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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – August 6, 2016

Value in the Southern Hemisphere
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week I’ve highlighted some especially good southern hemisphere wines from the August 6th VINTAGES release. Australia is the main thematic, but I was so enthused by wines from New Zealand and especially South Africa that I had to include them in this report. The wines of the Cape are particularly attractive these days with the free fall of the South African Rand vis-à-vis international currencies, Canadian dollar included, over the last few years. The top bottles from the Cape’s winelands are ferociously competitive against their strong Euro and USD equivalents in particular. It’s a great time to explore.

Fans of Australian wine in Ontario are also rejoicing this week, thanks to the launch last Friday of the LCBO’s newest “Products of the World” specialty boutique featuring Australia. “The destination store at 65 Wicksteed Avenue in Leaside [Toronto] will offer around 200 Australian wines, which is believed to be the best single-store assortment available outside of Australia”, says LCBO media relations coordinator Christina Bujold.

About 40 of the listings are from LCBO’s Consignment Program, now available to customers by the single bottle, rather than full case lots, for the first time outside of bars and restaurants. Theoretically, customers should be able to order any of these selections for no-charge delivery to their local store, anywhere in Ontario.

And to get you in the mood, grab a glass and read the recent WineAlign three-part series covering the Australian wine scene’s history, evolution, and revolution.

Destination Australia: LCBO opens new “Products of the World” store

And finally, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m happy to report that the first release from a small vineyard project in Hungary I’ve been involved in since 2003 is hitting shelves on August 6th. J&J Eger is a joint venture with my parter János Stumpf, and the wine, the Eged-Hegy Vineyard Kékfrankos, reflects the old-vine spiciness of this central European variety, the hillside’s limestone, and the region’s cool climate, no more, no less. For obvious reasons, I have not written a full review, but I do hope you’ll check it out!

Next week the WineAlign crü will be back with all of the top picks from the August 6th release.

Buyers’ Guide: Southern Hemisphere Whites

I must doff my cap to the KWV, formally the Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Suid-Afrika in Afrikaans (or “Co-operative Winemakers’ Society of South Africa”) the former government-supported, nationwide cooperative that for years churned out forgettable plonk. Since evolving into a private corporate structure in 1997, quality has risen substantially, especially in the premium (but still inexpensive) range. For a sample, try the Cathedral Cellar 2010 Blanc De Blanc Brut, Méthode Cap Classique, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($16.95). You’d be hard pressed to find a better traditional method sparkling wine at the price, attractively open and fragrant, mixing lively citrus with fresh brioche on a mid-weight frame, framed by sharp acids.

I was prompted to double check the price on the Thelema Mountain Vineyards 2012 Sutherland Chardonnay, WO Elgin, South Africa ($15.95), convinced there was a pricing error. Sutherland is Stellenbosch-based Thelema Mountain Vineyards’ cool Elgin property in the southern Cape, and this chardonnay is stunning value. It’s crafted in the smoky, flinty/sulphide-driven style, that’s so very post-modern and popular in sommelier circles. There’s a lot going on here for the money, to say the least, and it easily competes with similar style wines at significantly higher prices.

Cathedral Cellar Blanc De Blanc Brut 2010Thelema Sutherland Chardonnay 2012 Hill Smith Estate Chardonnay 2014

For a fine example of the balance and finesse achievable in the cool Eden Valley of South Australia, try the Hill-Smith Estate 2014 Chardonnay ($19.95). It’s a very classy, nicely measured, silky-smooth textured chardonnay, with gentle wood toast and spice, and terrific length in the price category. Drink or hold short term.

Buyers’ Guide: Southern Hemisphere Reds

South Africa is also the origin of two excellent reds in this release, albeit in two radically different styles. Drinkers of bold and spicy wines will enjoy the Fairview 2014 Shiraz, WO Coastal Region, South Africa ($17.95), a dark and dense, plush, wood-inflected shiraz with juicy acids and appealing medicinal complexity. It’s an ideal smoky BBQ wine, best 2016-2020.

Fans of contemporary, lighter style reds should opt instead for the Kloof Street 2014 Red, WO Swartland, South Africa ($19.95), the second tier range from the talented duo of Chris and Andrea Mullineux. It too is a shiraz-led blend (86%, with splashes of grenache, carignan, mourvèdre, tinta barocca and cinsault), from the very hip Swartland region and its wealth of old, often abandoned vineyards, now being rediscovered. This beauty is dressed in an attractively smoky-savoury guise, very floral and pot pourri-scented, with a light volatile lift. The palate is well structured with lively, vibrant acids, very food friendly and balanced, with great complexity for the money. Best with a light chill, 2016-2020.

Fairview Shiraz 2014 Kloof Street Red 2014 Kilikanoon Killerman's Run Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 Momo Pinot Noir 2013

There were three Rhône-style blends from Australia in the release, a growing category, of which my preferred was the Kilikanoon 2013 Killerman’s Run Grenache/Shiraz/Mataro from the Clare Valley, South Australia ($19.95). It has the edge in balance and drinkability, offering vibrant, nicely pitched fresh dark fruit flavours and just the right amount of peppery spice, without sacrificing the generosity one hopes for in Australian reds. Best 2016-2019.

And representing New Zealand is a fine value pinot for fans of the classy, cool climate, old school style from biodynamic producer Seresin. The Momo 2013 Pinot Noir from Marlborough under the estate’s second label is a lovely, light, leafy, dusty, tart red berry-flavoured example, open and honest. I like the gently high-toned floral notes, the fine-grained, dusty-light tannins, and the pleasant, lingering finish. Best 2016-2020.

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


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Aug 6th, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All August 6th Reviews

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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The (Not So New) Wines of Greece

Text and photos by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Earlier this month the WineAlign crü sat down to taste a couple dozen currently available wines sent by Wines of Greece. This buyers’ guide lists our favorites. Whether you’re already familiar with Greek wines and would like to explore further, or you’ve yet to experience Greece in your glass, this is a great list to get you going. There’s really never been a better time to drink Greek wine. And for the very keen, read on for some thoughts on how the recent tough times in Greece have had unexpected benefits for North American wine drinkers.

The Benefits of Crisis

The mood in Athens was buoyant and lively. The streets were packed with people strolling with leisurely purpose in the warm sun. Restaurants spilled outdoors onto sprawling terraces occupying the sidewalks, chairs filled, tables laden with family-style platters of typical Greek foods and glasses filled with wine. Traditional bouzouki players plucked their instruments, wandering like minstrels through the crowds. There was no particular holiday or festival happening, just weekend business as usual in the nation’s capital.

What’s perhaps surprising is that this is not the retelling of a scene played out years ago, before the current financial wobbles that have plagued the Greek economy since about 2009, or the well-publicized austerity measures that were first introduced in 2010. This is the scene I observed, unexpectedly, just last month on my latest visit to the country. Had I just crawled out of a cave where I’d spent the last half dozen years and landed directly in Athens, I might have believed that Greece was booming, as though they’d just discovered a whole chain of marble mountains ready to be carved into expensive kitchen countertops and sold around the world. It’s of course not the case. But when it comes to eating and drinking, spending time with friends and just celebrating another day, the plucky Greeks seem impervious to doom-and-gloom headlines.

Busy Monastiraki neighborhood under the Acropolis, Athens-5358

Busy Monastiraki neighborhood under the Acropolis, Athens

I suppose this philosophical outlook is born of the understanding that things will eventually improve, as they have after every other crisis that has befallen Greece over the last few thousand years. However the party-like atmosphere does obscure the reality that high-end restaurants and premium wines are struggling. Unemployment, increased taxation, and capital controls, such as restricted daily bank withdrawals, mean less money in Greek pockets. And while nothing will stop them from taking to the streets for a good time, the average spend is down. That wine filling all those glasses? You can be sure it’s not the country’s finest; although a reported 98% of all wine consumed in Greece is of Greek origin, it’s not the top stuff. Strong tourism may keep the economy of hospitality rolling for some time, but can only take it so far.

But the Greek debt crisis has had an unexpected silver lining for wine consumers around the world. The faltering domestic market has forced Greece’s top producers to look outside the country, and focus more effort on export markets, much like Argentinian producers had to do when the peso was de-pegged from the dollar after the turn of the century. “Greek winemakers have started being more extrovert, and most importantly, have started working together. All these new developments are paving the way to [export] success”, writes Stellios Boutari of Kir-Yianni Winery in Naoussa.

And timing, strangely enough, couldn’t have been better. Had the crisis occurred a decade earlier, most attempts to break into foreign markets would have been ahead of their time, the wines totally foreign, the grapes unknown, the flavours too far from the mainstream. But as most overnight successes are years in the making, so too had the groundwork for export success, especially into North America, been laid.

Century-old xinomavro at Alpha Estate, Amyndeon, Macedonia-5290

Century-old xinomavro at Alpha Estate, Amyndeon, Macedonia

The organization formerly known as The New Wines of Greece has, for over a decade now, been educating North American trade and media through countless tastings, workshops, winery roadshows and in-country visits. Utterly foreign, formerly unpronounceable grapes like moschophilero [moss-koh-FEE-le-roh], assyrtiko [ah-SEER-tee-koh], agiorgitiko [ay-your-YEE-tee-koh] and xinomavro [k-see-NO-ma-vroh] have become, well, a little less unpronounceable and certainly more familiar in flavor. They turn up regularly on restaurant wine lists and in recommendations in the press. What must have surely looked like a herculean task in the early 2000s has paid dividends. In recognition of this, the trade organization recently dropped the “New”. Now they are simply “Wines of Greece”, back to being ancient and respected.

