Find the right wine at the right price, right now.

Bourgogne Lovers Part II: Finding Value in Bourgogne

By John Szabo MSOctober 18, 2014


Some Regions & Producers to Seek Out, and a Buyer’s Guide of Currently Available Wines

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Part I last week surveyed some of the challenges facing La Bourgogne. But despite the doom and gloom outlined, all hope is not lost for Bourgogne lovers. In fact, there are several pockets within the region that remain relatively good value in this high stakes game, and the quality of Bourgogne wines in general is better than anytime before in history. Not even Bourgogne’s lauded name on a label is sufficient to sell mediocre wines in today’s hyper competitive market. Ironically, Bourgogne’s versions of chardonnay and pinot noir remain the yardstick for the majority of producers globally, even if not all will admit it, so there are plenty of excellent alternatives from every coolish climate between Ontario and Tasmania to buy instead of poor quality Bourgogne. So even the homeland has had to keep apace qualitatively.

But it’s important to be realistic: you’ll never find great sub-$20 red Burgundy, or sub $15 white. And $30 and $20 respectively are more probable entry prices. I’ll never tire of quoting Burghound Allen Meadow’s brilliant observation about pinot noir pricing: “you don’t always get what you pay for, but you never get what you don’t pay for”. This is true not only in Burgundy, but just about everywhere else, too. So here, I’m talking value at the premium end of the wine spectrum, relative to the oft-inflated prices of wines from any well-known region. For the best of the originals, look for these regions and producers, or skip to directly to the Buyers’ Guide for wines currently available somewhere in Canada.

Chablis: Get It While You Can

For reasons I fail to fully understand, Chablis remains both a world reference for chardonnay as well as perhaps the single best value within La Bourgogne. Considering that many, including me, believe Chablis to be the world’s most unique, effortless expression of cool climate chardonnay, it’s puzzling, and even more so now that demand outstrips supply. How long can this last?

The Latest Developments

Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel

Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel

If 1980 was a critical turning point for Chablis in the cellar, with the widespread arrival of stainless steel tanks (enamel-lined tanks or wood vats predominated before), the most important recent changes have occurred in the vineyards. “The pruning has changed quite dramatically”, Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel tells me. “Today, it’s much shorter, as there’s much less risk of frost damage.” Global warming has been keenly felt in this part of France, and production is more regular now than in the past, even if average quantities are down as a result.

Overall, viticulture has also improved dramatically. “Thirty years ago, Chablis was like the moon”, continues Michel, referring to the widespread use of herbicides. “Nobody ploughed their vineyards. Now it’s commonplace.” Bernard Ravenau, one of the region’s most celebrated vignerons, further explains: “Twenty years ago, the top producers were the ones who had the balls to harvest late. Now, the top producers are the ones who harvest earliest. The goal is not a wine with 14% alcohol”.

Bernard Raveneau

Bernard Raveneau

Raveneau’s extraordinary 2010s weigh in at around 12.5%, so it’s clearly not just talk. The net result, at least in the top tier, is better wine than Chablis has ever produced before. And there’s little excuse for thin, mean and acidic Chablis, unless you’re greedy with yields.

At its best, Chablis captures an inimitable profile and bottles its essence. It’s that electrifying structure and palpable minerality that blatantly defies the naysayer scientists who claim that soil cannot possibly impart the taste of its rocks to a wine, which keeps me coming back.

Yet even Chablis’ grandest expressions, a Raveneau or a Dauvissat grand cru for example, cost a half or a third of a top grand cru from the Côte de Beaune, for a sensory experience you simply can’t find anywhere else. These are not cheap wines – c. $250 is a hell of lot to pay for any bottle – but all things considered, they are awesome value in the rarefied realm of fine wine.

Maybe it’s because of Chablis’ relatively large size (just over 3,300ha producing a little more than 25m bottles annually), which is double the size of the whole Côte de Nuits, where yields per hectare are also much lower on average than in Chablis. Or perhaps it’s because the quality of the region’s bottom-tier wines is bad enough to scuff the luster of the entire appellation, keeping average prices down (about 40% of regional production is still made by négociants), or that the silly money of the punters is spent mostly on red wine.

Whatever the case, learn a few reliable names, and buy their wines. $20 gets you fine quality entry-level village Chablis ($30 in BC), while an additional $10 or $15 gets you into premier cru territory. $70 gets you Chablis from one of the seven grand cru climats, with most still under $100. I realize we’re talking about the ultra premium wine category here, but if you’ve read this far, you’re interested enough to know the deal.

Recommended Producers (Not an exhaustive list)

Domaine François Raveneau and Domaine Vincent Dauvissat

I include these two producers more as a reference – you’ll be lucky to ever find a bottle from either. Production is tiny, and every last drop disappears quickly into the cellars of the enthusiasts lucky enough to get an allocation. The quality of both Bernard Ravenau’s and Vincent Dauvissat’s (and increasingly his daughter Etienette’s) recent and future releases experienced during a tasting in May 2014 confirms the iconic status of these two producers. Don’t miss a chance to taste either; the Raveneau 2010 Montée de Tonnerre is about as fine a white wine as I’ve ever had. [Barrel Select, ON]

Domaine Louis Moreau

Moreau is a sizable 50ha domaine with an enviable collection of five grand cru parcels, the jewel of which is the Clos de l’Hospice, a 0.4ha duopole within the Les Clos grand cru, shared with kin Christian Moreau. Although wood was experimented with in the past, it has been abandoned for all but the Clos de L’Hospice, which is fermented in 500l barrels and aims at a richer style. Louis Moreau believes that wood fermenting/ageing sacrifices both finesse and the mineral signature of each cru, a sentiment heard frequently, if not uniformly, in the region. The left bank Vaillons is considered the most delicate 1er cru in the Moreau range, though even it shows satisfying depth. [Vins Balthazard Inc., QC; Lorac Wine, ON].

Domaine Louis Michel et Fils

Guillaume Michel works on 25 hectares spread over all four appellations in the region (Petit Chablis, Chablis, 1er cru and grand cru) including six premier crus totalling 14ha, of which the highly priced Montée de Tonnerre is the largest. The house style has not changed here since Guillaume’s Grandfather Louis abandoned wood altogether in 1969. “He spent his time in the vineyards and didn’t have time to mess around in the cellar” says Guillaume. Wines ageing in wood are much more likely to go sideways than those sitting in a neutral environment like stainless steel.

The Michel style is all about tension and precision. From Petit Chablis to grand cru, everything is made in the same way: long, cool fermentations with wild yeast. Lees contact depends on the vintage: in 2012, for example some lees were retained to add texture, even if these are never remotely fat or creamy wines. The 2010 Grenouilles grand cru is a particularly special wine, though the 2012 Montée de Tonnerre and the 2011 Forêts are also excellent. [H.H.D. IMPORTS, ON]

Domaine de Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico, Domaines Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico, Domaines Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico is a rising star in the region. This fast-talking (literally) winegrower was born into the métier; both his father and grandfather made wine. Pico returned to the family estate in 2004 after oenology studies in Beaune and took over control of eight hectares, a part of his father’s Domaine Bois d’Yver. Control of the remaining Bois d’Yver vineyards will slowly shift to Thomas from his father; it was too much to take over all at once, and “my father had existing markets and relationships to respect” he says.

Pico immediately converted his parcels to organic farming (certified ECOCERT in 2009) and created the Domaines de Pattes Loup. Today he makes four premier crus and a village wine, including a delicate and mineral Vaillons and a rich and a powerful Butteaux (a 1er cru within the larger Montmains cru). Everything is barrel-fermented and aged in old wood, though like in all great barrelled Chablis, wood is rarely, or only very subtlely, detectable. The impact is rather more layered and textured, managing a seemingly mutually exclusive combination of richness and density with laser-sharp precision and freshness. I suspect Pico will be considered among the very best in the region in short order. It’s a shame that he refuses to deal with Ontario: “trop compliqué” he says, a familiar refrain from top growers who could sell their production twice over to importers who pay up within a reasonable time frame. (Oenopole, QC; The Living Vine, ON).

La Chablisienne

The cooperative La Chablisienne is well deserving of inclusion on this list. Established in 1923, this association of nearly 300 producers represents 25% of the entire production of the region (c. 2 million bottles), with an enviable collection of vineyards including eleven premier crus and five grands crus, of which the prized Château de Grenouilles vineyard is the coop’s flagship. It counts among France’s best-run and highest quality cooperatives, which, considering it’s size and relative influence on the image of the appellation, is a very good thing for everyone in the region.

The Venerable La Chablisienne Coop since 1923, with winemaker Vincent Bartement

The Venerable La Chablisienne Coop since 1923, with winemaker Vincent Bartement

Beyond the usual approach to quality of reduced yields and attentive viticulture, La Chabliesienne follows a couple of other notable qualitative protocols, such as extended ageing even for the ‘village’ wines, La Sereine and Les Vénérables, which spend a minimum of one year on lies in stainless vats and barrels, and the bottling of all wines in a single lot (as opposed to bottling to order). According to Hervé Tucki, Managing Director of La Chablisienne, “the aim is not to make fruity wine”.

Indeed, these are not simple green apple flavoured wines – chalkiness and minerality are given pride of place. The range is highly competent across the board from the “Pas Si Petit” Petit Chablis up to the Château Grenouilles Grand Cru. Of the 2012s tasted in May, I was especially enthusiastic about the left bank Montmains 1er Cru, 95% of which comes from the Butteaux climat, and the right bank Vaulorent 1er Cru, adjacent to the grand cru slope. Though it must be said that the “basic” Chablis “Les Vénerables Vieilles Vignes”, made from vines aged between 35 and over 100 years, is a terrific value and fine entry point to the region. [Vinexx, ON]

Northern Burgundy: Grand Auxerrois

I’m willing to guess that this is the least-known part of Burgundy. The “Grand Auxerrois” is a collection of regional appellations all beginning with prefix “Bourgogne”: Chitry, Côte-Saint-Jacques, Côtes d’Auxerre, Coulanges-la-Vineuse, Épineuil, Tonnerre, and Vézelay. The exceptions are the appellations of Saint Bris, the only AOC in Burgundy where sauvignon blanc is permitted and obligatory, and Irancy, an AOC for red wine made from Pinot Noir and, more rarely, César.

Pre-phylloxera, this part of the l’Yonne department was heavily planted; I’ve read that some 40,000 hectares were once under vine. But the region was all but forgotten subsequently. Yet now with global warming, this could once again become an important source of Bourgogne.

Jean-Hugues et Guilhem Goisot

Rocks and fossils on display at Domaine Goisot

Rocks and fossils on display at Domaine Goisot

Goisot is a multi-generational family Domaine with 26.5 hectares in Saint Bris and Irancy. After Guilhem Goisot had discovered biodynamics first in Australia and subsequently in France, he began trials on the family vineyards in 2001. In 2003 he converted the entire domaine and received the first certification in 2004. According to Goisot, a measured, deliberate thinker and speaker, biodynamics helps to “temper climatic variations”. After hail, for example, it used to take a couple of weeks for the vines to re-start the growing process. “Now with arnica applications, the vines get back to work after just two days” says Goisot.

All wines are bottled in single lots, and I’m reassured that place matters by the collection of rocks and fossils from different vineyard sites that Goisot has on display in the small tasting room. I have a terrific tasting here – from the tightly wound Irancy Les Mazelots  on highly calcareous soils, to the darker and spicy Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre La Ronce from a south-facing site on kimmeridgean blue marnes, each wine is clearly marked by soil, each like a window on the earth, pure and totally transparent. [Le Maître de Chai Inc., QC]

Marsannay: Last Refuge of the Côte de Nuits

As mentioned in Part I, top Côtes de Nuits wines are scarce. One village that remains accessible, however, is Marsannay, just south of Dijon. For myriad reasons the wines of Marsannay, the only Côte d’Or communal appellation to permit red, white and rosé wines, have failed to achieve as much renown as those from the villages to the south. Yet the name of the climat “Clos du Roy”, (formerly the “Clos des Ducs”) gives some insight on the degree to which certain vineyards were esteemed in the past. There are no official premier crus for the time being (the proposal has been made), but for single-parcel wines the appellation may be followed by the name of the climat as in “Marsannay Clos du Roy”. There are some 17 growers in the village with an average of 10 hectares each, far above the average for the rest of the Côte d’Or and one of the reasons that Marsannay is still reasonably priced and available. Stylistically the [red] wines of Marsannay resemble those of neighboring Fixin and Gevrey, which is to say pinots of darker fruit and spice character, and marked minerality, if lighter than most Gevrey.

