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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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LCBO Opens Spanish Specialty Location

by David Lawrason

Long-time readers know my enduring criticism of the LCBO has been lack of selection depth compared to any other major wine consuming market in the world, where private retailing rules. Well I am not about to change my tune and say the LCBO actually should exist, but I will give credit where due and happily say they are doing something about deepening their selection by creating regional specialty selections.

A Greek specialty location opened in Toronto’s Greektown at 200 Danforth Ave in June, followed by a Portuguese specialty store at 2151 St. Clair west (Stockyards) in July. Last week a Spanish location opened at the newly expanded location at 2946 Bloor St West at Royal York (Kingsway) in Etobicoke.

Spanish selection at LCBO Royal York Store

All three “Products of the World” locations are stocking all ‘General List’ and VINTAGES selections, as well as products purchased from agents who have wines in the Consignment program. The huge pool of consignment wines until now has been earmarked for direct sales by the case to restaurants and consumers. But at the new LCBO specialty locations you can buy single bottles off the shelf.

The Spanish “boutique” on Bloor West boasts over 150 selections, although the start-up, opening day inventory was not quite up there. I counted about 120. The new “Kingsway exclusive” selection is not some rarefied portfolio of expensive wines. They range from $11 to over $50. And some are available for sampling in-store at the recently installed tasting bar. I managed to taste most of the “Kingsway exclusives”. Links to some of the best buys and featured wines are below. They may not all show up in the LCBOs on-line inventory, so you may have to visit the store now and then and have a look.

Kingsway Exclusives

Tandem Ars In Vitro 2011, Navarra ($11.45)

Tandem Ars in Vitro

Bodegas Costers Del Sio Celistia Tierra 2013, Costers Del Segre ($13.80)

Bodegas Costers Del Sio Celistia Tierra 2013 side

Legón Reserva 2010, Ribera Del Duero ($22.85)

Legón Reserva 2010 side

From the VINTAGES Oct 3rd Spanish Release

(Read more on Spain in John’s Oct 3rd VINTAGES Article)

Terras Gauda 2013 O Rosal Blanco, Rías Baixas, Spain ($24.95)

Terras Gauda O Rosal Blanco 2013 side

Viña Real 2008 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($36.95)

Vina Real Gran Reserva 2008 side

Bodegas Bhilar 2011 Phinca Encanto Rufete, Sierra de Francia, Spain ($32.95)

Phinca Encanto Rufete 2011 side

LCBO General Lists Values

Bordón Gran Reserva 2005

Faustino V I I Blanco 2014, Rioja ($12.95)

Faustino V I I Blanco 2014


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!

Store photo courtesy of LCBO


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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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Top 20 under $20 at the LCBO (September 2015)

Your Guide to the Best Values, Limited Time Offers & Bonus Air Miles selections at the LCBO
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

I am delighted to have found many new great values at the LCBO this month. From among all the wines I have tasted since I last reported to you, I have found ten new wines to join the my standing list of Top 50 Value wines.

Additionally many wines from that list are discounted and a some have Bonus Air Miles that apply, making these wines even more attractive for the next four weeks or so; all making your fall drinking more affordable.

I have selected six wines that did not quite make it to the Top 50 but they all have BAMs this month. Several of you have written to me saying that BAMs are only of marginal interest. I do somewhat agree however they do have some value. All the wines chosen below are good value already; the BAMs simply add temporarily to their appeal.

The Top 20 under $20 are best buys among the 1600 or so wines in LCBO Wines and the Vintages Essentials Collection. I select most from wines on Steve’s Top 50, a standing WineAlign list based on quality/price ratio. You can read below in detail how the Top 50 works, but it does fluctuate as new wines arrive and as discounts show up through Limited Time Offers (LTOs).

The current discount period runs until October 11th. So don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that there were stocks available, when we published, of every wine that I highlight.

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


Mike Weir The Underdog Red 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($6.45 Discontinued at LCBO) New to Top 50 – This lightweight simple red is now at a great price. Over 700 bottles remain.

Figuero Tinto 4 Tempranillo 2012, Spain ($9.90 Discontinued at LCBO) New to Top 50 – A lively juicy red with soft berry aromas and a lively fruity palate.

Fuzion Alta Reserva Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina ($9.95) Top 50 September – A fruity juicy malbec. Chill a little and try with pizza or meaty pasta sauces.

Trapiche Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina ($10.45 +4 BAMs) – Pretty good malbec for the price, not that complex but quite correct. Try with grilled meats.