Exports to North America have risen sharply. According to data released by EDOAO, the national inter-professional organization of vine and wine, Greek wine exports to the United States and Canada in the last five years have increased by 39% and 55%, respectively. [Source: Greek USA Reporter, Ioanna Zikakou]

Old basket vines at Argyros Estate, Santorini-5408

Old basket vines at Argyros Estate, Santorini

These figures are expected to rise even higher in 2016. “We export 60% of our products abroad. “The demand is so great”, said enologist Erifyli Parparoussis in the northern Peloponnese. The growth of the wine industry has been one of the most positive stories to emerge from Greece since the national soccer team won the European Cup in 2004, which seemed only slightly more unlikely. “There are now few North American sommeliers who do not know about Greek wines and who do not include at least one label on their list. Their popularity has surpassed all expectations”, says Sofia Perpera, director of the Greek Wine Bureau in North America, who, along with partner George Athanas, has worked tirelessly over the last dozen years and has been instrumental in raising the international awareness of Greek wines.

Canada, and especially Ontario and Québec, have been particularly receptive markets, with sales showing impressive gains over the last half decade. “Greek wines have shown strong growth”, confirms LCBO Media Relations Coordinator Genevieve Tomney. Sales at LCBO and VINTAGES combined are up over 20% since 2012-2013, increasing from 3.4m to 4.1m in 2015-2016.

Part of the increase in Ontario can be attributed to the launch of the LCBO “Destination Greece – Products of the World” specialty store in Toronto’s Greektown on Danforth Ave. The program is designed to offer the broadest selection available from a given country, drawing not only on regular LCBO and VINTAGES listings, but also wines from the consignment program, previously only available directly from the importing agent and sold by the case. Greece was the first Products of the World specialty store, officially opened a year ago in August 2015. “We’ve seen sales of Greek products at that store increase by 140 per cent over last year”, continues Tomney.

Winemaker Angelos Iatridis of Alpha Estate in Northern Greece-5276

Winemaker Angelos Iatridis of Alpha Estate in Northern Greece

Steve Kriaris of the Kolonaki Group, the largest importer of Greek wines and spirits in the province, has also seen significant benefits: “The Greek specialty store has been a blessing for us. It has helped our consignment volume go through the roof. We are finally able to expose far more consumers to premium Greek wines and spirits. We’re now selling great quantities of bottles in the $30 to $50+ range, wines that previously were only available by the full case. And this is only the beginning. I expect total sales volume to double in the next 10 years”, he says enthusiastically.

The Products of the World program was the initiative of former VP, now President of the LCBO, Dr. George Soleas. Soleas was recently honoured with the 2016 Greek Wine Industry Award in Athens in March, an award given to individuals who have made a significant contribution to the Greek wine industry. “As a Canadian of Greek-Cypriot origin, I have always believed in the potential of Greek wines to measure among the best on the world stage. And now they do,” said Soleas in a subsequent press release. “The Greek wine industry has evolved significantly over the past 25-years and I could not be prouder of all it has accomplished.”

So what’s all the fuss about? It’s clearly not just marketing savvy and “fam trips” for sommeliers. To gain long-term traction in the market, wine quality must also match expectations. And to a large degree, it does. One of the main strengths is the wealth of indigenous grapes – some three hundred or so – which over centuries have survived a Darwinian selection process. These are the varieties that proved adaptable to radically diverse growing conditions across the country, yielding naturally balanced wines that require little adjustment in the winery. And unique flavours and minimally processed wines happen to match the current zeitgeist – this is precisely what many wine drinkers are seeking.

Mountains of Achaia, Northern Peloponnese, source of excellent Roditis-5368

Mountains of Achaia, Northern Peloponnese, source of excellent Roditis

Earlier this month the WineAlign crü sat down to taste a couple dozen currently available wines sent by Wines of Greece. Here are our favorites; whether you’re already familiar with Greek wines and would like to explore further, or you’ve yet to experience Greece in your glass, this is a great list to get you going. There’s really never been a better time to drink Greek wine.

Greek Wine Buyers’ Guide: White

Greek Wine Cellars 2015 ‘Apelia’ Moschofilero 2015 (1000ml – $10.60)

David Lawrason – Can’t think of a better summertime value. It’s a bit light and short, but clean as a whistle, refreshing and almost biting, with pretty lemon blossom, vaguely minty green notes and a touch of resin. Move over pinot grigio.

Skouras 2014 Moschofilero, PGI Peloponnese ($15.25)

John Szabo – Moschophilero is a lovely, fresh, intensely aromatic white variety, and this is a great example. It’s just beginning to shift into wildflower honey aromatics, alongside a bowl-full of fresh tropical fruit, nectarine, mango, honeydew melon and more. Acids are bright and crisp, alcohol a refreshingly moderate 12% declared, and the length is certainly impressive in the price category. Infinitely sippable.

Apelia Moschofilero 2015Skouras Moschofilero 2014 Troupis Fteri Moschofilero 2015

Troupis 2015 Fteri Moschofilero, Arcadia IGP, Peloponnese ($15.60)

David Lawrason – Good value here in a very clean white with subtle floral notes plus fennel, lemongrass and some yellow fruit. It’s light bodied, slightly spritzed and very refreshing. Need a break from sauvignon blanc?

Troupis 2015 Mantinia Moschofilero, PDO Mantinia ($16.95)

Michael Godel – Mantinia is a special place for moschofilero and this ripping example from Troupis should not be missed. At this price ($17), the value quotient is simply crazy good bordering on ridiculous. Whole grilled Branzino or Porgies with lemon and olive oil would make for a perfect foil.
Sara d’Amato – A zesty, dynamic and very pretty moschofilero from the cool growing region of Mantinia located in the high Arcadian plateau in the Peloponnese.  Characteristically aromatic with exotic fruit spice, dry and with racy acidity, the wine is undeniably refreshing. Given the price, I would stock up on this go-to summer white before word gets out.

Troupis Mantinia Moschofilero 2015 Santo Assyrtiko 2015 Argyros Santorini Assyrtiko 2015

Santo 2015 Santorini Assyrtiko, Santorini ($14.95)

John Szabo – Move quickly to buy this if you’re a fan of structured, powerful whites – this price can’t be sustained. The cost of grapes on the island of Santorini have more or less tripled in the last year, demand is up sharply, and supplies are scarce. The Santo cooperative is the largest producer on the island, producing about half of the appellation’s output from some 300 member-growers, but even still this wine must be at or even below cost, thanks to stern LCBO pricing negotiations to get this on to the general list. But it’s not just that – the wine is excellent, too, a typically subtle assyrtiko, more stony than fruity, with crackling acids – it needs another year in bottle at least to show its best.  You’re getting a lot of wine here for $15 to be sure. Decant if serving now; will also age into the early ‘20s.
David Lawrason – This is a medium weight, fleshy, bright assyrtiko with intriguing complexity. Immediately refreshing but more than that, with aromas of guava, lemon peel, white pepper and candle wax.
Michael Godel – Assyrtiko in 2015 from Santo just seems to evoke and spew a slow lava flow of a narrative, to tell a story that is pure Santorini. At $15 this is a steal. Neither price nor any sort of quantity in hand will last very long.

Argyros 2015 Santorini Assyrtiko, PDO Santorini ($22.95)

John Szabo – Argyros Estate draws on a marvellous collection of old vines to produce this bottling, although in this case, the vines are ‘only’ about fifty years old. It’s an archetype for the island, saline, firm, powerful, still tightly wound. It’ll be spectacular in a year or two. 
Michael Godel – This essential Argyros always offers the pleasure to bathe in its saline, sunlit waters and drink of its energy. Never failing Assyrtiko. Can you not imagine the stone crag, the whitewashed mineral cliff, the late afternoon sunshine gazing into the shimmering Aegean from an Oia perch?

Greek Wine Buyers’ Guide: Red

Idaia Winery 2010 Kotsifali/Mandilaria, Crete ($14.75)

John Szabo – Kotsifali and mandilaria are Crete’s two star red varieties, often sensibly blended. The former adds colour, flesh and fruit, the latter acids, tannins and savoury flavour. Idaia makes a pleasantly rustic, dusty-earthy, version, a little firm and tight, but balanced and food friendly. Best served at the table with some grilled meat or other salty, umami-rich foods; a tidy value overall.
David Lawrason – Great value here! Better structure and complexity than expected. It’s fairly elegant yet dense with a nose of very ripe blackcurrant/blackberry jam, vanillin, brambly notes and some earthiness. And there is a lead pencil character mindful of Bordeaux.

Alpha Estate Turtles Vineyard Syrah, PGI Florina, Macedonia ($21.95)

Michael Godel – The area of Petron Lake at Alpha Estate was an ancient nesting place for the local species of Chelonii on the Amyndeon plateau in northwestern Greek Macedonia. Some syrah in parts of Australia smell just like this; smoky, meaty, peppery and just plain strong. That it comes from Greece shakes the foundations of thought and adds Amyndeon into the syrah front page discussion.

Idaia Kotsifali Mandilari 2010 Alpha Estate Turtles Vineyard Syrah 2011 Alpha Estate Axia Red Blend 2012

Alpha Estate 2012 Axia Red Blend, PGI Florina, Macedonia ($17.95)

John Szabo – This is a stylish, succulent, fine-grained syrah-xinomavro blend, elegant and inviting. I love the mix of violets (syrah) and sundried tomatoes and olives (xinomavro – northern Greece’s finest red variety, reminiscent of nebbiolo), and the kirsch fruit and fresh black berry. Tannins are light but firm, bolstered by lively acids. Lovely stuff.
David Lawrason – I like that both the syrah 50% syrah and 50% xinomavro, step up to offer their strengths. Ripe cherry and smoked meat character of syrah dominate the nose; xinomavro kicks in just enough acidity to maintain ballast and some freshness. A quite rich and warming red, with fine tannin.

