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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 21st – Part Two

Southwest France, Riesling & the Best of the Rest
By John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The deep southwest remains one of those lost and misunderstood corners of France, as seemingly impenetrable as the local accent. I’ll never forget watching a news report in Paris in which a farmer from the Gers, a region to the west of Toulouse, was being interviewed. His accent was so thick the TV station posted subtitles so the rest of France could understand.

The region’s two marquee appellations, Cahors and Madiran, featured in the March 21st release, could likewise use some subtitles to help consumers understand them a little better. I was also inspired by a quartet of rieslings from three classic regions, and Sara and I have a handful of additional smart buys for you, filling in the gaps while David continues his peripatetic wine research.

Buyers’ Guide March 21st:
Southwest France, Cahors, Madiran & Fronton: Lost in Translation


Considering Argentina’s success with malbec, a grape that originates in southwest France on either side of the Lot River near the town of Cahors, you’d have thought that some reflected spotlight would have shone back home. But I’d wager that most enthusiastic drinkers of deeply fruity malbec from Mendoza would have little inkling of the grape’s true origins, a perfectly understandable knowledge gap considering for one that the French original is rarely labeled with the name of the grape, but more importantly, how radically different the two styles are.

Ironically, these days it’s Argentina that has a more clearly defined style for the variety, and the old world is busy reinventing itself. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve been to that corner of France, so I asked local writer and wine importer Alain Laliberté for his most recent impressions of the region – Laliberté is somewhat of a specialist and has travelled there on many occasions over the last decade for his importing business.

“A generation of young producers have picked up the baton since the turn of the century, with a far more rigorous approach to quality than the previous generation. And they’ve already had a big impact”, he reveals [my translation]. “The rustic, bony wines of the ‘70s, ’80s and even ‘90s, with their drying tannins, have ceded place to structured wines that are more like an iron fist in a velvet glove.”

Cahors has indeed improved a great deal, and the top examples highlight malbec’s floral character, like a field of violets, and bring graceful natural acidity to bear on chiseled tannins, lifting and framing the wine. It was in fact that naturally high acid working with green tannins in the past that made the old “black wine” of Cahors so unruly.

Pont-Valentré, Cahors. (Photo from

Pont-Valentré, Cahors. (Photo from

There are also notable style differences depending on precisely where the grapes are grown, as the Cahors appellation has three distinct areas. “Malbec from the low-lying, gently inclined parcels facing the Lot River are less dense”, Laliberté confirms, “while the elevated inclines above produce more structured wines.” The Cahors most suitable for long ageing, however, are those grown on the iron-rich limestone plateau that sits above the river and the other two areas, which yields the most firm and dense wines, according to Laliberté, but also the most finessed. Clos Troteligotte, one of the producers Laliberté represents, has vines on the plateau and produces no fewer than six malbec cuvées according to the concentration of iron in each micro-parcel. (Clos Troteligotte K-Or Cahors 2012 is set to be released in April or May).

For more immediate gratification, try the Château Pineraie 2011 l’Authentique ($39.95) from this release. It’s a bold and seriously pure malbec from the plateau. Sixty year-old vines are harvested very ripe and grapes are fermented in wooden vats (more oxygen, softer tannins) before ageing in barriques, 2/3rds of which are new, for a year and a half. The net result is a dense and supple wine with excellent quality tannins: ripe but firm, fine-grained and neatly woven. Even at the premium price this over-delivers. Best 2015-2026.


Tannat, the principal variety in the appellation of Madiran even further southwest of Cahors in Basque country, has yet to really garner any significant international attention. Unlikely Uruguay has made it somewhat of a signature variety, and I’ve seen it pop up in regions as far-flung as Greece and Australia, but its wiry, impermeable character make even malbec look like a plush and cuddly stuffed animal, and has limited its appeal in a new world looking above all for soft, fruity wines. During my first visit to Madiran in 2000, my palate was stripped of all flesh and saliva after a barrel tasting of just four wines, needing a full afternoon to recover from the blitzkrieg of tannin.

It’s not tough to imagine why micro-oxidation (or “micro-ox”), a technique of gently dosing wine with oxygen bubbles to soften tannins, would have been invented here to deal with tannat. But as in Cahors, more attentive viticulture, lower yields, and riper grapes have altered the style landscape. Also, in theory tannat need only represent 40% of a Madiran final blend, even if in practice the percentage is much higher, and producers have the option of adding cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon or fer to complement (it’s telling that cabernet sauvignon would be considered a softening variety here).

Château Pineraie l'Authentique Cahors 2011 Château Peyros Vieilles Vignes Madiran 2009 Château Bellevue La Forêt 2011

Most take advantage of the rules and blend 20%-30% of other grapes, as in Château Peyros 2009 Vieilles Vignes Madiran ($18.95). For this old vines cuvée, average 50 year-old Tannat is blended with 20% of cabernet franc to great effect yielding a very pretty, violet-scented example with an engaging medicinal note, like walking into an herbalist’s shop. For the money you’d be hard pressed to find more complexity; this is a flavour trip into wonderland. Now five years on it’s drinking very well, though it’s still Tannat, and tight tannins call for salty protein. Best 2015-2021.


It seems only one estate waves the flag internationally for the small AOC of Fronton north of Toulouse and its unique specialty, négrette. Sara d’Amato recommends it:Château Bellevue La Forêt 2011 ($13.95). The blend is primarily made up of négrette, a grape found in very few places outside of Fronton or the southwest. As the name suggests, it produces deeply coloured wines, spicy with medium tannins but short on acids. In this case it is blended with syrah (adding appealing notes of black pepper and purple flower), cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. Impactful and memorable.”

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: Riesling Rules!

A quartet of excellent rieslings from regions with proven track records of success – Germany, Alsace and Ontario – inspired this mini-thematic. Gather your tasting group and line these up for a thorough schooling in riesling styles. Lovers of classic Mosel will find happiness in the Dr. Hermann 2010 Erdener Treppchen Kabinett Riesling ($17.95). It would be hard to imagine stuffing more regionally distinctive character, and just plain lots of wine, into a bottle for less. And if you saw how steep and difficult to farm the Treppchen vineyard is, you’d almost feel guilty. Almost. This wine will live on until the early ‘30s no doubt.

Ontario is by now internationally recognized for the quality of its riesling, and March 21st sees two of the finest examples offered. Since the first vintage in 2002, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling ($19.95) has turned heads. The 2013 is yet another lean, tightly wound, sharp riesling the way we like them, finely woven and very nicely balanced. Drink or hold until the early ‘20s.

And with an even longer track record, and some of the oldest riesling vines in Canada panted in the late 1970s, Vineland Estates 2012 Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling ($19.95) continues on in the Germanic tradition, carrying amazing flavour intensity on a featherweight, 9% alcohol frame. I like the off-dry, crisp-balanced, spiced apple flavours and the lingering apple blossom finish. Drink through 2022.

Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Kabinett Riesling 2010 Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2013 Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012 Trimbach Riesling 2012

If you prefer your riesling fully dry and upright, you need only knock on the centuries old house of Trimbach, where dry riesling has been a specialty since 1626. The 2012 Trimbach Riesling ($21.95) is a terrific, arch-classic dry Alsatian style with deceptive intensity and length on a seemingly light frame. This quivers and reverberates on and on. Best 2015-2022.

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: More Smart Buys

Force Majeure 2011 Collaboration Series VI Red Mountain, Columbia Valley ($64.95)

John Szabo – In a short time Red Mountain has become Washington State’s premium red wine AVA, and Force Majeure one of its maximum interpreters. Paul McBride planted his first vines in 2006, but while waiting for them to mature, embarked on a series of collaborative wines with Ciel du Cheval vineyard. The series is being phased out as estate fruit comes into production, so it’s unlikely we’ll see this again, a sturdy and well-structured blend of mourvèdre and syrah with a splash of grenache offering plenty of dark fruit and spice, integrated wood, and liqueur-like concentration. Best 2017-2026.