Mike Weir The Underdog Red 2012 Figuero Tinto 4 Tempranillo 2012 Fuzion Alta Reserva Malbec 2014 Trapiche Malbec 2014

Quinta Do Valdoeiro Baga, Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah 2011 Bairrada, Portugal ($10.80) Top 50 September – A fresh clean blend of the Portuguese grape baga with cabernet and syrah. It is midweight with an elegant juicy palate, lively acidity and fine tannin. Very good length. Try with roast meats.

Errazuriz Estate Series Carmenere 2013, Rapel Valley, Chile ($11.40) New to Top 50 – This is a vibrant young carmenere with lifted aromas and lots of flavour and shows just how good this grape can be. It’s smooth and quite firm but not the least austere, with chalky tannin and a lemony tone to the finish. Very good length. Try with grilled meats or baked brie.

Santa Carolina Carmenère Reserva 2013, Cachapoal Valley, Chile ($12.95 + 8 BAMs) – A well made juicy ripe carmenere with none of the greenness sometimes associated with this grape. Try with bbq and roast red meats, casseroles or mature hard cheese.

Quinta Do Valdoeiro Baga, Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah 2011 Errazuriz Estate Series Carmenere 2013 Santa Carolina Carmenère Reserva 2013 Fielding Fireside Red Cabernet 2012 Cape Heights Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Fielding Fireside Red Cabernet 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($14.95 +5 BAMs) – A well structured youthful red that needs a decanter for an hour then it will be great with a steak.

Cape Heights Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Western Cape, South Africa ($9.35) New to Top 50 – A clean juicy dry midweight modern cabernet with a mild oak treatment. It is a little sweet but finishes dry with decent length.


San Pedro Gato Negro Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (1500ml) Chile $13.95 +6BAMs – A clean pure sipping white for a good price with some sauvignon character. Chill well and enjoy with vegetable dips.

Periquita White 2013, Portugal ($8.95 + 3 BAMs) – Top 50 September – Aromatic with a very smooth palate and good depth of flavour and some fruit sweetness, yet it finishes dry with good to very good length. Enjoy with mildly flavoured seafood.

Montalto Pinot Grigio 2014, Sicily ($9.45 + 4 BAMs) New to Top 50 – This grigio from Sicily has a lot of aroma and flavour with more complexity than one would expect from such an inexpensive wine.

San Pedro Gato Negro Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Periquita White 2013 Montalto Pinot Grigio 2014 Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2014

Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2014, Central Valley, Chile ($9.95) New to Top 50 – A warmer climate sauvignon with lots of flavour. Try with grilled chicken.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2015 Chile ($9.95) New to Top 50 – A floral rich dry white with an appealing aromatic nose. Great as an apertif or with strongly flavoured cheese.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Chardonnay 2014 Casablanca Valley Chile ($10.50) New to Top 50 – Mild aromas with just a hint of oak led to the fresh pure palate with delicate fruit and very good length, Try with sauteed seafood.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2015 Cono Sur Bicicleta Chardonnay 2014 Cono Sur Chardonnay Reserva Especial 2014

Cono Sur Chardonnay Reserva Especial 2014, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($10.65) New to Top 50 – This vintage is quite sauvignon like; fresh lively with just a touch of oak and mouthwateringly delicious.

Osborne Santa Maria Cream Sherry, Jerez, Spain ($12.95 + 6 BAMs) – Excellent value for a classic cream sherry from Spain with abundant aromas, great depth of flavour and excellent length. Enjoy with a quarter of a fresh orange squeezed on ice as an aperitif.

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava Catalonia Spain ($13.45 was $14.95) – New to Top 50 – This is my favourite LCBO bubbly under $15, great for receptions as an aperitif; essentially anywhere you would consider Champagne.

Osborne Santa Maria Cream Sherry Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava Santa Rita Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2015 Villa Wolf Riesling 2013

Santa Rita Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2015, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($13.95) New to Top 50 – A pure rich zesty sauvignon with good varietal character. Try with sautéed seafood.

Villa Wolf Riesling 2013, Qualitätswein, Pfalz Germany ($14.95 + 8 BAMs) – A racy juicy quite elegant riesling that’s finely balanced with very good length. Just what you need in a riesling at this price.

How does a wine get selected for the Top 20 under $20.

Top 20 Under 20There are three ways that a wine gets into this monthly report of wines that are always in the stores either in the LCBO Wines section or the VINTAGES Essential Collection.

