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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 28, Part Two

Our Finest from Europe
by John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason & Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

No need for a preamble this week; I’ll jump straight into the recommended wines. In part two of coverage for this largest VINTAGES release of the year, we look at European wines, minus the super Tuscans that David covered admirably last week.

We have suggestions from no fewer than nine countries, from Germany to Greece, Portugal to Austria, $18 to $90. I’m confident you’ll find something to love on the list. And don’t forget to log on and use the “find wine” feature on WineAlign, as we’ve been busy tasting and reviewing hundreds of wines over the last couple of months, including many wines in the consignment world, worthy of buying by the case for the holidays and beyond.

Buyers Guide for November 28th: Our Finest European White

Giannikos 2014 At Sea Roditis, Peloponnese, Greece ($17.95)

John Szabo – Fans of aromatic white wines will want to discover this fruity, peachy and floral expression of roditis, reminiscent of viognier, farmed organically. Enjoy it in the flower of its youth.
Sara d’Amato – This organically farmed Peloponnese white is made from the indigenous roditis variety, a pink grape that has the ability to hold on to freshness and acidity even when planted in hot climates. Fresh, light and typically aromatic, the palate boasts sweet fruit and tender blossom.

Donnachiara 2013 Greco di Tufo, Campania, Italy ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – Donnachiara is located in the hilly vineyards of Avellino and is known for producing wines with great regional typicity. This distinctiveness is well represented in this aromatic, food friendly expression of Greco di Tufo offering notes of peach, grapefruit and melon.

Vignerons de Buxy 2103 Buissonnier Montagny, Châlonnais, Burgundy ($19.95)

David Lawrason – The Buxy co-op is one of the more successful in this region just south of the Côte de Beaune, and with its more famous neighbours now financially out of reach I urge you to try this for $20 bucks. It is not a dramatic or powerful chardonnay, but it is poised, complex and well integrated with peach, vanilla, wood spice and vague hazelnut notes. It’s lighter weight, quite tender and refined. Very good value.

Giannikos At Sea Roditis 2014 Donnachiara Greco Di Tufo 2013 Vignerons de Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2013 Leth Brunnthal Grüner Veltliner 2013

Leth 2013 Brunnthal 1öwt Grüner Veltliner, Fels Am Wagram Austria ($24.95)

John Szabo – Here’s an archetypal grüner from a family-operated, regional leader on the deep loess soils of the Wagram region, replete with sweet citrus, fresh parsnip and sweet green herbs off the top, just slipping into the honeyed spectrum. It’s generous and broad, intensely flavoured, with fine depth and excellent length, with the merest impression of sweetness; a top class example at a very keen price. Best 2015-2021.

Jean-Max Roger 2014 Cuvée G.C. Sancerre, Loire Valley, France ($28.95)

John Szabo – 2014 was a cool and challenging vintage, but Roger comes out here with flying colours, delivering pure, crisp, bright and sharply focused flavours, with plenty of thrust and drive on the palate. This wine hails from the Grand Chemarin vineyard (“GC”), a top, particularly stony site in the village of Bué with the soil type known locally as caillottes.  Best 2015-2020.

Château de Beaucastel 2014 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc, Côtes du Rhône, Rhône, France ($33.95)

Sara d’Amato – Known as the “baby Beaucastel” Coudoulet blanc’s 3 hectares of vineyard are located just across the highway from those of the revered Château de Beaucastel’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This cooler and wetter vintage in the southern Rhône has produced more delicate and fresher wines, which is evident in this elegant, graceful beauty with impressive complexity.
David Lawrason – I am a huge fan of Perrin family white wines. This is a refined, richly flavoured and exotic southern Rhône white with subtlety and integration – ripe peach/melon, oak spice, vanilla cream and the unique perfume of viognier peaking through. It’s mid-weight, fairly creamy yet fresh.

Jean-Max Roger 2014 Cuvée G.C. Sancerre Château De Beaucastel Coudoulet De Beaucastel Blanc 2014 Antinori Castello Della Sala Cervaro Della Sala 2013 Miraval Rosé 2014Künstler Hochheimer Stielweg Old Vines Riesling Trocken 2013

Künstler 2013 Hochheimer Stielweg Old Vines Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany ($42.95)

John Szabo – Künstler is a leader in the dry riesling genre from the Rheingau, with an enviable collection of top vineyards. The 50+-year-old vines from Stielweg provide an explosive, dense, concentrated mouthful of wine, with terrific length and genuine complexity, and real old vine vinosity, best in at least another 3-5 years. Künstler describes the wine as “sustainable and robust”. “Stielweg is the only vineyard where old vines combine an enormous wealth of fruitiness with the delicate ways of a Riesling.” Best 2018-2025.

Antinori 2013 Castello della Sala Cervaro della Sala IGT Umbria, Italy ($57.95)

John Szabo – A classy, complex, mid-weight, sinewy and lean vintage for the Cervaro (chardonnay and grechetto blend) with integrated wood and notable lees character, and exceptional length and complexity overall. This is 2-4 years away from prime enjoyment, but should satisfy fans of the genre handily. Great depth. Best 2018-2025.
Sara d’Amato – The flagship wine of Antinori’s Castello Della Sala estate is a blend of chardonnay and grechetto. A smart, sophisticated buy that is also immensely satisfying. Lightly buttery with nicely integrated French oak treatment and a hint of creaminess from the fine lees ageing. Pair with a festive turkey dinner.

Miraval 2014 Rosé, Côtes De Provence, Provence, France ($22.95)

Sara d’Amato – A new shipment of the Miraval Rosé is quite welcome any time of the year. Just because the cold is upon us, it doesn’t mean that rosé should be off the table. In fact, it makes for a versatile wine over the holidays that works well with everything from roasted poultry to fish to lamb. The Perrin family and the Pitt-Jolie’s collaborative effort yields a dry, classy rosé with subtly and elegance.

Buyers Guide for November 28th: Our Finest European Red 

Lungarotti 2012 Rubesco, Rosso di Torgiano, Umbria, Italy ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – This sangiovese-based blend, akin to a good quality Chianti Classico, is Lungarotti’s flagship wine. Licorice, leather and pomegranate make up the inviting nose of this traditional and lightly floral Rubesco.

Château Trillol 2011 Corbières Grenache Carignan Syrah, Languedoc, France ($19.95)

John Szabo – The Languedoc continues to be a source of characterful wines at down-to-earth prices, like this Grenache-syrah-carignan blend. It’s a genteel and elegant Corbières, more refined than the average to be sure, with elegant styling and suave, silky tannins. Length and depth are uncommonly good for the price category. Best 2015-2021.

Prazo De Roriz 2011 Tinto, Douro, Portugal ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is ‘basic’ Douro red from a high-powered duo – the Symington family that forms the aristocracy of the Douro and Bruno Prats of Bordeaux’ Cos d’Estournel.  It has a generous nose of mulberry/blackberry with some vanillin, light mocha and cigar. It’s full-bodied, fairly dense, rich and smooth, yet showing firm tannin.  Youthful, from an excellent vintage.

Lungarotti Rubesco 2012 Château Trillol Grenache Carignan Syrah 2011 Prazo de Roriz 2011 Plavac Frano Milos 2011 Olim Bauda Le Rocchette Barbera D'asti Superiore 2012

Frano Milos 2011 Plavac Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia ($20.95)

John Szabo – Lovers of savoury, old world wines will want to make the acquaintance of native plavac mali from Croatia, and no better introduction than from regional star Frano Milos and the dramatic, terraced Dolomitic vineyards of the Peljesac (pell-yeh-shatz) peninsula overlooking the Adriatic. Wild fermented and aged in old Slavonian casks, this is a marvellously firm and complex red, with puckering walnut skin-like tannins, yet enough fruit extract to make it work. It will never be a supple and smooth red, but rather one destined for the table with a large roast of beef, served rare with a last minute sprinkle of sea salt. Best 2015-2025.

Olim Bauda 2012 Le Rocchette Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Piedmont, Italy ($28.95)

Sara d’Amato – Barbera is a great wine to include on your festive table. It is characteristically deliciously juicy, not too filling, and with both freshness and fleshiness to complement a wide array of dishes. This particularly memorable example is lightly oaked with more colour and structure than the norm, making it an excellent choice for a festive occasion.

Chapelle de Potensac 2010, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($29.95)

John Szabo – A well structured and proportioned, lively 2nd wine from Potensac, perfectly mid-weight, zesty and fresh. I love the balance and class on offer – this is arch classic left bank Bordeaux, with firm, elegant tannins and bright natural acids. Lovely wine, drinking now, but better in 3-5 years.
David Lawrason – This is an even-keeled, fresh and engaging young Bordeaux – another very fine 2010 – with a fragrant, balanced nose of raspberry/fresh fig fruit, spice and fresh herbs. Quite juicy yet it firms up on the finish. Will thrive through this decade.

L’Expression de Margaux 2010 AC, Bordeaux, France ($33.95)

David Lawrason – I approached this wine with all red flags flying – a Margaux from a negociant, not an individual property (chateau). But it actually does express Margaux well (as advertised), which is so rare given that Margaux is pricing out of reach for most. The essence is nicely lifted fragrant black raspberry, cedar and vanillin. It’s smooth, elegant and a bit warm (14%) with very fine tannin.
John Szabo – Stylish and plush but balanced, this is a terrific mouthful of wine, even-keeled, with supple tannins that still frame the billowing dark fruit nicely. Acids are likewise firm and fresh, and the length is excellent. Elegant and suave in the Margaux style, and top value. Best 2015-2025.

Chapelle De Potensac 2010 L'expression de Margaux 2010 Faustino I Gran Reserva 2004Le Fonti Di Panzano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013

Faustino I 2004 Gran Reserva,  DOCa Rioja, Spain ($35.95)

John Szabo – A classic, old school Rioja here from Faustino, showing beautifully right now. Tannins are supple and suave, in place but perfectly integrated, while acids remain fresh and bright. The range and depth of flavours is excellent. Fine wine, drink or hold another decade.

Le Fonti di Panzano 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva, DOCG Tuscany, Italy ($41.95)

John Szabo – This may seem pricey for Chianti Classico, but tasted alongside a range of more expensive Brunello, this wine stole the spotlight. From a small organic farm in Panzano, the delicate hands of respected winemaker Dr. Stefano Chioccioli show through in this concentrated, very ripe, full and stylish wine made in a clearly defined riserva style, from evident low yields and careful crafting. Barrel ageing adds depth and texture without excessive impact on flavour, polishing and softening tannins. Excellent length. Best 2015-2025.

Château de Beaucastel 2013 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape AC Rhône, France ($89.95)

John Szabo – 2013 was a stellar year for Beaucastel, surely one of the Châteauneufs of the vintage. It’s rich, balanced, spicy, nicely delineated, clean-and very focused, firm, lively and elegant. I appreciate the freshness and pinpoint flavours, the light but tightly knit texture, like Kevlar, and the lingering, cherry-perfumed finish. Classy stuff, and best after 2020, when it will have shifted fully into the savoury spectrum. Drink 2020-2030+.

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

From VINTAGES November 28th, 2015

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 28, Part One – The Super-Tuscans

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!

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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What’s New at LCBO in November 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.

Nouveau, Gifts and New Releases
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

I found a nice selection of wines to tell you about from my recent tastings of new wines at the LCBO, including one from the Nouveau 2015 release and one from the new gift items on the shelf for the upcoming holiday season. Many are quite exciting; give them a try and let’s hope that some of them stay around for awhile.

Last week, the Beaujolais Nouveau arrived on the shelves. I do not normally like Nouveau wines as the method used to make them so quickly after the harvest does not usually deliver great wine. Fortunately the category is gradually falling out of fashion. So, as expected, I was not impressed by this year’s batch, with one exception from Drouhin that I selected below.

Most of the items in the gift section at LCBO stores are beautifully packaged, but again, not all great wines. The exception here is the Penfolds offering – a superb cabernet. So if your giftee is impressed by packages there are many options, but I for one would be delighted to get this gift from Santa which I’ve featured below.

The wines on the shelves at the LCBO are constantly changing and I am tasting the new ones all the time. Many favourites are always there but the range and variety is gradually being updated. I suggest you read on, pick a few that appeal, then check on inventory at your local LCBO which should be set up as your Favourite Store in Find Wine at WineAlign.

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 reviews of great value wines!


