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What’s New at the LCBO – March 2015

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

by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

I am writing this from my hotel room in Chile’s Colchagua Valley. It is nighttime and very dark outside, but from my window I can still hear a machine harvesting merlot from the Laura Hartwig vineyard nearby. It is quite noisy so I hope that they will finish before it is time for sleep. If not, I suppose this is one downside of sleeping among the vines that I will tolerate. I’ll bring you more about Chile’s newest wines next month, but for now let me highlight the current LCBO focus which seems to have most of the new wines coming from the Pacific North West wine regions of Canada and USA.

Outside of special VINTAGES releases, we do not see a large selection of wines from British Columbia in the stores in Ontario and, if it was not for Mission Hill Winery, there would be next to nothing. I have picked two of their new wines from the Five Vineyards series. The other new wine picks come from Washington State and Oregon in the USA. These new wines from the Pacific NW, though good, are premium priced at more than $15. Time will tell whether consumers are happy to pay the extra few dollars.

I did spot a couple of new bargain wines from Italy and Germany. These two stood out among many new entrants, which though they were deliciously packaged, left much to desire on nose and palate.

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 have chosen to highlight eight new wines that have refreshed the system out of the more than 40 that I have tried since I last reported. Most are on shelves already with the rest to arrive over next couple of weeks. Anyway, I suggest you read on, pick a few that appeal and 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!

REDS

Spadafora Terrano Rosso 2012, Calabria, Italy ($8.40) – An easy drinking and pure, quite yummy red with decent length and structure. Enjoy with burgers.

Mission Hill 5 Vineyards Cabernet Merlot 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada ($16.95) – A well-balanced flavourful Bordeaux style blend with very good length. A big improvement over some recent vintages.

The Velvet Devil Merlot 2012, Washington, USA ($18.95) – This is a delicious plummy very fruity merlot that is midweight to full-bodied with very good length. Quite classy and nicely balanced for food. Try with a rack of lamb.

Spadafora Terrano Rosso 2012 Mission Hill 5 Vineyards Cabernet Merlot 2012 The Velvet Devil Merlot 2012 Erath Pinot Noir 2012 Amity Pinot Noir 2011

Erath Pinot Noir 2012, Oregon, USA ($24.95) – A well-balanced juicy ripe pinot with a perfumed nose of cherry jam that is midweight with good length. Chill a little and enjoy on its own or with mildly spicy crab cakes.

Amity Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($25.55) – This is quite Burgundian in style with its lean earthy herbal tinged palate and cranberry and red cherry fruit. Its light to mid-weight with very good length. Enjoy with roast beef.

WHITES

Rethink Dry Riesling 2012, Mosel, Germany ($12.80) – A well-balanced almost off dry riesling with firm balancing acidity and a good depth of flavour that finishes almost dry. Try with Asian cuisine.

Mission Hill 5 Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada ($15.95) – A bold highly extracted white with lots of flavour and excellent length with the power nicely tamed.

Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2013, Evergreen Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA ($18.95) – This is a rich and powerful riesling with lots of nervy tension between the ripe tropical fruit and a mineral lemony undertone.  Try with Asian cuisine as indicated by the packaging.

Rethink Dry Riesling 2012Mission Hill 5 Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2012Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2013

~

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

Cheers!

Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20
Top 50 Value Wines

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


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Luccarelli Primitivo 2013


California Wine Fair - 2015 Canadian Tour

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 21st – Part One

Icon Wines Demystified
By David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

“Icon comes from the Greek word eikenai, meaning ‘to seem or to be like.’ In certain religions, statues of religious figures are referred to as icons – because they are prayed to as if they were the thing they represent.” So goes one definition plumbed from the web.

So what do icon wines represent? We assume they are wines – often made in the image of Bordeaux from cabernet, merlot and their disciples – that have reached some awe-inspiring, mystic, spiritual pinnacle of perfection and grace. But often icon wines are simply the most expensive wines that a producer can get away with stuffing into an overly heavy bottle, in the hope that the consumer will be so besotted by the gravitas of it all that they won’t notice that the wine itself is only very good, not great.

South Americans, Americans and yes some Canadians are particularly fond of the term, and it’s all about hype. Which is certainly the case of the California wines that VINTAGES has chosen to call icons in its March 21st release, that leads up to the 36th annual California Wine Fairs in Ottawa April 10th and Toronto April 13. And the fact that some soar past $100 adds to their sense of gravitas. I am not saying most are not excellent wines; I have scored several 90+ (my threshold of excellence). But at $100 or more they should be jaw-droppingly outstanding at 95 points +, which they are not.

For many, my protest will not matter a fig. These wines will sell quickly because there are enough buyers with enough money who choose to pay more to assure they will get quality. And that reason is just fine. I only want to temper the expectations of those who might venture a pile of money on an icon and expect the moon, only to find out they are looking into the glare of a streetlight – hardly a celestial, spiritual or unique experience.

Below we focus on the California “icons” that actually come closest to delivering somewhere near greatness, 92 or 93 points. At the same time we put forward some Bordeaux on the same release that also deliver quality very nicely. Some are just as expensive as the Californians (but Bordeaux wines ironically are rarely called icon wines). And then we scatter in some true values as well for those who just want an honest bottle.

Just before we get there, I have another observation from this tasting that relates to vintage variation. The Californians include 2011s and 2012s, and there is quite a difference between the two years. The 2011s are less ripe, with more Bordeaux-like leanness and greenness but they do have terrific energy. The 2012s are riper, softer and frankly a bit understated and lacking some energy. They may open and rev up with more bottle age, but they fail to ignite at the moment. Over on the Bordeaux side, the 2011s are also of lighter stock. Not green necessarily but lacking some depth of flavour (length) for their price tag. While beside them, a clutch of minor, less expensive, good value 2010s show the class and structure of that great vintage.

California “Icons”

Cade 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley ($112.95)

Dominus 2011

Dominus Napanook 2011

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011David Lawrason – Cade is a recent arrival on the slopes of Howell Mountain, an off-shoot of the famous Plumpjack Winery created in part by former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. The winemaker is Danielle Cyrot, a woman of French descent who has managed to bring considerable elegance and a complex weave to Howell Mountain fruit more commonly known to make blockbuster, masculine cabs. This contains non-estate fruit; the Cade Estate cab rings up at $300US at the winery.
John Szabo - If you’re going to spend big in Napa, spend it on a “mountain” wine like this one. The 21-acre Cade estate was established in 2005 high on Howell Mountain, and vines are farmed organically. The 2011 is a grand success for the vintage, no doubt in part to the vineyard being above the fog line and thus maximizing the benefits of the scarce sunlight. It’s a densely packed wine, as savoury as it is fruity, with the expected grip and firm dusty texture of hillside Napa wines, in need of another 4-6 years in the cellar. Best 2020-2030.
Sara d’Amato – Power and refinement are distinctive features of the volcanic, higher elevation plantings of cabernet on breezy Howell Mountain. The cooler 2011 vintage is surely responsible for the wine’s terrific acid structure, fine tannins and lovely purity of fruit – a real standout for collectors.

Dominus 2011, Napa Valley ($176.95)

David Lawrason – If fame is the foundation of icon-hood, storied Dominus is perhaps most deserving of icon status. I have often found Dominus rather simple and almost boring for the price it garners, but something in this vintage turned my expectations on their head. I immediately thought of a fine, traditionally made Bordeaux, perhaps because the cooler 2011 vintage has imparted some tension. Very nicely constructed and focused, with excellent to outstanding length.
Sara d’Amato – It is no surprise that some of the best wines in this feature come with a hefty price tag but here is one worthy of attention. This old world, cabernet-focused blend from the Bordelaise Moueix dynasty offers immediate appeal, huge structure and a wide breadth of flavours.

Dominus 2011 Napanook, Napa Valley, USA ($76.95)

John Szabo - Admittedly I loved the 2011 Dominus (above), but for pure value Napanook, the second wine of the estate, is the one to buy. It’s very nearly as good with its lovely and savoury, earthy and complex profile, firmly in the old world stylistic camp as Dominus has been from the start. Best 2015-2026

Ridge Three Valleys 2012

Ridge 2011 Estate Cabernet SauvignonRidge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains ($61.95)

John Szabo - Just about everything from Ridge is worth a look, and in the context of top California cabernet, this is an outright bargain. Forget what you’ve heard about the 2011 vintage – top producers like Ridge made some of the most compelling, balanced wines in the last two decades. This is all class, firm, succulent, zesty and ripe, still tightly wound and closed up, but this unquestionably has the balance and stuffing to evolve beautifully over the next 2-5 years. Best 2018-2030.
David Lawrason – Ridge is perched high on the crest of a mountain south of San Francisco – the Silicon Valley in view to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west. The wines have never lacked structure. In this cooler vintage you will indeed detect some greenness and firmness, but it is a cabernet-lovers cabernet. Excellent length.

Ridge 2012 Three Valleys, Sonoma County ($35.95)

Sara d’Amato – Only a warm California vintage can perfect fruit ripening like in this Sonoma zinfandel and carignan dominant blend. Ripe red fruit abounds on the palate featuring peppery spice along with refreshing notes of pine and menthol. Clean and succulent with a very authentic, un-manipulated feel.
John Szabo - A fine vintage for the Three Valleys, Ridge’s Zinfandel-led blend, with firm and honest, woolly tannins, a nice mix of ripe and sour fruit, red and black, along with a range of savoury wild herbs. Best 2015-2027.

Clos Pegase 2012 Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, ($29.95)

Calera Chardonnay Mt. Harlan 2013 Clos Pegase Mitsuko's Vineyard Chardonnay 2012Sara D’Amato – There is a real traditional California feel to this well-balanced and beautifully integrated chardonnay featuring a great deal of presence, ripened tree fruit, oily viscosity and creamy malolactic texture. Mitsuko’s Vineyard is a large, 365-acre site in the cooler climate of Los Carneros named after proprietor Jan Shrem’s wife. The site’s varying degrees of slope, of elevation and soil types create great diversity in the grapes harvested often resulting in rather complex and compelling wines.
John Szabo - Mitsuko’s Vineyard is a sprawling 365 acre parcel on the Napa side of the Los Carneros AVA with diverse soils and aspects, all of which builds complexity. This substantial chardonnay doesn’t sacrifice freshness despite ample richness, and while oak influence is abundant, there’s also impressive fruit extract to compensate. To be cellared another 2-3 years; best 2017-2022.

