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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.

Cheers
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!


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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:

WHITE

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.

RED

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.

Cheers,

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!


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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!

Reds

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.

Whites

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.

Cheers!

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!


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Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 22, Part One

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

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

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

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

Whites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers
David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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

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


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Squealing Pig Sauvignon Blanc 2014


Pacific Northwest Tasting - Aug 17th

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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – August 2015

Let the Cocktail Fit the CountryAugust 10, 2015

by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine 

During the Pan Am Games in Toronto, the InterContinental’s Azure Lounge matched drinks with sports and their countries. This was the ultimate “let the cocktail fit the country” exercise and reminded me that there are some places in the world where their cocktails are as iconic as their top tourist sites.

Azure’s “Beach Volleyball” cocktail took the fact that Brazil is a power house in beach volleyball and matched it with the country’s most famous spirit, cachaça to make their version of a Caipirinha, the country’s favourite cocktail. Azure’s recipe calls for two ounces of cachaça, one lime quartered and a teaspoon of white sugar. You muddle the lime and white sugar in a shaker, add ice and cachaça, shake and pour into rocks glass (no straining) for the ultimate refreshing hot weather cocktail. (Up the sugar or lower the lime if you want a less tart beverage.)

The Caipirinha came to be in the 1800s, first made by Brazilian slaves. They drank boiled cane sugar juice called garapa and mixed it with cachaça made from sugar cane. For flavour they added spice and fruit juice. One of these mixes, the batida de limao, which is made with lime, is the base of today’s Caipirinha.

In Rio de Janeiro’s trendy Santa Teresa district, the restaurant Aprazível has its own cachaça sommelier, and a cachaça list with over 100 brands, organized under the states that produce them. Cachaça is distilled from fresh sugar cane juice: the best come from artisanal pot still production in regions such as Salinas in Minas Gerais state, Paraty in Rio de Janeiro state and Monte Alegre do Sul in São Paulo state and can be aged in wood barrels for many years.

Pitú Cachaça founded in 1938 claims to be one of the oldest and most traditional spirit companies in Brazil. If you want to make copious Caipirinhas without breaking the bank this is the brand for you. Leblon Cachaça rests up to six months in vintage XO cognac casks to lend it a sophistication and ultra-smooth character.

The Pisco Sour is long claimed by both the Peruvians and the Chileans as their national drink. Pisco is basically a white brandy (unaged) made from certain varieties of distilled grapes. In Peru they add egg white to the basic mix of Pisco, lime juice and sugar syrup and top that with a dash of angostura bitters. Beyond the slight difference in drink recipes (in Chile no egg white or angostura) is the battle over who owns the rights to Pisco.

Pisco is Peru according to the Peruvian government. The country has a town of Pisco that overlooks the Pisco River at the foot of the Pisco Valley. The town dates back to 1574. Melanie Asher, founder and CEO of Macchupisco, a leading Peruvian producer and exporter, rightly says Pisco is a deeply ingrained part of the culture of the country.

Chile however produces much more of the grape liquor and both countries have strict regulations governing its production. That said under the Chilean system, water may be added to dilute the alcohol content before sale while in Peru this is not allowed.

Pitu Cachaca Leblon Cachaca Macchu Pisco El Gobernador Pisco Capel Premium Pisco

Pisco has been produced in the Pisco region of southern Peru since 1613 while the first documented evidence of Pisco production in Chile dates no further than 1871. However to complicate things, in 1693 Peru and Chile were not separate countries, rather part of the same territory within the Spanish viceroyalty of Peru, and Chile also has a town named Pisco.

Suffice to say both countries have strong claims to Pisco and don’t wish to give an inch to the other. And indeed they both insist they invented the Pisco Sour. The Peruvians say it was conceived in the 1920s at the Morris Bar near Lima’s main plaza. The Chileans say it was invented at a bar in the town of Iquique. Whatever the truth – Pisco sours are delicious and a must order in either country.

Macchu Pisco from Chincha, Valle de Ina, Peru is a single grape Pisco (quebranta) that’s very aromatic and flavour packed. El Gobernador Pisco from Valle di Limari in Chile is produced in a single discontinuous distillation in copper alembic stills to conserve the scents of the muscatel variety. Capel Pisco from a cooperative in the Elqui Valley in Chile is delicate and fragrant.

The Caribbean is the home of rum and to protect its provenance, The Authentic Caribbean Rum (ACR) marque was recently developed by the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association. Most islands have both their indigenous rums and their special drinks. On Bermuda it’s the “dark ’n stormy” Goslings Rum hovering above ginger beer. On Cuba the Daiquiri, a simple mix of rum, sugar syrup and lime juice was made famous by Ernest Hemingway at the El Floridita Bar in Havana which he frequented.

St. Lucia Distillers Chairman's Reserve Rum Skipper Rum Finest Old Demerara Navy Dark Rum New Grove Old Tradition 5 Year Old Rum El Dorado 3 Year Old RumChic Choc Spiced Rum

Try these rums in your cocktails for spirited results: St. Lucia Distillers Chairman’s Reserve is a hand crafted blend of double distilled pot and continuous rums. Skipper Rum is a finest old demerara, produced and aged in Guyana and New Grove Old Tradition is a five year aged Mauritius Island rum.

For a light rum effect try El Dorado 3 Year Old White Rum, that’s smooth on the palate with a dry finish. Want spice and flavour – go for Chic Choc spiced rum from Quebec which launched this year. A true taste of Nova Scotia can be had with Fortress rum matured in Louisbourg, a national historic site in the province – right now available in Nova Scotia and trying to expand its horizons in Canada.

