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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Dec 12, Part One

Holiday Gifting and Gathering
By David Lawrason, with notes by John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The last Vintages release of 2015 is as big or bigger than any this year, designed to bulk up the shelves down the holiday home stretch – the most intense shopping period of the year. For starters, there is a large selection of sparkling wine. John Szabo and Sara tease with three dandies below but John will be publishing his comprehensive fizz report in the days ahead. The other Vintages ‘theme’ is Holiday Gatherings, which contains a smorgasbord of styles and prices. Many of the high-priced and highly prized collectibles were released in November, and some are already off the shelves.

So without much ado we have chosen to divide the selection by price point – wines over $25 in this edition in the expectation that you may want to be thinking ahead and budgeting for more expensive gifts. Next week we turn the focus onto less expensive wines under $25, which can be grabbed up with less pre-meditation as stocking stuffers or last minute going-to-a-party wines. But as always our selections are value-based within their price tier.

White Wines

Hidden Bench 2013 Fumé Blanc, Rosomel Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($27.95)

David Lawrason Since launching his highly successful estate winery with the 2005 vintage, owner Harald Thiel has been setting a benchmark for Bordeaux-style, barrel whites thanks to old semillon and sauvignon vines in the Rosomel Vineyard. No one else in Niagara has touched their quality. Nuits Blanche is the top expression, but this Fume Blanc comes close. Something different for the turkey table.
Sara d’Amato – A lightly smoky sauvignon blanc with more richness and viscosity than is traditional. A classy offering on a festive occasion.

La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay 2012Jermann Chardonnay 2014Hidden Bench Fumé Blanc 2013Jermann 2014 Chardonnay, Venezia Giulia, Italy ($34.95)

David Lawrason – From one of the great white wine producers of Italy, this is a chardonnay that will restore the faith of those who have left the chardonnay fold. It’s taut, fresh and elegant with a bouquet of fruit and flowers well ahead of the well-fitted oak. Delicious and classy.

La Follette 2012 Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($50.00)

David Lawrason – Here’s a situation where the vineyard – planted in 1927 in lower Sonoma/Carneros – is more well-known than the winery. That’s because La Folette is a fairly new winery name (formerly Tandem) with veteran chardonnay-pinot noir specialist Greg La Folette (ex Flowers, Kendall-Jackson, Beaulieu) at the helm. It’s a powerful, complex, reductive Burgundian style chardonnay with great complexity and length.

Red Wines

Punset 2010 Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy ($55.95)

Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Punset Barbaresco 2010John Szabo – Here’s a gorgeous, floral-fragrant, potpourri and faded red berry scented Barbaresco in an absolutely classic mould that will surely impress. Be sure to forewarn your giftee that it’s still several years away from prime, another 3-5 years in the cellar. Best 2018-2025.
Sara d’Amato – A Barbaresco with the firmness and depth of a Barolo. Cherry, leather and dried herbs are wonderfully harmonious and sing in the glass. Still requires time to open up so decant in the morning or afternoon before serving.
David Lawrason – Here is a rugged, powerful and rustic Barbaresco to add to an Italian cellar. The irony is that it is one of very few Barbarescos or Barolos made by a woman (Marina Macarino), and made organically. It was a great vintage that will age long. It’s medium-bodied, very firm, dry and very tannic but the flavours pour through the sieve.

Burgess 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($56.95)

David Lawrason – Many of the big name Napa cabernets were released last month (except for the $200 Caymus Special Selection coming Dec 12). This much better value Burgess is a cab lovers cab, with great aromatics of lifted blackcurrant, fresh mint/evergreen, nicely inlaid with cedar, pepper and lavender. It’s medium-full bodied, fairly dense, warm and engaging.

Stonestreet 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California ($52.95)

John Szabo – A terrific option for fans of bold, impressive reds, with some regional name brand recognition, Stonestreet’s exceptional Alexander Mountain property delivers wines of exceptional class. This is densely knit and tightly woven, offering a fine range of ripe, fleshy dark fruit, integrated barrel spice, and excellent length, and would compete handily with many mountain Napa cabernets at twice the price. Best 2015-2028.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2012Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Beringer 2011 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($164.95)

Sara d’Amato – A special occasion bottle best enjoyed in good company. The cooler 2011 vintage is wildly expressive and refreshingly less heavy and bold than in previous incarnations.

Penfolds Bin 389 2012 Cabernet/Shiraz, South Australia ($59.95)

David Lawrason – Long vaunted as the ‘Baby Grange’ this wine has always struck me as more than that – certainly value – now that Grange as attained unreachable prices. This is such a classic – very deep, dense and ripe Aussie red that is all about restraint (believe it or not). It’s full bodied, sinewy, warm and dense. Powerpacked, and structured to live for decades, although you or your giftee will enjoy it whenever the urge strikes.

Barossa Valley Estate 2008 Ebenezer Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($39.95)

David Lawrason – If you missed the sensational E&E Black Pepper Shiraz last month, the junior Ebenezer is a great comparative value at less than half the price. It’s full bodied, dense, rich and firm. Very dry, inky and intense – a dry, Barossa classic. Great depth, length and extension.

Château L'hermitage 2003Domaine Gagey Clos Du Roi Marsannay 2013Barossa Valley Estate Ebenezer Shiraz 2008Domaine Gagey 2013 Clos Du Roy Marsannay, Burgundy, France ($44.95)

David Lawrason – For that someone on your list who fancies fine pinot noir – or finer things in general – this Burgundy is light to medium bodied, firm, fresh and even with an engaging, almost haunting nose of pink flowers, pomegranate-cherry fruit and very fine oak smoke and spice. Give it a year to soften just a bit.

Château L’Hermitage 2003 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France ($39.95)

Sara d’Amato – This tiny four hectare property produces lush merlot and their blend is usually made up of at least 90% of the varietal. Behind the wine’s plush nature, there is a great vibrancy offering balance. You’ll have to go to the big store to find this Flagship Store Exclusive.

Sparklers and Sweets

Henry Of Pelham 2010 Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche, Estate Blanc De Blanc, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($44.95)

John Szabo – An excellent bubbly, in the top class of Canadian sparkling, Henry of Pelham’s premium bottling of pure chardonnay finds a very elegant expression in the 2010 vintage. It would make for a fine and smart gift for both proud locavores and demanding wine lovers, drinking now, or hold for 2-3 years for additional toasty complexity.

Tarlant Brut Rosé, Champagne, France ($62.95)

Sara d’Amato – This low-dosage Champagne from the house of Tarlant is refreshing and festive with a chic, pale colour. A tingling peppery palate and a fresh mineral component add extra sparkle.

Henry Of Pelham 2010 Cuvée Catharine Carte BlancheTarlant Brut RoséCa' Del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Brut FranciacortaChâteau Dereszla 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú 2008

Ca’ Del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Brut, DOCG Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy ($39.95)

John Szabo – Impress with your breadth and depth of wine knowledge by gifting this excellent bottle from Italy’s premier sparkling wine region. Leader Ca’ del Bosco’s prestige cuvée is intensely biscuity and toasty, full flavoured and impressively complex, in an elegant yet powerful style.

Château Dereszla 2008 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú, Hungary ($45.95)

John Szabo – For something different and exotic from one of the world’s legendary regions, choose this tokaji aszú; you can be sure plenty of Hungarian-Canadians will be sharing it over the holidays. It’s crafted in the mature, more old school style, which is to say highly savoury-spicy and replete with dried apricot and dried peach fruit, ginger and Sichuan pepper spice. 5 puttonyos means considerable residual sugar (c. 150grams/liter), but this is balanced on a firm frame of acids, and the finish lingers admirably. Best 2015-2028.

Thanks for taking the time to read this far during your busy holiday season, and if you are still thinking about how best to share your interest in wine with friends and family consider purchasing a subscription to WineAlign, which will give them a thirty-day head start to purchase our most highly recommended wines. Or have a look at The National Wine Awards Wine of the Month Club to bring you direct delivery of Canadian wines that have taken top honours at the National Wine Awards of Canada.

Until next week…

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES December 12, 2015

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

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



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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 17, Part Two

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piedmont Reds

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

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

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


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

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

Other Reds

Cathedral Cellar Petit Verdot 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lenton Brae Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

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

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

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


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES October 17, 2015

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

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

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 17, Part One

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

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

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

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

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

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

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

Fog rolling in below Spring Mountain at Cain Vineyards

Fog rolling in below Spring Mountain at Cain Vineyards

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

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

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

View of Napa Valley from above

View of Napa Valley from above

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Napa Valley

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

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

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

Buyers’ Guide to Oct 17th: Napa Valley

Chateau Montelena 2013 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($62.95)

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

Stonehedge 2013 Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($22.95)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freemark Abbey 2012 Merlot, Napa Valley ($39.95)

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

Beringer 2012 Quantum, Napa Valley ($69.95)

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

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

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

Buyers’ Guide to Oct 17th: World Whites 

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

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

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

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

Zolo 2013 Torrontés, Mendoza, Argentina ($13.95)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trimbach 2012 Riesling, Alsace, France ($21.95)

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

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

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

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


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES October 17, 2015

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

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

And More Napa
by John Szabo, MS

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

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

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

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


Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 3, Part Two

Spain and Thanksgiving
by John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week, the WineAlign Crü takes a look at VINTAGES’ first serious crack at raising the profile, and average price, of Spanish wines in Ontario, with a handful of top buys and multiple “triple alignments” between us. And since Thanksgiving is around the corner, we’ve also assembled our favorites from the October 3rd release, laid out in handy menu format; just plug and play.

