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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – February

250 Years of the Finest Cognac
By Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

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

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

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

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

Hennessy 250 Collector Blend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hennessy X.O. CognacHennessy ParadisHennessy Paradis Impérial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Swaine

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

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


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15 Great South African Wine Values

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

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

South Africa

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

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

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

The complex terrain of Stellenbosch creates many sub-appellations

The complex terrain of Stellenbosch creates many sub-appellations

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

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

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

The Whites

Goats Do Roam White 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reds

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

K W V Roodeberg 2012

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

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


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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

WOSA Canada Competition

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Top 20 under $20 at the LCBO (February)

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

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Top50The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

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

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

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

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


Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20
Top 50 Value Wines

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

Tilia Malbec 2013

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The Successful Collector – The First Growths of Bordeaux

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

A spiritual experience:
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

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

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

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

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

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron


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

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

Château Latour pigeon house and vines

Château Latour pigeon house and vines


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

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

The greatest estates:

The First Growths of the 1855 Classification:

Château Latour:

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

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

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

Château Lafite Rothschild:

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

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

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

Château Mouton Rothschild:

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

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

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

Château Haut-Brion:

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

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

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

Château Margaux:

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

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

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

Château d’Yquem:

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

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

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

Other illustrious estates:

Château Léoville-Las Cases:

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

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

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

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou:

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

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

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

Château Palmer:

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

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

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

Château Cheval Blanc:

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

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

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

Vieux Château Certan:

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

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

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

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


Julian Hitner

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

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

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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – January 2015

Burns Suppers & Fine Whiskies
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Swaine

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

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


Vancouver International Wine Festival

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Rare Grapes and an Unknown Land

Sardinia – An Italian island eager to join the international wine sceneJanuary 21, 2015

by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Given that it is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean, it is remarkable that Sardinia is relatively unknown to most Canadians. Even among those Canadians who can trace their origins to Italy, there are few who have a past that includes Sardegna, as the island is called by the inhabitants. So it is not surprising that its wines are equally obscure to us. In fact it was the only wine producing region in Italy that I had never visited in nearly 40 years of global wine travel. So I was pleased to be invited to join a group of eight wine writers from Canada to spend three days last November on this large island that lies about 250km southwest of Rome.

It is not clear why Sardegna has been slow to join the international wine scene. It is distinct from the rest of Italy in that it was ruled for around 400 years until 1708 by Aragon, now part of modern Spain. This probably explains why its most widely planted red grape is cannonau (known as garnacha in Spain or grenache in the rest of the world). Cannonau is rare on the nearby Italian mainland despite, I am told, being the most widely planted red grape in the world. Moreover vermentino, the island’s most popular white grape, is supposedly a form of malvasia that also came from Spain.

Rare grapes and an unknown land made for an exciting three days in the northern part of the island.

The best vermentino comes from the northeastern corner, Gallura. So it was there that we started our exploration at the Cantina Gallura in Tempio Pausania. This is clearly a very poor part of the country with many small homes that stood in sharp contrast to the opulence of the Costa Smeralda, but more about that later.

The cantina makes several wines from vermentino and its wine shop displays the dozens of prizes it has received from wine competitions all over the world.

Cantina Gallura

My favourite was the Cantina di Gallura 2013 Canayli Vermentino di Gallura Superiore. It has a dry floral peachy nose, a rich minerally palate and very good length. A great seafood wine. It is not available at present in Canada but can be found in the USA for around $20.

After tasting wines at the winery we were whisked away in the fog to the nearby Ristorante Il Melograna da Claudio in Nuchis for one of the best seafood meals I have ever had. The menu consisted of the freshest seafood and delicious combinations of Sardegnan cuisine carefully prepared by chef Claudio. The service and atmosphere were superb, such that it could have been a fantastic eating experience matched to the wines of the Cantina. Unfortunately we were all exhausted from the travel, trying to stay awake having crossed the Atlantic with little sleep for 36 hours. It was frustrating that the trip planners timed this meal just after our arrival from Canada.

Pedres - Wine DispenserThe next day after a good sleep, there was a visit to a couple of wineries – Piero Mancini and Cantina Pedres. Piero Mancini makes a delightful sparkling Vermentino di Gallura Spumante Brut which has a fresh floral, mineral, lemon, baked pear nose with a soft elegant palate and long pure finish; a good reception wine. They have hopes of sales in Newfoundland.

