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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 22nd – Part One

Shakeup in the Rhône & Dynamic Global Reds
By Sara d’Amato with notes from David Lawrason

Sara's New Pic_Sm

Sara d’Amato

While John Szabo is busy scaling volcanoes (the life of a wine writer is a difficult and perilous job) I am only too happy to fill in with my thoughts on this week’s enormous release. In fact, as we approach the holidays, these releases will not get any smaller and the selections become quite varied with plenty of big names and labels. As wine writers, we are working double time in order to keep up with it all (as I mentioned, we have it tough).

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images. You can also find the complete list of each VINTAGES release under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). 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!

Rhône and the Midi

In the midst of some heavy hitters in this release, there is an impressively large number of wines from the Rhône and the Midi that collectively deserve a closer look. It just so happens that this is the region in which I have summered, ever since I was a little tike, and have made some discoveries as of late that are really quite a shakeup for this usually quite consistent region.

First, unusual weather patterns, especially in the winter of recent vintages, have thrown many wrenches into what is a generally a stable region. For example, the heat-seeking grenache is at an all-time low in the Rhône and southern France due to harsh cold snaps over the winters of 2010, 2011 and 2012, causing damage, and in some cases vine death, along with low fruit set at the onset of the growing season. So what does this mean? Well, certainly it means less grenache in blends and often less alcohol and concentration. But tribulation in the world of wine can often yield surprisingly fabulous results and critics worldwide are praising these unique, recent vintages as some of the finest in the last several decades. The resulting wines are stripped down and characterized by purity of fruit and mineral along with a certain finesse making for a compelling outcome.

Second, syrah, oh syrah, is experiencing a heyday both in the northern Rhône where it reigns supreme and in the south where it is experiencing temporary higher concentrations in blends. Cooler temperatures in the north have only enhanced the grape’s naturally peppery, floral character and in the south it benefited from a shorter growing season and some increase in the activity of the Mistral – the cooling, drying wind that sweeps through the Rhône valley (reportedly having caused the madness in Van Gogh that lead him to cut off his own ear). Yes, syrah needs coolness to thrive and fully express its sensual, spicy nature. Extreme heat squashes and fattens this stirring variety and thus it is often carefully planted at higher altitudes or in more shaded locales in southern France. Those wines that featured higher ratios of syrah in these past vintages also benefited from increased concentration due to naturally low yields, most notably in 2012.

Finally, who’s heard of Rasteau, Vacqueyras, Lirac and Tavel? More of you than ever before thanks to efforts by houses such as Perrin and other like-minded producers who push to highlight these distinctive southern regions. Châteauneuf-du-Pape may be the kingpin of the south, but many of the surrounding appellations have stepped up in terms of quality and their competitive prices may have you spending your money on them instead.

Without further ado, our thoughts on the best of the lot followed by statement making reds from around the globe:

Grands Serres Les Hautes Vacquieres Vacqueyras 2012

M. Chapoutier Petite Ruche Crozes Hermitage 2012

Saint Roch 2013 Vielles Vignes Grenache Blanc/MarsanneSaint Roch Vielles Vignes Grenache Blanc Marsanne 2013, Côtes Du Roussillon, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – The whites of the southern France remain unknown to many consumers on this side of the pond,ok but the few that trickle in should not be overlooked. This is a fine, well-priced offering that boasts impressive freshness, vibrancy and elegance.

Chapoutier Petite Ruche Crozes Hermitage 2012, Rhône, France ($24.95)
David Lawrason –  If you need convincing about the difference that biodynamic viticulture makes, buy one bottle of this and another 2012 Crozes-Hermitage to compare directly. This is an absolute northern Rhône classic syrah, firm yet generous with excellent length.
Sara d’Amato – Naturally low yields of concentrated syrah have produced a more firm and robust version of this far-reaching northern Rhône appellation – a product of an exceptional vintage.

Grands Serres 2012 Les Hautes Vacquieres, Vacqueyras, Rhône, France ($24.95)
David Lawrason – There have been about dozen Vacqueyras released in 2014, and all but one or two were excellent buys – if you like your southern Rhônes to be rich, dense and complex, as this example shows. I am coming around to the idea that most Vacqueyras are bigger than most Châteauneuf-du- Pape, at half the price.

Perrin & Fils L'andéol Rasteau 2012

Domaine De Vieux Télégraphe Télégramme Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012

Chàteau De Nages 2012 JT Costiéres De NîmesChâteau De Nages JT Costiéres De Nîmes 2012, Rhône, France ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Formerly part of the Languedoc, Costieres de Nimes has aligned itself with the Rhône and is now its most southern appellation. The region features a unique microclimate which is significantly cooler than its surrounding appellations (but no less sunny). This version is both robust and vibrant with exceptional balance.

Domaine de Vieux Télégraphe 2012 Télégramme Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône, France ($49.95)
Sara d’Amato – A lighter, brighter Châteauneuf-du-Pape and one which is terrifically approachable. The blend boasts a classic, traditional feel with plenty of garrigue, musk and earth.

Perrin & Fils 2012 l’Andéol Rasteau, Rhône, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Since 2010, Rasteau is an independent AOC in the Rhône Valley and focuses a great deal on grenache. This example is a wine of contrast featuring an abundance of succulent, zesty fruit along with a rich, mouth-filling texture and a dose of peppery syrah.

World Reds

Calera Pinot Noir 2012

Domaine De l’Herminette 2013 Grand Cras MorgonDomaine De L'herminette Grand Cras Morgon 2013, Beaujolais, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This young textbook Morgon nicely bridges the two styles of Beaujolais that I like. The aromatics showcase very pretty fruit and florality, while the palate battens down with more mineral driven character, and becomes more pinot-like.

Calera 2012 Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California ($33.95)
David Lawrason – Josh Jensen of Calera almost single-handedly gives pinot noir cred in California with his calcerous-soiled single vineyard wines from high on remote Mt. Harlan in San Benito County. This edition calls on fruit from Central Coast locales but possesses the same structure and complexity as the now very expensive editions. It runs in the family.

Josef Chromy 2010 Pepik Pinot Noir, Tasmania, Australia ($18.90)
Sara d’Amato – This high-tech, cool climate winery has produced a sensational result in this nervy pinot noir at a steal of a price. An exciting, modern style with no shortage of personality.

San Felice 2010 Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($27.95)
David Lawrason – Go to school on authentic Chianti – a 100% estate grown sangiovese aged 80% in larger, old Slavonian and 20% in smaller French barriques. No merlot or cabernet to in-fill more berryish fruit, it has all kinds of savoury, sour red fruit complexity – a lovely texture.

Tenuta Stefano 2009 Farina le Brume Langhe, Piedmont, Italy ($16.95)
David Lawrason – If you are Barolo/Barberesco fan, or want to know what they are all about, without paying $40 to $60, try this maturing nebbiolo from the Langhe zone that surrounds those two famous appellations. Lacking some of their depth perhaps but bang-on nebbiolo.

Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012 San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 Tenuta Stefano Farina Le Brume Langhe 2009 Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008 Meerlust Rubicon 2008

Cavino 2008 Grande Reserve Nemea, Greece ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Agioritiko ages so gracefully and here is a perfect example to highlight this characteristic. Although the wine is drinking beautifully now, it is certainly still kicking and has opened to offer an impressive array of flavours.

Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($38.95)
Sara d’Amato – This iconic Bordelaise blend from Meerlust had me at first sip. Its pleasant maturation did not deter the flood of flavours on the palate of this complex and highly appealing wine.


TT_Session_VolcanicWinesAnd that concludes this week’s edition of the Buyer’s Guide. We will be back next week with Part Two featuring John’s picks and many heavy hitters under VINTAGES’ “Our Finest” Feature.

For those of you in the Toronto area, please join WineAlign’s John Szabo MS at the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo on Friday, November 21st for an exotic tour of the world’s best volcanoes! And, of course, the exceptional wines that grow on them.  The Volcanic Wines tasting will take place from 6:30 to 8 pm at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  To buy tickets, please go to

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES Nov 22nd:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

AdvertisementPenfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2011

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Bill’s Best Bets – November

The other side of the Rhône
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Every successful wine region has an identity, mostly founded on the wines that sell best, which is hopefully based on what they do best. In the Rhône, that identity is definitely red, and based on syrah in the north, and grenache in the south. While the region’s best estates definitely merit this “red-putation,” the downside is that their white wines tend to be overlooked. And that’s a shame, because many are truly world-class.