Welcome Back, Spain

Consider for a moment some of Spain’s contributions to world culture. The country is a mecca for students of architecture, offering an encyclopaedic range from Frank Gehry’s landmark Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, to Antonio Gaudi’s magnificent designs in Barcelona, the spellbinding high Renaissance masterpiece El Escorial near Madrid by Juan Bautista de Toledo, the serene beauty of the Moorish magnum opus Alhambra Palace in Granada, the radical juxtaposition of Islam and gothic Catholicism in Córdoba’s Mezquita, countless medieval churches and monasteries, and even one of the old world’s best-preserved Roman aqueducts in Segovia.

The world’s first novel was penned here – Cervantes’ El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, while the international molecular gastronomy movement had its genesis in a small restaurant called elBulli in the hamlet of Roses overlooking the Costa Brava in Catalonia, inspiring a wave of culinary exploration both domestically and internationally. And where would we be with jamón Ibérico, hands-down the world’s best, or those tasty little charred padrón peppers that seem to be popping up on restaurant menus across Ontario, or Marcona almonds or hard Spanish sheep’s cheese in all of it’s kaleidoscopic variety? I haven’t even touched the legions of painters, dancers, filmmakers, musicians….

But what of Spanish wine? Spain of course produces wine, quite a lot of it in fact. The country has more acreage under vine than any other on the planet, and its production history stretches back to the earliest days of trade in the Mediterranean. So why is it you know so much about Spain, but so little about Spanish wine?

For one, Spain was a very latecomer on the international wine scene, having slept through a good part of the 20th century for various, mostly political reasons. It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that Spanish wine awoke from its 19th century slumber. Alejandro Fernandez and his Tinto Pesquera from Ribera del Duero started to turn heads in the mid-1980s. René Barbier, Álvaro Palacios and their band of radical friends wagered on the immense potential of remote Priorat in the early 1990s, where Carthusian monks had been drawing precious drops from withered old vines clinging to bare rock for centuries in quasi secrecy. Their long odds came in, and they won large.

Soon after, bagpipe-playing vignadores in northern “Green” Spain, more familiar looking to Gaels then Andalucíans, realized that they had a treasure in their aromatic albariño grown in the misty maritime hillsides of Rias Baixas. Their neighbours in Bierzo likewise awoke at the turn of the millennium to find that nobody had replanted a vine for the last century, leaving vast tracks of ancient bush vine mencía for the current generation to exploit, capable of producing Spain’s most elegant reds.

The alarm reverberated throughout the country like the peeling of church bells on Sunday morning. The ripples eventually reached even the sleepiest regions like Calatayud, Campo de Borja and Cariñena, where there, too, they found acre upon acre of ancient hills covered in bonsai-like old garnacha vines, inexpensive to transform into a rich and heady style of wine that the world wants more and more of. The old classics like Rioja and Sherry were compelled to dust off their images and start producing better wines. Viticulture has never been sharper, and terroirs better understood in Rioja then they are today, and their brief, rebound fling with thick and soupy internationalized wines has more or less ended, sagely returning to the marvellously mid-weight, vibrant and savoury, eminently age-worthy reds for which the region is so well suited. And sherry gains new converts every day, at least among smart drinkers who know where to lay down their money to get the most singular and complex drinking experience for the least outlay.

All of these developments, and many more, have been simmering away in Spain for a couple of decades now, but admittedly, you would have been hard-pressed to know it living in Ontario. Few of the exciting wines were imported, and little promotion was done. But, it seems the pot has finally come to a boil.

Last night, Wines from Spain and LCBO-Vintages held the first significant tasting of Spanish wines in Toronto in longer than I can remember. A pre-tasting seminar sold out in short order, and some 350 people crowded into the Roundhouse to sample the wares of nearly three-dozen producers covering a fine cross-section of the industry. Just the week before, the LCBO launched a Spanish Specialty Store, the third in the laudable “Products of the World” initiative (read David’s report about it, and we’re planning a full review of the Spanish selection, triple the previous number of products available). And to line up everything neatly, the October 3rd VINTAGES release features a collection of Spanish wines.

What’s different from previous Spanish releases is the evident effort to shift consumers up-market; the average price of the featured wines is about $30. And while Spain has plenty of excellent wines in the sub-$20 range, those few extra dollars allow you tap into some of the more regionally distinctive and representative wines – the stuff that makes a country unique – as you’ll see in the category-leading Terras Gauda Rias Baixas or the comfortingly classic Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva. It also permits exploration of some innovative curiosities that aren’t just weird but also wonderful, like the pure Rufete from Bodegas Bhilar, one of the most memorable discoveries at last night’s event.

Let’s hope this is the beginning of a more regular and representative selection of what Spain has to offer, so Ontarians can add wine to the list of Spain’s world culture contribution.

Speaking of Sherry

Love sherry? Or think you might? Check out the Canadian premier screening of Sherry and The Mystery of Palo Cortado, this Sunday October 4th, part of the Eatable Film Festival in Toronto (drinking sherry and eating pintxos is part of the deal). Go all in and have dinner at Bar Isabel after the screening with a crazy collection of sherries presented by winery principals.

Buyers Guide for October 3rd 2015: Spain 

Terras Gauda 2013 O Rosal Blanco, Rías Baixas, Spain ($24.95)
David Lawrason – When I first visited this region I remember being so impressed by examples that combined dancing, exotic fragrance and freshness with grounded structured and great depth. This is one of those wines, the best albarino of the year, giving full expression to the grape and the maritime terroir of Galicia.
Sara d’Amato – The O Rosal Blanco is blended from native varieties of albariño, loureira, and caiño blanco and fermented with wild yeast. This complex and highly pleasurable white is perfect for pairing with Thanksgiving fare although I plan to enjoy it all on its own.
John Szabo – Terras Gauda has been a Rias Baixas reference for me for many years now, and this O Rosal (sub-regional designation) may just be the finest yet. A splash of Loureiro adds additional aromatics to albariño’s impressive floral-fruity range, while caiño blanco chisels and tightens the palate with its stony wash. I love the salty taste, too, like the Atlantic mist-infused air of Galicia.

Viña Real 2008 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($36.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a lovely, succulent, deliciously savoury Rioja, salty and infinitely drinkable. Unlike most in the traditional camp (in which this wine can be included as well), this is not dripping in spicy American oak flavour, but finds a balance between fruit, wood, and developed spicy-earthy character. Length is excellent, too. Drink or hold a dozen years without concern.
David Lawrason – Grand indeed! This traditional Rioja is so elegant, tidy, refined and surprisingly youthful – with subtle floral notes among cherry fruit and fine oak vanillin. Great weave and finesse, and still able to age. Predict peak about 2020.
Sara d’Amato – Opulent and modern with velvety tannins, this Gran Reserva is a standout from other Riojas in this release. Offering the characteristic concentration and ageability of a wine at this level with only a hint of maturity. A cooler weather wine best enjoyed with hearty stews or braised red meats.

Marqués De Cáceres 2009 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($24.95)
John Szabo – Firm, succulent, juicy, genuinely savoury and saline Rioja from the ever-reliable Marqués de Cáceres, this has firmness and cut, mouth-salivating acids and marked minerality. I’d tuck this away for another 3+ years for maximum enjoyment, or hold another decade.

Terras Gauda O Rosal Blanco 2013 Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008 Marqués De Cáceres Reserva 2009 Phinca Encanto Rufete 2011 Baron De Ley Gran Reserva 2008

Bodegas Bhilar 2011 Phinca Encanto Rufete, Sierra de Francia, Spain ($32.95)
David Lawrason – This is incorrectly indicated as a Rioja in Vintages catalogue (the winery is based in Rioja but the fruit is from a less well known region in central-northwest Spain).  It is a delicious and fascinating wine. Winemaker David Sampedro Gil (“DSG” is its brand) is a young gun from a 5th generation of vintners who is on mission is recover indigenous varieties.  Rufete is an early-ripening, well-under-the-radar red grape centred in the Duero/Douro region of Spain/Portugal. It is all tangy cranberry (making it a great Thanksgiving turkey pick as well).
Sara d’Amato – A rather unusual find, this 100% Rufete (also known as tinta pinheira in Portugal) is a real stunner. Although my reference for this a wine such as this is quite low, the grape is known for producing wine with high acids and tannins and thus with great ageing potential. This example is immensely compelling offering verve and intensity with a complex array of flavours from clove and plum to kirsch and violets.
John Szabo – Damned if this isn’t both intriguing, and high quality. I can’t say classic rufete (can anyone?) nor even classic Spanish style, but fans of sharper, mid-weight reds – think nebbiolo, or cool climate syrah or pinot noir – will get into this. Tannins are still a bit burly, but there’s enough weight and density to envision future harmony, after 2017 or so I’d speculate. An exciting find.

Baron de Ley 2008 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – Because a Gran Reserva must be held back for at least five years, older releases such as this 2008 are not uncommon. This traditional version from a reliable producer delivers great intensity and power for the price. Still quite youthfully rugged, the wine deserves time in a decanter or another 2-3 years tucked away before it can be optimally enjoyed.

Buyers’ Guide For October 3rd 2015: Thanksgiving dinner 

Bubbles to start 

Jansz Premium Cuvée TasmaniaJansz Premium Cuvée, Australia ($26.95)
John Szabo – Along with Ontario, and Crémant de Bourgogne, Tasmania should be on your list of sources for fine value, traditional method sparkling. Jansz is among the most reliable (and regularly available) names in Ontario, a bright, lively and fresh version. I like the vibrant citrus-orange zest and freshly baked white bread aromatics, and the well-measured crisp-dry-balanced palate. Fine length, too. 

White & Rosé

2013 Bründlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen Grüner Veltliner Dac Kamptal, Austria ($24.95)
John Szabo – A terrific, arch-classic grüner from Bründlemayer, at once fleshy and lean, richly flavoured but sharply defined and stony. This hits the mark, with expansive finish and broad flavour range, a perfect segue from aperitif into first course.

2014 Coffin Ridge Bone Dry Riesling VQA Ontario Canada ($17.00)
John Szabo – The best yet from young Coffin Ridge Crisp, this is bone dry (as advertised), lime-flavoured Riesling, uncompromising, reminiscent of the Clare Valley in Australia (a good reference). Ready to crack open your taste buds.