We had an excellent buffet lunch at Pedres where, while tasting their wines, I noticed this wine dispensing apparatus.

It looks a bit like a gas station pump. Locals arrive with a plastic can, like one does for gas in Canada, and you purchase by the litre. It is €2 per litre for red or white, that’s about C$2 per bottle, tax included.

After lunch we went to visit the millionaire’s playground of the Costa Smeralda. The area was developed in the 1960s by an investment consortium led by Prince Karim Aga Khan. With white sand beaches, golf clubs, private jet and helicopter services and exclusive hotels, the area has drawn celebrities, business leaders and other affluent visitors.

Costa Smeralda is now the most expensive location in Europe for real estate. House prices of over $400,000 per square meter have been reported.

If you are just visiting, the Presidential suite at the Hotel Cala di Volpe can be yours for C$37,000 for the night. There are discounts for longer stays.

Porto Cervo, the largest community, has a resident population of 421 very wealthy inhabitants. It was created to resemble a fishing village on the shores of a  natural harbour. To me, it felt like touring a very large film set; a sort of make-believe village that could occupy part of Disneyland.

Porto Cervo

Anyway after hearing stories of billionaires and film stars it was time to get back on mission and taste some more local wines.

The Surrau winery is close to all this splendour and it fits right in. It is a stunning modern winery built by three brothers who are all active in the local construction industry.

It is built on the site of their grandfather’s farm and is called Surrau after the name of the valley in which it is located.

Surrau Winery Visitors Centre

The visitor area is opulent and the winery is modern and  splendidly equipped with the latest that technology can deliver. The wines are also very impressive.

Surrau 2012 Cannonau di Sargenga Sincaru is a deep ruby red with a rich fruity nose and palate with white pepper, raspberry and strawberry fruit. It sells in the USA for around $30.

Surrau Isola Dei Nuraghi Rosso 2012 Surrau Sciala Vermentino Di Gallura 2013The single vineyard Surrau Sciala 2013 Vermentino di Gallura has a floral nose of white peach and baked lemon with a minerally firm rich fruity palate. Most impressive was Surrau 2012 Isola dei Nuraghi Rosso. This is a blend of cannonau, carignano and cabernet sauvignon with 10% of the local grape muristellu. It is a lively, fruity, fresh well-structured cool climate red with smoky, savoury, cherry and cranberry jelly aromas and flavours and excellent length. Both are available in Ontario for $27.95 through After supper at the winery we left our hosts for the hotel. It had been another very long day.

Our final day was spent driving back across the north of the island to Alghero, where we had landed two days before, to visit the Sella & Mosca winery. The trip organizers had left the best to last. This winery was established in 1899 and was initially planted with over 1600 different grape varieties. Experimentation over the years has reduced this to less than 20 today. The estate has around 520 hectares planted  making it the largest on the island.

The soil is still incredibly rocky. Even after over a hundred years of cultivation and rock removal, rocks still keep appearing out of the ground.

Altogether they have 1200 hectares of vines on the island making Sella & Mosca one of Italy’s largest wineries.

Sella & Mosca became part of the Campari group in 2002. Subsequent investment in the property and equipment is starting to show in the quality of the wines.

Campari also has a vast distribution network which means that wines from the property are widely available throughout the world. In Canada, Quebec has been their most successful market in terms of numbers of wines but Ontario is important from a volume perspective, with Sella & Mosca 2010 Riserva Cannonau Di Sardegna as a VINTAGES Essentials for many years.

Sella & Mosca Riserva Cannonau Di Sardegna 2010 Sella & Mosca Marchese Di Villamarina Alghero 2009 Sella & Mosca Terre Rare Carignano Del Sulcis Riserva 2009 Sella & Mosca Capocaccia 2010

The flagship wine is Sella & Mosca Marchese Di Villamarina. The 2009 vintage of this cabernet sauvignon would not be out of place in a line-up of top quality Bordeaux.

They also produce a wine from carignan, Sella & Mosca 2009 Terre Rare Carignano del Sulcis Riserva, that is in the stores in Quebec, as is the Sella & Mosca 2010 Capocaccia, Alghero Rosso.