The Entertainer Red Blend 2013, South Australia ($13.95 was $15.95) – This wine was created in honour of Wolf Blass, the famous Australian winemaker, whose passion in life has always been to entertain. It is certainly entertaining and at $2 off is also a great buy.

The Entertainer Red Blend 2013

Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 2015, Burgundy, France ($15.95) – Nouveau Wine Release: It is youthfully fruity and exuberant but there is more to it than that. It is very pure with some structure and good length. Try with veal scallopini.

Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 2015

Ara Pathway Single Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand ($16.95) – Great value for a juicy fruity pinot with a very harmonious nose. It’s dry, tightly knit and well balanced for food. Try with roast beef.

Ara Pathway Single Estate Pinot Noir 2013

Woodwork Pinot Noir 2013, Central Coast, California, USA ($16.95) – A clean ripe sweetish very typical Central Coast pinot. It’s soft and very drinkable. Chill a little and enjoy with a ham and cheese sandwich.

Woodwork Pinot Noir 2013

Mark West Pinot Noir 2013, California, USA ($16.95) – A well made juicy fruity sweetish pinot that’s very appealing with a good depth of flavour and good length. Chill a little and enjoy on its own or with delicate cheeses.

Mark West Pinot Noir 2013

Château Canteloup 2012, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($19.65) – This has the presence and aromas of a top quality Bordeaux red. It has very traditional styling and though the structure is not that of the top wines, it is still very impressive for the money.

Château Canteloup 2012

Penfolds Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, South Australia ($23.95) – Holiday Gift Section: A superb elegant cabernet with a gorgeous nose and finely balanced palate. Makes a great gift for any lover of fine red wine who enjoys a steak.

Penfolds Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013


Chateau d’ Eternes Brut, Saumur, Loire Valley, France ($14.95) – This is a very classy sparkling wine at a great price with an enticing nose. It is dry and finely balanced with very good to excellent length. A great aperitif but also a wine for delicate seafood dishes

Chateau D' Eternes Saumur Brut

Ara Pathway Single Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand ($14.95) – A fresh mellow sauvignon that’s a little sweet but there is very good length and it makes for a good sipping wine.

Ara Pathway Single Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Fiol Prosecco Extra Dry Veneto, Italy ($15.60) – A fresh lively non-vintage Italian bubby with clean aromas of pear and melon fruit with lemon and icing sugar tones.

Fiol Prosecco Extra Dry

Woodwork Chardonnay 2013, Central Coast, California, USA ($16.95) – This is a modern California chardonnay with modest well integrated oak adding to the lemon, melon and pear fruit aromas. Chill well and enjoy with chicken, veal or pork dishes.

Woodwork Chardonnay 2013

Villa Maria Lightly Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand ($17.95) – A new trend from the Kiwis. Take good quality sauvignon crammed with aromas and flavours, leave some sugar and lightly carbonate just before bottling to get a delightful refreshing bubbly.

Villa Maria Lightly Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2015



Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20 for November
Top 50 Value Wines
World Wine Awards of Canada

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!


Bottega Prosecco

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 28, Part One

The Super-Tuscans, Our Finest and New World Picks
by David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES November 28 release offers a once-a-year opportunity to buy all the major super-Tuscans in one fell swoop. And indeed they will be swooped. In most other places you could find them any time of year, but the system here forces them out through a window that can be only open for a matter of hours. I won’t rag on about that. Buyers of these very collectible wines already know that supplies are limited and the appetite is huge.

I thought it might be useful however to provide brief background on the super-Tuscans, and to compare the current offerings, to help you decide which ones to buy. I very conveniently had an opportunity to taste them shoulder to shoulder earlier this month. For starters all scored 90 points or better in my books – so yes they are excellent wines. But all sell for more than $100, with a couple nudging $200 and one at $250. One bottle of each will cost you $865! I have not scored any at 95 or better, which is where I think they should be at these prices. So if you are value shopping you might want to skip down to the other New World wines being recommended this week.

The original, core Super-Tuscans – the royal family – are Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Solaia, Luce and arguably Guado Al Tasso, that came along later. (I would add San Felice’s Vigorello to the list but it is not in the Nov 28 tranche). They were all hatched in Tuscany in the heyday of the New World expansionism – post 1976 Judgement of Paris when California wine’s bold, fruit forward style began seeping into European consciousness. The innovative Antinori and Frescobaldi clans of Florence said – ‘we can do that’. They planted cabernet and merlot in the Chianti hills, and especially along the warmer coast near Bolgheri. They practiced safe winemaking, coddled the wines in French barriques, established high prices and voila – they were a hit, first with news-hungry journalists, then with collectors.

But because they didn’t adhere to local DOC appellation regulations the new wines were only labeled as ‘vino da tavola’, the lowliest classification. It is still debated who coined the term super-Tuscan, but it was Wine Spectator magazine that at least made the name known worldwide. It stuck because it is such an apt name, still enduring 30 years later. And the word super has now been adopted by every Italian producer making non-DOC wines. There are about a billion of them by now. Super this, super- that.  Some not so super-duper at all.

My general sense of those being offered by VINTAGES on the 28th is that they are quite ripe (the summer of 2012 was hot), fairly supple, subtle, layered and refined – all good things. And they are very modern, with only Sassicaia leaning to a more traditional ambiance. I pinpoint my lack of 95-point enthusiasm more around lack of depth and length; and lack of wow factor. They are tidy, pristine and polished, but they are not world beaters; they are not magical or individual. This may be related to youthful reticence, and perhaps the hot summer has depreciated their acidity and nerve.

So here is my take on this royal family. Sassicaia is the leaner, age-worthy still very Euro cabernet, king of the empire, thin and wiry and ruling with a tight fist, but a recluse. Ornellaia, is the queen, a merlot based seductress with beguiling subtlety and depth of character. Luce, in this vintage at least, is the brute elder heir to the throne, muscular, a bit volatile and overripe – perhaps fearful of losing its rights to Guado al Tasso, the dashing yet substantial prince from the coast (and best buy of the bunch). And then there is Solaia, which in this vintage, for some reason, comes across like the court jester – notably sweet and engaging but lacking substance. Which is odd given it is the most expensive.

Here are recommended wines from the WineAlign court of opinion, not only on super-Tuscans and other wines from VINTAGES Our Finest selection, but from the New World offerings as well. Next week John leads off with Old World picks.

Super Tuscans

Ornellaia 2012, DOC Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy ($195.95)

John Szabo – In a side by side tasting of a half-dozen of the top 2012 super Tuscans, Ornellaia (and Sassicaia) came out measurably ahead of the pack. It was a warm and dry vintage with cool nights and a timely splash of rain towards harvest that shepherded grapes through to full and even ripening. The result is a marvellously composed, generous but balanced and seamlessly integrated edition of Ornellaia, bringing together a compelling mix or perfectly ripened fruits, integrated and subtle barrel spice, and slowly emerging earthy and savoury notes. The palate is pitch perfect, well structured, with fine-grained tannins and lively, vibrant acids building around a core of succulent fruit. Exceptional length. It’s not hard to see why this wine was nicknamed “L’Incanto” (The Enchantment) at the estate. Best after 2020, or hold until the late 2030s.

Sassicaia 2012 DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, Tuscany, Italy ($199.95)

Antinori Guado Al Tasso 2012 Sassicaia 2012 Ornellaia 2012John Szabo – The 2012 Sassicaia is surely one of the wines of the vintage in Tuscany, and one of the most impressive from the estate in the last decade. As usual, it delivers the most old world, Italianate expression amongst the elite of the 2012 super Tuscans, focused more on structure and finesse than sheer concentration. It’s very firm at the moment, offering fine detail and remarkable freshness, but still years away from full unravelling. Yet already an impressive mix of red and black fruit, fresh and lightly dried, and subtle barrel spice and dusty, savoury Tuscan character are revealed, boding very well for future development. Best 2020-2035+.
Sara d’Amato – There is a great purity to this Sassicaia, rustic would be too gruff but there is certainly an authentic beauty to this marvellously expressive wine. A classic incarnation of this Bordelaise blend with distinct Tuscan charm.

Antinori 2012 Guado Al Tasso,  Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany ($104.95)

David Lawrason – With the first vintage in 1990, Guado is the late comer to the Antinori super-Tuscan family, from an estate that rises from the sea coast into calcareous hills. It is a gorgeous, vibrant and refined, cabernet-merlot-franc-petit verdot blend with a fine sense integration. Best 2020 to 2030+. Best value among the super-Tuscans in my books.

Others from VINTAGES’ Our Finest

Barossa Valley Estate 2008 E&E Black Pepper Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($89.95)

David Lawrason – I am already quoted in VINTAGES magazine from a release of this wine last year, so I won’t go into full descriptive mode here. But an image came to mind as I tasted it – of a dusty black steam engine dragging a slow freight train across a weathered plain on rails of iron and graphite, spewing smoke and sparks as it goes. My top score of the Our Finest Collection.
Sara d’Amato – E&E’s small production has a cult following and for good reason. This classic, old vines Barossa shiraz is impactful, edgy and exotically spiced offering a complex, lengthy finish. Due to impressive structure and filling, you can happily tuck this one away for 5-10 years.

Catena Alta 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Historic Rows, Mendoza, Argentina  ($46.95)

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012 Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Barossa Valley Estate 2008 E&E Black Pepper ShirazSara d’Amato – Catena Alta’s limited production is sourced from top parcels at various elevations throughout Catena’s estate vineyards. High elevation cabernet sauvignon has a distinctly unique expression with a wild aromatic profile of violets, currants, sandalwood and pepper. A seriously sophisticated and structured offering with surprising approachability.
David Lawrason – This “Historic Rows” is from two older vines sites in the Agrelo heartland of Mendoza. It is deeply coloured with a lovely nose of ripe mulberry, sage, fine oak spice and vanilla. There is sophistication as well as generosity. The focus and length are excellent. Will age 20 years.

Joseph Phelps 2012 Insignia, Napa Valley, California($299.95)

David Lawrason – Here is a beautifully honed wine that showcases all kinds of sophistication through the winemaking, but doesn’t lose the lion-heartedness of cabernet sauvignon. Great aromatics here. It’s dense, continuous and deep. The length is outstanding.

Chateau Montelena 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga, Napa Valley, California  ($187.95)

John Szabo – Although roundly panned in the press, 2011 is proving to be one of my favourite vintages in the Napa Valley, forcing many winemakers into a generally fresher, firmer more balanced style. Not that Montelena needed a push in that direction; the estate has steadfastly produced wines of genuine finesse, complexity and elegance for decades in an unwavering style. The 2011 flagship estate cabernet is outstanding, a beautiful, lifted, fragrant and complex, marvellously savoury and vibrant vintage, with crackling red and black fruit, fully integrated wood, terrifically elegant tannins and exceptional length. This is all class and finesse. Best 2020-2035+.

Ridge 2013 Geyserville, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California  ($62.95)

Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2007 Ridge Geyserville 2013 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011John Szabo – 2013 yielded a terrific Geyserville from Ridge, with pitch-perfect balance, elegance and lingering finish. There are few wines that can carry 14.7% alcohol with so much grace and elegance; wood is not a flavour feature, but rather this is all about the wild and savage fruit flavours, and the California garrigue (resinous herbs). Best 2015-2028.

Quintarelli 2007 Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($104.95)

Sara d’Amato – Quintarelli is not exactly known for value but if you want to know what all the fuss is about for a relatively moderate price (in Quintarelli terms), then here is your chance. This is certainly no ordinary, basic Valpolicella, however, offering a perfectly matured, highly pleasurable experience. Its mid-weight frame belies its power and complexity. A sleek, harmonious and exceptional bottle of wine

Shafer 2013 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay, Napa Valley/Carneros, California ($76.95)

David Lawrason – This grand, opulent and silky chardonnay is not afraid to be California. The nose is quite spectacular – so tropical it’s almost as if some viognier is involved. Quite full bodied to be sure (14.9%) with some heat on the finish, and wood tannin as well, yet it has poise and depth within its large footprint.

Kistler 2013 Les Noisetiers Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($99.95)

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2012 Kistler Les Noisetiers Chardonnay 2013 Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 2013John Szabo – Steve Kistler has focused exclusively on mostly single vineyard pinot noir and chardonnay since 1978, and his mastery of, and consistency with these grapes is by now beyond question. Les Noisetiers is a Sonoma Coast blend of mainly Vine Hill, Dutton Ranch and Trenton Roadhouse vineyards, all planted on the region’s coveted marine sedimentary Goldridge soil. In 2013 the results are superb: creamy, ripe but still fresh, a complete wine with balance and concentration, complexity and intensity. Comfortably in the premium category. Best 2015-2023

Cloudy Bay 2102 Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand ($35.95)

David Lawrason – This an elegant, tart edged, cooler vintage chardonnay from Marlborough with a sense of tartness and austerity Shows lovely, almost satiny texture spread thin over sour, lemony acidity. Burgundian to be sure.