Angels Gate 2010 Mountainview Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Ontario, Canada ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – I was pleasantly surprised by the outstanding value this Beamsville Bench chardonnay delivers with appealing viscosity, great concentration of fruit and very good length of finish. The oak is a tad showy but also seductive and integrated. A rich offering that will prove a decadent addition to a Thanksgiving feast.

Seresin 2012 Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This profound, complex chardonnay has the stuffing to match the big bird and all its stuffing.  In fact flavour-wise it is not dissimilar, with buttered asparagus, corn, tobacco, nutmeg and barley sugar. It is biodynamically farmed, giving it great energy and depth.

Bründlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen Grüner Veltliner 2013 Coffin Ridge Bone Dry Riesling 2014 Angels Gate Mountainview Chardonnay 2010 Seresin Chardonnay 2012 Gassier Sables d'Azur Rosé 2014

Gassier 2014 Sables d’Azur Rosé, Côtes De Provence, Provence, France ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – We don’t often see a rosé featured this late in the year but it is a welcome addition to this week’s release. Just in time for Thanksgiving, this style of wine makes a versatile pairing for fish, poultry, pork or as a pre-dinner sipper. Well-priced, from a reliable house and offering a dry, crisp palate with a pleasant salinity and notes of lavender and savory herbes de Provence.

Lighter Reds

Herdade do Sobroso 2013 Sobro Red, Alentejano, Portugal  ($14.95)
David Lawrason – I was just about finished a large tasting when along came this lively, smooth and juicy wine packed with sour red fruit, herbs and spices. It was invigorating and pleasant, and just the right weight for a turkey dinner.  Then I looked at the price.  If your table will be including extended family and friends this year, you can afford three or four bottles of this one.

Stephane Aviron 2012 Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte du Py, Beaujolais, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a terrific cru Beaujolais, firm, meaty, substantially flavoured with an authentic and natural twist. Oenologists may dither about the touch of volatile acidity, but for me, it lifts the earth into the floral sphere and extends the back end. This is no carbonic fruity style, but traditional, old school, worldly gamay with legs to run another half dozen years or more. It’s the cranberry sauce on your Thanksgiving turkey.

Herdade do Sobroso Sobro Red 2013 Stephane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Morgon Côte du Py 2012 Cave Spring Cabernet Franc 2013 Castello di Volpaia Riserva Chianti Classico 2012

Cave Spring 2013 Cabernet Franc, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)
David Lawrason – I hunted through this large release for a great Thanksgiving turkey pinot noir, but couldn’t find one rating highly that was ready to drink.  But this charming, lighter weight, pure and well-balanced cab franc will do the trick. Cave Spring is known for riesling but its reds are impressing of late.

Castello Di Volpaia 2012 Riserva Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($41.95)
John Szabo – This is great vintage for Volpaia – maturing beautifully now – high-toned, floral, savoury and herbal, arch-classic Chianti Classico with elegance, depth and staying power on the palate. Drinking now, or with any Thanksgiving dinner up until the early ‘20s.

Domaine La Tour Vieille Reserva Banyuls Tenuta San Vincenti Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2011 Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013Medium-Full Reds

Le Vieux Donjon 2013 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, Rhône, France ($58.95)
John Szabo – If you’re going big, you might as well go really big with this dense and rich, full, fat, sweet and savoury, generously proportioned yet finely tuned CdC  – it has the full package. A top vintage for Vieux Donjon. Decant an hour ahead of dinner at least.

Tenuta San Vincenti 2011 Gran Selezione Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($54.95)
Sara d’Amato – The “Gran Selezione” is a relatively new qualitative rank representing the peak of the pyramid and about 10% of the Chianti Classico produced. This mid-weight red is no lightweight when it comes to flavour and impact. It is wildly complex and its tannins are supple enough for immediate drinking pleasure.


Domaine La Tour Vieille Reserva Banyuls, Roussillon, France ($29.95)
David Lawrason – We see so little Banyuls that it’s almost a must for the curious. It’s a deep amber-brown, fortified ‘vin doux naturel’ with a lifted nose of prunes, walnuts, molasses, and a touch of earthy oxidation. It’s medium-full bodied, sweet, well balanced yet nicely dry and dusty. A wine for meditation after dinner, or with nut and dried fruit based desserts.  

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Oct 3rd, 2015

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

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

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 3rd Part One

Musings on Bordeaux and Global Indulgences
by Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

While John Szabo is on the lam, in Hunter Valley (or so we think), in pursuit of semillon with a team of Canadian sommeliers as part of a scavenger hunt for Wine & Spirits Magazine, David and I have been tirelessly tasting away at a selection of new wines that are about to appear on your local VINTAGES shelves.

This week we delve into that great intimidating abyss, the giant that is Bordeaux. However, instead of talking about the region’s guts and glory, I’d rather talk about modern Bordeaux. Although it has fits and fads, it is a region that wavers remarkably little in its style, in its tenacious grip on aristocratic holdings and its class system – a bubble that is perhaps less of a “republic” than the rest of France. This has in some measure to do with its historical success and the world reverence it has built but also to the price it can still (to some degree) command.

Bordeaux’s upper class of wine can secure some of the world’s highest prices and it inevitably turns its head to the highest bidder, even if that bidder takes it away from more traditionally supportive markets. Relatively recently, the movie “Red Obsession” had us talking about Asia’s influence on Bordelaise pricing in the upper echelons and highlighted the dangers of focusing so much interest in one market.  In the spring of this year, a group of respected UK wine merchants wrote an open letter to owners of négociants and Châteaux asking for a return to more “reasonable” pricing with regards to the 2014 en primeurs – to prices similar to those of 2008. What they got was not exactly what they were asking for.

While top Bordelaise producers are busy creating new roles and positions in Asia to deal with its recent boom, as well as funding the planting of Bordelaise varieties in foreign soils, more traditional markets are certainly feeling neglected. However whether these top ranking bottles be sold in China or elsewhere, there is still the problem that they have unfortunately become commodities rather than beverages. The highly lauded back-to-back stellar vintages of 2009 and 2010 in Bordeaux really broke the bank and highlighted the out-pricing of great Bordeaux in many markets. For many, this most vividly brought to light the fact that brand and status had become more important (to some at least) than the holy grail of French wine: terroir.

However, modern Bordeaux is not only about big names and big games, but rather the struggling underbelly: the mass of Bordelaise wine at affordable price points. These lesser ranking producers and growers, of which there are many, must sell their glut of wine. I use term glut, not disparagingly, however, but as a testament to the spirit of perseverance of an industry in the shadow of its upper class.

There is a common misconception that great Bordeaux is never cheap, which may have been true five even ten years ago. But as I have been tasting, year to year, almost every new entry into our VINTAGES tier of wines, I am more and more pleased by the offerings at relatively low prices. Why might this be so? Competition from the new world is steep especially from regions that have more flexibility in changing their styles and methods of production. There is also a great deal of lower ranked and more humble Bordelaise wine on the market that must be sold. Bordeaux has been therefore forced to compete by the only means at their disposal – an increase in quality and value. It is a very Darwinian world now in Bordeaux with “arrachage” (or “vine pulling”) on the increase as well as the collapse of smaller houses. If you can’t sell you must then fold. The only option open now is a forced increase in quality – dare I say this is a benefit of a global capitalist market (my inner socialist self cringes at this statement).

Its commodification aside, Bordeaux is a region that produces a unique wine with plenty of diversity. The apparent lack of emphasis and appreciation of terroir and quality of the wines of Bordeaux is merely a result of circumstance, of literal situation. Located on a tributary leading to one of the most important of European ports, the trade value of the wines of Bordeaux was easily established. The marriage of Eleanor d’Aquitaine to King Henry II in the 12th century made Bordeaux British and the wine a lucrative export commodity. The coupling’s son Richard’s ascension to the throne of England solidified this very important trade relationship. As Bordeaux was the wealthy, controlling region of this great port, its wines were given preference over nearby regions – one of the reasons that wines of Bergerac have had so little international recognition even to this day. Dutch traders were responsible for yet another phase of the agrandissement of Bordeaux – the arduous task of draining of the marshlands around Médoc made planting vines north of Graves possible. This had the added benefit of increased accessibility to those wines with better roads. It is thus money, trade and power that are responsible for overshadowing what is beneath the label, within the bottle.

Its situation and its history established, what has become of modern Bordeaux? Undeniably, Chateaux and négociants suffer from the loss of important markets due to the pressure of increased prices but also international competition. Its future and international reputation may just lie in its less expensive, less known, less important regions, appellations and price points.

As much as I had mentioned previously that Bordeaux likes to hold on to tradition, it is secretly a very progressive part of the world. In fact, it is probably one of the most progressive wine regions of the world in terms of pushing the boundaries of the usage of new oenological technologies and biological innovations.  Just because it doesn’t show it outwardly like the flashy stelvin caps of Australia and New Zealand, it doesn’t mean magic doesn’t happen behind the curtain. Of course such assistance from the new happens discretely, if not downright covertly. French wine culture asserts that terroir is the key element to making great wine and in one of its greatest wine regions; it must also uphold that belief. However, the Bordelaise have a unique way of blending respect for terroir with ways of improving quality to for greater marketability.

Many have heard of Vinexpo, one of the most important international trade shows in the wine world and an international platform on which the great wines of Bordeaux may show their stuff. However, between the years of Vinexpo, biennially, there is one of the most important wine tech fairs in the world held known as Vinitech – a marvel of new advances in the world of wine showcasing everything from new types of machine harvesters to carefully engineered yeasts. It is at this time of year that Bordeaux takes off its veil and shows, at least to the industry, its inner workings.

