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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Feb 1 Release

Australia Encore and other Nuggets

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

At deadline I find myself jostling airline schedules and massive time zone changes as I return from eight days in Australia, where I have soaked up a refreshed perspective on the transformations underway down under while leading a tour of iconic wineries and exciting up and comers for Fine Vintage Ltd.  Australia, of course, is the major theme of VINTAGES Feb 1 release, and I covered off many of the wines in a special report published earlier this month (Australia Re-Visited). There is much more to say however as the massive Australian industry rights itself after a difficult decade in the 2000s, so I will be adding flesh to this skeleton edition in the days ahead.

Among other wines, the release really is actually rather spotty. The vast majority are lower to mid-priced wines that had to be sifted with some care to come up with the following nuggets. I regret that my notes lack the usual contextual detail this time, but you will see some of my pet themes and producers resurfacing – like Niagara riesling, obscure Italian whites, Susanna Balboa and Benmarco from Argentina, killer Montirius Vacqueyras, a very interesting tannat/petit verdot blend from South Africa, an inky sagrantino for Italy and a very fairly priced Barolo.  The selection is very much based on value, with most selections $20 or less. (As usual, you can link to my full review and score on our site).

My Aussie Red Picks

Schild Estate Old Bush Vine Grenache/Mourvedre/Shiraz 2011
Barossa, South Australia ($19.95)

Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Coonawarra, South Australia ($29.95)

Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2012
Tamar Ridge, Tasmania ($23.95)

Schild Estate Old Bush Vine Grenache Mourvedre Shiraz 2011Katnook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Devil's Corner Pinot Noir 2012

Other Whites

Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2012
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

Jean Marc Brocard Domaine Sainte Claire Chablis 2011
Burgundy, France ($19.95)

Beni Di Batasiolo Granée Gavi Del Commune Di Gavi 2012
Piedmont, Italy ($16.95)

Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2012Jean Marc Brocard Domaine Sainte Claire Chablis 2011Beni Di Batasiolo Granée Gavi Del Commune Di Gavi 2012

Other Reds

Jekel Pinot Noir 2011
Santa Barbara County, California ($19.95)

Benmarco Malbec 2012
Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)

Dominio Del Plata Crios De Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Mendoza, Argentina ($13.95)

Glen Carlou Petit Verdot/Tannat 2009
Paar, south Africa ($21.95)

Jekel Pinot Noir 2011Benmarco Malbec 2012Dominio Del Plata Crios De Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Glen Carlou Petit Verdot Tannat 2009

Château De Lafaurie Monbadon 2010
Côtes de Bordeaux – Castillon ($15.95)

Montirius Garrigues Vacqueyras 2011
Rhone Valley ($27.95)

Luca Bosio Barolo 2009
Piedmont, Italy ($33.95)

Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2006
Umbria, Italy ($19.95)

Château De Lafaurie Monbadon 2010Montirius Garrigues Vacqueyras 2011Luca Bosio Barolo 2009Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2006

Please enjoy, and stay tuned. For those in Ontario, you may want to check out the WineAlign VIP Access to Cuvée 2014. It’s a Grand Tasting and Wine Experience weekend showcasing the stars of Ontario’s wine and culinary scene.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the February 1, 2014 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find David Lawrason’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2012

Cuvée Weekend 2014 – WineAlign VIP Access

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for September 14th 2013

Canadian Wine In the Headlines

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

It’s a big month for Ontario, and Canadian wine. WineAlign has announced the full results of the National Wine Awards of Canada, an essential resource for current and future fans of local wines. The LCBO, and Wine Country Ontario present SHINE {ON}, the largest annual promotion of Ontario wines, and the September 14 VINTAGES release features Ontario wines. New retailing opportunities have led to small lot Canadian wine going on sale online thanks to And perhaps most importantly, the LCBO has been called next week to the Supreme Court of Ontario to answer a serious Constitutional Question, as well as explain its data-collecting protocols to the Ontario Privacy Commissioner. The landscape of wine retailing in Canada could well change. Read on.

National Wine Awards of Canada

In case you missed it yesterday, the complete results of the National Wine Awards of Canada are now posted on WineAlign. The results include all the Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners in several style and grape variety categories, plus a “performance report” on the Top 20 wineries in the country.

SHINE {ON} & VINTAGES September 14th 2013 Ontario Feature

SHINE {ON}The LCBO, in partnership with Wine Country Ontario, presents SHINE {ON}, its largest annual promotion of Ontario wines running from September 15-October 15. The month-long promotion will feature more than 1,200 opportunities to taste Ontario wines in 200+ LCBO locations. Over 130 Ontario restaurants are also participating in their own SHINE {ON} programs, offering local wine by-the-glass to pair with special local menus. Visit for all of the details.

The September 14 VINTAGES release features 23 Ontario wines, and I’ve highlighted some new and notable as well as established wineries and their wines below. See also a dozen of my personal ‘gold medals’ in the latest issue of CityBites Magazine hitting shelves this week, as well as tips on touring Niagara and Prince Edward County wine country and how to act like a pro at the tasting bar.

Boutique Canadian Wines Go Online

Canadian wine consumers can look forward to another option for sourcing and purchasing top local wines., a Toronto-based e-commerce site that connects Canadian food and drink makers with consumers, is launching an online Canadian wine boutique in September. The virtual shop will enable Canadians coast to coast to purchase small lot Canadian wines from any province, expanding access well beyond the often limited selection found on liquor board shelves (you’ll find some of my wine recommendations on the site).

“Interprovincial barriers and stringent requirements make it difficult for small Canadian wineries to achieve the exposure that comes with having their product listed in government liquor stores,” says Shirley-Ann George, president of John Skinner, owner of Painted Rock Winery in the Okanagan Valley, welcomes the opportunity to connect directly with consumers, believing that “Selling direct is the most effective distribution for those of us producing small lots, and is extending awareness and distribution for the highest quality Canadian estate produced wines”. Visit the site for a list of participating wineries and wines, and expect that list to grow significantly as the word gets out.

LCBO Under Fire

In an indirectly related story, the future landscape of Canadian wine retailing is slated for debate this month. On September 12th, the LCBO will have their day in the Supreme Court of Ontario to answer questions from the Ontario Privacy Commissioner regarding their deemed unnecessary collection of customers’ personal information. But that’s not all. The Board and its team of lawyers will also be facing a Notice of Constitutional Question filed by Warren Porter of the Vin de Garde wine club and his legal counsel, challenging the very constitutionality of the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act that could lead to the demise of the government monopoly.

The challenge hinges on Section 121 of the Constitution Act of 1867, which states, rather unambiguously, that “All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.” Wine falls squarely under the definition of “growth, produce and manufacture”, and Porter’s counsel will argue that according to our constitution, you should be able to order wine from any province into any other province with no additional provincial monopoly brokering fees (taxes, of course, still apply, but in the province of manufacture only).

It’s thanks to this section, as well as to the July 2012 federal ruling allowing inter-provincial shipping of wine, that and others propose to operate. The Ontario Provincial government has yet to rule on how much wine, if any, can be shipped from out of province for personal use, even if the federal government has made it legal to do so. The BC government has already opened the borders. This challenge could pry all of the doors open to admit wine freely from one province to another, which could eventually spill over into imported wines as well if Canada is to maintain its GATT treaties.