Tinto Pesquera 2010 Reserva, DO Ribera del Duero, Spain ($44.95)

John Szabo – One of my first great wine moments involved a bottle of Pesquera, and happily, some years later, the wine is still as memorable. There are few places, and indeed fewer wines on earth that can pull off such a fine balance of fruit and oak, structure and suppleness. This wine also ages magnificently, and I recommend cellaring another three years or so before making your own memories. Best 2018-2030.
Sara d’Amato – An iconic, generous wine sure to etch itself in your memory. Drink selfishly or please, give a taste to a first time wine drinker and you may just be responsible for the birth of a new oenophile.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series VI 2011 Tinto Pesquera Reserva 2010 Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette de Limoux E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2013

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Languedoc, France ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – Limoux is known as the “original Champagne” as the bubbly was thought to have come about in the 16th century, close to 200 years before Champagne became prominent. With lots of depth, succulence and creaminess, this appealing and frothy example has me wanting to celebrate.

E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2012, Rhône, France ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – White Rhône floats my boat and it is a shame we see it so infrequently on our shelves. This is a fine, well-priced southern example, very characteristic and easy to appreciate. Notes of lush apricot, lavender and crunchy sea salt will have you salivating. Try with white fish in a peppery lemon butter sauce.

That’s all for this week. But in case you missed it, check out d’Amato’s and my report on Cuvée 2015 and the best from Ontario, complete with compromising photographs! See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES March 21, 2015:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
March 21st Part One – Icon Wines Demystified
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 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011

County in the City

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Niagara Riesling: Making the Case

Ontario Wine Report
John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Is riesling Niagara’s most reliable grape? Aside from indestructible hybrids like vidal, most local growers point to either riesling or chardonnay as the best performing white grapes in Ontario. And I’d argue that while top Niagara Chardonnays are surely excellent, they also come at a price, usually $25 and up for the best, and often over $50. Fine riesling on the other hand, can regularly be had for under $15, while even at the very top end prices have yet to exceed $40.

The style and flavor spectrums for chardonnay and riesling are of course not comparable, but if you’re looking for regional and varietal paradigms, riesling wins on value every time. And when it comes to ageability, riesling is hard to beat. I recently tried a 1989 Vineland semi-dry riesling that was astonishingly good, a wine that cost well under $10 on release.

Some of the oldest vines in Niagara are riesling, with several parcels planted back in the late 1970s still producing. These old vines are the origin of some of Niagara’s best. Geeks will revel in discussions over clones and the subtly different wines they produce; Weiss 21 brought by Hermann Weiss to Vineland Estates from the Mosel is the most widely planted, producing a tighter, leaner more citrus-driven style. The so-called Clone 49, an Alsatian clone, delivers a broader, fuller, more pear-flavoured riesling in my experience. But of course it’s the dirt that matters most, a fact put into clear relief after a recent riesling-focused tour through Niagara wine country.

Vertical Tastings of some of the best Niagara Rieslings

According to Tom Penachetti of Cave Spring, vine age and soil depth are critical quality factors. “The sweet spot is on the bench under the Escarpment”, he says, referring to mainly the Beamsville Bench and Twenty Mile Bench Sub-appellations. Hydrology, or water availability, is one of the reasons, with the best sites benefitting from the springs and ground water that drain off of the Niagara Escapment.

Soils are thinner on top of the escarpment, Penachetti continues, and can dry out too quickly, or retain too much water. He believes the sites with heavier clays are best for riesling. But there are exceptions, such as the excellent Charles Baker’s Picone vineyard Riesling and Tawse’s Quarry Road Riesling, both from the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation on top of the Escarpment.

Soils further from the Escarpment, down by shores of Lake Ontario tend to be more sandy, with less clay and limestone, and tend to produce softer, fruitier, more peachy Rieslings. Yet even here, a few patches of heavier clays such as the vineyard at Back Ten Cellars, what the locals call “the brickyard”, yield more nervy, compact wines.

In any case, Niagara has much to offer in a range of styles. Here are a few to seek out to conduct your own tour of Niagara Riesling. Click on each for full tasting notes.

Top Values: Both Inexpensive and Representative

Vineland Estates 2013 Dry Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($13.95). A regional paradigm, with apple cherry blossom and green apple aromatics, lovely crisp acids and surprising depth.

Vineland Estates 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($13.95). All from the original St. Urban’s Vineyard planted in the late 1970s. Although semi-dry, this is beautifully balanced between  generous and fleshy texture and lean and taught acids. There’s a fine, elegant bitterness from phenolics, which also helps to dry out the palate.

Vineland Estates 2013 Dry Riesling Vineland Estates Riesling Semi Dry VQA 2013 No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2012

Château des Charmes 2012 Riesling Old Vines, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($16.95). This wine captures the richer style of riesling from the warmest part of Niagara (mostly St. David’s Bench fruit), widely appealing in the fuller and broader riesling category.

Cave Spring 2012 Riesling Estate, Beamsville Bench ($17.95). A very fine vintage for this reliable wine, ripe and verging on exotic, even if winemaker Angelo Pavan doesn’t use any aroma-enhancing enzymes, believing that it sacrifices too much texture (enzymes split sugars and make them unavailable for fermentation and hence glycerol/alcohol production).

Top Escarpment/Bench Sites: A Glassful of Limestone

Tawse 2012 Carly’s Block, Twenty Mile Bench ($31.95). From Tawse’s oldest riesling block planted in 1978, this is one of the top Rieslings of the vintage in my view. Considering its track record, this should age beautifully – I’d revisit after 2016 for maximum enjoyment.

Tawse 2012 Quarry Road Vineyard, Vinemount Ridge ($23.95). Quarry Road is on top of the Niagara Escarpment, planted 50-50 with Clone 49 and Weiss 21. I’ve tasted the 2012 a couple of times now, and the wine seems to be gaining in tightness and freshness, amazingly enough. Relative to the Carly’s Block, this is a tight and angular expression, though the balance is pitch perfect.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2012 Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2010 Fielding Estate Lot 17 Riesling Fielding Vineyard 2013

Cave Spring 2010 CSV Riesling, Beamsville Bench ($29.95). Another Niagara classic, the CSV is always built to age. It’s one of the broader and fuller styles of Ontario riesling, and the 2012 reflects both the later harvest (full ripeness) policy of the house and the warm vintage. I’d suggest enjoying this anytime over the next half dozen years.

Fielding Estate 2013 Riesling Lot 17, Beamsville Bench ($27.95). From 17 rows of the oldest riesling on the estate planted in 2000 with clone 49, this is very pear-driven, off-dry, zesty and crisp, though edging to a drier style with each vintage it seems. It’s the finest riesling from Fielding to date.

Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Wood Post ($30); Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Steel Post ($30); Thirty Bench 2012 Small Lot Riesling Triangle Vineyard ($30). Here’s a chance to do a perfect side-by-side comparative tasting of three different vineyards all made in the exact some way, all from the estate vineyards on the Beamsville Bench, from vines of approximately the same age. Thirty Bench has done in-depth studies on their terroir and there are indeed measureable differences, so it’s not just your imagination.  See if you can pick up the The “Wood Post’s intriguing herbal-pine needle nuances, the Steel Post’s perfect pitch and green apple citrus-lime character, and the richness of the Triangle Vineyard, the most forward and generous of the series.