Luigi Francoli Grappa Del Piemonte Nebbiolo Nonino GrappaGrappa is synonymous with Italy though not known for its appearance in cocktails. Nonino, one of the best producers is trying to change that with the Nonino Tonic and other recipes, some found on the neck of the Grappa Nonino bottles on the shelves now. Luigi Francoli Grappa Nebbiolo, is value priced from a family that has been distilling since 1875.

Liqueurs are both a vital part of many cocktails and part of the identity of countries known for their love of food and beverage. In Italy quintessential Italian flavours show up in liquors such as Sambuca (anise), Amaretto (almond), Maraschino (bitter-sweet cherry/almond) and Frangelico (hazelnut).

Luxardo Sambuca dei Cesar is intensely anise and licorice like with a creamy vanilla palate. Luxardo Amaretto di Saschira has terrific marzipan/almond flavours that linger. The Luxardo Maraschino liqueur is an essential part of the cocktail The Last Word, the Aviation, Brandy Crusta and many other classics. Frangelico made from locally grown hazelnuts in Piedmont, blended with coffee, cocoa and vanilla speaks distinctively of the local tastes.

So remember, when in Rome – you know the cliché.

Margaret Swaine

 

Luxardo Sambuca Dei Cesari Luxardo Amaretto Di Saschira Luxardo Maraschino Originale Liqueur Frangelico

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

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


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What’s New at the LCBO – August 2015

Between our VINTAGES Buyers’ Guide and Steve Thurlow’s top picks from the LCBO Wines, we have the whole store covered each and every month.

What’s New at the LCBO in August
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

The LCBO does not release many new wines mid-summer, but I was able to find a few new wines to tell you about since I last reported. Some are on shelf already; the rest will arrive over the next few weeks. Consequently, I have reprised below five additional wines that arrived over the last few months that are great value and are worthy of a second mention.

The wines on the shelves at the LCBO are constantly changing and I am tasting new ones all the time. Many favourites are always there but the range and variety is gradually being updated.

Anyway, I suggest you read on, pick a few that appeal and then sign in to WineAlign to check on inventory at your local LCBO, which should be set up as your Favourite Store in Find Wine at WineAlign.

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!

REDS

Lavau 2011

Quinta Do Valdoeiro 2013

Domaine La Gardie Merlot 2013

Domaine La Gardie Merlot 2013, Vin De Pays d’ Oc, Midi, France ($10.95)
This opaque purple red wine is a great buy for a pure clean structured red. Not a lot of complexity but well balanced for cheese and meat dishes.

Quinta Do Valdoeiro Baga, Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah 2011 Bairrada, Portugal ($12.95)
A fresh lively blend of the indigenous grape baga with two other grapes. Try with roast meats.

Lavau 2011, Côtes Du Rhone Villages, Rhone, France ($12.90)
A very youthful 2011 Rhone red, lively with mild tannin. It’s mid-weight and fleshy with nice sweet and sour tension. Very good length.

Faustino V Tempranillo Rosado 2014, Rioja, Spain ($12.90)
This shocking pink rosé is hard to miss on the shelf in its distinctive tall bottle, so grab a few and enjoy with mildly flavoured meat dishes. Don’t overchill or you might miss the good stuff! Best 2015 to 2016.

Creekside Cabernet Merlot 2013 v2

Kir Yianni Paranga 2012

Faustino V Tempranillo Rosado 2014Charles Tort Côtes Du Rhone Old Vines 2013 Rhone Valley France ($13.40) A fruity and spicy southern Rhone red that’s brimming with fruit yet has the structure for food. Try with a steak. (No image available)

Kir Yianni Paranga 2012, Macedonia, Greece ($13.70)
This is a modern styled red blend with little evidence of its Greek origin. It is full bodied and quite vibrant with very good length. Try with lamb cutlets.

Creekside Cabernet Merlot 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($14.95)
An opaque fruity complex red with a refined pure nose of cherry fruit with herbal and floral tones. It is mid-weight to full-bodied with a fine tannin structure and lemony acidity. Try with a steak.

Erben Pinot Noir Reserve 2013, Rheinhessen, Germany $15.45
A soft fruity nicely structured pinot that would be good with roast pork. It is very pale but has some nice delicate aromas of cherry and plum fruit.

Long Weekend Chardonnay Pinot Grigio 2014

Les Trois Couronnes 2013

Erben Pinot Noir Reserve 2013Les Trois Couronnes 2013, Crozes Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France ($17.65)
A cellar worthy syrah-rich red that would go well with a steak. Fruity, yet structured with an appealing nose.

WHITES

Long Weekend Chardonnay Pinot Grigio 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($12.95)
A well priced, fresh aromatic juicy white from Fielding Estate; good for sipping but fine also for seafood or chicken appetizers.

~

We would love to get your feedback on this report. Meanwhile check out my list of Top 50 wine values by dipping into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste. In two week’s time I will be back with a look at the updated list in our WineAlign’s Top 20 Under $20 report.

Cheers!

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!


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The Hidden Sea of Change

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 8, Part Two

The Wines of EcoTopia
By David Lawrason with wine notes from John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

This weekend VINTAGES releases 24 wines from British Columbia, Washington and Oregon – collectively the Pacific Northwest. It is a generous feature compared to many of late, and it hits all the right buttons in terms of identifying grapes and styles that define the region. The selection is centred on the average $19.95 price point that VINTAGES calls home, with a subsequent good to very good, 85 to 88 point scoring range generally defining the quality. The exceptions are some more expensive and higher quality Oregon pinot noirs. To delve into a wider and higher end selection, you could attend Vintages Goes Northwest event at Toronto’s Corus Quay Building Atrium (Queens Quay & Lower Jarvis) on Monday August 17. I hope to see you there!