So you see, the stakes are high, and these are interesting times indeed. Tune in regularly to WineAlign for updates. In the interim, there are plenty of available local wines to recommend, either directly from wineries or through the LCBO.

New and Notable Ontario: Kew Vineyards

I’ll start off by highlighting a few new and notable Ontario wineries. Several weeks ago I tasted the first releases from Kew Vineyards, a new label named after Richard Kew, a soldier in the war of 1812 who was granted the land on which the vineyard sits today. Yet although the label is new to the local wine scene, the Young family who now own the property is anything but; the Youngs also own Angels’ Gate Winery, established in 2002. The vines, too, are well seasoned. Kew vineyards is comprised of some sixty acres of vines on the Beamsville Bench, some parcels of which were planted back in 1975. A separate Young family vineyard adjacent to Peninsula Ridge Winery, farmed organically, also supplies grapes to Kew. Angel’s Gate winemaker Philip Dowell is making the Kew wines for the time being at his facility. Production is set to be capped at 5000 cases across several small lot wines, including three sparkling wines yet to be released. A retail shop will open this fall. It’s one of the most consistently impressive, and best value ranges, I’ve tried in some time.

2010 Kew Vineyards Estate Vineyard Old Vine RieslingKew Vineyard Estate Marsanne Viognier 2012Highlights out now include the 2010 Kew Vineyards Estate Vineyard Old Vine Riesling ($18.95). Made from some of the oldest Riesling in Ontario, including some of the original Weiss clone plantings in 1975, the nose has extraordinary intensity: ripe and very mineral, with wet hay and flower blossom honey flavours mixing with apples and green peach/apricot in a classic riesling register. The palate offers a fine balance between acidity and an imperceptible nine grams of residual sugar, finishing dry. Old vine intensity for under $20? Score.

Also well worth a look is the 2012 Kew Vineyards Marsanne-Viognier ($18.95) – the first blend of its kind in Ontario. I question whether the success of this wine can be consistently repeated, but 2012 was clearly a favorable year for these Mediterranean varieties. The nose is amazingly floral and peachy, but also spicy and herbal, with whiffs of basil and sage, apricot skin, honey and pears in syrup, with a full, thick palate, verging on unctuous, further softened by lowish acid and a generous 14.5% alcohol. This also won a gold medal at the NWAC, so the other judges were also clearly aligned behind its quality.

New and Notable Ontario: Domaine Queylus

David Lawrason has already heralded the arrival of Domaine Queylus in his August 3 report, but I’ll second the mention as a welcome addition to the Ontario wine scene. As he points out, Queylus is a new venture owned by Gilles Chevalier of Montreal, but again there is plenty of history and experience behind the project making its debut success less surprising. Wines are made by Thomas Bachelder, ex of Le Clos Jordanne and the man behind the ambitious, eponymous, Bachelder Wines, for which he produces chardonnay and pinot noir from Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy.

Domaine Queylus will be launching with pinot noirs from both 2010 and 2011 in two price tiers – Tradition ($29) and Reserve ($39). Both tiers are blends from a vineyard in Beamsville planted in 2007, and one in Jordan – Le Clos Jordanne’s “La Petite Colline” vineyard, planted in 2002. The Reserve is assembled from specific parcels and barrels. My preference leans towards the 2011s overall, which I found to have greater freshness and vibrancy relative to the more baked flavours of the 2010s, even if both are worth a look. 2011 Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir ‘Tradition’ and 2011 Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir ‘Reserve’.

New and Notable Ontario: Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk Cabernet Franc Reserve 2010Tom O’Brien of Cooper’s Hawk planted his first vines in 2008 on the north shore of Lake Erie. And though I’ve never visited the winery, and can’t speak about the full range of wines on offer, I have to say I was struck by the first reserve release, the 2010 Cooper’s Hawk Cabernet Franc Reserve ($39.95) hitting the shelves on September 14. For a first crop it’s certainly remarkable, although it’s known in the grape growing world that if yields are kept very low, as in this case, and the weather is favorable, as it was in 2010, quality can be striking. (The subsequent harvests often reveal the shortcomings of young vines until maturity is reached, usually after at least 7-8 years or more).

Here it was the intriguing mix of dried herbs and flowers, tart, dried red fruit, licorice and delicate wood spice that did it for me – a wine that would be much more at home in a lineup of old world wines, despite winemaker Rory McCaw’s stated aim for a fruit forward new world style. Canada’s longest sunshine hours and the warming waters of Lake Erie, coupled with sandy soils, appear to favour softer wines that reach maturity relatively early on – like this example. In any case, this is a quite classy, if premium-priced, wine; I look forward to tasting the other offerings from Cooper’s hawk, and following their goals for environmental sustainability.

Established Ontario

Among releases from some of the more established names in Ontario wine, it’s worth seeking out a trio of chardonnays: 2011 Closson Chase South Clos Chardonnay, Prince Edward County ($39.95), 2011 Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95), and 2010 Flat Rock Good Kharma Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($16.95).

Closson Chase Chardonnay South Clos Vineyard 2011Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2011Flat Rock Good Kharma Chardonnay 2010

Three pinot noirs are likewise noteworthy: 2010 Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula ($39.95), 2011 Coyote’s Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula ($22.95), and 2010 Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula ($26.95).

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2010Coyote's Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir 2010

Click on the links or bottle images for full reviews and availability.

Top Ten Smart Buys

This week’s top ten is fully dominated by Spain – like the last European and World Cup Soccer Championships – with five highly recommended values representing Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat and Costers del Segre. You’ll also find an excellent pair of $20 traditional method sparklers, sumptuous Alsatian style pinot gris from New Zealand, classic Mâcon Blanc, and a lovely Dolcetto d’Alba from one of my favorite Piemontese producers. Click on the Top Smart Buys link below for details.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

We invite our Premium Subscription members to use these links for immediate access to all of John Szabo’s reviews. Paid membership to WineAlign has its privileges – this is one of them. Enjoy!

From the Sept 14, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Smart Buys
Ontario Highlights
All Reviews


Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Fortessa Canada Inc.

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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Lucious locals

The LCBO launches its biggest ever “Go Local” campaign starting Sept. 16, and more than 90 restaurants in the province will feature a special menu pairing locavore dishes with Ontario wine. Find these via

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2010
$34.95 (93 points)
This organically and biodynamically farmed Vinemount Ridge (silty-clay soil over limestone) white is aged a year in French oak, showing well in the toasty bouquet and nicely integrated on the palate. Firm, elegant fruit makes it flavourful with admirable structure and length.

Kacaba Cabernet Merlot 2009
$16.95 (89 points)
This red blend aged for 16 months in a combo of French and American oak is a tad lighter with savoury, herbal Bordeaux-style flavours overlaid with ripe berry. Smooth with a clear uplift of acidity and a touch of spice, it’s a good match for lamb or duck.

Henry of Pelham Reserve Baco Noir 2010
$24.95 (89 points)
Henry of Pelham knows how to make the best of a hybrid grape. From low-yielding vines planted in 1984 on Short Hills Bench, aged 18 months in oak, this dark purple wine is flavourful and meaty with juicy blackberry and smoky vanilla notes, as well as a touch of bacon. A brooding bruiser with attitude, it’s a match for venison and wild boar.