Thirty Bench Small Lot Wood Post Riesling 2012 Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard 2012 Thirty Bench Small Lot Triangle Vineyard Riesling 2012Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling 2012Back 10 Cellars The Big Reach Riesling 2012

Top Lakeshore/Niagara-on-the-Lake Rieslings – The broader, fuller styles

Trius 2012 Showcase Ghost Creek Riesling, Four Mile Creek ($25). Ghost Creek is one of the original Hillebrand vineyards planted in the 1980s, though this hails from a more recent planting with clone 49. The vineyard sits on an old, very stony, dried up creek bed with shale and limestone and thus good drainage. The 2012 is a full and fleshy, ripe and substantial wine, one of the best from the Four Mile Creek sub-appellation.

Back 10 Cellars 2012 The Big Reach Riesling, Lincoln Lakeshore ($25). The Back Ten Cellars vineyard sits on heavy red clay soils in the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation, in which yields of a measly 2 tons per acre are considered successful. For this wine only free-run juice is used. It’s quite a broad and full wine with evident concentration, denser and more compact than Bench Rieslings.

Vinemount Ridge – for acid Freaks

Charles Baker 2012 Riesling Picone Vineyard, Vinemount Ridge ($35). From now 35 year old vines in this vintage, the 2012 is rivetingly tight and pure, concise and focused, in my view the finest Picone Vineyard riesling to date, even after the excellent 2011.

No Unauthorized Reproduction WineAlign @Jason Dziver

Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2013

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012Flat Rock Cellars 2013 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench ($19.95). Nadja’s vineyard was planted in 2000, a two-ha parcel just under the top of the Escarpment and Flatrock’s coolest site, ripening up to two weeks later than the parcel below the winery. This is fragrant and pretty, lean and tightly wound example of Niagara Riesling.

2027 Cellars 2012 Falls Vineyard Riesling, Vinemount Ridge ($25). Falls vineyard is 2027 Cellars’ tightest and most riveting riesling, true to sub-appellation, with significant minerality.

The Stylistic Outlier

Pearl-Morissette 2012 Riesling Cuvée Foudre “Black Ball”, Twenty Mile Bench ($25). This wine is not yet released and it remains to be determined whether it will be labeled as VQA Riesling, or VQA at all, as François Morissette tells me it has already been rejected twice by the VQA tasting panel, even though it has past the laboratory analysis and been deemed chemically stable. (It was also rejected in past vintages, which is the origin of the cuvée name “Black Ball). In any case, it doesn’t fall into any known model of Ontario riesling, being at once fully dry with malolatic fermentation fully finished, and aged in large old foudres from Alsace and bottled unfined and unfiltered with minimal sulphur. It’s a wine of texture more than aromatics, and you’ll need to think along the lines of other stylistic outliers like, say André Ostertag in Epfig or Clemens-Busch in the Mosel, to really get this.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Remember, however, that 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!


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The Successful Collector – Wachau Riesling

Austria’s greatest white wines?
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Conversing with colleague — and my former instructor — John Szabo MS several months back, I was shocked to learn that riesling accounts for less than 5 per cent of total plantings in Austria. 4.1 per cent, to be precise. How can this be? Would someone explain why Austria, home to the wondrous Wachau, one of the greatest and most beautiful winegrowing regions in the world, produces such minuscule quantities of this magnificent grape?

As a partial explanation, it is only relatively recently that the potential for riesling in the Wachau and nearby regions has been meaningfully set to purpose by more than just a handful of producers. Unfortunately, this means that overall plantings have had to play an unwinnable game of catch-up with grüner veltliner, Austria’s most famous grape, red or white, for popular recognition. Not that this has discouraged producers from expanding their holdings throughout this glorious 20-km stretch of the river. Based mainly on extremely steep terraces overlooking the water, the best riesling parcels are usually found on the upper slopes, where soils consist mainly of granite, gneiss, and mica-schist.

Wachau Map (Courtesy Domäne Wachau)

For the most part, great Wachau riesling is often low-keyed in youth, routinely consisting of steely green fruits intermixed with lemon citrus, herbs, and an abundance of minerals. Yet with just a smidgen of bottle age (depending on the wine), more honeyed, kerosene, and nut-driven impressions seem to take over. Cellaring capability is extremely high, the best examples potentially lasting for at least a few decades. The richest and longest lived are those labeled ‘Smaragd’ (named after a local lizard), with alcohol levels at 12.5 per cent or higher. Wines labeled ‘Federspiel’ (11.5 – 12.5 per cent) are usually drier and less pronounced, while those labeled ‘Steinfeder’ (up to 11.5 per cent) are the lightest.

At this year’s VieVinum in Vienna, I discovered a great deal about the Wachau’s greatest vineyards. Out of 900-odd Rieden (or sites), about a dozen stand above the rest for riesling. Furthest west, along the Spitzer Graben tributary, Bruck is situated on an extremely high hillside, with terraced rows so narrow that tractors cannot even pass through — a common theme throughout many of the best sites. These are extremely minerally, citrus-laden wines. Further east, the Offenberg and Setzberg vineyards are also of similar configuration and quality, though perhaps more fruit-driven in youth. In these cooler parts of the Wachau, soils are mainly derived from mica schists, resulting in wines of considerable elegance and vitality.

East of the village of Spitz, the Danube plays an even greater role in most of the top riesling vineyards, particularly in terms of temperature moderation. Singerriedel is just such a Ried, well-protected from wind and privy to the warm autumn sun late in the evening. Wines of excellent concentration and class are produced here, along with those of Hochrain to the south. Much more famous, however, is the Ried of Achleiten, situated just to the north of the village of Weissenkirchen. Composed of slate and gneiss, it produces riesling of unmistakable minerality and finesse. Those of neighbouring Klaus are also of significant regard.

Singerriedel (Courtesy Domäne Wachau)

In what might be considered the heart of the Wachau, the villages of Dürnstein and the Loibens (Unter- and Ober-) possess some of the most renowned riesling vineyards in Austria. Of these, Kellerberg is traditionally ranked at the top, though grüner veltliner also comprises a large minority of plantings here. Mixed vineyards are very common in the Wachau. Enjoying ample sunlight, broad day-/night-time temperatures, and complex soils consisting mostly of granitic gneiss, Kellerberg riesling is both marvellously fulsome and long-lived. Other nearby vineyards of great repute are Loibenberg, Schütt, and Höhereck, each with their own distinctive personality and eminence. Last but not least, great riesling is produced south of the river around the village of Mautern. The top producer here is indisputably Nikolaihof, a boutique winery whose greatest offerings from Steiner Hund (located across the border in Kremstal), Vom Stein, and Im Weingebirge are widely in demand.

Indeed, small producers throughout the Wachau are routinely among the finest riesling cultivators. Unfortunately, availability in VINTAGES is profoundly lacking, with only one or two wines currently in the system. As something of a small mercy, however, some of the top producers possess agency representation in Ontario, several of which presently carry Wachau rieslings on consignment (immediate delivery) or are able to handle orders directly from the winery. As usual, such wines must be ordered in twelve- or six-bottle cases, though delivery usually takes several months.

Granted, ordering such wines from private agencies might be a nuisance—not because of poor service but because of the necessity of buying by the case—but the rewards are truly beyond measure. When it comes to top-notch Wachau riesling and the best sites from which they are sourced, all one has to do is be in the know.

Top estates in the Wachau

F.X. Pichler – The wines of F.X. Pichler are generally regarded as the most stunning in the Wachau, at times equalled by several other estates, yet never surpassed. With parcels in some of the greatest vineyards around the village of Dürnstein and the Loibens (Unter- and Ober-), every bottling is a testament to the originality and quality of each individual terroir. Ontario Representative: Le Sommelier

F.X. Picher 2013 Dürnsteiner Kellerberg Riesling Smaragd is perhaps the most sensational, most in-depth dry white I have ever tasted (at least to date) from the Wachau. From what is widely considered the most prized vineyard in the region, this sensational offering will keep for up to two decades in the right conditions.