The Pacific Northwest prides itself on a certain eco-freshness and sensitivity. An intriguing book called The Nine Nations of North America published in 1981 by American journalist and professor Joel Garreau, parsed the continent by geographic and economic influences – instead of the arbitrary political boundaries imposed by colonial powers in the 19th Century. It called the Pacific Northwest nation – wait for it – EcoTopia. I have never forgotten that name, or concept, because it is just so right. And if you don’t think so, just ask a resident of EcoTopia. They will set you straight.

What does this mean in wine terms? Well I look for freshness at these northerly latitudes and altitudes, and it does underpin the wines, especially when comparing them to the softer wines of California – the great southern seductress. But something else strikes me about PNW wines – a sense of winemaking newness and trying-too-hardness. There seems to be a pre-occupation with winemaking over terroir. Over-oaking is frequent, as well as pushing alcohol levels. And in some wineries – especially on the American side – pushing sweetness. It may just be at the quality and price level of this release, but that is what is being presented to you this time out.

It is of course still relatively early days for the Pacific Northwest, a premium wine region just 30 years, or one generation, down the track. And given its mountainous spine, there are great terroirs to be had – even if still being prospected. Many of the regional appellations on PNW labels, duly noted in VINTAGES catalogue, remain rather broad. The only real exception I noted in the release is the Similkameen red by Sandhill, which catches a riveting mineral nerve and less ripeness.

Here are some of the better and more definitive wines on the PNW feature, plus other reds of note. Last week John Szabo covered off the Loire Valley and other whites.

Pacific Northwest

Cedar Creek 2013 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($18.95)
David Lawrason. CedarCreek remains at standard-bearer for Okanagan wines of great clarity and varietal definition. This is a light, tart and juicy riesling loaded with green apple, lime and some flinty minerality. CedarCreek, along with winemaker Darryl Brooker (formerly of Flat Rock and Trius in Ontario) was recently acquired by Mission Hill.

A To Z Wineworks 2013 Chardonnay, Oregon ($19.95)
John Szabo – A to Z may be Oregon’s largest producer, but the range is highly competent. This is clean, fresh, nicely representative chardonnay from grapes sourced from throughout the state, mostly from the south. Oak is not a feature – this is all about the apple-citrus fruit in a cool climate idiom.
Sara d’Amato – America’s best selling Oregon chardonnay has thankfully graced us with its presence and offers a great deal of complexity, charm and vibrant energy for the price. The oak here, although present, is nicely restrained and bolsters the elegant fruit. Sip on its own or with buttery shellfish.

CedarCreek Riesling 2013 A To Z Wineworks Chardonnay 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2013 L'école No 41 Semillon 2013

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington ($16.95)
David Lawrason – Chateau Ste. Michelle has long been known as a riesling specialist, and this nods to that experience. It’s not a profound, complex example but the acid-sugar balance is very fine, and I really like the peach, floral and spicy nose that is nicely clean and expressive.

L’Ecole No. 41 2013 Semillon, Columbia Valley, Washington ($24.95)
David Lawrason – The little schoolhouse on the road to Walla Walla has become synonymous with this wine region. They have been making semillon from day one – and I can’t think of another American winery that has. This has a rich, dusty, spicy semillon nose of fresh fig, some blossom florality and candle wax. It’s quite full bodied, fleshy and spicy.
Sara d’Amato – This striking semillon offers fresh acids but more body and viscosity than its more famous South African counterparts. Lush and appealing with just a touch of funk to keep it interesting.

Adelsheim 2012 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($41.95)
John Szabo – David Adelsheim may be best know for having brought the “Dijon” chardonnay clones from Burgundy to Oregon in the early 1990s, but his pinot noirs are certainly among the best in the state. Even this non vineyard-designated example delivers the bright, savoury, crunchy red fruit and elegance that makes Willamette pinot so intriguing.
David Lawrason This is a very bright, generous, structured, quite youthful pinot with surprisingly lifted floral, raspberry plum fruit plus a hint of beetroot. It’s medium bodied, quite firm and tart with a mineral edge.

Domaine Drouhin 2012 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Oregon ($45.95)
David Lawrason – This is an In Store Discovery in limited release, but well worth seeking out. Drouhin was the first Burgundy producer to invest in any pinot noir region outside of Burgundy. This has a reserved, very pretty nose of red cherry, nicely fitted with seamless oak vanillin, spice and cedar. Very delicate and fine aromatics! It’s medium weight, supple and refined.

Adelsheim Pinot Noir 2012 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2012  Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2013 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir 2011

Burrowing Owl 2013 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($40.95) (556613)
Sara d’Amato – These ambitious pinots tend to evolve unpredictably and with varying degrees of success but I am particularly pleased with this example at this point in time. Mid-weight but voluminous with bright acids, supple tannins and lovely woody integration.

Sokol Blosser 2011 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Oregon ($34.95)
John Szabo – Be sure to give this some time in the glass (or decanter, or cellar), this is very reductive (grapefruit-tinged) off the top, from a cool vintage. But the palate delivers fine, succulent balance, inviting savoury acids, and genuine mineral-saline character. All in all, a classic Jory-volcanic soils, Willamette pinot. Best 2015-2019.