Other New World Whites

Josef Chromy Pepik Sekt, Tasmania, Australia ($26.95)

Sara d’Amato – A dry, refreshing and elegant traditional method sparkling riesling from Joseph Chromy, a venerable personality in Tasmanian wine who spent his life investing in and developing its wine producing landscape before opening Josef Chromy Wines at the age of 76. Try with shrimp tempura.
John Szabo – Leading Tasmanian producer Joseph Chromy, nicknamed Pepik, delivers here a fine, fresh and apple –flavoured, riesling-based sparkling wine in the traditional method, with 12 months on the lees adding just a touch of toasty-biscuity character. This would make a fine Sunday morning Brunch wine, not overly complex but refreshing and enlivening.

Spy Valley 2013 Envoy Sauvignon Blanc, Waihopai Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand ($29.95)

John Szabo – Spy Valley’s premium Envoy range is a considerable step up from the ‘regular’ range. Sauvignon Blanc from the gravelly Johnson Vineyard, Spy Valley’s oldest vines, is barrel fermented and aged on lees for a year before bottling, though wood is barely detectable. It has lovely wild yeasty aromatics with pungent green herbs and dense citrus-pear-pineapple flavours in palate arresting concentration and complexity. Fans of distinctive wines will revel in this.

Josef Chromy Pepik Sekt Spy Valley Envoy Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Tomich Woodside Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Delheim Family Chenin Blanc 2014

Tomich 2014 Woodside Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, ($16.95) (430660)
Sara d’Amato – Master of Wine John Tomich along with his son Randal are an innovative team creating new viticultural practices for cool climate growing regions such as their own Adelaide Hills site. Although there is no shortage of sauvignon blanc on the shelves of VINTAGES, here is one that stands out from the rest. Refined and elegant without overt grassiness or underripe vegetal undertones, it is lively and refreshing with notes of birch bark, lemongrass and quince.

Delheim 2014 Family Chenin Blanc 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95) (429720)
Sara d’Amato – Delheim is a consistent, value-oriented producer who has knack for chenin blanc. This lush and opulent example is sure to quell your craving for anything-but-chardonnay.

Other New World Reds

Lapostolle 2012 Canto de Apalta, Rapel Valley, Chile ($19.95)

John Szabo – Canto is the recently created second wine from Lapostolle’s excellent Apalta Estate in the heart of the Colchagua Valley, which, like the grand vin, is a carmenere-led blend, with merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah.  Wood, fruit concentration, acids and tannic structure are sensibly doled out in balanced measure, giving this high drinkability and an appealing, savoury-gritty edge. Best 2017-2022.

Clos De Los Siete 2012, Uco Valley, Mendoza ($23.95)

David Lawrason – This is one wine sourced from four French owned properties that have formed a foreign legion-like enclave at the base of the Andes in the Vista Flores sub-region of the Uco Valley. This a full bodied, warm, dense and powerful yet also vibrant malbec-based blend. Better than the 2011.

Stags’ Leap Winery 2012 Petite Sirah, Napa Valley, California ($39.95)

John Szabo – A perennial favourite of mine from Stags’ Leap, this savage and savoury petite sirah offers a fine mix of earth, resinous herbs and dark fruit character, and firm and burly tannins, but there’s more than ample fruit to ensure proper integration in time. Best 2017-2025.

Lapostolle Canto De Apalta 2012 Clos De Los Siete 2012 Stags' Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2012 Perez Cruz Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Dos 2 Estacas Reserva Malbec 2012 Montes Alpha Malbec 2012

Perez Cruz Limited 2012 Edition Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Alta, Chile ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is estate grown from selected higher altitude vineyard blocks. It rings of a cooler climate cabernet with medium weight and lifted, slightly herbal aromas of roasted red pepper, cassis and chocolate mint.

Dos 2 Estacas 2012 Reserva Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – Offering great value, this soft, seamless and compelling malbec has been only mildly oaked and offers impressive aromatics. The cooler, high elevation climate of the Uco Valley contributes the lively notes of pepper and violets on the nose and palate.

Montes Alpha 2012 Malbec, Colchagua Valley, Chile  ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is a shiny, vibrant and quite juicy young Malbec – with a typically slender Chilean feel as opposed to the chunkier malbecs form over the Andes in Mendoza.  Very nicely balanced and intense.

And that is a wrap for this edition. Tune in next week for a continued look at this huge release.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES November 28th, 2015

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

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

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Top 20 under $20 at the LCBO (November 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 write this from Hermanus; best known for pinot noir and for the whales that can be seen in the bay from my hotel window. I am in South Africa leading a group of wine lovers who are exploring Cape wines with me. I will be bringing another group here in 2017, so if that sounds interesting, you can get more info at

South African wines are relatively inexpensive for the quality they offer. I am delighted to have found three among the many new great values at the LCBO this month.

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

The discount period runs until November 29th, so don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that when we published there were stocks available 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!


Tini Sangiovese di Romagna 2012, Emilia-Romagna, Italy ($7.55) New to Top 50 – This is excellent value for a very drinkable Italian red for pizza and meaty pasta dishes. It is soft and fruity with enough tannin and acidity for balance and good length. Chill a little and try with tomato pasta sauces.

Citra Sangiovese Terre di Chieti 2014 Abruzzo Italy ($8.25 + 4 BAMs) – This red is a little rustic with a savoury herbal nose. Try with mildly flavoured red meat dishes or a mild hard cheese like cheddar.

Tini Sangiovese di Romagna 2012 Citra Sangiovese Terre di Chieti 2014 Santa Carolina Merlot 2015 Domaine La Gardie Merlot 2013

Santa Carolina Merlot 2015 Chile ($8.95 + 4BAMs) Top 50 November – This is an exuberant fruity merlot. Enjoy on its own lightly chilled or with a wide range of meat and cheese dishes.

Domaine La Gardie Merlot 2013, Vin De Pays d’Oc, France ($8.95 was $10.95) New to Top 50 – This is opaque purple-red wine is a great buy for a pure clean structured red. Not a lot of complexity but well balanced for cheese or meat dishes.

Carmen Reserva Carmenère 2013 Colchagua Valley, Chile ($9.45 was $11.45) New to Top 50 – Great value at $2 off. This aromatic red with fresh black cherry and plum fruit aromas is well balanced and juicy with good to very good length. Full bodied but feels lighter. Try with grilled meats.

Montecillo Crianza 2010 Rioja Spain ($11.95 was $14.95) New to Top 50 – Stunning value at $3 off. This is an easy-to-drink Rioja crianza that’s midweight and lively with ripe berry fruit yet structured with firm tannin appearing on the finish. Very classy. Try with roast lamb.

Carmen Reserva Carmenère 2013 Montecillo Crianza 2010 Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2013 Emiliana Adobe Reserva Merlot 2013

Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2013 Mendoza Argentina ($12.95 was $14.95) Top 50 November – This is a very fruity fresh malbec is $2 off for next 4 weeks making it even better value. There is a lot of complexity on the palate also which is almost full bodied with excellent length. Try with sautéed duck breast.

Emiliana Adobe Reserva Merlot 2013 Rapel Valley Chile ($12.95 + 4BAMs) Top 50 November – This is a polished, organically grown merlot that’s clean and lively with pure fresh bright aromas and flavours. It is medium to full bodied with good focus and very good length.

Goats Do Roam Red 2014 Western Cape, South Africa ($12.95) Top 50 November – The 2014 vintage continues a long line of consistently great value reds that are close stylistically to a French Cotes du Rhone. Try with burgers.

Guardian Reserva Red 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($13.90 + 7 BAMs) – This juicy fruity red blend is 50% cabernet sauvignon with carmenere and syrah. It is an easy drinking red but there is a good underlying structure to give balance.

Goats do Roam Red 2014 Guardian Reserva Red 2013 KWV Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2014

KWV Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Western Cape, South Africa ($13.95 was $15.95) New to Top 50 – This very consistent cabernet is well balanced with soft minerality to lighten the palate. The nose has a delightful impression of freshness. Midweight and well structured. Try with roast beef.

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2014, Western Cape, South Africa ($13.95 + 5BAMs) Top 50 November – This deeply coloured blend of syrah, mourvedre and viognier is medium to full bodied with firm tannin which gives a nice edge to the finish. Very good to excellent length. Try with grilled red meats.


Citra Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2014 Abruzzo Italy ($8.25 + 4 BAMs) – Most inexpensive trebbiano is rather boring but this is much fruitier and riper than normal. Chill well and try with grilled calamari.

Shingleback Haycutters Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014, Adelaide Hills and Mclaren Vale, South Australia. ($9.45 was $13.80) Discontinued at LCBO. Top 50 November – This is a classic Bordeaux white blend with subtle oak that is very smooth with the lively fruit well supported by racy acidity. Very good length. Try with roasted poultry or sautéed veal. Around 850 bottles left.

Citra Trebbiano d'Abruzzo 2014 Shingleback Haycutters Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2014 Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserva 2015 Montgras Amaral Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserva 2015, Leyda Valley, Chile ($11.95) New to Top 50 – The chardonnay reserva used to come from the Santa Isabella Estate in the Casablanca Valley, but this vintage comes from an estate in Leyda in the San Antonio Valley. It is a fine lively fresh gently oaked white.

Montgras Amaral Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Leyda Valley, Chile ($13.85 + 7 BAMs) – The Leyda Valley in Chile is fast proving to be the hot spot for great sauvignon blanc and this is an excellent example of just how good it can be. Lots of  flavour and very good length. Try with sautéed seafood, roast poultry or vegetarian quiche.

Monkey Bay Pinot Grigio 2014 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand ($13.95 + 5BAMs) Top 50 November – A concentrated fresh pure grigio with a rich and lively palate that is well balanced by zesty acidity. Very good length. Don’t overchill and enjoy with a wide variety of seafood and white meat dishes.

Lustau Solera Reserva Dry Amontillado Los Arcos Jerez Spain ($15.45) Top 50 November – The best value white on the Top 50, this lovely wine that has lots of complexity. It is a classic amontillado with its nutty almond, lemon, bread, and salty ham aromas. It is very smooth with the dry, rich intensely flavoured palate lingering for ever. Excellent length. Try with rich white meat dishes. Find it in the fortified wine section.

Monkey Bay Pinot Grigio 2014 Lustau Solera Reserva Dry Amontillado Los Arcos Riverlore Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Stoneleigh Chardonnay 2014

Riverlore Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand ($15.90 + 8 BAMs) – A crisp very juicy kiwi sauvignon that is midweight and well balanced with a creamy rich palate and crisp dry herbal lemon finish. Try with sautéed seafood or goats cheese.

Stoneleigh Chardonnay 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand ($16.95 + 10 BAMs) – This is a bold complex rich chardonnay with the ample oak well integrated with the fruit. The palate is super smooth with the rich fruit buoyed up by lemony acidity and the oak well integrated such that it is only just noticeable on the finish. Well balanced with very good length.

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 Essentials Collection.

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

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

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

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

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

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

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

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


Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20
Top 50 Value Wines

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


Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2015

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 14, Part Two

Super-Sized and the Best of the New World
by Sara d’Amato, with notes from John Szabo MS

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Whether you saw it coming or not, the holiday entertaining season is upon us and with this comes some pretty fierce marketing directed at you, consumer. The LCBO and VINTAGES is now committed to convincing us to purchase premium products, and in this release, large format bottles are pushed. VINTAGES is featuring a “simple solution for elegant holiday entertaining: Ten favourite high quality wines in large format bottles.”

Given that the cost of a magnum is often significantly more than double the price of the same standard format 750 ml bottle, is it worth it? To answer that question, it is worth considering what is in the bottle and your intentions for its uses. For those of you, like most, who don’t have a great deal of experience with larger formats, our interaction is usually in the form of imposing bottles at the entrance of restaurants, aiming to impress. Their novelty factor makes us look but the fear of a hefty price tag makes most of us stay away.

It is an indisputable fact that large format bottles make a show-stopping impression. Open a large bottle at any dinner party and it is sure to make for a memorable evening. That dazzle alone is worth an extra buck or two, no? But is the industry just pulling the wool over your eyes or should premiums for large formats not sway your investment?