The latter is a beautiful blend of cannonau with cabernet sauvignon. It is elegant and well balanced with excellent length.

The winery is a delight to visit with massive underground cellars and a fascinating museum of artifacts that have been found on the estate. The remains of a stone-age necropolis have yielded many interesting finds, copies of which can be seen at the winery.

Sella & Mosca winerySella & Mosca winery

We packed a lot into the three days spent in the north of Sardinia. I enjoyed the fresh, pure, rich Vermentino do Gallura whites and the island’s reds, mostly based on cannonau. I hope to return one day to see the southern part of the island better known for reds wines from the Cagliari and Sulcis areas.

Thanks are due to the Italian Trade Commission for organizing the trip and to our many hosts on the island. The welcome we received, the hospitality, the meals and the wines were exceptional. I wish them every success as they strive to market their wines in Canada.

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

AdvertisementsGuardian Reserva Red 2012

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Top 20 under $20 at the LCBO (January)

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

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

I hope you had a good holiday. Please accept my best wishes for 2015. January is the month when value wine shopping is most important, since many of you will be cutting back on the grand crus and looking for great wines at modest prices for the next little while. So I am happy to report that there are six new wines on the Top 50 for you to try.

Additionally six wines, already on the list, have Bonus Air Miles (BAMs) that apply or are on sale (LTO), making these wines even more attractive for the next four weeks or so; all this will surely make your January drinking more affordable.

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

The discount period runs until February 1st. 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!


Esporao Alandra Red 2013, Alentejo, Portugal $7.70
TOP50JANUARY – A ripe fruity vibrant red with a fragrant nose of blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with some floral and spicy notes. Try with salty fatty meats like salami or soft creamy cheese like brie.

Trapiche Astica Merlot Malbec 2014, Cuyo, Argentina $7.95
NEW TO TOP50 – A well-balanced fruity red with more complexity than one might expect for such an inexpensive wine.

Casal Thaulero Sangiovese 2012, Terre Di Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy $7.75 plus 3BAMs
TOP50JANUARY – Super value red that’s midweight pure and vibrant. Try with meaty pizza.

Esporao Alandra Red 2013 Trapiche Astica Merlot Malbec 2014Casal Thaulero Sangiovese 2012Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2011Fonseca Periquita 2012

Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2011 Chile $8.45 plus 4BAMs
TOP50JANUARY – An appealing easy drinking Bordeaux style blend that’s balanced for food. Try with roast beef.

Fonseca Periquita 2012, Peninsula De Setubal, Portugal $8.95 plus 4BAMs
TOP50JANUARY – A great value staple Portuguese red that’s a little spicy with the fruit persisting well on the finish. Try with grilled lamb cutlets.

BV Coastal Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, California, USA $8.95 was $10.95
NEW TO TOP50 – Great value with a soft floral peppery nose. Lightly chill this well-balanced fruity cabernet and enjoy with a rack of lamb.

Trapiche Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina $9.95 plus 4BAMs
A finely balanced pure fruity red. Try with meaty pasta sauces, grilled sausages or pizza

Ogier Cotes Du Ventoux Red 2013 $11.95 plus 6BAMs
A peppery red with bright cherry fruit that’s midweight with soft tannin and zesty fresh dry finish. Try with cheesy pizza.

BV Coastal Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Trapiche Malbec 2014Ogier Cotes Du Ventoux Red 2013Trapiche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013clone_wine_49584_web

Trapiche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina $11.95
NEW TO TOP50 – An opaque elegant and ripe (but not overripe) cabernet with a good acid and tannin structure. Try with a steak.

Trapiche Reserve Syrah 2013, Mendoza, Argentina $11.95
NEW TO TOP50 – Beautiful lifted aromas of blueberry and blackberry fruit with herbal and well-integrated oak spice lead to a velvety smooth palate. Complex and elegant. Try with grilled meats or mature cheddar.

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

Montes Twins Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Colchagua Valley, Chile $12.90 plus 5BAMs
A soft juicy ripe red blend of 50% malbec with 50% cabernet sauvignon that’s fullbodied but feels lighter due to vibrant acidity. Try with grilled meats.