Calera 2013 Chardonnay Mt. Harlan, Central Coast, USA ($49.95)

John Szabo - This is a serious bottle of wine. The Mt. Harlan Chardonnay Vineyard was planted in 1984 on own roots (un-grafted) using cuttings from errant vines found among the pinot noir of Josh Jensen’s original vineyards. The site is naturally low yielding, which shows in this generously proportioned wine. There’s a real sense of chalky-minerality, and while wood is very marked for the moment, this will surely knit together beautifully in time. Best 2018-2025

Bordeaux

Château Pontet-Canet 2011, Pauillac 5eme Cru ($150.00)

David Lawrason – Riding a Parker 100pt rating the previous 2010 vintage of Pontet-Canet sold at VINTAGES last month for $300. So it’s decent of them to have cut the price by half for this less good vintage. (You won’t see Napa doing this). The 2011 remains a firm, reserved and well-built young Pauillac, but it does not have the depth or wow you may expect if this is your first brush with one of the most talked about properties of Bordeaux.
John Szabo - Pontet-Canet is perhaps the most progressive Château in Bordeaux. Alfred Tesseron converted to organic/biodynamic farming some years ago, and vineyards are worked by horse. Clay amphorae were introduced in 2012 in an effort to decrease wood influence – all things that would have seemed impossible a decade ago. The efforts have been worth it, for although ’11 was a challenging vintage, this wine is a marvel: explosive and concentrated, full, dense and rich – a real honest and solid mouthful of wine. Cellar at least 4-6 before opening, or hold a couple of decades. Best 2020-2035.

Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2011, Margaux, 3eme Cru ($89.85)

David Lawrason – This is a lovely blend very much in the Margaux vein; which to me is all about charm and refinement. The blend here is 50% cabernet sauvignon, 35% merlot, 10% cabernet franc and 5% petit verdot. A very fine effort in a lesser vintage.

Château Clerc Milon 2011, Pauillac, 5eme Cru ($89.85)

John Szabo - 2011 is a nicely polished, full but firm, succulent and vibrant vintage for Clerc Milon, perfect for enjoying while waiting for the 2009s and 2010s to come around. But don’t drink it right away – give it another 3-4 years to fully knit. This is classy wine, full stop. Best 2018-2031.

Château Pontet Canet 2011 Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2011 Château Clerc Milon 2011 Château Bel Air 2010 Les Charmes De Magnol 2010

Château Bel-Air 2010, Haut-Médoc ($28.95)

David Lawrason – For one bottle of Chateau Pontet-Canet you could buy five bottles of this firm, well structured mid-weight Medoc cabernet-based red – that I rated the same as Pontet-Canet in terms of quality. What a difference a vintage can make? And with five bottles you could open one to test drive then stick the rest into the cellar, for another ten years. It’s textbook Bordeaux.

Les Charmes De Magnol 2010, Médoc ($18.95)

David Lawrason – This is very good value – a nicely balanced, ripe and decently structured Bordeaux for under $20. It is a second label from the grand (and also large) Château Magnol, a showpiece property and hospitality centre just north of Bordeaux’s city limits.

Other Bordeaux-Styled Reds

Pondview Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2012

Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Chakana Estate Selection Red Blend 2012Chakana 2012 Estate Selection Red Blend, Mendoza, Argentina ($29.95)

David Lawrason – This is a fairly new winery based in Lujan de Cuyo, but focused on wines grown in stonier alluvial soils whether in Agrelo or in Altamira in the southern Uco Valley. Increasingly revered Chilean viticulturalist Pedro Parra has helped Chakana map its vineyards. The winemaking consultant is Italian Alberto Antonini, who also works his minimalist, terroir-first magic at Altos Los Hormigos. This compiles 60% malbec, 20% cabernet sauvignon and 20% syrah into a quite fragrant, savoury young red. It’s quite dense, elegant and refined.

Tahbilk 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria, Australia ($22.95)

David Lawrason – This is not a cabernet with gravitas, but it does have complexity, vitality and pretty good depth. It’s a bit more cool, curranty and spare than many Aussie reds, and I could drink a bottle with ease; especially around rack of lamb.

Pondview 2012 Cabernet Merlot Reserve, VQA Niagara Peninsula Canada ($18.95)

John Szabo - This is an enjoyable wine from Pondview, an honest and juicy, Bordeaux blend with sweet-tinged fruit and decent depth and structure. This should please fans of cool climate cabernet at the price. Best 2015-2022.

And that is a wrap for this edition. John leads off next week with the wines of Southwest France and other sundry picks from the March 21st release. Meantime also look forward as John and Sara d’Amato both report on this year’s Cuvée event for the Ontario Wine Report. I will be on holiday and travelling for the rest of March and will not be covering any of the April 4th release; but we have asked Michael Godel to offer some of his recommendations. Michael’s often lyrical reviews are fascinating, and he is in there tasting constantly – which to me is the pre-requisite to being a successful, objective critic.

Cheers,

David

From VINTAGES March 21, 2015:

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
John 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!


AdvertisementPenfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011


California Wine Fair - Canadian Tour 2015

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The Successful Collector – Bordeaux 2012 Futures

Julian Hitner reports on one of the most inconsistent and overpriced vintages Bordeaux has faced in recent years.

A question of value:
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

If there is one lesson claret connoisseurs may take from the 2012 vintage, it is that it pays to be selective. To best understand this, we must briefly turn our attention to the back-to-back vintages of 2009 and 2010. Widely hailed as two of the most luxurious, most ageworthy harvests Mother Nature has ever bestowed, most estates and négociants experienced little compunction in raising their prices by hitherto ludicrous margins. Considering the quality, collectors and casual buyers both played along, and sales went extremely well. Then came 2011, a vintage of middling quality that should have brought prices back to levels similar to 2008 – ironically the most underrated vintage of the 21st century. It didn’t, and sales were anything but vigorous.

This brings us back to 2012, a vintage of even more variable quality. For most of us, common sense would dictate that estates and négociants, smarting from a sharp decline in 2011 sales, would deign to adjust their prices to something mimicking 2008. Once again, this did not happen, leaving many claret lovers to ask, especially when considering how mediocre 2013 is purported to be: when will Bordeaux wise up?

Hence the importance of selectiveness in 2012, in patronizing only the best wines from a select few estates and négociants with the audacity to sell at reasonable prices. For the record: a surprising number of estates did in fact manage to produce some really attractive, freshly flavoured wines, making it doubly unfortunate that 2012 is most likely to be remembered along the same lines as 2011 or 2007: two deceptively average years plagued more by price gouging than precipitation or pestilence put together. In the end, only a handful of top performers got their acts right.

The Left Bank:

In terms of consistency, Margaux is the standout appellation, with more wines than naught retaining remarkable freshness, definition and fragrance. Clarity of fruit is essential in a vintage like 2012, particularly where new oak is often (and advisably) used in lesser amounts. Those that had problems with ripeness suffered in spades, not just in Margaux but in many other places. In St-Julien, many estates seem to have publicly defied the challenges of the harvest, crafting wines of impeccable fruit orientation and layering. By contrast, Pauillac is more of a mixed bag, where only the really illustrious properties seem to have produced wines of exceptional body, structure and class. More than anything, this is likely to do with problems in fully ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, a factor on which great Pauillac almost always significantly depends. In St-Estèphe, many châteaux seem to have compensated by using larger percentages of earlier-ripening Merlot, crafting some truly appetizing, approachable wines.

Château Kirwan, Margaux

For bargain hunters, however, the appellations of Moulis-en-Médoc and Listrac-Médoc rank as top picks. Without the same name recognition as their above-mentioned counterparts, prices for the best wines, crafted with undeniable scrutiny and care, seem strikingly rewarding and reasonable. Though not exactly as fulsome and cellarable as the best of Margaux or St-Julien, the most promising examples (crafted from larger percentages of Merlot) clearly possess more than enough freshness, structure and durability for both youthful enjoyment and long-term accumulation. Such is the theme of most overvalued yet underappreciated vintages: it gives underdogs a rare chance to shine.

The Graves:

Along with at least several parts of the Left Bank, the reds of Pessac-Léognan are largely hit-and-miss affairs. The whites, on the other hand, are a different matter entirely. Though I was only able to record formal notes on a handful of them (same with the reds), it seems 2012 will be remembered as an extremely successful vintage for white Graves. Crafted mostly from Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon as accompaniment (along with a few drops of Muscadelle), a great glass of white Pessac-Léognan certainly ranks one of Bordeaux’s most under-celebrated types of premium wine. Like top white burgundy, the best examples are both fermented and matured in oak barrels, resulting in impeccable concentration, complexity and long-term cellaring potential. In 2012, many estates produced truly exceptional, sophisticated examples.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sauternes

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sweet whites of Sauternes and Barsac, with several estates opting out of even declaring a vintage. This is has generated a great deal of controversy, with many arguing such a move serves only to discourage buyers from patronizing the vintage in any way whatsoever. On the other hand: there is general consensus that most estates experienced enormous difficulties in 2012, with only a small number of properties managing to craft really rejuvenating, desirable versions. Thankfully these days, prices for Sauternes and Barsac are almost always agreeable, especially when considering the amount of labour that goes into producing this type of wine.

The Right Bank:

In this neck of the woods, where wines are mostly crafted from Merlot and small amounts of Cabernet Franc, there is no question that Pomerol is the winner, with many estates producing wines of impeccable beauty, harmony and charm. Like their counterparts on the Left Bank, the best examples shall easily keep for two decades or more, though may be enjoyed now with unfettered enthusiasm. Unfortunately, many of these same properties also seem to have taken the same misguided cue in pegging their wines at markedly high prices. As a result, one must use the same level of caution when selecting from Pomerol as with Margaux, St-Julien or white Graves.

Château Gazin, Pomerol

Across the border in St-Emilion, the same generalizations regarding quality are almost impossible to make. On the one hand, there are a good number of estates that steered clear of overt Parkerization (excessive extraction), crafting wines of beautiful smoothness, opulence and pedigree. On the other, you have countless establishments that seem to have lost their way, their wines possessing more in common with port than with claret. While these same wines may be awarded high scores, their injudicious use of new oak and prolonged hang-time on the vine to promote extra ripeness and higher levels of alcohol (particularly inadvisable in 2012) serves only to distort the origins and singular qualities of the wines themselves, not to mention fails to disguise any phenolically underripe grapes that may have been picked. After all, what is the point of growing wine in St-Emilion when they all start tasting like they originated from Napa? In a year like 2012, the creation of such supercharged, overpriced wines does little to boaster long-term support for one of Bordeaux’s most dynamic appellations.

Final thoughts:

For many wine lovers nowadays, Bordeaux continues to harbour an image problem. For some, the estates and their wines are too stuffy, too obsessed with their own self-worth, charging exorbitant prices for bottles that may not even be opened for a decade or more. This makes the pricing structure of a vintage like 2012 all the more problematic, in that it only feeds into such sentiments. If claret is to remain relevant, its countless producers must never forget that its wines are unique, that it is short-sighted to produce wines like those of the Upper Douro or Napa Valley, and that it is especially important for premium estates to significantly lower their prices in non-legendary years. For an underappreciated vintage like 2012, most simply failed to recognize this.

Top picks:

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2012 Pessac-Léognan hails from one of the most consistent, most proficient producers of premium white Graves. Retaining exemplary palate roundness, harmony and refinement, the Perrin family is yet again to be commended for its superior efforts. Drink now or hold for up to a decade. 

Château Kirwan 2012 Margaux may be easily justified as one of the top premium picks of the appellation, if not the entire vintage. A wine of remarkable purity, fragrance and freshness, it’s a miracle VINTAGES isn’t charging more for this. Drink now or hold for up to two decades. Decanting is recommended.