Franz Hirtzberger – Based out of the village of Spitz in a more westerly sector of the Wachau, few wines are as singularly delicious as those of Franz Hirtzberger. Much of the region’s modern-day successes may be traced to Franz’s tireless efforts in spearheading the Vinea Wachau (an association of winegrowers) and promoting perfectionist winegrowing techniques. Not represented in Canada

Franz Hirtzberger 2013 Hochrain Riesling Smaragd is both remarkably intense and stylish. Located just below the famed Singerriedel vineyard, Hochrain routinely yields wines of this design, oftentimes with astonishing aging potential. This particular example may be kept for up to fifteen years or more.

Emmerich Knoll – With 15 ha of vineyards, Emmerich and Monika Knoll (along with their son) are among the most committed, most dynamic winegrowers in the Wachau. Based out of the village of Unterloiben, the style here is one of luminosity and breed. Normally tight in youth, these are wines of phenomenal elegance and ageability. Québec representative: Les Vins Alain Bélanger

Emmerich Knoll 2013 Ried Loibenberg Riesling Smaragd is one of several spellbinding wines produced at this estate. Possessing incredible sophistication and character, it will probably require a vigorous decanting if consumed young, and will likely keep for nearly two decades if cellared correctly.

Mature Nikolaihof RieslingNikolaihof: – Perhaps the most celebrated Biodynamic producer in the Wachau, the Saah family’s approach to winemaking is unique. From a mindboggling number of bottlings to an innate understanding of individuality, the wines of Nikolaihof are as mouth-watering as they are unique. Based out of Mautern, to taste from here is a special experience. Ontario representative: The Living Vine

Nikolaihof 2013 Vom Stein Riesling Federspiel is only barely alluding to its potential at such a young age, though it should open up if given a coaxing. Invigorating and balanced (to mention resoundingly dry), this will likely benefit from a thorough decanting if enjoyed young. Drink now or hold for up to eight years or more.

Alzinger – One of the most up-and-coming estates in the Wachau, the wines of Leo Alzinger (now produced with his son) merit profuse exploration. Based out of Unterloiben, this gifted family of winegrowers possess parcels in some of the best vineyards of the region, each with their own personality and charm. Québec Representative: Vinealis

Alzinger 2013 Höhereck Riesling Smaragd is a wine of remarkable purity and harmony. Situated just under the famed Kellerberg vineyard, Höhereck is an especially brilliant site, resulting in wines of incredible vitality and elegance. Drink now or enjoy over the next dozen years or more.


Julian Hitner

Link to Julian’s complete list of Austrian white wines
Link to John Szabo’s Austria Report

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

Kellerberg (Courtesy Domäne Wachau)

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The Successful Collector – Old World Riesling

The most undervalued white grape?
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Placed in the hands of even the most lacklustre of attorneys, a compelling court case could be made for convincing wine jurists that riesling is the greatest, most versatile white grape in Europe. The fact that other types of wine fetch higher prices at the premium end is neither here nor there. Granted, the best dry white Burgundy and Bordeaux may cost a great deal more, but one could easily argue this is more a result of rarity and present consumer trends than a reflection of comparative worth. Not that the quality of top Burgundy or Bordeaux has been exaggerated, more that prices for top riesling in many parts of the Old World are at present comparatively low, almost to the point of unreasonableness. As a result, there are more bargains for exemplary riesling than virtually any other type of white wine.

In the twenty-first century, few would deny that Alsace, Austria, and the most acclaimed winegrowing regions of Germany represent a sort of vinous triumvirate of unique places where riesling is able to thrive. At the premium level, the types produced in each area are at their greatest distinctiveness.


Rows of vines in Alsace

Rows of vines in Alsace

In Alsace, the greatest rieslings usually hail from single-vineyard Grand Cru sites on steep hillsides, oftentimes (though not exclusively) consisting of sand and clay. Site variation in this part of the winegrowing world is extreme, with increasing numbers of producers vinifying and bottling specific parcels within their vineyards as separate wines. Relative dryness and higher alcohol (usually 12.5 per cent or more) remain essential hallmarks, though many top wines will often possess considerable richness, extra body, and some residual sugar. While flavour profiles are hard to generalize, the finest Alsatian rieslings tend to possess a resounding concentration of citrus-infused orchard fruits (such as peaches and pears), taking on more honeyed and kerosene-like tendencies as they age. The greatest bottlings may be easily kept for up to two decades or more. Current prices in VINTAGES for the best bottlings tend to range from $55-85, though many extremely good wines may be found for less than thirty bucks.


In Austria, the emerging style in the most famous regions for riesling (such as Wachau, Kremstal, and Kamptal) is one of astonishing minerality and heightened gradations of dryness. In most cases, the greatest wines derive from single vineyards, oftentimes bottled as single-parcel cuvées, grown on incredibly steep slopes facing the Danube.

Riesling vines along the Danube

Riesling vines along the Danube

Unlike Alsace or Germany, these vineyards are not officially ranked, though the best sites, usually based on granite, gneiss, and mica-schist, have long enjoyed widespread recognition over their less exalted counterparts. Alcohol levels are even higher than in Alsace (and much higher than in Germany), sometimes reaching up to 15 per cent. Compared to Alsace or Germany, the flavour of fine Austrian riesling is often much more low-keyed in youth, usually consisting of steely green fruits intermixed with lemon citrus, herbs, and an abundance of minerals. With age, more honeyed, kerosene, and nut-driven impressions seem to take over. Cellaring capability for the finest wines easily match those of Alsatian or Germanic extraction. Current availability of Austrian riesling in VINTAGES is profoundly lacking, with prices ranging from around $15-35.


For many, Germany is where riesling finds its greatest expression. As with Alsace and Austria, the best wines are those of single-vineyard persuasion, from the slate-dominant sites of the Mosel to the more clay-based areas of the Mittelhaart of the Pflaz. Styles are traditionally measured according to sweetness via the QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat) system. From driest to sweetest: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, and Trockenbeerenauslese. The best wines of the Mosel and its tributaries the Saar and Ruwer tend to reflect this system more concisely than most, while producers throughout the Rheingau, Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz are increasingly crafting their best single-vineyard wines in drier styles. Such wines are often labelled as ‘Grosses Gewächs,’ and invariably contain higher levels of alcohol at the expense of residual sugar. This said, the QmP system is just as useful for understanding different styles throughout most riesling-dominant regions. On the label, a stated vineyard is usually preceded by the village with which it is affiliated.

Riesling vines along the Mosel

Riesling vines along the Mosel

To this day, consumers continue to have difficulty comprehending the meaning behind different types of German wine labels. But this should not prove a barrier to obtaining some of the most underappreciated, undervalued types of riesling in Europe. Currently in VINTAGES, extremely fine, ageworthy examples logging in as low as 8 per cent alcohol (depending on the region) may be found for as little as $20, with top bottlings fetching up to $70. The sweetest versions such as Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, not to mention Eiswein, are prodigiously more expensive, and are not exactly meant for everyday drinking.

Of more off-dry examples such as Kabinett and (to a lesser extent) Spätlese, flavours often include an addictive cornucopia of white peaches, green fruits, lemon citrus, and traces of kerosene, the latter becoming more pronounced and honeyed as time wears on. As white wines go, the capacity of German riesling to age is incredible, though Kabinett versions are at their best around the vicinity of ten years. Great Auslese, on the other hand, whose special nature places it more in the medium-sweet camp, may keep for decades and decades in the right conditions. Tragically, these types of wines are not nearly as popular as they once were. This may largely be attributed to both lax and unintelligible German wine laws, along with the plain fact that many enthusiasts continue to believe that all German wine, regardless of what is stated on the label, tastes excessively sweet.