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Lawrason’s Take On Vintages Sept 15th Release

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Talking Ontario, Great Cabernet Taste-Off, Five Cellaring Reds, Fine Whites and Bargains

Ontario Wine: People are talking, and talking… Called People are Talking, the largest LCBO promotion of Ontario wine in history kicks off this weekend, with a wide-reaching program of in-store tastings and spotlighting of new and old wines. It is impressive on paper – 142 wines highlighted (whatever that means) at LCBO stores, with 24 new wines among them. There will be 1,200 in-store tastings, and they will be out collecting consumer testimonials at the same time. Vintages is releasing 21 local wines this Saturday (see my picks below), and has published a long conversation among its buyers, sommeliers and writers.

But so much of this, like other regional promotions at the LCBO, is smoke and mirrors – or perhaps I should say, just talk. Where are price reductions that would really drive traffic? Where are the political initiatives to really help local wines by creating stand-alone Ontario wine stores? As it is now, most Ontario wine is not available at the LCBO, and most wineries can otherwise only sell out of their tasting rooms or on-line with direct delivery to restaurants and individuals, (while B.C. wineries by comparison have four retail streams). There is indeed a lot of excitement and talk around the wine quality itself; but until government gets itself out of the way too few people will be exposed to what Ontario is capable of doing.

And here at WineAlign we are talking about Ontario wine too. Colleague John Szabo has penned a terrific piece on WineAlign called Does Buying Local Make Sense?, in which he very cogently tackles complex issues around diversity, quality, value and the importance of “necessary” wines in Ontario. And I have published an opinion piece in Grapevine magazine titled: Canadian Wine’s Coming Freedom from Over-Regulation, arguing that due to the quality now being achieved it is indeed time for governments, and even Canada’s VQA program, to back off and let we consumers decide which Canadian wines we can buy, as well as decide where, when and how we want to do that. We are paying the freight. The full text is at

2027 Cellars Falls Vineyard Riesling 2011Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2010Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2010Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2010

As you read these pieces, open any of the following wines from the September 15th release, and it will all make a lot more sense. Vintages has done a good job focusing squarely on the five wines/styles Ontario does best – riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet franc and icewine/late harvest. Riesling is well represented with four strong candidates, but I particularly liked the tension and depth of 2027 Falls Vineyard 2011 Riesling from Vinemount Ridge ($18.95). Among the chardonnays, Bachelder 2010 Niagara Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95) is a brilliant and thoroughly modern example of Ontario’s potential with this grape. Featherstone 2010 Cabernet Franc, also from Niagara Peninsula ($16.95) is also a great example of new thinking around this plentiful grape, (and I can let you in on a little secret that 27 Ontario cabernet francs have won medals at the 2012 Canadian Wine Awards, including four golds). And finally, although I found the Niagara pinots on this release a bit difficult, I am very pleased with the slim, tidy and long finishing Norman Hardie 2010 County Unfiltered Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County ($35.00). My full review is also in the Vintages magazine.

Wolf Blass’ Great Cabernet Blend Taste-Off

If you have been partaking of the Toronto International Film Festival you are likely aware that Australia’s Wolf Blass is the exclusive wine sponsor. Ontario has been a key market for Wolf Blass over the years, often a launching pad for new brands, and for several years Yellow Label was the top-selling wine at the LCBO, at any price. So Wolf Blass himself has been in red-carpet-ville much of this week, along with chief winemaker Chris Hatcher. They used the occasion of TIFF to conduct a most interesting tasting on Tuesday, where 30 top, most respected Cabernet Sauvignon blends of the 2008 vintage from Bordeaux, Australia, California and Chile were blind tasted by ten wine writers and sommeliers assembled from across Canada. The same tasting was held in Melbourne two weeks ago and next month will be replicated in London, England.

Chris Hatcher - Winemaker

Chris Hatcher, Wolf Blass

It was not billed as “competition” but of course blind tasting by its nature engenders competition, and yes, Wolf Blass Black Label ranked number one, to which Chris Hatcher said “thanks for that mates”. It was picked ahead of all the first growths of Bordeaux, most of super-second growths, Opus One and Insignia from California and Almaviva from Chile. What I enjoyed most about this exercise was simply trying to delineate which regions the wines were from, and I was right at least 50% of the time. But I was surprised about how many Bordeaux I picked as New World wines, even in a more spare vintage like 2008. Bordeaux loves to talk about its classicism and sense of place, but some examples wore so much new oak, and fully ripened structure that it was hard to pin them as Bordeaux. And on the other side of the ledger the New World examples were trying to dial back the ripeness and oak in search of elusive Bordeaux restraint.

In the end the vast majority were excellent wines. I only scored two less than 90 points – but excellent quality should be routine at the triple-digit price of all these wines. And for the record, I didn’t score Black Label the highest. It was in my top third at 94 points, but a couple were higher, with my favourite being the electric Chateau Lascombes 2008, a Margaux that actually has a higher merlot content. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 2008 and Almaviva 2008 were at 95 points, with six at 94. I hope one day soon to publish complete reviews from this tasting on WineAlign, but there was no time for this newsletter.

Five Great Cellar Reds That Don’t Cost over $100

Now back to earth and this release, where there were few themes other than Ontario. So I would like to simply present five excellent 90+ point reds that are accessible, available and don’t cost hundreds of dollars.

Stags' Leap Winery Petite SirahTwo Hands Lily's Garden ShirazFrom California Stags’ Leap Winery 2008 Petite Sirah ($44.95) is perhaps the best single bottle of petite sirah I have ever had. Also called durif, this syrah-like variety has always had a bit of cult following in California, but has rarely topped the charts because it usual lacks finesse and flavour depth. This one captures both.

From Australia, Two Hands Lily’s Garden 2010 Shiraz ($62.95) from the McLaren Vale is a minor masterpiece, very sumptuous but finally tuned with calvacade of flavours. It is aged entirely in American oak for almost two years, but it is amazingly not-very-oaky, which speaks to the fruit depth achieved.

From the Rhone Valley of France, Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($37.95) is yet another testament to the quality of this vintage in the south of France. It is reserved so it was not an immediately obvious hit, but it has good density, poise and length that will reward five years in the cellar. The 14 ha family vineyard owned Corinne Mestre is naturally farmed, and the wine is concrete fermented and aged in large, old oak foudres.

Chateau Musar 2002Ruffino Ducale Oro Chianti Classico RiservaDomaine De La Côte De L'ange Châteauneuf Du PapeFrom Tuscany, Italy comes one of the great classics. Ruffino Ducale Oro 2007 Chianti Classico Riserva ($43.95) is just hitting prime time. It’s a classic take on Tuscany; chock full of rusticity and richness. If you are fan on Brunello di Montalcino you should enjoy this just as much, for a few dollars less than most brunellos.

And finally from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley comes one of the great, traditional classics. Chateau Musar 2002 is ready to drink, in fact should be drunk within a couple of years. You may balk at $54.95 for Lebanese wine but it is worth every inch of that price as a lesson in wine maturing and the weave of texture and flavour into a harmonious whole.

Fine Whites Under $30

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon BlancRolly Gassmann Stegreben De Rorschwihr GewurztraminerNals Margreid Pinot GrigioFrom Marlborough, New Zealand, Villa Maria Cellar Selection 2011 Sauvignon Blanc only strengthens my impression that Villa Maria is making some of the best wines of any of the larger NZ houses. The wines have such composure! So if you are avoiding NZ sauvignons because they are too aggressive give this a try, at only $21.95.