To answer the question of why they cost so much I spoke with Marlize Beyers at Hidden Bench winery in Niagara who has a good breadth of experience with bottling both magnums (1.5 L) and 3 L bottles (sometimes called Jeroboams, or more prosaically, double magnums). She says: “First, we only consider wines that are age-worthy to go to large format, usually single vineyard pinots and chardonnays from outstanding, cooler vintages. We do not release these wines for at least 2 years after bottling, so there is a storage cost involved, they take up a lot of room.” In addition, the packaging material is significantly costlier, for example, glass for magnums are 4.2x more expensive than a standard glass bottle, corks to match the wider diameter are 9.7x more and labels are 16.8x more expensive due to unique size and small runs.

Because the large format bottles are too large to fit onto a regular bottling line, Beyers needs a week or more to transfer the wine (for just over 500 bottles) to kegs after which they are filled by hand. Everything must be done manually in a smaller scale winery. “To conclude,” says Beyers, “it takes tremendous‎ time, effort, dedication, labour and detail to bring these to fruit and that is why they are worth more.” And although the costs for large format bottling are less for a commercial-scale winery, they are still significant.

But does it taste better and does it last longer? The prevailing opinion is that magnums age more slowly and perhaps result in a greater degree of harmony in the long-term than do smaller formats. The physical explanation for this is that the amount of space between the level of wine in the bottle and the bottom of the cork, known as the ullage, is roughly the same in various size bottles but the volume of wine is significantly different. Therefore, more oxidation would occur in smaller formats than in larger formats. More oxidation leads to more rapid ageing. However, whether such a small amount of oxidation makes a difference is inconclusive. In addition, often times the neck opening is slightly larger in a large format bottle so the difference in oxygen contact may not be that significant. Slower oxidation through the cork may also have an impact, but currently this is more of a hypothesis than a conclusively proven fact. Certainly, experiential and anecdotal evidence seems to point in the direction of slower ageing of large formats and if true, then the bottles clearly have more value in the long term.

The Finest BubbleInterestingly, all is different with Champagne bottles. We have more than anecdotal evidence and more science to demonstrate the intrinsic value of these wines in large formats. There seem to be significant differences in the flavour profile and in the way a Champagne magnum ages that is unlike any still wine bottling. The reason why has to do with a couple of key factors: carbon dioxide and autolysis. If you have ever used a gas preservation system like “Private Preserve” to keep your unfinished bottle of wine fresh, you’ll find that your wine will get a day or two of extra life. The spray is made up of carbon dioxide and nitrogen mix that settles on the surface of the wine preventing its exposure to oxygen. The same principle applies in Champagne where the natural carbonation will help preserve the wine from oxidation, slowing its development. Slower oxidation plus the high level of acidity characteristic to Champagne gives it a longer life in any format. Therefore, Champagne makes an ideal, age worthy addition to a collector’s cellar.

There is yet another factor that sets magnums apart. A degradation of yeast cells into “lees” – known as autolysis – also takes place differently in a large format bottle of Champagne. The explanation given by Nick Baker’s The Finest Bubble, a successful UK-based merchant of Champagne, is that the process “can take up to four weeks longer, but magnums also have proportionally more glass surface than [standard format] bottles, allowing more contact between the lees on the inside of the bottle and the wine. This results in magnums displaying much more roundness as the wine ages and crucially, much more complexity.” In short, a magnum of Champagne has a more extensive lees ageing process in a large format bottle resulting in a more complex wine.

A final factor in the value of a magnum is rarity. Like anything that is rare or scarce, a higher value will be attached to it. A winery may only choose to bottle in large formats in special vintages or for special clients but the runs in almost all cases are limited. A special bottling of your favorite wine may then be of interest to seek out from a collector’s standpoint just like that rare, signed baseball card.

As far as I’m concerned, the worth of a magnum is dependent on what is in the bottle. A large run of a large format by a large producer has very little intrinsic value – you will get wow factor for the bottle, but essentially the same product inside as two standard bottles. If the awesomeness of a large format is what you seek and can’t spend the big bucks, then the acquisition may just be worth a small additional cost. A large format bottling of Champagne, however, seems to be inherently different than standard formats and have value beyond the cost of their production. Thus, they may very well be worth the investment. If you collect, than a rare, large format bottling of your favourite wine is also worthy of your attention. As Marlize Beyers of Hidden Bench highlights, what makes it into these magnums are special wines, often from exceptional vintages that are naturally more age worthy. These large formats are a labour of love for small to mid-sized producers and they can make a very special part of your collection.

In any case, if you find yourself in possession of a magnum, be aware that they come with special needs. Some tips – chilling a white or sparkling wine must be irksomely done outside of the confines of a fridge, in icy water. Use two hands when pouring or decant into two standard size decanters. If you do not have room in your cellar for large formats and thus store them upright, make sure that are they regularly placed on their sides, propped securely, so that the cork stays fresh and moist.

Here are our top picks from this mini release of magnums. Unfortunately there are no whites or sparkling wines in this offering but there is a range of both affordable and collector-worthy bottles. We also offer recommendations on the new world portion of the VINTAGES release. Check last week’s recommendations to find the best of the old world.

Buyers Guide For November 14th: Large Formats

Masi 2009 Riserva Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva, DOC, Veneto, Italy ($149.95, 1500mL)

John Szabo – This is precisely the sort of wine you want to have in magnum, one that will age for a very long time indeed. It’s still another 4-6 years away from prime enjoyment I’d suspect, but already shows terrifically richness, balance, and complexity. Masi is one of the undisputed masters of the appassimento genre. Best 2019-2036++.
Sara d’Amato – The quality of this Masi offering is no surprise as this top producer of Amarone is a consistent overachiever. The wine offers great poise and depth of flavour as well as the structural framework that will allow for masterful evolution over the next 5-10 years.

Domaine Du Vieux Lazaret 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone, France ($84.95, 1500 mL)

Sara d’Amato – With a traditional feel, this wonderfully complex, fleshy and slightly lactic southern Rhone blend offers a great deal of bang for your buck. A deal at less than twice the price of a standard format bottle.

Masi Riserva Costasera Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 2009 Domaine Du Vieux Lazaret 2012 Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012 Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Santa Carolina 2008 Reserva de Familia Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley Chile ($37.95)

John Szabo – Here’s the best value going in this magnum feature, a nicely mature, savoury, herbal, earthy and balanced cabernet from Santa Carolina, hitting full stride now. Best 2015-2023.
Sara d’Amato – This well-priced magnum is ready to impress and perhaps the best value in this release. There is nothing pretentious about this approachable and gently matured cabernet from Santa Carolina.

Robert Mondavi 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, USA ($70.95)

John Szabo – An excellent value in the rarefied world of Napa cabernet, Mondavi’s 2013 finds a comfortable balance between well-measured fruit and wood, and savoury-earthy components. Tannins are still grippy and angular, in need of another 3-5 years to smoothen out, but this hits all of the right measures in an elegantly styled cabernet. Best 2018-2033.
Sara d’Amato – A solid, dry and age worthy example of Napa cabernet with a tannic firmness that requires three or more years to resolve. A splendid addition to your cellar at a fair price.

Buyers Guide For November 14th: New World White & Red

Jost Vineyards 2014 Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – Although there are some great Canadian finds in this release, I am particularly enthusiastic about this bright, cheerful and playful blend from a pioneer wine producer of the east coast. If offers elegant notes of mineral and white peach along with a hint of effervescence that adds to its refreshing character.

Bachelder 2012 Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula Canada ($44.95)

John Szabo – This is one of the more refined and fine-grained, sinewy and linear chardonnays in the excellent Bachelder range, with gentle lees influence and salty finish. It’s showing nicely at the moment, but one of the intriguing features of Bachelder’s wines is their ever-changing character, revealing new facets with each bottle. It’s a wine to buy several bottles of to track its fascinating evolution. Best 2015-2022.

Jost Vineyards Tidal Bay 2014 Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 Stratus White 2012 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013

Stratus 2012 White, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake Canada ($44.20)

John Szabo – The 2012 is one of the finest Stratus white blends to date, densely woven, creamy, honeyed, very far from the Ontario white wine paradigm and much more at home in some old world, warm climate region (southern Rhône white?). I really appreciate the depth and the extract, almost thick but not heavy. I’d like to see this again in another year or two when the masses of dried fruit will have subsumed and integrated with the non-fruit flavour. This should age well. Best 2017-2024.

Flowers 2013 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, USA ($64.95)

John Szabo – Flowers remains a leader in the Sonoma Coast AVA, on the second ridge in from the Pacific in a decidedly cool slice of California. The natural vocation thus is to produce wines (chardonnay and pinot) of terrific precision and tension. This 2013 represents nicely: pure, fragrant and floral, gently reductive, succulent and savoury, salty and tight, but also generous and mouth filling, achieving a fine power-finesse balance. Best 2015-2023.

Rustenberg 2010 Buzzard Kloof Syrah, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – The Buzzard Kloof vineyard is located on one of the coolest sites of Rusternberg’s estate and produces a unique, peppery syrah that is terrifically compelling. The site is named after the Jackal and Steppe Buzzards that circle the thermal currents which rise above the ravine (kloof) adjacent to the vineyard.

Grand Vin de Glenelly 2009 Red, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95)

John Szabo – Bordelaise doyenne May-Éliane de Lencquesaing (of Pichon Lalande) is behind the Glenelly Estate in Stellenbosch, so the class, balance and composure of this shiraz + Bordeaux varieties blend is no surprise. What is surprising however is the exceptional; this ticks all of the boxes of top wine. Best 2015-2021.

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2010 Grand Vin De Glenelly Red 2009 D'arenberg The High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Strewn Canadian Oak Meritage 2013 Stratus Red 2012

d’Arenberg 2012 The High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($19.95) (943456)

Sara d’Amato – This highly acclaimed wine has been produced for four decades now and is sourced from the first of d’Arenberg’s vineyards (planted in the late 1800s) to be trained above knee height. The power and elegance offered here for under $20 is nothing short of impressive.

Strewn 2013 Canadian Oak Meritage, Niagara-On-the Lake, Ontario, Canada ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – Although not a new product, Canadian oak is not widely used nor mass-produced and thus you may not be aware of its existence. This elegant Bordelaise blend is a lovely introduction to our tight-grained, homegrown oak that (arguably) some describe as adding a slightly spicy, maple flavour to wine. Regardless, there is freshness but not under-ripeness to this ready-to-drink offering from Strewn.

Stratus 2012 Red VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada ($44.20)

John Szabo – Stratus winemaker J.L Groux evidently had an excellent 2012 season, hitting the both this flagship red, as well as the white, out of the park. It’s an impressive Bordeaux style blend that would be equally at home in Tuscany, with its high-toned, floral and dusty-herbal red and black fruit, thanks in part to long hang time, and long ageing in wood to develop complexity. The style is unique to be sure for the region, but it works very well here. Drinking now, but better in another 3-5 no doubt. Best 2018-2025.

If you don’t already have your tickets for the 2015 Gourmet Games featuring, you are not too late! John and I will be your sensory guides through this great evening of food and fun. WineAlign members will get a $25 discount on tickets AND a $25 Special Gift Certificate. Click on the ad below for all the details.


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES November 14th, 2015

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
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!

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
The Gourmet Games

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Cellaring wines, try those which are drinkable now

Caveman Speaks
By Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

I recently had one of “those” chats with a wine lover and collector.

“You must have a big cellar,” he asked.

“Yeah pretty big I guess,” I replied. “I have around a thousand bottles.”

The fellow listed off a number of classic wine cellar bottles that he figured I must surely have stored away. There were top flight Bordeaux, hard to get Burgundy, the “superest’ of the Super-Tuscans, as well as a few “icon” wines I had tasted from new world places but frankly have never considered buying.

“I don’t know man, I don’t have any of those,” I answered with a shrug of my shoulders.

The fellow, a bit stupefied that a big time wine critic doesn’t share his penchant for the fancy bottles, then asked what made up my collection. So what do I have in my cellar? I do have a few expensive wines crated up. But the vast majority of wines gathering glorious dust in my basement are bottles that cost under $40 and have as their primary appeal one and only one characteristic: drinkability.