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $26.95
David Lawrason – This VINTAGES Essentials has taken one of two golds in the Cabernet Sauvignon category at the 2015 National Wine Awards. It is a really stylish, well composed red with generous oak melding nicely with currant/blackberry fruit. There are herbal notes, vanillin, tobacco and spices – all nicely integrated.
John Szabo – Perennial performer Mission Hill presents a nicely polished and firm, classically styled cabernet, with all of the necessary elements at the price: dark spicy fruit, integrated wood, balanced-crisp acids and fine length. Comfortably in the premium range. Best 2015-2022.

Sandhill 2012 Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet Merlot, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – The Similkameen – a parallel valley west of the Okanagan – is emerging has a great zone for energetic, granitic/mineral reds. This single vineyard red has a lifted nose with blackcurrant, herbs and spice. It’s medium weight, terse and coiled with intense slightly green flavours.

Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Sandhill 2012 Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet MerlotAirfield Estates Runway Merlot 2012 Lone Birch Syrah 2013

Airfield Estates 2012 Runway Merlot, Yakima Valley, Washington ($22.95)
John Szabo – A rare firm and dusty, grippy merlot, with no concessions to the typically soft and oaky style prevalent in eastern Washington. I like the herbal flavours and vibrant acids, as well as the lingering finish. Another year or two will benefit this to be sure. Best 2016-2022.

Lone Birch Syrah 2013, Yakima Valley, Washington ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – This sustainably farmed syrah, well priced and upbeat, is substantial, rich and modern in style. It offers harmony, style and concentration in a widely appealing package.

Other Reds

Espelt Viticultors 2013 Old Vines Garnacha, Emporda, Spain ($14.95)
David Lawrason – What a great summer burger and ribs red! It is a lovely, supple yet fairly rich and powerful garancha that shows off the fragrant strawberry/cherry jam fruit of the variety without soupy or confected excess. Pretty floral peony and white pepper aromas as well.
John Szabo – A hell of a wine for $15 from a little known corner of northern Spain, this should be bought by the case for summer BBQs, and/or winter stews. It’s big, ripe, wild and savage, balanced even at 15% alcohol, with inviting Mediterranean scrub-herbal flavours and firm acids/tannins. Best 2015-2023.

Vicchiomaggio 2010 Agostino Petri Riserva Chianti Classico Docg, Tuscany, Italy ($29.95)
John Szabo – Classy and refined, elegant Classico with terrific balance, succulent acids, and fine-grained tannins. The perfumed finish lingers nicely. Best 2015-2022.
David Lawrason – Indeed a classically style, for the short term cellar, although you could aerate and drink now as well.

Espelt Viticultors Old Vines Garnacha 2013 Vicchiomaggio Agostino Petri Riserva Chianti Classico 2010 Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2010

Dei 2011 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy, ($27.95)
Sara d’Amato – A producer who stands its ground often producing wines of spectacular heights. Despite the obvious concentration and approachability, there is a traditional feel here with impressive structure and compelling notes of  briny black olive, peppery violets and succulent black currant. Excellent value.

Paolo Conterno 2010 Riva Del Bric Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($39.95)
David Lawrason – A great vintage, a great price, a great producer. Can’t go wrong here! It is not a powerhouse or a dynamo, but it is well woven, complex, complete and well structured. The nose weaves classic nebbiolo sour cherry, spice, herbs, leather and earth – again all juxtaposed so well. The length is excellent.

Cosme Palacio 2009 Rioja Reserva, Spain ($22.95)
John Szabo – Lovely, succulent and harmonious Rioja, entering a fine stage of maturity, infinitely drinkable. Tannins are still firm, but the saline-juicy acids will keep you coming back for more. Nice stuff. Best 2015-2029.

Cosme Palacio Reserva 2009Château de Lancyre Esprit de Garrigue 2013Château Plaisance 2009Clos des Brusquières Châteauneuf du Pape 2012

Château De Lancyre 2013 Esprit De Garrigue, Languedoc, France ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Great value is charming, juicy summer red – a syrah, grenache blend that over-delivers! It is fairly pale but has a lifted very savoury, indeed garrigue nose, with pepper, balsamic, lavender and wild strawberry “fraise du bois” fruit.

Château Plaisance 2009, Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Great value in Bordeaux can be hard to come by so this stunner for under $20 made me take note. Matured but still pleasantly youthful. This nicely composed blend is dry and savory with grippy tannins and elegant floral notes. Wonderfully balanced and ageworthy.

Clos Des Brusquières 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône, France ($47.95)
Sara d’Amato – This small producer in Châteauneuf was one of the first in this prestigious appellation to bottle its wines to current standards in the early 1900s. Super traditional, the wine is fermented stem and all in concrete and barrel and is a blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. This was an immediate hit with me and is a textbook example of this distinguished wine offering plenty of muscle, earth, leather and garrigue.

Ramos Pinto 2013 Duas Quintas, Douro, Portugal ($17.95)
John Szabo – Another fine vintage for this Douro table classic, the 2013 is forward, dark and deeply fruity with sweet currant and blackberry inflected with floral and old wood spice notes. I appreciate the succulence and density, the fine-grained but firm tannins, the impressive weight and length. Terrific value. Best 2015-2023.

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas 2013 Angove Vineyard Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Penfolds Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Angove Vineyard 2013 Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia, ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – Bad Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon is hard to come by so you’ve got great odds when something like the Angove Vineyard Select graces our shelves. A joyful example of this standout style that offers delightfully sweet brine, a touch of iodine along with an abundance of fruit peppered by notes of violets and roses.

Penfolds 2013 Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia ($23.95)
David Lawrason – This is a new mid-priced multi-regional blend from Penfolds. It sports great cabernet lift with soaring eucalyptus, searing blackcurrant, cordite and black pepper aromas. It is full-bodied, dense, tense and focused with great fruit and mint arching across the palate.