From Alsace, France comes a monumental Rolly Gassmann 2009 Stegreben de Rorschwihr Gewurztraminer, for $27.95. I say monumental not because it is huge in stature, but because it so statuesquely defines Alsatian gewürztraminer. So it is a monument to the genre for those who want a first class education.

From Italy’s Alto Adige comes the lovely mountain-rendered Nals Margreid 2011 Pinot Grigio ($17.95). This is a co-op winery with over 100 growers, but a modern co-op founded in the mid-eighties that employs the latest thinking in terms of viticulture and winemaking. And this is more than your average Italian pinot grigio.

And a Pair of Great Little Bargains

Azul Portugal Vinho TintoDomaine Jacky Marteau Sauvignon TouraineIf you are always on the look-out for great buys cheap, don’t miss the spry, juicy little white Domaine Jacky Marteau Sauvignon Touraine from the Loire Valley at $12.95. Or the surprisingly well structured, complex if not hugely deep Azul Portugal 2007 Vinho Tinto from Portugal’s Bairrada region. Again, only $12.95.

That’s it for this release. I hope to see some you Monday (Sept 17) at the sold-out Penfold’s Single Bottle dinner, which by the way, has changed location to House of Moments in the Riverdale area of Toronto. I can’t make it to the Boekenshoutskloof event with Marc Kent but I have enjoyed his wines immensely and he is one of those engaging and very interesting winemakers who is totally tuned into the global wine scene.

See you next time,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the September 15th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

WineAlign is pleased to present our Winemaker Series 

These intimate and exclusive events allow our members the opportunity to enjoy great wines with some of the most famous winemakers in the world.

Sept 18th – Paired Tasting Dinner with winemaker Marc Kent

Boekenhoutskloof Winemaker Marc Kent

Founded in 1776, Boekenhoutskloof Winery experienced a re-birth in 1993 when Marc Kent took over. Marc’s skill as winemaker soon shone bright and he started to catch the eyes of wine lovers and writers around the world, garnering the only FIVE star rating for a South African winery from the esteemed Robert Parker. In addition, Boekenhoutskloof was recently awarded “2012 Winery of the Year” by Platter’s South African Wine Guide.

Join Marc and WineAlign’s Zoltan Szabo on September 18th for an exquisitely paired tasting experience at Barque (one of Toronto’s best new restaurants – Toronto Life) with a lineup of eight of his wines that will quickly convert those new to South Africa.  Event details


Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz

The Wine Establishment - Code 38 Stealth

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for September 15th 2012

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Does Buying Local Make Sense? Ontario Wines in the Spotlight and Top Ten Smart Buys

A long time WineAlign reader (and experienced drinker) wrote to me a short while back, saying: “I’ve stopped buying Ontario because they disappoint in value. I still feel that you can get equal quality imports at more reasonable prices and in greater variety than our local stuff. My local experiment is over. I’d much rather a balanced French Chard at $14 than an insipid Ontario Chard at $19 or higher…”  Well, this week’s report is my open answer, including some thoughts on quality, value and “necessary” wines. In addition, I’ve got almost a couple dozen Ontario wines to recommend in response. And for the naysayers and equal opportunists, I’ve also got Top Ten Smart Buys from outside of Canada for you.  Finally, you should check out our winemaker series where you can share great wines and stories with some of the best winemakers in the world.  The events are selling out quickly.

Variety, Value and Quality in Ontario

2027 Cellars - Falls Vineyard

2027 Cellars – Falls Vineyard

The reader’s comments quoted above provoke some thought. Firstly, regarding variety, I agree. Ontario wine styles aren’t that diverse. In fact, I would argue that they are even perhaps still too diverse. Ontario should focus on what it does best, and not try to please everyone. In my view Ontario’s strengths are cool climate style riesling and chardonnay, and cabernet franc and pinot noir, observations that were driven home yet again as I judged at the Canadian Wine Awards in Penticton, BC this past August and tasted several hundred wines over the course of a week. This is what the region should be known for and what I’m generally happy drinking. I don’t shop for full-bodied wines in the Mosel or delicate reds in the Barossa Valley; having a regional style focus is a positive aspect of the Ontario wine industry. The occasional meritage blend or syrah or viognier or nebbiolo add interest to the wine scene, but should never distract from pursuing the real strengths that drive the industry. If I’m in the mood for other wine styles, I’ll shop elsewhere. Lack of diversity is not a reason to avoid Ontario wines, it’s a reason to buy what the region does best.

Henry of Pelham Estate Winery

Henry of Pelham Estate Winery

And then there’s quality and value, slightly more problematic questions. Regarding sheer molecular pleasure for the money, I also tend to agree with the reader. It’s very tough for Ontario wineries to compete with, say a multigenerational family operation in someplace like Mâcon in southern Burgundy, where they make killer $20 chardonnay from 80 year old vines in a top site. The land is paid for, the winery is paid for, and the winemaker is also the estate manager, sales manager, PR division and delivery boy all wrapped into one. Fine wine at a low price is feasible.

But in Ontario, there are no 80-year-old vines. Most vineyards are financed or rented and wineries are amortized, hopefully within the owner’s lifetime. Although quality can also be high in Ontario – the potential is by now well-established as I’ve experienced in countless blind tastings – it can costs more to achieve quality than in other parts of the world. But don’t forget that there are also countless other regions where prices are inflated, artificially or not, and extreme value wines like the example described above are ever-rarer. So considering all this, is buying local wines a smart move? I think so, and here’s why: quality and value aren’t only found in the glass. If you believe in the idea of “necessary” wines, it makes sense to consider Ontario.

Is Going Local Necessary?

I’m hardly a crusader for local wines, or for the wines of any particular place for that matter. I’m a crusader for wines that I believe are necessary. And by necessary, I’m referring to wines that contribute something meaningful to the world, that benefit communities, that are an expression of a place, a culture, a history or a future; wines that have a real, not contrived story, in other words something distinctive and unique, not simply vehicles for profit or vanity. Let’s face it: the world doesn’t need another anonymous $10 or $15 cabernet or chardonnay or sauvignon blanc designed in a boardroom with a back story manufactured by a clever marketing firm, nor does it need another $100 cabernet or super Tuscan born out of an ego-driven vanity project.

Necessary wines also maintain diversity, and supporting them is like saving an endangered species. In other words, these wines enrich the world in some unique way. I believe that some Ontario wines are necessary.

Notice that I haven’t even thrown out the words “quality” or “value” yet to define necessary. That’s an entirely different, although interwoven discussion confounded by the widely varying definitions of what those terms really mean. Necessary wines do offer quality and value – I wouldn’t drink bad wine just to support a cause – but the quality and value also have to extend to considerations beyond the glass, too, to truly be necessary.

Featherstone Estate Winery

Sheep Labour at Featherstone Estate Winery

What do quality and value mean to you? Is quality wine determined entirely by the molecules swimming around in your glass, or, do you have a broader view of what quality wine is, such as the positive impact it has on the lives of others, or the environment? Is value a simple equation of pleasure/dollars? Or, are there other aspects to value, like the economic impact purchasing a wine has on a community? And what of the person, family or company that made the wine: do the values of the maker (moral, political, religious) matter to you? Would you still get as much pleasure for your money if drinking a wine made by a raging anti-semite or child abuser, or more pleasure if made by a fanatic philanthropist or community center volunteer?