Domaine Jean Fournier  

Laurent Fournier, Domaine Jean Fournier

Laurent Fournier, Domaine Jean Fournier

Jean and his son Laurent Fournier currently farm 17 hectares principally in the village, but also 1.5 in Gevrey, 1.5 in Côte de Nuits Village near Brochon and a half-hectare in Fixin, with another three being planted in Marsannay. Fournier began with biodynamics in 2004 and the domaine was certified in 2008.

On arrival I like the vibe immediately; the young Laurent Fournier is energetic and enthusiastic, the sort of vigneron who brings a smile to your face. It’s all the more pleasing when the wines, too, live up to expectation, and the range chez Fournier is uniformly excellent. The Clos du Roy and Longerois are the two red house specialties, the former made from vines over 40 years old on average, 50% whole bunch, aged in large tonneaux (half new) for 18 months and very grippy on the palate, a wine for cellaring another 3-5 years minimum, and the latter a more generously proportioned, plush and immediately satisfying wine. My favorite on the day however is the outstanding Côte de Nuits Village Croix Violettes Vieilles Vignes, from a half-hectare parcel of vines planted straight on the bedrock near Brochon between 1937 and 1943 in the days before tractors, and thus super high density.  It’s made with 80% whole bunch and delivers marvellous spice and firm tannins and minerals on the palate.

A Word on Coteaux Bourguignons AOC

In 2011, a new regional appellation called Coteaux Bourguignons was created. It covers essentially the former unfortunately-named Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire AOC, as well as Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains. Grapes can be sourced from anywhere within the four départements that make up greater Bourgogne. It was created in part to deal with the shortage of pinot noir over the last few vintages; even basic Bourgogne Rouge will be scarce and certainly more expensive – examples under $30 in CAD will be very hard to find. “The grapes have become too expensive” Thibault Gagey tells me, the man at the head of the formidable Maison Louis Jadot in Beaune. “In many cases the price of a pièce [a 228l barrel] have more doubled.”

But wines under this appellation will need to be selected with care. At the bottom end, Coteaux Bourguignon will become a dumping ground for poor quality gamay from the Beaujolais, while the best will incorporate a high percentage of pinot, or at least good quality gamay. Jadot’s very good version, for example is three-quarters gamay, but includes several declassified cru Beaujolais, including Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent from the Château des Jacques.

La Côte Châlonnaise: From the Miners to the Majors

Half way between Dijon and Mâcon, La Côte Chalonnaise, which is sometimes referred to as the “third Côte”, lies south of the Côte de Beaune a few kilometers from Santenay. It is the geological continuation of the Côte d’Or, sitting on the same fault line that gave rise to the Jurassic limestone and marls underlying the great wines of La Bourgogne, as well as those across the Sâone Valley in the Jura. The hillsides of the Côte Chalonnaise meander more erratically than the more uniform southeast-facing slopes of the Côte d’Or and this irregular topography means that site selection becomes critical.

Vineyards of the Côte Chalonnaise

Vineyards of the Côte Chalonnaise

And the feel of the region changes too. The more compact, well-appointed villages of the Côte d’Or, fairly dripping with the prosperity of the last decades gives way to more sparsely populated villages worn with time. Former grandeur shows the cracks of neglect, like aristocratic Vieille France in need of a makeover. The countryside is beautiful, but the charm is decidedly more rural than cosmopolitan, and one gets the sense that this was once a more important place that has somehow been left behind, like a former capital after the politicians and ministers have decamped with their expense accounts.

It was more a series of historic circumstances, rather than inferior wine quality, that led to the relative obscurity in which the Côte Chalonnaise lies today. For one, the villages of the Côte Chalonnaise are far enough away from Dijon to have been overlooked by the Ducs de Bourgogne – it’s about 70 kilometers from Bouzeron to Dijon, a long road to travel by horse-drawn carriage.  And during the industrial revolution, the miners of the nearby mines of Montceau and Creusot and slaked their unquenchable thirst on the wines of the region, leaving little for outsiders, and little incentive for local vignerons to break their backs for quality. Phylloxera, too, dealt its decisive blow, and the region has never fully recovered. Today less than 50% of the previous surface area is planted.

Yet the miners and the dukes are gone, replaced by insatiable worldwide markets for Bourgogne wines. And considering the shortage of wine, for reasons outlined above, now is the time for the Côte Chalonnaise to recapture its former position of importance and realize its quality potential in the major leagues. This after all, the geographic heart of viticultural Burgundy.

Wines of the Côte Chalonnaise

Wines of the Côte Chalonnaise

From north to south the Côte Chalonnaise encompasses the communal appellations of Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny as well as the regional Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise AOC. Each is authorized to produce both red and white wines from pinot noir and chardonnay, with the exception of Bouzeron, an appellation reserved for whites from aligoté – the only one in Bourgogne – and Montagny, which is exclusively white from chardonnay. Whites dominate reds overall.

Styles of course vary widely, but in general the wines are endowed with an exuberant and appealingly fruity profile, the reds redolent of fresh raspberries and the whites full of pear and apple. The entry-level wines are for the most part accessible and immediately pleasing, while wines of the top echelon deliver a minerality that has nothing to envy the Côte d’Or. I’d pick Givry and Mercurey as the two most reliable villages for red wines, and Rully and Montagny for whites. Considering that prices are about half to two-thirds of equivalent quality wine from further north, the value quotient is high.

Climats de la Côte Chalonnaise

An association of nine quality-minded, family-run domaines was formed in 2010 with the aim re-positioning the region in its rightful place of respect. Known as “Les vignerons des Climats de la Côte Châlonnaise”, the group is hoping that 2012 will be their breakout vintage. The vintage was excellent in the region, and both it and members of this association are an excellent starting point to discover the wines of the “third côte”.

Côte Chalonnaise Producers

Domaine Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Although not part of the association, Jean-Marc Joblot, a fourth generation winemaker, has been a quality leader in the village of Givry, and in the region, for years. It was in fact the wines of Joblot that first turned me on to the Côte Chalonnaise back in the 1990s, when he was already well-known and respected in Canada, especially in Québec. Joblot farms thirteen hectares including nine premiers covering both red and white. Vines are meticulously tended and he is a self-declared “constructionist”, believing that wine is “the result of a hundred things that are interdependent”. Little is left to chance, but although he approaches winemaking with the mind of a scientist, he is not an interventionist, nor a technocrat. “When you make an apple or a peach pie, you won’t go and analyse the fruit. You taste it. It’s that simple”, he says. Seasonal rhythms are strictly respected; if you show up for a visit in May for example, a period Joblot considers critical for vineyard work, don’t expect the door to open no matter who you are.

Admittedly I find his insistence on 100% new wood for all of his crus curious, and in youth they are certainly marked by wood influence, yet the fruit depth and structure to ensure harmony over time is clearly there  – I’ve had ten year-old examples that prove the point.  Indeed, these are wines built on tension and intended for ageing, not immediate enjoyment. He most representative crus are the Clos de la Servoisine and Clos du Cellier aux Moines, both best a minimum of five years after vintage.

Domaine A et P de Villaine, Bouzeron

Purchased by Aubert and Pamela de Villaine (of Domanine de La Romanée Conti) in 1971, Domaine A et P de Villaine is run today by Pierre de Benoist, the nephew of de Villaine. This is a leading domaine, and both de Villaine and de Benoist were instrumental in the establishment of the association « Les Climats de la Côte Chalonnaise ». Of the 21 hectares under vine, ten are devoted to aligoté, coinciding with outcrops of granite where aligoté is most happy. Bouzeron is considered by most to yield the finest examples of this lesser-known variety in Bourgogne.

Pierre de Benoist, Domaine A&P de Villaine, Bouzeron

Pierre de Benoist, Domaine A&P de Villaine, Bouzeron

De Benoist reflects back on a 1964 Bonneau de Martray aligoté that was life changing – it was then he realized than Aligoté, treated with care, could produce mesmerizing wines. Unfortunately over-cropping and the negative association with crème de cassis (to sweeten and soften the shrill acids of over-productive vines) in the infamous Kir cocktail reduced aligoté to anecdotal acreage. Even today the entire appellation of Bouzeron counts less than sixty hectares (even Puligny-Montrachet is over 200ha), so don’t expect a revolution any time soon. Though I wish there were more Bouzeron of this quality to go around.

In an interesting twist, the INAO has asked several times for local producer to assemble a dossier of 1er crus in Bouzeron, but de Benoist has refused each time. “It would be a shame to ruin the quality-price rapport of the appellation” he says in uncharacteristic anti-capitalist fashion.

But the domaine isn’t all aligoté; there are also exceptional pinots and chardonnays, especially the marvellously mineral Rully Blanc Les Saint Jacques, the fragrant and fruity Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise Rouge La Fortune, and the structured and brooding Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise La Digoine from 65 year-old vines.

Domaine Paul et Marie Jaquesson, Rully

Henri Jacqusson established this domaine in 1946 in the wake of WWII when vineyards had been abandoned. Today Henri’s son Paul has passed the baton on to his daughter Marie to manage the thirteen hectare estate in the AOCs of Rully, Bouzeron and Mercurey. The Rully Blanc 1er Cru Grésigny is a particularly fine and layered white Bourgogne.

Domaine Ragot, Givry

Nicolas Ragot took over the family domaine from his father Jean-Paul, making him the 5th generation to farm vineyards in Givry. Nine hectares are divided between red and white all within the commune, and the wines are elegant, structured and refined in the old school style. The Givry Rouge 1er Cru Clos Jus is especially impressive, succulent and structured.

Stéphane Aladame, Montagny

This domaine was created in 1992 by Stéphane Aladame, and counts today eight hectares under vine of which 7 are in premier crus. Aladame favours freshness and minerality, particularly in the Montagny 1er Cru  Selection Vieilles Vignes from over 50-year-old vines (partially fermented in steel).

Cellier aux Moines, Givry

Originally established by Cistercian monks in 1130, the Cellier aux Moines is run today by Philippe and Catherine Pascal. There are seven hectares under vine including five in the original clos surrounding the ancient cellar. Wines are classically styled and built to age, with the Mercurey Blanc Les Margotons and the Givry Rouge 1er Cru Clos du Cellier aux Moines particularly fine and sinewy examples.

Château de Chamirey, Mercurey

Château de Chamirey

Château de Chamirey

The most important property in Mercurey since the 17th century, the Château de Chamirey is owned today by Amaury and Aurore de Villard. They are the fifth generation in this long family story, having taken over from their father Bertrand, who in turn succeeded from his father-in-law, the marquis de Jouennes. The style is more international, aimed overall at wide commercial appeal, though the Mercurey Rouge 1er Cru Les Ruelles is particularly sumptuous and satisfying.

Domaine de la Framboisière (property of Faiveley), Mercurey

The Domaine de la Framboisière is the recently re-launched domaine of the Faiveley family, formerly called simply “Domaine Faiveley”. La Maison Faiveley was founded in 1825, and the family remains one of the largest landowners/negociants throughout La Bourgogne. George Faiveley set up he first “ en fermage” contract with a Mercurey grower in 1933, and Guy Faiveley bought the family’s first property in 1963 in the same village. The domaine has since expanded into Montagny and Rully and counts now 72 hectares – one of the largest in the Côte Chalonnaise. The quality has improved greatly here in recent years with the arrival of a new winemaker. The style is pure, clean and generously fruity, perhaps not the most profound wines of the Côte Chalonnaise, but frightfully drinkable. The 1er cru monopole La Framboisière from which the domaine takes its name is especially enjoyable.

Domaine François Raquillet, Mercurey

Roots run deep in Mercurey; the Raquillet family has been here since at least the 15th century according to local archives. François officially established the domaine in 1963 and ceded control to his son, also François, in 1983. I find the house style a little heavy-handed, with grapes verging on overripe and the use of oak overly generous, though the wines are certainly not without appeal. The Mercurey Blanc 1er Cru Les Veleys is the best of the lot.

Buyer’s Guide: Top Smart Buys

The following recommended wines are currently available somewhere in Canada (Merci to Nadia Fournier for adding her picks from the SAQ). Click on each for the details.