A Comeback is Coming

In some respects, this would suggest that German riesling is long overdue for a comeback, particularly as examples in Alsace and Austria continue to enjoy an increasing number of successes. The quality is there, the ageability substantial, the prices even for moderately premium versions beyond modest. What’s more, with legions of ‘wine civilians’ being dutifully summoned every day as serious enthusiasts, it is only a matter of time before this collective jury of palates renders a verdict in riesling’s favour. Impatient as some wine commentators might be, it is only a matter of time.

My top choices:

Trimbach 2010 Réserve Riesling has been recommended more than once this past year, for there are still a reasonable number of bottles remaining in LCBO outlets. From one of the greatest white wine producers in Alsace, this is exactly what great Old World Riesling is all about. Drink now or hold for five years or more. 

Léon Beyer 2005 Cuvée des Comtes de d’Eguisheim Riesling is the top label (in dry format) from this particular Alsace-based establishment. Though nearing ten years of age, it is still endowed with an abundant sense of liveliness, intensity, and harmony. Only just over two dozen bottles remain in LCBO outlets. Drink now or hold for up to nine years or more. 

Zilliken 2011 Saarburg Rausch Riesling Kabinett logs in at a miniscule 8% alcohol, at the same time possessing outstanding roundness, harmony, and weight. Somewhat off-dry, few wines of the Saar (a tributary of the Mosel in Germany) manage to combine such gracefulness with such ferocity of character. Drink now or hold for up to twelve years. 

Schloss 2008 Schönborn Macrobrunn Riesling Kabinett is a premium type of German (Rheingau) Riesling at a remarkably reasonable price. Crafted in an off-dry style, wines like this were all the rage throughout much of the twentieth century and preceding eras. There is no reason why they should not be again. Drink now or hold for up to eight years.

Domäne Wachau 2011 Achleiten Riesling Smaragd hails from the Wachau, easily the most prestigious winegrowing region (at least for whites) in Austria. Retaining remarkable vibrancy and balance, this invigorating example is precisely why premium Austrian Riesling, alongside Grüner Veltliner, is becoming so popular. Drink now or hold for seven years or more.

Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2010Léon Beyer Cuvée Des Comtes D'eguisheim Riesling 2005Zilliken Saarburg Rausch Riesling Kabinett 2011Schloss Schönborn Macrobrunn Riesling Kabinett 2008Domäne Wachau Achleiten Smaragd Riesling 2011

Readers may want to take note that there are many other exemplary wines currently available in VINTAGES and the SAQ that have not been listed as recommendations. This is because I either do not have evaluations for them, or because they are wines from alternate vintages that are no longer available in stores. All price ranges have been researched so as to reflect current availability.


Julian Hitner

P.S. Stay tuned next month for my exciting summary of top riesling vineyards of the Wachau, Austria’s most prestigious white winegrowing region.

Editors Note: You can find Julian’s complete 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!

All Julian Hitner Reviews

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 2nd – Part Two

The Mid-Summer Acid Test – Riesling, Sauvignon and Chenin
by David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

A small selection of whites from France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions have been grouped as a mini-feature in VINTAGES Aug 2 release. (John covered off the main California feature last week). I thought I would elaborate on the essential concept of these whites from northern France – pure acidity set against pure fruit. No oak to soften or spice. No alcohol (hopefully) to numb the freshness. No blending or oxidation to mask personality. Whites that draw a line through a tepid evening like an ice-cube down the spine.

Three important high acid grape varieties do that better than any other – riesling, sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc – and they grow far and wide beyond France as well. To experience them at their best, open a bottle before dinner is served so you can focus entirely on what’s in the glass. Yes they should be chilled, but when quality is in place they may actually suffer from over-chilling. Whet your appetite with these values, then read on to other whites and reds that John and I have flagged as great buys as well. We have aligned on four wines, most notable perhaps a killer syrah from Chile.

Pierre Sparr Granit Riesling 2010Hidden Bench 2013 Estate RieslingHidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($23.95).
John Szabo – One of the province’s top riesling producers, Hidden Bench regularly delivers quality far above the average, underscoring that there’s simply no substitute for meticulous farming. Even though this is the “mere” estate blend, it could easily sit among the top single vineyard bottlings in the region, at a nice price.
David Lawrason – A cooler vintage like 2013 is ideal for Niagara’s acid driven whites. This is a very fine, firm, subtle and dry riesling. It needs a year or two to open, but it is solid and well-structured with minerality and excellent length.

Pierre Sparr 2010 Granit Riesling, Alsace, France ($16.95). Riesling’s acid core makes it perhaps the best of the hot weather whites. And when acid combines with minerality, and a highly structured vintage like 2010 in Europe the effect is doubled (and so is the value quotient). This has core minerality and firmness that is front and centre, just slightly coarse and tart but nervy and solid. DL

Fournier Père & Fils 2012 Les Deux Cailloux Pouilly-Fumé ($26.95).
David Lawrason – This is a solid, not at all heavy, sauvignon from a lighter vintage that showcases freshness. Almost tingling acidity and a hint of C02 on the palate with dry, bitter grapefruit and stony finish.
John Szabo – A stony, very natural-smelling Pouilly Fumé, with excellent density and concentration. Best 2014-2020.

Jean-Max Roger 2012 Cuvée C.M. Sancerre Blanc ($27.95).
John Szabo – The “C.M” comes from “Caillottes” and “Kimmeridgian Marls”, two of the three prevalent terroirs in the Sancerre AOC. According to Roger, the “caillottes” give the wine its floral and fruity notes, along with its lightness and freshness, while the “terres blanches” (Kimmeridgian marls) provide structure, richness and power. This is a fine synthesis of the two.
David Lawrason – a particularly delicate classic indeed from a staunch producer of quality sauvignon.

Fournier Père & Fils Les Deux Cailloux Pouilly Fumé 2012Jean Max Roger Cuvée C.M. Sancerre Blanc 2012Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2013Ventisquero Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013Domaine Du Vieux Vauvert Vouvray 2012

Greywacke 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95). Just back from Marlborough, I can attest that not all kiwi ‘savvies’ are brash and vegetal. The best, like this fine example, are nicely composed, compact and firm, positioning green herbs (celery leaf), passion fruit, grapefruit and pepper. Fine sense of levity and quench here from Kevin Judd, whose been doing Marlborough sauvignon for as long as anybody. DL

Ventisquero 2013 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($13.95). This is particularly good value. Chilean sauvignon can be heavy and blunt, but this nicely balanced effort from cooler Casablanca blends guava topicality fresh green herbs and pepper. While in NZ I read an article in a local wine industry mag alerting New Zealanders to the rise of Chilean sauvignon. Here’s why. DL

Domaine Du Vieux Vauvert 2012 Vouvray ($15.95). So often I find the chenin blancs of Vouvray bothered by some earthy/fungal character and sulphur. This textbook, great value is squeaky clean with classic quince/pear fruit, light florality and beeswax. Gentle, poised and delicious. There is a hint of sweetness but it does not dull the effect. DL

Other Whites

Domaine Du Chardonnay Chablis 2012Loan Wines 2005 Special Reserve Semillon UnoakedLoan Wines Special Reserve Semillon 2005, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($16.95). The previous vintage of this wine was also a spectacular value, and one wonders how you can get so much flavour in a wine for $17. Admittedly the flavour profile won’t appeal to all (don’t buy it for the wedding party), but this is well worth a look for fans of original, regional specialties. JS

Domaine Du Chardonnay 2012 Chablis ($21.95). A textbook regional Chablis, and a perfect oyster wine, the kind I’d like to be sipping every Sunday afternoon. JS


Matetic 2011 Corralillo Syrah, San Antonio Valley, Chile ($23.95).
David Lawrason – Here is a big, juicy, ultra fresh syrah from a biodynamic producer lodged in the coastal ranges of Chile. There is an obvious juiciness here, but it is also solid and circumspect. Huge blackcurrant fruit is etched with fresh forest greens, pepper, meatiness, dark chocolate graphite. One can argue successfully it is not like syrah from France, or anywhere else for that matter. But does it have to be? This is Chilean to its stirrups.
John Szabo – Cool, coastal Chile is a hot spot for sauvignon blanc, and increasingly, syrah. And make no mistake: this is not shiraz, but much more old world in style. Matetic is certified organic and biodynamic (Demeter), and their vineyards are in the Rosario Valley (a subdivision of the San Antonio Valley), an enclosed valley that runs perpendicular to the Pacific. I love the savoury herbal-bay leaf flavours, reminiscent of native Chilean trees like Quillay, Maitén, Boldo and Peumo that grow in the area. Cellar this for another 2-3 years for maximum enjoyment.