One of the problems in navigating the whites of the Rhône, and this is more directed at the south, is that there are a variety of different grapes being used, which will have an effect on the flavour and more importantly, texture profile of the wine. Most, however, will tend to be on the richer end of the texture spectrum.

So let’s start with the easier to understand region, the north, where some of the world’s greatest white wines are produced.

The duo of Marsanne and Roussanne

M. Chapoutier Chante Alouette Hermitage Blanc 2011 Domaine Jean Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc 2011 Two grapes which for the most part mimic one another. Both are relatively low in acidity, though roussanne is considered a touch more aromatic. For those of you with a love for richer whites like chardonnay, then these wines should be right up your taste alley.

The most reputed wines come from Hermitage. On these granitic soils, the wines, despite their intense richness, manage to show an admirable mineral quality, which is more associated with cooler climate whites.

White Hermitage is an extraordinary wine and despite low acid and being completely dry, still somehow manages to be one of the best whites for aging. The reason is due to the fact that these two grapes have a high proportion of what is called “dry extract,” what is left in a wine if you boiled off all the liquid. And as they age, they tend to get leaner and leaner as they “cannabalize” their own fat.

The downside is that they can be quite pricey. If you have the cash, then best to start at the top. Jean-louis Chave’s 2011 Hermitage is a rich and already beautifully textured wine that will live for decades. More accessibly priced is Chapoutier’s 2011 Chante-Alouette. Made with 100% marsanne, it shows all the hallmarks of white Hermitage.

Domaine Belle Les Terres Blanches 2012 Pierre Gaillard St Joseph 2012 Pic & Chapoutier Saint Péray 2011You can find some exceptional whites in Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitages, especially on sites which have more granite and limestone. A great example is from Domaine Louis Belle. The 2012 is a perfect example of these two great grapes grown on granite, but at a fraction of the price of a Hermitage. I was particularly impressed by Pierre Gaillard’s 2013 Saint-Joseph. Peaches, mineral, great depth and texture. Wow.

But for a bargain, look to the appellation of Saint-Péray. Just south of Cornas, old vines grown on this hillside of granite and limestone are the source of not only superb versions of the style, perhaps a touch more mineral and fresh, but at very reasonable prices. Try the 2011 from Pic & Chapoutier.

Viognier and Condrieu

François Villard Le Grand Vallon 2011Condrieu, just south of the Rhône’s northernmost appellation Cote Rotie, is where one of wine world’s most elusive and temperamental white grapes, viognier, reaches its greatest expression. Viognier is perhaps the white version of pinot noir, attempted by many but mastered by few. Why is it so difficult? Viognier is a grape which has a relatively low acidity, and when grown in regions that are too warm, can easily become flabby. So the key is to find a climate which is warm enough to ripen the grape while not moving into over-ripeness.

Yields are always very low, which is why these wines are rare and often quite expensive. However, when you drink great Condrieu, there is nothing like it. I have called it on a number of occasions an oboe concerto for your mouth. Great Condrieu is subtle, often showing delicate florals and honeysuckle, and notes of white stone fruit like pear and peach. The texture tends to be oily as opposed to buttery, and the length is exceptional. There is a “low level”, almost saline mineral hum that continues for minutes after every sip.

Condrieu works magnificently with lobster, scallops, and richer cheeses. Look no further than François Villard’s 2011 Le Grand Vallon for an excellent example of how good these wines can be.

The mixed bag of southern whites

In the southern part of the Rhône, things are not quite as uniform with respect to grapes, and therefore wine styles. Although they represent a relatively small amount of the total production, many wine makers are particularly proud of their white wines, even though they are far less well-reputed.

Clos Bellane Les Échalas 2010 Château Mont Redon Lirac Blanc 2012Unlike in the north, wine makers have a number of grapes to choose from, including clairette, bourbelenc, viognier, marsanne, grenache blanc and roussane. Many clairette based wines tend to be quite fresh at first, but as they age, can gain a certain amount of richness.

On a more northern taste profile, try the biodynamically grown Clos Belanne. There isn’t a ton of bottles left but this was one of my favourite whites I have tasted over the past few months. A great example of a white that balances freshness with a richer texture is 2012 Mont-Redon’s Lirac. Clairette-based, but with grenache blanc, roussanne and viognier, it is a great deal for the $23 price tag.

One of my fetish wines are white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It represents less than 5% of the total production, but these wines can be very long-lived. Grenache blanc and Clairette are the primary grapes, but many producers also use roussane and another grape called bourboulenc. Jerome Quiot, who makes a great white Châteauneuf-du-Pape  describes these wines as “having two lives.” The first life”, he says is “refreshing, youthful, but still rich enough for white meats. But after 5 years, they gain a smoky, truffle quality that makes them perfect for cheeses.”

Chateauneuf Du Pape Blanc Domaine De Nalys 2012

Quito’s 2011 Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Domaine Du Vieux Lazaret 2011is a great introduction to the style, as is the 2012 Domaine de Nalys. Both are under $40 and exemplify how these whites can show great complexity and depth, while maintaining a wonderful freshness.

At a Christmas dinner a few years ago, I was fortunate enough to drink a 1989 bottle of Château Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape vieilles vignes. This is made entirely with roussane grapes from vines that are a minimum of 75 years of age. It was rich, honeyed and just oxidized enough to have some interesting nutty notes. On a night when a lot of great wine was poured, this is the bottle that I remember.

One final note about service – these wines must be served on the warmer side of the spectrum if you want to appreciate fully their richer textures. Start them at 10C and let them warm up. I have drunk them up to 18C and they are fantastic.


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

Editors Note: You can find Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Premium subscribers to Chacun son vin see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 27th – Part Two

Big Bird Reds & Rhône FindsSept. 25, 2014

by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

I have written before that the Thanksgiving feast may not be the ideal place to enjoy wines of great nuance and subtlety. There is a lot of competition from plates heaped high, the hubbub of assembled family young and old, and the family dog, denied scraps, whimpering in the corner. And certainly among a larger group of diners there will be some that could care less what they are drinking. So unless you have Thanksgiving dinner completely under control I would lean to more mid-priced priced, vibrant, juicy and flavourful wines. And despite turkey being a bird – I would go with reds to wade into the gravy, savoury dressing and especially the dark meat. So please see some of our selections from our critics below. But if it’s white you are after read John Szabo’s Part One preview here, plus reviews from the Portugal feature and an unexpected line-up of decent Bordeaux.

Sometimes we follow VINTAGES themes in these reports, sometimes not. There was nothing to add to the magazine’s “Groundbreakers” theme, so we strike off on our own, having found a wine or two or three from a region that just can’t be ignored. This happened for Sara, John and I in this release, when we tasted two terrific Rasteau from the southern Rhône, plus others from nearby appellations. These Rhône villages – dotted like stones on a necklace below the jawline of the toothy Dentelles Mountains on the eastern flank of the valley – continue to offer great values. Alas the Rasteau are In-Store Discoveries only to be found in a few larger stores, but they are very much worth seeking out.

And again, as you create your shopping list I want to remind you that wines we highlight below are by no means the only wines worth considering from this mammoth release. Subscribers can check out our complete takes – critic by critic – by clicking here.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images below. You can also find the complete list of each VINTAGES release under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). 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!

Thanksgiving Reds

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2012

Burrowing Owl 2012 Cabernet FrancBurrowing Owl 2012 Cabernet Franc, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia  ($43.95)
David Lawrason – The fruit ripeness, the savoury sage notes and the plush feel of this fine cab franc should make it a turkey shoe-in. Burrowing Owl reds continue to be a go-to. But you may be interested and chagrined to know this wine is selling for $33 at the winery. LCBO policy that treats BC wines as imports are a major reason why BC wines are not better represented here. This behaviour by a government agency in Canada is just not right.

Hamilton Russell 2012 Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa ($44.95)
John Szabo – For those seeking a more gentle Thanksgiving red that still has enough plush fruit and spice to manage the most overcooked of turkeys, try this pinot from the Walker Bay pioneer. Nearly thirty years on, Anthony Hamilton-Russell still leads the pack in the region crafting in 2012 a pinot of distinctive fruit intensity, depth, length and concentration. Best 2016-2024.

Errazuriz 2012 Aconcagua Costa Syrah, Chile $24.95
David Lawrason – I am still not universally smitten by Chilean syrah, and it is a wine still evolving. I think that new vineyards in the cooler coastal regions are the right direction. This has a hugely lifted aroma of blackcurrant, mint and chocolate. It’s slimmer than many Chilean syrahs but loaded with flavour and very bright. So very juicy!