The money myth of cellaring wines

The most common misconception about cellaring wines is that you need to spend lots of money on a wine and then wait over a decade to drink them. Well, I don’t have that much available cash to spend on really expensive wines and to be honest, these big red wines (my cellar is half white wines by the way) are often tannic, concentrated and so heavily oaked they melt your teeth in their youth. Patience, they say, will be rewarded.

If there is one thing that I have learned over my 25 year career in wine, it’s that:

1 – I’m impatient.

2 – I don’t believe any wine on this planet is worth much more than $100 a bottle.

3 – If a wine doesn’t turn you on in its youth, it doesn’t matter how long you let it age, you probably won’t like it much more later.

Produttori Del Barbaresco Barbaresco 2010 Poderi Colla Dardi Le Rose Bussia Barolo 2008 Treana Red 2009 Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Sure my beloved Barolo and Barbarescos can be quite tannic in their youth, but they are still very drinkable and rarely show much in terms of oak. Try the 2010 Barbaresco from Produttori del Barbaresco and you will see that at $40, you can get ageable and drinkable all in one package. Or what’s even better, many Barolo houses only release their bottles after they have already aged. Try the 2008 Dardi le Rose, Bussia from Poderi Cola. Under $50, it’s good for now and the long term future.

For those of you with a New World palate, I have noticed more and more wines showcasing fruit that’s ripe and not overripe, and with less emphasis on all the oak. The 2009 Trenna Red from Austin Hope is a perfect example of this, as is the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags’ Leap.

“Icon” wine?

Domaine De La Vieille Julienne Lieu Dit Clavin 2013 Le Clos Du Caillou Bouquet Des Garrigues 2012The quotation marks should be heavily bolded around the word icon. Somehow this word which is used to denote “an object of uncritical devotion” has been usurped by wineries the world over to draw consumer attention to their top wine. These wines, which for the most part are excessively concentrated and were raised in new and expensive oak barrels, often make me dream of simpler times, and simpler wines.

The reality is that anyone can make these super concentrated wines, and if you have enough cash, you can buy new barrels. But terroir is not democratic, and the majority of the world’s terroirs produce grapes with moderate complexity that are best made into good quality table wines. There is nothing wrong with that; in fact, I revere wineries that can produce a great wine for $20-$30. While these wines will age and get better in the short term, three to five years, the beauty is that they can also be drunk now.

I have been drinking lots of grenache-based wines from southern France these days and they are perfect example of this. The 2012 Clos de Caillou, Garrigues is a remarkable grenache-dominant Côtes du Rhône which will reward with just a modicum of patience. On a similar vein, the 2013 Lieu Dit Clavin from Vieille Julienne is an inspired effort at under $30.

White is definitely right

When I’m asked why I have so much white wine in my cellar, my answer is that for me it is more of a sure thing for aging than red wines. That’s right. I have had great success with wines with striking acidity like the 2014 Vacheron from Sancerre. I recently opened a 2009 Saint Joseph from Pierre Gaillard and it was mind blowing. I am sure the 2014 will be of equal magnitude in three to five years.

Wines that combine acidity and sugar, like riesling, are simply hard to kill. I have been lucky enough to taste verticals of Cave Spring’s CSV and the extra depth and complexity that these wines gain, in a relatively short time frame, is remarkable. The 2013 is a classic example of the worthiness of the Niagara terroir’s ability to produce great quality riesling at a decent price. I have also stocked up on the 2012 Charles Baker Picone Riesling. I just hope that I can refrain from drinking them down too soon.

Domaine Vacheron Sancerre 2014Pierre Gaillard St Joseph 2014Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012

The bottom line is that many people are afraid from starting wine cellars because they feel that one needs to spend enormous amounts of money on wines. This is simply not the case. Any wine done with a modicum of care will gain complexity with even a few years in a wine cellar. So if you buy a wine, no matter what the price, and love drinking it now, then throw a few in your basement. Chances are that it will be even better in the not-so-distant future.

Until next time.


“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

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


Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Gourmet Games - Nov 17

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 14, Part One

Our Finest from Europe
by John Szabo MS, with notes from Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

November 14th marks the first major holiday release at VINTAGES, with nearly 170 wines and spirits arriving (or re-arriving) on shelves. The theme is “our finest”, which means a healthy collection of premium products that stretch into the upper echelons of price. On that note, in this report I offer some perspective on wine pricing, before Sara and I line up our recommendations from Europe ranging from $17 to $100+ (David is hopping across Canada to raise funds for Canadian athletes via Gold Medal Plates and returns to cover the November 28th release). The rest of the world follows next week.

Read to the bottom for details on upcoming events and tastings, including the Gourmet Games, the Thirty Bench Wine Makers’ dinner, the Food and Wine Show Tutored Tasting on Volcanic Wines, and an upcoming grower champagne masterclass.

Is Wine Overpriced?

First, a warning: You may find some of the recommendations in this report expensive. $50 or $100 is after all a considerable sum to spend on a bottle of fermented grape juice. Even $20 can seem unnecessarily high. I’ve been among the first to lament the steadily increasing baseline price of decent wine, and even more so the ever-inflating price of premium bottles. So, are wines overpriced?

A recent experience helped me regain some perspective. The scene was a new hipster juice bar in Toronto, the kind that serves fresh-pressed juices from exotic organic ingredients that have popped up like mushrooms after the rain across the city. I ordered the Refresher, a healthy-sounding mix of cucumber, romaine, celery, ginger and green apple. The price? $7 for a 500ml plastic cup’s worth. I wasn’t shocked; that’s a standard ticket for such juices. But then I paused to reflect on what it takes to make them.

The cost of ingredients is of course minimal, even for grade A organic produce. Inventory costs are equally low, since the majority of ingredients come in and out in a matter of days, or hours. No special expertise is required to acquire or process the materials – it’s basically a shopping list, fulfilled with a quick call to a supplier or two, or a few minutes at the Ontario Food Terminal. If one supplier is out of an ingredient, you can go to another without compromising your product. There’s no cost to train the servers behind the counter to prepare the beverages; a couple of minutes on how to operate the juicer should do it. Packaging is cheap, a few pennies per unit, less for the straw. There’s little marketing or promotional necessary. The space was small and décor minimal. There’s no commission to pay, and no shipping and handling fees. They don’t give out free samples to convince you to buy a whole cup, and no one returns the juice because they don’t like how it tastes. There’s no special added juice tax that pays for health care and infrastructure, so beyond standard HST, all of those 7 dollars go towards the shop’s revenue.

In the food & beverage industry, that’s about as low risk as it gets. People were lining up for these juices; evidently, no one was balking at the cost.

Now consider the wine business. Decent quality grapes cost anywhere from about $3 per kilo (you can find cheaper, but you usually get what you pay for), and up to $30 in extreme, ultra premium cases, which is about what you need to make one bottle of wine. The cost of purchasing land, and planting and maintaining a vineyard to supply your own needs is extravagant to say the least. Then, growing grapes and making wine competently requires years of schooling, training and practical experience, or paying someone else handsomely to do it for you. And don’t forget that grape growing is fraught with countless perils, at the mercy of everything from a long list of diseases, to heavy rain, wind, frost, drought, hungry birds and animals, and other sundry acts of God that can severely reduce or entirely decimate a year’s harvest. The worse the year, the higher the farming costs; and even with zero crop, you still have to pay.

Production and equipment costs make accountants weep. A new oak barrel alone immediately adds $3 to the cost of a bottle of wine. And fine wine, as you know, needs to rest in the cellar before release, a massive inventory expense. The cost of bottles themselves, and closures and labels and cartons add up quickly, at least another couple of dollars/bottle.

And you’ll need to get your message out if you expect to sell anything in such a saturated, hyper-competitive market. That means building a tasting room and staffing it with properly trained people (it takes considerably more than a couple of minutes to teach a wine salesperson the necessary production details and the messaging you want to convey), travelling extensively (airplane tickets, hotels, meals, etc.) to pour and talk about your wines with professionals and consumers, paying for expensive stands at wine fairs, buying advertising, giving away free samples to writers, distributors and sommeliers, among other activities. And really, I’ve only scratched the obvious surface costs that need to be covered by the price of a bottle of wine; lots more lurk at every turn.

And don’t forget that a winery only sees about a third of the dollars you spend on wine in Ontario; the rest goes to the government, shippers, brokers and agents. A $7/500ml juice, the equivalent of about $10 worth of liquid in a 750ml bottle, made from fermented grapes and imported into Canada, would retail on our shelves at close to $30 (you can roughly calculate how much a winery actually gets from the sale of a bottle by dividing the retail price by 3). But compared to the juice shop model, the actual profit margin for the winery is incomparably lower, if there’s any left at all.

Most start-up wineries, even those with hopes to charge premium prices, count roughly a decade and a half before expecting to see the account books turn black, and that’s not including initial capital expenditures – I’m talking break even on operating expenses. Starting a winery from scratch these days is almost invariably the folly of the ultra-wealthy in search of tax deductions, for which the wine business is unparalleled.

So despite rising prices, wine growers are not getting any richer, if anything, the wine business is growing less and less profitable. I see many, even multi-generational vignerons all around the world struggling to keep their businesses afloat in a frighteningly competitive market, which only grows more cut-throat each year.

These thoughts and others crossed my mind as I sipped my fancy juice. You can only conclude that A) taxes, shipping and commissions on wine are too high; B) wine is necessarily a costly luxury; C) starting a winery is a bad idea if profit is your goal, or D) starting a juice business is an awesome idea.

But it’s unfair, at least in most cases, to conclude that wine is overpriced. Wine is not expensive, even if it costs a lot.

It’s something to think about as you contemplate the seemingly inflated price tag on any of the recommendations below. Or maybe, you’ll open a juice bar.

Buyers Guide For November 14th: Our Finest European White

Terradora 2014 Falanghina IGT Campania, Italy ($16.95)

John Szabo – Falanghina is a great entry into the compelling whites of Campania, a region with as much history as another in Italy – this grape was planted in the vineyards of Pompeii. While it’s not the top cultivar in terms of depth and complexity (look to Greco and fiano for that), in the hands of Terradora, it hits a perfect mix of terroir and pleasure at the price.
Sara d’Amato – Although one of southern Italy’s largest wineries, Terredora produces dynamite Falanghina that can be happily found on the VINTAGES shelves year after year. Falanghina is a varietal known for its floral aromatics and flavours of fresh lemon, lime and tangerine, as are notable in this example. The grape is widely planted around the volcanic soils of Mount Vesuvius. This lovely vintage is fresh and fruity, very characteristic and perfect with pan-seared white fish.

La Chablisienne 2012 Montmains Chablis 1er Cru, France ($32.95)

John Szabo – The cooperative La Chablisienne continues to impress, and this 2012 Montmains was a standout from my last visit and tasting across the entire range in 2014, and again now in international context. It comes from mostly from the Butteaux sous-climate (95%) of this left bank hillside cru, strikingly mineral and notable earthy – a wine that “looks down” for its more earthy-stony stylistic guidance, in the words of director Hervé Tucki, a more clay-rich cru that gives a powerful, dense expression with terrific length. Best 2015-2022.

Terredora Falanghina 2014La Chablisienne Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2012Domaine Billaud Simon Chablis Premier Cru Mont De Milieu 2010Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuissé 2013

Domaine Billaud-Simon 2010 Mont de Milieu Chablis 1er Cru AC, France ($44.95)

John Szabo – Striking Chablis from a terrific vintage, hitting a beautiful stage of maturity now, though with lots of life ahead; be sure to use large glasses or decant before serving to give it some air. This has density and complexity at grand cru level. Best 2015-2025.

Louis Jadot 2013 Pouilly Fuissé, Burgundy, France ($35.95)

Sara d’Amato – With verve and energy, this upbeat Pouilly Fuissé is fresh, enticing and packs a punch. Although it still has some years ahead, this chardonnay can be pleasurably enjoyed now with soft, ripened cheeses.

Buyers Guide for November 14th: Our Finest European Red

Château Croze de Pys 2010 Prestige Malbec, Cahors, Southwest, France ($16.95)

John Szabo – This is a terrific find for fans of solid, well-built wines, ready to enjoy alongside some salty protein. It blends the iron-like minerality of classic Cahors, but with ripe fruit and tannins that are firm but not hard or astringent. Best 2015-2022.

Château De Ségure 2012 Fitou, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($16.95)

Sara d’Amato – Fitou is located in southeastern Languedoc where carignan and grenache make up the majority of the blends. It butts up against Corbieres and although very similar, Fitou insists on remaining proudly independent. This sultry, voluptuous and peppery example is also juicy and fresh with characteristic notes of licorice and raspberry and blackberry. Won’t disappoint – an excellent value.