Ascheri 2011 Fontanelle Barbera D’alba Podere Di Rivalta ($17.95). Ascheri nicely buffs the tart edges of barbera, without sacrificing the grape’s natural vibrancy or fruit. The secret seems to be finer tannin management. This has a lifted nose of redcurrant/cherry (pinot fans will like it), a touch of leathery/meatiness and gentle vanillin. Could work lightly chilled on a summer eve with a cold pasta salad. DL

Boutari 2009 Naoussa, Greece ($13.95). As always, an attractively priced, savoury old world red from Boutari, their ‘regular’ bottling of Naoussa (made from xinomavro). To put this into context, think of traditional style sangiovese from Chianti and you’re in the right style zone. JS

Matetic Corralillo Syrah 2011 Ascheri Fontanelle Barbera D'alba 2011 Boutari Naoussa 2009 Santa Alicia Gran Reserva De Los Andes Carmenère 2011c

Santa Alicia 2011 Gran Reserva De Los Andes Carmenère, Maipo Valley, Chile ($15.95). I am studying carmenère closely these days because they continue – through complexity and depth – to offer good value. Then, if they are well balanced too, they can be huge value. The world has not yet caught on to this so many remain underpriced – as is the case with solid, savoury example. DL

Domaine La Fourmone 2011 Le Fauquet Gigondas, Rhône Valley, France ($28.95). There is a certain amiable freshness and vibrancy here but set within the Rhône’s comfy framework. Not at all heavy or thick – a fine drink-anytime red with class and some elegance. Gigondas offers more finesse than any of the other fine villages strung out along the base of the saw-toothed Dentelles in the southern Rhône. DL


And speaking of the southern Rhône, Sara d’Amato and family have been camped out there for July, so expect some thoughts from her when she returns. Other upcoming works include an article by Julian Hitner on the value to be found in classic, dry European rieslings.  And John Sazabo returns next week with the first preview of the Aug 19 release. May your Civic Holiday weekend be wonderfully civil.

Until next time!

From VINTAGES August 2nd release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews
August 2nd Part One – Pure California

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!


CastelloRiservaNwslttr- July

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Favourites from the National Wine Awards of Canada

Canadian Riesling Resonates in Montreal and Vancouver

Each week between now and the announcement of the results of the NWACs after Labour Day, WineAlign will feature each of the 18 judges, their thoughts on Canadian wine, and their personal favourite wine of the competition. Selection of a wine does not necessarily mean it was a top medal winner, and the scores (if given) reflect the opinion of the taster, not its final mark in the competition.

This week judges from opposite ends of the country land on the same page – riesling – adding credibility to the notion that it is one great Canadian grape.  With our northerly latitude and intriguing mineral-driven soils in the east and west, this makes a whole lot of sense.

Bill Zacharkiw, Montreal

I’ve been writing the Saturday wine page in the Montreal Gazette since 2007. And while I am new to WineAlign, I’m not new to judging national awards. I judged five editions of the previous Canadian Wine Awards.

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

To truly understand a wine region, it must be viewed over generations, and Canadian wine is barely getting into its second. But despite the small sample size, what excites me more and more after judging each competition is that I am starting to see the definition of regional wine “styles.”

A style is defined by more than a single wine or vintage. Its character is a result of a collection of wines, all made in a single region, with the same grapes, and by a number of different people. If the wines are consistently good year after year after year, and show a similar expression, then that region ascends to another level. It joins others whose expression of a particular grape or grapes have become archetypes. We can start talking about it in the same breath as, for example, chardonnay in Chablis, assyrtiko from Santorini, Northern Rhône syrah.

The style can’t be imposed; it has to come from the grapes, from the land. And to the credit of Canadian winemakers, every year I feel that more of them are figuring that out. The wines seem less forced. Maybe they are starting to trust the land more, or maybe, like parents, they have accepted who their children really are, and not what they want them to be.

It’s the big leagues. But by becoming a member of this prestigious club comes higher expectations that wineries in that region will always produce good quality wine, good or bad vintage, and at a price that is fair.

I believe we have one region and style that has made it to this next level – Niagara’s riesling. Every year it is by far the strongest category. Its character seems to rise above the vagaries of vintage variation, and price. Fruity and mineral, Cave Spring’s Tom Pennachetti says the style is reminiscent of Nahe. And it certainly echoes it. But it is Niagara – distinct and delicious.

Others are getting closer. British Columbia is starting to make great riesling, and the drier style is an interesting counterpoint to Niagara. Both chardonnay and pinot noir are settling in for the long haul. Chardonnay might be a bit further along. But whether we are talking Prince Edward County, Niagara or the Okanagan, great and distinctive wines are being made. However they are still too inconsistent. We’ll see as these vines age if the region’s wines truly are “world class,” or if just a small handful of wineries in each region are capable of doing it year after year.

And for the rest, there is good reason to believe that we will find other grapes that will put even more Canadian wine regions on the international map. Winemakers are still struggling to find out what Syrah can be, but there are some very good wines being made. There was an upturn with merlot this year. It’s simply a hard grape to do very well and possibly even more site specific than we give it credit. Other grapes are still works in progress, but the key word here is progress, and that’s a good thing.

Orofino Riesling 2011Tawse Échos Riesling 2010My wines of the competition? I’ll pick two. They are not my highest scoring wines. What they have in common is that they are under $20 and when I taste them, I feel that connection to where the grapes are grown. These are the wines I love to champion. So “chapeau” to following:

Tawse’s 2010 Échos Riesling once again reveals that mineral and fruity Niagara style, in its most straightforward, un-complicated, and utterly gulpable incarnation.

Orofino’s 2011 Riesling from the Similkameen Valley made me stop, think, taste and re-taste. In the final riesling flight, where the vast majority of the wines were exploding with sweet fruit, this glass of “rock juice” stood out for all of its intensity, and to an extent, weirdness. If this is the Similkameen “style,” then there is a lot to be excited about for riesling in this corner of B.C. If it isn’t, then it’s a damn intriguing wine for $20.

DJ Kearney, Vancouver

The very engaging DJ Kearney of Vancouver officially joins the WineAlign team this month. Watch for her debut article in the days ahead as well as her first critic reviews.

DJ Kearney

DJ Kearney

Riesling is a great, great grape for Canada. Fullstop. Traversing the style spectrum from bone-crunchingly dry to vaguely off-dry to honey-sweet, this grape is a brilliant transmitter and translator of Canadian regionality. Nova Scotia, Ontario and BC are all make scintillating versions that have added something new and profoundly different to the global Riesling canon.