And that’s a wrap for this week. I will return next week with the lead up to the August 22 release that features wines scored 90 points by someone, somewhere. As we are not interested in promoting or debating scores by other reviewers we will pass on that theme and simply work to find you the best values, at any price or score. As we always do.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES August 8th, 2015
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Part 1: Wine to Chill

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


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Pacific Northwest Tasting - Aug 17th

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 8th, Part One

Loire Valley and Smart White Buys
By John Szabo MS with wine notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Loire Valley is one of my favourite regions. Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé remain world sauvignon benchmarks. Cabernet franc from the appellations around Tours and Saumur define the perfumy cool climate style. Chenin reigns supreme east of Tours and south of Angers, challenged only perhaps by South Africa for its most singular expression, though the Loire wins hands-down on diversity. And Muscadet remains, dollar for dollar, the best value white wine on the planet (if you define best as dry, stony, lean and taut, as I do). The moments when my home Muscadet supplies run dry are very dark indeed.

The August 8th VINTAGES release features a competent but limited selection from the banks of France’s longest, languidly lumbering river, enough to get you started. We reveal our top in this report, along with a miscellaneous assortment of attention-grabbing whites. Next week David leads off on the larger Pacific Northwest thematic and other memorable reds. I won’t keep you any longer; there’s mid-summer sipping to be done.

Buyers’ Guide for August 8th 2015: Loire Valley

Domaine Bonnard Sancerre Rouge 2013

Domaine des Côtes Blanches Sancerre 2013Domaine des Côtes Blanches 2013 Sancerre, Loire, France ($24.95)
John Szabo – An arch-classic, old school, very chalky-flinty example of Sancerre, with fine depth and length. Textbook. Love the dusty texture and ripe-creamy-taut texture, as well as the length.

Domaine Bonnard 2013 Sancerre Rouge, Loire, France ($23.95)
John Szabo – Pinot noir was more widely planted in Sancerre before phylloxera, and is slowly making a bit of a comeback. Attentive viticulture is key, but even still these are light, transparent, fragrant versions without the meat and fat of even lighter-style Burgundy. But that’s their charm: all lace and grace, pinots to drink with a chill. Bonnard’s fits perfectly within the regional idiom, crunchy and leafy.
Sara d’Amato – This light bodied, fragrant pinot noir is an absolutely delightful sipper. Cherry, thyme and dried rose add elegance and intrigue to the palate. Chill slightly for ultimate refreshment.

Bouvet Nv Brut Excellence Crémant de Loire, Loire, France ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Good Loire chenin sparklers can be great value when they deliver – and this delivers. It is brightly fruity – loaded with chenin’s pear/quince waxy fruit, lemon and a touch of biscuit. It’s light, slender, a touch off-dry with brilliant acidity and fruit on the palate. Quite delicious, penetrating and very good value.

Clos Les Montys 2013 Vieilles Vignes Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie, Loire, France ($13.95)
John Szabo – Lean, crisp, bright, totally transparent and bone dry, in other words, textbook Muscadet. Complexity and length are ultimately modest, but at the price, this delivers everything it needs to and more.
David Lawrason – It is simplistic, but a light, polished, super fresh young Muscadet with green apple fruit, lime/grapefruit and vague stoniness. It’s quite juicy and tart with some bitterness on the finish. Wanted a bit more complexity for a higher rating (87) but at $13.95 who’s complaining.

Bouvet Brut Excellence Crémant De LoireClos Les Montys Vieilles Vignes MuscadetChâteau Favray Pouilly Fumé 2011

Château Favray 2014 Pouilly Fumé, Loire, France ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – Upon the pebbly Villiers limestone soils, sauvignon blanc flourishes in Pouilly-Fumé. This dynamite offering from Château Favray exemplifies the region’s characteristic flinty, mineral character, with racy acids that are refreshing as opposed to austere.
David Lawrason – This is from a 15 hectare estate on pebbly limestone soils, owned by a gent named Quentin David who revived an ancient property in 1980 that had been laid low by phylloxera in the 19thC. It’s an excellent buy in a solid, firm and nicely complex sauvignon with grapefruit, green pear, spice and dried herbs. It’s medium weight with taut acidity, some warmth and very good to excellent length. The herbal elements carry well on the finish, to excellent length.

Buyers Guide for August 8th 2015: Smart Whites

Wegeler Sweet Riesling 2012

Rieflé Steinert Pinot Gris 2010Rieflé 2010 Steinert Pinot Gris AC Alsace Grand Cru, Alsace, France ($24.95)
John Szabo – A pinot gris in the opulent, late harvest, distinctively Alsatian style, dense and robust, from the calcareous Steinert grand cru. Fans of exotic, flirtatious fruit underpinned by residual sugar and acid take note. Would be a treat with roasted pork or chicken, or soft cheeses.

Wegeler 2012 Sweet Riesling, VDP Gutswein, Mosel, Germany ($19.95)
David Lawrason – I looked up Gutswein (good wine) and found the following definition: “VDP GUTSWEIN, or regional wines, originates from an estate’s holdings within a region. They are entry-level house wines that meet the general standards prescribed by the VDP and provide a good introduction to the VDP’s hierarchy that inherently links wine quality with origin”. Well this certainly out-performs that definition. It is a lovely, pristine, off-dry riesling with classic Mosel charm, delicacy yet authority. Expect lifted floral, honeyed, peachy fruit with some lemon. Great fruit here; real precision that only the Mosel can really deliver.