Domaine Glinavos 2007 Dryades, PGI Epirus ($22.95)

John Szabo – Well, here’s an intriguingly spicy and complex red blend from a regional leader, including the rare indigenous Vlahiko and Bekari grapes of northwestern Greece, along with cabernet and merlot. It’s fully mature and savoury, offering an aromatic experience that’s like walking through a North African spice market, with old leather, dry earth, dark spice, and so much more. This is surely not for everyone (even the WineAlign cru was divided) but I find it fascinating. There’s no questioning the amazing range of flavours, even if it’s outside most drinkers’ comfort zone, nor the fine depth and length on the palate. Give this a chance, perhaps with a Moroccan spice lamb tagine or similar.
David Lawrason – This is an impressive, complex, savoury and mature red with old school but well managed leather, sandalwood and spicy aromas and flavours. The fruit is very ripe, almost pruny and there are dried herbs in there as well. It’s medium-full bodied, quite dense but even keeled.  Try it with lamb.

Domaine Glinavos Dryades 2007 Katogi Averoff 2012 Boutari Agiorgitiko 2015

Katogi Averoff 2012, Metsovo ($16.95)

Sara d’Amato – A very traditional and distinctive blend of agioritiko and cabernet sauvignon from the mountainous Metsovo in northern Greece. Crunchy acids and saline with impactful flavour and very little oak influence make for a compelling and expressive red. Be sure to decant well or hold for another 2-3 years.

Boutari 2015 Nemea Agiorgitiko, Peloponnese ($13.10)

John Szabo – This is a fine, friendly, smooth and spicy Greek red, highly versatile at the table with distinctive old world styling. Agiorgitiko provides a nice range of tart and baked red fruit flavours, suave tannins, resinous herbs and Mediterranean scrub, putting this somewhere between the southern Rhône, Chianti and Rioja in style. Enjoy with a light chill.
Sara d’Amato – A super value, everyday table red that is fleshy, appealing and has gusto. Peppery and musky with rich fruit in an easy to appreciate package. There is nothing particularly complex or challenging, which is sometimes just what you want to unwind.


John Szabo MS

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!

Caldera view, Santorini-8215

Caldera view, Santorini

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If I could buy only one – July 23rd, 2016 VINTAGES Release

As part of our VINTAGES recap, we asked our critics this question:

If you could buy only one wine from this release – which one would it be and why?

Here’s what they had to say. You can find their complete reviews, scores and store inventory by clicking the highlighted wine name or bottle image below.

David Lawrason – My highest scoring wine of the release is the gorgeous Flowers 2014 Chardonnay combining depth and finesse. It shows classic and complex aromas of pear, almond, gentle toast, vanilla, lemon custard and spice. My score may raise eyebrows and expectations, but that rating is based above all on its impeccable detailing and balance – not some onrush of power. I have always been a chardonnay fan but will not spend on cheaper versions that don’t rise to this grape’s potential. This is expensive but I would buy it, so it’s a good thing I am only allowed to buy one wine.

Flowers Chardonnay 2014


Sara d’Amato – A rosé that feels effortlessly beautiful – Hecht & Bannier Bandol Rosé 2015 – a French stereotype. I was swept away by this beauty before I had left for the heart of Provence. I find it genuine with a natural feel, subtle yet unrestrained. There is colour here, but not too much, and a fluidity on the palate that will bring calm to your summer nights.

Hecht & Bannier Bandol Rosé 2015


And, you might need to buy two bottles of this wine!

John Szabo – It’s perhaps a little more expensive than the typical house pour (I guess it depends on the house), but there are several reasons to stock up on the William Fèvre 2014 Champs Royaux Chablis. For one, 2014 is an absolute cracker of a vintage in Chablis, for many producers the best in recent memory, and Fèvre has found another gear for the generally excellent entry level bottling. It has an extra measure of depth and especially stony-mineral character, and I love the sharp acids and the perfectly chiseled citrus/apple fruit, as well as the very fine length. If you love classic Chablis, this is it. And secondly, considering that the region has lost over two-thirds of the 2016 harvest to dramatically bad weather (so far; the seasons is only half over), prices will inevitably rise, so stock up while you can. This will also handily age until the early twenties, so there’s no rush to drink, although it is delicious now to be sure.

Michael Godel – Having just returned from a week in Chablis and now spending four days in Niagara at #i4c16, the Burgundian outpost and chardonnay are front and centre and in my thoughts. It’s been a catastrophic spring there; hail, snow, rain, hail, frost and mildew. Fèvre’s winemaker Didier Seguier makes many great wines and his entry-level Champs Royaux is the perfect lead into the estate’s oeuvre and the crux of Chablis. It is a generalized but oh too important expression from kimmeridgian soil, hedged and qualified from all over the area’s hills, valleys and les clos. It is textbook Chablis, a guarantee of quality, especially out of the cracker 2014 vintage. Lets give Chablis some love.

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2014

From VINTAGES July 23rd, 2016

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES
John Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Lawrason’s Take
All July 23rd Reviews

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – July 23, 2016

Chile’s Cool New Limari Valley is Making Waves
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

There are two wines from Chile’s Limari Valley hitting the shelves this week at Vintages, and both come highly recommended as great values by our WineAlign team, (see below). Co-incidentally, WineAlign hosted a winemaker dinner this week featuring Tabali, yet another winery from Limari.  Three wineries in one week from the same small, relatively unknown region may not constitute a tsunami, but there is obviously a wave of interest in this more northerly region.

As emcee of the WineAlign dinner, which was co-hosted by Hobbs & Co at The Shore Club in downtown Toronto, I spent much of the evening with Tabali CEO and Chief Winemaker Felipe Muller, whose excitement over Limari was palpable. He called it “Chile’s most unique region” and said it is attracting attention from winemakers all over Chile.  Indeed, one of the wines in Saturday’s release is Santa Rita 2014 Syrah, from a giant winery based in Maipo to the south.  And Concha Y Toro, Chile’s largest winery, was quick to open a winery called Maycas de Limari as well, in the early 2000s.  Tamaya (below) is yet another strong presence in Limari.

Chilean Wine Map

Click for larger image

There are two main attractions that create Limari’s terroir. One is the abundance of limestone in the soils, a rare occurrence in Chile. Throughout the valley the limestone is rather scattered amid clay, sand and gravels, but in one area especially there is a very high concentration. This is in Tabali’s Talinay vineyard, which lies only 12 kms from the ocean.  The Tabali Talinay Pinot Noir 2013 released back in June (and still available in limited quantities) is particularly fine and firm, quite different from most Chilean pinots that tend to be a bit jammy.

The proximity of the Pacific with its cold Humboldt current running off-shore is the second piece of puzzle. The way the valley opens gently and broadly to the sea allows the “Camanchaca” fog to blanket the area each morning, and directs cooling breezes inland during the afternoon.  So despite lying at a “warm” latitude 400 kms north of Santiago Limari is one of the coolest, and latest harvested regions of Chile.

The resulting wines have a certain lightness, elegance and freshness, which was on display throughout The Shore Club‘s menu. And in fact, their structure proved to be ideal at the table. They kept palates alive and stood their ground with the bold flavours by chef Angel Sevilla .  The Tabali 2015 Especial Sauvignon Blanc was solid with a very piquant gazpacho.  The subtle, complex Tabali Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2013, released on July 9 was a terrific foil to a ceviche, with bright acidity standing up the citrus and its sweeter fruit bringing calm at the same time.

(Those attending the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C) in Niagara this weekend will get to try this chardonnay).

The main course featured two terrific Tabali reds. The delicious, almost sold out 2012 Reserva Especial Syrah was perfect with grilled Canadian prime ribeye steak, while a brand new, first vintage 2013 Reserva Especial Cabernet Franc, proved the hit of the night with the roast chicken.  The Cabernet Franc is a small production wine that will likely never see release at the LCBO but can be private ordered through Hobbs & Co.

As an added treat we were served the debut bottling of a terrific 2013 Syrah from the Talinay Vineyard. It had great bones and density yet a wonderful sense of restraint and purity.  Alas we may not see this for awhile as only 100 cases were made in this first vintage.

And now onward to wines you can get, as John, Michael and I present our picks from the July 23 release. In case you missed it, John’s preview last week included his faves among the Spanish and sauvignon blanc features.  Sara is off for the next six weeks on her annual family excursion to the south of France – doubtless drinking Tavel on a riverbank somewhere.

Buyers’ Guide to July 23rd release:

White Wines

Pala I Fiori Vermentino Di Sardegna 2015William Fèvre 2014 Champs Royaux, Chablis, Burgundy ($24.95)
Michael Godel – The Champs Royaux is Chablis drawn from a selection of Fèvre’s better grower contracts. It takes all the hills, valleys, les clos and slope/aspect dimensions into account. It is textbook Chablis, a guarantee of quality, especially out of the cracker 2014 vintage
John Szabo –2014 is a terrific vintage for the generally excellent entry level Chablis from Fèvre, with an extra measure of depth and especially stony-mineral character. I love the sharp acids and the perfectly chiseled citrus/apple fruit, as well as the very fine length. And considering that Chablis has lost over two-thirds of the 2016 harvest to dramatically bad weather (so far), and prices are sure to rise, I’ll be stocking up on the excellent ‘14s.
David Lawrason – I like it too! Better than I remember from previous outings.