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2012 Château Kirwan 2012 Château Siran 2012 Château Prieuré Lichine 2012

Château Siran 2012 Margaux comes from one of the friendliest, most accessible estates in its neck of the woods. Though not included in the 1855 Classification, this deliciously fruity and flavourful claret is easily one of the best bargains of the vintage. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Prieuré-Lichine 2012 Margaux hails from one of the most fragmented estates on the Left Bank, with as many as forty different parcels scattered throughout the appellation. Over the past several years, quality has risen considerably, its latest outing showing exceptional structure and precision. Drink now or hold for eighteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Maucaillou 2012 Moulis-en-Médoc is unquestionably one of the best bets for the budget-minded, demonstrating outstanding precision, style and harmony. Owned by the Dourthe family since 1929, quality at this estate has risen much over the past several years. Drink now or hold for fifteen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Poujeaux 2012 Moulis-en-Médoc is capable of going head-to-head with many more famous names throughout the Left Bank. Possessing remarkable harmony, precision and build, the Theil family has every reason to be proud of all they’ve accomplished. Drink now or hold for up to eighteen years. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Maucaillou 2012 Château Poujeaux 2012 Château Sociando Mallet 2012 Château Coufran 2012

Château Sociando-Mallet 2012 Haut-Médoc comes from one of the most adept, most undervalued estates on the Left Bank. Possessing remarkable structure and class, wines from this exemplarily situated property are always reasonably priced and delicious. Let’s hope this never changes. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Coufran 2012 Haut-Médoc is a great choice for the budget-minded, containing far more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blend – a reflection of vineyard conditions. Owned by the Miailhe for a very long time, this is one property to watch. Drink now or hold for up to a decade or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Saint-Pierre 2012 St-Julien is definitely one of the year’s highlights, possessing extraordinary layering, structure and elegance. One of the smallest estates included in the 1855 Classification, this impeccable Fourth Growth is seldom sold in VINTAGES, only through its futures programme. Drink now or hold for two decades or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Haut-Bages Libéral 2012 Pauillac hails from one of very few estates in this vintage with the gumption to set its prices correctly. A claret of marvellous framework, balance and appellation character, a wine like this merits our patronage. Drink now or hold for up to eighteen years. Decanting is recommended.

Château Saint Pierre 2012 Château Haut Bages Libéral 2012 Château Gazin 2012 Château Lafaurie Peyraguey 2012

Château Gazin 2012 Pomerol has all the makings of an exemplary red wine, crafted at one of largest, most greatly improved estates on the appellation’s plateau. Exhibiting impeccable layering, structure and breed, it is unfortunate loyal admirers were only given a perfunctory break on the price. Drink now or hold for two decades or more. Decanting is recommended. 

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2012 Sauternes regrettably represents one of few sweet wines for which I had time to write formal notes. Even so, few would deny that this particular specimen ranks as one of the most sensational, most lusciously stylish of the bunch. Reasonably priced when considering the amount of labour involved. Drink now or hold for three decades or more. 

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s complete list of 2012 notes

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 7th – Part Two

The Tuscan Tapestry
By David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES has entitled its March 7 release: The Tuscan Renaissance. Tuscan wine has been reborn so many times – even within the span of my 30 year career – that the word renaissance hardly applies anymore. It must be in the genome of the place to always be evolving, and nowadays Tuscan wine has become a blur of all its various eras, grape varieties, climates, altitudes and winemaking philosophies. Starting out, one still needs to learn the main appellations (or DOCs) and their authorized grape varieties, with sangiovese as its soul, but you then need to embrace all the variations as well.

It’s easiest in the end to try to define Tuscan wine as a whole – as it manifests in the glass. What is it? Is there a hook, a mood, a signature? Well I am looking for wines that are linear, trim, tucked in (like a well made bed), with aromas and flavours that are detailed, nuanced and finely interwoven – like a finely embroidered tapestry. Tuscan wines should not be loud, brash, aggressive or – god forbid – sweet or mochafied. They always seem to be aiming for sophistication even if some don’t achieve it.

The 15 Tuscan wines in this release offer a decent cross-section of regions, prices and styles with very good to excellent quality, and we three critics cover most of the selection here.

Nipozzano 2011 Vecchie Viti Riserva Chianti Rúfina, Tuscany ($29.95)

Il Grigio Da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2010 Fattoria Carpineta Fontalpino Do ut des 2011 Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Riserva Chianti Rúfina 2011David Lawrason – This lovely Chianti best expresses the sophisticated weave I was trying describe above. It has real charm and very good depth with classic, modern Chianti attributes.
John Szabo – Made from the oldest vines on Frescobaldi’s Nipozzano estate (age not specified), this clearly has better depth, structure and complexity than the average. I like the firm and dusty structure and the balanced-lively acids typical from this, the coolest and highest elevation Chianti subzone. It will certainly gain in complexity over the next 2-4 years in the bottle and hold even beyond that.
Sara d’Amato A premium bottling from the Nipozzano estate, this spicy, bold and exotic Chianti Rufina is undeniably compelling. I was enamored with the complex tapestry of cool spices, licorice and juicy cherry. Top notch!

Fattoria Carpineta 2011 Fontalpino Do ut des, Tuscany ($39.95)

David Lawrason – Vintages matter in Tuscany, and 2011 was not one of the greats. But this is one of the better 2011s I have had – showing better depth and power than most.  It is still young and sinewy with vibrancy and energy.
John Szabo - I’ve admired the Do ut des for several vintages now from Carpineta Fontalpino, a blend of equal parts sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon grown in the heart of the Classico zone of Chianti. I like the dark and smoky fruit profile, the abundant spice, the integrated barrel influence and the clear concentration and density. It’s enjoyable now, but better after 2017.

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

Sara d’Amato – The Il Grigio carries the Gran Selezione designation, only two years old now, which demands a longer ageing period than a riserva, a panel tasting and requires the use of highest quality fruit of the estate. Certainly living up to its top quality rank, the wine exhibits exquisite complexity, great harmony and impressive length.
David Lawrason –  I first encountered this wine while tasting the range from San Felice, one of the grand wineries and hotel properties of Tuscany. It was clearly the most structured and deepest wine, and the longer ageing had clearly – and by design – removed fruit as a flavour focus. Yet there is great complexity. It is a wine from a great vintage destined to be drunk around 2020.

Castelli Del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico, Tuscany ($23.95)

Tenuta Di Trecciano Chianti Colli Senesi 2013 Rocca Di Frassinello Le Sughere Di Frassinello 2011 Panzano Chianti Classico 2008John Szabo - Castelli del Grevepesa is an association of 150 winegrowers throughout central Tuscany, and this is a selection from the village of Panzano in the Classico zone. It’s an ambitious style, which, at 6 years of age, has entered a nice stage of evolution with its dried plum, dried cherry and freshly-turned damp earth character. Acids and tannins are still firm and structure-giving – the cooler vintage shows through – making this a lively and balanced wine.
Sara d’Amato – This Chianti has been perfectly held back and is ready for immediate enjoyment. Fig, cherry and leathery notes are boosted by acidity from a cooler vintage.

Rocca Di Frassinello 2011 Le Sughere Di Frassinello, Maremma, Tuscany ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The southern, more coastal Maremma region is in one sense the new wild west of Tuscany, where sangiovese opens its arms to cabernet, merlot and other varieties. This is the ‘second’ wine of a large joint venture between Castellare di Castellina and Domain Baron de Rothschild. This is a quite ripe, fairly opulent, fleshy yet dense and very warming. Delicious yet still Tuscan.

Tenuta Di Trecciano 2013 Chianti Colli Senesi ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Another allure of Tuscany is its lively, fresh young sangioveses. Minimum oak, lighter structure and exuberant sour red fruit aromas. This is a fine and easily affordable example.

A Nod to BC

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Shiraz

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013Four wines from British Columbia are grouped as a mini-feature in this release. Wines from Canada’s left coast are vastly under-represented by the LCBO – this is our country after all – so it’s somewhat encouraging to see this grouping. There should be many, many more. Of course the best way to appreciate what’s happening in the Okanagan, which is bursting with innovations and new wineries, is to plan a week wine touring this summer. Get to know your favourites personally then begin to order them direct. The LCBO says you can’t do that, but the federal government says you can, and many in Ontario are already doing just that. It is entirely legal, by the way, for British Columbians to order Ontario wines direct.

Gray Monk 2013 Pinot Gris, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Gray Monk Pinot Gris is a benchmark for a variety that is almost the white signature of the Okanagan. It’s bright and tender and full of peachy fruit.

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Shiraz, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($26.95)

David Lawrason – Mission Hill has been working hard to up its game with the red grape that has taken the southern Okanagan by storm in recent years.  From an excellent vintage, this catches classic blackberry/cherry fruit, chocolate and peppery notes, finishing with that earthy desert sand and sage finish common in BC reds from Oliver-Osoyoos.

~

Who’s the best Sommelier in Canada?
by Sara d’Amato

If you happen to find yourself in Toronto this weekend, the Best Sommelier of Canada Competition 2015 will be taking place on March 8th at Montecito Restaurant presented by CAPS and Wine Country Ontario.

CAPS Best Sommelier of Canada Competition

Top Sommeliers from across the country will compete in front of a live audience beginning at 10 AM.

It is free to attend the viewing, however purchasing a Day Pass ticket will get you into two Master Classes: Wines of Chile with WineAlign’s John Szabo MS and that of the BC Wine Institute lead by Kurtis Kolt and Véronique Rivest. In addition, Day Pass holders will have the option to attend an exclusive afternoon tasting and lunch as well as a sparkling reception and dinner.

Tickets can be purchased at : Best Sommelier of Canada Competition.

~

Cheers,

David

From VINTAGES March 7, 2015:

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
John 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!


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Top 20 under $20 at the LCBO (March)

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

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

You may recall that my February report noted a large number of discontinued wines. Well, house cleaning has continued at the LCBO with many more wines being discontinued and selling at big discounts to clear inventory. Among these again were sadly some of my favourites. For whatever reason they did not sell in sufficient quantities to keep their place on the shelf, so they will soon make an exit. Some of these discontinued wines have already sold out, but I have listed below a few that will be around for the next couple of weeks or so. There are ten new wines on the Top 50 for you to try.

In March there are many wines on promotion such that five wines, already on the list, have Bonus Air Miles (BAMs) that apply or are on sale (LTO), making these wines even more attractive for the next four weeks or so; all this will surely make your March drinking more affordable.

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

The month’s discount period runs until March 28th. So don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I was able to ensure that there were stocks available, when we published, of every wine that I highlight.

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

Reds

Volcanes Summit Reserva 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, Chile ($6.45 was $10.95) Top 50 March – Discontinued at LCBO: There is an Italian feel to this Chilean red blend with notable acidity and minerality giving it freshness. Try with pepperoni pizza. Around 4500 bottles remain.