Beyond the history and prestige, there is a great deal to appreciate about Bordeaux. From left to right bank, it produces distinctly differently wines, each putting rival varietals cabernet sauvignon and merlot on pedestals showing what makes them both gutsy and elegant. Beneath its classification systems, producers are being forced to live up the grandeur of the region for their very survival. It is fight or fail now for those that make up the majority of wine production in Bordeaux. And in these times of stress, that creativity, innovation and competitive nature may just be responsible for producing exceptionally exciting wines.

Without further ado, here is a selection of our top picks from a modern Bordeaux. In addition, we’ve included our favorites from the rest of the release from both the new world and old.

Bordeaux Feature

Château De l’Orangerie 2013, Entre deux Mers, Bordeaux, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Literally “between two seas”, Entre deux Mers is the wide open space that lies between the rivers Gironde and Dordogne.  Good value can be found in this expanse such as this perky white with notes of lemongrass, honeydew and passion fruit. A more interesting than average weeknight white.

Château Le Caillou 2009, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France ($52.95)
Sara d’Amato – The 2009 vintage is developing beautifully and is just beginning to shed some of its tanninc aggression to reveal its complex under layers. A wine that will prove widely appealing, its right bank origin make it a little more friendly at present that its neighbors from across the bank. Saline and an abundance of voluptuous fruit are brimming within its constraints.

Château De L'orangerie 2013 Château Le Caillou 2009 Vieux Château Gachet 2000 Château Donissan 2011

Vieux Château Gachet 2000, Lalande-de-Pomerol, Bordeaux ($29.95)
David Lawrason – This is fully mature 2000 merlot based red from a very hot vintage, so its delivering more weight and plushness than I would expect from Lalande de Pomerol.  Also mature flavours on the edge. I recommend it as an education in mature Bordeaux at an affordable price, and it scores on complexity and balance. Drink up.

Château Donissan 2011, Listrac-Médoc ($19.95)
David Lawrason – The 2011s lack the depth and structure of 2010s, but this scores on complexity, tension, fragrance and just a bit of intrigue with cranberry-raspberry fruit, violets, mild green pepper/veg and creative, nicely honed oak. There is a certain unique sensuality.

Château Lagrange 2011 Lussac-Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Again, at this price point you can’t expect Bordeaux of depth and structure, but I am not missing that when there is so much charm to be had. This is a lighter, pretty, youthful merlot-cab franc blend with lifted aromas of violets, raspberry and fresh herbs and nettles.  Bordeaux might want to think of rebranding as a source of fresh, delightful young wines instead of pompous, over-priced grand crus that languish in cellars of the rich.

Château Lagrange 2011 Château Les Tourelles 2010 Château De Lisennes Cuvée Tradition 2010Château Guiraud Sauternes 2011

Château Les Tourelles 2010, Bordeaux, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Although Tourelles has a solid reputation for white wines it also produces some exciting and well-priced merlot/cabernet franc blends. This is a very peppery, aromatic version from 2010 with good intensity and little notable oak.

Château de Lisennes 2010 Cuvée Tradition, Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux, France ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – This terrific value 2010 offers compelling floral and herbal notes with tomato leaf and lavender at the forefront. An everyday Bordeaux poised for immediate consumption.

Château Guiraud 2011, Sauternes, 1er Grand Cru Classé, (375ml), Bordeaux, France, ($39.85)
Sara d’Amato – The lush, southern wines of Bordeaux are not only head-turning but can prove greatly distracting in a tasting of three or more. Lucky for it, the Chateau Guiraud was the only offering from Sauternes in this release – but it does not disappoint! Hold on for another decade for optimal enjoyment.

Other White

2027 Cellars 2012 Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block Chardonnay, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($30.00)
David Lawrason – From one of the best Niagara “virtual wineries” by Kevin Panakapka, this is a delicious, demure, tight and elegant chardonnay – very sleek and well balanced, not as blowsy as expected from the warmer 2012 vintage in Niagara. The nose shows finely woven hazelnut, smoke, vanilla and pear fruit. Niagara needs to aim for this kind of restraint and elegance in chardonnay.

Domaine Séguinot-Bordet 2014 Chablis, Burgundy, France ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Whereas many regions of Europe are reporting a less good 2014 vintage (especially for reds)  Chablis, with its early ripening chardonnays, is very happy indeed. From a 16 ha family domain this well-priced, tidy basic Chablis may be the proof.  It’s firm, well-structured with subtle aromas of apple, lemon, wet stone and at touch of youthful leesiness. Nice sense of brightness and focus.

2027 Cellars 2012 Wismer Vineyard Fox Croft Block ChardonnayDomaine Séguinot Bordet Chablis 2014 Gorgo San Michelin Custoza 2014 Carpinus Dry Furmint 2013 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2013

Gorgo 2014 San Michelin Custoza, Veneto, Italy ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This demure but delicious white is a blend of cortese, tocai, trebbiano  and  garganega grown on rocky, limestone soils near Lago di Garda in northeast Italy. It offers dandy flavour depth and richness, and elegance with ripe aromas of peach, honey, fennel and marzipan – very much the signature of the Veneto whites. Huge value.

Carpinus 2013 Dry Furmint, Hungary ($14.95) (417865)
Sara d’Amato – Here is an outside the box pick for dinner with company but would also make a compelling solo sipper. Playful with brightness, verve and pleasantly unexpected viscosity on the palate. The slightly honeyed finished would make it a great match for pork Schnitzel.

Joh. Jos. Christoffel 2013 Erben Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany ($28.95)
Sara d’Amato – A shockingly good wine in which you will overlook completely the sweetness and instead savor the balance. This is part of the In-Store-Discovery program so seek it out it in more prominent VINTAGES stores.

Other Red

Cavino Grande Reserve 2008, Nemea, Peloponnese, Greece ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Agioritiko is the grape of southern Greece’s Peloponnese wine growing region. A gutsy wine with presence and a food-friendly attitude, this well-priced find to whom age has been kind, would pair nicely with cool-weather stews.

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County, California, USA ($39.95) (944843)
Sara d’Amato – A long time favourite California cabernet sauvignon of mine which benefits from higher elevation fruit and careful winemaking. There is restraint, dryness and purity in this wine that gives it an old world character. If you are impatient, decant.

Cavino Grande Reserve 2008 Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Altos Las Hormigas Terroir Malbec 2012 Tabali Reserva Syrah 2012 Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2013

Altos Las Hormigas 2012 Terroir Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is from Italy’s Alberto Antonini, one of most talented and terroir-driven of the many European winemakers working in Argentina. This is a refined, fresh and engaging, naturally produced, synthetic-free malbec with minimal old oak. Expect accentuated, ripe jammy raspberry/plum fruit, with licorice, herbs and some earthiness in the background.

Tabali 2012 Reserva Syrah, Limarí Valley, Chile ($14.95)
David Lawrason – I have rated this 90 points, almost impossible at $15. It is so pretty, so syrah, so Chile!  I don’t add points for value but if I did it would be even higher a rating. What a fine nose of violets, blackberry, wood smoke pepper and vanilla cream. It’s mid-weight, slender and quite elegant with fine tannin. Even a mineral tweak on the finish.

Fonterutoli 2012 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($25.95)
David Lawrason – This is so stylish, nuanced, complex yet fresh – a great modern Chianti.  Very pretty, lively, firm and elegant with classic sour cherry/raspberry fruit, herbs and some minerality, nicely framed by new oak. It has fine tension and firm tannin. Excellent length as well.


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES Oct 3, 2015

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

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

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 19, Part Two

Back to (New World) Wine School
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES theme for the Sept 19 release is “Ontario Wine, The Full Package” – with includes a fairly large cache of 24 wines. Here at WineAlign we taste and review a ton of Ontario wine, and we write about Ontario’s best wines all the time. This particular grouping however – with exception of the Norman Hardie and Keint-He offerings and a couple of gamays discussed last week – is a middle-of-the-road selection in terms of quality and value, most at about $20 and scoring in the good to very good 86-88 point range. So we have arrived at what we thought was a more useful theme: Back to Old School, which John covered last week, and Back to New School, which I stickhandle this week.

There are new wine enthusiasts joining WineAlign daily, and some back-to-basics discussion is befitting now and again. And it is back to school time. So if you are a long time reader you might want to skip on to our recommendations now. If a bit of coaching or re-tooling seems appropriate, pour a glass of something New World and read on.

The Old World is Europe, the New World is all other. That is the simplest differentiation. But of course wine is never simple (or we wouldn’t be so intrigued). John deftly covered many of the nuances of this geographic divide last week, but to quickly re-iterate from my perspective – the classic Old World regions have a multi-generational heritage of making wine in a style that is built upon a) cooler climate higher acid, lower alcohol profile – in central Europe at least – and b) aged/oxidative/earthier/non-fruity winemaking born before temperature control and tannin management was possible. John goes into much more depth on this. But the end result is that Europe has grown up with an Old World palate that is as deeply, culturally embedded as any of its classic regional cuisines. And if you have grown up with something, and it’s all you know, then it is right – n’est-ce pas?

Well, a whole generation of post-war consumers outside of Europe have not had the same indoctrination. Some of us that took up the grape before the mid-90s still learned and revered Old World wines because they dominated the shelves, and collectors cellars, and commanded the highest prices. We needed to understand it, and be impressed, and I am so grateful that I understand Old World wine having travelled Europe countless times. But we were not so culturally inculcated that we would never consider the charm, gratification and deliciousness of New World wine. The next generation of wine drinkers since 2000 have latched onto New World wine big time, almost to the exclusion of Old World wines. And I too have travelled the New World countless times in more recent years, and totally enjoy and understand New World wine.