Pala 2015 I Fiori Vermentino Di Sardegna, Sardinia, Italy ($14.95)
John Szabo –
A lovely wine that would make for a great house pour this summer. It’s dry, crisp and unoaked, pleasantly fruity and saline, smoky and lightly herbal, with exceptional length and complexity in the price category.
David Lawrason – Great value here! Vermentino is an important white grape of the Mediterranean, creating refreshing higher acid wines. This is a mid-weight, refreshing example with lifted aromas of lemongrass and star anise. It has a bit more weight and richness than I expected but remains elegant and refreshing.

Anselmi Capitel Croce 2014Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012Redstone 2012 Riesling Limestone Vineyard South, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara ($19.20)
David Lawrason – Moray Tawse bought the large Limestone Ridge vineyard not long ago, and has been turning out taut, mineral rieslings. The north or lower part of the site goes into his Tawse line-up, the south or higher section is directed to his Redstone Winery label. This is a lovely, clean, medium sweet version with classic peach, lemon, honey and petrol aromas and flavours.

Anselmi 2014 Capitel Croce, IGT Veneto, Italy ($26.95)
John Szabo – This is serious wine, pure garganega from the heart of Soave Classico (though Anselmi voluntarily labels as IGT Veneto). It’s full, rich and concentrated, but perfectly balanced, with strikingly intense minerality and excellent length. I love the ride of sweet herbs, orchard fruit, and exotic tropical fruit, which loops back again to apple and citrus on the acidulated finish. Fermentation/ageing in barrel goes mostly unnoticed, save for the texture enhancement. So very classy, and ageworthy, too.

Sutherland 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Elgin, South Africa ($14.95)
Michael Godel – From Thomas Webb’s Elgin outpost, the Sutherland is a pungent, insistently perfumed cooler clime sauvignon blanc with more texture than its Thelema ’14 cousin. Shows classic Elgin cool savour running linear like a beam through the joist of structure.

Flowers 2014 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($68.95)
David Lawrason – My highest scoring wine of the release is a gorgeous chardonnay combining power and finesse. It shows classic and complex aromas of pear, almond, gentle toast, vanilla/lemon custard and spice. Pricy but impeccable.

Roger & Didier Raimbault, Sancerre 2014, Loire Valley ($26.95)
Michael Godel – Sancerre laid out with clear instruction in precisely what sauvignon blanc needs for it to impress from the Loire. Essential sauvignon blanc with poise, precision and mandatory feel. This is tres fort fricative stuff.

Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2014Flowers Chardonnay 2014Roger & Didier Raimbault Sancerre 2014

Red Wines

Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2012, Limarí Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is a wonderful value in rich New World syrah. The nose is ripe and rich with black cherry/plum, licorice, smoked meat, cedar bough, white pepper and generous oak. It’s full bodied, fairly dense, soft and streamlined, with soft tannin.
Michael Godel – From the northerly clime of the Limari this is seductively floral syrah with an edge of peppery spice. Cue the value jingle.

Tamaya 2014 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Limarí Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This sports a lovely nose of blackcurrant jam, cedar bough, vanillin and some earthiness. It’s medium-full bodied, fairly dense, balanced and complete. Very good cab value.

Creation 2014 Pinot Noir, Walker Bay, Walker Bay, South Africa ($26.95)
John Szabo –
Swiss winemaker Jean-Claude and South African partner Carolyn found a terrific spot for Pinot noir in the southern hemisphere, in the upper reaches of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in the southern Cape. The cooler climate and house style favour balance and finesse over power, as displayed in this silky and suave, refined example, showing the hand of even-keeled, confident winemaking. I like the saliva-inducing, saline finish and impressive length and depth. Best 2016-2022.

D’Arenberg 2013 D’arry’s Original Shiraz/Grenache, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This has long been one the great values from McLaren Vale, a blend with considerable complexity, richness yet decent balance at the same time. It pours quite deep black purple. The nose is nicely lifted with florals, ripe black cherry, mocha, pepper and a touch of menthol. Some graphite on the finish as well. Very good to excellent length. Tasted July 2016

Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2012Tamaya Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Creation Pinot Noir 2014D'arenberg D'arry's Original Shiraz:Grenache 2013

Kir-Yianni 2012 Kitma Yianakohori Hills, Imathia, Macedonia, Greece ($19.95)
John Szabo – New to Greek wines? Here’s a fine intro, a pleasantly ripe and generously proportioned blend of half xinomavro with merlot and syrah, with the firm tannic structure of the former lending framework to merlot’s plummy fruit and syrah’s spice. Length and depth are really quite exceptional at the price, as is the over all complexity. Best 2016-2022.

Menguante 2012 Selección Garnacha, Cariñena ($16.95)
Michael Godel – Jose Pablo Casao make full use of oak for this smooth Cariñena operator. It is one of the region’s most accomplished examples of garnacha. His colleague and peer (winemaker) Jorge Navascues Haba told me, “if you come to to experience garnacha, this wine will allow you to discover the wonders of American oak.”

Corte Giara 2013 Ripasso Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Lovely venetian red from Allegrini that accomplishes Ripasso intimacy by doing so at a mimetic remove. Lingers like a perfect pastille.

Querciabella 2013 Chianti Classico, Docg Tuscany ($38.95)
Michael Godel – Remarkable sangiovese steeped in tradition and history meets varietal significance, but it’s a new oration., A brilliant “normale” without the new slang of Gran Selezione but in many respects it may as well be.
David Lawrason – This is a very fine, nervy and intense Chianti, if a bit pricy.

Kir Yianni Kitma Yianakohori Hills 2012Menguante Selección Garnacha 2012Corte Giara Ripasso Valpolicella 2013Querciabella Chianti Classico 2013

And that’s it for this week. As the heat of summer settles in like a wet blanket, we urge you take it easy, drink crisp wine and lots of water. We will be back next week with Australian and other picks from the August 6 release, and stay tuned next week as well as we announce the winners from the National Wine Awards of Canada.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES July 23rd, 2016

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
All July 23rd 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!

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Top Values at the LCBO (July 2016)

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

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

It is mid-summer and so it’s a quiet time at LCBO for activities like delists and promotions but new wines have still been arriving and I have been busy tasting them as well as sampling some new vintages of existing listings.

As a consequence I am pleased to tell you that it is another exciting month for my Top 50 Best Values with six wines joining the list since I last wrote to you.

I also write about another wine that is brand new to the LCBO. It is great when a wine is added to the system and, without any discounts,  jumps straight onto the list. Congrats again to the smart buyers at the LCBO.

These are the usual reasons for wines joining the Top 50 Best Values list. There are also another five wines on the list that all have lots of Bonus AirMiles (BAMs) for the next 4 weeks, making them a little more attractive.

Steve’s Top Values are best buys among the 1600 or so wines in LCBO Wines and the Vintages Essentials Collection which I select 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 discount period runs until August 14th.  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!


Tini Sangiovese 2014, Romagna, Italy ($7.75) – This is a drinkable soft clean Italian red for pizza, pasta and risotto. It is dry and fruity with enough tannin and acidity for balance and very decent length considering the price. The finish is a little lean and a bit tart, but for the money, not bad.

Running With Bulls Tempranillo 2013, Wrattonbully, South Australia ($10.95 was $11.95) Delisted – This is a full-bodied powerful fruity red with smoke and spice from oak and some herbal tones and a dash of raspberry jam. The palate is juicy and fully flavoured with a long fruity finish. Very good length. Drink cautiously before running with bulls. Over 800 bottles remain.

Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($12.05) – A very juicy full bodied red with an appealing nose and lots of fruit that is balanced by soft tannin and soft acidity. Good focus and very good length. Try with lamb kebabs.

Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($12.95 + 8 BAMs) – This is a pure fresh elegant wine with complexity and structure that usually costs a lot more. It has a youthful nose and very even palate which is finely balanced with excellent length. Enjoy with fine cuisine.

Tini Sangiovese 2014Running With Bulls Tempranillo 2013Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2014

KWV Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Western Cape South Africa ($13.45 was $15.95) – This cabernet shows classic Cape minerality which lightens the palate and nose giving the impression of freshness. It is full bodied with excellent length. Try with a steak.

Argento Reserva Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina ($13.95) – This is a big powerfully flavoured malbec with a freshness and elegance to nose and palate. It is very smooth, well balanced with a fruity dry finish. Try with a juicy duck breast.

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2014, Western Cape, South Africa ($14.10 + 8 BAMs) – This is deeply coloured red blend that is medium to full bodied with firm tannin which gives a nice edge to the finish. Very good to excellent length. Best 2015 to 2019. Try with grilled red meats.

Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage 2011, Douro Superior, Portugal ($18.10) – A rich powerful port with fresh sweet black berry fruit aromas with vanilla and floral notes. It is full bodied very rich with the 20% alcohol finely balanced by soft acidity. Try with hard mature cheese and dark chocolate.

Kwv Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Argento Reserva Malbec 2014The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2014Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage 2011


Cavallina Grillo Pinot Grigio 2015, Sicily, Italy ($8.20) Grillo is one of my favourite Sicilian native grapes which, when blended here with pinot grigio, delivers a deeply flavoured well balanced white at a great price. It is fairly simple but well balanced with very good length. Don’t overchill and try with sautéed seafood.

Domaine Jean Bousquet White Blend 2015, Argentina ($12.00) – This is a very rich smooth white blend that is probably mostly chardonnay maybe with a splash of viognier. It is midweight and deeply flavoured with very good length. Try with roast white meats like pork or veal or rich mature cheddar cheese.