Montes Limited Selection 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenère, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($6.95 was $13.95) New to Top 50 – Discontinued at LCBO: A full-bodied fragrant red that would be good with a juicy steak. About 1000 bottles remain.

Callia Alta 2013 Malbec, San Juan, Argentina ($6.95 was $11.85) New to Top 50 – Discontinued at LCBO: The San Juan wine region is about 2 hours drive north of Mendoza, which is source for most Argentine reds. A midweight vibrant slightly spicy malbec. About 1200 bottles remain.

Volcanes Summit Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013 Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenère 2012 Callia Alta Malbec 2013 Obikwa Cabernet Sauvignon Citra Sangiovese Terre Di Chieti 2013

Obikwa 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Africa ($6.95 was $9.45) New to Top 50 – Discontinued at LCBO: A well-balanced fruity cabernet that’s midweight. Try with grilled meats or hard mature cheese. About 2500 bottles remain.

Citra 2013 Sangiovese Terre Di Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy ($7.75 + 4BAMs): A midweight dry vibrant red great with tomato sauces.

Casa Lapostolle 2012 Gran Seleccion Carmenere, Rapel Valley, Chile ($7.95 was $15.20) New to Top 50 – Discontinued at LCBO: An elegant structured Chilean red that’s great with a steak. About 900 bottles remain.

Spadafora 2012 Terrano Rosso, Calabria, Italy $8.40 New to Top 50: A new listing that shows plummy fresh aromas with no oak and a midweight juicy palate. Try with burgers.

Fuzion Alta 2013 Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina $8.95 was $9.95 New to Top 50- March LTO: A soft light to midweight red that should be great with pizza or meaty pasta sauces.

Casa Lapostolle Gran Seleccion Carmenere 2012 Spadafora Terrano Rosso 2012 Fuzion Alta Reserva Malbec 2013 Tic Tok Pocketwatch Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Mas De Montagnes 2010 Farnese Casale Vecchio Montepulciano D'abruzzo 2013

Tic Tok Pocketwatch 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Ranges, New South Wales, Australia ($8.95 was $13.00) New to Top 50 – Discontinued at LCBO: A modern quite lean cabernet from 2 cooler areas of New South Wales. Try with lamb cutlets. About 6000 bottles remain.

Mas De Montagnes 2010 Cotes Du Roussillon Villages, France ($10.90 was $13.15) New to Top 50 – Discontinued at LCBO: This only lasted a year on the LCBO shelves. Pity since it is a soft midweight red with lots of flavour and a lot of rustic charm. About 1400 bottles remain.

Farnese Casale Vecchio 2013 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy ($11.00 + 4BAMs) Top 50 March: A classy Italian fullbodied red whose price and style should appeal to Ripasso lovers.

Cusumano 2013 Syrah, Sicily, Italy ($11.95 + 4BAMs): Top 50 March: A midweight cool climate syrah that’s well-balanced flavourful and very fruity.

Cusumano 2013 Nero d’Avola, Sicily, Italy ($11.95 + 4BAMs) A delicious Sicilian red with soft zesty lemony tone to the ripe blackberry and raspberry fruit aromas and flavours.

Cusumano Syrah 2013 Cusumano Nero D'avola 2013 K W V Roodeberg 2012 Guardian Reserva Red 2012 Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

K W V 2012 Roodeberg, Western Cape, South Africa ($12.45 + 7 BAMs): Medium bodied Cape classic that’s been great value for years. Try with rack of lamb.

Guardian 2012 Reserva Red, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($13.65) Top 50 March: A complex red cabernet blend finely balanced and fruity long lingering finish with some fine tannin. Try with a steak.

Errazuriz Max Reserva 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($18.95 + 12 BAMs): One of the best vintages ever of  this classic very authentic Chilean cabernet. Try with a thick beef stew.

Whites

Two Oceans 2012 Chardonnay, Western Cape, South Africa ($6.95 was $10.25) Top 50 March – Discontinued at LCBO: Lots of flavour, structure and good length for such an inexpensive wine. About 2200 bottles remain.

Grant Burge 2012 Summers Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills/Eden Valley, South Australia ($10.95 was $18.20) New to Top 50 – Discontinued at LCBO: A delicious midweight lightly oaked chardonnay from cool high altitude vineyards. About 1000 bottles remain.

Two Oceans Chardonnay 2012 Grant Burge Summers Chardonnay 2012 Fleur Du Cap Chardonnay 2013 Mascota Vineyards O P I Chardonnay 2013

Fleur Du Cap 2013 Chardonnay, Western Cape, South Africa ($12.80 + 8 BAMs) A rich smooth intense old style chardonnay with well-integrated oak spice. Try with fish and chips.

Mascota Vineyards O P I 2013 Chardonnay, Argentina ($12.95 + 4BAMs) Top 50 March: A rich flavourful chardonnay with just a touch of oak and a firm dry finish.

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 on the LCBO “General List” or the VINTAGES Essential Collection.

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

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

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

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

There are another 35 wines on the Top 50 list so if you did not find all you need above for your current needs dip into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

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

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

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

Cheers!

Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20
Top 50 Value Wines

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


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – February

250 Years of the Finest Cognac
By Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

The world’s most popular cognac house is celebrating its 250 anniversary this year. Expect to see a lot of deserved hoopla around Hennessy over the next months as the maison embarks on “The Hennessy 250 Tour” around the world following the footsteps of the Grand Tours the family has made through the centuries. Along with the travelling exhibit comes the launch of a new collector’s blend.

The patriarch and founder, Richard Hennessy, an Irish man of minor nobility, after fighting in the army of King Louis XV settled in Cognac and created the Hennessy trading company in 1765. Jean Fillioux joined forces with the Hennessy family becoming chief cooper in 1806. His son Christophe later became master blender for the Hennessy brand.

The connection of the Hennessy and Fillioux families has remarkably continued to present day. Eight generation Maurice Richard Hennessy is brand Ambassador for Hennessy (the cognac house is part of LVMH – Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy – today) and Yann Fillioux is Master Blender.

Yann is responsible for the creation of Richard Hennessy, Paradis Impérial and now Hennessy 250 Collector Blend. Not yet in Canada, shipping across the globe is expected to begin in April. I had a sneak preview at Château de Bagnolet, a magnificent 1810 house on the banks of the Charente.

Hennessy 250 Collector Blend

Fillioux and his team have been working on this special blend since 2010. In the spirit of the 250 anniversary, 250 barrels each holding 250 litres have been produced, from which the house will release 60,000 bottles for around 450 Euros each.

At Château de Bagnolet the cognac was paired with appetizers that brought out its notes of saffron, nutmeg, bitter orange, salted caramel and florals (e.g. scallops with saffron sauce or maki roll with cilantro). I don’t have ‘pro’ tasting notes as it was a stand up cocktail situation, but I can tell you that the spirit was so appealing that most of us kept wanting more.

“For the 250 birthday, we’re spending energy saying we are like trees,” said Maurice Hennessy. “We have 250 year old roots but want to grow to the sky. We have the stock to do much; warehouses full of aged cognacs.”

Hennessy creates its cognacs from the four “premier grand cru” winegrowing areas of Cognac; namely the Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois. (The grape ugni blanc accounts for 95% of the AOC Cognac.) The company works with some 1,500 independent grape growers, 560 bouilleur de cru (growers who distill their own product) and 20 distillers in the region and has three distilleries that they own.

Fillioux and his tasting committee meet every workday morning to taste through cognac eaux-de-vie to decide which samples to accept or reject and the potential of the spirit – therefore which barrels to put it into – older or new.

Their cognac is always matured in Limousin type barrels made at their own cooperage, La Sarrazine, where barrels are hand assembled on location. Because wood is such an important part of the flavour of cognac (think of the long ageing in barrel) Hennessy tightly controls their wood supply, using only oak from sustainably managed forests in the Limousin region from 100 to 150 year old trees. The cut wood is aged outdoors for several years before use.

About 15,000 to 20,000 new barrels go into use each year. The rest of the cognac slumbers in older barrels.

Hennessy V S O P Cognac Hennessy Black Cognac Hennessy V S CognacOf the approximately 200 cognac producers, four dominate and of those Hennessy is the biggest in sales and value worldwide. Hennessy VS Cognac, the America’s best-selling cognac is aged from two up to eight years in oak and is a blend of up to 40 different batches.

Hennessy Black contrary to its name is one of the lightest coloured cognacs in the range aged entirely in seasoned barrels (no new oak ones). Hennessy VSOP first created in 1817 by Jean Fillioux, is a blend of eaux-de-vie that’s four to 15 years old that’s sweet and gentle on the palate.

I have a true fondness for Hennessy X.O. as the cognac I purchased whenever I wanted to really treat myself even when I was a struggling student. Hennessy X.O. created in 1870 was the only XO on the market for its first 100 years. The company has always insisted on a minimum age of 10 years for their XO and has pushed the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) to make this the case for all. In 2018 the ten year minimum age rule will be in force.

Paradis was created in 1979 by Maurice Fillioux when Hennessy was asked for an “ultra-prestige” cognac higher in quality than XO. This bliss in a bottle has been sold in Canada but I haven’t found any lately. (Check with Agent Charton Hobbs for availability in BC & Saskatchewan)

Hennessy X.O. CognacHennessy ParadisHennessy Paradis Impérial

Paradis Impérial which I consider the most sophisticated and elegant (can I say feminine?) of all can be found in several provinces. It’s a blend created by Yann Fillioux in 2010 out of 35 to 130 year old cognacs matured in seasoned old barrels. Only one out of 1000 is good enough to get in these bottles. The original blend was created at the request of the Imperial Court of Russia in 1818 by the Empress. Fillioux pays tribute to this first commission, nearly 200 years later.

Richard HennessyWonderfully masculine Richard Hennessy created in 1996 to honour the founder is on the other end of the spectrum: robust, full and bold. Both are ultimate taste experiences well worth the price should you be flush enough to afford a bottle or an ounce.

For those of us with more modest wallets, the Hennessy VS and Meukow VS fit the bill. Meukow VS Cognac in an attractive black panther decorated bottle, is rich and full bodied with powerful depth. So too do two exceptionally value-priced products made by women cellar masters at other producers.

Gautier VS Cognac from one of the oldest Cognac houses established in 1755, is gently oaky, harmonious and mellow (created by cellar master Isabelle Couprie).

The latest creation of cellar master Mrs. Martine Pain at St-Rémy is St-Rémy Small Batch Reserve, which while not a Cognac (the wines come from other regions) is a mighty fine brandy. Aged for more than six years in small oak barrels, it’s flavourful and fleshy with caramel apple sweetness.

Meukow V.S. Cognac Cognac Gautier V.S. St Rémy Small Batch Reserve Brandy

Here’s to putting a little celebration into your glass.