Contrade Di Taurasi 2012 Grecomusc’, IGT Campania Bianco, Italy ($32.95)
John Szabo – An utterly arresting wine made from the unique and rare Rovello grape, formerly known as Grecomuscio (no relation to Greco), this has substantial complexity in a decidedly non-fruity style. It’s focused entirely on stony-flinty-chalky flavours on a lean, almost austere, taut frame, not a crowd pleaser by any means. But I love the tension and the quivering acids, and the green herbs and sea salt wash on the long finish. Very original.
Sara d’Amato – This Campanese rovello is a stunner with the potential for interesting evolution. The broad and complex palate is dizzying and offers compelling notes of honey, stinging nettle, parsnip, lime and white tea. Collectors take note!

Domaine Lafage 2013 Côté Est, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is an exotic, bloomy and spicy young white that combines Mediterranean varieties grenache blanc and vermentino. I would have bet on some muscat as well, but apparently it is the vermentino providing all the lemongrass and floral lift. It is very crisp, tidy and well-balanced, with a tart, stony finish. The catalogue says it is “new at VINTAGES” but it was actually on the General List some years ago and was just as good then.
Sara d’Amato – A grenache blanc and vermentino blend perfect for summer sipping. A sure-fire crowd pleaser, this dry, punchy, flavourful white is well-priced enough for everyday drinking.

Contrade Di Taurasi Grecomusc 2012Domaine Lafage Côté Est 2013Vicente Gandía Nebla Verdejo 2014Santa Tresa Rina Lanca Grillo Viognier 2013

Vicente Gandía 2014 Nebla Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Attractive tropical notes have been coaxed out of this fleshy verdejo whose bright acidity provides freshness and focus. To boot, you can put your conscience at ease as this 125-year old, highly-awarded Valencian winery is well-known for its sustainable winemaking and social responsibility practices.

Santa Tresa Rina Lanca 2013 Grillo Viognier, Terre Siciliane, Italy ($13.95)
David Lawrason – Located on 50 hectares with a surface layer of light red sandy loam over well-drained limestone base in the vicinity of Mt. Etna, this is great value at $13.95. It’s a sub-tropical, semi-exotic white that combines perfumed spicy viognier with Sicily’s grillo grape of similar aspect. Look for fairly ripe star anise, pineapple, licorice and spicy aromas and flavours.

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

From VINTAGES August 8th, 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!


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Southbrook Vineyards

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 25th, Part Two

Argentina: Not Just a One Hit Wonder
By David Lawrason with wine notes from John Szabo MS

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Argentina is featured on this release, and I am newly enthused by goings-on after two visits there within the last year. In fact five WineAlign writers have been there in recent months, and we have published the first article of a comprehensive two-part national series that delves deep into the current state of that nation (read part one here). If Argentina wasn’t confident about what’s going on they wouldn’t be inviting the world to have a look. The nub of the story is that Argentina is evolving into something more than a one-hit malbec wonder.

You have an opportunity to explore this in more detail as 20 producers arrive in Toronto next week (July 29) at Wines of Argentina’s Wine Jam and BBQ at the St. James Cathedral. (Find out more and get your promo code here.)

Before continuing I refer you to a ‘letter to the editor’ by Christopher Freeland of the LCBO in response to my June 27 release commentary on VINTAGES handling of the pre-Canada Day selection of Ontario wines. Please go to Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 27 – Part Two and scroll down to the comments section. And yes there is a connection to Argentina.

Mr. Freeland delivers an impassioned and detailed defence of the LCBO’s treatment of Ontario wine, and chastises me for not recognizing everything the LCBO is doing around homegrown wines. Fair enough, but I was not discussing the LCBO’s overall program, only VINTAGES lack of ability to create a meaningful focus on Ontario wine on that pre-Canada Day release.

I repeated the complaint two weeks later around VINTAGES’ Spanish feature, and I will say it again this time, with VINTAGES slender selection of six Argentine wines. Yes, there are already other Argentine wines on the General List and VINTAGES shelves. But why not really make this a feature and give 25 new Argentine reds a shot at a spot? Or 50? The reasons VINTAGES cannot do this are in my original discussion around Ontario wine.

VINTAGES is not being ‘unfair’ to Argentina, Spain or Ontario. They are actually being overly fair to all wines around the world (which makes Ontario wineries crazy). They are limited in what they do because they are in the end the one and only retailer and unable to provide the depth of selection one can find in other major North American markets. If it ain’t at the LCBO it ain’t on shelves anywhere in Ontario – which has underpinned my criticism of the LCBO from the start.

Back to what Argentina is doing now, and how that is reflected on this release. The selection only has one malbec, which indeed recognizes Argentina’s growing diversity. There are two cabernet sauvignons, which is a nod to the importance of this underrated grape, but neither are truly memorable cabernets. There is a Patagonian cabernet franc that is very much worth a look, and it is a variety on the up-tick throughout Argentina. But why no Patagonian pinots, and cab franc from Mendoza? There is a terrific torrontés value, but why not three for the dog days of August?

And none of the wines mentioned so far are above $20, which dismisses legions of premium wines that are available. In limited distribution as an In Store Discovery there is Catena’s excellent icon red named for founder Nicolas Catena. But where are the bonardas, many more great red blends, the biodynamic wines, the unoaked amphora wines from Sebastian Zuccardi, the brilliant French influenced reds from Monteviejo and the other member wineries of Clos de Los Siete, the great cabs and tannats from Cafayate, the syrahs of San Juan, the new lovely roses made from the pais grape.  We just have to wait and hope I guess.

With Sara d’Amato still on vacation John Szabo and I present our value picks from Argentina, as well as other New World and Europe.