Once your definition of quality and value starts to trickle a little further from the glass, the ‘necessary’ aspect of wine comes into clearer focus. And if you believe in necessary wines, it would be hard to argue that nothing produced in Ontario fits the definition. I believe that many of Ontario’s wines are necessary wines, but to say that all are necessary would be as erroneous as saying that none are worthy.

VQA Wines Have a Significant Impact on the Local Economy

In a press release issued by the Wine Council of Ontario following a report by KPMG, Ed Madronich, Chair of the Wine Council of Ontario and President of Flat Rock Cellars, is quoted as saying “KPMG confirms the story of robust economic contribution that we in Ontario’s VQA wine industry have long understood. Even in the teeth of recessionary times, our VQA wine industry created jobs in manufacturing, construction and tourism – all the while preserving high-value agriculture in Ontario’s Greenbelt and contributing a set of steadily rising economic benefits to the entire province. Since 2007, few other industries can make the same claim.”

– The industry’s overall economic contribution in 2010 alone rose to $191M
– 1300 additional jobs were created by the VQA wine sector from 2007 to 2011.
– The value of Ontario’s VQA wine industry impact on tourism stood at $10M in 2010.
– The economic impact of each litre of VQA wine sold hit $12.29, an increase of over 7% since 2007

Buying local wines has clear benefits for local the economy, which in turn means benefits for you, too. It benefits local communities, drives tourism and enriches Ontario’s cultural landscape. There’s a lot to do in wine country Ontario. The dining scene is vibrant, the overall quality of cuisine has never been higher, and the spin-off activities are wide and varied. All of this has been driven by the local wine industry. As the industry grows and evolves (KPMG estimates that wine tourism in Ontario is likely to grow by at least 20% in the next five years), the scene will only get more interesting. And that makes our lives potentially more interesting, especially if you like eating and drinking and traveling. We vote for the politicians we believe will make positive changes in our communities, and we can vote with our dollars on consumer goods that can also have a positive impact. I’d say that makes at least some local wines necessary.

Do I think that you should only buy Ontario wines? Not by a long shot. I’m far too promiscuous of a drinker myself to recommend that honestly. There are plenty of other necessary wines in the world that deserve support, and which I enjoy drinking. But I hope you’ll consider quality, value and variety in a different light, and re-consider Ontario wines, at least once in a while. I don’t recommend buying insipid $19 chardonnay from Ontario or anywhere else.

And Quality, Of Course

If sheer molecular pleasure remains your primary MO, as it should, then try some of the Ontario wines recommended below from the September 15th Vintages release or my top picks from the Canadian Wine Awards. Eliminate the negative perception, which has a significant impact on how your brain unravels the sensory stimulus offered by a glass of wine, by blind tasting with other similarly priced/styled wines from around the world. I’d be surprised if you didn’t get a little molecular enjoyment, too, on top of the extra-glass positive impact of your purchase.

Top Ontario Wines from the September 15th Release

2011 2027 Cellars Falls Vineyard Riesling VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay VQA Niagara Peninsula
2010 Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir VQA Prince Edward County
2010 Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Henry of Pelham Reserve Baco Noir VQA Ontario
2010 Flat Rock Gravity Pinot Noir VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Featherstone Cabernet Franc VQA Niagara Peninsula
Closson Chase Chardonnay 2009, VQA Prince Edward County

Link to my Top Ontario Wines in this release.

Speaking of top Ontario wines, make sure to check out my my top picks from the recent Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards here.

The LCBO’s Go Local Campaign

The LCBO is launching its biggest ever “Go Local” promotional campaign from September 16th to October 13th. 93 restaurants across Ontario are offering a special menu option that pairs local food and local wine. As wine director for Stock restaurant at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, I too am participating in the campaign. In fact, we’ve already been featuring Canadian wines by the glass for the last month, and I look forward to sharing some of Canada’s best with a couple dozen A-listers in town for TIFF. Follow all the twitter at #LCBOgoLOCAL and visit for more details on participating restaurants and interviews with prominent local sommeliers about Ontario wines (including me!).

If you haven’t already you should check out the upcoming events in our winemaker series.  We’ve got three events happening in the next few weeks, one is already sold out and the other two are close to sold out already.

From the September 15th, 2012 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Ontario Wine
All Reviews


John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

WineAlign is pleased to present our Winemaker Series 

These intimate and exclusive events allow our members the opportunity to enjoy great wines with some of the most famous winemakers in the world.

Sept 13th – Tutored Tasting with the legendary Grant Burge

Grant BurgeGrant Burge is a fifth-generation Barossa Vigneron.Throughout his career, Grant has been one of the most respected and innovative forces in the Australian wine industry.The history of the Burge family and their long association with winemaking in the region can be traced back to March 1855, today Grant and his family carry the winemaking traditions into the 21st century.

Grant Burge Wines was formed in 1988 by Grant and his wife Helen, and is located in the heart of the Barossa Valley on the banks of Jacobs Creek and is still proudly family owned.

Join Grant and WineAlign’s Sara d’Amato at the Acadian Lofts (Toronto) on September 13th. After a sparkling wine reception with Canapés, Grant will guide you through a tutored tasting of seven of his outstanding Barossa wines. Following the tasting attendees will be able to enjoy their favourite wines along with hors d’oeuvres. Event details

Sept 18th – Paired Tasting Dinner with winemaker Marc Kent

Boekenhoutskloof Winemaker Marc KentFounded in 1776, Boekenhoutskloof Winery experienced a re-birth in 1993 when Marc Kent took over. Marc’s skill as winemaker soon shone bright and he started to catch the eyes of wine lovers and writers around the world, garnering the only FIVE star rating for a South African winery from the esteemed Robert Parker. In addition, Boekenhoutskloof was recently awarded “2012 Winery of the Year” by Platter’s South African Wine Guide.

Join Marc and WineAlign’s Zoltan Szabo on September 18th for an exquisitely paired tasting experience at Barque (one of Toronto’s best new restaurants – Toronto Life) with a lineup of eight of his wines that will quickly convert those new to South Africa. Event details


Penfolds Bin 29 Kalimna Shiraz 2009

The Wine Establishment - Le Nez deu Vin

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John Szabo’s Canadian Wine Awards 2012 Dozen Smart Buys from Ontario

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The 12th annual Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards wrapped up last week in Pentiction, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. A record number of entries – 1266 – were submitted this year. According to several of the 17 judges from 7 provinces across the country, this was the strongest showing for Canadian wines overall in the competition’s 12 year history. The most exciting categories, such as chardonnay, riesling, pinot, cabernet franc and syrah, among others, further solidified the varieties and wine styles that perform best in the country. Full, official results will be published in the Dec/Jan. issue of Wine Access, but here are a dozen of my top picks from Ontario, wines that are worth seeking out before results are published and the wines snapped up by collectors.

(Note that all wines were tasted blind in their category – identities were revealed after the competition when each judges’ score sheets were returned – these picks reflect only my top scoring wines and may not necessarily be the competition winners.)