Vignerons De Bel Air Hiver Gourmand Morgon 2012

Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Syrah 2012Vignerons De Bel Air 2012 Hiver Gourmand Morgon, Beaujolais, France ($17.95)
Sara D’Amato –
Sensually spiced and light enough to pair with bird of any kind, this well-priced Morgon is a sophisticated addition to a Thanksgiving table. A fine expression of gamay’s versatility and wildly appealing nature.

Alto Moncayo 2011 Veraton DO Campo de Borja, Spain ($29.95)
John Szabo – Riffing off of a similar theme, this old vine grenache, some over 100 years old, from northern Spain is a terrific bargain for those who like it big. The bodega is a joint venture that includes US wine importer Jorge Ordoñez, and the stylistic direction clearly takes it’s cue from the new world. Massive concentration, high 15.5% alcohol, and a year and a half in America oak combine to create this rich, sweet, mouthfilling wine that manages to retain miraculous balance and appeal. Best 2016-2021.

Guenoc 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County, California $19.95
David Lawrason – From a large but hidden gem property in Lake County north of Napa, this has some stuffing; as cabernet should – and the classic, cassis fruit, roasted red pepper, tobacco and cedar will work well with turkey. Great value, precisely because it’s not from somewhere more famous, but this is a wonderful site.

Plowbuster 2012 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($25.95)
John Szabo – Named to honour the challenge of farming vineyards in the Willamette Valley strewn with large basalt boulders, Plowbuster’s 2012 is a fine and well-priced pinot. It straddles the old/world stylistic divide, showing lightly oxidative character and firm tannins further tightened by high acids, yet also succulent and concentrated, juicy fruit. Best 2015-2022.

Alto Moncayo Veraton 2011 Guenoc Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Plowbuster Pinot Noir 2012 Badia A Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2010 Stoney Ridge Cranberry Wine 2011

Badia A Coltibuono 2010 Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($24.95)
John Szabo – For a cranberry meets cranberry pairing, try this simple but classy, regionally representative example of Chianti Classico made from organically-grown grapes. I appreciate the zesty acids and light dusty tannins in the Tuscan idiom. And if you need a story to tell around the table, you can mention that Badia a Coltibuono has been around for a while, since 1051 to be precise. That was the year in which the monks of Vallombrosa began construction on this property, named literally “the abbey of good harvests”. Best 2014-2020.

Stoney Ridge 2011 Cranberry Wine, Ontario, $17.95
Sara D’Amato – A long-time producer of fruit wines, under the direction of former winemaker and fruit wine enthusiast, Jim Warren, Stoney Ridge continues to produce its most popular fruit wine just in time for the holidays. The winery claims that this release is “better than ever” and I would have to agree. It isn’t sweet nor is it too tart or intense. It is light, very flavourful and nicely balanced. With an alcohol level at just over 10%, this lighter wine can help you keep pace throughout your celebration and will nicely compliment that turkey.

Rhône Finds

Domaine Les Aphillanthes 2012 “1921” Côtes Du Rhône-Villages Rasteau, Rhône Valley, France ($37.95)
Domaine Grand Nicolet Les Esqueyrons Rasteau 2012 Domaine Les Aphillanthes 1921 2012John Szabo – Plush, spicy, grenache-based reds from the southern Rhône are terrific with roast turkey, and there’s no better example in the release than this one. From a biodynamically certified estate (Biodivin since 2007), this is exceptional Rasteau made by the husband and wife team of Danielle and Hélène Boulle is a powerful and complex wine, easily the equal of many Chateauneufs at 1.5x the price. Drink during this thanksgiving dinner, or anytime over the next decade.
David Lawrason – This is a refined, generous and delicious. Ambitiously priced for Rasteau and some may want a bit more structure but it is precisely appointed with florals, fruit and spice and has great concentration. Yet there is an almost airy feel unusual in the Rhône.

Domaine Grand Nicolet 2012 Les Esqueyrons Rasteau, Rhône Valley, ($35.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very impressive Rasteau, by a family domain with 16 ha in the appellation. Les Esqueyrons is a southeast facing site on clay limestone, comprised of 50% grenache from 60-year-old vines, and 50% syrah from 30year old vines – harvested at a very low 20 hls/hectare.  The nose is a bit shy but it somehow still oozes fruit richness with plum, olive and even some cranberry lift. What focus and concentration!

Domaine Jean Deydier & Fils Les Clefs D'or Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010

Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas 2012

Domaine Des Andrines 2012, Côtes Du RhôneDomaine Des Andrines Côtes Du Rhône 2012, Rhône Valley, France  ($17.95)
Sara D’Amato – Located just outside Avignon, the city of Popes, Domaine des Adrines grows their old vine syrah, grenache and carignan on premium terra rossa soils topped with the large galets common to the top sites of the south.  With very little notable oak, fine balance and appealing peppery fruit, this affable blend is an excellent value.
David Lawrason – Straight up great value in a young approachable Rhône

Domaine Brusset 2012 Tradition Le Grand Montmirail, Gigondas, Rhône Valley ($29.95)
Sara D’Amato – Planted on the foothills of the “Dentelles de Montmirail” at 250 meters, this traditional, handpicked grenache based blend offers lovely freshness, pepper and garrigue. Exhibiting an authentic sense of place, this solidly built Gigondas shows excellent focus and age-worthiness.

Domaine Jean Deydier & Fils 2010 Les Clefs d’Or Tradition Vieilles Vignes, Châteauneuf Du Pape, Rhône Valley ($44.95)
Sara D’Amato – Grenache reigns supreme in this traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend. Ripe fruit, savory notes and big perfume make for an intense blend that is still quite youthful.

And that’s it for this issue. We return next week with Part One of another sprawling release that features Sonoma, dovetailing with VINTAGES Sonoma event at the Royal Ontario Museum on October 9th. If you are looking for Ontario wine country action this weekend head to Prince Edward County Saturday for TASTE community grown as some of the region’s finest chefs, winemakers, craft beer producers and farmers gather from 11am to 5pm at the Crystal Palace in Picton. Newly named (formerly Taste the County) it is broadening its appeal beyond the wineries, and includes seminars on starting a brewery, foraging the County, mixology and more.

I look forward to seeing many of you at the Rarer Than Unicorn event on Oct 8th at Crush Wine Bar where agent Alto Vino will showcase some examples of the rare wines they represent. (Find out more about their wine and get your tickets here)


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES September 27th release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Sept 27th Part One – Thanksgiving Whites, Value Portugal & Bordeaux

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

AdvertisementsBeringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Les bons choix de Nadia

Cellier septembre 2014 (1ere vague)
par Nadia Fournier

Nadia Fournier - New - Cropped

Nadia Fournier

Depuis une dizaine d’années, plusieurs consommateurs, particulièrement ceux de la nouvelle génération, ont tourné le dos à Bordeaux. Moi-même, peut-être en réaction à la flambée des prix des années 2000 ou par désir d’explorer d’autres régions de monde, j’avoue avoir un peu boudé les vins de la Gironde – en tant que consommatrice, s’entend.

Mais depuis un an ou deux, sans trop savoir pourquoi, je me surprends à regarnir ma cave en crus bordelais ou à en commander au verre, dans les rares établissements montréalais qui osent en proposer.

J’ai toujours un intérêt très très modéré pour les bordeaux modernes, produits dans le but à peine dissimulé de plaire aux critiques américains. Mais lorsqu’il est élaboré sans trop d’artifices et fidèle à ses origines, qu’est-ce que je me régale ! Car avec leur caractère un peu austère et empreint de fraîcheur, les clarets et autres vins rouges du Médoc, des Graves, de Fronsac, de Pomerol et même d’appellations secondaires semblent conçus pour la table.

Ça tombe bien puisque dans la nouvelle édition du magazine Cellier (dont les vins sont commercialisés en deux vagues, soit ce matin et le 18 septembre prochain), la SAQ ramène Bordeaux au premier plan et rappelle qu’en dehors du cercle fermé des crus classés, il existe encore une foule de bons vins vendus à des prix terrestres.

Dans le lot, on voudra surtout retenir les vins rouges des châteaux de Villegeorge, Tour Haut Caussan, Mayne Guyon et Larrivaux, ainsi que l’excellent vin blanc du Château Graville-Lacoste.


Propriété de Marie-Laure Lurton, le Château de Villegeorge 2010 (24,75 $) provient d’une parcelle située près de l’appellation Margaux. Plus élégant que charpenté. Un excellent vin en devenir, à prix pleinement mérité.