Argentina:

Nicolás Catena Zapata 2010

Desierto 25 Cabernet Franc 2012

Pietro Marini 2013 TorrontésPietro Marini Torrontés 2013, Salta ($12.95)
David Lawrason – Torrontés is found in most regions but hits its freshest and most exotic heights in the northern province of Salta. Grown at 1750 metres in the Calchaqui Valley this is huge value! It has a billowing aroma of lemongrass, tangerine, spearmint and licorice – very exotic. It’s mid-weight, nicely smooth and a touch sweet, with great acidity and some warmth. Deep chill for garden sipping.

Desierto 25 Cabernet Franc 2012, Patagonia ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This hails from a remote, parched landscape (see label) in southern, cooler Patagonia. But cab franc is on the rise farther north in Mendoza as well, both as a blender and stand alone varietal. This is nicely done and every Canadian interested in one of our country’s better red varietals should be having at peek at this Patagonian.

Nicolás Catena 2010 Zapata, Mendoza ($110.00)
John Szabo – Yes this is certainly expensive, but if you’re a serious collector, it’s worth your attention. In the context of impressive, age-worthy wines, it’s comfortably in the upper echelon, made since 1997 from Catena Zapata’s top lots of cabernet and malbec. Indeed, I’d say it has better structure and balance than many similarly-priced wines from the new world, and would give plenty of pause to the classics from the old as well. Tuck this in the cellar for another 5-10 years minimum and then stage your own “judgement”-style comparative blind tasting. It’s rare to say, but I’d prefer a single bottle of this to a half dozen commercial, typically, sweet, over-oaked Argentine malbecs. David Lawrason – Ditto :)

Euro Reds:

San Fabiano Calcinaia Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Maçanita 2012 RedMaçanita Red 2012, Douro, Portugal ($18.95)
John Szabo – From the dynamic team of Joana and brother António Maçanita (the latter of Fita Preta in Alentejo and the Azores Wine Company), this is a cleverly made wine with wide appeal. 60% Touriga nacional and 40% tinta roriz combine to make a generous, ripe, fruity and floral blend from the Douro, well within the typical flavour wheelhouse, with added polish and well-managed, succulent, rounded texture. Best 2015-2022.
David Lawrason – Very nicely made modern Douro lacking just a bit of depth for 90 points, but close and still good value.

Carpineto 2010 Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon, IGT Toscana Italy ($27.95)
John Szabo – Tuscan cabernet is rarely a detour for me, but I was stopped in my tracks by this concentrated and structured wine from Carpineto. The website provides no real insight (“grown in vineyards considered particularly suited for the production of great wines”, and, “scrupulously field selected”), but marketing fluff aside, I’d speculate that the vineyards are indeed special, as this delivers the type of depth, complexity, structure and length that can’t be manufactured in the winery. Genuinely great wine at a great price. Best 2015-2025.

San Fabiano Calcinaia 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, IGT Toscana Italy ($24.95)
John Szabo – Like the Farnito above, and against all odds, this second Tuscan cabernet in the same release also caused the world to stop spinning for a moment. It’s a hell of a mouthful for $25, full, firm, highly extracted, with immense tannic structure and abundant wood influence. Don’t touch it for at least another 3-5 years, but it’ll never be soft and polished so plan ahead with some salty protein and a decanter at the ready. Best 2018-2028.

López De Haro Crianza 2008

Tessellae Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2013

Prunotto 2012 MompertonPrunotto Mompertone 2012, Monferrato, Italy ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Monferrato is an underrated  DOC region sandwiched between the powerhouse regions of Piedmont and Tuscany in NW Italy. From a leading peimontese producer this is a refined, well balanced if not showy young red with classic, perfectly ripened blackberry, floral and herbal nuances.

Tessellae 2013 Vieilles Vignes Carignan, IGP Côtes Catalanes, Southwest France ($17.95)
John Szabo – Another terrific value from the Roussillon, showing the wild and savage depths of which old vine carignan is capable. I love the scorched earth, the wild, resinous herbs, the dark fruit, the spice notes, not to mention the superior depth and structure at the price. Best 2015-2023.

López De Haro 2008 Crianza, Spain ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is a good buy at $15, if you like lighter reds, and Spain’s Rioja reds in particular. Lopez de Heridia is one of the great classic, traditional wineries of Spain, indeed of Europe. That they have delivered a minor classic at this price is a very pleasant surprise. It’s lighter, tight and elegant – quite tender in fact.

New World Reds:

Melville Verna's Estate Syrah 2012

Blue Pyrenees Shiraz 2012

Paxton AAA 2012 Shiraz GrenachePaxton AAA Shiraz Grenache 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Paxton is a leading biodynamic producer in McLaren Vale, with their minimal intervention mantra stated on the back label. This is big and edgy but like so many BioD wines it delivers consistent, complex, profound flavours of excellent to outstanding length. Compelling if not soothing. Should age well for five years.

Blue Pyrenees 2012 Shiraz, Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Festooned with award competition medallions, this bottle hails from the remote, arid and intriguing Pyrenees region 200kms NW of Melbourne. It’s medium-full bodied with great granitic acidity/minerality, fine tannin and juicy, savoury flavours. Excellent length. The medals are deserved.

Melville 2012 Verna’s Estate Syrah, Santa Barbara County, California ($37.95)
David Lawrason – Santa Barbara, with coastal influence at a warm latitude, is one of the great sources of syrah in California. And I find most examples echo the cooler northern Rhone more so than Aussie shiraz styling. This is a classic – full bodied, fairly dense, racy and refined. The focus and length here are excellent.