Check with wineries for availability and pricing. In no particular order:

2011 Riverview Cellars Gewürztraminer, Niagara River, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Hidden Bench Roman’s Block Riesling Rosomel Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Tawse Sketches Riesling, Niagara Peninsula
2011 Angel’s gate Pinot Gris Beamsville bench, Niagara Peninsula
2011 Vineland Estates Unoaked Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Huff Estates South Bay Vineyard Chardonnay, Prince Edward County

2010 Peller Estates Niagara Private Reserve Merlot, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Southbrook Poetica Red, Niagara Peninsula
2009 Henry Of Pelham Pinot Noir Estate, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula
2010 Rosewood Winery and Meadery Cabernet Franc, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula

2010 Colaneri “Profondo Fumoso Bianco” Sauvignon Blanc Recioto Style, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula

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New Ontario Wineries 2012 – By David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The opening of new wineries in Ontario has slowed compared to the deluge in the late, pre-recession 2000s, but there are new ventures in all three established regions – Niagara, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County.

The number of wineries in the province always seems to be a moving target, depending on who is offering the stats. VQA Ontario, for example, will only include wineries that subscribe to VQA, which is most, but not all – excluding all fruit wineries and new wineries using grapes in regions that don’t make enough wine to qualify for VQA status.  Wine Country Ontario (formerly the Wine Council of Ontario) will only count its members – which exclude a group of large producers that also make wine from offshore fruit. Both organizations also have membership fees and regulations that make some folks pause to assess whether they want to belong.

So I have always deferred to the non-partisan Canadian Wine Annual, published by Wine Access magazine. Until this year I authored the Ontario section and did my best to include wineries of every stripe. In 2011 there were 147 listings, including every fruit winery and virtual winery I could find. This year, I estimate the addition of another half dozen.

Here is a quick survey of four new wineries. Of course, they are all too new to have earned a spot at the LCBO, but that should not hinder those who know how the system works. Most Ontario wine is not at the LCBO anyway, so thank goodness that Ontario’s wine country is within a few hours proximity to most Ontarians. Years ago I remember envying Europeans who could drive to Burgundy for the weekend and load up on great pinot and chardonnay. Well that is now available here in Ontario too; or you can order on line and they will drive the wine to you.

I have only personally visited the first winery on the list, and I look forward to seeing the others on my rounds this spring.

Rennie Estate Winery – Beamsville Bench

Rennie Estate Winery is a new label born in a joint venture between Angel’s Gate Winery and grower Graham Rennie, who owns Heron Pond Benchland Vineyard east of Beamsville.  Planted in 1998 this maturing fifty acre site is focused on classic bench varieties like chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet franc, with some merlot and cabernet sauvignon as well.

“I knew the vineyard could produce classic chardonnay and pinot” says Rennie, “but I also wanted to do something different. I was actually visiting Masi in Verona, Italy, in October 2009 when I decided to try to make ‘appassimento’ reds from dried grapes in Niagara”. This is a growing practice in Ontario, which has conditions not dissimilar to northeast Italy. Rennie joins A Foreign Affair, Cave Spring, Colaneri, Burning Kiln, Organized Crime and Reif in this pursuit. Indeed, a VQA technical committee is discussing how to “regulate” the process.

Essentially, the drying or raisining of the grapes after harvest concentrates the sugar, colour and flavour compounds; with the potential of creating wines with higher alcohol and richer texture. Grapes can be fully dried as in Italy’s amarones, or partially dried, creating “ripasso” styled wines. The drying is done indoors where temperature and humidity can be controlled. The latter is crucial in preventing mould that would spoil the berries. So far different techniques are being studied in Ontario, and there is controversy whether rushed drying in tobacco drying kilns is as good for wine quality as longer drying at lower temperature.

Rennie’s joint venture with Angel’s Gate brought aboard winemaker Phillip Dowell, an Australian-trained winemaker with plenty of experience with big reds, as well as pinot noir (at Yarra Valley’s Coldstream Hills). Dowell has worked over a decade in Niagara as well, first at Inniskillin from 1998 to 2004, then at Angel’s Gate since 2006. He says he was initially against the idea of making appassimento style reds in Ontario, but he has changed his mind given the results he has encountered, and the option it provides to winemakers who are dealing with late ripening red varieties in Niagara’s short and variable growing season.

The first two appassimento reds from Rennie Estate are an intriguing, spicy, partially dried 2010 Cabernet Franc called Scarpa that will sell for $50, and a fully dried, very rich, creamy 2010 Merlot called Gaia that will fetch $75. I tasted them as barrel samples and will not review them until release. Futures orders are being taken for these wines (cases of six) now.

The sleek, elegant $30 2010 Chardonnay called Cristine (named after Rennie’s wife) is my personal favourite in the portfolio, while the taut, tannic and savoury 2010 Pinot Noir called Paradox, is a wine needing a year or two in the cellar. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir go on sale at Angel’s Gate on April 1st.

Art Reimer

Art Reimer

Reimer Vineyards – Niagara on the Lake

Opening Reimer Vineyards has been a 25 year evolution for engineer and agriculturalist Art Reimer and his wife Sue (a local history buff). Beginning as hobbyist, then a commercial grape grower, then joining the ranks of Niagara amateur winemakers, Art began converting the vineyard to organic production in 2000 (certifying in 2008). The Reimers opened their small winery near Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2010. I have only tasted the powerful (if oxidative) 2010 Riesling. They also make a Chardonnay, with red varieties being used in blends called Galahad (pinot noir, gamay) and Peace and Harmony (cab franc, cabernet sauvignon and hybrid chambourin).

Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards – Lake Erie North Shore
Situated on 67 acres between Kingsville and Harrow, Cooper’s Hawk is named for a species of hawk that thrives in a region teeming with insect, bird and animal wildlife. Katy and Tom O’Brien have created an experience that is part vineyard and part nature preserve, where with glass in hand visitors can stroll the ponds, wetlands and park areas. Winemaking is focused on a tight range of well-known varietal wines led quality wise by a full flavoured, ripe 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay. The Riesling 2010 is similarly big, petrol-driven but coarse. An age-worthy 2008 Cabernet-Merlot shows some promise for future vintages; the 2010 rosé made from estate cabernet franc is, frankly speaking, a mistake.

Devil’s Wishbone – Prince Edward County

Paul Gallagher has been scratching grapes from his gravel strewn, high density, low yield vineyard. The century old farm is nicely positioned on the tourism circuit east of the mysterious Lake on the Mountain above the Glenora Ferry. Last summer he took the leap and opened his winery. Some of his wines – chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir – are made from estate grapes, but his merlot and cabernet (like others in the County) are from Niagara fruit. I would say why bother, although the 2009 merlot is his best wine to date. The current PEC wines show impressive flavour depth, tension and density but the winemaking/flavours needs to improve as does the balance to handle the intensity the vineyards seem to possess. Early days, and I will be following.

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Ontario’s Cuvée 2012 Winning Wines and Pinot Noir Expert’s Tasting – By Janet Dorozynski and Sara d’Amato

Team WineAlign was in Niagara last weekend for the 24th edition of Cuvée, where we attended the Cuvee Gala and the Annual Expert’s Tasting held at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI). This year’s Experts Tasting theme focused on Ontario Pinot Noir.

Cuvée 2012 Winning Wines

Cuvée 2012

Cuvée 2012

The Cuvée Weekend is a fund raiser for the Niagara Community Foundation with proceeds benefitting community groups across the Niagara region.  The Gala event on Friday evening and En Route tastings at wineries throughout the weekend, were open to the public, allowing consumers to try and buy winning wines from the Cuvée Wine Awards.