New World wine style is largely defined by grapes being grown in warmer climates where riper fruit creates wine with lower acid, higher alcohol, and more pronounced fruit (not savoury) flavours. There are such warm places in Europe as well, but most were historically deemed second or third class regions, largely because winemaking had not yet found a way to make good quality wine from overripe grapes (other than through fortification). So it wasn’t until hot climate, New World sites were being planted in the late 70s and 80s that things really began to change, largely because new technology was also making great strides to boost drinkability, and importantly, drinkability without the necessity to age. The wines were more balanced at the outset.

The technology was far reaching. Cooling systems allowed lower temperature fermentation that preserved freshness and fruitiness. Roto-fermenters and other processes allowed for gentler flavour extraction with reduced tannin astringency and bitterness. Finer filtration systems made cleaner more stable wines. New yeast strains better fermented higher sugars at lower temperature, and introduced heightened fruit and floral aromatics. And because the wines had more body and flavour intensity, they also stood up to more oak.  The use of new oak and highly toasted oak became widespread, and New World wine fans soaked it up.

The main criticism of New World wine – largely by Old Schoolers – is that the wine is just too obvious – a blunt instrument delivering fruit and varietal character, and oak, ahead of all else.  Especially ahead of terroir and place – the heart of the matter in Europe where wine is known and labelled not by grape but the village and vineyard it comes from.

Well, the argument that New World wine negates terroir is just not true, or even logical. I would argue firstly that a warm climate style is every bit as valid as cool climate style – both simply reflect a different physical origin and place on the planet. Secondly and more importantly, I would argue that it is respect for origin, plus the skill and ability to exact quality viticulture and winemaking, that allows terroir to be featured in the glass, not climate (or lack of technology).

In other words New World wine is as terroir-driven as Old. I have recently published a lengthy piece identifying 22 pinot noir sub-regions in New Zealand. And all of them make wine that is fruitier and higher alcohol than most pinots from Burgundy. I can identify Barossa in the glass versus McLaren Vale or Margaret River in Australia. There is a difference between Uco Valley and Lujan de Cuyo in Argentina; between St. David’s Bench and Beamsville Bench in Niagara; between Okanagan Falls and Osoyoos in B.C.

New World regions are madly examining their terroir and creating appellations as we speak, which makes the New World even more vital and fascinating than the well-established Old. Although if more European regions climbed out of their regulatory shells to experiment with other grapes… as Tuscany so deftly did in the 80s and 90s???

It’s important to underscore, again, that I am talking here about wines of good quality. There is an ocean of commercial, low quality New World wine that exaggerates fruitiness, softness, oakiness and increasingly sweetness. It is not much fun to drink. But not because it is New World. There is also an ocean of cheap Old World wine that features lack of fruit, tartness, excessive dryness and earthiness (and calls it terroir), that is also not much fun to drink. But not because it is Old world. It is simply average wine. When you start to raise the winemaking bar terroir comes into focus.

So the answer for wine lovers is to drink better, as often as you can afford to do so. There you will find the differences between Old and New World wines beginning to narrow and harmonize. And finding those higher quality, good value wines – expressive of terroir – is always the goal at WineAlign.

Here are New World selections:

White Wines

Robert Mondavi 2012 Reserve Chardonnay Carneros, California ($47.00)
David Lawrason – At first I was taken aback by its power and richness, but once adjusted to the volume, I was able to focus on its incredibly well knit, satiny texture and profound depth and complexity of flavour. In the complex mix there is a sense of acidity that the cooler Carneros region brings to the table.
John Szabo – It would be hard to pick a more representative house for the new school – Robert Mondavi pretty much built it. But there’s more than a nod and a wink back to the old school in this big but balanced wine, stuffed full of fruit and expensive wood, which in turn is fitted into a French-designed straight jacket. Give it a couple of years to wiggle its way out. Best 2017-2022.
Sara d’Amato – Robert Mondavi brought old world to the new world and new world to the old world and thus sits somewhere in the middle in terms of style. The use of old world techniques such as a preference for French oak and the complexity that is brought with wild yeast fermentation is quite apparent in these age-worthy and sophisticated wines. Robert Mondavi has always aspired to  raising the bar in California and “stand in the company of the world’s finest” – both old world and new. However, there is something distinctly new world about this wine as well in terms of its power, its ripeness and its pure, forthright fruit. It may straddle the line but regardless, it is certainly worth praising.

Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay 2012 Tabalí Reserva Viognier 2013 Kew Vineyards Organic Riesling 2013

Tabalí 2013 Reserva Viognier, Limari Valley, Chile ($13.95)
John Szabo – I love the intense, varietally accurate aromatics here; you can taste the pure sunshine, though kept cool and fresh by some SPF 60 winemaking. The Limarí Valley is one of my favourite white wine regions in Chile, and value here is unbeatable.
David Lawrason – This is brilliant – a bit high in alcohol – but that works with viognier and the price is unbeatable.

Kew Vineyards 2013 Organic Riesling, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – Punchy, tropical and inviting, this organic riesling from Ontario exhibits welcoming new world character offering wide appeal yet packs a punch. A wine that was highlighted at the latest Wine Awards of Canada, it was able to charm both judges who are more traditionalist and those who find favor in the progressive the original.

Villa Wolf 2014 Pinot Blanc, Pfalz, Germany ($14.95)
David Lawrason – New World winemaking that glorifies fruit purity and expression is now, thankfully, rampant among European white wines, elevating many long ignored “minor” whites. This German pinot blanc is a perfect example, a very bright, fresh and fruity example generous peach, banana fruit typical of the variety. It’s medium weight, fleshy and just a touch sweet but maintains some freshness due to Germanic acidity and a touch of spritz.

Villa Wolf Pinot Blanc 2014 Les Lunelus Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Matanzas Creek Chardonnay 2012

Les Lunelus 2014 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, Loire, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then New Zealand should be feeling the love. The success of the grassy, vivacious style of NZ sauvignon blanc has caused the old world to take note and we are now seeing more and more of these distinctive and widely appealing styles of sauvignon blanc from France. Albeit, the wine does not deliver a real connection to the region but it is an excellent example of this style of wine that has taken the world by storm.

Matanzas Creek 2012 Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California  ($29.95)
John Szabo – Matanzas Creek has turned out a stylish, sensible, nicely balanced, fresh, fruity and succulent chardonnay, with modest oak influence and plenty of ripe but fresh orchard fruit. This has class and concentration above the mean, technically spot-on.

Red Wines

Marimar 2012 Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California ($42.95)
David Lawrason – This single site pinot from Miramar Torres’ Doña Margarita Vineyard is very rich, smooth, intense and expressive with oodles of Sonoma pinot’s ripe raspberry pie fruit plus evergreen (from surrounding vegetation?) and meaty character. Burgundy lovers will find it over the top; but Sonoma pinot lovers should be ecstatic. John Szabo – A fine pinot that nicely captures the ripeness and generosity of the West Coast, while retaining a sense of stately grace. Evident quality; archetypal Sonoma. Best 2015-2020.

Penfolds 2013 Bin 2 Shiraz Mataro, Barossa Valley, Australia ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Of all the Australian producers, Penfolds is the most likely to appeal to Old World wine drinkers. They have captured a certain solid, not too obvious sensibility in their entire range. This shows lifted mint, blackberry/blueberry fruit, pepper, iodine and chocolate – quite fetching. It’s very full bodied, dense and fairly smooth with youthful tannin and considerable warmth.
Sara d’Amato – This Shiraz/Mataro blend is a distinctively balanced, aromatic and keenly produced new world find. The best of the new world is exhibited here: a plush, fruit forward profile, just the right amount of spice and a lingering, memorable finish (all at under $25).

Marimar Estate Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir 2012 Penfolds Bin 2 Shiraz Mataro 2013 Domaine Eric & Joel Durand Cornas Empreintes 2012

Domaine Eric & Joel Durand 2012 Empreintes Cornas, Rhône Valley, France ($46.95)
John Szabo – This wine turned up last week, but here it is again (controversially?) in my New School list. Classic Cornas fans don’t despair; this has abundant savoury, smoky, spicy-meaty character. But relative to the ultra old school (Auguste Clape, Noel Verset, Domaine Jamet come to mind), this comes across as thoroughly modern, clean, even lightly reductive, with evident wood influence and bold, ultra-ripe fruit, relatively speaking. Call it the best of both worlds. Best after 2018.

H & B Roussillon 2012 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – The wines of the Languedoc are certainly forward, bold and often, new world in style and here is a case-and-point example. Bold and impactful, plummy and jammy – there is ripeness here and a fruit forward palate. Giving the wine some sense of place, however, are Mediterranean notes of black olive and sundried tomato and a savory finish.

Cristobal 1492 Barrel Selection 2012 Shiraz, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This very New World shiraz fuelled a  stylistic like/don’t like debate among tasters in VINTAGES lab. I have elevated its score based on complexity, syrah varietal character and depth of flavour – delivering far better than expected on those counts. And yes it is full, soft, rich, fruity and warm  – very New World.

Rompesedas 2006 Toro, Spain ($19.95)
John Szabo – “New Spain” is known for its bold, modern reds, and despite nearly a decade, this 2006 is still deeply coloured, offering plenty of deep, dark, red and mostly black fruit character, loads of extract, and a thick, firm, concentrated palate. This could pass for a much more expensive (new world) wine, properly aged, with excellent complexity and depth. Best 2015-2020.

H & B Roussillon Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2012Don Cristobal 1492 Oak Reserve Shiraz 2012 Rompesedas 2006Trapiche Terroir Series Orellana De Escobar Single Vineyard Malbec 2010Achával Ferrer Malbec 2013

Trapiche 2010 Terroir Series Orellana De Escobar Malbec, La Consulta, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($39.95)
David Lawrason – Hailing from a single vineyard in the higher altitude  of La Consulta, a sub-region of the southern Uco Valley, this has a certain richness and elegance. It’s crammed with florals, bright red raspberry/mulberry fruit, thyme, tea and fine oak. Quite smooth, elegant and focused with shrubby garrigue and vanilla on the finish.