Deuxième succès consécutif pour le Château Tour Haut Caussan 2010 (26,50 $), un cru bourgeois situé sur la commune de Blaignan, à une douzaine de kilomètres de St-Estèphe. Aussi étoffé et plein en bouche que le 2009 commenté plus tôt cette année, avec un supplément de fraîcheur.

À prix d’aubaine, l’amateur de bordeaux de facture classique se régalera avec le Château Mayne Guyon 2011 (17,95 $). S’il y avait plus de Bordeaux comme celui-ci, l’économie viticole de la Gironde se porterait sans doute bien mieux.

Château De Villegeorge 2010 Château Tour Haut Caussan 2010 Château Mayne Guyon 2011 Château Larrivaux 2010

Dans le même esprit, mais un peu plus cher, le Château Larrivaux 2010 (25,45 $) se signale par ses goûts caractéristiques de fruit noir et de boîte à cigares. Rappelons que ce vignoble appartient à la même famille et est transmis de femme en femme depuis plus de trois siècles. Un fait plutôt rare dans la France viticole…

Plus ambitieux, sans être vraiment complexe, avec un nez de fruit confit et un boisé bien appuyé, L’esprit de Chevalier 2010 (42,50 $) est l’occasion pour les fans de cette maison prestigieuse de flirter avec « l’esprit » du domaine, à moindre coût.

Le Château Belgrave (48,50 $) a connu une importante revitalisation depuis son rachat par les Vins & Vignobles Dourthe (Le Boscq, Pey La Tour, Reysson). On y produit maintenant un vin sphérique et charmeur. Même si je ne suis pas vraiment friande du genre, je suis convaincue qu’il fera plusieurs adeptes.

L’esprit De Chevalier 2010 Château Belgrave 2010 Château La Fleur Du Casse 2010 Château Taillefer 2010 Château Graville Lacoste Graves 2012

Tout aussi flatteur et accessible dès maintenant, le Château Fleur du Casse 2010 (38,50 $) est assez représentatif de l’appellation Saint-Émilion par sa trame tannique veloutée et séduisante.

Propriété des enfants du regretté Bernard Moueix et de leur mère Catherine, descendants d’Antoine Moueix, la branche cousine des propriétaires de Pétrus, le Château Taillefer est la source d’un très bon Pomerol 2010 (34,75 $) élaboré sous les conseils du professeur Denis Dubourdieu.

Enfin, j’ai particulièrement aimé le savoureux Château Graville-Lacoste 2012 (21,35 $). Un vin blanc sec comme on en trouve encore trop peu dans les Graves : minéral, distingué et misant davantage sur la pureté du fruit que sur les parfums de la barrique. Très typé et vendu à prix juste. Personnellement, je ne demande pas mieux !


Pour vous permettre de faire le plein de soleil avant l’automne, le Cellier propose aussi plusieurs belles cuvées du midi de la France. Dans le lot, une poignée de très bons vins du Languedoc-Roussillon (commercialisés le 18 septembre) et quelques belles découvertes de la vallée du Rhône, dont le Clos Bellane, Les Échalas 2010 (29,95 $), un somptueux vin blanc élaboré par Stéphane Vedeau, sur le plateau de Vinsobres. Le vignoble, acquis en 2010, est certifié en agriculture biologique à compter de cette année.

L’orientation et l’altitude du vignoble – juché à 400 mètres et tourné vers l’est – et la composition calcaire des sols expliquent peut-être la grande sensation de fraicheur qui émane de cette cuvée de marsanne et de roussanne. Parmi les bons vins blancs du sud de la France goûtés cette année.

En plus de produire des vins légendaires sur la colline d’Hermitage, Jean-Louis Chave a mis sur pied une petite affaire de négoce haut de gamme. Les raisins qui entrent dans l’élaboration de la cuvée Mon Cœur 2012, Côtes du Rhône (22,70 $) proviennent d’une poignée de vignerons situés sur les communes de Rasteau, Cairanne, Vinsobres et Visan.

Clos Bellane Les Échalas 2010 J.L. Chave Sélection Mon Coeur 2012 Crozes Hermitage Les Pichères 2011 Domaine De Fontbonau Côtes Du Rhône 2010 Château De Nages Vieilles Vignes 2011

Ferraton appartient à Chapoutier, mais est mené de façon autonome. Question de goût sans doute, mais je n’ai pas d’atomes crochus avec le Crozes-Hermitage Les Pichères 2011 (31,50 $). Costaud, mais surtout un peu pataud et rudimentaire.

Propriété de Jérôme Sarda-Malet (Roussillon) et de Frédéric Engerer, directeur technique au Château Latour à Pauillac, le Domaine de Fontbonau élabore un Côtes du Rhône générique hors norme, tant par sa puissance que par son prix (37 $). Majoritairement composé de grenache et complété de syrah, élevée dans les fûts de Latour. Peut-être taillé à gros traits pour le moment, mais une chose est certaine, il ne manque pas d’envergure.

Pour une fraction du prix, le Château de Nages Vieilles Vignes 2011 fera plaisir à votre portefeuille, peut-être déjà largement sollicité par la rentrée en classe. Beaucoup de vin dans le verre pour 20 $.

Santé et bonne rentrée !


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 grands vins!

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Bill’s Best Bets – September

A look at the September 4th Cellier Release
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

The Cellier magazine is back after a summer off, and as usual, a number of wines are accompanying its release. While a few of these wines have already been sold at the SAQ, there are a number which will be making their first appearance at the store level. This seems to be the new formula for the magazine – a mix of new releases and some classic wines. It’s a pretty good idea as a few of these wines which have already been available are pretty damned good.

As always, the 30 featured wines will be split between two release dates – September 4 and September 18. So what’s worth picking up from the first release? Overall, there are a number of very worthy wines, but a few are truly spectacular.

Château La Fleur Du Casse 2010Château Tour Haut Caussan 2010The new releases are all French and from classic regions like Bordeaux, Rhône and the Languedoc, and mostly red wines. So let’s get to it, and start with a few wines from Bordeaux, where the focus is on one of my favourite of recent vintages, 2010.

Despite it not even being close to the most expensive wine in the line-up, try the 2010 Château Tour Haut Caussan. This Cru Bourgeois from the Médoc has been around for over a decade on Private Import and when I worked as a sommelier, was always on my list. This is classic Bordeaux in the best, and most traditional sense of the word. (199 cases available)

Also from Bordeaux, but this time Saint Émilion, the 2010 La Fleur du Casse is as seductive a merlot as you’ll find out there. For those of us who found the 2009’s a touch over the top, especially for the merlot dominated wines of the right bank, this Grand Cru puts the accent back on drinkability over raw power. I would give it at least another 3 years before starting to drink, but its already a pleasure. (126 cases available)

Château Larrivaux 2010Château Les Ricards 2010Going back across the river, the 2010 Haut Médoc from Château Larrivaux is another great buy, especially considering its $25 price tag. Despite it being dominated by merlot, rare for an Haut-Médoc, this is no softy. The tannins have extra bite, probably due to almost 10% of petit verdot in the blend. The estate has another particularity in that it has been run by women of the same family since vines were first planted there in 1861. If you are looking for an inexpensive Bordeaux that will easily cellar up to 10 years, this is it. (300 cases available)

And while I am talking Bordeaux, although it was not part of this release, I recently drank the 2010 Château Les Ricards. For $20, this Côtes de Blaye might be the bargain of the year for Bordeaux. Supple fruit and so ready to drink. I’m not the only one who thinks so as it is flying off the shelves. If you can get your hands on this bottle, then you won’t be disappointed.

Moving south into the Rhône, there are three wines that are musts. Topping the list is Jean-Louis Chave’s 2012 Côtes de Rhône Mon Coeur. One of the great vignerons of Hermitage, Chave also runs a négoce which he treats with equal care. Every year, this wine flies off the shelves and the 2012 should as well, as it might be the best I have ever tasted of this cuvée. Gulp it, drink it slow, age it a bit – no problem. For the price, exceptional. (500 cases)

Clos Bellane Les Échalas 2010Crozes Hermitage Les Pichères 2011J.L. Chave Sélection Mon Coeur 2012I was equally impressed by Ferraton’s 2011 Crozes-Hermitage Les Pichères. But rather than the juicy fruit and ease of the Chave, Les Pichères is about the earthier side of the syrah. Dark-fruited, granitic, mineral, and with tannins that reminded me of a Cornas. This is a huge step up from most Crozes, and at $30, you are getting your money’s worth. Keep a few in the cellar for the future as this will gain with some cellar time. (419 cases)

I am also a big fan of the white wines of the Rhône. While much of the wine drinking world has embraced white wines with high acidities and exuberant aromatics, the Rhône has continued to make richly textured, and at times, phenomenally interesting wines. The 2010 Côtes du Rhône Villages, Les Échalas from Clos Bellane is one such wine. Vigneron Stéphane Vedeau works biodynamically, and this blend of marsanne and roussanne has exactly what I love about the  Rhône style – stone fruit, a dense texture and lots of intriguing spice on the finish. I would pull this from the fridge and never put it back as it will start to shine above 12C. (200 cases)

Back next week with some great buys from the September 18th release. With the focus being on the Languedoc, there’s a few that you don’t want to miss.