One of the highlights of the Gala evening is the announcing the winners of the Cuvée Wine Awards, with this year’s competition seeing 264 wines from 64 wineries entered. The wines were judged by a panel of 51 Ontario winemakers. The complete list of winners and information on Cuvée 2012 found on

WineAlign critics David Lawrason, John Szabo, Sara d’Amato and Steve Thurlow attended a pre-Cuvée media tasting to taste all the winning wines and you can check out their reviews on WineAlign to see how our tasters palates compared with those of the winemakers.

Meanwhile, here are some of Sara d’Amato’s top Cuvee picks. Most are only available directly through the winery. Traditionally many Cuvée wines sell out quickly – perhaps even over the Cuvée weekend itself –  so one must be quick on the draw.

Tawse Spark Rosé 2009, Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario, Canada, $39.95
1st Place Winner Sparkling Wine Category
Vibrant and elegant, this is the first incarnation of the Spark Rosé by Tawse Winery.

Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc 2011, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula Ontario, Canada, 89011, $19.95
2nd Place Winner Sauvignon Blanc Category
Upbeat, flavourful and oozing with charm, Featherstone’s recently bottled Sauvignon Blanc is a head-turner.

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV 2009, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, 566026, $29.95
3rd Place Winner Riesling Category
A serious, focused and polished effort from Riesling veteran Cave Spring, built to withstand the test of time.

Creekside Estate Winery Viognier Reserve 2010, Niagara Peninsula VQA
Ontario, Canada, $29.95
2nd Place Winner Viognier Category
Lush, aromatic, exotic and flavour-packed sums up this memorable, mouth-filling Viognier from Niagara’s Rhone varietal experts.

Palatine Hills Proprietor’s Reserve Merlot 2007, Niagara Lakeshore
Ontario, Canada, $24.95
1st Place Winner Merlot Category and Best Red Wine
A ripe, substantial, fruitcake Merlot with bold, integrated oak and the structure to age gracefully.

Colaneri Estate Winery Insieme 2009, Niagara Peninsula VQA Ontario, Canada, $34.95
1st Place Red Blend Category
Produced from lightly dried grapes, this concentrated blend is a brazen showstopper.

Sue Ann Staff Estate Winery Riesling Icewine 2007, Niagara Peninsula (375ml) Ontario, Canada, $50.00
1st Place Limited Edition Dessert Wine
An exceptionally complex array of flavours and unctuous nature perfectly balanced by searing acidity and produced a leading Niagara icewinemaker.

Ontario Experts Tackle Pinot Noir

The 23rd annual Expert’s Tasting at Brock University Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) is a tasting for trade only, designed to examine a specific grape variety or wine style.  Winemakers, sommeliers, buyers, educators and media taste blind (without knowing the wine) to see how these grapes or wines are doing in Ontario. The wines were submitted by wineries and selected by a panel of winemakers, writers, sommeliers and educators. Past topics have included Sparkling wine, Chardonnay, red blends and Riesling with this year’s theme being “Pinot Noir and its siblings in Ontario”.

Thomas Bachelder, an accomplished Canadian-born winemaker whose had made pinot noir in Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy, France, made the very important point that “tastings of this kind are very necessary in young regions like Ontario, so that we are asking questions and seeking the answers about what our regions, appellations and sub-appellations have in common and what makes our wines different and unique”.

While vine age varied and winemaking styles were not identical in the wines we tasted, the Expert’s Tasting demonstrated that Pinot Noir in Ontario is beginning to show some common and identifiable traits within the sub-appellations. A few years ago VQA divided the Niagara Peninsula into sub-regions or appellations based on varying climate and soil conditions.

The first flight of wines set before the crowd of over 150 trade and industry professionals included other members of the Pinot family – Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc along with the always delicious Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catherine Sparkling Rose made from Pinot Noir.

Another flight had us looking at Pinot Noir from the warm 2010 vintage. Interesting examples by G. Marquis (Niagara-on-the Lake)  and Hinterbrook (Lincoln Lakeshore) . both showed a more juicy and fruit forward style, thanks to the warmth of the year.

We also tasted a group from older vintages – 2002, 2007 and 2008.  The Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve 2002 (Niagara Peninsula) still had plenty of life and was evolving nicely. The Hidden Bench Felseck Vineyard 2008 (Beamsville Bench) showed rich cherry fruit and tea characteristics, which the group thought might be characteristic of Pinots from the Beamsville Bench sub-appellation.

Another flight featured the 2009 vintage, considered the year of the Perfect Storm, and the most highly rated vintage for Ontario Pinot Noir to date. This flight included standout examples from Malivoire (Niagara Peninsula), the Lailey Lot 48  (Niagara Peninsula) and the Foreign Affair Pinot Noir (Niagara Peninsula), which contains 40% dried (appassimento-style) grapes in the wine.

The final “Wine Options” flight tried to work out and identify specific characteristics of Pinot Noir from Ontario’s sub-appellations. The Niagara College Teaching Winery Dean’s List (VQA St. David’s Bench) showed spicy and floral notes, while the trio of wines from the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation (Tawse Winery Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2009; Flatrock Cellars Reserve; Rosewood Estates Natural Ferment) were showing a thread of commonality in terms of dark berry flavours, higher but balanced acidity, dried herbs and minerality, which appear to be linked more to texture than an actual flavour attribute.

The Experts Tasting also announces winners of the “Promote the Promoters Awards” that recognize exemplary promoters of Ontario VQA wines. This year’s recipients included John Maxwell of Allen’s on the Danforth for Hospitality, Astrid Brummer in the LCBO Category, Angelo Pavan of Cave Spring Cellars for Promoter-at-Large and Ken Douglas, VQA Chair and founder of 13th Street Winery for Lifetime achievement.

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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Made in Ontario

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Impress your visitors from away with these three well-priced, made in Ontario beauties. Find them via

Flat Rock Riddled Sparking 2008
LCBO No. 187377; $29.95 (91 Points)
Made from grapes grown in Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench area, this sparkler boasts a modern, non-traditional crown cap. A great Champagne alternative for a lot less money, it has a toasty biscuity bouquet taht carries through on the palate. Medium bodied with good fruit, it’s a refreshing way to start a meal.

Chateau des Charmes Old Vine Riesling 2008
LCBO No. 277228; $16.95 (91 Points)
Its wins — Ontario Wine Awards white wine of the year, best in show at Toronto Gold Medal plates — are well deserved. This riesling from the winery’s most mature vineyards is forward, fruity with great minerality and a touch of classic fusils. Its tangy lemon, lime and mineral flavours are rounded nicely by a bit of sweetness. Perfect for Thai, Indian or other exotic spiced dishes.

Inniskillin Winemaker’s Series Montague Pinot Noir
LCBO No. 997353; $24.95 (90 Points)
Inniskillin’s Montague Vineyard pinot noir is an excellent value, well-made red that rarely disappoints. Grown in Niagara’s Four Mile Creek area, it’s medium bodied with supple tannins. Cherry aromas and flavours, well-integrated oak and a fine acidity make it an all-round pleaser for lighter meats, duck or goose.

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Preliminary Ontario 2009 Pinot Noir Report: Wines living up to expectations at last – by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

For several years now industry followers have been touting pinot noir as one of Ontario’s most promising varieties. It’s a “short cycle ripener” meaning that it should be well suited to Ontario’s relatively compact growing season, able to reach full maturity before getting clipped by frost. Many parts (but not all) of Niagara and Prince Edward County also have the right soils that in theory should yield fine wines.