Achaval Ferrer 2013 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($25.95)
John Szabo – This malbec, too, balances the best of both worlds, launching in a particularly fragrant, floral, violet-scented, pure style, characteristic of Achaval Ferrer. Wood is not a factor, though in this vintage acids are more prominent than usual (acetic), giving this a bit of old world rusticity, for the better. Best 2015-2019.

Astrolabe Valleys 2013 Wairau Valley Pinot Noir, Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Marlborough pinot noir has a quite distinctive raspberry scent common to pinots from moderate to warmer climates. It’s also fairly supple and smooth in texture, common to pinots from the stony silt soils of the Wairau Valley sub-region. This is a quite delicious, well balanced young New World pinot.

Astrolabe Valleys Wairau Valley Pinot Noir 2013 Bodega Paiman Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Domaine De La Madone Le Perréon Beaujolais Villages 2014

Bodega Paiman 2012 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Valle De Chañarmuyo, La Rioja, Argentina ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – There are many wine lovers turned off by the term “new world” and an immediate association with that term are the wines of Argentina. However, there is more diversity in these wines than most expect and the labels that we now see are starting to indicate just that. In this case, the cabernet comes from the region of La Rioja, just north of Mendoza, lower in elevation, hotter in temperature but a perfect spot for this thick skinned, sun-seeking varietal. The value of the new world is nicely exemplified here.

Domaine De La Madone 2014 Le Perréon Beaujolais Villages, Beaujolais, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – This abundantly fruity gamay is playful and immensely appealing. Although the grape varietal most notably finds its home in the southern Burgundian appellation of Beaujolais, it is branching out in new locales throughout the new world. The Le Perréon is seductive with slippery texture and meant for immediate consumption.

And that’s a wrap for this rather long edition. We hope you have found it useful if not illuminating. From here onward VINTAGES releases get bigger and bigger, and we will do our best to keep up.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Sept 19, 2015

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide Part One – Back to Old School

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

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 19, Part One

Back to the Old School
by John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

WineAlign heads back to the (old) school this week, as we take a look at superficially nebulous, variously interchangeable terms old school, traditional, and Old World, as they often relate to wine, and recommend our top old school picks from the September 19th release. And there are lots of them, a couple dozen to be precise (it’s apparently a big school). So if you’re a student of the old school, read on. If new school, modern, New World wine is your alma mater, wait for next week when (not so newcomer) David Lawrason schools us on what those terms mean and how you make wine to fit them, before we offer our favourite recently released examples.

Divided Worlds

For as long as I can remember, the wine universe has been broadly cleaved into Old World and New World. Geographically, the distinction is pretty clear: Old World refers to European wine, or as I like to point out, wine from colonizing countries (and we could throw in the Republic of Georgia and a few other more ancient producers). New World refers to just about everywhere else (mainly countries that were colonized by Europeans, who brought grapevines).

But from the beginning, the distinction also took on a stylistic dimension: wines made in the Old and New Worlds smelled and tasted fundamentally different. This distinction is still around today. Master Sommelier candidates, for example, are asked during their blind tasting exams whether they believe the wine is old world or new world when drawing initial conclusions. It’s not a quality judgement, but simply a style difference, as, say, a trained eye can distinguish between Romanesque and Renaissance architecture. In wine, the stylistic differences are born in part from climate, and more importantly, from winemaking philosophy.

Imagine European wine in the 19th century. It was largely a daily beverage, not a luxury commodity. There was little technological exchange between winegrowers in different regions, let alone countries. The old school was frequently no school. Traditional techniques were applied, in other words, what had always been done before. The aim was often to maximize what little vineyard land you had. Wines were made from relatively high-yielding vineyards, harvested early to ensure nothing was lost to rot or hungry animals, each bunch squeezed to get as much juice as possible, tossed in an open vat so that wild, sometimes deviant yeasts could perform their magic, than stashed in some kind of porous vessel, usually old wood vats of sketchy hygienic condition, for as long as was necessary to soften the harsh tannins and ripping acids, sometimes years. Bottle-aged wines were as rare as the bottles to keep them in.

Oxygen, thus, was a major production protagonist, present at every stage of a wine’s evolution. Delicate fruit quickly faded (oxidized) into much more earthy, savoury, dusty, herbal-spicy, essentially non-fruity flavours. Brand new barrels were a luxury few could afford, and the aromas/flavours derived from them were reserved for a tiny elite. Europe’s relatively moderate climate overall (especially back then) also kept ripeness in check; alcohol remained at sobering levels and acids could occasionally strip the paint off the farmhouse table. Even in southern Europe’s hot pockets, acids were high and alcohol still relatively modest, since, without any way to artificially stabilize wines, local grapes had been naturally selected over centuries to hold their acids in warm climates, without which wines would have spoiled before the next harvest rolled around (high acids retard spoilage) – a very bad thing.

New World vs Old World

And so was born the “Old World” style description, variously called “traditional” or “old school”, applied to wines from Europe made more or less according to the recipe above (pardon the exaggeration). As Court of Master Sommelier examination committee member Matt Citriglia MS describes, “In general, think of old world wine styles as a wine that has been produced for centuries without technology. The result is a wine dominated by earth or mineral-like character that has more restrained, tart fruit.”

Toronto-based Jennifer Huether MS, who has mentored most of this country’s MS candidates at some point, agrees: “Generally speaking Old World wines tend to display more mineral and earth notes (think chalk, dust, forest floor notes) than new world wines. Also, mostly due to climate, old world wines tend to have greater acidity and less alcohol. There are of course always exceptions”.

Bruce Wallner MS, chief engineer at the Sommelier Factory that has turned out some of Ontario’s best-trained tasters, alludes to the greater ageability of, or need to age, old school style wines:  “Old World wines have a firmness (that give a little bite back). They often surprise on initial taste, being more austere than expected, but evolve slowly into a fascinating drink”.

New World (or modern, or new school) wines, as David will reveal next week, are contrastingly made with riper fruit and advanced technology, often in a totally reductive style (in the absence of oxygen) and generous new wood, resulting in a polar opposite style.

Now, needless to say, in the 2nd decade of the 21st century, the geographic-stylistic differences don’t line up as neatly as they did just 20 or 30 years ago. Winemakers from all corners of the planet travel widely, study in the same schools, and frequently consult on winemaking projects or do internships in their opposite world. The world of wine is a village. Ever-more cool climates in the New World are being exploited, and Europe is warming up. The style distinction by geography holds as much water as a beaten-up old vat.

As a Doug Frost MS MW, one of the sharpest palates I’ve ever clinked glasses with, declares: “It’s painting with an absurdly broad brush to declare distinct differences between New World and Old World wines”.

But wait! It’s not time to throw out the “Worlds” just yet. As Frost continues, “Still there are typicities that prevail throughout the categories”. All we need do is forget the geographic reality of Old World and New World, and consider only the style distinction associated with each (or use the synonyms traditional or old school), and voilà, confusion clarified. There are absolutely certain characteristics that prevail in the Old World Style and New World Style wine categories, as outlined above, and these will be amplified next week. Of course, top old school wine makers are as technically proficient as any new school counterpart these days, and I’m not suggesting that these types of wines are in any way deficient. On the contrary. But in general, even if the old school is far less wild (and questionable) than its archetypal genesis, it remains a savoury, earth-forward, oxygen-informed style. Just remember that the categories are no longer tied to a wine’s country of origin. There are plenty of Old World style/traditional/old school wines produced in the New World, and vice-versa.

So why hang on to the arcane terminology? Because, in a couple of succinct words, you can convey the very essence of a wine. Most wines can be summed up by their philosophy of production, which ultimately leads to either a more fruity or more savoury profile. And knowing that, after all, is at a higher order of importance to drinkers than knowing a wine’s postal code.

But you wouldn’t expect everyone to agree on the world style categories all of the time. The dividing equator has a wide margin of grey, and once in a while you get the best of both worlds. The WineAlign cru purposely didn’t consult one another on which wines to include in this week’s Old School line up, and which to include next week. As proof, both David and Sara recommend a Cornas this week that I was saving for next week, arguing quite rightly that it’s a savoury and earthy syrah. I argue that it’s a more modern version of a very traditional and distinctive appellation (riper, more new wood evident, etc..). Ahh, but that’s another story.

We invite you to go to school with us on the wines below, and share whether you think we’re actually at the same school. We’d also welcome your own definition of old school wine; there’s room for many interpretations (save your new school definition for next week). Or perhaps you just want to tell us that classifying by school or world is a futile and useless exercise, and let’s just get on with the drinking. With my kids back at school, I might even have the time.

Buyers Guide For September 19th: Old School Whites 

Antech 2012 Réserve Brut Blanquette de Limoux, France ($16.95)
John Szabo – A regionally distinctive Blanquette from one of the more reliable names in Limoux, dry, crisp and notably (and pleasantly) oxidative-appley.

Thirty Bench 2013 Riesling, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($18.95)
John Szabo – Classically styled in the Rheingau framework, crisp, fresh and pure, vibrant and tangy off-dry riesling (10.6% alc.) with very good to excellent length.

Auntsfield 2014 Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Southern Valleys, Marlborough, New Zealand ($20.95)
John Szabo – In an era where Loire Sauvignon seems to be trying to emulate New Zealand, it’s nice to find a Kiwi sauvignon that has more Sancerre-like restraint. This still has a good dose of classically pungent Marlborough character, though it’s anchored on a more savoury flavour base, with superior length, and yes, a mouthful of minerals in the old world idiom.

Alain Geoffroy 2013 Chablis Premier Cru Beauroy, Burgundy, France ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – The wines of Alain Geoffroy typically have a great respect for tradition and a sensitivity to the expression of particular vineyards sites. The wines of the 1er Cru climat of Beauroy have a tendency to show a nutty, slightly honeyed character which is certainly present in this example along with typically old world notes of lemon oil and a touch of lactic acid. The lees work here is quite apparent as well lending a slight yeasty breadiness to the palate which rounds out the sharp acids. Classic.