Cusumano Nero D'avola 2013Montes Twins Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Errazuriz Estate Pinot Noir 2013Taylor Fladgate First Estate Reserve Port

Errazuriz Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Aconcagua Valley, Chile $13.95 plus 8BAMs
NEW TO TOP50 – This is a delicious Chilean pinot with a good depth of colour, fragrant nose and a well-balanced complex palate.  Try with seared tuna.

Taylor Fladgate First Estate Reserve Port, Douro Valley, Portugal $16.50 plus 5BAMs
A very good reserve port made from fruit from several recent vintages. It is not too sweet and is thick with fruit. Try with dark chocolate desserts, nuts or blue cheese.


K W V Contemporary Collection Chenin Blanc 2014, Western Cape, South Africa $7.95 was $9.45
TOP50JANUARY – Pinot grigio lovers should try this wine with a good depth of flavour and a fresh fruity nose at an amazingly low price.

Trapiche Astica Sauvignon Semillon 2014, Cuyo, Argentina $7.95
NEW TO TOP50 – The 2014 vintage arrived recently and it’s very good as usual with a pure fresh nose and soft creamy palate. Try with cheesy pasta sauces or seafood pizza.

Periquita White 2013 Portugal $8.95 plus 4BAMs
TOP50JANUARY – This blend of three white grapes is a delicious delicate wine for seafood and mildly flavoured chicken dishes.

K W V Contemporary Collection Chenin Blanc 2014Trapiche Astica Sauvignon Semillon 2014Periquita White 2013Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserva 2013Montgras Amaral Sauvignon Blanc 2014Lustau Solera Reserva Dry Amontillado Los Arcos

Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserva 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile $9.95 was $11.95
TOP50JANUARY – Lemony zesty fresh acidity balances the bold flavours with the oak supported by the intensity of the fruit. Quite delicious.

Montgras Amaral Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Leyda Valley, Chile $13.85 plus 8BAMs
The Leyda Valley is fast proving to be the hot spot for great sauvignon blanc. Lovely lifted aromas of passion fruit and guava with ginger, lavender, and lemon notes lead to a juicy creamy palate. Try with sauteed seafood.

Lustau Amontillado Solera Reserva Los Arcos, Jerez, Spain $14.85
A complex dry white with beautiful nutty, citrus, toasty aromas. Perfectly balanced, would be excellent with roast turkey and a rich brown gravy.

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Top50The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

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

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

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

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


Steve Thurlow

Top 20 Under $20 for January
Top 50 Value Wines

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


 La Posta Armando Bonarda 2013

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12 Reds for the Christmas Crunch

By David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Well we can’t shorten the LCBO cashier line-ups for you, but WineAlign can reduce the time you spend in the store by helping you create your shopping list before you leave home. For weeks now we have been guiding you through your Holiday wine purchasing, and I suspect that many of you have already tuned in and done your shopping. The annual surge in traffic on WineAlign attests to that (we are having a banner year!). We are also welcoming dozens of new members every day. So if you are just joining us, here is what we have covered off in recent weeks.

Back in November, VINTAGES released its “finest” big guns, and we picked our faves, most of which will have evaporated from the shelves by now. From the last, huge December 6th release, we highlighted several whites, reds and fortifieds to add to your gift list. Earlier this week Steve Thurlow presented an intriguing selection of less expensive LCBO wines for The Five Days of Christmas, and last week Sara d’Amato guided you to VINTAGES recommendations for the various Personalities on your list. On December 23 watch for John Szabo’s annual Fizz Guide on the run up to New Years.

Today I simply want to present a varied selection of 12 international reds. They should prove to be horizon-expanding for those getting into wine. They are of excellent quality (over 90 points); good value (under $50) and still stocked in decent quantities (about 1000 bottles in inventory as of December 17). It’s up to you of course to decide why, which and how many you select: whether a single bottle for stuffing a stocking, a pair packaged as a host/hostess gift, a six-bottle splurge on wines for entertaining, or a generous twelve pack to seed the cellar of a new collector.

European Reds

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2012

Confidences De Prieuré Lichine 2010

Domaine De Vieux Télégraphe 2012 TélégrammeDomaine De Vieux Télégraphe Télégramme Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012, Châteauneuf Du Pape, Rhone Valley, France ($49.95) – This is the second wine of Vieux Télégraphe the flagship of the meticulous Brunier family. It is refined and engaging, a great gift for the wine fancier, but no harm done if it’s opened and decanted over the holidays.