– On Sale (LTO’s or Limited Time Offers): Every four weeks the LCBO discounts around 200 wines. I have looked through the current batch and have highlighted some of my favourites that offer better value at present…. so stock up now.

– Bonus Air Miles (BAM’s): If you collect Air Miles then you will be getting Bonus Air Miles on another 150 or so wines…a few of these have a special appeal for a while.

– Steve’s Top 50: Wines that have moved onto my Top 50 Best Values this month. This is on an-on going WineAlign selection (Top 50,) that mathematically calculates value by comparing the price and rating of all the wines on the LCBO General List. You can access the report any time and read more about it now.

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

In addition to the wines mentioned above, there are another 36 wines on the Top 50 list this month. So if you did not find all you need in this report, dip into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database. I review the list every month to include newly listed and recently tasted vintages of current listings as well as monitoring the value of those put on sale for a limited time.

Before value wine shopping remember to consult the Top 50 (Click on Wine =>Top 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list), since it is always changing. If you find that there is a new wine on the shelf or a new vintage that we have not reviewed, let us know. Moreover if you disagree with our reviews, tell us please us. And if you think our reviews are accurate, send us some feedback since it’s good to hear that you agree with us.

The Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.


Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20
Top 50 Value Wines

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


Tilia Malbec

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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

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Top 20 under $20 at the LCBO (Aug 2015)

Your Guide to the Best Values, Limited Time Offers & Bonus Air Miles selections at the LCBO
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

The LCBO announced some big discounts last Monday plus many wines with Bonus Air Miles (BAMs) so I have quite a few new wine values to report. I picked 20 wines under $20 that are the best values presently.

This month’s selections are best buys among the 1600 or so wines in LCBO Wines and the Vintages Essentials Collection. I have selected eleven wines from Steve’s Top 50, a standing WineAlign list based on quality/price ratio. You can read below in detail how the Top 50 works, but it does fluctuate as new wines arrive and as discounts show up through Limited Time Offers (LTOs).

To these I added another nine wines, all with BAMs, that make them good choices and though none of them quite made it on to the Top 50, they were all close.

The discount period runs until September 12th. So don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I was able to ensure that there were stocks available, when we published, of every wine that I highlight.

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


Beso De Vino Seleccion Red 2011 Carinena Spain ($8.95 was $9.95) New to TOP 50 – A ripe structured red with a nice lemony tone to nose and palate which is full bodied with some tannin and soft acidity for balance. Try with sweet ribs.

Lavau 2011, Cotes Du Rhone Villages, Rhone Valley France ($12.90) New to TOP 50 – A recent arrival at LCBO that jumped straight onto the Top50 list. A generous, fruity, lively red with very good length. Versatile food wine.

Hardys Stamp Of Australia Shiraz Cabernet 2013, South Eastern Australia ($9.85 +6BAMs) – Hardy’s Stamp series are well priced easy drinking wines that are balanced for food and are designed for current consumption. This is a bright lively midweight red. Try with lamb cutlets.

Beso de Vino Seleccion Red 2011 Lavau 2011 Hardys Stamp of Australia Shiraz Cabernet 2013Citra Sangiovese Terre di Chieti 2013Bodegas Volcanes de Chile Summit Reserva Cabernet Syrah 2013

Citra Sangiovese Terre Di Chieti 2013, Abruzzo, Italy ($7.75 + 4BAMs) – An inexpensive red for pizza and tomato pasta sauces. Basic but it delivers.

Bodegas Volcanes De Chile Summit Reserva Cabernet Syrah 2013, Rapel Valley, Chile ($9.95 + 8BAMs) – A midweight to full bodied juicy red at a great price. Grown on volcanic soils which adds to its purity of flavour.

Cusumano Syrah 2013, Sicily, Italy ($10.95 was $11.95) TOP 50 August – A midweight cool climate syrah that’s well balanced flavourful and very fruity.

Carmen Reserva Carmenère 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($11.45 + 5BAMs) TOP 50 August – A perfumed nicely ripe carmenère with no hint of greenness and it’s not too ripe either. Try with grilled meats.

Cusumano Syrah 2013Carmen Reserva Carmenère 2013Thelema Mountain Red 2012Santa Carolina Merlot Reserva 2012

Thelema Mountain Red 2012, Western Cape, South Africa ($12.90 + 7BAMs) – This delightful blend of shiraz and five other grapes comes from high mountain vineyards above Stellenbosch. It is very smooth and quite dense. Try with pizza or burgers .