Antech Réserve Brut Blanquette de Limoux 2012 Thirty Bench Riesling 2013 Auntsfield Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014Alain Geoffroy Beauroy Chablis Premier Cru 2013Atlantis Dry White 2014Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2013

Atlantis 2014 Dry White, Cyclades, Santorini, Greece ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Santorini’s winemaking tradition goes back so far that the island boasts some of the oldest working vines in the world – some with rootstocks dating back to close 400 years. Atlantis is a blend of traditional varieties which include mostly assyrtiko along with aidani and athiri which give splendid aromatics. The racy acidity and a lovely saline finish are so typical of the vines planted on the volcanic soils of this sunny, windy island.

Stags’ Leap Winery 2013 Viognier, Napa Valley, California, USA ($34.95)
Sara d’Amato – Although not from an old world locale, this viognier immediately struck me as possessing old world sensibilities. Aside from the fact that this is a dynamite viognier, it is not all about fruit. With an equal focus on texture, an integrated oak treatment using older wood and using a touch of volatility to add liveliness, this is certainly a wine “standing on the shoulders of giants”. More northern Rhône than northern Californian.

Buyers Guide For September 19th: Old School Reds

Cantine Lonardo 2008 Taurasi, Campania, Italy ($44.95)
John Szabo – The very definition and essence of the old school, wonderfully mature, savoury, driven as much by mushroom, wet earth, forest floor and dried resinous herbs as it is by (dried) fruit, with extreme complexity. What a tour de force! What a mouthful of wine! This has it all going on, ready to drink or hold, best 2015-2028.

Aurelio Settimo 2010 Rocche Dell’annunziata Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($57.95)
John Szabo –Settimo is an unabashed traditionalist, and this 2010 is lovely and perfumed. Tannins are characteristically firm and tight, but the extensive range of flavours and fruit extract is more than enough to compensate. Best after 2017 or so.

J. Christopher 2011 Lumière Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley Oregon, USA ($44.95)
John Szabo – The volcanic pinots of the Willamette lean generally to the old school, and J. Christopher’s excellent rendition from the Eola-Amity Hills AVA is nicely perfumed and lifted, in a high-toned, floral-spicy expression. The palate offers significant depth and cut on a light, lavender-scented frame. Best 2016-2023

Cantine Lonardo Taurasi 2008 Aurelio Settimo Rocche Dell'annunziata Barolo 2010 J. Christopher Lumière Pinot Noir 2011 Quinta Dos Roques Vinho Tinto 2012 Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2013

Quinta Dos Roques 2012 Vinho Tinto, Dão, Portugal ($18.95)
John Szabo – A terrific value red, full of vibrant, crunchy, red and black fruit, and especially floral-violet flavours, with suave tannins and very good length. Great refinement and drinkability, and judicious use of wood (minimal).
Sara d’Amato – The region of Dão in central Portugal is arguably one of the most exciting and vibrant wine regions in the country. Populated by mainly small boutique wineries as opposed to big co-ops, the wines have an artisanal feel such as this invigorating find from Quinta dos Roques, brimming with cherries and exotic spice. Bright and food-friendly but lovely to drink on its own.

Keint-He 2013 Voyageur Pinot Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($19.00)
John Szabo –  For $20 this is serious wine, one to buy if you’re a pinot noir lover tired of paying $30+ for decent, old world style, leafy, earthy, fine grained wines.

Wildass 2012 Red, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($19.95)
John Szabo – It was the intriguing Italianate character here that drew me to this wine (and why it ended up in this list) fully resinous, oxidative and volatile in the Italian style (and that of Stratus winemaker JL Groux). This could pass for sangiovese were it not for the deep colour. In any case the complexity is high and the structure is firm and robust, and length/complexity are excellent.

Trinity Hill 2013 Syrah, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand ($22.95)
John Szabo – Although marginally more fruity than arch-classic old school, northern Rhône syrah, this still has distinctive spicy-peppery, cool climate flavours, with quivering acids and fine-grained tannins, and no oak encumbrance. Trinity Hill is among the tops in Hawkes Bay.

Wildass Red 2012 Trinity Hill Syrah 2013 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso 201113th Street Gamay Noir 2013

Scacciadiavoli 2011 Montefalco Rosso, Umbria, Italy ($20.95)
John Szabo –  A bold, authoritative and spicy Montefalco Rosso, savoury and salty, charmingly rustic, tailor-made for wintry stews, grilled meats or hard cheese.

13th Street 2013 Gamay Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This captured at Platinum medal at the 2015 National Wine Awards, as part of a three gamay surge. It is a quite powerful yet linear gamay from a producer that pioneered this grape in Niagara. So there is some old vine depth and complexity. There is also old world winemaking with some acetic and sour-edged volatility (for which I have a low threshold), but the other NWAC judges loved it. Very good depth and complexity here. PS. Chateau des Charmes 2012 Gamay Droit also on the release was another Platinum Award Winner, in a fruitier, richer style that I prefer.

Norman Hardie 2013 County Unfiltered Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County ($39.00)
David Lawrason – Norman Hardie learned pinot winemaking Burgundy, and has applied those principles along his career path, ending up in terroir driven Prince Edward County. Much of his success is due to attention to his site and grape-growing but he is also a maestro of laissez-faire, edgy, old school winemaking. Fairly toasty oak is the only real nod to modernity. The result is a fascinating pinot that seems so simple at first yet is so captivating when all is said and done.

Jaeger-Defaix 2013 Rully Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France ($27.95)
David Lawrason – Here is a great opportunity to compare Burgundy to Prince Edward County, to understand the themes of cool climate and terroir and traditional winemaking. Its pale colour belies great complexity, grip and depth – it’s a rustic pinot with all kinds of personality. Riveting stuff.

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2013 Jaeger Defaix Rully Pinot Noir 2013 Château Fleur La Mothe 2009 Domaine Eric & Joel Durand Cornas Empreintes 2012 Giacomo Mori Castelrotto Chianti Riserva 2010

Château Fleur La Mothe 2009, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($24.95)
David Lawrason One of the tenets of old school winemaking was that the wine was meant to age – to gain complexity and balance through long rest in barrel then bottle. Here is very generous, ripe and maturing old school Bordeaux that delivers to that expectation. It’s quite fleshy, silky and dense with the ripeness of a hot vintage.

Domaine Eric & Joel Durand 2012 Empreintes Cornas, Rhone Valley, France ($46.95)
David Lawrason – This is a deep, dark classic 100% syrah from the steep granitic slopes of Cornas. Northern Rhone syrahs traditionally showed considerable meatiness and grit, elements that many modern shiraz producers are not very keen on.  Great, classic aromatics here with excellent to outstanding length.
Sara d’Amato – Meaty, earthy and peppery with just a hint of brett and volatility, this attractive find is quite typical of the northern Rhône in the most traditional sense. A captivating find in which to lose yourself in masses of complex flavours.

Giacomo Mori Castelrotto 2010 Chianti Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($27.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very traditional, ripe Chianti with complex, compact aromas of dried fig/currant, leather, roasted chestnut and sandalwood. It’s medium-full bodied, hefty for Chianti and quite smooth yet sour-edged, on the cusp of volatility. Old school for sure.

Palazzo 2010 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany ($64.95)
David Lawrason – Regulations requiring long ageing in barrel are responsible for ensuring that the traditional feel of Brunello is part of its DNA. Thank goodness for that. This is a lovely, refined example with well-woven, complex aromas. It’s medium full bodied, fairly supple and firm, with some tannin still very much in play. Compact and quite dry.

Valdemar 2010 Inspiración Selección, Rioja, Spain ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Rioja is another region where a tradition of long ageing in American oak has created a distinct profile that is more about wood, leather and often meaty flavours than it is about fruit. If you are going to judge for fruit first you are missing the point of these wines. This is a great demonstration, offering good density, tension, structure and depth for $20.

Palazzo Brunello Di Montalcino 2010 Valdemar Inspiración Valdemar 2010 Castello Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 Messias Colheita Port 2005

Castello Monsanto 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($34.95)
Sara d’Amato – A sangiovese (90%) based blend with a small amounts of canaiolo and colorino. Founder Aldo Bianchi was what you might call a progressive traditionalist and was responsible for the first “cru” in Chianti Classico from the Il Poggio vineyard. Sangiovese has always been the primary focus of the winery and son Fabrizio, with his daughter Laura, take the varietal to outstanding heights exemplified in this age-worthy and distinctive wine.

Messias Colheita Port 2005, Douro, Portugal ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – An aged Tawny Port, a Colheita is made using grapes from only a single vintage and must be aged in barrel for a minimum of seven years. This is a tremendous value not to be missed with rich, nutty notes of dates and dried cherry that linger with impressive persistence.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Sept 19, 2015

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

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

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 5, Part Two

Euro Whites and Reds
by John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week we highlight our top picks from Europe (aka the “Old World”) in the September 5th release, dominated by classics from France and Italy. Last week David led off part one with a look at top New World releases (my reviews have since been added to the site, with remarkable alignment), and the trend of creeping “hidden” sweetness in red wines (see also my article on that subject from January 2014)

Not to flog the proverbial dead horse, but the pervasiveness of sweetened wines was underscored yet again this past week as we tasted through close to a thousand wines for the WineAlign World Wine Awards, a nice snapshot of the current market across Canada. Many, many of the red and white wines had clearly been sweetened.

Like David, and the majority who spend a lot of their time tasting and thinking about wine, I find that adding back sweet, concentrated grape juice to wines before bottling, which are otherwise purported to be dry, pretty much washes out anything that might be called regional or varietal character, the things that people are generally willing to pay more for. To balance naturally high acid white wines is another matter.