Goats do Roam White 2015, Coastal Region, South Africa ($12.00) – The aromatic Goats white is a blend of three Rhone whites grapes and  is quite classy smooth and flavourful considering its price.  Enjoy as an aperitif with pastry nibbles or try with roast poultry.

Domaine Chatelain Les Vignes De Saint Laurent L’Abbaye Pouilly Fumé 2015, Loire Valley, France ($20.30) – This is a very classy dry white that is crisp and elegant with a mineral core to nose and palate which is so typical of Pouilly-Fumé. It is 100% sauvignon blanc. Minerally rich and very elegant. Try with sauteed seafood.

Cavallina Grillo Pinot Grigio 2015Domaine Jean Bousquet White Blend 2015Goats Do Roam White 2015Domaine Chatelain Les Vignes De Saint Laurent L'abbaye Pouilly Fumé 2015

How does a wine get selected for the Top Value Report:

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 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

Steve's Top Value WinesIn addition to the wines mentioned above, there are another 38 wines on the Top 50 list this month. So if you did not find all you need in this report, dip into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

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

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

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


Steve Thurlow

Top 50 Value Wines
Wines on Limited Time Offer
Wines with Bonus Air Miles

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!


Wine Country Ontario

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – July 23, 2016

Spanish Cante Jondo, and the non-linear price-quality relationship of sauvignon blanc
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In flamenco music there’s a style known as cante jondo (aspirate that ‘j’), which means literally “deep song”. It’s said to be the purest form of flamenco, unchanged over centuries (watch this short clip). On a parallel plane, this week’s report takes us deep into Spanish wine, exploring the country’s wealth of ancient vines, handed down to us by generations of growers, and less well-travelled regions, seemingly untouched for centuries. This is Spanish wine in its purest form. I’ve highlighted my top picks from the Spanish-themed VINTAGES July 23rd release, as well as some excellent wines from a new Spanish specialist in Ontario, Cosecha Imports. These are some of the most exciting Spanish wines to reach our market in the last decade, available by private order, but well worth the effort.

I also have a look at the curious price-quality relationship of sauvignon blanc. It’s a wine that appears to be priced based entirely on origin rather than quality, which means that some inside information is needed to find the best values in this minefield. I pick a quartet of smart buys to illustrate the point. Read on for the details.

Buyer’s Guide: Spanish Cante Jondo

Alejandro Fernandez, the founder of the Grupo Pesquera, is the man largely credited with putting Ribera del Duero on the map, starting in 1972. Tinto Pesquera is still one of the appellation’s top wines. Fernandez added three other bodegas over the years – Condado de Haza (Ribera del Duero), El Vínculo (La Mancha), and Dehesa la Granja (Castilla y Léon) – and it was wine from this last estate that caught my attention in this release, the 2008 Dehesa La Granja, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León ($22.95). The vineyards around Zamora deep in old Castille are not particularly well known for top quality wine, but this is exceptional tempranillo, unabashedly spicy and wood-inflected, exotic and complex, full of cedar and sandalwood scents in the traditional Spanish style. It’s the best Dehesa I can remember tasting, and superb value at that. Beware the heavy sediment; you’ll want to stand this up for a day and decant. Best 2016-2028.

The roots of the Merayo family run deep in the region of Bierzo (northwest Spain), and they have always owned vineyards, and occasionally made wine. But in 2010, a definitive step was taken to establish a commercial winery. On July 23rd you’ll see the 2014 Merayo Las Tres Filas Mencia, DO Bierzo, Spain ($19.95) reach LCBO shelves, a bright, ripe, red and black cherry flavoured red drawing on the wealth of 80+ year-old mencía vines in the family holdings. I like the rustic, deeply honest country styling; tannins are a little rough and tumble, but in time – 2-3 years – this should soften up nicely. Acids provide necessary energy and tension, and the length is excellent. Best 2018-2024.

Alejandro Fernández Dehesa La Granja 2008Merayo Las Tres Filas Mencia 2014 Almansa Laya 2014

Almansa is hardly a region that flows off the tongue in general wine conversations, even amongst professionals. But this backwater in the country’s deep southeast corner (province of Albacete, Castilla-La Mancha) has plenty to offer, including high elevations to temper heat, ranging from 700m up to 1000m above sea level, and just enough water-conserving limestone in the soils to keep vines alive. The ambitious Gil family, who also bring us excellent values from Jumilla D.O. under Bodegas Juan Gil, are behind Bodegas Atalaya, and the 2014 Laya, DOP Almansa, Spain ($15.95) is another terrific bargain for fans of bold, ripe, oak-influenced wines. A blend of garnacha tintorera and monastrell gives rise to this modern style, full-bodied red, generously endowed with spicy, vanilla-tinged oak flavour, smoky, like well-peated Scotch, and wild resinous herb notes to round out complexity. Best 2016-2022.

Cosecha Imports – Some Producers to Track Down

In May I sat down with Philip George of Cosecha Imports, a new player in the field focusing exclusively on Spanish wines. The company has managed to scoop a handful of “New Spain’s” most exciting producers, exploiting little-known, ancient regions and old vines, and applying post-modern techniques – earlier harvests, old wood, whole bunch indigenous fermentations and a host of other hip practices – that yield, when done correctly, beautifully perfumed and balanced wines, and above all, infinitely drinkable. This is vino jondo.

Rafael PalaciosRafael Palacios is among the portfolio headliners. A scion of the famous Rioja winemaking family, he struck out on his own in 2004, settling on the northern region of Valdeorras in Galicia to make his mark. He works exclusively with the native white godello, making some of Spain’s most exciting white wines today. Bolo (c. $20) is the excellent, stainless steel fermented entry level version; vine age, complexity and ageability are ratcheted up in Louro, which includes a splash of native treixadura and is fermented in old 3000l cask, in my view the best value in the lineup, while the top in the portfolio, As Sortes ($70), made from vines approaching a century old and fermented in demi-muid, is a wine of astonishing depth. These are all worth seeking out.

Commando GCommando G is another cultish producer turning heads around the world. It’s the project of Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia, who selected the remote Sierra de Gredos area about an hour’s drive outside of Madrid as their regional canvas, already painted with garnacha reaching up to 80 years old. Farming is organic/biodynamic in these small parcels, necessarily without machinery, which rise up over 1200m above sea level. If you think garnacha is heavy and alcoholic, you must try these wines, suffused with elegance, freshness and finesse. The prices of the ultra-limited cuvees rise steeply, but I loved the entry point 2014 Bruja de Rozas (c. $30), a vino de pueblo (village blend) of wonderfully silky and spicy garnacha, fresh and mid-weight, very Burgundian in feel.

Other excellent producers to look for in the Cosecha portfolio include Joan D’Anguera in Montsant D.O. and Pardas in the Penedès. It’s so great to see the Spanish wine offering expanding in the province.

On the Curious Relationship between Sauvignon Blanc and Price

The price of sauvignon blanc in LCBO VINTAGES is curiously predictable. It seems to be based on origins, rather than any notion of quality, however slippery that is to define. Chilean and South African sauvignon is invariably in the mid-teens. So too is basic Touraine or Bordeaux, while Aussie sauv seems able to fetch a dollar or two more. New Zealand hovers around $18, occasionally just over $20, alongside Friulian sauvignon, while Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé will set you back somewhere in the mid-twenties. Napa is in a neighbourhood of its own, in which $40 seems to be the standard point of entry.

Are these prices tied to how delicious the wines are? Hardly. It would be an eye-opening exercise to buy a range of sauvignons from $12 to $40 and taste them together, blind, with origins concealed. The results will surprise you. You’ll find that the cost appears much more directly linked to the wine’s home address than any other aspect of enjoyment. You might then buy 3 or 4 wines from the same region at the same price and repeat the exercise, observing how quality diverges at identical cost.

Now, wine pricing is a complex calculation to be sure. It’s based in part on hard production costs, including real estate and labour, currency exchange, and no small measure of regional and winery brand recognition, with a dash of speculation thrown in. Most regions are constrained to offer their wines in a more or less fixed range of prices, as the cost structure, and market tolerance, is similar for all (minus the individual brand recognition and speculation factor). But for sauvignon blanc, the price range is amazingly consistent, and narrow, from region to region, more so than for any other variety. It’s as though the producers get together to set a standard price for all. Even pinot grigio comes in greater price variation, based to some degree on quality. Why is that? Is it because sauvignon blanc is more a commodity than it is wine? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

In any case, as a buyer, it’s frustrating knowing that a wine fetches a price based on birthright, not merit. But then again, as a smart buyer, I know that when looking for a typical sauvignon blanc experience, I needn’t overpay, either, just for the smart neighbourhood (unless I’m drinking the label). I can get a similar experience in an underprivileged neighbourhood for far less. It’s something to be aware of.

Below is a quartet of sauvignons that can be considered the nicest houses on their respective blocks. You only need choose what neighbourhood you want to live in.

Buyers’ Guide: Sauvignon Blanc

Roger & Didier Raimbault 2014 Sancerre AC, Loire Valley, France ($26.95) A Sancerre archetype: more stony than fruity, more citrus than tropical, more herbal than vegetal. The length, too, is excellent. Textbook. Best 2016-2024.

Domaine de la Commanderie 2014 Quincy AC, Loire Valley, France ($19.95) The so-called Sancerre satellite appellations (i.e. Reuilly, Quincy, Menetou Salon) are usually about 20 percent cheaper than Sancerre, but can offer a similar, lean and brisk profile in the classic Loire style. This is a fine example, a nicely tart, lemony and lightly stony sauvignon, brimming with green herbs and citrus. It’s perfectly satisfying; a classic oyster wine.