It’s an excruciating task to select one favourite above all others and as I thumb through my notes, there is a quartet of rieslings in the final round that have 90+ scores and lavish adjectives in my usually blunt notes. Three of these proved to be B.C. rieslings and the succulent Synchromesh 2011 Storm Haven Riesling with its astonishing tension, purity of fruit and drama was the most arresting. The nose showed classic petrol, peaches and exotic citrus plus explicit mineral whiffs. The palate possessed the kind of head-snapping steely intensity that makes you yelp (I’m sure I did) with dazzling green apple, lime and stonefruit flavours. But it was the high-wire tension of ripe fruit sweetness and laser-beam acidity that lit up my palate… this clinched it as my favourite amongst favourites. The finish was a sweet-tart sword fight that didn’t let up for ages. And all this magic at just 9.3 % alcohol.

Mission Hill Reserve Riesling 2011Synchromesh Riesling Storm Haven Vineyard 2011I can’t help but add that the Mission Hill Estate Riesling 2011 bagged the same 91 score in my notes, an absolutely sensational wine with colossal concentration that at just $20.00 was in very fine company with the Synchromesh Storm Haven.

Photo credits from NWAC: Jason Dziver Photography

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

National Wine Awards of Canada

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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:

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Matua Valley Estate Series Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2012

German Wine Fair - Toronto May 28

Mclean's Wine in Canada

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German Wine Fair – Welcomes Trade and Consumers – May 28

Riesling & Co. World Tour stops in Toronto on May 28th at the Arcadian Loft

German Wine Fair - Toronto May 28To highlight their wines’ surprising flavours and top level food friendly versatility, the Riesling & Co. 2013 German wine fair returns to Toronto this spring.

On May 28 over 25 celebrated German winemakers and winery principals, offering 100+ wines, will assemble at the Arcadian Loft to offer guests the most extensive German wine tasting in Canada.

The “walk about” trade fair is open for attendance by professionals from the retail, media, and hospitality sectors during the day and by consumer wine enthusiasts during the evening. (See special offer for Wine Align subscribers below)

“What better way to discover the versatility of German Riesling and Pinots, than when matched with the passion of the visiting winemakers,” notes Ulrike Lenhardt of the German Wine Institute, who will be in Toronto for the event.

German Wine Queen and winemaker Julia Bertram

Julia Bertram

Winemaker Julia Bertram German Wine Queen

Guests will also have an opportunity to meet a real live QUEEN – German Wine Queen and winemaker Julia Bertram who will be attending to educate visitors on German wines!

German wines are generally heralded as great food friendly wines. This is a very bold statement, but most sommeliers and other food and wine professionals will agree.

Germany’s wines, while following strict wine laws, offer among the most variety, and one can find a wine for any occasion, matching any food and satisfying almost anyone.

The not-really secret here is the variety in styles (dry to sweet, sparkling or still), grape varieties (Riesling and Pinot Noir, to name the top ones of either white or red) and the distinct levels of richness (light to full, to honey-like) plus, based on the cooler climate, the wines generally have a good amount of acidity (considered vital for a great food wine) and lower levels of alcohol than warmer climate peers.

Another great thing about German wines with the higher acidity levels is that the wines last better than any other wines after they are opened. Hence don’t hesitate to open more than one bottle, taste and decide what will be the best for the occasion and return the other opened bottles to the refrigerator for later enjoyment.

Ours Sponsors“If you don’t love German wines, you just have not yet found the right one for you.”

Much has been written about food and wine pairing suggesting what goes and what does not go together. In the belief that enjoyment of food and wine is a very personal experience, we encourage everyone to experiment -and what better place than at the German Wine Fair!

To add to the fair, food pairings will be catered by Oliver and Bonacini and live music will be styled by BELLOSOUND.

And as an added incentive to join us, all trade and consumer registrants are eligible to win Rimowa Luggage valued $595.

Date and Location:

Tuesday, May 28th  – Arcadian Loft, 8Th Floor, 401 Bay Street, Toronto

Trade Tasting

2:00PM to 5:00 PM

Media and Trade professionals interested in attending the walk-about are encouraged to register at:

NEW: Consumer Tasting

Calling all wine lovers! Meet over 25 winemakers and winery principals  and taste over 100 wines with food pairings by Oliver & Bonacini

7:00PM to 9:30 PM

Tickets $65 — all food and wine samples included

Wine Align subscribers receive $10.00 off the regular ticket price of $65.00.
Enter promo code: winealign

Order Tickets Here

Wine lovers are encouraged to visit: for more information.

German Wine Fair - Toronto, May 28

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Alsatian Riesling and Gewurztraminer – not to be forgotten ~ May 28th, 2011

The best source in France for two mesmerizing grapes:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Taking out a scrap piece of paper from my recycling bin, now and then I enjoy spending a few minutes creating lists about my favourite types of wine. These lists I sometimes format according to grape, other times by region or country, and/or on occasion by their ranking as ‘established growths.’ Of the former, my list usually ends up being something like this: for reds, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah; for whites, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, the very latter of which I most take pleasure in when it is blended with Sémillon and, excepting Hunter Valley, aged judiciously in French oak barriques.

Of the middle category, my often-wandering mind invariably settles on France, my most beloved winegrowing nation on Earth. From then on, it becomes a simple matter of picking my three favourite regions: Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhône. Such an effort to leave out Champagne! As for my favourite ‘classed growths,’ suffice it to say that I have rather luxurious tastes, and we shall leave it at that.

Yet, regarding my regional/country list, notice how I omitted the ‘subject region’ shown, quite clearly, in the title of this column? No, this was not done in error, but in a rather humourous literary fashion; for Alsace is, without a shred of doubt, one of those winegrowing areas that oftentimes seems forgotten when compared to all its other, more famous counterparts in France. A sad thing, really, for my very favourite type of white wine, alongside white Burgundy and Bordeaux, hails from none other than this marvellously understated, yet undeniably beautiful, part of the country. This grape, of course, is Riesling, the darling varietal of sommeliers and wine commentators, worldwide.

Aside from Germany, there truly is no other place in the Old World where Riesling is crafted to such a remarkable level of dexterity, fullness, originality, and refinement. Accounting for roughly 21.9% of all vines grown in Alsace, or about 3,350 hectares, Alsatian Riesling has historically been fermented to full dryness and crafted in such a style that best accentuates the overall minerality, vibrancy, and unique intensity of flavour(s) of the varietal. In Alsace, the best Riesling vineyards, typically cultivated with greater restrictions (ex. lower yields) on Grand Cru sites, are most often found on soils comprising sandy clay and loam. Common aromatics in youth? Think of fresh lemon, citrus peel, green apples, white peaches, melon, minerals, and spice (just to name a few). Just as important, the finest Alsatian Rieslings can easily age for a good deal more than just a couple of years, with some wines even requiring at least a decade to reach their full potential. As for dessert versions, such as Vendange Tardive (late harvest, often with a touch of botrytis) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (fully botrytized), let’s just say that I’ve enjoyed several extraordinary examples over thirty years of age. How I adore Alsatian Riesling!

This said, I couldn’t bring this column to a close without mentioning another Alsatian-based grape of absolutely marvellous character: Gewurztraminer. Quite possibly the spiciest, most ‘exotic’ varietal on the planet; in Alsace, Gewurztraminer (spelled without the umlaut) is sometimes even claimed to rival Riesling in terms of overall prestige. Comprising around 18.6% of all planted vineyards, of which, like Riesling, the Grand Cru sites will often yield the best results, Gewurztraminer is one of those grapes adaptable to all sorts of differing soil conditions, though clay and mineral-heavy deposits will often play a role in the best examples. Common aromatics? In Gewurztraminer, they are so identifiable, even the most amateurish of wine lovers should get these right: fresh rose (and tea) pedals, abundant lychees, honeysuckle, bergamot, lemon, jasmine, melon, and Asian spice. Also not to be overlooked is the fact that the best bottlings can easily age for well over a decade, with the more ‘entry range’ versions even able to withstand a few years’ worth of cellaring. Almost makes me wish I’d added Alsace to my list … so where did I put that scrap of paper?