And that is a wrap for this edition. Next week John and I will return to lead off commentary on VINTAGES, August 8 release, which features the Pacific Northwest and Loire Valley. (I promise not to gripe about lack of selection).  And next week also stay tuned for the results of the National Wine Awards of Canada.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES July 25th, 2015
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Part 1: Wine to Chill

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


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Pacific Northwest Tasting - Aug 17th

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Top 20 under $20 at the LCBO (July 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 have many new wine values to report since the LCBO announced lots of big discounts last Monday. So I have picked 20 wines under $20 that are the best values presently. My list includes nine wines new to my Top50 for you to try plus two more wines already on the list that are on promotion i.e.  have Bonus Air Miles (BAMs) that apply or are on sale (LTO), making these wines even more attractive; all this will surely make your summer drinking more affordable.

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 as well.

The discount period runs until August 16th. 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!

Reds

Citra Sangiovese Terre Di Chieti 2013, Abruzzo, Italy ($7.75) New to Top 50 – An inexpensive red for pizza and tomato pasta sauces. Basic but it delivers.

Vila Regia 2013, Douro Valley, Portugal ($7.95 + 4BAMs) Top 50 July – A great BBQ red with a smooth texture and just a hint of oak. Chill a little and enjoy with sausages or burgers.

Santa Carolina Merlot 2012, Chile ($8.95 + 4BAMs) Top 50 July – A well-priced Chilean merlot that more than delivers on drinkability with its lively vibrant fruit. Very versatile.

Citra Sangiovese Terre di Chieti 2013 Vila Regia 2013 Santa Carolina Merlot 2012 Cape Heights Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Cape Heights Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Western Cape, South Africa ($10.80 + 7 BAMs) – A clean juicy midweight modern cabernet. Just a hint of oak and enough tannin to give a some grip to the finish.

La Vieille Ferme Red 2013, Ventoux, Rhone Valley, France ($11.45 was $12.45) New to Top 50 – A consistent favourite of mine since it is such a versatile food red; so buy some while it is a $1 off

Pezoules Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Peloponnese, Greece ($11.60 + 4BAMs) – A dry midweight balanced cabernet that would be great with grilled lamb cutlets.

La Vieille Ferme Red 2013 Pezoules Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Montgras Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2013 Errazuriz Estate Series Carmenere 2013

Montgras Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2013, Colchagua Valley Chile ($11.95 + 5 BAMs) – There is an earthy herbal tone to the soft juicy palate, that’s a little sweet on the finish. So try with mildly spicy bbq meats.

Errazuriz Estate Series Carmenere 2013, Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($13.95 + 8BAMs) – A vibrant young carmenere, that’s firm but not austere. A good example of just how good this grape can be. Try with grilled meats or baked brie.

Figuero Tinto 4 Tempranillo 2012 Ribera Del Duero, Spain ($14.40) New to Top 50 – An aromatic midweight red that has just a touch of oak to add to the fruit complexity. Try with BBQ meats.

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coonawarra, South Australia ($16.95 + 10BAMs) – A reasonably priced classic Coonawarra cabernet with excellent length and the structure for a steak .

Figuero Tinto 4 Tempranillo 2012Jacob's Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Santa Rita Medalla Real Carmenere Gran Reserva 2011 Stoneleigh Pinot Noir 2013

Santa Rita Medalla Real Carmenere Gran Reserva 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($17.90) New to Top 50 – A complex elegant powerful red. Decant for an hour or so and enjoy with a steak.

Stoneleigh Pinot Noir 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95 + 10BAMs) – A very appealing, pretty, and fresh pinot with lots of cranberry and raspberry fruit. The floral nose with just a hint of oak is very classy. Sip on its own or with a some rare roast beef.

Whites

San Pedro Gato Negro Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Central Valley Chile  (1500mL, $13.95 + 6 BAMs) – A lot wine plus some BAMs for a great price. It’s a basic, clean, fresh sipping white. Enjoy with veggie dips.

Citra Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2013 Abruzzo, Italy ($7.75) New to Top 50 – A basic yet quite fruity Italian white that’s great with grilled calamari.

K W V Contemporary Collection Chenin Blanc 2014, Western Cape ($9.45) New to Top 50 – Fantastic value for a floral green apple white that’s great with seafood and white meats.

San Pedro Gato Negro Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Citra Trebbiano d'Abruzzo 2013 K W V Contemporary Collection Chenin Blanc 2014 Marqués De Riscal 2014

Marqués De Riscal 2014, Rueda, Spain ($11.85) New to Top 50 – Rueda is currently one of the top places European’s shop for inexpensive dry whites but this region has yet to catch on in Canada; try this and you will see why it should. Great with mildly flavoured seafood.

Trapiche Extra Brut Mendoza Argentina ($11.95 + 6 BAMs) – An excellent sparkling wine with lots of flavour for such an inexpensive wine. Great as an aperitif with pastry nibbles or with seafood or cheesy starters.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2013, Central Coast, California, USA ($14.45 was $16.95) New to Top 50 – A lively fresh cool climate chardonnay with lots of aroma and flavour and very good length. Try with roast chicken.

Trapiche Extra Brut Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2013 Are You Game Chardonnay 2012 Brancott Estate Letter Series B Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Are You Game? Chardonnay 2012, Victoria, Australia ($14.95 +5BAMs) – An elegant cool climate chardonnay with a sleek fresh fruity palate and just a hint of oak. Try with sautéed seafood.

Brancott Estate Letter Series B Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Southern Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand ($16.95 was $19.95) New to Top 50 – A classic elegant sauvignon that’s pure, fresh and mouthwateringly delicious. Try with seafood.

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 37 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.

Cheers!

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!


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California Square Russian River Chardonnay 2012

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