Château Croze De Pys Prestige Malbec Cahors 2010Château De Ségure Fitou 2012Boutari Grande Reserve Xinomavro 2008Cantina Del Taburno Fidelis Sannio Aglianico 2011

Boutari 2008 Grande Reserve Xinomavro, Naoussa, Greece ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – As usual, the Boutari Grande Reserve is an outstanding value. Older vintages of xinomavro such as this allow full expression of this age-worthy varietal. From a hot and dry vintage, this mid-weight example is wildly complex and savory with notes of dried herbs and cherry along with earth and fig. Ready to drink.

Cantina del Taburno 2011 Fidelis Sannio Aglianico, Campania, Italy ($19.95)

John Szabo – Benevento province is Campania’s source of softer and riper versions of Aglianico, relative to Taurasi or Monte Vulture in Basilicata, the other two main regions of production, as reflected nicely in this wine. The accomplished coop of Taburno has rendered a polished and appealing style, without abandoning the grapes typical savoury dark fruit. A satisfying mouthful, ready to enjoy or hold until the early ‘20s.

Château De Nages 2012 Vieilles Vignes Costières De Nîmes, Rhône, France ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – Located in a cool pocket in the southern Rhone, Costières de Nîmes is influenced by the Mediterranean breezes of the Camargue, the warmth of the Languedoc and soils similar to that of the southern Rhône. This nexus of a locale is responsible for some pretty intriguing wines. This old vines example from leading producer Michel Gassier is farmed organically with grenache and syrah that make up the majority of the blend along with mourvèdre, the up-and-comer of the region. This cooler vintage is easy to drink with a lovely peppery character and an abundance of red and black fruit.

Château Rahoul 2010, Graves, Bordeaux, France ($29.95)

Sara d’Amato – This old school charmer exhibits a little funk and rusticity but also with characteristic Graves minerality and extensive breadth of flavours. Drinking beautifully now but can do with another 2-3 years in cellar.


Marchese Antinori 2012 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($32.95)

John Szabo – I’m glad the marketing department at Antinori put Tenuta Tignanello on the label, a reminder that I can drink three bottles of this for the price of one bottle of this wine’s big brother, Tignanello without giving up too much. It’s mature, savoury, earthy and dusty, i.e. a classic Tuscan expression, classy, sophisticated and elegant. Best 2015-2027.

Poggio Verrano 2005 Dròmos, Maremma Toscana, Tuscany, Italy ($39.95)

John Szabo – Your ticket for a perfectly mature Tuscan red (alicante, cabernet, cabernet franc and merlot), with terrific complexity. I love the earthy, wet clay, succulent ripe blue fruit character and leathery notes, with fully integrated wood and great length. Best 2015-2020.

Alvaro Palacios 2013 Velles Vinyes Les Terrasses, Priorat, Spain ($46.95)

John Szabo – Priorat pioneer Alvaro Palacios’ old vines 2013 is a dense and full, concentrated and balanced wine, with great palate presence, offering loads of immediate pleasure up front though will surely hold, and improve, over the next decade or more. Best 2015-2028.
Sara d’Amato – Breaking the noteworthy familial tradition of production in Rioja, Alvaro Palacios, a winemaker with serious clout (years at Chateau Petrus), is considered a pioneer of modern Priorat. Progressive and dynamic, like the wines he creates, Palacios’ old vine blend of almost equal amounts of garnacha and cariñena is distinctively heady and aromatic, intense but polished.

Château Haut Corbin 2000 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France ($58.95)

John Szabo – A very good choice for those seeking classic Bordeaux, with age. This is pretty much at full maturity, on a plateau no doubt for another half dozen years or more judging on structure. Best 2015-2020.

Alvaro Palacios les Terrasses 2013Château Haut Corbin 2000Le-Serre-Nuove-Dell'ornellaia-2013Masi-Amarone-Della-Valpolicella-Classico-Campolongo-Di-Torbe-2009

Le Serre Nuove Dell’Ornellaia 2013 Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany, Italy ($59.95)

John Szabo – It’s entirely inadequate to call this a second wine from Ornellaia – at any other estate this would be a highly respectable top wine. The 2013 is really singing – evidently an excellent vintage. Leave this in the cellar for at least another 4-5 years, or hold into the late ’20s. Best 2020-2030+.

Masi Campolongo di Torbe 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto, Italy ($101.95)

John Szabo – When it comes to dried grape wines, few can match the technical prowess and fine vineyard sources of Masi. Campolongo di Torbe is for me the more elegant of this great house’s single vineyard Amarone, though 2009 is a massively structured wine to be sure, crafted with that hard-to-achieve balance between full ripeness, lack of green/vegetal flavour, and no appreciable volatile acids (varnish), often inevitable in this style of wine. It’s at least a decade away from prime maturity, and surely more. This should reach into the ’40s without a stretch. Monumental. Best 2024-2045+.

Buyers Guide For November 14th: Our Finest European Fortified

Sandeman Vintage Port 2011Lustau East India Solera SherryLustau East India Solera Sherry, Spain ($24.95)

John Szabo – A terrific bottling from Lustau, medium-sweet, rich, treacly and caramel-flavoured, with tremendous length and depth, and the lovely aromatic lift of wines that spend years in barrel. I love the salted caramel and pure hit of umami on the finish. A beautiful sipping wine, or for hard cheese, nuts, figs dates and pecan pie.

Sandeman 2011 Vintage Port, Portugal ($70.00)

John Szabo – Dense, intense, incredibly ripe and powerful, decades away from prime enjoyment – this is a real tour de force. Tannins are big, thick, rich, puckering. To be revisited after 2026 or so. A spectacular vintage for long ageing. 2026-2050.

Upcoming Events

The 3rd Annual Gourmet Games

525x225-JPG VersionThe Gourmet Games is a food and wine experience that goes beyond simply consuming food and wine. It aims to educate, excite, and challenge. Wineries and distilleries from 18 global regions will sample over 75 products at the Games. With many 90+ rated wines in the room, the Gourmet Games offers an array of exemplary taste profiles to satisfy every palate. Buy tickets now – Save $25 .

When: Tuesday, November 17th, 6:30 – 11pm
Where: Gladstone Hotel
*Special offer for WineAlign Members*

An Exclusive Dinner Celebrating the Best Small Winery of the Year – Thirty Bench Wine Makers

Thirty BenchOn Thursday, November 19th, WineAlign and Thirty Bench Wine Makers are pleased to present a special winemaker’s dinner celebrating the 2015 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada’s Best Performing Small Winery. Buy tickets now.

When: Thursday, November 19th, 6:30 – 10 pm
Where: Holts Café (Holt Renfrew)

Gourmet Food and Wine Show Tutored Tasting: Volcanic Wines

Tutored Tastings - GFWEFrom the Ring of Fire to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the meeting of the Eurasian and African Tectonic plates in the Mediterranean, join Master Sommelier John Szabo for an exotic tour of the world’s best volcanoes! Or rather, the exceptional wines that grow on them. Since the dawn of time, humankind has been drawn to these lethal but irresistible fissures in the earth, not least because the soils surrounding them are incredibly mineral-rich and whatever grows on them, including grapes, has flavours as intense as a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. Salty, gritty and powerful — these are the world’s best volcanic wines. Buy tickets now

Host: John Szabo, Master Sommelier
When: Friday November 20th, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Cost: $85

Maison Bereche Champagne vineyard

Maison Bereche Champagne vineyard

IWEG Masterclass: The Intrigue of Grower Champagne

Hosted by John Szabo, Canada’s first Master Sommelier and IWEG WSET Diploma Graduate, experience the nuances that make grower Champagne so exceptional and unique! Taste 8 premium single estate Champagnes produced in limited quantities, most of which will not be available in the LCBO.

Event Details:

When: Tuesday, November 24th, 7-9pm
Where: IWEG Drinks Academy, 211 Yonge St., Suite 501
Cost: $105 / $95 for IWEG alumni

Sign up at


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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES November 14th, 2015

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

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

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 31, Part Two

Schooling on Tuscany and Red Raves
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

After spending a couple of hours tasting through the Tuscan wines being presented by VINTAGES this weekend I came to the conclusion that all is well in Italy’s most famous wine region; that this assemblage of big name, larger volume producers who export to Canada are doing a good job of making wines that well represent the various sub-districts and styles of this very advanced region. As a previewer/reviewer on your behalf there are very few that I would not recommend, but on the other hand, few that I fervently recommend. What we have here is a classroom on well-made Tuscan reds. Which spawned an idea.

Many, many people in Ontario are now enrolled in wine education programs – through WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust), CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers), George Brown College and Humber Colleges in Toronto, Algonquin College in Ottawa, and Toronto’s Sommelier Factory. In all my years I have never run across so many people studying wine. It’s almost an epidemic of earnest souls delving deep into the grape, and we hope, loving every moment.

So I am going to take this Tuscan release and divide it into three bottle (beginner), six bottle (intermediate) and nine bottle (advanced) study packs. If you can afford them yourself great, but you may want to cobble together a study/tasting group to make a joint purchase. What I do recommend is that you open and compare all of them directly – perhaps meeting late Saturday afternoon to taste then having them all with a Tuscan dinner. I leave the recipes to you.

But first a background. What makes Tuscan unique among Italian wines is a sense of sophistication and refined tension or backbone. They are not heavy, ponderous, thick wines. Instead they are fleet, often nervy yet elegant, with sour red fruit aromas, more so than the riper black fruits of warmer regions. Tuscany’s climate is best described – like Bordeaux – as moderate in the global scheme of things. This creates a sense of balanced acidity upon which all else is built, and the workhorse sangiovese grape also has fairly high natural acidity. In the higher, cooler elevations of Chianti the acidity is even more pronounced. If you go southwest toward the warmer coast through Montalcino and Maremma the acidity lowers and body weight increases. Directly west of Chianti in warmer coastal Bolgheri cabernet sauvignon takes over as the main grape with its different, lifted aromas and firmer tannin. But across the board there remains a sense of fine-pointed balance.

The Tuscan Three-Pack  (Total cost $92.85)
This covers the three basic styles of Tuscan red, all made in a more modern idiom (fruitier, French oak). Chianti is always the touchstone so start your tasting with the sangiovese based Rocca Delle Macìe 2011 Riserva Chianti Classico ($22.95). Then move on to Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2013 ($29.95) to understand the difference between sangiovese and cabernet/merlot based reds. And then go upscale to an intentionally more mature, longer barrel aged sangiovese Poggiotondo 2010 Brunello di Montalcino ($39.95).

The Tuscan Six-Pack (Total cost $161.75)
Start with the basic, light, tart, more traditional Piazzano 2013 Chianti ($14.95), then go to the still traditional, more aged Castelli del Grevepesa 2011 Clemente VII Chianti Classico ($17.00). From here branch out to a warmer, more inland region using a fragrant sangiovese clone called prugnolo gentile in Poliziano 2012 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($29.95). In fourth spot introduce a sturdier sangiovese, cabernet, merlot blend grown in central Tuscany: Ruffino 2011 Modus ($29.95). Then out to the Bolgheri coast again with elegant cab-merlot based Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2013 ($29.95), and finally into Montalcino with the aged Poggiotondo 2010 Brunello di Montalcino ($39.95).

The Tuscan Nine-Pack (Total Cost $293.60)
The first third of this tasting should be spent with Chianti. Begin again with the classic, lightweight traditional Piazzano 2013 Chianti ($14.95), then move to the maturing, lightweight Castelli del Grevepesa 2011 Clemente VII Chianti Classico ($17.00), and end the flight with the top tier San Felice 2010 Il Grigio da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico ($46.95) a profound, more aged single vineyard wine from a leading estate and an excellent vintage. The next trifecta brings cabernet and merlot into the mix. Wine four should be the Borgo Scopeto 2011 Borgonero ($19.95) a maturing sangiovese-cabernet blend from a lighter vintage. Then go to Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2013 ($29.95) to grasp the essential Bolgheri coast cabernet difference; then return to central Tuscany and go way upscale and modern with Tenuta Sette Ponti 2012 Oreno ($77.95) a very youthful, impressive blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. The last stage delves into more evolved Tuscan reds. Marchesi De’ Frescobaldi 2013 Campo Ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino ($21.95) is calendar young but has a smooth, gentile aged feel central to wines from Montalcino. Follow on with big brother Poggiotondo 2010 Brunello di Montalcino ($39.95). Then finish with a fully mature Cafaggio 2006 Cortaccio ($24.95) a 100% cabernet sauvignon.