Roger & Didier Raimbault Sancerre 2014 Domaine De La Commanderie Quincy 2014 Boya Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Boya 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley, Chile ($15.95) Chile just may offer the best value sauvignon on the planet, especially if you prefer the pungent and smoky, vegetal/green pepper/pyrazine-driven style. Cool coastal regions like the Leyda do it best, and the Garcés Silva family (of Amayna) do it as well as anyone. Boya is the fine ‘entry range’, and this youthful 2015 offers great acids and a nicely acidulated, citrus fruit finish. There’s a lot of energy and life in this bottle for the price.

Sutherland 2014 Sauvignon Blanc WO Elgin, South Africa ($14.95) South Africa also vies for a spot at the top of the southern hemisphere sauvignon heap of value, again drawing from cooler areas, like southerly Elgin, to produce pungent gently smoky and green pepper-inflected wines. Sutherland is well-established Thelema Mountain Vineyards’ newish project in Elgin, and this 2014 is a compelling, if slightly unusual sauvignon. Fruit shifts into the orchard spectrum, like nectarine and green peach, while the palate is quite broad and deeply flavoured, with earthy-medicinal character alongside the ripe-tart fruit and smoky-leesy character. It’s a wine of strong personality. 

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


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All July 9th Reviews

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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If I could buy only one – July 9th, 2016 Release

As part of our VINTAGES recap, we asked our critics this question:

If you could buy only one wine from this release – which one would it be and why?

Here’s what they had to say. You can find their complete reviews, scores and store inventory by clicking the highlighted wine name or bottle image below.


John Szabo – At this time of year I find myself searching the cellar for light summer reds, the kind you can chill and sip alongside just about everything, both refreshing and satisfying. These wines disappear more quickly than any others, and I’m always short. So this release I’ll be buying a few bottles of the Hubert Brochard 2014 Les Carisannes Pinot Noir, a wine that fits the bill perfectly. From a small, 5-hectares family estate just outside the Sancerre appellation yet still on prized-flinty-limestone soils, it’s an absolutely delicious, highly drinkable Loire pinot, with lovely, light, high-toned aromatics, all fresh-tart red berries, strawberry-raspberry, and some attractive leafy flavours. Don’t forget to serve lightly chilled.

Hubert Brochard Les Carisannes Pinot Noir 2014


Michael Godel – In a word, Riesling. Charles Baker is one of the torch bearing varietal leaders in Ontario and it is his Ivan Vineyard 2015 that you can approach with regularity beginning this summer. From rich limestone and sandstone beneath clay, the 1.1 acre (also known as) Misek vineyard sits on a southerly ledge up from Highway 8 and an easterly hill down from Cherry Avenue. In 2015 Ivan delivers the labour of ripe, concentrated fruit, by lower yield, alcohol and spine. I can think of 100 reasons to drink this repeatedly now and over the next three years while the more structured Ivans (and Picone Vineyard) ’13 and ’14’s continue to mature. Three good reasons would be breakfast, lunch and dinner, from scones, through croques and into fresh, piquant and herbed shrimp rolls.

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2015


Sara d’Amato – If you’re unfamiliar with müller-thurgau, start with one of the best from a historic property that specializes in this varietal grown on precipitous, high-elevation slopes. In the Abbazia di Novella 2014 Müller-Thurgau the grape achieves a unique expression in this terroir whereas elsewhere in the world it can be quite bland. The fruit in this example is lush and aromatic and the palate is crunchy with sea salt and lemon giving the palate pep and refreshment. This may just be the perfect summer sipper and at under $20 I’m stocking up!

Abbazia di Novacella Müller Thurgau 2014


From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s I4C Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES
All July 9th Reviews

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – July 9th, 2016

Cool French Finds and a Hotbed of Value in Southern Europe
by Sara d’Amato with notes from Michael Godel and John Szabo, MS

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

This week’s VINTAGES release offers a strong selection of Italian whites, coastal South African finds, reasonably priced Californian reds and a serious, albeit small showing from Portugal and Spain. Note that the vast majority of our selections this week are value-focused at under $20.

It is no secret that the best values in Europe are often found in southern regions where the consistently warm climate allows for higher yields at greater levels of ripeness. Conversely, cooler, fringe climates with greater vintage variation can seldom produce inexpensive, consistent wines at low price points. There are other factors however, that significantly affect value and in Europe one of great importance is prestige of region. Certain appellations, take for example Champagne or Bordeaux, have become akin to brands themselves with names that carry weight and cachet that garner elevated prices.

A combination of these factors is at play in many southern European regions throughout Portugal, Spain, Greece and southern Italy. See below for great values discovered in Rioja in this release. Although Rioja is Spain’s iconic, best-known wine region, it does not yet have the status of Burgundy, for example, and thus cannot yet command a similar average price point. This will not be the case forever especially with a savvy new generation of producers focusing on ever more specific regions and sites for the production of indigenous grapes varieties. In addition, John has highlighted below a stunning aglianico from southern Italy’s Basilicata, a known hotbed for value.

Similarly, southern France’s Languedoc and Côtes de Provence afford hot values and there are some notable finds in this release. We also look further north to the Loire Valley, capable of producing some head-turning pinot noir even outside of distinguished appellations. Such a pinot from a unique parcel of land in the IGP Val du Loire has caught our attention this week. A sauvignon blanc discovery in the relatively humble appellation of Touraine is also the source of a top value pick this week. In both cases, their origins, over their quality, dictate their price.

More summer picks are coming to you next week care of John Szabo and David Lawrason. After briefly assembling last week for the National WineAlign awards, the team is off again travelling to unique wine regions across the globe. Both John Szabo and David Lawrason are back in BC, while Michael Godel is entrenched in Chablis. Shortly I will be off to the southern Rhône for an extended stay. Expect new perspectives on emerging and established wine regions to follow.

Stay cool. Santé,

Sara d’Amato

Buyers’ Guide to July 9th release:

You can find complete critic reviews and scores by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images below

Domaine De La Chaise Touraine Sauvignon 2014

Waterkloof Circle Of Life 2012Waterkloof 2012 Circle of Life, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A Stellenbosch super blend of sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and chardonnay that had me at first sniff. Very careful, very slow wild yeast fermentation of grapes that have been farmed using biodynamic practices has resulted in a very natural feeling wine with almost imperceptible oak and glorious fruit expression.
John Szabo – Paul Boutinot, of French extraction but raised in England, set about searching for his ideal terroir. Ten years later, in 1993, he found it in Stellenbosch, on the south-facing slopes of the Schapenberg, overlooking False Bay in the Cape. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve tasted from this beautiful property, including this intensely flavoured, medium-full-bodied blend of sauvignon, chenin, and chardonnay. It delivers significant density and weight, not to mention complexity at the price, with a range of citrus, orchard and tropical fruit. It’s not a summer sipper; there’s too much edginess (light acetic volatility), but that only adds to the character. Reserve for grilled chicken or high intensity fish dishes.

Domaine de la Chaise 2014 Touraine Sauvignon, Loire Valley, France ($14.95)
John Szabo – From the Sologne in the eastern Loire, almost equidistant from Tours and Dijon, this is a terrific bargain for serious sauvignon fans. It’s ripe, composed and complex, blending wet stone with creamy-ripe citrus and orchard fruit, and just a hint of green. Length is very good to excellent in the category.

Abbazia di Novacella 2014 Müller Thurgau, Valle Isarco Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95)
John Szabo – With nearly a thousand years of winemaking history, the Abby of Novacella in the upper Adige Valley consistently produces one of the top müller-thurgau’s in Italy (and therefore the world!). The 2014 is a varietally accurate, floral-fruity example, bursting with fresh apple/cherry blossoms, alongside fleshy white orchard fruit, pears, apples and the like, lingering impressively on the palate. It’s a lovely sipping/summer patio wine, great with, say, shaved fennel and orange salad.
Sara d’Amato – A smart, elegant summer sipper from high altitude sites on the slopes of the southern Alps. Lightly tropical with distinctive floral aromas and mineral character, both food friendly and widely appealing.

Tablas Creek 2013 Côtes de Tablas Blanc, Paso Robles, California, USA $33.95 (36616)
Sara d’Amato – Available in select VINTAGES stores, this In Store Discovery (ISD) is well worth seeking out. This collaborative project between the Perrin Family of the southern Rhône and Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands quickly achieved cult wine status shortly after its inception. The wines are modeled after the blends of Beaucastel and are organically dry-farmed in limestone-based soils very similar to those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The Côtes de Tablas tier falls just below that of the Esprit series and is approachably lush. A blend based on viognier, it is rich and mouthfilling with the wild floral character, peach and honey very typical of this seductive grape varietal.
Michael Godel – Paso Robles esprit of high command designates this ranging Rhone blend into a category singularly held. The white Chateauneuf-du-Pape oeuvre may be the muse but cooler California is the reality and the ideal. Grip, structure and the anti-boozy blend are hallmarks of great Rhone meets Paso Robles whites.

Abbazia Di Novacella Müller Thurgau 2014Tablas Creek Côtes De Tablas Blanc 2013 Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013 Henri Gaillard Rosé 2015

Flat Rock 2013 The Rusty Shed Chardonnay, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Jay Johnston’s handling of the exceptional Twenty Mile Bench fruit in 2013 is a best of effort. He is the benefactor and we will all be benefactors of such a balanced chardonnay. A wine to impress critics and consumers alike. Bravo.