But the wines in question are invariably low acid, and often need to have extra acid added to keep them from falling apart, so there’s no reason to sweeten other than to titillate your taste buds, tuned in to sweet tastes. That may be fine if all you’re after is a soft and easy drinking, pleasantly smooth commercial beverage made mostly from fermented grapes, priced accordingly.

But if the winery pretends anything more grand than that (as they so often do), it’s deceptive, which is why wine commentators get their taste buds in a knot over the issue and why there were so many disappointed and even angry faces around the tasting table this week as yet another sweet wine appeared in a flight of supposedly dry wines. It’s like the food industry that strips all of the natural flavour out of our food and then adds back designer chemicals engineered to light up the sensitive part of our brains.

New World countries are hardly the only perpetrators of wilful sweetening for commercial effect. The Old World, too, has its taste engineers, most predominantly in the southern Mediterranean (I can finger export-bound wines from southern Italy, Spain and Portugal in particular). Seeing the staggering sales figures for the successful sweetened brands in North America, it’s easy to understand why they’d want in on the action. Labelling them what they are – sweetened wines – would no doubt kill some of those sales. Or maybe, other wines will need to start putting “no sugar added” on their labels.

Until legislation changes – and you’ll need a very deep breath – we’ll continue to describe, comment and offer opinions, and let you decide what mixture of price, backstory and flavour profile is of preference. As a wine consumer above all, I personally love to know what I’m consuming.

Buyers Guide for September 5th 2015: Euro Whites

Paul Prieur Et Fils Sancerre 2014

Old Vines in Young Hands 2013 WhiteOld Vines In Young Hands White 2013, Douro, Portugal ($12.95)
John Szabo – A tidy little wine here for the money to be sure, with an aromatic component (malvasia?), but don’t bother trying to dissect it – just enjoy this dry, fruity-stony, well-made blend.

Paul Prieur Et Fils 2014 Sancerre, Loire, France ($26.95)
Sara d’Amato – Paul Prieur is considered an important instigator in reviving the reputation of Sancerre both in France and internationally due to wines like this traditional, nervy and mineral driven treat. A widely appealing, sure-fire hit that is energetically brimming with crunchy saline and vibrant acids.

Bailly Lapierre 2014 Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc, Burgundy, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – Easily the equal of many sauvignons from an hour or so west in Sancerre, Bailly Lapierre delivers a very pleasantly stony and lean, sharp and precisely cut example.
David Lawrason – No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. There is one tiny appellation a few klicks southwest of Chablis where sauvignon blanc flourishes quite nicely. This is a quite fine, complex, compact and elegant example with a nice sense of minerality similar to Sancerre, which is not that far away in the upper Loire.

Studert-Prüm 2009 Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling, Mosel, Germany ($21.95)
John Szabo – A reliable name from a grand cru-worthy Mosel vineyard, this 2009 seems to have barely moved since bottling. It’s still crackling and fresh, supremely mineral, off-dry but balanced and ethereal in the way that only Germany can do consistently. Best 2015-2025.
Sara d’Amato – This Spätlese level riesling is unctuous, characteristically sweet but balanced by acidic verve. A touch of funky with notes of honey and beeswax that add complexity and dimension to this ageworthy riesling. Try with pork schnitzel.

Bailly Lapierre Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Studert Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling 2009 Clemens Busch Marienburg Kabinett Riesling 2013 Domaine Laroche Les Vaudevey Chablis 1er Cru 2012 Maculan Pinot Grigio 2013

Clemens Busch 2013 Marienburg Kabinett Riesling, Mosel, Germany ($28.95)
David Lawrason – You may have to go out of your way to find this Flagship Store exclusive, but if you profess to admire riesling you must buy this wine. It is a gorgeous, linear, tender and juicy off-dry, young Mosel with great acid nerve, complexity and length. A miracle that so much presence can be packed into a wine with 7.5% alcohol. Enjoy it over lunch on the last long weekend of the summer.
John Szabo – Ditto.

Domaine Laroche 2012 Les Vaudevey Chablis 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($38.95)
John Szabo – This is really beautiful Chablis from Laroche, just moving into an excellent drinking phase, with terrific depth and persistence. Best 2015-2022.

Maculan 2013 Pinot Grigio, Veneto, Italy ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Maculan is a leading family producer in the northeast, founded in 1947 by Faustino Maculan and now managed by third generation sisters Angela and Maria Vittoria. Be aware that this is a very different style of pinot grigio – definitely not bland. It’s deeply coloured with lifted floral, exotic aromas of lemongrass, licorice and chamomile; fairly soft and fleshy with a juicy, lemony tart finish.

Buyers Guide for September 5th 2015: Euro Reds

Tessellae Carignan Old Vines Côtes Du Roussillon 2013

Chapoutier 2013 Belleruche Côtes-du-RhôneM. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes Du Rhône 2013, Rhône, France ($16.95)
John Szabo – A fine vintage for the Belleruche CdR, Chapoutier’s Grenache-syrah blend from throughout the southern Rhône on multiple terroirs. The 2013 delivers lovely marked peppery flavours generous palate and supple, polished tannins. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – This is textbook young Côtes-du-Rhône, possessing both charm and power. Love the classic Rhône aromatics of ripe strawberry/cherry, with white pepper, lavender and dried herbs. It’s medium-full bodied, smooth and powerful. Chapoutier is a world leader with grenache and syrah based wines, farming organically and biodynamically in the Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon and Australia.
Sara d’Amato – The Belleruche Côtes du Rhône blend is sourced from the southern Rhône but the peppery, overtly floral nose would suggest a cooler, more northerly origin. Excellent value here with ample concentration and huge complexity.

Tessellae 2013 Côtes Du Roussillon Old Vines, Roussillon, France ($17.00)
David Lawrason – I only comment on a Parker (or any) rating when the producer has chosen to broadcast it on the label, making it part of your off-the-shelf buying decision. This bottle is wearing a Parker 94 – which is over the top in my books. Still, it is excellent and very good value; well made, smooth, almost silky, generous and a bit hot on the palate with typical Roussillon ripeness. The length is very good; but in the end I scored it a 90.

Château Godard Bellevue 2011, Bordeaux Côtes de Francs, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – The Francs appellation of the right bank of Bordeaux is often overlooked but there are some great values to be found. This merlot dominant blend offers a deliciously complex profile of smoke, violets and dried herbs. At this price this Bordeaux will likely fly from the shelves.

Mas Del Périé 2012 La Roque Malbec, Cahors, Southwest France ($21.95)
David Lawrason – Here – yet again – is a biodynamically produced wine that rises above the pack. It’s an increasingly common phenomenon when I taste unknowingly down the long line of wines at the LCBO lab. This is an intense, firm, fragrant young French malbec in a slightly rustic style, by young winemaker Fabien Jouves. Outperforms its price by a long shot. Best 2016 to 2020.
Sara d’Amato – The malbec on the label is more prominent that the appellation which tells you something about the selling power of this highly marketable grape. Although this example is distinctly French, the wine is generous and offers softer tannins than the norm.

Château Godard Bellevue 2011 Mas Del Périé La Roque Malbec 2012 Vignamaggio Gherardino Chianti Classico 2012 J.L. Chave Crozes Hermitage Rouge Silène 2013 Les Vins De Vienne L'arzelle Saint Joseph 2011

Vignamaggio 2012 Gherardino Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($24.95)
John Szabo – A very tidy Chianti Classico, spicy, peppery, classically styled, firm and dusty, comfortably traditional. This is terrific food wine, with some grilled protein. Tasted August 2015.

J.L. Chave Selection 2013 Silène Crozes-Hermitage, Rhône, France ($33.00)
John Szabo – Although Jean-Louis Chave’s negociant bottlings (under the “Selection” label), may not be quite at the extraordinary heights of his legendary estate wines, they are surely a terrific introduction to the house style and the uncompromising quality standards. This is classic northern Rhône syrah, incense and black pepper-heavy, with beautifully textured, seamless palate and terrific length. Proper wine. Best 2015-2023.
Sara d’Amato – The “selection” collection is JL Chave’s negociant label and delivers some very good wines at a fraction of the price of Chave’s more esteemed line. Crozes-Hermitage is a very large appellation and although the wines are generally of average quality, some gems can be found like this musky, intense and compelling syrah.

Les Vins de Vienne l’Arzelle 2011 Saint-Joseph, Rhône, France ($37.95)
Sara d’Amato – The wines of the Rhône are hot in this current release and I can’t help but recommend one further selection. The only partially de-stemmed bunches of grapes contribute flavour and added complexity while the use of indigenous yeast ensures a more authentic experience of terroir.

Domaine Jean Marc Pavelot Savigny Les Beaune Les Peuillets 1er Cru 2011

Verbena 2009 Brunello di MontalcinoVerbena Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany, Italy ($39.95)
David Lawrason – I am no plant and herb specialist, but I suspect a strong link between the name of this winery, the scent of this storied plant, and the very lifted aroma of this wine. From Wikipedia “In the William Faulkner short story An Odor of Verbena, verbena is used symbolically and described as ‘the only scent that can be smelled above the scent of horses and courage’.  This great, deep and mature Brunello also sports a red and blackcurrant, leather and pepper aromas. It’s medium full bodied, very smooth, warm and engaging. Great flavour penetration and depth. Ready to drink, or cellar through 2020.

Domaine Jean-Marc Pavelot 2011 Savigny-Les-Beaune Les Peuillets 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($45.95)
John Szabo – Red Burgundy of this quality and price doesn’t come around all that often, so take advantage of this, from one of Savigny’s top addresses. Les Peuillets is one of Pavelot’s more charming and immediately appealing crus; the 2011 is tightly knit, smoky, spicy and savoury, balanced by plenty of wild cherry fruit. It’s nicely representative of the appellation, drinking now, but surely better after 2016.


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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Sept 5, 2015

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 5, Part One

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

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES 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

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 22, Part Two

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

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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, , , , , , , , ,

WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008