But if you are not going to school and simply want to enjoy fine Tuscan wine at your table, here are our picks from this release.

Buyers’ Guide for October 31st: Tuscan Picks

Il Grigio da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2010

Poliziano 2012 Vino Nobile di MontepulcianoPoliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2012 ($29.95)

David Lawrason – Whereas most Chianti sangiovese show red currant fruit, the prugnolo gentile clone used in Vino Nobile expresses a riper, more cabernet like blackcurrant note. Here it’s nicely meshed with oak vanillin and cedary spice and evergreen. It’s medium-full bodied firm and dry so set it aside for about two years.
John Szabo – Poliziano is a reliable name in Vino Nobile. The 2012 offers significant fruity aromas and flavours, with plenty of room to evolve. Indeed, it’s still youthful and undeveloped, firm and tightly wound, with abundant, dusty-drying tannins, furthering the case for additional time in the cellar, another 2-4 years or so, at which point it should have evolved nicely. Best 2018-2028.
Sara d’Amato – Vino Nobile is often described as having the aromatic delicacy of a Chianti Classico and the opulence of a Brunello. This classic example from Poliziano shows just this distinctiveness and with refreshing verve and elegance. Tuck this away for another 3 years for optimum enjoyment.

Il Grigio Da San Felice 2010 Gran Selezione Chianti Classico ($46.95)

John Szabo – The Gran Selezione category is proving to be by and large not just a way to charge more for Chianti, but also a cue for consumers to find excellent, properly-aged wines. This is great stuff, elegant and refined and savoury, with terrific complexity, already seamlessly integrated. Best 2015-2025.
Sara d’Amato – Only the best quality, estate grown fruit makes it in to this Gran Selezione Chianti Classico from this progressive producer. Gracefully maturing, there is still a great deal of power behind the wine’s elegant frame. Smart and sophisticated – the Sophia Lauren of Chianti Classico.

Antinori 2010 Pian Delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino ($69.95)

Sara d’Amato – Although a long time favourite, the Pian della Vigne has had some bumpy vintages of late. The newly released 2010 is a return to a classic interpretation of Brunello and happily marries flavours of cherry, cocoa, fig and leather on the palate of impressive depth. A charmer from the excellent 2010 vintage.

Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi 2013 Campo ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino ($21.95)

David Lawrason – Rosso di Montalcino is a less aged, earlier drinking version of Brunello. This sports a lovely, fragrant nose,  a nicely harmonious gentle palate and very good length. A nice choice if you find Chianti too lean.

Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino 2010 Marchesi De' Frescobaldi Campo Ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino 2013 Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2013 Le Volte Dell'ornellaia 2013

Tenuta San Guido 2013 Le Difese ($29.95)

John Szabo – A highly respectable “second wine” of Sassicaia, authentically Tuscan in style, dusty, resinous, earthy and herbal, with all of the positive connotations. Drink or hold mid-term. (70% cabernet and 30% sangiovese). Best 2015-2023.

Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2013 ($29.95)

David Lawrason – This is of course not as rich, deep and refined as the world famous merlot-based Ornellaia, but I have always admired the same attention to detail applied to a lighter frame of this ‘second wine’. This is not flamboyant on the nose but it is appealing, complex and ripe with wildberry/currant fruit, background oak and herbs. Very refined. Cellar it for now. Best 2018 to 2023.

Buyers’ Guide for October 31st: Other Rave Red Values (Chilean selections were published here last week)

Lavau 2012 Vacqueyras, Rhône Valley, France ($24.95)

John Szabo – Wow, what a mouthful of wine, certainly equal to many southern Rhône reds at twice the price. Fans of massive, big-structured wines will revel in this. Best 2015-2022.
David Lawrason – This is a quite charming, rich and smooth almost creamy young Vacqueyras that is texturally ready to drink in one sense, but I just know it will be more expressive in a couple of years.

Dutton Estate 2011 Karmen Isabella Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County ($49.95)

David Lawrason – Dutton Ranch is one of the great California sites for pinot, with several wineries sourcing here. This is a lovely fragrant, complex slightly edgy, cooler climate pinot with cran-cherry fruit, spice, evergreen forest and nuanced meaty notes. It’s mid weight, fairly firm but not the least austere.

Purcari 2013 Rara Neagra de Purcari, Nistreana, Moldova, ($19.55)

Sara d’Amato – Moldova has been quietly gaining its wine footing after the disbanding of the Soviet Union in the early 90s. This lightly oaked example of the indigenous rara neagra grape is surprisingly robust and mouthfilling as it is a grape that is thin skinned and generally produces light, fresh and early maturing wines. A curio selection with a widely appealing nature.

Lavau Vacqueyras 2012 Dutton Estate Karmen Isabella Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2011 Purcari Rara Neagra De Purcari 2013Château Pey La Tour Réserve Du Château 2010J. L. Chave Sélection Offerus Saint Joseph 2012

Château Pey La Tour 2010 Réserve du Château Bordeaux Supérieur, Brodeaux, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason –  A great buy in modern merlot-based red from a fine property between the city of Bordeaux and the right bank. It’s mid-weight, fairly dense, well balanced and structured, as are so many 2010s. Just right ripeness with black fruit, cedary oak, fresh herbs and pencil notes.

J. L. Chave Sélection 2012 Offerus Saint-Joseph, Rhône Valley, France ($33.95)

David Lawrason – Great value in classic northern Rhone syrah. This has an impressive nose of well integrated cherry, pepper, smoked cured bacon and fine basil herbs. It’s medium-full boded, nicely dense and compact but attenuated by fine acidity and minerality. Pitch perfect Saint Joseph.

Val Auclair 2013 Les Barras Rouge, Vallé du Paradis, Roussillon, France ($19.95)

John Szabo – A fine and spicy, carignan-led blend with syrah and grenache from the deep southwest corner of the Roussillon, farmed organically. I love the spicy black pepper and stemmy/leafy notes, the vibrancy, the freshness and the ultimately drinkability of this wine, succulent, salty and juicy. Best 2015-2021.
Sara d’Amato – Domaine Val Auclair is an estate built by the renown family of Saint-Exupéry in the late 19th century. Organically farmed, the estate is home to a plot of hundred-year-old carignan as well as high elevation plantings of syrah and grenache. This unoaked blend of aforementioned classic southern varietals exhibits lovely notes of black pepper and lavender on a firmly structured palate. Excellent value and attractive packaging.

Socré 2011 Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy ($29.95)

John Szabo – Excellent value, all-estate, family-run, perfumed and mature nebbiolo in the classic spectrum, with well-balanced palate to match. This has terrific depth and intensity for the money, as well as a whack of savoury, umami-laden flavours. The length is excellent, too. Best 2015-2023.

Domaine Val Auclair Les Barras 2013Socré Barbaresco 2011Feudi San Pio Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2013Bodegas Mas Alta Artigas 2008 Heartland Spice Trader Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Feudi San Pio 2013 Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – This Ripasso is more akin to a baby Amarone – memorable and wildly complex. Attractive notes of smoky cherry, fresh earth and fennel seed are knit together with delicate spice and rich but not heavy texture. Generous, stylish and well-suited to wintry gatherings.

Bodegas Mas Alta 2008 Artigas, Priorat, Spain ($37.95)

David Lawrason – If you are curious about Priorat, here is a great, affordable window into its soul. And it’s maturing into drinkable form. Blended from garnacha, mazuelo (carignan) and a touch of cabernet sauvignon, the nose shows lovely complex currant/pomegranate/wildberry fruit nicely framed by oak vanillin, graphite and gentle cedary herbs. It’s full bodied, quite soft and dense, with almost velvety tannins.

Heartland 2013 Spice Trader Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, Langhorne Creek, South Australia ($17.00)

Best Performing Small WineryDavid Lawrason – Not all inexpensive Aussie reds are heavy and sweet. Thanks to the special maritime terroir of Langhorne Creek this sports a lovely nose of fresh mint, eucalyptus, dark chocolate, graphite and ripe blueberry/pomegranate fruit. It’s full bodied, smooth and richly fruity, then narrows to a saltier, mineral finish. The tension and purity are excellent.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. In the meantime, check your inbox for news on upcoming events and tastings. John and Sara will be your sensory guides at the Gourmet Games next month and stay tuned for details on a special winemakers dinner celebrating the Best Performing Small Winery of the Year – Thirty Bench Wine Makers.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES October 31, 2015

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide Part One: Chile and Top Whites Picks

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

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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What’s New at LCBO in October

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.

Gold Medal Winning New Values
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

WineAlign has recently announced the results of the 10th Edition of the World Wine Awards of Canada. The name has changed over the years but the intent has always been the same – to assemble Canada’s leading palates and taste through hundreds of wines that sell somewhere in Canada for less than $50. In fact, the vast majority of this year’s entries were under $25. (You can read all about The World’s in David Lawrason’s recent article: It’s all about Value at the World Wine Awards of Canada)

I judged along with my colleagues from WineAlign when we spent a week together in late August tasting around a 1000 wines, so when I was compiling my list of What’s New at the LCBO this month, I was happy to see a few new wines here which won a Gold Value medal at the Awards.

The wines on the shelves at the LCBO are constantly changing and I am tasting the new ones all the time. Many wineries send us new wines in advance for us to review before they hit the shelves and we also taste the latest vintages of current listings. Many favourites are always there but the range and variety is gradually being updated.

I suggest you read on, pick a few that appeal, 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.

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 reviews of great value wines!


Porta 6 2012, V R Lisboa, Portugal ($12.35) – This is a bright lively fresh red blend of several indigenous Portuguese red grapes.  Pleasant and easy drinking with decent length. Try with burgers or pizza.

Porta 6 2012

Santa Julia Reserva Malbec 2014, Mendoza ($12.95) – This is a rich malbec with a creamy texture that is well balanced and quite juicy with good length and  a long lingering very dry finish. Try with a rack of juicy ribs.

Santa Julia Reserva Malbec 2014WWAC15_Gold_White

Kellermeister The Funk Wagon G S M 2011 South Australia ($16.20) – A lovely GSM blend with a complex nose and a lemony fruity finish that could easily have come from the Rhone Valley.

Kellermeister The Funk Wagon G S M 2011WWAC15_Gold_White

Ara Pathway Single Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand ($16.95 + 10BAMs) – Great value for a juicy fruity pinot with a very harmonious nose. Its dry, tightly knit and well balanced for food. Try with roast beef.

Ara Pathway Single Estate Pinot Noir 2013

Luis Felipe Edwards Family Selection Gran Reserva Carmenere 2014 Colchagua Valley, Chile ($16.95) – There is a lot of complexity in this juicy structured cabernet with an elegant palate that shows a good depth of flavour with very good to excellent length.

Luis Felipe Edwards Family Selection Gran Reserva Carmenere 2014WWAC15_Gold_White

Château Canteloup 2012, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($19.65) – This has the presence and aromas of a top quality Bordeaux red. It has very traditional styling and though the structure is not that of the best, it is still very impressive for the money.

Château Canteloup 2012


Two Oceans Moscato 2015 Western Cape, South Africa ($9.95) – A fairly simple sweet white low in alcohol with a very aromatic nose. Chill well and enjoy on its own or with baked apple desserts.

Two Oceans Moscato 2015

Ara Pathway Single Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand ($14.95) – A fresh mellow sauvignon that’s a little sweet but there is very good length and it makes for a good sipping wine.

Ara Pathway Single Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Veuve Ambal Grande Cuvée Brut Crémant De Bourgogne, Burgundy, France ($17.95) – An elegant fresh clean bubbly for a great price. Smooth and lively with very good length. Try with pastry nibbles or creamy sauces.

Veuve Ambal Grande Cuvée Brut Crémant De BourgogneWWAC15_Gold_White

Basa Blanco 2014 Rueda, Spain ($17.95) –  An elegant Spanish white from verdejo with delicate aromas and a juicy fruity palate that is well balanced with the fruit persisting well on the long finish. Very good length. Try with sautéed seafood.

Basa Blanco 2014WWAC15_Bronze_White


Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20
Top 50 Value Wines
World Wine Awards of Canada

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!