Henri Gaillard 2015 Rosé, Côtes De Provence, France ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – A light and elegant Côtes de Provence with gentle floral aromatics, dry and utterly refreshing. Named after the well-respected negociant Henri Gaillard who was instrumental in the international prominence of the Côtes de Provence appellation.

Cune 2012 Rioja Crianza, Rioja, Spain ($16.95)
John Szabo – Ever-reliable CVNE (Compañia Viñícola del Norte de España) crafts another vibrant, savoury, well-balanced wine here, with exceptional length and depth in the price category. What a delightful wine for the money – all vibrant, tart red berry fruit and spice. Serve lightly chilled. Best 2016-2022.

Olarra Laztana 2010 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – From Bodegas Olarra, the Laztana Reserva exhibits impressive complexity for the price and is produced infrequently in small lots. Showing some graceful maturation in flavour profile although the structure is still solid and the fleshy mouthfeel is highly pleasurable.

Cune Rioja Crianza 2012 Olarra Laztana Reserva 2010 Tessellae Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2014 Señorío De Los Baldíos 2009

Tessellae 2014 Vieilles Vignes Carignan, Côtes Catalanes, France ($17.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a real tour de force for the price, which shows the possible heights of old vines carignan. It offers a lovely meadow of wild mountain herbs and flowers, with smoky-rocky black fruit, generous, dense and full palate, with high but integrated alcohol. At the price, fans of southern Rhône-style wines should leap at this. Best 2016-2024.
Michael Godel – I can’t say this will please every palate but it if you like fresh, affordable and crushable you should raise your hand and be counted. It has patio, dock and lazing in the grass written deeply with intrinsic vernacular. Cheat on your cellar and defend them all right here.

Señorío De Los Baldíos 2009, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A lush and modern tempranillo with bold fruit unencumbered by heavy oak. Wholly satisfying and drinking at peak maturity.

Chapoutier 2014 Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – A re-released favourite, this summery, lighter bodied red with the freshness of grenache and the pep of syrah is offers authentic, regional typicity at a steal of a price.

Hubert Brochard 2014 Les Carisannes Pinot Noir, Val de Loire, France (17.95)
John Szabo – From a small, 5-hectares family estate just outside the Sancerre appellation yet still on prized-flinty-limestone soils, this is an absolutely delicious Loire pinot. It has lovely, light, high-toned aromatics, all fresh-tart red berries, strawberry-raspberry, with some attractive leafy flavours. While concentration is fairly modest, it remains an infinitely drinkable, fresh, wine. If I had a restaurant I’d be pouring this by the glass (and drinking it after my shift). Serve lightly chilled.

M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2014 Hubert Brochard Les Carisannes Pinot Noir 2014 D'angelo Aglianico del Vulture 2012 Cigliano Chianti Classico 2013

D’Angelo 2012 Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata, Italy ($17.95)
John Szabo – Traditionalist D’Angelo delivers a wildly savoury-earthy, pot pourri-inflected aglianico from the slopes of Vulture volcano, full of wild cherry, beef jerky, leather and more. If you’re seeking a fruity wine, this is not it. But fans of rustic, old country wines will revel in this. Best 2016-2022.

Cigliano 2013 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Some slopes is the San Casciano Val di Pesa (like those occupied by Luiano) have the mineral composition to impose upon and gift dramatic foreshadowing to sangiovese. Here for $20 is such a case.

From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s I4C Preview
All July 9th Reviews

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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VINTAGES Essentials: Fertile Ground for Value

Top New Vintages Essentials, July 2016
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The so-called “VINTAGES Essentials” is a collection of some 130-odd wines that is, essentially, a fancy extension of the LCBO’s regular listings. You already know that most of the wines sold in the VINTAGES section are purchased in discreet quantities and released every fortnight – these are the wines that WineAlign spends so much time reporting on, here today, gone tomorrow. When stock runs out, another listing takes its place.

But the Essentials are deemed, well, essential, and thus available on shelves year round, just like all of those familiar brands you see in the ‘regular’ sections of the LCBO. Really, the only difference is that they’re tucked away in the VINTAGES corner of your LCBO in all of its intimidating, wood-paneled glory, basking in the premium halo of the more rare, transient and expensive selections, and deliciously close to those locked glass armoires that harbour the really rare and expensive stuff.

The Essentials program is where the world’s premium wine brands want to be: always available (maximum sales potential, just for being there), yet without the déclassé stigma of being mixed with the hoi polloi on the ‘regular’ shelves, where discount drinkers go to fill their carts with boxed wine, vodka coolers and mickeys of Southern Comfort. Savvy wine companies, and their importing agents, know this, and often take a hit to shave down their pricing so it fits the Essentials matrix – it’s a coveted and therefore highly competitive space. And if you don’t meet minimum sales quotas, you’re booted to free up space for a potentially better-performing wine, ratcheting up the pressure (just as it is for the regular listings). Dropping your price by 10% or even 20% to move from a one-off VINTAGES purchase (with no guarantee of a re-order) into the Essentials category just might make financial sense.

And knowing this, the savvy shopper spots on opportunity: premium wines offered at artificially thin margins. The Essentials are fertile ground for value. But of course not all are killer – it still takes a little effort to sort out the good from the really good. And of course the vintages of these essential listings are constantly changing (that is, the year in which the grapes were grown), which occasions ups and downs in quality and style from year to year.

In June, the LCBO provided an opportunity to taste through the current crop of Essentials. Below are four whites and four reds that came knocking on my door of opportunity. (Be sure to check the vintage on the label – stores are likely to have multiple vintages on the shelves.)


Various factors, including a strong American dollar, high production costs and high cost of living make California an unlikely place to find real value. So it was all the more exciting to see one of my perennial favourites not only excel in the latest vintage, but also come down $3: Sonoma-Cutrer 2014 Russian River Ranches Chardonnay ($24.95). This is easily the classiest California chardonnay in the VINTAGES Essentials program, and the ‘14 is particularly well-balanced, crisp, fresh, minimally oaked, focused more on white-fleshed fruit – pear in particular – and citrus. Length and depth are impressive, and you can drink or hold this into the early ‘20s.

As I’ve recently reported, I believe chardonnay is Ontario’s most reliable and consistent grape, so it’s not surprising to find one on the Essentials list. The price, however, is surprising – surprisingly low, especially considering Ontario’s own elevated production costs and variable climate. I know Malivoire has had to stretch to get their 2013 Chardonnay ($19.95) just under the $20 wire, and it’s a fine value. It’s made in the bright, tight, minimally-oaked style, full of lively apple, pear and citrus fruit, and very light leesy-white chocolate flavours. Acids are sharp and crunchy in the best way, and the finish lingers nicely, making it a widely appealing, food-friendly style.

Sonoma Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay 2014Malivoire Chardonnay 2013 Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2013 Flat Rock Twisted White 2014

Riesling would be my other pick for Ontario flagship white, excelling for value especially in the sub-$20 category. Cave Spring has been at it for over 35 years, helping to establish what has now evolved into the classic regional style, and the essential 2013 Estate Riesling ($17.95) is a benchmark. It features plenty of pear flavour and bright acids on a vibrant, off-dry frame, so very drinkable.

Blended whites is a more challenging category, often the dumping ground for leftover wine it seems, or a pure commercial play. But Flat Rock shows that they can be serious wines, too. The 2014 Twisted White ($16.95) is another fine and fragrant, just off-dry, joyfully aromatic mix of riesling, gewürztraminer and chardonnay, hitting a nice balance between fruit, floral, and ginger spice, and acids and sugar (with c. 17 grams of residual sugar, it’s slightly drier than Apothic red). This should be your go-to wine for those takeout Thai, Vietnamese or Chinese nights.


Spain has shown itself to be a vast source of serious value in the last few years, and Essentials brings us two fantastic wines from the most historic red appellation, Rioja. On the more premium end, the Muga 2012 Reserva Rioja ($23.95) is a regular and consistent favourite. The 2012 is yet another engaging, fragrant, fruity-spicy edition that hits all of the right notes, perfectly pitched, mid-weight, lightly dusty, with vibrant acids and moderate wood influence in the modern style. Best 2016-2024.

Not as complex but a sheer joy to drink at a nice price is the Lan 2011 Crianza, Rioja ($15.95). It’s also on the more modern side, fruity, juicy and easy drinking with minimal wood influence. It would make a fine party/house/back yard BBQ wine.

Muga Reserva 2012 Lan Crianza 2011 E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2012 Zenato Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore 2012

In a similar vein, the E. Guigal 2012 Côtes du Rhône ($16.95) is a regionally faithful example, appealingly dark and savoury. It delivers typical tar-like notes alongside dried flowers, resinous herbs, and liqueur-like red and black berry fruit, matching the textbook description of Southern Rhône red blends. Drink or hold short term, to about 2019.

Valpolicella ripasso is a challenging wine to get right in my view, but Zenato’s 2012 Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore Veneto, Italy ($24.95) is among the more reliable and consistently successful versions available at the LCBO. I like the bright acids, refined tannins and very good length, as well as the Mexican chocolate and cinnamon spice over lightly dried red fruit. It’s made using the classic ripasso method – soaking the skins leftover from Amarone pressings in straight Valpolicella to give it a boost – but the potentially confusing “Ripassa” name was born during the period when the Masi company owned the trademark for “Ripasso”, a term which they have since made available to all. Zenato’s brand, however, was already established, so they kept the name.