Confidences De Prieuré Lichine 2010, Margaux, Bordeaux, France ($48.95) – From a great Bordeaux vintage that has been thrilling me in recent months, this is second wine of Chateau Prieuré-Lichine, the producer of a very refined cab-merlot based blend in the Margaux appellation.  It’s the ideal introduction to the seamlessness that can make Bordeaux very special. Ideal inspiration for the start-up cellar.

Domaine Les Yeuses 2012 Les Épices Syrah, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($15.95) – This ebullient peppery syrah from the south of France is so well priced, you might consider gifting a six-pack as an instant “house wine” stock-up. Great for Mediterranean cuisine, and that includes pizza.

Sori' Paitin Barbaresco 2010

Ontanon Gran Reserva 2001

Tenuta Sette Ponti 2011 CrognoloTenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($34.95) – This is a very well made, mid-weight red that walks that fine line between Tuscan elegance and Italian heart. It’s a slightly rugged sangiovese buffed by a small proportion of cabernet and merlot, aged in new French oak. A fine specimen for those setting off to explore/cellar higher end Italian reds.

Ontanon 2001 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($39.95) – In my Dec 6 newsletter I focused on the joys of drinking older wines over the holidays. This is another that is ready to go, but will still age another five years. Spanish Rioja still leads the world in producing mature table ready reds you can buy off the shelf.

Sori’ Paitin 2010 Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy ($41.95) – At some point every wine fan gets enthused about the gritty nebbiolo-based reds of Barolo and Barbaresco in northwest Italy. I tend to gravitate to the slightly lighter, earlier evolving Barbarescos, and this is a fine example from a great year. Needs ageing for about three years, or three hours aeration in a decanter.

New World

Calera Pinot Noir 2012

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Domaine Tournon 2012 Shay’s Flat Vineyard ShirazDomaine Tournon Shay's Flat Vineyard Shiraz 2012, Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia ($37.95) – From a rugged outpost of granitic grape-growing 200km northwest of Melbourne comes a biodynamic shiraz by Michel Chapoutier, a leader in biodynamics in Rhone Valley. Click to read more about this French-styled syrah with outback ruggedness.

Wynns 2012 Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia ($27.95) – Coonawarra is among my top three go-to regions in the world for cabernet sauvignon; just cool enough to showcase the herbaceous side of cabernet yet warm enough to capture classic blackcurrant fruit. Winemaker Sue Hodder’s sensibilities have drawn a fine portrait, at a very reasonable price.

Calera 2012 Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California ($33.95) – California has come a long way with pinot noir, guided by Josh Jensen’s pioneering work in the terrain of the Central Coast. This generous wine weaves Burgundian rusticity and California fruit ripeness, and is just plain delicious. Could grace your Christmas bird.

Frei Brothers Reserve Zinfandel 2012

Bodega Noemía A Lisa 2012

Hidden Bench 2010 Terroir Caché Meritage, Beamsville BenchHidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($32.80) – Since 2005 Harald Thiel and his winemakers have been honing what is becoming one of the top Bordeaux-inspired red blends in Ontario (out of 100s that try this combo with very mixed success). I served it blind in a recent WSET class in Montreal, where a student who professed never to have found a Niagara red she liked, picked it as her favourite of the afternoon. Go to school here.

Bodega 2012 Noemía A Lisa, Patagonia, Argentina ($25.95) – From way off the beaten track, in the middle of scrub-infested nowhere in southern Argentina, this biodynamically grown malbec is nothing like those you might have had from Mendoza. It’s vibrant, funky, a bit meaty and shows some great finesse and depth for the money.

Frei Brothers 2012 Reserve Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California, USA  ($24.95) – One of my great peeves of 2014 is the confection-ization of California red wines – and red zinfandel in particular. So this honest to goodness rendition of the California’s heritage grape came as a relief. I chalk it up to the Gallo’s deep roots among the old zin vines of the Dry Creek Valley. This is delicious.