Santa Carolina Merlot Reserva 2012, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($12.95+ 4BAMs) – A bright fresh merlot with pure aromas and flavours. It is deliciously vibrant with the juicy fruit balanced by soft tannin. Try with bbq meats.

Montecillo Crianza 2010 Rioja Spain ($12.95 was $14.95) New to TOP 50 – I love the classy orange red label on this classic Spanish red. It is easy drinking, well balanced and a very versatile food wine.

Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($13.95 + 5BAMs) New to TOP 50 – There is a distinctly European feel to this full plush red with very good length. It shows how well suited this grape is to Niagara.

Montecillo Crianza 2010Château Des Charmes Gamay Noir 2013The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013Hardys Chronicle No. 3Santa Rita Medalla Real Carmenere Gran Reserva 2011

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2014, Western Cape ($13.95) New to TOP 50 – Another excellent vintage for this Rhone blend from the Cape. It is medium to full-bodied with a savoury peppery tone to the ripe fruit.

Hardys Chronicle No. 3 Butcher’s Gold Shiraz Sangiovese 2012, South Australia ($14.95 + 8BAMs) – Sangiovese, the Chianti grape from Italy, is blended in this wine with shiraz to deliver a fresher more vibrant wine than one normally expects from this region.

Santa Rita Medalla Real Carmenere Gran Reserva 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($17.90) New to TOP 50 – A complex powerful red that it also elegant with youthful aromas. Very cellar worthy.


Riverlore Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand ($13.90 was $15.90) – New to TOP 50 – A crisp juicy very typical Kiwi sauvignon at a great price. Sautéed seafood or a goats cheese salad would be perfect.

Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay 2013, Livermore Valley, California ($17.95) New to TOP 50 – What I like most about this modern California chardonnay is that the fruit shows through on both nose and palate. Creamy smooth with a fresh pure nose. Try with tempura.

Citra Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2013 Abruzzo, Italy ($7.75 + 4BAMs) – A basic yet quite fruity Italian white that’s great with grilled calamari.

Riverlore Sauvignon Blanc 2014Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay 2013Citra Trebbiano d'Abruzzo 2013Cono Sur Bicicleta Chardonnay 2013Errazuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014Château Des Arroucats 2012

Cono Sur Bicicleta Chardonnay 2013 Chile ($10.45 + 5BAMs) – A bright fresh chardonnay with peach and apple fruit and soft complementary oak aromas and flavours.

Errazuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($12.95 + 6BAMs) – A cool coastal sauvignon with good varietal character. Try with sautéed scallops with a lemongrass dressing or creamy goats cheese salad.

Château des Arroucats 2012, Ste. Croix du Mont, Bordeaux, France ($14.80 was $17.70) New to TOP 50 – An elegant sweet wine that makes a great aperitif but also good with white chocolate desserts. Recently delisted, over 1000 bottles remain.

How does a wine get selected for the Top 20 under $20.

Top 20 Under 20There are three ways that a wine gets into this monthly report of wines that are always in the stores either in the LCBO Wines section or the VINTAGES Essential Collection.

– On Sale (LTO’s or Limited Time Offers): Every four weeks the LCBO discounts around 200 wines. I have looked through the current batch and have highlighted some of my favourites that offer better value at present…. so stock up now.

– Bonus Air Miles (BAM’s): If you collect Air Miles then you will be getting Bonus Air Miles on another 150 or so wines…a few of these have a special appeal for a while.

– Steve’s Top 50: Wines that have moved onto my Top 50 Best Values this month. This is on an-on going WineAlign selection (Top 50,) that mathematically calculates value by comparing the price and rating of all the wines on the LCBO General List. You can access the report any time and read more about it now.

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

In addition to the wines mentioned above, there are another 39 wines on the Top 50 list this month. So if you did not find all you need in this report, dip into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database. I review the list every month to include newly listed and recently tasted vintages of current listings as well as monitoring the value of those put on sale for a limited time.

Before value wine shopping remember to consult the Top 50 (Click on Wine =>Top 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list), since it is always changing. If you find that there is a new wine on the shelf or a new vintage that we have not reviewed, let us know. Moreover if you disagree with our reviews, tell us please us. And if you think our reviews are accurate, send us some feedback since it’s good to hear that you agree with us.

The Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.


Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20
Top 50 Value Wines

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


Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc

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