Margaret Swaine

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

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


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15 Great South African Wine Values

Photos and text by David Lawrason
with notes from John Szabo and Steve Thurlow

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

In a recent Newsletter called the New World Order (VINTAGES Jan 10) I made the statement that South Africa currently heads the list of the best sources of wine value in the world; followed by Argentina and Chile. I stand by that statement and want to elaborate, then to point out 15 South African wines currently at the LCBO or VINTAGES Stores that stand as evidence. The WineAlign team recently had an opportunity to taste the entire South African General List category, plus some recent VINTAGES releases.

First, I want to define value. It doesn’t solely mean wines that are the lowest price. Value juxtaposes quality and cost, at any price level. Quality I define as true, balanced, complex and generous expression of grape and place. The problem for South Africa – and in the end for consumers – is that so many of the wines bought by the LCBO are based on low price only. They will claim we consumers won’t pay more for South African wine. I contend that we will gladly pay more once exposed to the right wines. I spent three weeks in South Africa last year, and was stunned by how many “more expensive” wines showed great quality, and were still good value. And I tasted hundreds.

This is of course the age-old problem with the LCBO one-buyer monopoly system. They simply don’t have shelf space for more than a token representation from any one country and to be fair to all they must list wines from all countries. South Africa has suffered most from this because their supply and quality was interrupted when in 1987 Canada stopped buying to protest racist Apartheid policies. To regain market share after the sanctions were lifted in 1994 the LCBO bought the cheapest and often least good quality wines – which left a poor impression. The industry was stuck in a quality rut during the sanctions period, which I witnessed on my first visit just after Nelson Mandela was elected president.

South Africa

Fynbos, a collective term for the varied native vegetation of the Cape, can lend its wild aromas to the wines.

But those days are history, and since then quality has improved dramatically, particularly in the last five years. I noticed it during a visit in 2011, and by the time I visited again last March it was crystal clear. The same conclusions have been reached by all WineAlign colleagues who have also recently been to South Africa – John Szabo, Anthony Gismondi, Steve Thurlow and Janet Dorozynski. Each of them has come back writing about how South Africa has turned the corner. You can scan our archives for their articles.

The current situation is that the LCBO selection is still ridiculously small given what is available to the buyers; and the selection is still governed to a large degree by low prices, with some loyalty being shown to brands that have just always been around, which makes entry more difficult for new brands that are upping their game. Even VINTAGES, with its average bottle price of $18.95, lists few South African wines that are over $20. But, the good news is that quality within that price band has increased a great deal. To me the average $15 Cape wine is on a quality level of the average $30 French or California wine.

The complex terrain of Stellenbosch creates many sub-appellations

The complex terrain of Stellenbosch creates many sub-appellations

The quality surge has everything to do with better, often more natural grape growing. I was impressed by the level of ecological awareness in South Africa. It is also a result of better winemaking, with far fewer faulted “meaty and rubbery” wines. And there is also much more attention being paid to better location of specific varieties in the right climatic zones. I could go on and on about the latter in particular – the emergence of well-defined wine regions and regional styles – but that has already been covered before by our correspondents. And I will shortly be posting a detailed essay on pinotage which, by example, demonstrates these themes.

For now, I simply want to encourage those of you who have not tried South African wines to do so. To dip into our list of the best values on the shelf today. If you want an opportunity to sample first, some LCBO stores will be doing that on Saturday, Feb 14; and LCBOs with event kitchens will be staging mini-South African fairs.

And if you really want to dig into this subject by flying to South Africa itself, Wines of South Africa has a contest running until March 3rd that will send two people to the Cape with airfare, accommodation, meals and wine tours included. Enter at www.wosa.co.za/canadacompetition.

The Whites

Goats Do Roam White 2013

The Wolftrap 2013 WhiteThe Wolftrap White 2013, Western Cape ($13.95)
Steve Thurlow – This is an amazing white for the money with its intensely flavoured palate and pure complex nose. Expect aromas of melon and baked pear fruit with lemongrass and floral heather plus some typical South African minerality. The palate is intense and very solid with some bitter tones nicely closing the finish. It’s a bit chunky and does not have the elegance of the 2012 vintage. Very good to excellent length. Match with sautéed pork chops.
David Lawrason – Totally agree on the value quotient of this intriguing white blend that is built around viognier (60%),  chenin blanc (21%) and less seldom seen grenache blanc (19%). It’s a combination of warmer climate (Rhone)varieties that provide opulence anchored in chenin blanc acidity. Partial fermentation and ageing in French oak adds even ore layers.  The emergence of Rhone varieties grown in inland areas is one of the great stories of the new South Africa

Goats do Roam 2013 White, Western Cape ($11.95)
John Szabo
– The first vintage of this whimsically-named, Rhône-inspired blend was 1998, and the quality has steadily risen. And now that the vines are over 15 years old, there’s more than enough complexity to put this into the sharp value category. It’s about 2/3rds viognier with roussanne and grenache blanc, mainly from the Fairview property in Paarl with a small percentage from Swartland, delivering pleasant citrus-pear-apple fruit, savoury herbs and light floral-blossom aromatics on a mid-weight, essentially dry and fleshy frame. This will please widely.
Steve Thurlow – This is a consistently great value white. I love the pureness and the vibrancy of the 2013 vintage. It is an aromatic blend of three white grapes with lifted floral fruity aromas and an intensely flavoured palate. The nose shows apple and custard with pasty, floral orange and white peach fruit. It is medium-full bodied with firm balancing acidity and a long firm finish. Very good length. Enjoy as an aperitif with pastry nibbles or try with mildly spicy Asian cuisine.

Fleur du Cap 2013 Chardonnay, Western Cape ($12.85)
Steve Thurlow – This wine has been sadly absent from our market for a few years and it is a welcome return to the LCBO list. It is an oaked chardonnay with just enough oak to add complexity to the nose and palate. Expect aromas of baked apple with vanilla, caramel, with lemon and cinnamon notes. The palate is rich and very smooth with intense flavours and very good length. It is old school but well done. Try with fish and chips.

Mulderbosch 2012 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape  ($14.95)
John Szabo
– Mulderbosch is happy to pay a premium price for this fruit, sourced almost exclusively from bush vines, many over 30 years old and all dry farmed (Swartland, Malmesbury). The extra concentration shows through on the palate with its rich, succulent texture and very good to excellent length. 20% gets barrel treatment, though wood is not a player in the profile, and this is virtually bone dry. A wine with genuine depth and character, drinking now, but better in a year or two.

Boschendal The Pavillion 2014 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, ($10.95)
John Szabo
– Here’s a lovely little value from Boschendal, one of South Africa’s oldest farms founded in 1685 and set in the dramatic Drakenstein Valley surrounded by the Cape’s staggeringly beautiful landscape. There’s genuine substance on the palate and plenty of ripe citrus, pineapple and melon flavours bolstered by a welcome impression of sweetness. I’d happily sip this, a wine to keep around the house to pull out on those ‘whenever’ occasions.

Fleur Du Cap Chardonnay 2013 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2012 Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2014 Simonsig Chenin Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc 2012 K W V Contemporary Collection Chenin Blanc 2014

Simonsig Chenin 2012 Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch  ($25.95)
David Lawrason – This is a fine example of Cape chenin, a quite full bodied, fleshy yet balanced example with classic green pear/honeydew melon fruit sewn with subtle fine French oak spice  and vanilla in the background. With chenin’s growing popularity, different styles are also proliferating, with varying levels of oak involvent. So check out labels before you buy. VINTAGES Feb 7.

K W V Contemporary Collection 2014 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape ($9.45)
Steve Thurlow – This is a delicious amazingly well priced alternative for pinot grigio lovers. The 2014 vintage of this wine shows that South Africa can make good inexpensive chenin with a good depth of flavour and well structured. The nose shows fresh melon pear fruit with grapefruit and mineral notes. The palate is midweight with ripe fruit balanced by lemony acidity. Very good length with a nice bitter tone to the finish. Try with seafood or white meats.

The Reds

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2013Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2013, Swartland, Swartland ($14.95)
John Szabo
– Mark Kent of Boekenhootskloof settled in the Franschhoek Valley, but has slowly come to terms with the fact that it’s a difficult region in which to grow grapes. Slowly but surely he’s pulled out vineyards (with the exception of some exquisite, old vine semillon) and replanted in other regions, especially Swartland, which he believes has enormous potential. And this all-Swartland syrah is a very strong argument in his favour, a wine that delivers all one could want at the price and more. The palate is rich and mouth filling, ripe but still grippy, with substantial flavour intensity and depth, as well as length. You won’t go wrong here.
David Lawrason – Not much to add here except “a high five”, especially if you are one who likes your syrah meaty, big and bouncy. This has been going strong since WineAlign first went on the air – scoring 87 points or better in every vintage since 2007.

The Wolftrap 2013 Syrah Mourvedre Viognier, Western Cape ($13.95)
John Szabo – Although a small step below Boekenhootskloof’s Porcupine Ridge range in terms of depth and complexity (and price), this is a thoroughly delicious, savoury-fruity, well-balanced blend that hits all of the right notes. It’s also less oak-influenced, and as such will appeal to fans of classic Mediterranean blends (i.e. Côtes du Rhône). Infinitely drinkable all in all, especially with a light chill.
Steve Thurlow – This wine captures in each vintage the essence of a Rhone red and this is probably the best yet. It is made mostly from syrah with about 30% mouverdre and a splash of viognier. There are no jammy tones and the palate is firm with acid and tannin for balance. The tannins are ripe which gives it structure for food balance. Expect earthy black cherry and bramble fruit aromas with some smoke and black pepper spice and hints of dark chocolate. The palate is full-bodied yet it feels lighter and the length is very good to excellent. Try with BBQ meats.

Thelema 2012 Mountain Red, Stellensbosch ($12.95)
Steve Thurlow – This delightful blend of shiraz and 5 other grapes comes from high mountain vineyards above Stellenbosch. The lifted nose shows ripe blackberry and blueberry fruit with black pepper, mild oak spice and floral complexity. It is very smooth and quite dense with a degree of elegance. Very good length. Try with pizza or burgers.
David Lawrason – Excellent value, once again from a leading producer that was among the first to upgrade its style and quality in the post-Apartheid era. (I first tasted and was thoroughly impressed by their wines at a trade tasting in Toronto in 1995 – I believe). The blending of several grapes is very much in vogue in South Africa and this a good example.

Goats do Roam 2013 Red, Western Cape  ($11.95)
Steve Thurlow – Fantastic value here. The 2013 is another excellent vintage with its lifted aromas of plum and black cherry, dark chocolate, mild oak spice, and smokey blackberry jam. It is midweight and well balanced with lively acidity and spicy black fruit and soft tannin. Very good to excellent length. It is a great food wine to be enjoyed with a wide variety of meat and cheese dishes.

Thelema Mountain Red 2012 Goats Do Roam Red 2013 Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Avondale Jonty's Ducks Pekin Red 2011

Boschendal The Pavillion 2013 Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch ($11.95)
Steve Thurlow – I love the zippy juicy vibrant palate to this exuberant red. It is midweight with aromas of red cherry with white pepper spice, and modest oak treatment, so the fruit shines through. The fruity palate is well balanced by soft tannin and some racy acidity makes it feel quite light. Good focus and very good length. Try with grilled meats.

