königschaffhausen in Baden I was astounded by the silky elegance and depth of a pinot gris (alias rulander), grown on the slopes of the ancient volcano called the Kaiserstuhl (the Kaiser’s throne). Königschaffhausen Königschaffhausener Vulkanfelsen Trocken Pinot Gris 2011 is a mouthful of silken opulence and finesse. And when you compare its quality at $13.95 to all the other boring gris/grigios out there at the same price, you may well ask where the heck has Baden pinot gris been all this time.

Obscure New World Family Vineyards

When tasting along the row of big reds from California, South America and Australia I was struck by how many labels I didn’t recognize. Perhaps, I thought, they too were being test driven on a quiet August release. So when I came to edit and finish my notes I did some research and discovered that a number were from small and/or less well known family vineyards, of which there must be thousands out there. So good on Vintages for ferreting them out. Being from a family vineyard does not automatically make the wine better; but it will probably be more individual, perhaps more characterful and even idiosyncratic. So it takes a willingness to explore, and hopefully an interest in the people who have struggled (usually) into this business. And it becomes more inspiring when you consider that it is even harder for New World family enterprises that don’t have centuries old pedigree and world famous sites anchoring their reputations.

Barlow Barrouge Cabernet SauvignonPedroncelli Bushnell Vineyard ZinfandelSchild Estate Old Bush Vine Grenache Mourvedre ShirazI felt particularly sorry for the Smith family that moved from urban LA to follow their dream near Calistoga in northern Napa in the mid-90s, only to find most of their new 25 year old cabernet vineyard crippled by phylloxera. So they had to replant and move much more slowly than expected; now just reaching their modest goal of 2000 cases. Their 2007 Barlow Barrouge Cabernet Sauvignon ($47.95) is a very fine, sturdy, cellar-worthy reward. The Pedroncelli clan of Dry Creek has been at it much longer than that – since 1927 – one of several Italian heritage families that have shepherded old vineyard sites like the 50 year old Bushnell site in Dry Creek. Pedroncelli Bushnell Vineyard 2009 Zinfandel ($22.95) is stuffed with flavour and rustic charm. Over in Australia the Schild family has been farming shiraz in the Barossa Valley since 1952, and here they are 60 years later turning out a classic red blend. The 2010 Schild Estate Old Bush Vine Grenache/Mourvedre/Shiraz is a meaty, big and bouncy red laden with all kinds of personality for $21.95. The family stories don’t end there; also look into the Soter family efforts from Oregon, the Dante Robino family’s bonarda from Mendoza, and the Frank family’s Napa cabernet from vineyards also in business since the 1920s. They are not all as good as my picks above but then I did warn you about idiosyncrasy.

Bargain Euro White Explorations

Broglia La Meirana Gavi Di GaviTerredora Fiano Di AvellinoAbad Dom Bueno GodelloAs in most releases there are handful of interesting white wines that will reward those willing to venture outside of the riesling, chardonnay, sauvignon triad – and yes Europe is once again the source as better winemaking is brought to bear on grapes that were never before asked to achieve, or as in the case of godello, barely existed.

In the landlocked Bierzo DO in northwest Spain godello was almost extinct – representing only 1% of the region’s production until recent times. But Abad dom Bueno has made godello a cause, and its 2010 an unoaked version delivers a wine with an interesting duality of exotic ripeness and tight elegance – all for $14.95. From Campania in south central Italy (inland from Naples) the antique, but more widely planted fiano d’avellino grape offers a similar duality of richness and finesse and Terredora 2010 Fiano di Avellino ($18.95) is an excellent example. In northwest Italy the cortese di gavi grape (shortened to gavi) was once considered the only serious white of the region, some comparing its best age-worthy examples to white Burgundy. Broglia la Meirana Gavi di Gavi 2010 ($17.95) is a very good, low yield, estate grown example from one of few houses that specializes in its production.

And Fine Euro Reds Under $20

Jean Paul Brun Terres Dorées Côte De BrouillyGiven that quality was generally harder to find in this release, I am delighted to offer three very good deals on European reds. All come from well-established regions, but not top tier regions, so their prices remain moderated. For a joyful and classy summer evening enjoyment don’t miss Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Côte de Brouilly 2010 ($18.95) from a producer garnering considerable attention. His Terres Dorées domaine is in the south of Beaujolais but he also sources gamay from some of the northern cru villages. He breaks the mould by rejecting the traditional whole cluster, semi-carbonic method of making Beaujolais, in favour of the Burgundian method of “normal” fermentation, 4 to 5 weeks maceration, and ageing in oak or cement vats (depending on the vintage). This is the technique that many Ontario gamay producers are using.

Quinta De Ventozelo Touriga NacionalCastellani Filicheto Vino Nobile Di MontepulcianoCastellani Filicheto 2009 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($17.95) shines for the Tuscan complexity and authority it offers under $20. It was a warmer vintage, and this is already showing some maturity, so feel free to enjoy it anytime. Many Douro reds are blends of the same varieties that are used for port production. I have always liked the singular aromatic profile of touriga nacional, the lead grape in the mix. In Quinta de Ventozelo 2008 ($18.95) touriga fashions a red with lovely aroma, richness and elegance, while still showcasing the granitic minerality of the region.

Top Ten I4C Chardonnay Picks

During the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration in Niagara, July 20-22, Vintages was on hand taking Private Orders for many of the wines being sampled. This was a much better idea than in the first year (2011) when a poorly attended Sunday tasting was held at Roy Thomson Hall. Now Vintages, in partnership with the I4C Association, is following up with a special on-line ordering program that runs until August 23. The complete list of wines can be found on at Vintages Online.

One of the shortcomings of I4C from a media perspective was a lack of opportunity to taste through all the wines in a thorough and focused manner that facilitated note-taking. Believe me, I enjoyed the venues and events, and I did come away with a sense of where the styles and quality of various wineries sit within a global context. And I found some terrific wines. So in lieu of links to complete reviews I simply present a top ten alphabetical list of personal favourites, mostly for the quality they achieved, but in some cases for reasons of rarity and intrigue as well.

Ayala Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne 2005, France
Ayala Cuvée Perle d’Ayala Brut Nature Champagne 2002, France
Decelle-Villa les Vireuils Meursault 2010, Burgundy
Domaine Chanson Pernand Vergelesses les Caradeux 1er Cru 2009, Burgundy
Felton Road Bannockburn Chardonnay 2011, New Zealand
Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2008, New Zealand
Pascal Marchand Chassagne-Montrachet Abbaye de Morgeot 1er Cru 2010, Burgundy
Southbrook Poetica Chardonnay 2010, Niagara Peninsula
Stratus Chardonnay 2009, Niagara (see WineAlign review)
Villa Maria Keltern Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, New Zealand

And that’s a wrap for this time. I am heading to B.C. for three weeks: one week vacation in Invermere; one week to judge the Canadian Wine Awards in Penticton; and then to visit family and wineries on Vancouver Island, with event stops in Vancouver and Edmonton en route home. So the next Vintages preview falls into the very capable and much more artistic hands of WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato. See you in September.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the August 4th Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Penfolds Thomas Hyland Chardonnay

 The Wine Establishment - Code 38 Stealth

Filed under: News, Wine, , , ,


WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008