Concha Y Toro Terrunyo Andes Pirque Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 31, Part One

Chile and Top Whites Picks
by John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Fall is a frenetic time of year in the wine world, and not just for winemakers. This year in particular has been non-stop, with multiple invitations for tastings squeezing into my inbox almost every day, featuring visiting winemakers and winery principals. Canada, it seems, has become a real “focus market”, which is great news for us. It means more great wines in our market, even if you’ll have to go direct to agents for many – there are only so many open SKUs at your local retail monopoly store. We’re doing our best at WineAlign to keep up with tastings and posting reviews of both LCBO and consignment portfolios, so if you’re looking for off-the-path great wines, set your filter to “All Sources” when using the wine search function.

This week we bring you a wine-packed report on the very good Chile feature, hitting VINTAGES on October 31st, along with an eclectic selection of recommended whites from around the world. Read to the bottom for details on upcoming events and tastings, including the annual Chilean Wine Fair (special offer for WineAlign readers), and upcoming grower champagne and volcanic wine masterclasses.

Chile: Getting its Due

Earlier this year I reported on some of the exciting developments that have shaken up the staid, traditional foundations of Chile, a well-established wine producer and exporter, in the last handful of years. In that piece, I list ten things you should know about Chile (that you may not have known already), including discussion on some of the most exciting winery projects, fruit of a visit there last November. Yet sadly, so many of the wines that we discover and get enthusiastic about on such trips abroad, and write about, fail to ever reach our shores. It makes me wonder what the point is.

But happily, the October 31st VINTAGES release featuring Chile gives us hope that somebody is listening, or at least doing their own research to properly represent the country on our shelves. A couple of my picks even came in, so to speak. Projects like Luis Felipe Edwards exceptional LFE 900 range, from some of Chile’s highest elevation vineyards where naturally balanced, exceptional reds are standard, or Pedro Parra and friends’ Clos de Fous project, whose stated aim is to seek out and express “extreme terroirs in Chile: altitude wines, coastal wines in front of the Pacific Ocean, or Southern Wines coming from Malleco, 700 km South Santiago”, will help to broaden and deepen the field beyond the familiar. If you’ve never found Chilean wines particularly exciting, give these a try.

View from Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 project vineyards-6955

View from Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 project vineyard

But the selection is not all radical. In fact it’s rather well thought out with some classics like Concha y Toro’s excellent Terrunyo cabernet (and also revisit winemaker Marcelo Papa’s enlightened new direction with the ultra-traditional Marqués de Casa Concha line, especially the cabernet sauvignon from 2013 on, a VINTAGES essential). The De Martino winery under Marcelo Retamal has been innovating for a decade already and his fine sauvignon blanc is on offer.

Sara and David include their visions of quality and diversity, bringing a recommended white blend, carignan, pinot noir, carmenere and syrah into the discussion. Indeed it’s a testament to the broad stylistic range and the generally high quality on offer that there’s virtually no alignment of picks this week between David, Sara and I. It’s not because our palates don’t align, they do (albeit not always), but rather because there was lots of choose from in a wide variety of styles.

Diversity is one of Chile’s best new strengths, and it’s heartening to see Chile getting its due. Read through the reviews to find the wines that match you.

Buyers Guide For October 31st 2015: Chile

Clos Des Fous 2012 Grillos Cantores Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Valley, Chile ($17.95)

Terroirist Pedro Parra-5641

Terroirist Pedro Parra

John Szabo – Four crazy friends, Pedro Parra, Albert Cussen, Paco Leyton & Francois Massoc are behind the excellent Clos des Fous project, focusing on Chile’s radical terroirs at the forefront of change in the country. The cabernet from the Grillo Cantores vineyard in the Alta Cachapoal D.O. on volcanic alluvial soils with limestone is like no other cabernet you’ve had from Chile. It smells like wine: no artifice, no exaggerated ripeness and no wood. Acids are firm and fresh, and tannins are well managed and fine-grained, infinitely drinkable. A great wine for the table with its appealing salty streak.
Sara d’Amato – From ungrafted, high altitude vines, this captivating cabernet is generous yet still showing some restraint. There is a lot to look forward to here in this red fermented and aged in concrete vats. There is good potential for graceful development over the next 3-4 years.

De Martino 2014 Legado Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($16.95)

John Szabo – Chilean sauvignon blanc is one of the better value countries for the grape, with even premium versions like this rarely cracking the $20 ceiling. De Martino’s winemaker Marcelo Retamal is among the most forward thinking (which often means backwards thinking) winemakers in Chile, and here he has crafted a sharp and fresh version with a blast of citrus and light tropical fruit, with fresh wintergreen mint flavours. This should satisfy both old and new world sauvignon fans.

Luis Felipe Edwards 2012 LFE 900 Single Vineyard Blend, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($29.95)

John Szabo – the “LFE 900” project is surely one of the top terroirs in Chile, a rocky (volcanic) vineyard 900m above sea level in the Colchagua Valley were the ripening cycle is much longer and natural balance is regularly achieved. Based on cabernet and syrah, this has genuine cut and class, freshness and refinement. Tannins are beautifully ripe and fine grained, and acids life-preserving. Terrific stuff, best 2015-2027.

Concha Y Toro 2012 Terrunyo Andes Pirque Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Las Terrazas Block, Pirque Vineyard, Maipo Valley, Chile ($29.95)

John Szabo – Terrunyo is the premium range of single vineyard “terroir” expressions (terrunyo in Spanish), and this 2012 cabernet from the gravels of Pirque is finely balanced, rich and succulent but well-cut with a terrific salty note. There’s real drive and depth on the palate; this expands nicely across several flavour dimensions. Best 2015-2022. 

Clos Des Fous Grillos Cantores Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 De Martino Legado Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 Single Vineyard Blend 2012 Concha Y Toro Terrunyo Andes Pirque Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Las Terrazas Block

Signos De Origen 2014 La Vinilla Chardonnay/Viognier/Marsanne/Roussanne, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – This singular blend from the cooler region of Casablanca is a product of organic and biodynamically grown fruit with little oak and body-enhancing lees ageing. Wildly complex with an abundance of tree and tropical fruit.

Sara d’Amato – From ungrafted, high altitude vines, this captivating cabernet is generous yet still showing some restraint. There is a lot to look forward to here in this red fermented and aged in concrete vats. There is good potential for graceful development over the next 3-4 years.

Cono Sur 2013 Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir, San Antonio Valley, Chile ($18.95) (419010)

Sara d’Amato – San Antonio’s cooler, ocean influenced terroir makes growing pinot noir a breeze. This single vineyard, sustainable selection is a typical example of Cono Sur’s reliable value.

Ventisquero  2012 Grey Glacier Single Block Carmenère, Trinidad Vineyard, Maipo Valley ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is a single vineyard (albeit large vineyard) carmenere from the lower Maipo Valley. It has a lifted, very minty/juniper nose with pure blackcurrant, light cedar and vanillin. It’s medium weight, tense, firm and juicy with excellent length.

Signos De Origen La Vinilla 2014 Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block No. 21 Viento Mar Pinot Noir 2013Ventisquero Grey Glacier Single Block Carmenère 2012 Morandé Edición Limitada Carignan 2011Montes Alpha Syrah 2012

Morandé 2011 Edición Limitada Carignan, Loncomilla Valley, Maule ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Carignan grown in old vine sites in the coastal Maule region is the new, rising star of Chilean wine. There is even an association called Vignos devoted to the genre and it may become a DO (but Morande is not a member). This has lifted, grapey, blackberry fruit with a hot red brick oven minerality that is distinctly carignan.

Montes Alpha 2012 Syrah, Colchagua Valley ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Although deeply coloured and ripe many Chilean syrahs are going for a lighter, juicier feel than examples from Australia, South Africa or Chile.     This is a very pretty, supple and tender syrah with ripe blueberry aromas, considerable oak vanillin, dried herbs, chocolate and lead pencil.

Buyers Guide For October 31st 2015: Miscellaneous Whites 

Casal di Serra 2014 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Classico Superiore, Marche, Italy ($17.95)

John Szabo – I’ve been admiring this wine for many years, originally a single vineyard selection but now a blend of top lots from 4 parcels in Jesi. Quality remains high: 2014 is a fullish and flavourful, solid mouthful of a wine, with great acids and pronounced stony-minerality. Lees contact contributes notable smokiness on the palate.
David Lawrason – Verdicchio remains one of the world’s most undervalued white wines. It is capable of greatness and this comes close – a bright, polished solid and firm white that with a richness and complexity more mindful of White Burgundy. Great acidity and power here.

Demorgenzon DMZ 2015 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa ($14.95)

John Szabo – Terrific value chenin, fresh, with ripe apple and lightly honeyed flavours, and real phenolic grip on the palate from low yielding, relatively old vines. I like the density and intensity, especially at the price – this packs a solid winey punch.
Sara d’Amato – A wonderfully representative South African chenin blanc from 35 year old, low yielding vines. The name DeMorgenzon refers to ‘the morning sun,’ as it is the first part of the Stellenboschkloof valley to see the sun due to its high altitude location and orientation. Bonus, its stylish packaging makes it a dinner table conversation piece.

Casal di Serra Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi 2014 Demorgenzon DMZ Chenin Blanc 2015Inniskillin Reserve Chardonnay 2013Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2013

Inniskillin 2013 Reserve Series Chardonnay VQA Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($18.95)  Chardonnay

John Szabo – Inniskillin has been tweaking their chardonnay style over the past few years, and this vintage really hits the mark. It’s very pretty, fruity, well-balanced and firm-fresh, with light oak influence and engaging citrus fruit. A light lactic touch gives this an almost Chablisienne profile. Best 2015-2020.

Burrowing Owl 2013 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($34.95)

Sara d’Amato – Savory, dry, focused and mineral-driven – this nervy, almost Chablis-like chardonnay is a head-turner. A wine sure to make an impression at your next dinner party.

Château De La Ragotière 2014 Sélection Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Loire, France ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – The Terra Vitis designation on the label is indicates that sustainable viticultural practices were used. Produced from wines aged 30-60 years old, this “sur-lie” melon de Bourgogne is punchy and brimming with orchard fresh pear, fleshy peach and typical cool stone.

Château de la Ragotière Sélection Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2014 Ferrari Carano Fumé Blanc 2013 Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Ferrari-Carano 2103 Fumé Blanc, Sonoma County, California  ($22.95)
David Lawrason – The well known Mondavi Fume is on this realease as well, and its very good, but this is better. The complex reminds me of corn shoots and fresh peas, with gentle oak spice/nutmeg. It’s quite full bodied, plush, sweetish and warm but the flavour intensity is admirable. Good value within the genre of barrel aged sauvignons

Stoneleigh 2014 Latitude Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($21.95)
David Lawrason – Very complete, refined NZ sauvignon with not a hair out of place.  Nicely lifted, very peppery (green and black) aromas with chive, grapefruit, passion fruit and lime. Its mid-weight, very bright intense and even.


Upcoming Events

Tutored Tastings - GFWEGourmet Food and Wine Show Tutored Tasting: Volcanic Wines

From the Ring of Fire to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the meeting of the Eurasian and African Tectonic plates in the Mediterranean, join Master Sommelier John Szabo for an exotic tour of the world’s best volcanoes! Or rather, the exceptional wines that grow on them. Since the dawn of time, humankind has been drawn to these lethal but irresistible fissures in the earth, not least because the soils surrounding them are incredibly mineral-rich and whatever grows on them, including grapes, has flavours as intense as a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. Salty, gritty and powerful — these are the world’s best volcanic wines. Buy tickets now

Host: John Szabo, Master Sommelier
Friday November 20th, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Cost: $85


Maison Bereche Champagne vineyard

Maison Bereche Champagne vineyard

IWEG Masterclass: The Intrigue of Grower Champagne

Hosted by John Szabo, Canada’s first Master Sommelier and IWEG WSET Diploma Graduate, experience the nuances that make grower Champagne so exceptional and unique! Taste 8 premium single estate Champagnes produced in limited quantities, most of which will not be available in the LCBO.

Event Details:

When: Tuesday, November 24th, 7-9pm
Where: IWEG Drinks Academy, 211 Yonge St., Suite 501
Cost: $105 / $95 for IWEG alumni

Sign up at


Discover the Flavours of ChileChilean Wine Festival - Oct 27

Q: Where can you sample over 120 great wines from 30 different wineries along with regional cuisine?

A: The Chilean Wine Festival taking place Tuesday, October 27th at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Purchase your ticket with the WineAlign promo code and save $10.


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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES October 31, 2015

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

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

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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


WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008