Avondale Jonty’s Ducks 2011 Pekin Red, Paarl ($14.95)
John Szabo -
Well, this is quite a wine for $15. John and Ginny Grieve, owners of Vital Health Foods, bought the 300 year-old Avondale farm in 1997 and set about converting it to organic/biodynamic culture (actually, they’ve invented their own system called BioLogic). The same balanced approach is taken in the winery. And the results? Well, everything I’ve tasted from Avondale has been worth a look. Jonty’s Ducks is a second label of sorts, which blends about 2/3 Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest of the Bordeaux grapes. It’s wholly satisfying and highly drinkable, either on its own for contemplation or with roasted meat preparations.

K W V Roodeberg 2012

Rustenberg 2011 ShirazRustenberg Shiraz 2011, Stellenbosch ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is from of the oldest wine estates in Stellenbosch that first bottled wine in 1892!  It is also the site of one of the finest restaurants and tasting facilities in South Africa (I was stunned by the sophistication of the hospitality scene in and around Stellenbosch.) Because Rustenberg is a classic old-school estate expect leaner, very Euro and very complex reds. VINTAGES Feb 7.

K W V 2012 Roodeberg, Western Cape ($12.45)
Steve Thurlow – This is a medium bodied Cape classic that as usual offers good value with the 2012 vintage. It is well balanced and quite complex. It is styled like a French southern Rhône red with red and black cherry fruit, white pepper, with herbal and mineral tones. Good to very good length, try with rack of lamb.

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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


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Top 20 under $20 at the LCBO (February)

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

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

The LCBO started 2015 with a big house cleaning with dozens of wines being discontinued and selling at big discounts to clear inventory during January. Among these were sadly some of my favourites. I am especially saddened to see some great value Portuguese and Spanish reds go. For whatever reason they did not sell in sufficient quantities to keep their place on the shelf, so it’s hasta la vista baby. Many of these discontinued wines have already sold out, but I have listed below a few that will be around for the next couple of weeks or so. There are seven new wines on the Top 50 for you to try.

The LCBO has kicked off February with a slew of wines on promotion such that thirteen wines, already on the list, have Bonus Air Miles (BAMs) that apply or are on sale (LTO), making these wines even more attractive for the next four weeks or so; all this will surely make your February drinking more affordable.

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

The discount period runs until February 28th. So don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that there were stocks available, when we published, of every wine that I highlight.

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

Reds

Sella & Mosca Rosato 2013, Alghero, Sardinia, Italy $7.95 was $9.80 – This summer rose has gone on sale to clear inventory. It is a deep salmon pink almost light red, very fruity yet dry with very good length. Try with baked ham. Over 1200 bottles remain.

Sileni Cellar Selection Merlot 2013 Hawkes Bay New Zealand $8.45 was $15.95 – New to Top50 – Discontinued at LCBO - Around 900 bottles of this ripe classy merlot remain. Great with meaty past sauces.

Montalto Nero d’Avola Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Sicily, Italy $8.95 + 5BAMs – A finely balanced red for red meat dishes or pizza from sunny Sicily.

Fuzion Alta Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina $8.95 was $9.95 – A soft flavourful cabernet from high altitude vineyards. It’s juicy and fruity with some savoury tones..

Sella & Mosca Rosato 2013 Sileni Cellar Selection Merlot 2013 Montalto Nero D'avola Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Fuzion Alta Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Volcanes Summit Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013

Volcanes Summit Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013 Chile $9.10 was $10.95 – New to Top50 – Discontinued at LCBO -There is an Italian feel to this Chilean red blend with notable acidity and minerality giving it freshness. Try with pepperoni pizza. Around 1000 bottles remain.

Trapiche Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Mendoza $9.95 + 4BAMs – A pure fragrant ripe cabernet that’s finely balanced with very good length. Try with mature cheddar or a juicy hamburger.

Quinta Do Encontro Q do E 2011, Bairrada, Portugal $9.95 was $14.25 – New to Top50 – Discontinued at LCBO – An elegant structured red. Very classy try with roast beef. Around 600 bottles remain.

Trapiche Reserve Syrah 2013, Mendoza, Argentina $10.95 was $11.95 – Beautiful lifted aromas of blueberry and blackberry fruit with herbal and well integrated oak spice notes that lead to a velvety smooth palate. Complex and elegant. Try with grilled meats or mature cheddar.

Trapiche Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Quinta Do Encontro Q Do E 2011 Trapiche Reserve Syrah 2013 Trapiche Malbec Reserve 2013

Trapiche Malbec Reserve 2013, Mendoza, Argentina $10.95 was $11.95 – A full bodied malbec with a fragrant nose that’s rounded, fairly dense and juicy with fine tannin. Try with a steak.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir 2013, Central Valley, Chile $11.00 + 5BAMs – An excellent value for pinot noir. There is little to compete for around $11 for this quality and varietal authenticity. So pick a few up and collect some BAMs.

Emiliana Adobe Reserva Merlot 2013, Rapel Valley, Chile $11.05 was $13.05 – New to Top50 – This is a polished, organically grown merlot with a soft velvety palate and very good length.

Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina $12.95 was $14.95 – Was great value at $14.95 now outstanding at $2 off. Time to stock up again on this delicious elegant malbec.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir 2013 Emiliana Adobe Reserva Merlot Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2012 The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013 Mountain Fish Agiorgitiko 2012

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013, Western Cape $12.95 was $13.95 – A delicious fruity red with savoury tones and modest oak that avoids the confected jammy style so often seen in reds from the Cape. Try with grilled meats.

Mountain Fish Red 2012 Peloponnese , Greece $13.10 – New to Top50 – A juicy, zesty midweight red with savoury tones made from agioritiko, one of Greece’s best indigenous red grapes grown widely in the Peloponnese region. Try with juicy lamb cutlets.

Whites

Dunavar Muscat Ottonel 2012, Hungary $6.45 was $9.05 – Discontinued at LCBO – Over a 1000 bottles remain of this aromatic juicy very inexpensive white. Try with mildly spicy Asian cuisine such at Pad Thai.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile $8.95 was $9.95 – Was already the best value white in Ontario; now a $1 off. It’s time to stock up on this fragrant juicy white.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Grigio 2014, Central Valley, Chile $9.90 + 5BAMs – This delicious grigio has deservedly been so popular since it launched in the summer that the LCBO kept running out of it last year. There are large stocks at present so pick up a few and enjoy with seafood and cheese dishes.

Dunavar Muscat Ottonel 2012Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2014 Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Grigio 2014Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013 Goats Do Roam White 2013 Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Central Valley, Chile $9.95 + 3BAMs – A juicy very ripe sauvignon blanc with lots of balancing acidity.

Goats Do Roam White 2013, Western Cape, South Africa $10.95 was $11.95 – New to Top50 – An aromatic rich dry white, great as an aperitif or with Asian cuisine.

Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Aconcagua Valley, Chile $15.95 plus 10BAMs – Great complexity and balance, this is unmistakably sauvignon with an herbal tone to the tropical citrus fruit. Try with rich creamy cheese dishes to balance the wine’s acidity.

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

There are three ways that a wine gets into this monthly report of wines that are always in the stores either on the LCBO “General List” or the VINTAGES Essential Collection.

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

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

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

Steve Top50The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

There are another 37 wines on the Top 50 list so if you did not find all you need above for your current needs dip into the Top 50 LCBO and Vintages Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

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

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

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

Cheers!

Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20
Top 50 Value Wines

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


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The Successful Collector – The First Growths of Bordeaux

Julian Hitner reports on some of the top châteaux of Bordeaux after visiting one of France’s most celebrated winegrowing regions in 2014. Read on to learn more about the classifications of Bordeaux, a typical visit to first-class estate and an overview of some of the region’s most revered properties.

A spiritual experience:
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

A visit to a First Growth is unlike any other wine pilgrimage. The closest thing it resembles is a pseudo-religious experience: setting foot on sacred vineyards, entering sanctified estate interiors and partaking of wines officially consecrated as the best of the best, the latter a deceptively secular means of declaring such contents divine. Of course, this is mere melodramatic testament to perfectionist winegrowing, acknowledged by centuries of near-universal adulation, exorbitant price structuring and begrudged rarity of genuine appreciation by all but the most deep-pocketed of wine collectors. Yet these are the terms in which the most illustrious estates of Bordeaux must be understood, in that they are grandiose, that they are picture-perfect, and that the wines they produce are among the greatest in the world.

But how does one account for this situation? For wine historians, the success of Bordeaux’s greatest estates has as much to do with the quality of their flawless vineyards as it does with the long-standing endurance of the classification systems to which they belong. Of these, the most famous is the 1855 Classification of the Médoc (or Left Bank) and Sauternes-Barsac. This is the classification, or hierarchy, that includes the most prized châteaux of the Left Bank as First Growths: Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild (promoted in 1973), Margaux and Haut-Brion (the latter based out of the appellation of Pessac-Léognan in the Graves). All other estates fortunate enough to be included belong to four other categories: Second Growth, Third Growth, Fourth Growth and Fifth Growth. In Sauternes-Barsac, there are three categories: Premier Cru Supérieur (a status enjoyed only by Château d’Yquem), Premier Cru and Second Growth.

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

In the Graves, the appellation of Pessac-Léognan employs a one-category classification of Grand Cru Classé, or variations thereof, for both its red and white wines. Unlike the Left Bank, where all whites must be labeled, appellation-wise, as generic ‘Bordeaux’ and may not even mention the estate’s official ranking, those of Pessac-Léognan are permitted to state the actual name of the appellation as well as the official classification of the estate. All of this stands in contrast to the much larger, reds-only classification system of St-Emilion, the most significant appellation of the Right Bank sector of Bordeaux. Subject to revision every ten years or so, a sizeable number of estates are placed into four categories. The first is Premier Grand Cru Classé A, widely considered the equivalent of the First Growths of the Left Bank. For the longest time, only Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc were ranked as such, having recent been joined (not without controversy) by Angélus and Pavie. Following this are Premier Cru Classé B, Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru. Over the border in the appellation of Pomerol, there is no classification system in place, though few would dispute that immortal Château Petrus along with a few others may be considered equals to the First Growths of the Left Bank or St-Emilion.

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

 

All spiritual jargon aside, there is indeed something to be said for visiting nearly all of the First Growths of Bordeaux, along with a host of other magnificent properties, in only roughly one week. As appearances go, such properties are immaculately tended, with luxurious gardens, aristocratic exteriors and interiors and perfectly tended vines. Yet strangely enough, visiting the finest châteaux is not an entirely complicated concern, for most estates nowadays are eager to accept visitors. Advanced planning is key. Appointments must be made well ahead of time, in some cases as much as several months, and travel by car or perhaps bicycle is highly recommended. Most estates have special sections on their website on how they may be contacted for making an appointment. Furthermore, most estates, First Growths included, now retain public relations staff in their employ, many of whom are extremely courteous and knowledgeable. Excepting fellow winegrowers and professional journalists, it is highly unlikely that visitors will be greeted by the owner, chief viticulturalist or director of winemaking.