John’s Picks:

Jean Marc Brocard Vau De Vay Chablis 1er Cru 2012

Domaine Du Chardonnay Chablis Vaillons Premier Cru 2010

Louis Michel & Fils Chablis 2012

Sylvain Mosnier Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2010

Domaine Le Verger Chablis 2012

Jean Marc Brocard Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2011

Domaine Chenevières Chablis 2012

Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2011

La Chablisienne Sauvignon Saint Bris 2013

Maison Roche De Bellene Côtes Du Nuits Villages 2011

Bouchard Père & Fils Côte De Beaune Villages 2011

Maison Roche De Bellene Montagny 1er Cru 2011

Caves Des Vignerons De Buxy Montagny Les Chaniots 1er Cru 2010

Les Choix de Nadia:

Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Les Ursulines 2012

Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Chardonnay Les Ursulines 2010

Domaine René Bouvier Bourgogne Pinot Noir Le Chapitre 2012

Domaine Faiveley La Framboisiere 2010

Jadot Couvent Des Jacobins Bourgogne 2011

Domaine Michel Juillot Bourgogne 2012

Domaine Michel Juillot Mercurey

Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2012

Domaine De La Cadette La Châtelaine 2012

Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 2012

Domaine Louis Moreau Petit Chablis 2012

Domaine Stéphane Aladame Montagny Premier Cru Sélection Vieilles Vignes 2012

Pierre Vessigaud Mâcon Fuissé Haut De Fuissé 2012

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Part One: The Challenges

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names. Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Photo credit to John Szabo MS

Le Serein, the river that runs through Chablis Looking west onto Chablis from the top of Les Clos grand cru

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , , , , , , ,

The International Pinot Noir Celebration

Opening The Doors of Perception
By Treve Ring

There’s a place where all devout pinot-philes go. No – it’s not heaven (the golden slopes of Burgundy) or hell (where MegaPurple flows from the faucets).

It’s the International Pinot Noir Celebration, colloquially IPNC, and widely recognized as the one annual pinot noir event to not miss. Affectionately and affirmably a Celebration (rather than a conference, forum, festival or event), the festive July event brings consumers, winemakers, sommeliers and pinot fans from around the globe to the campus of Linfield College in McMinneville, Oregon, for weekend of sharing and learning.

Linfield College at dusk

Linfield College at dusk

The historic school, an easy one hour drive southwest of Portland and in the heart of the Willamette Valley, has become the traditional home of IPNC, a fitting venue for the scholarly seminars, proximity to vineyards and convenient accommodation in dorms for the hundreds of attendees from around the world.

The 2014 edition marked the IPNC’s 28th year, and major plans are already in the works for 2015’s event which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of pinot noir in the Willamette Valley. During this year’s gathering, next year’s anniversary discussions were as hot as the temperatures (hovering around 30C).

Fitting Plate for IPNC

Fitting Plate for IPNC

The vision of IPNC began, as many good ideas do, over wine. In late 1985, an informal group of like-minded Oregon wine geeks, winemakers, restaurateurs and retailers envisioned a premier wine event, to be held in the core of Oregon wine country. The first event was held in 1987, and it has grown and matured each year since.

In 2014, the weekend welcomed approximately 800 registered attendees, including more than 140 representatives from 73 featured wineries. For Sunday evening’s main event, the legendary Northwest Salmon Bake, hundreds more arrive, many with stocked coolers in tow, for this long-standing gastronomic feast – one of America’s top dinners.

It’s worth repeating that this is not your average consumer event; the knowledge level of attendees, service staff (all sommeliers) and presenters is extremely high. Past speakers have included Jancis Robinson, Robert Parker, Michael Broadbent, Dominique Lafon and more luminaries.

This year featured one such luminary who needs no introduction to this column.  Honourary WineAlign member, Dr. Jamie Goode, – who judged with us at the National Wine Awards of Canada in June – moderated the Grand Seminar, investigating the theme of Pinot Noir and the Doors of Perception. It’s a topic of particular interest to me, as a wine journalist trying to clearly articulate my thoughts on wine in a way that readers, amateur and advanced, can relate to. If I write apples and someone else tastes pears, are we off page? Or is my apple, his pear? Is my ‘juicy and grippy’ her ‘acidic and tannic’? Is this the conversation we should even be having?

Perceiving Pinot with Jamie Goode

Perceiving Pinot with Jamie Goode

Turns out I’m not the only one grappling with these thoughts, as Dr. Goode, one of the world’s leading wine journalists, admitted to the same questions himself. He skillfully introduced a shining panel of professionals from around the world who each described how they relate wines that speak to them. I was particularly interested in hearing Elaine Brown, the award-winning wine-writing philosopher and poet behind the popular Hawk Hakawaka Wine Reviews website. She expresses tasting notes as hand drawings, expressing how wines affect her through visuals, rather than words. Can art be something we can all relate to, rather than fruit, or tannin, or acid, or other geeky wine vocabulary? Are there ways I can improve on sharing the message about a wine?

Black Tasting Glasses

Black Tasting Glasses

That’s just one example of how my wine world expanded at IPNC. A University of Pinot seminar on Loire Valley Pinot Noir led by newly pinned Master Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier was outstanding. The lauded somm of New York’s Michelin-starred pinnacle for vin naturel, Rouge Tomate was born and raised in the Loire, and her understanding of the region, and the characterful wines made sustainably and authentically was fascinating.

Similarly, a seminar with Dr. Jordi Ballester about The Aroma of Colour was a fantastic learning adventure A sensory scientist at the Université de Bourgogne, Dijon, he has devoted his academic career to exploring the question of how does one smell colour. The group were presented with wines in black glasses, and had to determine which was white, red and rose – a task much trickier than it sounds! Fortunately, I nailed the tasting (I credit the wine judging circuit) but most of the people in the room faltered. A fascinating experience illustrating how much our eyes perceive what we taste.

As mentioned, the grand Salmon Bake is the culmination of a full schedule of seminars, walk about tastings, lunches, discoveries and connections. That Saturday evening, as I feasted on an alfresco buffet of wild salmon roasted on alder stakes, local vegetables, salads, breads and too much more deliciousness to remember (all prepared by respected Oregon chefs), I clinked glasses with new and old friends and tasted dozens of wines from the IPNC library and personal cellars from around the globe. I was struck by the fact that we all came together to enjoy, rather Celebrate, pinot noir. Sometimes words, pictures, visuals, tasting notes and specs aren’t important – we were all united for our love of wine.

Salmon Bake Feast

Salmon Bake Feast

The 2015 International Pinot Noir Celebration will be held July 24-26, and will be an extra special event marking 50 years of growing pinot noir in the Willamette.

~ Treve

This year 73 pinot noir producers were featured, hailing from Alsace, Argentina, Burgundy, California, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Oregon, Washington plus one from Canada – Mission Hill Family Estate.

The following dozen pinot picks are from tastings over past year (including medalists from the 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada).

Domaine Vincent Delaporte Sancerre Rouge 2011, Sancerre, Loire

CedarCreek Estate Winery Rosé 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Haywire Canyonview Pinot Noir 2011, Okanagan Valley

Matello Wines Cuvee Lazarus Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Domaine Vincent Delaporte Sancerre Rouge 2011, Sancerre, Loire CedarCreek Estate Winery Rosé 2013Haywire Canyonview Pinot Noir 2011Matello Wines Cuvee Lazarus Pinot Noir 2011   Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2011Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2010

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2011, Martinborough

Josef Chromy Pinot Noir 2010, Tasmania

Stoneboat Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley

Spierhead Pinot Noir Gentleman Farmer Vineyard 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley

Stoneboat Pinot Noir 2011Spierhead Pinot Noir Gentleman Farmer Vineyard 2012 Pegasus Bay Estate Pinot Noir 2011 Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012 Mission Hill 5 Vineyards Pinot Noir 201250th Parallel Estate Pinot Noir Rose 2013

Pegasus Bay Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Waipara

Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Mission Hill 5 Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, VQA Okanagan Valley

50th Parallel Estate Pinot Noir Rose 2013, British Columbia

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 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 30th – Part One

Head-Scratching 90-point wines, and more importantly, Smart Buys
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

It’s time again for the yearly 90+ point wine release at LCBO-VINTAGES [yawn]. It used to cause so much excitement, including those frenzied pre-dawn lineups on Saturday morning as buyers scrambled to get their allocations of top-scoring bottles like limited concert tickets. Now, it seems to slide languidly by more like a late summer stream, eddying lazily under the weeping willows, barely causing a stir.

You can be forgiven for thinking that a 90-point score means little these days, especially when presented as virtually all retailers, including the LCBO, do. The basic protocol is to scour planetary archives for the highest score for whatever’s on sale, and drop it into the catalogue without context as though there were some international treaty defining the meaning of the 100-point scale. Anybody’s review is fair game, credible or not, only stopping short at repurposing reviews from Look long enough, and eventually you’ll find the number you’re looking for.

93 point, $13.95 grüner vetliner? I’m sure even the producer is scratching his head at that one. There are plenty of competent, well made wines in this release (like that grüner), but it would be a supreme hot yoga stretch to count them in the very top echelon of wines made around the world, as a 90+ rating would imply, at least in my context.

Ultimately this approach is a disservice to consumers. It distorts reality and sets up untenable expectations, and makes it impossible to sort out the good from the really and truly excellent. The 100-point scale loses the only value it has, which is a measure of one reviewer’s preference, within his or her relative context, and as a simple way of sorting out thousands of options to arrive at a starting point. And when scores become completely meaningless, what will those retailers do?

But rather than flog the scoring issue more than I already have, we’ll focus this report instead – like all WineAlign reports – on a handful of wines that David, Sara and I think are worth your attention, and more importantly, money, including a handful of particularly good pinot noirs in this release. You can decide what score, if any, is applicable.

Next week David will turn the spotlight on the Pacific Northwest, and BC in particular.

Buyer’s Guide LCBO-Vintages August 30th 2014: Smart Buys

New World Pinot Noir

The New World, and the Southern Hemisphere come up big in this release. Three emerging classic regions south of the equator are worth investigating, and Niagara also shows its quality, versatility, and value.

Waipara Hills Pinot Noir 2012Schubert Block B Pinot Noir 2011Schubert Block B 2011 Pinot Noir, Wairarapa, New Zealand ($55.95)
John Szabo – Schubert is one of the leaders in Wairarapa (Martinborough), and this pinot shows the depth and spiciness of which the region is capable. Although not inexpensive, to borrow a quote from Allen Meadows (, in the world of pinot “you don’t always get what you pay for, but you never get what you don’t pay for”. I can easily picture the low-yielding vines and small bunches from this naturally un-generous region (in the best, qualitative sense). This is an excellent, concentrated, very masculine pinot. Best 2016-2023.

Waipara Hills 2012 Pinot NoirCentral Otago, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Waipara Hills winery is on the east coast north of Christchurch; but the grapes for this wine are from Central Otago, about six hours by car farther south and inland.  The pinots achieve considerable ripeness here in this semi-arid region, showing cherry jam, a certain juiciness and warmth, and richness. This shows the style well.
Sara d’Amato – Central Otago’s distinctive power and aromatic impact is most distinctively represented in this savory Waipara Hills. Violets and spice make their way to the lush and fruity palate which remains bright and buoyant.

Innocent Bystander 2012 Pinot NoirYarra Valley, Australia ($21.95)
John Szabo – Yarra is firmly on the map as a source of excellent pinot noir, and this example from Innocent Bystander, their entry range (Giant Steps is the top, and also excellent range) is perfectly zesty and lively, spicy and fresh, all raspberry and strawberry, nicely capturing the spirit of the region at a very fair price. Best now-2017.

Familia Schroeder 2012 Saurus Select Pinot NoirPatagonia, Argentina ($19.95)
John Szabo – During my last trip to Argentina Patagonia stood out as the country’s most exciting region, especially if seeking more balanced, fresher wines. Although this is undoubtedly a full-bodied and concentrated wine, ripe and extracted relative to Innocent Bystander’s version, I do appreciate the purity and density of fruit. For fans of New World-style pinot in any case. Best 2014-2018
Sara d’Amato – A modern, but cool climate, new world style of pinot noir from the southern tip of Argentina. This generous pinot delivers a great deal of impact and impressive complexity for the price.

A To Z Wineworks 2012 Pinot Noir, Oregon USA ( $24.95)
David Lawrason – Pinot lovers knows that Oregon is an international frontrunner. To me the style nestles between California and BC which of course makes sense geographically as Oregon’s Willamette Valley lies at 45 degrees latitude. A to Z  has grown out of the Rex Hill Winery property as the vision of Oregon pinot veterans who wanted to make more affordable pinot (a noble pursuit in a region where high prices prevail)  This is not perfect but it delivers the spirit of Oregon pinot well – some weight and ripeness without the jaminess of California.

Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir 2012 Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Pinot Noir 2012 A To Z Wineworks Pinot Noir 2012 Fog Head Highland Series Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012

Fog Head 2012 Highland Series Reserve Pinot Noir, Monterey County, California, USA ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Between the influence of the fog and the cooler vintage, this savory, aromatic pinot noir seems to hit all the right notes. Cherry blossom, ginger, a touch of dried leaf – this compelling wine of good length is certainly a steal.

Sperling Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($27.95)
David Lawrason – The slopes on the east and west sides of the lake near Kelowna are, in my mind, prime pinot country in BC. The Sperling site is farther “inland’  and higher altitude, producing a lighter, tighter, leaner pinot style, that is still based on a “hot rock-lava”minerality I have come to pick up in this region.  Riveting, mouthwatering wine that should age very well. Sara d’Amato – Sperling’s home vineyard site in the Okanagan is home to this expressive and world-class pinot with both freshness and impact. Modern, stylish but well endowed with classic pinot charm.

Local Pinot

Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot Noir 2010Rosewood Select Pinot Noir 2012Rosewood Select Series 2012 Pinot Noir, Niagara Escarpment ($21.95)
John Szabo – Of the two local pinots I recommend this week, Rosewood’s represents the light and delicate, feminine side of the grape, also in the dusty, savoury and earthy flavour spectrum. I think this style works well for Niagara, especially at the price. Think savoury Côte de Beaune style. Best 2014-2017.
Sara d’Amato –This premium series pinot noir from meadery Rosewood Estate is an impressive feat of complexity, depth and compelling texture. Long and elegant and featuring notes of exotic spice, bramble and cherry.

Château Des Charmes 2010 Estate Bottled Old Vines Pinot NoirNiagara-on-the-Lake ($18.95)
John Szabo – Compared to the Rosewood pinot, CdC’s is decidedly meaty, firm and tannic, reflective of this warmer corner of Niagara and the typical sort of rustic profile I often find in St. David’s Bench pinot. I’d let this unwind for another year or two for maximum enjoyment. Best 2015-2020.

Sparkling, White and Red

Graham Beck Brut Rosé Méthode Cap Classique, Western Cape, South Africa ($20.95)
John Szabo – This is a terrific value for money from Graham Beck, delivering substantial red berry and toasty brioche flavours in a complex ensemble.

Gaston Chiquet Brut Rosé, Champagne, France (54.95)
David Lawrason – This 23 hectare family property has delivered a quite delicate well balance pink Champagne. It is based predominantly on pinot meunier, the third cousin red grape of the region, with some pinot noir. Although not a high-strung, acid driven Champagne it does deliver gentle red fruit flavours with some charm and tenderness. Please don’t over chill this mild-mannered wine.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve Champagne, France ($64.95)
David Lawrason – This famous house delivers real finesse in its Champagnes.  It is light, elegant and racy with mature aromas of straw, honey, pear custard and spice. Very refined with great length.

Graham Beck Brut Rosé, Méthode Cap Classique Gaston Chiquet Brut Rosé Champagne Billecart Salmon Brut Réserve Champagne Evening Land Seven Springs Chardonnay 2011 Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2013

Evening Land 2011 Seven Springs ChardonnayEola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($58.95)
John Szabo – From the vineyard of the same name and made by Canadian Isabelle Meunier (formerly assistant winemaker at Le Clos Jordanne in Niagara) under the consultancy of Dominique Lafon, this is a stellar wine, even if from relatively young vines. I love the salty, tangy, savoury profile fully shifted into the tertiary phase (i.e. not simply fruity), and wonderful textured – an authentic terroir expression. Best 2014-2021.

Stags’ Leap Winery 2013 Viognier Napa Valley, California ($34.95)
John Szabo – One of the best viogniers from this storied estate that I’ve had – the wines seem to get better here every year under Christophe Paubert. It would make a cracking match with Vietnamese dishes inflected with basil and a touch of heat. Best 2014-2019.

De Buxy Buissonnier 2011 Montagny 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – I’ve always been a fan of tender, fruity chardonnays of Montagny, a village in the Chalonnais blessed with a seam of limestone soil. This is a classic Burgundy chardonnay with pure apple, grapefruit and just a touch oak spice.

Domaine Le Verger 2012 Chablis, France ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Great value here in a basic but quite exciting taut, firm mouthwatering Chablis, just what I expect from chardonnay grown around the sleepy village in northern France.  No oak; just mouth-watering acidity and Chablis’s certain stoniness.

Domaine Cauhapé 2013 Chant Des Vignes Dry Jurancon, France ($16.95)
John Szabo – Looking for something different? Try this original wine from southwest France made from gros and petit manseng. It’s more fruity than floral, and more stony than fruity, yet with most of the action on the palate. Density and weight are great for the money, and length is also impressive. Cauhapé is a reference for the region. Best 2014-2018.

De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 1er Cru 2011 Domaine Le Verger Chablis 2012 Domaine Cauhapé Chant Des Vignes Dry Jurancon 2013 Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz 2012

Creekside 2013 Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)
John Szabo – Creekside has made a specialty of sauvignon blanc, and this 2013 from the vineyard behind the estate (the “Backyard”) delivers fine intensity and depth. It sits on the riper side of the spectrum, more guava and passion fruit than green herbs and asparagus, with lovely fleshy orchard fruit on the palate.

Penfolds 2012 Bin 128 Shiraz Coonawarra, South Australia ($34.95)
John Szabo – It would be hard to imagine a more consistent company than Penfolds, and the Bin 128, created in 1962 to reflect cooler, spicy Coonawarra shiraz, has just about everything one could want at the price. French oak, which replaced American from the 1980 vintage onward, contributes to making this a relatively restrained and elegant example, albeit definitely dense and concentrated. Best 2014-2022.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Aug 30th:

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

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


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

La Nouvelle-Zélande et ses pinots noirs

Hors des sentiers battus
par Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Marc Chapleau

Bon, un petit quiz pour commencer. Nouvelle-Zélande rime avec… ?

La trilogie du Seigneur des Anneaux, oui, d’accord, puisque plusieurs scènes ont été tournées dans l’île du Sud et notamment dans Central Otago. Mais encore ? Vrai, toujours, le pays rime avec kiwis (le surnom de ses habitants, en passant) et aussi avec leurs fameux agneaux (moins cher que celui élevé ici et pratiquement aussi bon).

Cela dit, et en ce qui nous concerne plus spécifiquement, la Nouvelle-Zélande rime surtout avec vin… de sauvignon blanc.

Ah, le subtil arôme d’asperge. Ah, l’envoûtante odeur de pamplemousse ici, de piment Jalapeño là. Je blague, à moitié. Car le sauvignon blanc de nos lointains amis est à la fois le bien-aimé voire le chouchou du public, et le mal-aimé, le souffre-douleur, d’assez nombreux critiques.

La popularité en général de ce cépage est d’ailleurs telle qu’encore aujourd’hui, il accapare environ 70 % de toute la production viticole néo-zélandaise.

Le Pinot noir bon deuxième

Même s’il est très loin derrière, représentant 9 % de la production de vin dans le pays, le pinot noir devient peu à peu la nouvelle vedette. Et cette fois, tant le public que les spécialistes s’accordent à lui trouver des qualités. Sans compter, au Québec, la Société des alcools, qui en fait la promotion ces jours-ci. Même qu’on y trouve en ce moment un peu plus de pinot noir (43) que de sauvignon blanc (37) !

New Zealand

Cet engouement tant chez nous que là-bas n’a rien à voir avec le fait que le pinot noir serait, par exemple, facile à cultiver – bien au contraire, comme on sait. La viticultrice Siobán Harnett, longtemps chez Cloudy Bay et aujourd’hui en poste chez Whitehaven, avait ainsi coutume de dire : « Le pinot noir est un cépage difficile et capricieux. Quand il mûrit, c’est comme pour les oeufs brouillés : pas encore prêt, ça s’en vient, hmm… c’est presque cuit… merde ! trop cuit ! »

Un des vins les plus polyvalents

J’oserais pour ma part avancer que l’un des atouts-clés du pinot noir de Nouvelle-Zélande, c’est sa polyvalence. Le fait qu’il s’accorde, à table, à une multitude de plats, des viandes aux fromages en passant par la cuisine de type asiatique, même épicée et même aigre-douce.

Peu tannique, à l’acidité élevée et avec, souvent, un restant de gaz carbonique qui avive ses saveurs, je vois effectivement peu d’autres vins, à part le rosé, qui puissent être aussi passe-partout.

La grande majorité des pinots noirs de Nouvelle-Zélande viennent de l’île du Sud et, pour l’essentiel, de la région de Marlborough. Mais au sud de ce Sud, dans Central Otago, le cépage d’origine bourguignonne, qui compte dans ce dernier secteur pour près de 71 % de la surface plantée en vignes, se fait de plus en plus remarquer.

Parmi les meilleurs

J’ai goûté récemment une quinzaine de pinots noirs de Nouvelle-Zélande. S’il est vrai qu’ils sont nombreux à se ressembler, à sentir et à goûter en gros la même chose, en revanche certains ressortent du lot. Voici ceux que j’ai retenus.

À tout seigneur tout honneur, le Dog Point Vineyard 2011 est superbe, avec sa texture serrée et sa minéralité qui rappellent bien des bourgognes vendus plus chers.

Également très bon, un peu plus boisé peut-être mais harmonieux et bien fruité par ailleurs, l’Astrolabe 2011.

Pour sa part, le pinot noir Whitehaven 2011, une maison appartenant au géant californien Gallo, doit sûrement une partie de sa relative élégance et de sa nervosité aux bons soins de la viticultrice dont je parlais tantôt, Sioban Harnett.

Dog Point Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 Astrolabe Marlborough Province Pinot Noir 2011 Whitehaven Pinot Noir 2011 Saint Clair Pioneer Block 15 2010 Margrain Vineyards Home Block Pinot Noir 2010 Framingham Wine Company Limited

Dans Marlborough, Saint-Clair Family Estate produit une série de beaux pinots noirs dont le Pioneer Block 15, charnu et persistant, qui gagne à prendre quelques années de bouteille – même si, c’est vrai, ça ne vieillit pas rapidement sous capsule dévissable…

À Martinborough cette fois, dans l’île du Nord et pas très loin de la capitale, Wellington, Margrain propose un très bon pinot, encore une fois assez boisé mais très bien soutenu par l’acidité.

Pour terminer, on traverse de nouveau le détroit de Cook pour revenir dans l’île du Sud et à Marlborough, avec le pinot noir Framingham 2012, dans un style qui n’est pas sans rappeler celui de Margrain tout juste mentionné.

Une expérience intéressante

Une anecdote, avant de vous quitter. En fait, une expérience intéressante à laquelle j’avais été convié chez le producteur Felton Road, voilà quelques années : deux Pinot Noir « Block 3 » âgés de quatre ans et goûtés côte à côte, l’un bouché sous vis, l’autre sous liège. Mêmes conditions de conservation, même millésime. Le screw-cap l’a emporté, son fruit était plus éclatant, encore « jeune », mais par une faible marge puisque l’échantillon bouché liège, à défaut de fraîcheur aromatique, avait par contre plus de rondeur, son acidité s’était agréablement atténuée.

Santé !


Note de la rédaction: vous pouvez lire les commentaires de dégustation complets en cliquant sur les noms de vins, les photos de bouteilles ou les liens mis en surbrillance. Les abonnés payants à Chacun son vin ont accès à toutes les critiques dès leur mise en ligne. Les utilisateurs inscrits doivent attendre 30 jours après leur parution pour les lire. L’adhésion a ses privilèges ; parmi ceux-ci, un accès direct à de bons vins!

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

Wish They Were Here : Oregon Pinots and Beyond

The WineAlign crew spends a lot of time on the road. We visit wine regions around the globe, learning, tasting, and experiencing first hand everything from the established classics to the latest releases. Inevitably, we come across wines we wish we could find back in our home markets, wines that engage and enthrall and tell a compelling story. Although the various Canadian provincial monopolies do their best to represent the world, full coverage is impossible and corporate selection mentality rules, that is to say, quality alone does not always earn you a spot on Canadian shelves.