Finally, if you just don’t have time to get out there to shop, you can always purchase a WineAlign gift certificate, and be responsible for turning your friends and family on to a lifetime of drinking better wine. Remember again to check in next week for The Fizz Report, and until then I hope you enjoy the run up to Christmas and all the anticipation.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Niagara Icewine Festival2015


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A simple resolution for 2015

The Caveman Speaks
By Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

It’s not December 31 quite yet but it is never too early to make a few resolutions. If you are looking for a bit of inspiration, and want to do something good for the wine industry, then here’s a suggestion as to how you can make the wine world a better place.

Be courageous – choose indigenous grapes.

By indigenous grapes I mean grape varieties that have a history firmly entrenched in a particular region, having been grown there for a long period of time. While travelling the world’s wine regions over the last few years, I have seen old vine sylvaner in Alsace ripped out to make room for pinot gris. One hundred year old carignan in the Languedoc replaced with syrah. I could go on but the list is long and littered with dead vines.

While in some cases replacing the vines made sense, and made for better wine, in most cases it was simply a question of economics. Grape growers can get more money with well-known grapes, even if they are less well suited to that climate and soil type.

The reason they are doing this is because consumers, especially in North America, tend to drink the same grape varieties – cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay etc… And this makes me sad. With each indigenous varietal that is replaced, another thread of the wonderfully complex tapestry that is the world’s wine culture becomes a touch less colourful (read – the wines are less good.)

In many wine producing countries, people tend to drink locally as opposed to internationally. They drink wines from their own region, or if they branch out, from their own country. We are fortunate here in Canada to have a choice of wines from all over the world.

But with choice comes responsibility. Wine stores, whether they be government controlled monopolies or privately owned, might take a chance on a wine once but if it doesn’t sell, the wine will not be reordered.

So this leads me to you, the wine lover.

These wines might be made with unfamiliar grapes, or come from places you have never heard of, but that’s what so interesting about wine. Will you like everything? Not necessarily, but exposing your palate to different textures, flavours and aromas will merely expand your wine horizons. And my bet is that you will discover wines that you absolutely love.

The tide is starting to turn. In many of these regions, especially with younger winemakers, they are looking at their own indigenous varieties with more respect. I have seen winemakers searching out these old vines and protecting them rather than replanting them. They have started to understand that these grapes are not only part of their heritage, but what makes them distinctive.

So in 2015, forsake the familiar and make one out of every three bottles you buy something you’ve never tried before. Give the wine a chance. Try and understand it. You will be helping the wine industry, and you will make yourself a better and more knowledgeable drinker.

If you need some suggestions, then here are a few wines currently available in BC, Ontario or Quebec that you can try. As I mentioned sylvaner, try the 2011 from René Muré. Works as an exceptional aperitif as well as with lighter seafood. Another white in a similar vein comes from Greece and Domaine Gerovassiliou. The 2013 Assyrtiko/Malagousia is a beautiful example two indigenous grapes working hand in hand. The rare freisa grape gets a solo show in the juicy, earthy tobacco leaf layered Borgogno Langhe 2012 Freisa from Piedmonte. Pair with charcuterie and sip throughout the night. Of course, if you really want to support indigenous wines, pick up a bottle of sherry and support not only native grapes, but method as well. Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, a Manzanilla from Sanlucar De Barrameda is 100% palomino fino grape, and a bone dry tangy, salty, nutty sipper to signal festivities.

René Muré Sylvaner 2011 Domaine Gerovassiliou White 2013 Borgogno Langhe Freisa 2012 La Gitana Manzanilla

Looking for a really interesting white with body to spare? Elisabetta Foradori’s 2012 Manzoni Bianco will satisfy the most curious white wine drinker. Made with extended skin contact, which is unusual for white wines, it combines body and aromatics like few wines I have tasted this year. Similarly, Mastroberardino’s 2012 Greco Di Tufo showcases the stony, waxy power of the greco grape, by way of the volcanic soils throughout Campania. And Telmo Rodriguez 2013 Basa Blanco combines the familiar – sauvignon blanc – with the curious – verdejo and viura – in this herbal, citrus-driven, linear white.

Foradori Fontanasanta Manzoni 2012 Mastroberardino Greco Di Tufo 2012 Telmo Rodriguez Basa Blanco 2013

On the red side, the choice for indigenous grapes is just as interesting. Hailing from the region of Marcillac in France’s southwest, Lionel Osmin’s 2012 Mansois offers up delicate fruit and lots of exotic spice with fine, razor-sharp tannins.