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

Editors Note: You can find Bill’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Premium subscribers to Chacun son vin see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

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Bill’s Best Bets at the SAQ, May 2014

The many faces of Syrah and Shiraz
By Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Would you prefer chocolate or bacon? A dash of pepper perhaps, or maybe black olive? Smoke or violets? Red or black fruit? Well, depending on where your syrah is grown, your wine may show any of the above.

And you have your choice of provenance. Syrah is one of the fastest growing red varieties in the world. In the mid 1980’s, there was under 20,000 ha of syrah planted worldwide, almost entirely in France and Australia. 25 years later, that number has exploded to over 140,000 ha with the majority of these new vines planted over the last 10 years.

But if syrah can now be considered a member of the elite club of true “international” varietals, unlike cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay, there is something schizophrenic about syrah – it is known by two different names. Syrah and shiraz have come to signify more than just the name of a grape, for many it has come to represent a style unto itself.

It’s a climate thing

Syrah and shiraz are the same grapes. Researcher Carole Meredith at UC Davis confirmed via DNA profiling that it was the result of crossing a white grape, Mondeuse Blanche, and the one of France’s oldest red varietals, Dureza. But put a bottle of Côte Rôtie next to a Barossa shiraz and one would be hard pressed to say that they were the same grape.



While soils do make a difference in the grape’s expression, it’s the climate, and by extension, ripeness, that seems to be the most important factor in determining what aromas and flavours you will find in your syrah. As a general rule, cooler sites bring more aromatic nuance, including notes of violets, pepper, spices and red berries. Warmer sites give you more body, texture, power, smoked meat, cassis, blackberry, black olive and chocolate.

I tasted this on a micro-level on a recent trip to the northern Rhône where syrah is the only red grape authorized for the region’s appellations. Tasting through the region is a study of nuance, and one need look no further than the different expressions of Hermitage and Cornas.

Both hillsides are granite based, south-facing, and reach similar altitudes. The difference is that Cornas is 20 km further south, and the vineyard is in the shape of an amphitheatre, which keeps and amplifies the heat. In fact, Cornas in old Celtic language means “burnt earth.”

The result of this somewhat marginal difference in growing conditions makes a world of difference in the wines. Cornas tastes like blackberry jujube: intensely ripe, concentrated, dark fruited and almost jammy. In hotter years, you can find liquorice and olive notes. The tannins are big and burly.

Hermitage, with just a touch less ripeness shows a “lighter” dark fruit note, black currant as opposed to blackberry, more finessed tannins and much more spice. Power versus finesse, and 20km is the difference.

steep slopes of Cote Rotie

The steep slopes of Côte-Rôtie

Go 60 km further north to Côte-Rôtie and the syrah becomes an entirely different beast, much more feline in its expression. Here, at the northern edge of where syrah can ripen successfully, you get redder fruits, more florals and black pepper notes. Interesting to note that black pepper is a cool climate syrah characteristic, and is most prevalent in cooler vintages. In many ways, it is the equivalent of the “green” character in the cabernet family.

And what about the famous “smoked meat,” bacon character of syrah? This is a characteristic of the ripest and richest syrah, which can be found in Crozes-Hermitages, and to a lesser extent on Cornas.

The same climate distinction can be made in Australia, where shiraz is the most planted variety. In the hotter climate zones of the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, you get Cornas on steroids. The wines are powerful, full-bodied with blackberry, black fruit, chocolate, plum. But tasting through the much cooler region of Victoria, the shiraz is much more floral with black cherry, plum, black pepper and exotic spice.

Cusumano Syrah 2012Qupé Syrah 2011Pfeiffer Shiraz 2011Of course there are other things at play here. Decisions on winemaking, grape growing techniques and ripeness levels at harvest will change the eventual wine. But climate, at least with respect to syrah, is paramount. So here are a few suggestions from around the globe for you to get better acquainted with the many faces of syrah and shiraz – no matter what you want to call it.

On the redder fruit and peppery spice side of the spectrum, try Pfeiffer’s 2011 shiraz. From the cooler region of Victoria you’ll see more peppery spice and redder fruits than classic Barossa jam. Equally interesting, and even fresher is Qupé’s 2011 California Central Coast syrah. Minerality, herbs and redder fruits with remarkable freshness.

For you bargain hunters, Cusumano’s 2012 Syrah is a nice meeting ground between the cooler and warmer styles. And while we can argue if $22 is indeed a bargain, South Africa’s Stark-Condé winery made one of the best syrahs I have tasted in a while at this price. Crozes Hermitages in style but arguably even better.

Domaine Courbis Champelrose Cornas 2011Domaine Belle Hermitage 2010Saltram MamreIf you want to taste the difference between a Cornas and a Hermitage, one need not spend a week’s mortgage. While these wines are very expensive, I found two excellent examples at very reasonable prices. Domaine Courbis’ 2011 Champelrose is classic Cornas with its blackberry fruit, hint of meat and spice. Compare it to Domaine Belle’s 2010 Hermitage, with its more subtle black currant notes and spice. Pay attention the tannin structure as well, and you will find a much grittier structure in the Cornas.

And no list of shiraz would be complete without a classic Barossa Valley expression of the grape. Try Saltram’s 2010 Mamre Brook. It won’t win any awards for finesse, but if you want a powerful red for your grilled steak, it wont disappoint.

Until next time.


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

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

Syrah vines at Donaine Courbis 2

Syrah vines at Domaine Courbis

Rhône photos courtesy of Bill Zacharkiw

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages June 22 Release

Unravelling the Rhône, South Africa, Canada and Other Wines of Interest

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

This edition is written from Niagara where the entire WineAlign team is assembled all week to taste through 1,100 wines at the National Wine Awards of Canada – an amazing process of co-ordination and endurance. One result however has been my missing a VINTAGES press tasting opportunity, thus reviewing fewer wines from the June 22 release, and offering a shorter newsletter. But I have captured the Rhône, South Africa and Canadian features, and found other wines of interest from locales as far-flung as Australia, Alsace and Rioja.

Unravelling the Rhône

It struck me as odd that VINTAGES would highlight a Rhône release as summer dawns. Rosé, sure – but this batch is mostly reds, and in some cases they are quite burly and tannic. Some of the lighter, softer examples might be okay lightly chilled and quaffed on the deck, but how do you tell which will fit that bill (other than reading our reviews one by one). I got a chance to explore that idea last week during a Rhône Valley trade seminar that laid out wines from almost all of the appellations side by side. Sponsored by InterRhone, there was also a Rhône overview presented by Veronique Rivest of Montreal, a good friend, sommelier and writer who finished second in the World’s Best Sommelier Competition in Tokyo in March of this year.

The overriding message was that the Rhône Valley is complicated, with 22 authorized grape varieties (eight are white) grown among 23 appellations and another 18 sub-regions with a village name attached. This does not include the overriding Cotes du Rhône appellation that accounts for almost 75% of the entire volume produced. And of course, every year the vintage conditions vary. So for those who want to dive deep the Rhône is almost as absorbing and complex as Burgundy.

Don’t worry; I am not going to attempt to explain it all here. But I do want to pass on some general tips to help sort out which are likely to be the softer, rounder and easier/earlier reds and which will be the more linear, firm and tannic (perhaps for longer ageing). The softer reds will have a dominant portion of grenache in the blend; the firmer reds will be based on syrah, and even firmer if there is a high proportion of the tannic mourvedre grape. The softer reds will also be from more sandy and or clay soils found on the valley floor and lower slopes (where grenache tends to flourish), while the firmer reds will be from stonier, higher elevation sites (where syrah is more often found).

In terms of appellations, all the ‘northern Rhône’ AOCs are on steep, granite based slopes that support syrah only. These include Cote Rôtie, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St. Joseph and Cornas. By and large they make firm, age-worthy often quite elegant (and expensive) reds. That’s the easy part.