We’ve created this series, Wish They Were Here, as a forum to share our adventures on the wine route, to highlight underrepresented regions, unknown producers, cuvées not yet seen in Canada, or vintages yet to be exported in the hopes that liquor board buyers, agents and private importers might tune in and get some inspiration. It’s also a mini travel guide for readers who go on their own wine safaris, offering a list of bottles to track down.

Wish They Were Here: Oregon Pinots and Beyond
By Treve Ring

Based in Victoria, I’m fortunate to visit Portland and the Willamette a few times annually. In fact, the driving time from Vancouver is about the same to the Willamette as it is to the Okanagan (five hours, not counting the US/CAN border). But to me, these two west coast regions couldn’t be more different; different scale, scope and result.

Treve drinking Pinot among the Pinot vines, Dundee Hills

Treve drinking Pinot among the Pinot vines,
Dundee Hills

The Willamette is where I retreat to recharge, to reconnect and to disconnect, to eat deliciously prepared and unpretentious food, walk in the vineyards and really talk with the winemakers. Sure, there are big producers in the valley, and we see their wines on our shelves at home. But I’m most interested in seeking out the smaller players, those with handcrafted wines, generally farmed sustainably and produced collaboratively, and the price reflects the quality – notwithstanding the cross-border tax. Smaller production plus the aforementioned markups mean that we rarely see the great stuff on our markets.

Drink Pinot Think Oregon. The tagline of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, much like the wineries themselves, is direct, confident and B.S.-free. The WVWA is a non-profit dedicated to achieving recognition for Oregon’s Willamette Valley as a premier pinot noir producing region, and planted roots back in 1986 with 11 member wineries. First officers at inception included iconic names in Oregon wine history today: Dick Erath, Bill Blosser and David Lett. These pioneering wineries are still members today (along with nearly 200 others wineries) and undeniably their names stand synonymous with pinot noir.

Pinot Noir coming in at Sokol Blosser Vineyards

Pinot Noir coming in at
Sokol Blosser Vineyards

Yes, absolutely, Oregon makes outstanding pinots – some of the pinot noir I’ve tasted in the Willamette stand shoulder to shoulder to Burgundy, in my humble opinion, and are among my favourite pinots in the world. But Oregon is much more than pinot. On recent trips I’ve been blown away by riesling (intense, vibrant, electric), chardonnay (freshness, elegance, restraint) and pinot gris (creamy, focused, concentrated). Throughout travels in Oregon I’ve also been enamored with pinot blanc, viognier, grüner veltliner, blaufrankish, tempranillo, syrah, counoise, barbera, cabernet franc, müller-thurgau and muscat.

Sounds unfocused? Sounds akin to BC’s wine history to me: new regions, diverse geography, unproven soils, let’s plant stuff and see what happens. Winemaking in Oregon really took root in the 1960s, with UC Davis students heading north to practice this “cool climate viticulture” they’d studied. Between 1965 and 1968, David Lett, Charles Coury, and Dick Erath brought their families to the North Willamette Valley, established vineyards, and were the first to plant pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay and riesling – the four top varieties for Oregon. These first vineyards are still producing fruit – highly sought after fruit – now. After sanitizing my shoes in a footbath to prevent the spread of phylloxera (many vineyards are own rooted, with wineries fending off the root louse’s spread as long as they can) I walked through The Eyrie Vineyard with David’s son Jason Lett. This sacred slope is THE original site of pinot noir and chardonnay planted in the Dundee Hills in 1966, and the site of the first pinot gris planted in America.

Many more pioneering families followed suit – Adelsheim, Ponzi and Sokol Blosser are just a few familiar names. However it wasn’t until David Lett, a.k.a. Papa Pinot, entered his Oregon Pinot Noir in the 1979 Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades and won top honors against Burgundy’s best, that the world began to recognize little outback Oregon as a serious winemaking region.

Dundee Hills

Dundee Hills

Since those early days, not that long ago, Oregon has grown into 15 approved winegrowing regions and more than 300 wineries producing wine from over 70 grape varieties. The Willamette Valley is the heart of Oregon wine, and is a huge and varied appellation that includes six sub-appellations; Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill Carlton. I noted three major types of soils across the valley: marine sedimentary, Jory (volcanic, red, basalt) and loess/silts. In general, I found pinot noir from the Dundee area’s Jory soils to be more perfumed, delicate, fruited-floral and feminine, while Pinot Noir from Yamhill Carlton and Ribbon Ridge’s marine sedimentary soiled areas to be stonier, more structured, minerally and masculine.

The valley streams south-west from Portland, nested between Oregon’s Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range, and is more than 100 miles long and spanning 60 miles at its widest point. Travel is easy (wine country is a quick 30 minute drive from Portland), towns are small and close together, the highways are lined with vines, Christmas tree farms, hazelnut groves and farms, and the foodstuffs as genuine and authentic as it comes. The Willamette Valley feeds the fervent locavore Portland food scene – see Portlandia for backgrounder.

As with the foodstuffs, sustainability governs the viticulture. In the 2011 vintage, 47% of Oregon’s vineyards were certified sustainably farmed, the most common programs found being LIVE, Organic, and Biodynamic. Every year I’ve been visiting I encounter more and more practicing biodynamics, and for the first time this past harvest, met winemakers producing natural and orange wines as well.

And finally, Oregon is simply a beautiful place, very easy to immerse yourself in. When you head on down yourself, seek out these wines and the people who make them. And please, when you Think Oregon, don’t just Drink Pinot.

My Willamette Wish They Were Here List:

Matello Wines Whistling Ridge Pinot Noir 2011
Matello is my favourite Oregon producer, and Marcus Goodfellow is one of my favourite winemakers period, determined to not “dumb down” his wines, end quote. This beautiful mineral-driven small lot (100 cases) is from Ribbon Ridge and its marine sedimentary soils.

Love & Squalor Fancy Pants Riesling 2010
Matt Berson sees himself a “fruit preservationist” first, and it propels his search for stellar vineyard sites around the Willamette from which to blend his wines.

Johan Vineyards Drueskall Pinot Gris 2012
This biodynamic estate in Rickerall received Demeter biodynamic certification, and is a breeding ground for not only biodynamic groundbreaking in Oregon, but also for exciting grape varieties (Melon de Bourgogne, Blaufrankish, Gruner Veltliner). Drueskall is an intriguing orange wine.

Matello Wines Whistling Ridge Pinot Noir 2011Love & Squalor Fancy Pants Riesling 2010IMG_0347

The Eyrie Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2010
Established 1966, home to David “Papa Pinot” Lett, and the place that literally put Oregon wine on the world stage. Operations are now ably overseen and led by next generation Jason Lett. Their Estate Pinot Noir 2010 is from their ‘younger’ vineyards, planted in the 1980s.

Westrey Wine Company Abbey Ridge Pinot Noir 2011
Westrey Wine Company was founded in 1993 by co-winemakers Amy Wesselman and David Autrey, today, two of the Willamette’s leading wine resources. Abbey Ridge is one of the older sites in the Dundee Hills, and the 2011 Pinot Noir exemplifies the perfumed Dundee style.

Minimus Wines No. 5 Reduction
Chad Stock doesn’t release vintages, just experiments. Minimus is a series of one-offs, centered on satisfying Chad and his wife Jessica’s insatiable curiosity, and founded on their bare-bones philosophy of making “fermented grape juice in a bottle.” Reduction is Experiment #5 in the series.

The Eyrie Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2010Westrey Wine Company Abbey Ridge Pinot Noir 2011Minimus Wines No. 5 Reduction

Other Willamette Wineries to Watch For :

Archery Summit
Andrew Rich Wines
Big Table Farm
Brooks Wines
Domaine Drouhin Oregon
Elk Cove
Evening Land Vineyards
J.K. Carriere Wines
Ken Wright Cellars
Montinore Estate
Patricia Green Cellars
Sokol Blosser
Shea Wine Cellars
Stoller Family Estate Vineyards
Owen Roe
Walter Scott Wines

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , ,

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages August 3 Release

Syrah’s New Frontiers, 90pt-09 Bordeaux, Wise Buys, Lifford’s Pinot Fête

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

This is a large and rambling release. In three visits to the VINTAGES lab I managed to taste and review 102 of the 132 new wines on offer. It seemed to take an eternity – perhaps I am in summer slow-mo. Or perhaps dragging after the deluge of chardonnays at the terrific International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration in Niagara (congrats to all who made it happen), and subsequent trade tastings like Lifford’s excellent global pinot noir ensemble (see below). But onward, largely bypassing the French white feature that John Szabo has already nicely covered. We tour new syrah regions, re-visit 2009 Bordeaux and point out some wise buys in whites and reds for your summer enjoyment.

Syrah’s New Frontiers

I love tasting syrah/shiraz, perhaps more than any grape except pinot noir. I actually don’t drink a lot of syrah however, perhaps because it is too heavy for most situations I am in – certainly in the summer, unless grilling red meat. But I do love it when I have great examples, and that happened recently during a trade dinner with Australia’s Jim Barry Wines at an Asian restaurant called Ki Modern Japanese in downtown Toronto. Grandson Tom Barry poured several great cabs and shiraz that will be making their way to VINTAGES in the months ahead (already posted to WineAlign). Their signature shiraz called The Armagh is considered one of the icons of Australia, and the silky, ultra-rich and layered 2008 vintage gave a virtuoso performance this night, matched with sweet and spicy Korean short ribs. In Australia, which is much closer to the Asian culinary scene than here in Canada, big shiraz is regularly being recommended with richer Asian cuisine by sommeliers – and I get it.

J. Lohr South Ridge Syrah 2011Il Castagno Cortona Syrah 2011Peninsula Ridge Reserve Syrah 2010This release does have some good Aussie shiraz, as well as northern Rhone classics. But I want to stop briefly in regions new to this black grape. It is generally considered a warm climate grape, but actually it seems to perform well in “moderate” climates as well (which is how I would characterize the northern Rhone). One region hoping to prove this is Niagara. Against all prevailing wisdom a decade ago syrah is a growing concern here, especially when we are blessed with warm vintages like 2010 and 2012. Peninsula Ridge 2010 Reserve Syrah ($24.95) is a textbook example of the lighter, black pepper laden Ontario style, with some ripe black cherry fruit showing through. It is not a deep or riveting wine, but it is definitive syrah, and its lighter style could prove very appropriate at the summer table.

Another moderate non-traditional region where syrah is showing real promise is Tuscany, and on this release there are no less than two syrahs from eastern Tuscany sub-region of Cortona, a region crowned with a medieval hill town of the same name. The very smooth, dense and fruit driven Il Castagno 2011 Cortona Syrah is a great buy at $20.95. It is the flagship wine (first made in 2003) from a small Cortona estate owned by Fabrizio Dinosio, who has carried on his father’s work in creating a two-vineyard winery on the hillside below the town. This whole area of central Italy – including neighbouring Umbria could be great syrah country.

The warmer, somewhat inland Paso Robles region of California’s Central Coast is a locally well known as good syrah country, but it still suffers from lack of wider recognition due to the long shadow cast by Napa and Sonoma, and cabernet sauvignon. California in general, in my opinion, is still lagging in the syrah department because it is still considered a fringy variety. Too bad, because so much of California is ideal for this grape. But there is hope when one sees a fine, smooth, well-priced example like J. Lohr 2011 South Ridge Syrah hit the shelves at $19.95. J. Lohr is a large company with great reach.

2009 Bordeaux at 90+ 

There are nine Bordeaux arriving August 3, split between the main release and In Store Discoveries (smaller quantities in a few larger locations). And all are from the vaunted, hotter 2009 vintage, which provides a useful mini-clinic on how the wines are developing after four years. Most are quite dense (for Bordeaux), rich and ripe. They are showing first signs of evolution but could still age another year or three as tannins tend to be quite firm. A couple of examples proved overripe and almost raisiny and also showed hints of volatility associated with the breakdown of the fruit before fermentation – the main problem with the vintage in my view, and good reason to taste before you buy when approaching lesser known names.

But there are some dandies here – five at 90 points or better – and they are the result of excellent winemaking. As much as I like to bash Bordeaux for excessive pricing at the top end, and inconsistent style and quality at the low end, there are obviously many skilled winemakers working the middle ground and actually offering decent value between $25 and $50. Above all else Bordeaux is focused and deeply experienced with the cab-merlot family of vines, and the result are wines that very often have a sweet spot of elegance, depth and complexity.