Pinot NoirYet until recently quality has been spotty, with the occasional bright exception, but too many substandard examples damned by faint praise along the lines of “this shows promise”. It’s been a clear of case of wishful thinking sullying sincere beliefs, as though everyone were willing pinot from Ontario to be as good as they wanted it to be. The highly regarded 2007 vintage has turned out to be a disappointment in my view, with many pinots yet, and likely never, to shed a burly cloak of tannins from either overenthusiastic extraction or simply overly thick, rain-starved berries full of sugar but unripe polyphenols.

2008 was problematic for other reasons, namely high disease pressure from mildews, which has resulted in early maturing, browning, volatile wines, many of which are redolent of kitchen compost and slipping past prime already.

Pinot Noir Grapes

Pinot Noir Grapes

Then along comes 2009: cooler than 2007, drier and sunnier than 2008 yet with sufficient rainfall, and the results are nothing short of very good, and in some cases, excellent. The perfect storm of maturing vines, more experienced winemaking, good vintage conditions and a critical mass of serious and dedicated producers have finally converted potential into reality. Ontario is on the map for pinot lovers. The specific sub-regions best suited to quality pinot are also coming clearly into focus. In my view, the Niagara Escarpment (including the St. David’s, Twenty Mile, Short Hills and Beamsville Bench sub-appellations) is the most consistent and concentrated source of high quality in the Niagara Peninsula, while in a relatively short time Prince Edwards County has established itself as perhaps the pre-eminent source of delicate, minerally pinot. I suspect we’ll soon be discussing sub-regions in PEC, too.

Below are some of my top picks from recent tastings, not a comprehensive report, but enough to cause rejoicing among fanatic pinot lovers. (Prices listed where available; check for additional details on availability)

Closson Chase CCV Pinot Noir 2009 Prince Edward County 

Closson’s 2009 pinot is a light, herbal, mineral and vibrantly zesty example with terrific persistence and delicate fruit flavours. This highlights the County’s terroir nicely, emphasizing fruit freshness and limestone and oyster shell-like stoniness; tannins are light, firm and grippy, acid is saliva-inducing, and length impressive. Wood is barely detectable. Lovely wine in a refined mould. Tasted September 2011. 91 Drink 2011-2015

Hardie Wines Limited County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2009 Prince Edward County, $35

Hardie’s 2009 County pinot is his best yet in my view. It spent 11 months in small barrels, of which 40% were new, though the wood is barely detectable here. The texture is pure silk and elegance, with lovely fresh and delicate tart red fruit, vibrant and pure, with energetic acidity, very fine-grained tannins, and a wonderfully refreshing 11.5% alcohol. Flavours run to the wild strawberry and morello cherry spectrum. Very compelling, inviting constant sips. Tasted February 2011.  92 Drink 2011-2015

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Black Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara-on-the-Lake

This is more closed and tightly wound than the Red Paw Vineyard pinot from Coyote’s Run, with considerably more structure and grippy tannins. Fruit spans the red and black berry spectrum, and flavour intensity and depth are impressive. Solidly structured and age worthy all in all. Best after 2012. Tasted September 2011. 90 Drink 2012-2018

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2009 Beamsville Bench

Very open, perfumed, fresh and fragrant, with wood noted alongside highly concentrated, vibrant red and even black berry fruit. Tannins and wood are indeed still marked, and this needs time to integrated, another 1-3 years I’d speculate. Tasted September 2011. 90 Drink 2012-2017

Rosewood Estates Winery Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley 

Here’s a clean, bright, high-toned, juicy red fruit-flavoured pinot from Rosewood Estates, crafted as with most of Natalie Spytkowski’s wines in an elegant and refined style. The palate is suave and silky, with light tannins and bright acid. Fine, lingering finish; very pretty. Tasted September 2011. 90 Drink 2011-2014

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2009 Red Paw Vineyard pinot is firmly in the lighter red berry fruit spectrum of flavours, with notable high-toned cherry and a touch of earthy-funk that’s well within normally acceptable bounds. Tannins are firm and grippy, bolstered by crisp acids, though the wine is well-balanced all around. Impressive length. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2011-2014

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara-on-the-Lake $24.95

This is evidently a serious and ambitious example of pinot noir, with generous oak influence – abundant baking spice, chocolate and fresh coffee grounds. The palate is juicy and savoury, with substantial intensity and long, warm finish. A meaty and savoury wine all in all, one of the finest estate pinots yet from Coyote’s Run. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2011-2015

Tawse Winery Grower’s Blend Pinot Noir 2009 Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley  $30

The Tawse Grower’s Blend Pinot is currently closed on the nose but reveals a good deal of depth and flavour intensity on the palate. There’s generous density and weight for the vintage, while acidity is balanced and crisp, and tannins are grippy and dusty. All in all, a fine, well made wine that should improve over the next 2-3 years in the cellar. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2012-2016

Casa Dea Estates Winery Pinot Noir 2009 Prince Edward County 

Here’s a light, tight, juicy and mineral example of County pinot in the style that excels in the region. The palate is light and flavour intensity modest, but this displays a good dose of limestone minerality and delicate freshness that should be allowed to characterize the wines of the area. For current consumption or short term hold.  Tasted September 2011. 88 Drink 2011-2013

Closson Chase Church Side Pinot Noir 2009 Prince Edward County 

The Churchside pinot is the burliest and most evidently woody of Closson’s 09 Pinots (if such a thing can be said). Flavours are in the darker fruit spectrum, and chocolate-coffee flavours linger on the finish. I think in time this will integrate nicely; try in 1-2 years. Tasted September 2011. 89 Drink 2012-2015

Twenty Twenty Seven Cellars Queenston Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, VQA St. David’s Bench $30

Made from 10 year old vines in the Queenston Road vineyard, one of the warmest in Niagara, Panagapka’s 2009 pinot is a delightfully pale ruby colour with modest intensity aromas in the subdued red berry spectrum. Additional compost, wet earth and sweet baking spice from 14 months in oak (30% new, French) provide complexity. The palate is deceptively powerful, with light, ripe tannins, balanced acidity, quite serious depth and weight, and a forceful, lingering finish. Quite a fine example here, dinking well now but even better in 1-2 years I suspect. Tasted August 2011. 90 Drink 2012-2015

2009 Flat Rock Cellars The Rogue Pinot Noir, Twenty Mile Bench

The Rogue, made in honour of owner Ed Madronich’s father, is a pinot noir made white, or at least a little “gris”. This looks like a well oxidized, old white wine. The nose offers high quality barrel notes up front (30% new) alongside lees; this smells like fine chardonnay. The palate is quite ripe, creamy, with crisp-balancing acidity, and long finish. Well done, a new paradigm for the variety in Ontario. 89+ Drink 2011-2013

2009 Rosehall Run Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County

100% estate-grown fruit from Hillier in PEC, this has a really lovely and pure red fruit/berry character, red currant, red cherry, with a fine measure of florality. This was aged 50% in new barrels, and wood spice is certainly a feature if not exaggerated, though a measure less wood influence would have made this even more enticing and allowed the minerality and delicate fruit to shine through. The palate is light and lean in the good way, with brisk but not excessive acidity, moderate alcohol and light, fine-grained tannins. Solid length. 89 Drink 2011-2014.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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