Domaine Saint Gayan Gigondas 2009Château Bizard Montagne De Raucoule 2010Romain Duvernay Cairanne 2010The southern Rhône is more complicated because all the grape varieties are used, and most often are blended. But grenache is usually the dominant grape – so southern Rhône wines are softer, rounder and higher in alcohol than those in the north. Within the south look to the lower, sandier appellations for the softest wines, led by Châteauneuf du Pape, then Lirac, Costieres de Nimes, Plan de Dieu, Gadagne (new), Cairanne, Rasteau, Visan and Grigan-les-Ahdemar. Two wines on the release stand out as very good value examples of this style. Romain Duvernay 2010 Cairanne ($18.95) – a Wine of the Month – has classic Rhône plummy fruit and pepper, albeit in the more compact and structured style of the 2010 vintage. Château Bizard Montagne 2010 De Raucoule ($20.95) is from the new Grignan-les-Adhemar appellation, formerly known as Coteaux du Triscatin at the northern edge of southern Rhône. This wine is particularly smooth, rich and almost velvety – a style I can’t wait to try with a BBQ.

For wines with more firmness and complexity look to the hillside oriented appellations of Vacqueyras, Beaumes de Venise, Gigondas, Sablet, Seguret and perhaps Vinsobres. Domaine Saint Gayan 2009 Gigondas ($30.95) is a very elegant, focused wine from a family that has been making wine on their property since 1709. Montirius Garrigues Vacqueyras 2010 is also a biodynamic beauty from a great property in Vacqueyras, but to buy this wine you will have to go VINTAGES Shop Online.

White Wines of Interest

Avondale Cyclus 2010Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2012Avondale 2010 Cyclus from Paarl, South Africa ($29.95) is part of a new breed of big, rich, Rhône-inspired oaked whites from the Cape, this one led by viognier, with chenin blanc and semillon in the blend. The estate grows biodynamically. It’s a profound and quite magnificent wine.

Benjamin Bridge 2012 Nova 7 from Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley (a spur of the Annapolis Valley) has been a sensation ‘down east’ for the last couple of years. Benjamin Bridge is a critically acclaimed sparkling wine producer doing very serious Champagne-styled wines, but this is much more in the Moscato d’Asti realm –super-fresh, off-dry, clean as a whistle. A summer fruit salad to serve snapping cold. ($25.95)

Schlumberger Grand Cru Kessler Pinot Gris 2008Henry Of Pelham Reserve Off Dry Riesling 2010Henry of Pelham 2010 Estate Riesling from the Short Hills Bench in Niagara is an amazing value at $15.95. From mature vines it exudes ripe, peach, honey and waxy notes, whereas many Niagara rieslings are leaner, greener and more petrol driven. There is a seamless elegance and richness here.

Domaines Schlumberger Kessler 2008 Pinot Gris is a mature pinot gris that seems to have emerged from the woodwork at VINTAGES – a 2008 now? But it is a great opportunity. It is massive pinot gris, especially within the mild-mannered gris/grigio universe. So it may not appeal to all. It is from an excellent age-worthy, acid driven vintage. Hailing from a Grand Cru vineyard in the south of Alsace, this has real torque and richness, and it is a great value at $25.95

Red Wines of Interest

Flagstone Writer's Block Pinotage 2010Creekside Laura's Red 2010The Hedonist Shiraz 2009Flagstone Writer’s Block 2010 Pinotage ($19.95) from the Western Cape in South Africa, is a good value pinotage that, finally, is more than coffee and cocoa. A wine called Café Culture started that Starbucks trend and it is spreading like a plague. I admit actually liking the flavour, but it does ruin the fruit of pinotage. Flagstone has some of that mocha-fied character in the background, but it is not the whole show. Some of pinotage’s wild pinosity comes through. (Pinotage is crossing of pinot noir and cinsault)

Creekside 2010 Laura’s Red has long been one of Niagara’s fine, under-sung Bordeaux-style blends, barreled blends. It was named for previous owner Laura McCain, but the brand is now established, so why change the name? And the credit firmly belongs to winemaker Rob Power who’s cabernet and syrah based reds always show strongly in awards. And this vintage is now starting to show as the best yet for Niagara’s bigger reds. A great buy at $19.95!

The Hedonist 2009 Shiraz is biodynamically farmed from a maritime-exposed vineyard situated in the Willunga foothills of McLaren Vale, South Australia. It was aged in 50-50 French and American oak. There is a very positive trend in Aussie shiraz to deliver power and authenticity in a drier, more restrained style – and this is on program. Great value at $23.95

Marqués De Murrieta Finca Ygay Reserva 2006Poggio Il Castellare Rosso Di Montalcino 2010Grant Burge Corryton Park Cabernet Sauvignon 2009Grant Burge 2009 Corryton Park Cabernet Sauvignon is from one of the highest vineyards in the Barossa Valley of South Australia – located at the south extremity on the edge of the Adelaide Hills. Cabernet often prospers in moderated/cooler climes like this (and in Coonawarra and Margaret River) and I was very impressed by the tension and complexity. Great cab for $32.95

Poggio Il Castellare 2010 Rosso Di Montalcino is a delicious and complex wine that out-performs most big brother brunellos at more than double the price. Normally Rosso is supposed to be a light-hearted and easy drinking. This engages at a more intense and vital level, without trying to be elegant and profound. It’s is Chianti Classico territory with a bit more richness. A steal at $20.95.

Marqués De Murrieta Finca Ygay 2006 Reserva is from one of the great, venerable estates of Spain – known far beyond Rioja. It has a history of making very age-worthy wines in a traditional style. This move to a slightly softer, rich more modern style but it has all kinds of structure and depth for $24.95.

And that’s it for an abbreviated version from Niagara. We’ll be back for the July 6th Release.

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 June 22, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Penfolds Thomas Hyland Chardonnay 2012

Flat Rock Club on the Rock

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for June 22, 2013

South Africa Re-examined; Seductive Southern Rhônes; and More Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Like a high-yielding grapevine, this week’s report is over-loaded with smart buys and top picks. I cover the two VINTAGES features for June 22, namely South Africa, including top picks from the consignment/private order world, and the unstoppable southern Rhône Valley. The Rhône continues to issue forth as many smart buys as Rob Ford’s office issues explanations, and it’s clear what I’d rather swallow. There’s also another half-dozen smart buys for you to consider. Read on for all of the details.

South Africa: Redefining Impressions

I suspect consumers without any special connection to South Africa rarely consider Cape wines when it’s time to go shopping. And it’s my feeling that this is because South African wines suffer from a bit of an identity crisis. On the one hand, there are the ever-popular confected pinotages that are little more than commercial recipes and plenty of cheap but unexciting big brand wines that could be from anywhere, and on the other, an increasing range of serious, regionally unique, authentic wines that have a deserving place in the world of serious wines. Most are familiar with the former, but it’s the latter category that should be much better known and which has the potential to capture some consumer mind-space.

You’ll often hear South African wines being described as mid way between old world and new world in style, and I think the cliché is true. The best have the structure of European wines – firm tannins, bright acids and earthy-herbal flavours – along with the fruit ripeness and generosity of warm new world regions. Think of a blend between Bordeaux and Napa cabernet, malbec from Mendoza with Cahors in Southwest France, or Barossa shiraz with northern Rhône syrah and you get the picture. South African wines satisfy a broad range of personal preferences, and there’s more than enough terroir talk of granites, shales and sandstones, breezes and elevations, and old, unirrigated bush vines to keep the punters engaged. There’s also plenty of value to be found in the low to mid-range, $12-$30 bottle, with many delivering pleasure far above their price category, just to sweeten the deal.

Following are a couple of recommended wines from the June 22nd release, and digging a little deeper into the market, some worthwhile picks from a recent tasting hosted by Wines Of South Africa featuring some fine consignment/private order wines. You’ll have to work a little to get these, but it’s a worthwhile journey and a great way to start re-shaping your image of South African wines.

Sijnn Red 2009Sijnn White 2011A pair of wines from a former Ostrich farm in the hamlet of Malagas, Swellendam, 40kms from the nearest vineyards, were the most striking of the lot at the WOSA tasting: 2009 Sijnn Red ($32.50) and 2011 Sijnn White ($29.80). Sijnn (pronounced “sane”) is a joint venture established in 2004 between winemaker David Trafford, who has his own highly regarded winery in Stellenbosch, South African environmental businessman Quentin Hurt, and Simon Farr of UK importers Bibendum. The attraction was a stony plateau littered with pudding stones over fractured shale reminiscent of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, along with a warm dry Mediterranean climate moderated by breezes from the sea 15kms away.