Château Goulee 2009Château La Vieille Cure 2009Château Goulee 2009 Médoc is a shining example and a very good buy at $42.85 (ISD). It hails from an unremarkable Medoc property, but the winemaking has been handled by the folks at Cos d’Estournel, one of the great second growths of Bordeaux. It is a model of refinement and modern sensibilities and techniques.

Château La Vieille Cure 2009 from the right bank appellation of Fronsac ($36.85 ISD) is yet another example. I have followed this 50 hectare property for several years and recommended its wines here before. It was purchased and refurbished and the vineyard (merlot 74%) was partially replanted by American investors in the mid-eighties, but its oldest vines remain intact. The dominant soil base here is limestone, and to me that is creating the lovely lift and fragrance in this wine.

Château d'Aurilhac 2009Château Joanin Bécot 2009Château Joanin-Bécot 2009 ($42.85, ISD) is another very pretty merlot based wine, this time from limestone-based soils in my favourite little sub-region of Castillon upriver from St. Emilion. It too was purchased and refurbished, this time in 2001, by the Becot family of St. Emilion. Juliette Becot has overseen the employment of all the tricks of the trade to help ensure quality from hand harvesting to double sorting, cool pre-fermentation maceration, manual cap punching and ageing in new, medium toast French oak for 15 months.

Château d’Aurilhac 2009 Haut-Médoc ($23.85) has proven difficult to research, but it is very likely a cabernet sauvignon dominated left bank blend. It has impressive richness and depth for its price and station. It is an example straying toward over-ripeness but it holds on. Not quite as polished as its peers above but it has some hedonistic appeal.

Wise Buys in Oaked Whites

As mentioned, there are several interesting French whites on this release, but none are great buys, except for the complex, tight Chablis-esque J.J. Vincent 2010 Marie-Antoinette Pouilly-Fuissé at $26.95.  So I want to take you elsewhere for some well-priced whites you might not think of buying otherwise. All are well structured, judiciously oaked whites that you might want to pair with grilled seafood or poultry.

Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2011Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2011Lua Cheia Em 2011  Vinhas Velhas Ken Forrester 2011 Reserve Chenin Blanc ($17.95) from Stellenbosch, South Africa is a very well made, solid yet elegant barreled chenin. It doesn’t spell out oak on the label (and I think it should) but it is at least well-handled oak that gives some breathing room to chenin’s quince fruit.  I really like the structure and finish of this wine. Ken Forrester is leading proponent of chenin – South Africa’s signature white, which is commonly made in both oaked and unoaked styles.

Ritual 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95) from Chile’s Casablanca Valley has similar sense of restraint and class.  It is a newish label from Veramonte, one of the pioneers of Casablanca under Augustin Huneeus who took a particular interest in sauvignon from the region. Ritual is made from a selection of best estate vineyards, with the wine aged five months in French oak, for a dash of spice around the tropical fruit and gentle herbal notes.

Lua Cheia Em 2011 Vinhas Velhas ($15.95) from Portugal’s Douro Valley is the most intriguing of the three, and a bit more idiosyncratic.  Lua Cheia Em is a very new label, created in 2010 through a partnership of three Douro winemakers who set up shop in temporary facilities to make small lots from growers without their own wineries – sort of like the Okanagan Crush Pad concept. In this case, the wine is made from a field blend of unspecified varieties, aged in barrel.  Excellent structure with a dash of exoticism!

Wise Buys in Summer Reds

Penley Estate 2010 Condor Shiraz Cabernet SauvignonClavesana 2011 Dolcetto Di DoglianiLe Plan Classic Côtes Du Rhône 2011I have recently been enjoying lighter, fruit driven, non-oaked or lightly oaked reds for summer evening meals. Two more appeared on my radar in this release, plus a rich, succulent and smooth Australian for grilled red meat (lamb) or late evening sipping.

Le Plan Classic 2011 Côtes Du Rhône ($15.95) is all you could ask in smooth and easy and dare I say “racy” grenache-based (60%) blend from France’s southern Rhone.  Le Plan is a new collection by former Dutch race car driver Dirk Vermeersch.  I’ll give this one the green flag despite octane of 14.9%. Chill it a bit. No burnt rubber on the nose!

Clavesana 2011 Dolcetto Di Dogliani ($15.95) is the largest production dolcetto in Piedmont, Italy, the product of a co-op of over 350 growers that work about 1350 acres in the area around the town of Clavesana in the heart of the Dogliani appellation. I am surprised that such a large enterprise is turning out such a clean, fresh and high quality example. Chill lightly and enjoy with charcuterie.

Penley Estate 2010 Condor Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra, South Australia pours with pure seduction, and it was made in smooth, fruity style to achieve just that end. Normally I would simply pass right by this style of wine but this arrested me with its very intense, florid cassis aromas, and the fact it is not relying on residual sweetness to deliver the fruit. It’s the real McCoy and combining shiraz (52%) and cabernet has inlaid some complexity as well.

Best of the Bunch

Chanson Père & Fils 2010 Clos Du Roi Beaune 1er Cru
Burgundy, France  $48.95, 93 Points

Chanson Père & Fils 2010 Clos Du Roi Beaune 1er CruMy BOB vote goes to this brilliant red Burgundy, from what may turn out to be the best vintage of recent times. The arriving 2011s are quite good as well if perhaps not built for long ageing.  With rain problems in 2012 and now reports of serious hail damage in the Cotes de Beaune in 2013, supplies of good Beaune could become scarce and expensive in the near future. So you might want pick some age-worthy 2010s while you can.

Beaune is always one of the most approachable of the serious southern red Burgundy appellations (along with Volnay and Pommard) and because it is larger it is a bit less expensive.  This particular 1er Cru is one of the best on the slope, and Chanson, a small historic house within the ramparts of the city, is turning out some great wines in recent vintages. It was purchased by Bollinger of Champagne in 1999, and Jean- Pierre Confuron was installed as winemaker.  I have done four tastings of their portfolio in the past three years and they just keep getting better it seems.

Lifford’s Fête de Pinot Noir

There are few wine importers in Canada that could single-handedly put together a showcase of some of the world’s best pinot noirs, with the winemakers present. But on July 23rd Lifford Wines & Spirits/Ponte Wine & Spirits poured 43 different pinots from 13 producers in five countries – Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand and the USA (California and Oregon). They were smart to take advantage of some producers who had been at the International Cool Climate Celebration the weekend before pouring, because where there is chardonnay (smoke) there is often pinot noir (fire).

David Lawrason at Fête de Pinot Noir

David Lawrason at Fête de Pinot Noir

I tasted about 90% of the wines. Most are private order – meaning they are ordered for future shipment by the case (most are in six bottle cases). I have not published “review quality” notes and ratings given the circumstances of the tasting, but I certainly got a heads up on the most exciting wines. Please contact for further information and ordering.

The Canadian contingent was particularly interesting and strong and newsworthy, with the trade debut of wines from Niagara’s new Domaine Queylus, the first Ontario pinots from Bachelder Wines, the first Toronto showing (to my knowledge) of Foxtrot pinots from the Okanagan Valley’s Naramata Bench, as well as pinots from Tawse, including the intriguing 2010 from the Lauritzen Vineyard ($44.95).

Domaine Queylus will open soon in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation atop the Niagara Escarpment. It is owned by Gilles Chevalier of Montreal, with the first wines from the 2010 and 2011 vintages made by Thomas Bachelder. Fruit for the two price tiers – Tradition ($29) and Reserve ($39) – come from a Beamsville site planted in 2007, and a Jordan site planted in 2002. Pinot keeners may be interested to know the latter is the same as the Le Clos Jordanne vineyard called La Petite Colline. These are immediately serious pinots that move into Niagara’s top echelon.

Thomas Bachelder and Jacques Lardière

Thomas Bachelder (Bachelder Wines) and Jacques Lardière (Louis Jadot)

Thomas Bachelder was pouring his wines from Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara. He has separate contract winemaking facilities in all three countries and travels to each to make a range of single vineyard pinots.  I was particularly impressed by the 2011s from Burgundy, with a single site 2011 Nuits-Saints-George La Petite Charmotte ($56.95) being among the stars of the day. It was also fun to taste his 2011 Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir ($53.95), from one of the oldest pinot sites in Niagara just below St. Davids.

Foxtrot is a relatively new, premium producer of pinot, chardonnay and viognier based on the Naramata Bench in B.C. I really enjoyed the complexity and tension of the pinots, even if not the most refined.  Owner Gustav Allander showed the 2010 Erickson Vineyard ($74.95) and 2010 Foxtrot Vineyard ($91.95). In B.C. those same wines are priced at $46.15 and $56.40 respectively, which makes the point as to why many Ontarians are direct-ordering from B.C.

One of the great and most pleasant surprises was the St. Innocent 2010 Momtazi Vineyard ($56.95), an Oregon pinot of amazing aromatic presence, elegance and outstanding length from a quite cool side with some maritime influence. Elsewhere in the U.S. contingent I was most impressed by the Schug 2010 Carneros ($46.50) from California, the Sequana Dutton Ranch 2009 from Sonoma’s Green Valley ($65.95) and the Freestone 2011 Pinot from Sonoma Coast ($79.95).

Among European pinots the stand outs were the Louis Jadot 2010 Clos Vougeot Grand Cru ($187.95), the much less expensive Jadot 2010 Beaune 1er Cru Theurons ($64.95) and from Italy the Podere Monastero 2011 La Pineta ($43.95). The latter is a small single vineyard, single clone (177) pinot with considerable muscle and Tuscan tension. There was another lighter, more supple Tuscan pinot from Frescobaldi from an estate vineyard in the Pomino appellation ($34.95).

That’s a wrap for this edition. August – the doldrums of wine activity in the northern hemisphere at least – promises to be quieter, and may even hold a week’s vacation, before I head to Germany on a rather esoteric exploration of German pinot noir and the state of organic/biodynamic winemaking. But I will be back with a look at VINTAGES Aug 17 release before I go.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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

From the Aug 3, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All August 3 Reviews

Photos courtesy of: Ponte Wine & Spirits

 Stags' Leap Winery Viognier 2012

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , ,

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 25 Release

Pinot Globalization, Mighty Fine Mosel, Wines of Interest, a Private Loire Tour

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The two features of VINTAGES May 25 release provide a demonstration how commerciality affects wine quality, price and value. Pinot Noir has become globalized and commercialized and I was generally disappointed by the price-sensitive selection assembled. German riesling is not commercial at all these days and every single wine in the line-up is huge value. Elsewhere in the release I have scoured for surprising Wines of Interest; and I also veer off into the hidden world of Private Orders to present a slate of excellent Loire Valley whites to grace your summer table.

Pinot Noir Globalization

The heartbreak grape is now a global commodity, and along with that comes the demand to produce it in larger volumes at lower prices. It also means that it is being produced in places where the grape doesn’t work as well; that it’s being made in a wider variety of styles, and being made by people who are less experienced with it and sensitive to it. The result on the shelf, and on this release, is disappointing quality and value. VINTAGES mini global tour includes pinots from Ontario, Oregon, California, New Zealand, Chile and Burgundy, and the only wines I highly recommend are actually from Burgundy.

Some might say that makes me a pinot noir snob; that I am intolerant of and biased against New World style pinots. This is not true at all. I do like pinot noirs with nerve and elegance, which do tend to come from cooler climates, but I also like softer, riper styles from California (which I have followed since 1984), Oregon and Australia – and when they are well made, like Merry Edwards 2010 Pinot Noir from Sonoma, I have no problem scoring them well into the 90s. What I don’t like is excessive sweetness and alcohol in wines like Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir that is commercially driven to appeal to a wider audience, and in the process disrespects pinot’s delicate fruit (the thing that makes it special in the first). And then there are high volume pinots like A To Z Wineworks 2011 Pinot Noir from Oregon that are just made with less care.

Domaine Chofflet Valdenaire Givry 2009Michel Picard Volnay 2010As to the Burgundies on the release, I am recommending two out of three, and they are of different styles. Domaine Chofflet-Valdenaire 2009 Givry 1er Cru ($26.95) is very much a traditional, edgy and meaty style that is packed with flavour. This is from an eleven hectare property in the hands of the Chofflet family for over 100 years – hardly a commercially-driven pinot.

And I very highly recommend Michel Picard 2010 Volnay ($41.95), especially as a pinot noir for the cellar. 2010 is a terrific, sturdy and tight vintage and this wine packs all kinds of fruit that will one day explode across the palate. With over 130 hectares spread across five appellations, this third generation family company is obviously of a more commercially viable size. This has helped keep the price relatively low (Volnay is among the prized Burgundy appellations).