One of my favourite reds from the past year is Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68. From Sicily’s DOCG appellation of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, it combines delicate fruit with beautiful acidity. Sicilian Beaujolais!

Marcillac Mansois 2012 Occhipinti S P 68 2013 Quinta Da Pellada Àlvaro Castro Reserva 2011 Tilenus Envejecido En Roble Mencía 2010

And if you are looking for a bigger red wine, try a blend of alfrocheiro, tinta roriz and touriga national. Alvaro Castro’s 2011 Dao is a beautiful example of how the region can produce finessed, yet very powerful wines. Rustic winter stews and casseroles were made to be served alongside a wine like Tilenus 2010 Envejecido En Roble, from Bierzo, Spain. The mencia grape’s wild and succulent black fruit and firm tannins might become a new cold weather favourite.

Happy holidays and new year folks!


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

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



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Wines for the Personalities on Your Christmas List

By Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Although it may not be possible to hop in to the LCBO for all your gifting needs over the holidays, you’ll certainly be able to please most of the personalities on your list with the gift of wine. In fact, there is nothing more perfect than the gift of wine for those hard-to-shop-for-folks, especially when time is tight.

This year, instead of a simple list of what I would most like to receive over the holidays, I will endeavor to be more selfless and put together a gift list based on needs and personalities you may encounter among your circle of friends and family.

Not only are these wines chosen because they are personality-appropriate, our experts have also vetted them as delicious.

The Jetsetter

Stobi Vranec 2010 Domaine de Sahari 2012A taste for the exotic is certainly what the jetsetter craves, so here are wines sourced from beyond the classic growing regions to rouse and inspire their adventurous spirit.

Domaine De Sahari 2012, Guerrouane, Morocco ($16.95) – A Bordelaise blend from Morocco which is surprisingly on the shelves of our LCBO. Elegant, floral and even subtle – certainly a diamond in the rough.

In reality, Morocco has some serious potential for producing quality wine in North Africa because of its proximity to the cooling Atlantic and higher elevation terrain which can combat the plentiful heat.

Stobi Vranec 2010, Tikves, Macedonia ($13.95) – Macedonian wine is slowly creeping into our market and its signature red grape is vranec – darkly coloured, crisp and tannic often with notes of exotic spice and chocolate.

The Chef

Whether they are a professional chef or that person in your life with great culinary prowess, (whose home you hope to get an invitation to over the holidays) a wine that a chef will appreciate takes some thought.

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer 2012

Di Majo 2011 Norante Contado Riserva Aglianico Del MoliseDi Majo Norante Contado Riserva Aglianico del Molise 2011, Italy, ($18.95) – Italian wine is widely regarded among the most food friendly styles of wine in the world which is in part due to its often high levels of acidity in whites and a common zesty bite in reds. Aglianico produces a full-bodied and flavourful red with vibrant acids that call for rich and aromatic Mediterranean flavours. Maybe they’ll even invite you back to try the pairing!

Cave Spring 2012 Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer, Cave Spring Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($17.95) – Chefs love to make use of the most local ingredients and what better offering than a food-friendly, local selection such as this from Ontario quality wine pioneer, Cave Spring.

The Vegan

Most people don’t realize that animal-derived products may be used in winemaking, especially during the fining process (which removes protein, yeast, sometimes colour and other undesirable organic compounds). However, there are many alternative fining agents on the market and wineries such as Southbrook produce lip-smacking wines that are also vegetarian and vegan friendly:
Southbrook 2012 Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, Canada ($22.95)

The Martha Stewart

Perrier Jouet La Belle Epoque 2006 Descendientes de J. Palacios Pétalos 2012Everyone knows someone like this, the crafty DIYer whose home looks like it has just been the subject of a magazine shoot, whose beautifully presented meals seem effortless and who can pleasantly speak to just about everything. That friend who makes you wonder if they have the annoying super-ability to stop time, just for themselves, so that they can bake those six different types of shortbread just before you arrive. Well, it’s just about time you turn the tables and wow them with an exceptional bottle of wine that they know nothing about.