The focus is logically on Mediterranean varieties: Sijnn red is a wild blend of 46% syrah, 29% mourvèdre, 13% touriga nacional, and 6% each of trincadeira and cabernet sauvignon. The profile is all black and blue fruit with lots of floral-violet character, gentle spice, ripe and suave tannins and very good to excellent length. This is classy, quality wine made with care, minimal intervention and maximum passion.

Sijnn White is equally compelling, a blend of about 3/4 chenin blanc and 1/4 viognier barrel fermented in 225L and 700L French oak barrels, about 20% new, and bottled unfiltered. The result is a rich and full, succulent, openly inviting style with plenty of depth and length. Wood is of course noted, but the fruit concentration is more than enough to balance. Acids, too, are balanced, and 14.5% alcohol integrated. Availability: Private Order, Gradwell Wine Agency.

Oldenburg Vineyards Cabernet FrancLemberg Spencer PinotageIf you’ve given up on pinotage because so many examples today taste like they’ve been blended with Tia Maria, the 2011 Lemberg Spencer Pinotage Tulbagh ($35.55) might just change your mind. It’s from a single site in the southern end of the Swartland, with 20+-year-old vines, unfined, unfiltered, with authentic varietal character, generous but balanced wood influence, and thick, rich, medium-full palate. There’s a backbone of acidity that rides through the finish and freshens up the profile. Best 2015-2020. Availability: Private Order, Gradwell Wine Agency.

Cabernet Franc is not particularly widely planted in South Africa, but the 2009 Oldenburg Vineyards Cabernet Franc Banghoek, Stellenbosch  $36.95 91 is a reason to plant more. It’s grown on the highest part of the property at around 400m elevation, yielding a lovely and floral, ripe but finessed version of the grape. Availability: Private Order, WineMoves.

Lammershoek LAM RoseI’m a big fan of Lammershoek in Paardeberg, Swartland, an organically farmed vineyard with a collection of unusual grapes like harslevelü and tinta barroca, along with more familiar Mediterranean grapes, produced with nothing added other than a minimal amount of SO2, and sometimes not even that. I fell immediately in love with the 2011 Lammershoek LAM Rosé ($20.00) when I first tasted it. It’s a fantastically savoury and drinkable, pale salmon pink-coloured, bone-dry rosé made from 100% syrah. At just 11.5% alcohol one would expect either some green character or residual sugar, but there’s none of that here. It’s all about succulent acids and umami-rich, saliva inducing red berry and floral character with no small measure of garrigue-like resinous herbal notes. Marvelously lean, delicate and vibrant. Availability: Consignment, Bokke Wine.

Rooiberg Sauvignon BlancRooiberg ShirazAnd finally value seekers (and restaurateurs), will be pleased and the quality/value proposition of a pair of wines from a cooperative outfit called Rooiberg in the Breede River Valley: 2012 Rooiberg Shiraz and 2012 Rooiberg Sauvignon Blanc. These are both impressive $12 wines ($10.50 licensee), perfect as a house/by the glass/party options. The shiraz spends one year in old wood and delivers a nice mix of fruity-spicy, very pleasant aromatics and lightly grippy palate fleshed out by solid fruit extract. The sauvignon blanc is as good as many examples in the high teens, with plush tree fruit flavours and no greenness. Availability: Consignment, Lamprecht International.

From the selection on offer at VINTAGES, head straight for the 2010 Avondale Cyclus, $29.95. Here is yet another example of a wine that I’ve tried for the first time without any prior knowledge of the winery, been mightily impressed, and then only after doing some research discovered that it’s a certified organic operation practicing biodynamic winegrowing. Is it yet another coincidence of biodynamic wines rising to the top? It seems less and less likely as anecdotal evidence mounts.

Avondale Cyclus 2010Graham Beck Brut Sparkling WineAvondale’s website begins: “Our ethos, Terra Est Vita meaning ‘Soil is Life’ encapsulates our view of Avondale Estate as a dynamic living system where soil, water and energy; plants, animals and people; even our buildings, are part of a complex web of relationships and networks, interconnected and interdependent.” I suggest you join in the relationship by buying this blend of 60% viognier, along with chenin blanc, chardonnay and semillon. A little more than half was fermented in 500l barrels and the rest in stainless steel, and the result is a rich, intensely flavoured, very ripe and plush textured white from Paarl, with fruit wavering between ripe orchard-peach and fully tropical-pineapple, honeydew melon. Wood is not a major factor, outside of its creamy, textural influence. Fans of plush, new world style whites with more than a touch of earthy old world minerality should especially take note.

Sparkling wine lovers should grab a bottle of the always reliable Graham Beck Brut Sparkling Wine, $18.95. Beck is somewhat of a sparkling wine specialist, and the Brut non-vintage is an all-round pleasing traditional method (aka “Cap Classique”) blend of chardonnay and pinot noir with about 18 months on the lees. It delivers a solid dose of toasty-biscuity flavour, with bright underlying citrus fruit and sharp acids, fine on it’s own or at highly versatile at the table.

Southern Rhône: More Beautiful ‘09s, ‘10s, and ‘11s

Domaine Saint Gayan GigondasDOMAINE DE LA CHARBONNIÈRE CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPEChâteau La Nerthe Châteauneuf Du PapeThe Southern Rhône is thrust once again into the spotlight on June 22nd. It seems every release has at least a handful from the region and it’s not hard to figure out why, especially if the LCBO’s mandate really is to offer good deals from time to time. At this point, reporting on the quality and value emerging from the southern Rhône valley is a bit like reporting on the shenanigans plaguing Rob Ford’s mayoralty: the whole world already knows what’s going on, nothing surprises, and more and more juicy stories just keep coming out.

But on a much more positive, note, the continuous stream of superb wines – both quality and value – especially from 2009, 2010 and now some 2011s coming out of the southern Rhône should cause nothing more serious than the first world problems of lineups or stock outages at the LCBO.

At the top end, the wines worth jostling elbows for are the 2010 Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-Du-Pape ($43.95), a beautifully composed and balanced, finessed wine; the more dense and massive 2010 Domaine De La Charbonnière Châteauneuf-Du-Pape ($39.95); and another fine wine from Domaine Saint Gayan The 2009 Gigondas ($30.95), which drinks with the texture of pinot noir and the weight and flavour profile of grenache.

CHÂTEAU SIGNAC CUVÉE TERRA AMATAOrtas L'estellan GigondasLe Ferme Du Mont Le Ponnant Côtes Du Rhône VillagesFor wines closer to the everyday end of the price scale (pretty good days), I recommend the 2009 Château Signac Cuvée Terra Amata ($22.95) with masses of dark berry fruit and savoury-smoky-earthy character; the 2011 Ortas L’estellan Gigondas ($19.95) and its silkier, grenache-based flavour profile of baked red berry, garrigue and scorched earth; and finally, the smart value 2011 La Ferme Du Mont Le Ponnant Côtes Du Rhône-Villages ($17.00) a well-balanced, succulent and savoury wine with well above average complexity, depth and length for the money.

More Smart Buys

Outside of South Africa and the southern Rhône, my list below includes another half-dozen smart picks from Spain, Chile, Portugal, France and Georgia (the republic, not the state).

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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

From the June 22, 2013 Vintages release:

John’s Top Smart Buys
Seductive Southern Rhône
All New Releases


Penfolds Thomas Hyland Chardonnay 2012

Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake

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Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks: Southern Rhone reds

Vintages released a selection of southern Rhone reds today tailor-made for barbecued meats. Find these picks via

Domaine de Pierre Pape Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010
$37.95 (91 Points)
This is a full-bodied Rhône from Vignobles Maynard, a fifth-generation family-run estate. Vines are an average of 45 years old with grenache the dominant grape; the rest are syrah and cinsault. Deep with ripe berry and prune flavours, and notes of pinecone and garrigue, it’s a good match for grilled lamb or steak.

Domaine Grandy Vacqueyras 2010
$18.95 (89 Points)
A blend of 60% grenache with the rest syrah and mourvèdre, this vintage scored a gold medal at the Concours des Vins à Orange 2011. Tannins are velvety and the bouquet is of ripe berry with notes of wild herbs and chocolate. Mouth-filling with ripe strawberry/cherry flavours and hints of meaty bacon while a lively acidity keeps all in balance. Have with grilled duck breast.

Domaine Le Clos des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas 2010
$26.95 (91 Points)
This blend of largely grenache with syrah and mourvèdre grapes is sustainably grown on a family estate at the foot of the mountain range les Dentelles de Montmirail at Gigondas. It’s medium-full bodied, complex and spiced, yet remarkably balanced with silky tannins. Pair with game meats such as venison and wild boar.