From personal experience, the course of a visit seldom varies from one château to another: a tour of the vineyards and cellar, followed by a tasting of the latest vintage, typically from barrel. The length of one’s stay depends almost entirely on one’s depth of interest. In most cases, First Growths are extremely large properties, consisting of substantial vineyard parcels, work-specific and residential buildings, elaborate garden spaces and below-ground cellars. Any self-respecting claret lover should make a point of viewing as many of these components as possible. Photos are almost always permitted.

Château Latour pigeon house and vines

Château Latour pigeon house and vines

 

As it so happens, those expecting an abundance of different wines to taste will be left out in the cold. Except on rare occasions, even professional journalists are only provided with a sample of the latest vintage to taste. Compared to many other types of wineries, many of which possess a vast range of wines on offer, most Bordeaux estates produce only a handful of wines every vintage. In the case of First Growths, this may consist of as a little as two wines: the grand vin (the top wine of the estate) and the second wine (usually crafted from parcels or vat selections deemed to be of lesser quality). Those that also produce white wines, such as Château Margaux or Haut Brion, seldom make these available for tasting, as they are produced in very small quantities. This said, tasting the latest vintage of Margaux or Cheval Blanc is anything but immaterial, for such wines are nowadays remarkably appreciable and understandable even in infancy, providing enthusiasts with invaluable insight into the reasons for which these estates are held in such sensational regard.

Unfortunately these days, the greatest names of Bordeaux are entirely unaffordable, demand far outstripping supply even for the second wines, a single bottle of which now cost at least a few hundred dollars. Not that such wines were ever low-cost, there was nonetheless a time, only a decade or two ago, when enthusiasts could put aside a few monies and lay their hands on a bottle or two for the cellar. This makes a pilgrimage to the First Growths all the more singular, for it is genuinely the only means nowadays of partaking of a small quantity of ostensibly hallowed wines traditionally reserved for a select few. As it appears, pseudo-religiosity knows very few bounds when discussing First Growths.

The greatest estates:

The First Growths of the 1855 Classification:

Château Latour:

Château Mouton Rothschild 2012 Château Lafite Rothschild 2001 Château Latour 2004As name recognition goes, Château Latour is perhaps the most famous of the First Growths, a name that evokes not unfounded notions of regality, grandeur and longevity. Owned by François Pinault, much of this 78-ha estate is located on the southern boundary of Pauillac, right across from Second Growth Léoville-Las Cases in St-Julien. The director of winemaking is Frédéric Engerer. The second wine is Les Forts de Latour. The estate also produces a third wine known as Pauillac de Château Latour, which has been produced every year since 1990.

Not long ago, Latour stunned the wine world by announcing that it is no longer participating in the annual en primeur (futures) programme, instead releasing specific vintages direct from the château only when they believe the wine is ready to be drunk. This is meant to discourage price speculation, bolster traditional markets and ensure the best possible quality for the connoisseur. Enthusiasts everywhere may look upon this as a positive development.

Château Latour 2004, Pauillac hails from one of the most classic vintages of the new century, possessing wondrous precision, harmony, layering and breed. Like so many other vintages before it, those fortunate enough to possess a bottle or two need not fear of carefully cellaring it for a few decades, perhaps for a child’s graduation. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Lafite Rothschild:

The epitome of pedigree and positive life forces, Château Lafite Rothschild may be considered the very embodiment of great claret production, for centuries compared and contrasted with Latour as the more aristocratic and graceful of the two. Owned by Baron Eric de Rothschild, this 112-ha property is situated on the northern boundary of Pauillac, directly across from Second Growth Cos d’Estournel in St-Estèphe. The director of winemaking is Charles Chevalier. The second wine is Carruades de Lafite.

Over the past decade, prices for Lafite have risen considerably in many parts of the world, mainly (though not exclusively) a result of its burgeoning popularity among well-heeled buyers in Asia. Although the wines of Lafite were never cheap, this dilemma has certainly shed light on the growing contrast of prices between those of the First Growths and its counterparts lower down the ladder. No solution has yet to be found.

Château Lafite Rothschild 2001, Pauillac is quite possibly the greatest wine of the vintage. Retaining indomitable authority, harmony, structure and gorgeousness, every claret enthusiast should discover the means of appreciating, if only once in a lifetime, a wine such as this, preferably on an occasion lending itself to quiet reflection and the company of one or two good persons. Drink now or hold through 2060 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Mouton Rothschild:

First Growth Château Mouton Rothschild has the extraordinary honour of being the only estate to have ever been promoted in the 1855 Classification, a status to which few would dispute it is rightly entitled. Owned by Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, this 84-ha establishment is bordered next to Lafite in the northern sector of Pauillac, where wines of miraculous depth, exuberance and breed are produced to worldwide acclaim. The director of winemaking is Hervé Berland. The second wine is Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild. The estate also produces small amounts of white wine known as Aile d’Argent, largely regarded as a work in progress.

For every vintage since 1945, Mouton has commissioned some of the world’s most famous artists to design the front label of the bottle, including Salvador Dalí, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and acclaimed director John Huston. Few châteaux are as creative and dynamic as Mouton Rothschild.

Château Mouton Rothschild 2012, Pauillac is a wine like few others, delivering unbelievable structure, radiance, harmony and breed. For decades, Baron Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988) worked tirelessly to have Mouton promoted from Second to First Growth, finally achieving his dream in 1973. Nearly forty vintages later, wines like ’12 prove precisely why this advancement was necessary. Drink now or hold through 2065 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Haut-Brion:

Château D’yquem 2011 Château Margaux 2008 Château Haut Brion 2007Based out of the appellation of Pessac-Léognan in the Graves, Château Haut-Brion is the only estate outside of the Left Bank to be included in the 1855 Classification. Owned by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, this 46-ha estate is by far the oldest of the First Growths in terms of name recognition and quality. Long-established hallmarks for both reds and whites (the latter produced in extremely small quantities) are precociousness of texture, sophistication and fragrance. The director of winemaking is Jean-Philippe Delmas. The second wine is Le Clarence de Haut-Brion.

In 1983, Haut-Brion managed to acquire the 26-ha Château La Mission Haut-Brion from across the road, running the property as a separate entity yet with the same perfectionist standards. In some ways, La Mission may be rightly deemed a sixth First Growth, for the quality of its wines, both red and white, is virtually identical to that of Haut-Brion (to which it is most often compared) and the four others. For now, however, the estate is only included in the one-category classification system of Pessac-Léognan. The second wine is La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion.

Château Haut-Brion 2007 Pessac-Léognan is very possibly the most inspiring claret from this difficult vintage. Tasted twice (most recently at the estate), it is probably the most ‘backward’ of the graduating class, featuring mindboggling layering, texture, elegance and harmony. With almost as much merlot as cabernet sauvignon, it is approachable even at present, though it will cellar for an extremely long time. Drink now or hold through 2060. Decanting is recommended.

Château Margaux:

Unequivocally the most sensual of the First Growths, Château Margaux is renowned for is unsurpassed spirituality of fragrance, elegance and structural dimension. Owned by Corinne Mentzelopoulos, this 92-ha estate is located in the appellation of the same name, with vineyards scattered among the choicest locations. The director of winemaking is Paul Pontallier. The second wine is Pavillon Rouge, and the estate also produces very small quantities of a miraculous white wine known as Pavillon Blanc.

Like many of the other First Growths, Margaux has spent the past several years tightening up quality, in the process creating a third wine, Margaux du Château Margaux. Now that two of five estates have launched such a label, it is likely only a matter of time before the rest of the pack does the same. Reactions to this development have been mixed. While quality of the Grand Vin and second wines are bound to go up, prices are likely to ascend just as rapidly.

Château Margaux 2008 Margaux is a claret of sensational layering, precision, harmony and grace. In many ways, it is a testament to the colossal aptitude of Paul Pontallier, Margaux’s managing director for nearly twenty-five years. Yet even Pontallier is the first to admit that his role at Margaux comes at a distant second to the estate’s unmatched terroirs. A very modest individual. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château d’Yquem:

Not only the greatest sweet wine producer in France, Château d’Yquem is easily one of Bordeaux’s most lauded and legendary institutions. Owned by luxury goods group LVMH, this 110-ha property is the only estate in Sauternes to be designated as Premier Cru Supérieur, its wines considered, at least historically, to be so much finer than any of its peers that to rank them as equals was unthinkable. The director of winemaking is Sandrine Garbay. Although there is no second wine, a small amount of dry table wine, known as Ygrec, is produced every vintage.

For the extremely challenging 2012 vintage, d’Yquem generated a great deal of controversy by announcing that it would not be producing a sweet wine. This has placed other estates in Sauternes and Barsac in a difficult position, with many winegrowers lamenting the effect d’Yquem’s decision has had on the market and overall expectations. While some producers have stayed the course and claim to have made excellent wines, others such as Rieussec, Suduiraut and Raymond-Lafon have gone the way of d’Yquem. Instead, many will only be bottling a wine under their second label. Was d’Yquem’s course of action justified? Time will hopefully tell.

Château d’Yquem 2011 Sauternes clearly reflects the quality of this magnificent vintage, delivering astounding glamour, harmony, energy and decadence. Put simply, few other estates in Bordeaux, France or any other part of the world are capable of routinely crafting wines of this type at such a stupendous level of excellence. A shame one vine at d’Yquem averages only a single glass of wine. Drink now or hold through 2060 and beyond.

Other illustrious estates:

Château Léoville-Las Cases:

Château Palmer 2004 Château Ducru Beaucaillou 2001 Château Léoville Las Cases 2008Were the 1855 Classification ever revised, Second Growth Château Léoville-Las Cases would likely join the ranks of the First Growths in a heartbeat. Owned and operated by Jean-Hubert Delon, this 98-ha institution is located in northern St-Julien, just opposite Château Latour in Pauillac. For decades, its wines have overwhelmed connoisseurs with their immaculate sense of structure, refinement and capability. The second wine is Le Petit Lion du Marquis de Las Cases, while another, more famous wine known as Clos du Marquis is sourced from extremely high-grade parcels adjacent to the main holdings of the estate.

The Delon family is also the proud owner of Château Potensac in the appellation of Médoc, one of the greatest overachievers in this rather northerly part of the Left Bank. Planted on atypically gravelly soils at slightly higher elevations (unusual in much of this appellation), wines from this 84-ha property are routinely of extremely high quality and are rarely overpriced. If only more entities were as perfectionist as Léoville-Las Cases and its sister property.

Château Léoville-Las Cases 2008 St-Julien is one of the most affordable wines I have ever encountered from this estate in modern times, at least judging by the profound reverence for which this Super Second is held. Sustaining spectacular harmony, layering, style and pedigree, it begs the question why the 1855 Classification has only once been meritoriously revised to accommodate Mouton Rothschild. Drink now or hold through 2050. Decanting is recommended.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou:

Along with Léoville-Las Cases, Second Growth Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is the pride and joy of St-Julien, an appellation with no First Growths yet possessing an awfully impressive résumé of revered properties. Owned and operated by Bruno Borie, this 50-ha establishment nowadays yields wines of prodigious finesse, harmony and excitement. The second wine is La Croix de Beaucaillou.