Descendientes de J. Palacios 2012 Pétalos, Bierzo, ($26.95) – Beautiful inside and out, this clean, floral, spicy and seductive blend is sure to whisk you off your feet. Palacios is a progressive producer who uses a region blend from several villages in the Bierzo region located in northwestern Spain (I bet they didn’t know that!).

Perrier Jouet 2006 La Belle Epoque, Champagne, France ($189.95) – Possibly the most beautiful wine bottle ever created, your artistic and resourceful friend will not want to throw this away once they have reveled in every sip of this exquisite and ethereal cuvée.

The New Parent

You can barely recognize them, sleepless, disheveled, and incoherent – these are the folks that need the gift of wine the most. And just because they don’t realize that they’ve accidentally just poured breast milk into their coffee, that doesn’t mean that they won’t appreciate a terrific bottle of wine. Throw in a night of babysitting and a massage and you’ll forever be their hero.

Delouvin Bagnost Tradition Brut Champagne, Récoltant Manipulant, Champagne, France ($47.95) – They are so busy that they forgot to celebrate the arrival of their child – an ornate and distinctive grower’s Champagne ought to fix that.

The Hipster

Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Lingenfelder Bird Label Riesling 2012 Delouvin Bagnost Tradition Brut ChampagneWhat to pair with topknots, plaid and carefully manicured facial hair? How about sustainably produced, unusual or esthetically pleasing labels with ample cool factor?

Lingenfelder Bird Label 2012 Riesling, Pfalz, Germany, ($14.95) – Lingenfelder is certainly an idiosyncratic producer with a keen sense of what will fly in just about every market. The attractive and vintage looking label is sure to catch the eye of your bohemian buddy and the wine inside is a funky and succulent treat.

Bonterra 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, California, USA ($19.95) – Travel and Leisure Magazine voted San Francisco the No.1 city for hipsters in the USA recently and luckily some of the world’s most revered wine regions are located a quick trek north.  This affordable, excellent value cabernet is organically produced and although widely pleasing, has edgy acidity that makes it a versatile pairing with almost any kind of cuisine.

The Health Nut

Cygnus Brut Nature Reserva Cava Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011Health conscious folks still imbibe, but may need justification to do so. Recently, as reported in The Daily Mail, a former World Health Organization expert, Dr Kari Poikolainen, claimed: “The weight of the evidence shows moderate drinking is better than abstaining and heavy drinking is worse than abstaining . . .”  (as long as we don’t inflate moderate standards.) I’m willing to believe and perhaps those who want to justify their drink will do so as well. Need something more? It should be noted that wine is gluten-free, being made from grapes. Certain additives may contain gluten but even so, the vast majority of wines would contain such a small amount that they are generally considered safe even for those with Celiac disease (but a doctor’s advice is better than mine).

Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Village Reserve Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($30.00) – Cool climate pinots are known to have the greatest concentration of resveratrol – an antioxidant found in the skins of red grapes which lessens the likelihood of cancerous tumors.

Cygnus Brut Nature Reserva Cava, Méthode Champenoise, Penedès, Spain ($19.95) – The Zero Brut or Brut Nature styles are marketed as low-cal styles of wine. Due to the zero dosage (the sweet liquid added to traditional method sparkling wines before bottling), these wines are very dry and low-cal. As a bonus, this wine is also organically produced making it a more healthy option.

The Jock

Mike Weir 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Wayne Gretzky Estates No. 99 Cabernet Merlot 2010Hockey is winter, summer is football and basketball is there to bridge the gap. The Olympics shuts down your friend or family member’s house. During playoff season your sporty pal becomes incoherent. Fear not, with these selections you may be able to find some common ground with them even through game season.

Wayne Gretzky Estates No. 99 2010 Cabernet Merlot, Niagara Peninsula, $14.95 – This cabernet, not made by Wayne Gretzky (thankfully) but under this named label gets better and better with every vintage. Rich, muscular and agile – a wine a sportsman can be proud to call his own.

Mike Weir 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, $14.95 – Although this label has been inconsistent in the past, I am holding the torch for this zesty and goosebump-inducing sauvignon blanc whose proceeds go to the Mike Weir Foundation, dedicated to advancing the physical, emotional and educational welfare of children in Canada (so you can feel charitable too!)

Seasons greeting to you and your eclectic group of friends and family!


Sara d’Amato

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images. 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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