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the May 28th, 2011 Vintages release .

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for January 22nd – Purple-stained teeth and compacted crustaceans: Madiran and Limarì, where else?

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In this posting, check out my top smart buys, which include a highlight from each of Southwest France & Chile, the themes of the January 22nd release. As a treat for terroir fanatics, I’ve included a video from my recent trip to Chile where Javier Villarroel explains the uniqueness of the soils of the recently re-discovered Limarì Valley.

Smart Buys
This week’s smart buys include a pair of excellent German rieslings: 2008 MARKUS MOLITOR RIESLING SPÄTLESE $22.95 and 2006 KRUGER-RUMPF RIESLING SPÄTLESE $16.95. Both offer that incomparable combination of vague sweetness perfectly balanced by riveting acids and pronounced stony flavours, the way we love it.  But not to be upstaged, Niagara secures a spot in the top ten with a Riesling their own, the lovely 2008 CREEKSIDE ESTATE BUTLER’S GRANT RIESLING VQA $15.95. It’s lightly honeyed, sweet grass-flavoured white at a superb price.

Markus Molitor Riesling Spätlese 2008 Kruger Rumpf Riesling Spätlese 2006 Creekside Estate Butler's Grant Riesling 2008

Elsewhere, Portugal and Southern France earn two spots each in the smart buys, Spain offers a rare but vibrantly delicious Rioja made from 100% graciano (usually just a small component of the traditional blend), and Oregon comes through with a lovely, old world style pinot noir at just $21.95, a great value, as fans of Oregon pinot will attest. See the full list here.

Southwest France – Madiran
Southwest France is a land of, plains and plateaus, lazy rivers, hearty duck-based cuisine (confit, foie gras, cassoulet etc.), prunes and Armagnac, Henry the IV, muskateers and Gascon swashbucklers. The accent is so thick down here that it is barely intelligible even to fluent French speakers. Once I was in Paris watching the news. A French reporter was interviewing a French farmer from what the rest of France calls la France profonde, or “deep France”, that is the deep southwest, and the farmer’s words were subtitled in French. At first perplexed, I turned quickly thankful, as I would have otherwise understood less than half. I didn’t feel badly though as evidently even Parisians are unable to fully comprehend the accent of their own countrymen. I suppose it’s much like speaking to an old Newfoundlander from the interior or a Quebecer from some lost little village.

Château Peyros

Château Peyros

Southwest France is far off most modern tourist itineraries and as such has been able to preserve an air of timelessness. It’s like a sort of time capsule that one could step into today and travel back 10, 20, 50 or a hundred years ago without noticing much change, other than perhaps fewer cars and sneakers and more horses and knee-high leather boots. And despite efforts to modernize and adapt to current fashions, the wines, too, seem caught up in an eddy of the past and unable to surge forward into the 21st century. But that’s a good thing. There’s enough of the commonplace, standardized international wines available elsewhere. I’m more interested in these regional relics, the dark firm wines of Cahors, the sweet, quirky whites of Jurançon, the stolid reds of Madiran.

Lovers of fruity, creamy-textured wines will likely run screaming from the tough malbec-based wines of Cahors and straight on to Mendoza. Ditto the wines of Madiran, made predominantly from tannat, a variety whose very name derives from its abundance of tannins and marked acidity. One of the toughest barrel tastings I’ve ever done was during a reconnaissance trip to southwest France. My partner and I had stopped in to see a Madiran producer; it was a sunny, hot June day with the mercury hovering above 30ºC, and air as still as a lake at dawn. We stepped into a somewhat cooler cellar filled with barrels stained deep purple-red, an ominous sign already. The vintner drew some inky-black liquid into his permanently stained pipette and let fall a viscous stream of wine into our glasses. With trepidation, we proceeded to taste some of the thickest, darkest, most tannic young red wine I have ever sunk teeth into. It was like swishing a mouthful of moist sand and gravel, leaving your mouth drier than the Sahara. After just three wines I was shattered and my teeth were more purple than if I had been sucking on a grape-flavoured lollipop all day. It was great. We agreed to start importing the wines immediately, knowing that in time, a long time, these wines would be outstanding. Then we repaired to the air-conditioned car parked under a tree for the entire afternoon until the saliva returned to our mouths.
Château Peyros Madiran 2005
The wines of Madiran were once well-known to outsiders, as this lost corner of France lies along the ancient pilgrimage route that leads across the Pyrenées all the way to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. But you need not walk a thousand kilometers to have a taste. Just jump in your car and head down to the LCBO on January 22nd and pick up a bottle, or a case, of the 2005 CHÂTEAU PEYROS MADIRAN 14.95. Château Peyros is part of Lesgourgues vineyards, a collection of six estates that cover terroirs from Bas Armagnac to Uruguay, and from Madiran to Bordeaux and the heart of the Graves. The name Peyros means “a stony place” in Gascon language, as the château’s terroir is loaded with rolled pebbles churned up by glaciers. Vines are cultivated through sustainable agriculture and enriched by organic manure from a herd of 300 ewes that walks around the vineyard from October until May. The 2005 on offer here should appeal to fans of mature Bordeaux at a fraction of the price. It’s nicely mature, savoury, complex and earthy, with terrific complexity for the money.

Chile’s Limarì Valley

Chile Wine MapThe other theme of the release is Chile, a country that by now needs little introduction for Canadian drinkers. My value highlight of the release, however, hails from a region that won’t be as familiar as the Maipo or Casablanca Valleys; I’m talking about the Limarì Valley.

The Limarí Valley lies 400kms north of Santiago. Though once the center of the Inca Empire, and considering that vines were first planted as early as 1548 (by a Franciscan monk named Limarì), in terms of quality, export-worthy wine, it has only recently hit the map. Many of Chile’s terroir hunters (Concha y Toro, Undurraga, De Martino, among others) have been persuaded to take a fresh look at the valley and explore its potential to make intense but elegant and mineral reds and whites.

Like other cooler coastal regions in Chile, fog from the Pacific Ocean, called the Camanchaca in Limarì, settles into the valley each morning, cooling and nourishing the vines, only to be burned off by mid-morning as the sun rises over the Andes and bathes the vines in pure sunlight all afternoon. The coastal mountains are lower here than further south, resulting in an even more marked marine influence. Strong wind is near-constant, and with less than 4 inches of rainfall per year, drip irrigation is essential here, as elsewhere in Chile.

Tabalí Reserva Carmenère 2008Yet it’s not so much the climate that differentiates the Limarì Valley, but rather its unique soils. This is one of the few regions in Chile where active calcium carbonate (limestone) is close enough to the surface that vine roots can reach down and extract a little magical chalky flavour. This gives the wines of Limarì a distinctive mineral signature, and for me, ratchets up the excitement. Watch Javier Villarroel describe the soils of the Limarì here in this short video, shot last January during my visit to Chile (sorry for the Blair Witch Project-like shakiness, it’s not meant to be a horror show).

Almost half of the nearly 1700 hectares of vineyards is planted to cabernet sauvignon, but for my money, chardonnay, syrah and carmenere are the most interesting. My pick from the release is the 2008 TABALÍ RESERVA CARMENÈRE $14.95. Tabalì was among the first modern wineries to plant vines in 1993, and this signature grape shows an extra degree of class and complexity in the price category, with a savoury-mineral element and elegant proportioning overall.

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John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008