Might Fine Mosel Riesling

Germany’s rieslings are of course not very commercial. The style is particular, the audience narrow. Germany has long lamented and analysed why its rieslings do not command a wider berth in the market, and converts keep forecasting a renaissance, that is not happening. And I have come to the conclusion that is just fine. Riesling is not a mass market grape anywhere it is grown (Niagara comes closest), and German riesling is even more idiosyncratic. But it is made by people who generally care a lot about their favourite grape, and that translates into high quality.

Markus Molitor Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling KabinettDr. Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling AusleseVollenweider Wolfer Riesling 2011There are six new German rieslings on the May 25 release (including one In Store Discovery or ISD). They provide a golden opportunity for riesling fans to indulge, and for newcomers to explore at a very high level. Five of them are mighty fine Mosels that provide a clinic on wine purity and balance. All but two score 90 points or better, (the others score 89) so take your pick. How about a mixed six-pack, that will only set you back $116.75. You can spend the next six sultry evenings in June exploring hamlets like Urzig, Wolf, Krov and Wehlen.

You could experience the brilliant, clarion freshness of Vollenweider 2011 Wolfer Riesling ($19.95), or – by the same rising star producer – the richer, more mature but still pristine Vollenweider 2007 Kröver Steffensberg Riesling Spätlese ($24.95). You could lose yourself in the silken, almost creamy texture and honeyed nuances of the maturing Dr. Hermann 2005 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese ($21.95). And you could take a wild ride with Markus Molitor 2011 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett ($29.95 ISD), a wine that is both shrill, gutsy and profound.

And if you somehow miss trying these fine Mosels, make time to attend the German Wine Fair May 28 in Toronto for dozens if not hundreds of examples. Read our recent posting for a promo code that gives WineAlign subscribers receive $10.00 off the regular ticket price.

Other Wines of Interest

As always, in the thick of “The Main Release” there were several wines that caught my eye as Wines of Interest – wines that surprise, wines that instruct and wines that offer value. The selection is not just about the highest scores.

Vineland Estates Pinot Grigio 2011Saint Clair Pioneer Block 10 Chardonnay 2010Vineland Estates 2011 Pinot Grigio from the Niagara Escarpment ($16.95) gets a tip of the hat for offering classic Niagara white wine freshness. The racy higher-acid 2011 whites from Ontario are just settling in to prime, and Vineland’s clean winemaking provides a fine showcase for the style and for the quite generous peachy pinot gris fruit.

Saint Clair 2010 Pioneer Block 10 Chardonnay from Marlborough, New Zealand is modern, cool climate beauty and well worth $25.95. On recent travels to NZ the quality of Marlborough chardonnay was one of my pleasant surprises, but producers are generally too busy with sauvignon blanc or tinkering with pinot gris. Still others think that chardonnay is passé (which it is not). But this single block offering from the Omaka Valley sub-region amply demonstrates that Marlborough has the wherewithal to be a great chardonnay region (too).

Cabriz Rosé 2012Sicilia Fiano Miopasso 2011Miopasso 2011 Fiano from Sicily, is the oddball white of the release – with a totally unexpected richness and sense of exotica. The low yielding fiano grape is more well-known over on the mainland in southern Italy – especially in Campania. I have always expected a certain honeyed ripeness and sometimes nuttiness from fiano, but this goes well beyond into a state akin to lightly fortified aperitif wine (without excess alcohol). At $14.95 you can’t afford not to explore. And by the way, Fiano fans should also note the Australian version being released as an ISD. Saltram 2011 Winemaker’s Selection Fiano is rather pricey at $32.95 for what’s delivered.

Quinta De Cabriz 2012 Rosé from Dão, Portugal is the most interesting of the pink wines on this release and a snap up at $12.95. Regular readers will know that the reds of this higher altitude, granite soiled and forested region in the centre of Portugal have been catching my eye for their complexity, tension and value.  This rosé from a prominent producer has exactly the same attributes, minus the colour and weight. I really like the subtle evergreen nuance herein.

Lornano Chianti Classico 2009Tedeschi Capitel San Rocco Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2011Lornano 2009 Chianti Classico offers fine Tuscan authenticity and a certain rugged appeal and depth that is remarkable for $16.95.   It is an estate-grown wine from the 180 hectare Lornano estate of Castellina in Chianti near Siena. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel but all the ageing is underground in older wood, which I think is providing the slightly rustic but very complex flavours.

After generally ragging on the appassimento process in a report last month, wouldn’t you know that one comes along to make me eat my words. Tedeschi 2011 Capitel San Rocco Valpolicella Ripasso ($18.95) has impressive power and tension as well, and excellent length – a marked improvement for this label after disappointments in the 2008 and 2009 vintages. Anyway, this embraces an authentic, richly textured, leathery style of Italian red that I really enjoy.

John Glaetzer John's Blend Margarete's No. 13 Shiraz 2008Château Lyonnat Emotion 2006Château Lyonnat 2006 from the right bank, merlot dominated Bordeaux appellation of Lussac Saint-Émilion offers surprising depth and complexity for $19.95.  And it is now entering prime time, offering a dandy mature claret experience. I was able to taste several wines from this producer during the Hobbs & Co portfolio tasting in April in Toronto, and I was impressed by the winemaking throughout.

John’s Blend No. 14 2008 Margarete’s Shiraz is from the Langhorne Creek region of South Australia. The area is very maritime and salty, on the shores of Lake Alexandrina formed at the mouth of the Murray River and only separated from the ocean by a sand spit.  I swear I can taste some saltiness in this wine, but it actually works well within the larger, much larger framework of complex flavours. It’s a big, rollicking and rich cabernet from John Glaetzer, the former winemaker at Wolf Blass. And at $39.95 if offers good value in the big cab universe.

Loire Private Order Finds

As Ontarians faced what was made to sound like a certain LCBO strike, I also doubted I would get to taste much of the May 25 release due to the cancellation of a VINTAGES Product Consultants tasting just before the strike deadline. So I went off to seek alternate sources of writing material at a small, very civilized showcase of Loire Valley whites available on private order through Nuray Ali of Ex-Cellars Wine Services.

I entered a condo function room at a swish address in North York and met with Christophe Garnier,  himself a wine producer, but also the head of a small export group of organic  minded Loire estates. The eight wines shown were almost all of excellent quality, with great Loire energy and depth – muscadets, sauvignon blancs and chenin blancs that would make for very stylish summer drinking.

The hitch with Private Order wines however is that you must order by the case (six bottle cases in this instance) and you might have to wait weeks for their arrival. There is still time for their arrival this season, and the quality is such that the wines will drink well next summer as well. Only one is currently in stock through the Consignment Warehouse – Pierre-Luc Bouchaud Pont Caffino 2011 Muscadet de Sevre & Main Sur Lie. As it was among my favourites, and very well priced at $17, I purchased a case.

To view other offerings from this agent, visit their profile page on WineAlign: Ex-Cellars Wine Services. You can narrow your search by choosing “Loire”, but remember to check “All Sources” and “zero inventory” as these wine are not in the retail stores.  Or use these links to go directly to my reviews: Domaine Valery Renaudat (Reuilly), Domaine de la Rossignole (Sancerre), Yvon & Pascal Tabordet (Pouilly Fume); Domaine du Viking (Vouvray) and Pascal Pibaleau (Vouvray).

International Chardonnay Day May 23

If you open this newsletter in time on May 23 you could take part in the Global Virtual Chardonnay tastings being held in Ontario and around the world in advance of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration coming up July 19-21. All the participating I4C wineries – 62 in all from eleven countries and sixteen regions are being encouraged to join in by posting tasting notes, photos and chardonnay recipes to social media sites.  The Twitter account is @coolchardonnay; with hashtags #chardday and #i4c2013 for International Chardonnay Day. The Facebook site is!/CoolChardonnayCelebration. The Pininterest site is So pour yourself a glass of Chardonnay and get Social!

Macleans “Wine in Canada” Special Issue

The country’s most outspoken news magazine has launched a special 147 page perspective on Canadian wine. Its top news writers and editors have brought Maclean’s professional, pot-stirring perspective to the subject, aided by a troupe of younger wine writers/sommelier insiders – three of whom are aligned with WineAlign: John Szabo of Toronto, Rhys Pender of the Similkameen and Treve Ring of Victoria.

I like the way Macleans has parsed the Canadian wine story, ferreting out key topics and bringing their outsiders journalistic sensibility to bear. Thank goodness it is not another gushing, bland wine country travel guide. The Canadian Wine Annual, which I co-founded, and which died last year with Wine Access magazine, was a far deeper tome of useful information than Maclean’s offering, but it did not tell the story as well.

Maclean's Wine in CanadaWhat I don’t like is a tone that suggests Macleans is the first publication to think about and report the Canadian wine story. It may be shiny and new to them, but it is not news to an entire previous generation of Canadian wine journalists and publishers who have slogged deeper, tasted more and toiled through the much harder, formative years. And I am sure there will be a whole battery of rightfully disgruntled B.C. winemakers and readers incensed at the editing muddle that buries Vancouver Island in the Similkameen Valley.

Omissions and small gaffes aside, the publication feels right – tempered to the times. It takes on the loony, legalistic morass of inter-provincial wine shipping. It hits all the buttons regarding the future, what we should be doing and where we go from here. The piece on Quebec exquisitely lays out the tensions brought on by its razor thin wine making climate. And the photography is superb. I am assuming from the masthead that photographer John Cullen is the man; and if so congratulations John for transcribing the character and inspiration that is required to make wine in this country.

And thanks to Macleans in general for turning the Canadian wine story up a notch. Canada’s winemakers should be very pleased indeed. When mainstream publishing thinks it can profit from a subject, you know you have arrived.

And that’s it for this edition. I’ll be back for the June 8 release. Meanwhile don’t miss the latest Episode 3-6 of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”, wherein Jennifer, Zoltan and I tangle with a Napa Cabernet that doesn’t really behave like a Napa cabernet.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

We invite our Premium Subscription members to use these links to find all of David Lawrason’s reviews. Paid membership to WineAlign has its privileges – this is one of them. Enjoy!

From the May 25, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Matua Valley Estate Series Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2012

German Wine Fair - Toronto May 28

Mclean's Wine in Canada

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

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Sept 29th Release

Super Tuscans, Power Pinots, Giants of South America and Bargain Whites

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Vintages September 29 release is in most respects a tour de force – with brilliant if small collections from the hills of Tuscany, the pinot fields of Australia and New Zealand, the energized valleys of Chile and Argentina, and arguably from a laid back California (although hardly a good value selection in this instance except for the 2010 Artezin Zinfandel).

There are also many interesting whites and reds from the various corners of Europe, making this a release to pore over carefully as you research your purchases on WineAlign, then pour generously when the time comes to indulge.

Tuscany Defined

I very much enjoy both tasting and drinking Tuscan reds. And it goes deeper than all that Tuscan romance – you know – those warbling tenors strolling amid the olive groves, non-chalantly leaning against crumbling stone walls and soulfully serenading star-crossed lovers in village trattorias. I like to taste Tuscan reds because they are challenging and complicated, and I like to drink them with food for exactly the same reason. They are almost never boring,  even if they can sometimes go the other way and become too jarring.

Vintages has done a fine job collecting some excellent examples while presenting a cross section of prices, styles, regions, big names and little names. Someone really thought this through; in fact if I were to conduct a one-day course on Tuscany I would grab each and every one. So its rather hard to isolate a very few to highlight here (I have gone for value), and I urge you spend time researching all the selections.

Remember that most are variations on a sangiovese theme, a grape with an often tart and impudent reputation. Some are aged longer, some shorter, some in old Slavonain oak, some in new French barriques, some blended with merlot, cabernet and syrah to in-fill sangiovese’s aggressiveness, some straight-up. The only thing relatively new under the Tuscan sun are the cabernet-merlot sangiovese-free reds from the coast in Bolgheri.

Poggio Al Tesoro SondraiaSo let’s begin in Bolgheri with the very sensous 2008 Poggio Al Tesoro Sondraia, which beautifully defines ultra-modern sensibilities at a comparatively reasonable price of $44.95. The most famous wines of the region – Sassicaia and Ornellaia – are five times this price, and believe me, they are not five times better. (I recently scored 08 Sassicaia under 90). Sondraia was made by a young Nicola Biasi, working at a new winery founded recently in part by the Allegrini family of Verona in northeast Italy. Knowing this after having tasted put the style very much into perspective. Allegrini wines are always sleek, layered and accessible. This one also has impressive depth that belies its sculpted ease.

Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti RiservaLivio Sassetti Brunello Di MontalcinoBy contrast, Livio Sassetti 2005 Brunello Di Montalcino is more rustic, mature and typically Tuscan. And in the world of Brunello, Tuscany’s “biggest” sangiovese, it is very well priced at $39.95. There are two other excellent brunellos on the release as well but this conveys a bit more excitement and sensuality, which is something Tuscan red should always have. Grown on the Pertamali estate owned by the Sassetti family for three generations, this is traditionally made 100% sangiovese grosso aged three years in old Slavonian barrels.

The 2008 Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti Riserva at $15.95 is a more basic Chianti, but this repeat listing gets a mention once again due to its great value. It is indeed lighter and shorter than the more expensive wines above, and it does rely on quite generous oak. But in behind the lushness lurks a finesse and again, sensuality, that rarely found in any wine at this price.

Aussie & Kiwi Power Pinots

After buying all the Tuscans, I would love to buy virtually every pinot noir on this release too.  Vintages has focused on a mittful from the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria, Australia and Central Otago in New Zealand, and there is an excitement factor across the range that should convince the last die-hard Burghound that there are great pinot sites in the New World. Indeed all of them up the wattage over Burgundy, without sacrificing the nuance and complexity that makes pinot noir so intruiging in the old country.

Kooyong Estate Pinot NoirRiorret Merricks Grove Vineyard Pinot NoirKooyong Estate 2010 Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula is one of several bottlings en route to Ontario from this cool climate pinot specialist. The others are single vineyard wines made at the striking Port Philip Estate winery situated in the Red Hill area in the heart of Mornington. It is powerful, riveting, bold fruited yet natural pinot that should be cellared, but it captures amazing character $49.95.

Riorret Merricks Grove Vineyard 2009 Pinot Noir, also from Mornington Peninsula, is the real sensualist. Riorret, which is “terroir” spelled backwards, is a line of single vineyard pinots from giant De Bortoli of the Yarra Valley. Merricks Grove is a cooler, north-facing, red soiled site in central Mornington planted in 1992. This is a very complex, intriguing, and almost haunting, offering plenty of funky character at $34.95

Tarras The Canyon Single Vineyard Pinot NoirThe 2008 Tarras The Canyon Single Vineyard Pinot Noir ($46.95) from Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island is perhaps the most intense and heady. Tarras, named for a nearby town, only ramped up in 2007, and almost immediately won a slew of international honours. The Canyon vineyard is on terraced high ground on a Bendigo sheep station that was planted to several French clones in 2003.

91+ South American Reds

Still below the equator, Chile and Argentina each put forward intriguing wines in this release. I have visited both countries in recent years and I am keenly aware of the huge resources, talent, energy and ambition that is at work on both sides of the Andes. Anyone who still views South American winemaking as a third world enterprise needs to give their head a shake. The advances are shocking in their scope and velocity.

Catena Zapata Nicasia Vineyard La Consulta MalbecLuca MalbecIn Argentina, much of this has been driven by a huge company called Catena, but nowadays dozens of others have picked up the baton. One of the great challenges facing Argentina is to convince the world it can make top tier reds to compete with the best of France, California, Italy and California. It’s easy to slap a big price on the wine but it has to excel in the glass, and usually expensive Argentine reds do not.  So at $89.95 the success of Catena Zapata 2008 Nicasia Vineyard La Consulta Malbec is critical. Many will still balk at $90, but I must tell you that it has rare elegance, layering and precison for malbec that is all the more impressive given its richness and weight. The 2009 Luca Malbec, also from the Catena fold, and from the Uco Valley, is one-third the price at $29.95 but still very impressive and an opportunity to school yourself on the discussion.

Polkura SyrahTerranoble Gran Reserva CarmenèreOver in Chile two great values piqued my interest. I approached the Terranoble 2009 Gran Reserva Carmenère from the Maule Valley with little expectation, but was greeted with a wonderful nose that effortlessly combined deep seated fruit, luscious oak and carmenere’s distinctive herbaceousness. Quite elegant and a great buy at $17.95.

While yet another lesser known house has delivered the astounding Polkura 2009 Syrah for only $23.95. Polkura is a syrah project, founded by Chilean winemaking friends who had travelled together in the south of France. In 2004 they planted a 14 ha syrah vineyard sculpted within a crater-like hillside in the lee of the coastal ranges of western Colchagua. It doesn’t get full-on Pacific influence but enough that you will recognize the cool climate black pepper side of syrah. More importantly, it has some poise amid that drenching of cassis/cherry fruit.

Bargain Whites Under $20 Picks

And as usual I would like to quickly point you to three terrific white wine values. This is becoming a regular habit, and I hope a useful feature. And I have noticed it tends to highlight more Euro whites than new New world whites. If there is a bias at work it is unintentional, but it probably has to do with the higher level of acidity and lower level of alcohol in the Euro whites. As well, modern winemaking is now giving greater freedom to express the subtle aromas of white grapes and preserve their inherent freshness.

Markus Molitor RieslingRudolf Rabl Löss Grüner VeltlinerChampy Signature Chardonnay BourgogneMarkus Molitor 2011 Riesling is a cracker, dry Moesl riesling at only $18.95. As much as I technically admire the complex, riveting Molitor single vineyard rieslings, I do find them overbearing at times. While this is one to reach for every day and still be impressed. Likewise with the apparently simple 2011 Rudolf Rabl Löss Grüner Veltliner from Kamptal, Austria at a mere $13.95. It is very well made, subtle and well balanced – the ideal chef’s white when preparing your evening meal. And chardonnay fans shouldn’t miss Champy Signature 2009 Bourgogne at only $18.95, a wine with surprising complexity and depth under $20. I visited this very small negociant property in Beaune in May. Under new owndership since 2007, it is in the midst of restoring its reputation with some brilliant winemaking and by aggressively buying vineyards to build its domain portfolio.

Up Coming Events:

Next week is a big one for wine events.

The annual Chilean Wine Festival runs Tuesday evening, October 2nd at the Royal Ontario Museum and WineAlign readers can still take advantage of a savings through a promotional offer here. Presented by Wines of Chile and the Chilean Trade Commission, over 30 wineries will be pouring over 150 wines – a great chance to explore varieties, regions and meet winemakers themselves. Those attending the afternoon trade-only session will enjoy a seminar moderated by WineAlign’s Janet Dorozynski, who will also write a wrap up piece here next week.

The very next evening, October 3rd, you can attend Sip and Savour Ontario at the Distillery District. This is the annual event that showcases winners of Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and raises funds for This year there is a new twist as about 30 Ontario wineries are joined by six celebrity chefs. Full details and tickets are available at

That’s a wrap for this week. From here through December the Vintages releases get bigger and even better, so don’t go away.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the September 29th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews


Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2009

Chilean Wine Festival

The Wine Establishment - Code 38 Stealth

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , ,

New Zealand Wine Fairs Showcases Latest Trends – by Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

The New Zealand Wine Fair recently made its way across Canada, touching down in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto. As Ottawa is often overlooked for these types of events, I was delighted to take part in the trade tasting and a winemaker’s dinner, which was part of the Visa Infinite Dinner Series.

This year’s Wine Fair has certainly reinforced that New Zealand as a wine region is at the top of its game, and that its best wines are yet to be discovered. While exports to Canada continue to grow at a steady pace, it is obvious that Kiwi winemakers are not resting on the laurels of their success with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but have ambitiously embraced innovation and are looking towards a future that will include other impressive whites and red grape varieties.

Astrolabe Voyage Sauvignon BlancChurton Sauvignon Blanc 2010The main trade tasting featured wine from 23 producers and was, not surprisingly, dominated by New Zealand’s current flagship white and red, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. The standout Sauvignon Blancs included the (almost over the top) Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (to be released in Vintages in June), Churton Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (in Vintages this July) and Waimea Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Nelson, available through Churchill Cellars. In addition to the crisp unwooded Sauvignons, with characteristic gooseberry and tropical notes, there were a number made in the Fume Blanc style (i.e. partially or fully oaked). Some, like The Brothers Sauvignon Blanc 2010 from Giesen Estate (Michael Andrews Brands), with a modest five percent of the blend matured in older French oak, were intriguing and had a creamy richness. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if there had to be a better way to diversify or invigorate the Sauvignon Blanc category, rather than subjecting this aromatic and crisp cool climate white to varying degrees of butter and toast.

Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2009The reds I tasted were mostly Pinot Noir, both from well-known Central Otago, as well as from lesser-known (for Pinot), but equally appealing, Marlborough. The Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir 2010, available through the Small Winemakers Collection for $43.75, and the TeMara Estate Mount Pisa Pinot Noir 2009, both from Central Otago, were particularly enjoyable, with the vibrant fruit and complexity one has come to love in Central Otago Pinots. The Rock Ferry Pinot Noir Bendigo 2009, also from Central Otago, and in fact most of the wines from this small winery looking to make inroads into the Canadian marketplace, also stood out and are worth keeping an eye out for (

The success and focus of the New Zealand wine industry, along with the overall quality of the wines, has been nothing short of remarkable over the past decade or two. We can see however, the desire to branch out and become known for more than just Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. It was in this vein that the self-pour format wine seminar for the trade highlighted some of the country’s up and coming aromatic white varieties – Pinot Gris (and thankfully not Grigio), Riesling and Gewürztraminer, along with Syrah, whose plantings and interest from winemakers has been dramatically outpacing that of other white and red varieties over the past decade. The well-priced Waipara Hills Pinot Gris 2011 ( and Waimea Nelson Dry Riesling 2006 ( stood out for me among the aromatic whites, with a good buzz among the trade.

As for the Syrah from Hawkes Bay and Waiheke Island, the stunning Trinity Hill 2009 Homage Syrah from Gimblett Gravels ( and John Forrest Collection 2007 Syrah (, also from Gimblett Gravels, both showed a “Northern Rhone” finesse and elegance, along with bright and spicy fruit flavors, which the Waiheke Island Syrah didn’t have.

Babich Sauvignon BlancVilla Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2009The multi-course dinner was held at SideDoor Contemporary Kitchen and Bar, with Executive Chef Jonathan Korecki at the top of his game. We began dinner with a glass of Oyster Bay Cuvee Rose NV “methode”, which is what New Zealanders call sparkling wine. We also tasted wines from well-known producers Villa Maria, Babich and Coopers Creek, alongside the new kid on the block (for Canada anyway), Marlborough-based Rock Ferry. The torched Albacore tuna sashimi was a perfect companion for the fresh and lively Babich Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Marlborough, which offers great value at $14.95. With the delicious roasted New Zealand lamb rack, we tried the Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2009, also from Marlborough and coming to Vintages, which drove home the point that Central Otago is not the only place where good Pinot Noir can be made in New Zealand

Filed under: Wine, , , , ,

So, You Think You Know Wine? Season Two – The Tournament – Episode #3 – Keint He Pinot Noir 2007

Welcome to episode three of season two of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”.  Join our critics as they rise to a blind tasting challenge to identify the grape, country, region, year and price of the mystery wine.

Season two is in a tournament format, with six preliminary rounds and two elimination semi-finals leading to a championship round.

We’ve increased the number of participants from four to six.  Back from season one are David Lawrason, John Szabo MS, Steve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato and host Amil Niazi who are now joined by master sommelier Jennifer Huether and sommelier Zoltan Szabo.

We’ve also introduced a formal scoring structure of up to 10 points for a wine.  There are four parameters the critics are scored on:
• Varietal = up to 3 points for varietal or style
• Location = up to 3 points (2pts for Country and 1pt for Region)
• Vintage = up to 2 points (2pts for exact year, 1pt for +/- 1 year)
• Price = up to 2 points (2pts for +/- 2.5% of price, 1pt for +/- 10% of price)

Totals after round 2-2

Episode 2-3 marks the half-way point of the preliminary round.  After two rounds played John is in the lead. However, Sara is yet to enter the fray. To see how Sara, Jennifer and David do in round three of “The Tournament” click here. This episode features the Keint He Little Creek Pinot Noir 2007 from Prince Edward County in Ontario.

So, You Think You Know Wine - Episode #2-3

Click on the above image or here. to see Episode 2-3.

Filed under: Video, Wine, , ,


WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008