An overachieving Second Growth, Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the most sought-after of the ‘Super Seconds,’ a nickname used to describe estates in the 1855 Classification that either perform well above their rank and/or are much more expensive than their peers. These include: Léoville-las Cases in St-Julien; Second Growths Cos d’Estournel and Montrose in St-Estèphe; Third Growth Palmer in Margaux; and Second Growths Pichon-Longueville Baron and Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac. Also worthy of mention are Lynch Bages and Pontet-Canet, two Pauillac Fifth Growths of Super Second quality and cost.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 2001 St-Julian is now entering its peak, possessing uncanny sophistication, harmony, refinement and breed. From one of the most underappreciated vintages of the new millennium, wines like these serve as a valuable reminder that premium clarets need not nowadays be aged for decades on end in order to be fully appreciated. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Palmer:

Though only ranked as a Third Growth, Château Palmer has been known to eclipse even neighbouring Château Margaux in some vintages. Owned by the Sichel and Mähler-Besse families, this 55-ha property has for decades produced wines of irrepressible beauty, profoundness and harmony. The director of winemaking is Thomas Duroux. The second wine is Alter Ego.

Although cabernet sauvignon is usually the most significant grape throughout the most prestigious appellations of the Left Bank, some estates like Palmer prefer to use near-equal amounts of merlot in the final blend, contributing extra concentration and beguilingly velvety textures to the wines. As of 2014, the estate also switched to 100% biodynamic farming. The future of Palmer has never shone brighter.

Château Palmer 2004 Margaux is already ten years old and yet only just beginning to open up. Endowed with astounding posture, refinement, harmony and style, its best days are still well ahead of it. For claret enthusiasts with the means of acquiring a bottle or two, it is thus a prime candidate to lay aside for the birth of a grandchild or long-awaited natural passing of a reviled in-law. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Cheval Blanc:

Vieux Château Certan 2012 Château Cheval Blanc 2006Along with Château Ausone (not visited), Château Cheval Blanc has long been recognized as the leading estate of St-Emilion, ranked as Premier Grand Cru Classé A in the appellation’s classification system. Owned by luxury goods group LVMH, this 37-ha establishment is situated on the border with Pomerol, and is known for wines of extraordinary pedigree, durability and envelopment. Prices are routinely equal or higher than the First Growths of the Left Bank. The director of winemaking is Pierre Lurton. The second wine is Le Petit Cheval.

In 2011, the estate completed a major renovation and expansion of its main building and adjacent facilities. Reactions to its unapologetically ultramodern design have been mixed, with some (mostly Cheval Blanc affiliates) lauding its savvy technological features, while others have bemoaned its outward ostentation and contrast with the traditional appearance of neighbouring estates. So long as quality remains the same, or is even enhanced, such developments are likely of small consequence to claret enthusiasts.

Château Cheval Blanc 2006 St-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé A is one of the most majestic wines I have tasted from this estate to date, conveying spellbinding structure, pedigree, texture and balance. Containing 55% merlot and a whopping 45% cabernet franc, it is unquestionably the qualitative equivalent of a Left Bank First Growth, albeit one derived from a distinctly different set of winegrowing criteria. Drink now or hold through 2055 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Vieux Château Certan:

With absolutely no classification system, claret aficionados are entirely left to their own devices when ranking the estates of Pomerol. Even still, few would disagree that Vieux Château Certan is one of a handful of estates meriting highest standing. Owned and operated by Alexandre Thienpont, this 14-ha property has for decades borne wines of magnificent stature, elegance and authority. The second wine is La Gravette de Certan.

Unlike other prestigious appellations in most other parts of Bordeaux, châteaux in Pomerol are often small-scale affairs, with vineyards typically only adding up to several hectares. Usually family-owned, there is an almost peasant-like mentality in how winegrowers view their properties. At Vieux Château Certan, Monsieur Thienpont takes a very hands-on approach, personally receiving visitors and sharing his ideas with them. If only top estates elsewhere could assume a similar attitude, though property sizes in many cases renders this unrealistic.

Vieux Château Certan 2012 Pomerol was grabbed right off the bottling line by Alexandre Thienpont during a recent visit. Possessing tremendous harmony, attitude, elegance and breed, it almost singlehandedly defies the difficulties many winegrowers faced throughout this troublesome vintage. From one of Pomerol’s most historically renowned estates, if only there were more of its wines to go around. Drink now or hold through 2048 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Stay tuned next month for my report on the 2012 vintage. Plenty of choices for both the budget-minded and serious collectors alike.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s massive list of Bordeaux red wine recommendations

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


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – January 2015

Burns Suppers & Fine Whiskies
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

January 25 is Robert Burns’ 256th “birthday”, as great an excuse as any to pop open a fine whisky and spout poetry. Here are some suggestions on what to drink and how to celebrate.

Burns Suppers have been a long time tradition in Scotland and beyond for over 200 years. Visit Scotland has created a free downloadable 76 page guide all about Rabbie Burns (as he is often known) and how to hold your own Burns Supper including dress code, songs such as Auld Lang Syne, poems and recipes. See “Hold your own Burns Supper eBook

Arran Distillery was granted a lifetime patronage from The Robert Burns World Federation in 2000, and their classic Robert Burns Arran Single Malt is an eloquent, value priced dram. The Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish Single Malt, which has been matured in traditional oak and finished in ex-Amarone casks, has heat and a black peppercorn bite.

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old Single Malt from Islay is deep, powerful and rich with a gingerbread nose. Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Vat not only is a terrific whisky but two dollars is donated from every bottle sold across the country in support of Wounded Warriors Canada. (To date, Wounded Warriors Canada has received over $300,000 in charitable support from Glenfiddich. Last November’s cheque was for $120,000.)

Mortlach, the oldest distillery in a town that has the world’s highest concentration of distilleries, was established in 1823. The Mortlach 15 Year Old Speyside Single Malt has personality plus.

Robert Burns Arran Single Malt The Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish Isle Of Arran Single Malt Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old Islay Single Malt Glenfiddich Single Malt 15 Years Old Mortlach 15 Year Old Speyside Single Malt

Ardbeg Auriverdes Islay Single Malt is a special limited release that was created to celebrate the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and while pricy, it’s impressive. Closer to home, Glen Breton 14 Year Old Single Malt Whisky from Glenora Distillers in Nova Scotia has a true scotch whisky flavour.

Glen Breton 14 Year Old Single Malt Whisky Ardbeg Auriverdes Islay Single MaltOn this side of the pond, I recently did the Whiskey Trail in America (www.americanwhiskeytrail.com). The American Whiskey Trail is a journey into the history of spirits in America, starting with the colonial era, where whiskey played an important economic and social role. The gateway is George Washington’s Distillery at Historic Mount Vernon. George Washington operated one of the largest whiskey distilleries in early America, producing 11,000 gallons in 1799.

The distillery was excavated and authentically rebuilt on its original foundation and opened to the public in 2007. Visitors can see a demonstration of how whiskey making was carried out in 18th century America and visit the gristmill and education center.

The bulk of the distilleries on the trail however are in Tennessee and Kentucky, where the indigenous limestone rock is a natural filter, cleaning the water of iron and impurities which would adversely affect the whiskey.

Charcoal filtering is the main difference between Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky bourbon both of which are majority distilled from corn and aged in new charred white oak barrels a minimum of two years. Only water is added to adjust the bottle strengths.

Each distillery has its own unique setting and story to tell visitors. George Dickel established in 1870 in Cascade Hollow near Tullahoma still has a rustic atmosphere. The property gets over 20,000 visitors a year. On their extended 75 minute tour ($10) visitor’s get to taste four of their whiskies. George Dickel Rye, made from 95% rye and the rest malted barley, has a nice spicy fruity character. George Dickel Tennessee Whisky No. 12 is more mature with distinct wood spicing. After their first use here, parent company Diageo ships the oak barrels off to the 26 Scottish distilleries they own.

George Dickel RyeGeorge Dickel Tennessee Whisky No. 12 Jack Daniel’s Old No 7 Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey

Jack Daniel’s in Lynchburg, the oldest registered distillery in the United States, is a crowd favourite drawing over 200,000 visitors annually. Tours talk tales of Jack, the colourful founder and highlight the special 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal that JD filters through drip by drip. Jack Daniel’s Old No 7 has been made since 1866 using this special charcoal mellowing technique. Gentleman Jack goes through the process a second time: through three feet of charcoal though not ten.

In Clermont at Jim Beam, the world’s best-selling bourbon, you might meet master distiller Fred Noe, great grandson of the founder. Tours start at the T. Jeremiah Beam home filled with family photos and heirlooms. Built in 1911, this home of Jim Beam’s son T. Jeremiah, master distiller from 1938 to 1960, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The old household knickknacks and kitchen gadgets take visitors back to another era.

Jim Beam Devil's Cut Jim Beam White Label BourbonThe distillery makes about 1000 barrels of whiskey a day (13 million barrels since prohibition). Jim Beam White Label Bourbon is their basic corn based bourbon. The Jim Beam Devil’s Cut is more robust and interesting. The distillery does also experiment with various grains such as brown rice, soft red wheat and other grains for their Signature Craft collection.

Makers’ Mark in Loretto established in 1805 as a gristmill distillery, is the oldest working distillery on its original site. A National Historic Landmark, seven old Victorian buildings were preserved and restored on sprawling beautifully manicured grounds. Makers’ Mark is famous for its whiskey bottles sealed by hand dipping in red wax – visitors can watch the process. At the end of the tour, if they buy a bottle, they can try their hand at dipping their purchase in wax themselves.

Maker’s Mark Kentucky Bourbon is double distilled and batch distilled using a sour mash method. Maker’s Mark 46 is barrel finished with seared wood staves added to the inside of the barrels.

Woodford Reserve near Versailles is in the middle of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region famous for raising racehorses. The historic distillery has been fully restored to its 1800s splendor. Hungry guests can enjoy the Picnic on the Porch restaurant and dine on menu items such as Bourbon Trail chili, Shady Lane chicken salad and Barrel Beef sandwiches. (It’s the only distillery with a James Beard award winning Chef in residence.) Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select is the number one super premium selling bourbon in the world.

Maker's Mark Kentucky Bourbon Maker's Mark 46 Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select Wild Turkey 81 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Wild Turkey on a hill overlooking the Kentucky River has a plain and simple outward appearance. However inside legendary master distiller Jimmy Russell cooks up ultra-smooth bourbons with sweet vanilla caramel tastes. Wild Turkey 81 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon is nicely balanced with sweet vanilla smoothness. If you can get your hands on Forgiven or Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel – you’ll be in for a treat.

Raise a glass of whisky with friends old and new. It’s the perfect antidote to a cold, dark January night. It’s my birthday this month too so you can bet I’ll be celebrating in fine fashion.

Margaret Swaine

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

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


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