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Sara d’Amato’s Take on the Aug 18th Vintages Release

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Sunshine Breeds Charm in the Southern Rhône, Cool Whites of the Pacific Northwest and Food for Thought from Italy

Only a couple of short weeks ago I was lamenting leaving the beautiful Provencal countryside and the bustling, rampart-encircled city of Avignon where I had spent the last five weeks with my two little boys. After a fully relaxing trip, due in part to the calming lavender aromatics that permeated the air at the peak of harvest, the indelible sunshine, and the leisurely tempo of locals, it was back to reality in the clinical, whitewashed LCBO tasting lab. To my delight, a ray of nostalgic sunlight was beaming through in the form of a substantial Southern Rhône release due to hit the shelves in just a few days. The breadth of the selection is impressive and the quality is certainly representative of the charm of the region.

Also of note is this week’s mini feature of the Pacific Northwest – small and limited but with a couple of wines of note. Finally, Southern France is not the only hot/Mediterranean climate to grace the shelves in abundance this week as the sweeping selection of Italian wines emanating from north to south prove to be an impressive offering.

Southern Rhône

Pont d'Avignon

Pont d’Avignon and Lavender

Unlike the classic, renown regions of the northern Rhône that engender immediate respect and admiration like Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Condrieu, the diverse regions of the southern Rhône typically inspire less reverence, with the glaring exception of the eminent Châteauneuf-du-Pape. From an abundance of pop culture references to a long, reverent history, this wine has become synonymous with the elite and glitterati. Nevertheless, despite its notoriety and considering other French regions of repute, the price of Châteauneuf is relatively reasonable. And keeping in mind that Châteauneuf is generally at the peak of the Southern Rhône price point, there lies a sea of great value wines from less famous yet equally impressive appellations, most notably that of Gigondas. The regions of Vacqueyras, Cairrane, Vinsobres and Rasteau are also not to be overlooked, though are generally made to be less ageworthy than the notorious Châteauneuf.


Galets of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

There does exist a great divide between the profiles of appellations to the north and south. The northern style tends to be more ageworthy, heady, tense and focused, permitting only the use of Syrah in the reds and Viognier most notably in the whites although Marsanne and Roussane are also used. In the south, a plethora of grapes are permitted – 13 in total for use in reds, all found in the prestigious blend of Château Beaucastel. The wines of the south are also more charming – some would call them rustic. They benefit from and are impacted by more extreme heat, sunshine and drought along with the famous galets (large stones), that are sometimes over a meter deep, and that reflect and retain heat to regulate the needs of the vines. The term ‘garrigue’ is a terroir descriptor of the south and refers to the aromas that surround the vineyards such as thyme, lavender, anise and dusty earth, and that with any luck find their way into your glass. These are mood changing wines, escapist wines, and wines that emanate sunshine.

Bosquet Des Papes Cuvée Tradition Châteauneuf Du PapeDomaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Les Trois Soeurs Côtes Du RhôneWorthy of your examination are three wines that embody the best of these characteristics. Of course, there are others in this release that deserve your attention as well but these particularly embody the charm that the south has to offer. From the generic Côtes du Rhône appellation, the Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Les Trois Soeurs Côtes Du Rhône 2010 ($16.95), mentioned also by John Szabo, most notably expresses the term ‘garrigue’ in a glass, even more so than its slightly more complex counterpart in this release, the Cuvee Philippine. Gigondas often falls in the shadow of Châteauneuf-du-Pape but I will often find wines of equal or even greater refinement in the former. Grapes are grown primarily on slopes and benefit from cooler breezes that help to preserve acidity in the wine. A fine example of this finesse and charm is Domaine Le Clos Des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas 2010 ($26.95). Largely Grenache based, it benefits as well from terrifically spicy Syrah. Finally, Bosquet Des Papes Cuvée Tradition Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010 (42.95) exudes that traditional rusticity and allure that make Châteauneuf-du-Pape so endearing.

If you are in the mood to venture further north, the family name synonymous with the northern Rhone, Guigal, has a particularly intriguing offer at a mere $15.95. The E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône Blanc 2011 made largely from Viognier but also blended with Roussane and Marsanne, delivers exceptional impact and flavour for the dollar.

E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône Blanc side

Pacific Northwest Mini Feature

The Pacific Northwest Mini feature (and Mini it is) unfortunately offers a largely commercial style selection of wines, but there are a couple of noteworthy whites that should not be disregarded. The first stems from Eyrie Vineyards, an Oregon pioneer who was responsible for shockingly showing up the French way back in 1979 in Paris and 1980 in Beaune (subsequent to the legendary Paris Spurrier tasting) when the 1975 Eyrie Vineyard pinot noir outshone many great Burgundies. This largely gave rise to the serious pinot noir production we now benefit from today in Oregon. This estate is also home to America’s first pinot gris, and the vines have greatly benefitted from their tenure since the ‘60s. Elegant, exotic and spicy, the 2009 Eyrie Pinot Gris ($25.95) is well worth discovering.

Calera Pinot NoirQuails' Gate ChardonnayEyrie Pinot GrisHomegrown and from an estate that is constantly in the spotlight for its award winning wines, in particular those complex Burgundian varietals, Quails’ Gate has put forth a solid Chardonnay for less than $20. (2010 Quails’ Gate Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia). Able to outshine many Burgundian offerings at this price, this well-oaked but integrated Chardonnay has great charisma and ageworthy potential.

And although it surely stretches the geographic boundaries of the Pacific Northwest, I couldn’t help but highlight the 2009 Calera Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California, ($31.95). Generous, polished, and showing exceptional distinctiveness, it is fortunately available to us locally. Calera plants their estate Burgundian varietals on limestone rich slopes at a dizzying 2200 feet above sea level, lowering the temperatures significantly from the lower lying, surrounding area. However, for this Central Coast series, the grapes are sourced from select growing partners throughout the Coast.

Food for Thought from Italy

Nowhere in the world is there produced such an abundance of food friendly wines as in Italy. For those who have spent any time in this extremely diverse country, you’ll notice that the one thing that every region has in common is thinking ahead to the next meal. That unifying feature is pervasive in the wine culture and it becomes difficult not to taste the wine and immediately think of what one would eat. I generally try to save these wines for last when tasting through the upcoming release as it usually inspires my dinner ahead.

Given the number of Italian wines in this release, there could easily have been a second feature. At the same time, there is no obvious theme to this release, making a spotlight difficult. In an effort to help navigate these offerings, here are, simply, some highlights.

Stocco Refosco Dal Peduncolo RossoFrom northern Italy, in the region of Fruili, resides a red stemmed, wild, nutty, and perfumed varietal known as refosco dal peduncolo. An old varietal, it is presumed indigenous to Italy. I was greatly pleased by the following example from Stocco Refosco Dal Peduncolo Rosso 2009, ($14.95) for its value and its clean, modern take without sacrificing the varietal distinctiveness. It is a full-bodied yet cooler climate red with delightful freshness and plenty of versatile food matches. Try with spaghetti Bolognese or stuffed red peppers with beef and tomatoes.

Due Torri Amarone Della Valpolicella ClassicoAltesino Rosso Di MontalcinoA classic and consistent Vintages offering is Altesino Rosso Di Montalcino 2009, Tuscany ($18.95), a vibrant Sangiovese-dominant blend with a touch of Cabernet and Merlot. Try with freshly grilled porcini mushrooms. Lastly, Due Torri Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008, Veneto, Italy, ($39.95) is sure to turn heads. Not exactly a classic vintage for Valpolicella but one that has proved interesting as the wines generally exhibit greater freshness and less heaviness due to cooler temperatures and heavy rain during most of the summer. It is believed by some that the slight amount of additional acidity will add to the structure and give this vintage greater longevity – completely reasonable, but only time will tell. Certainly, the Due Torri is showing signs of graceful maturity but it is no push over. Try with aged, herbal infused cheeses or a hearty Ossobucco.

Over and out! David will be back from British Columbia shortly and will surely have plenty of stories with which to regale you. He will also be back covering the next release as per usual. Enjoy the weekend and I look forward to sharing more stories of recent Rhône adventures soon. Next week I’ll be off to judge the Intervin Wine Awards in Niagara and will be sure to report on those that captivated our attention.

Cin Cin,


From the August 18th, 2012 Vintages release:

Sara’s Top Picks
All Reviews


Sbragia Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabnernet Sauvignon

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008