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


John Szabo MS

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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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – July 9, 2016

International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration Preview, & Killer, Almost-Chardo Whites
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

It’s July, which means it’s that time again for some of the world’s top chardonnay producers to join their counterparts in Canada for the annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c) in Niagara, July 22-24. Since 2011, over 174 wineries from planet wine have poured their coolest chardonnays in Ontario, and this year, the 6th edition, another 30 visiting vintners will show their wares alongside 30 Ontario oenologues, well over 100 wines altogether, with many extra-curricular options. The program this year is as jam-packed as a winery tasting room on a long summer weekend, full of fun, covertly educational events, including the main event, the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner on Saturday night. See the schedule and get your tickets. I’ll see you there.

The LCBO joins the celebration with an i4c preview for the July 9th VINTAGES release. By design or diplomatic faux pas, the Ontario selections largely outshine the foreign ones, all from the watershed 2013 vintage, arguably the best yet for Ontario chardonnay. Read on for the best of the lot in the release, plus a few others great chardonnays I’ve swallowed lately. And for those of you who love chardonnay, but would enjoy a little dalliance, I’ve got three irresistible whites, which in a dark glass at the end of the night could pass for a delicious chardo, with an exotic twist.

Chardonnay: You Are The One

It’s never the special bottlings or experimental lots that define a wine region, no matter how impressive they are. It’s the baseline and the top end, and everything in between, which proclaim a region’s signature grape status. What’s the most consistent and reliable variety, at all price points, capable of displaying a range of styles yet still regionally recognizable?

By these criteria, Ontario has a clear champion: chardonnay. Riesling, it’s true, performs superbly and dependably well, and easily anchors the best value category. But it hits a glass ceiling of price and, more contentiously, quality. I know of no Ontario riesling that sells over $40, which would be hard to justify in any case in my view, and most are under $20, right where they should be, with notable exceptions.

Chardonnay, on the other hand, while weaker at the bottom end, can nonetheless peak interest under $20, and ramp up all the way to $50-$60+ with plenty of points of interest along the way. And at the ultra-premium end, the top wines handily equal, and often best, similarly priced wines from around the world. It’s rare that a young wine region hit upon a signature variety within the first generation, but with barely forty years of serious commercial winegrowing, Ontario has found a successful vector with chardonnay.

“We focus so much on Chardonnay as we believe it’s the first white grape of Ontario in terms of consistency, quality, and also its expression of terroir”, declares Daniel Speck of Henry of Pelham, one of the original Niagara wineries, echoing the sentiments of many others. You can bet that if I were planting a vineyard in Ontario, there would be a healthy percentage of chardonnay in the mix. As further evidence, last week at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada judging in Penticton, BC, there were no fewer than three flights of chardonnay, the largest group, along with pinot noir, that made it to the final rounds. This clearly shows that the bulk of entries was very strong (including wines from elsewhere in Canada, but many from Ontario) – it was a sheer pleasure to taste through them all. But it was also bloody tough to pick a top wine. (You and I will have to wait a few more weeks to discover the overall top wines.)

NWAC16 Chardonnay_SZ

And The Original

In a move of supreme foresight, or sheer luck, chardonnay was the first vinifera planted in Ontario in the late 1950s by Bill Lenko. The local Horticultural Research Institute had cautioned Lenko that European grapes wouldn’t survive; how fortunate that he defied those warnings. Today, chardonnay is the most important grape by number of varietal bottlings in the province. It’s also the protagonist of Ontario’s biggest and most important event, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, or colloquially “i4c”. Ontario vintners are proud to put their wares on display alongside chardonnays from all of the world’s coolest regions.

Summer School at i4c

So, if you’re still not convinced spend some time over the i4c weekend getting to know the top drops in your backyard. And for the particularly keen, take some summer school courses. I’m chuffed to be back as moderator for the weekend opening “Summer School of Cool” day of seminars on Friday, July 22nd. This year’s three riveting topics are Harvest Timing and Implications – for me the most important decision a winemaker makes every year, which dramatically impacts what’s in the glass. It’s a move you can never take a mulligan on. As the great Chablis producer Bernard Raveneau once told me, “twenty years ago only the most audacious producers had the courage to wait and harvest late. Now, only the courageous harvest early”. It’s a make or break call.

The second seminar explores the age-worthiness of Cool Climate Chardonnay, and the factors that most directly affect it, an FAQ if I ever heard one (plus we’ll be tasting some tidy old vintages – always a treat). And lastly, we’ll get into a deep topic of increasing relevance and bring it out of the winemaking shadows: Skins & Stems: Whole Cluster Winemaking (or Not): Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I know I know, it sounds geeky. But considering the increasing prominence of whites made with skin contact, it will be stimulating to examine chardonnay under this light. And as a first, red wine – in this case pinot noir – has been allowed into the celebration, opening the door to a discussion on the use of stems during vinification. If you’ve ever wondered why this pinot is more deeply coloured and exuberantly fruity, while that one is pale, floral, spicy and earthy, you may want to check this tasting out.

In the meantime, warm up your chardonnay palate with the following excellent examples.

Buyers’ Guide: Cool Chardonnay

Jay Johnson must have been possessed. Or maybe he reached enlightenment, or solved the mystery of the universe. Whatever happened, it conspired to make the Flat Rock 2013 The Rusty Shed Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($24.95) the best yet from this chardonnay-pinot specialist. It hits pitch perfect balance between fruit and wood, acids and alcohol-richness, while offering a fine array of still youthful citrus and pear/apple/orchard fruit. This is a head-turning wine.

Another ‘best yet’ in 2013 comes from Pearl Morissette and the 2013 Cuvée Dix-Neuvième Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($38.20). It’s the most ‘chardonnay-like’ chardonnay to emerge from the Pearl Morissette cellar to date, fermented in assorted, mostly old oak casks, then left unmolested without racking until bottling save for a partial short passage in Georgian clay qvevri which, according to Morissette, snapped the wine back into shape after a period of ‘laziness’. It really excels on the palate – this is all about the texture, unctuous and luscious – and palpable salinity that acts like the fulcrum in tandem with acids to rein in and balance the billowing, lightly oxidative orchard fruit. You’ll get a good ways through War and Peace before the finish dissipates.

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2013 Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2013 Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2014 Tabali Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2013

The Speck boys found a terrific groove in 2013 as well, offering us the conspicuously excellent Henry of Pelham 2013 Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay, VQA Short Hills Bench ($29.95). It’s delightful to see this top tier wine from Henry of Pelham crafted with such restraint and delicacy – I suppose it’s the confidence that comes with 30 years in the business that you can let your old vines and vineyard speak more loudly than your barrel supplier or winemaking savvy. This is a wine of genuine presence and depth.

Also at the top of their game, Hidden Bench’s 2013 Estate Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara ($28.75), is another Niagara classic with every bit the complexity, flavour, savouriness and seamlessly integrated wood of the best. And this is just the ‘entry level’, a blend of HB’s three estate vineyards designed for earlier enjoyment. But it delivers marvellous density and intensity on a lithe and vibrant frame. And it’s a steal for the price. Buy a few bottles to enjoy while you’re waiting for the trippy 2013 Felseck vineyard chardonnay to be released later this year.

And lest our guests feel slighted, here’s the top value non-Canadian selection from the July 9th release: Tabalí 2013 Reserva Especial Chardonnay, Limarí Valley, Chile ($18.95). The Limarì valley and its high active limestone and cool coastal influence is in my view Chile’s most suitable chardonnay region, at least of those in commercial exploitation. This is a complex, well-balanced wine to be sure, but what excites me most is the palpable saltiness, the crunchy acids, the well-integrated oak (9 months in barrel), and the lingering, lightly creamy finish. A fine value in premium chardonnay, at a sub-premium price.

Buyers’ Guide: Killer, Almost Chardonnay-like Whites

I’ve enthused about Soave’s Pieropan before, so you won’t be surprised to see the Pieropan La Rocca 2013 Soave Classico DOC Soave, Veneto, Italy ($37.95) on this list. It’s one of the great single vineyard wines of Soave, and indeed of Italy, from a limestone-based site that delivers an exceptionally rich and creamy wine here in 2013. The texture is absolutely gorgeous, creamy and layered, ample and mouthfilling, while crackling acids aided by palpable saltiness reel in the richness and retain balance. Best 2016-2025.

Admittedly I find the wines of Paso Roble in California’s Central Coast area often overblown, but one of the mighty exceptions is the great estate of Tablas Creek, a joint venture between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel, and American importer Robert Haas. The 2013 Côtes de Tablas Blanc, Paso Robles, California ($33.95) is a superb white blend of viognier, grenache blanc, marsanne and roussanne, inspired of course by the Rhône, and grown from cuttings brought directly from Beauscatel. The vineyards sit on the west side of Paso on cooler, limestone soils, which, coupled with the old world winemaking philosophy, result in exceptionally well balanced wine, ripe and rich but equally fresh, with neither excess nor deficiency of any elements. The creamy, orange peel-laced finish lingers on and on. Very classy and collected; best 2016-2024.

Pieropan La Rocca Soave Classico 2013 Tablas Creek Côtes De Tablas Blanc 2013 Palacios Remondo Plácet 2012

Palacios and quality are virtual synonyms, so don’t miss the Palacios Remondo 2012 Placet Valtomelloso, DOCa Rioja, Spain ($29.95), a pure viura grown at nearly 600m one of the highest vineyards in Rioja, just hitting perfect drinking stride now. It can be considered a more modern style, which is to say absent the obvious oxidative and coconut/sandalwood flavours of long American oak-aged, traditional examples, but it has an impressive range of flavours of its own. I like the gently creamy but balanced palate and the long finish, all white flowers and soft fruit. Really lovely; best 2016 2022.

That’s all for this week. Happy Canada Day!


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All July 9th Reviews

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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