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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 18th – Part One

The Old World
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report cherry picks the top smart buys from the Old World in the April 18th release. We’ve highlighted a fine collection of classics from familiar friends like Italy and France (including one triple alignment), while Spain gets a nod with wines ranging from $14 up to $90, for one of the best bottles from the Iberian Peninsula. Adventurous drinkers will find discoveries from Slovakia and Hungary. Next week David will lead the discerning charge into the new world.

If it’s not already in your google calendar, be sure to carve out some time to attend the “County in the City” tasting of Prince Edward County wines on April 16th in Toronto, details here. The WineAlign crü will be there scouring the room for the best from Canada’s coolest and stoniest region. And on April 14th, for our members in Ottawa, WineAlign is hosting Beringer Winemaker Laurie Hook. Got to love a tasting that showcases wines from volcanic, cobbled rock and alluvial soils (details here).

Whites and a Rosé

Trimbach 2011 Réserve Riesling, Alsace France ($29.95)

John Szabo – You have to appreciate that the Trimbach house style has remained virtually unchanged over several centuries. Here, the wines are decidedly dry and austere in the best sense, relying on sheer density rather than sugar for their weight. The grapes for the reserve are source entirely from the village of Ribeauvillé, mainly old vines (40 years average), on clay-limestone soils. And although this usually ages magnificently (and slowly), the 2011 is surprisingly ready to enjoy, and won’t require, nor benefit much from long term cellaring. Best 2015-2026.

Tokaj Kereskedoház 2012 Grand Selection Semi-Dry Tokaji Furmint, Tokaj, Hungary ($16.95)

John Szabo – Don’t be put off by the semi-dry designation; this is drier than most purportedly “dry” commercial chardonnays, not to mention more complex. 2012 was the first vintage for well-regarded winemaker Károly Áts, who brings over two decades experience to Tokaj’s largest producer. This plump, pineapple, pear and sage flavoured wine is well worth a look, especially with some lightly spiced southeast Asian dishes or salty west coast oysters.

Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2011 Tokaj Kereskedoház Grand Selection Semi Dry Tokaji Furmint 2012 Hugel Riesling 2012 Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2011 Château Belá Riesling 2012

Hugel 2012 Riesling, Alsace, France ($24.95)

David Lawrason – That Hugel riesling and other Hugel labels like Gentil (also on this release) are not available continuously in Ontario is a travesty of our system. This is so refined, layered and downright delicious – textbook Alsatian styling with a modern sensibility. It could make a riesling-lover out of the most reticent.

Vignerons de Buxy 2011 Buissonnier Montagny, Burgundy, France  ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This tender and nicely polished young chardonnay makes a return engagement after a debut last autumn. Glad to see quality and value being rewarded. The Buxy Co-op (located in the Côte Châlonnaise) is one of the largest in Burgundy and an evident success.

Château Belá 2012 Riesling, Muzla, Slovakia ($24.95)

Muga Rosé 2014 Gradis'ciutta Pinot Grigio 2013Sara d’Amato – A Slovakian riesling made under the guidance of renowned Mosel producer Egon Müller, co-owner of Chateau Belá. This must-try, drop-dead beauty is edgy and tense with outstanding length. Off-the-beaten-path but certainly not a gamble.

Gradis’ciutta 2013 Pinot Grigio, Collio, Friuli, Italy ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – The sur-lie aging of this pinot grigio has created the presence and texture to balance the wine’s razor sharp acids. Immensely attractive, this punchy grigio is no pushover.

Muga 2014 Rosé, Rioja Spain ($13.95)

John Szabo – A genuinely dry, simple but highly appealing, strawberry and red cherry-scented rosé from one of the region’s most reliable producers. Full stop. A perfect start to spring.


M. Chapoutier 2013 Les Vignes De Bila-Haut, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, France ($15.95)

John Szabo – While Chapoutier’s Rhône wines are rightfully admired widely, his Roussillon operation is where I go shopping for the top values in the portfolio. Bila Haut is regularly a terrifically fruity, dense and compact, savoury and complex southern French red, which delivers an extra gear and flavor dimension above the price category.
David Lawrason – It’s hard to choose between this and the neighboring, fresh, elegant fruit driven Roussillon Le Cirque, so don’t choose. Buy some of each! “Bila haut” by tres serieux, biodynaminista Michel Chapoutier has been a great buy in juicy yet well-formed southern French reds for a decade. This vintage is very satisfying once again.
Sara d’Amato – Southern French charm bottled at an indisputable price. A hand-harvested blend of syrah, grenache and carignan offering a real sense of place with enticing aromas of lavender, pepper, earth, smoky meat, underbrush and wild berries.

Alión 2011, Ribera Del Duero, Spain ($89.95)

John Szabo – Top Spanish reds have yet to command the cache of certain other celebrated regions for myriad reasons, but the wines of Vega Sicilia come as close as any. Considering the superlative quality of the 2011 Alión, a tempranillo of massive structure, complexity and ageability, this remains a very smart buy. Revisit after 2020 for best enjoyment.
Sara d’Amato – Drink now or anticipate the delight it will bring in a decade or more. The 2011 Alión exhibits all those exciting little faults that make for a brilliant, compelling and all-consuming experience.

M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2013 Alión 2011 Torres Celeste Crianza 2011 Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Torres 2011 Celeste Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($20.95)

John Szabo – I admit I greatly admire Miguel Torres, one of the most consistent and reliable names in the global wine industry. Every wine, it seems, is crafted in an appealing style that at the same time manages not to sacrifice the regional identity of its respective appellation. This 2011 Ribera Del Duero does the job nicely, delivering plenty of engaging and fresh red and black berry fruit with a significant but balanced dose of wood in the Spanish style. Best now-2025.

Fattoria Dei Barbi 2009 Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($49.95)

John Szabo – Barbi does old school style Brunello very well, the way sangiovese was intended to be rendered in my view. This 2009 has evolved nicely, delivering engaging candied red fruit flavours, dried earth, zesty herbs, faded flowers and so much more. I love the delicate tannins, the balanced acids and the exceptional length – a very harmonious wine all in all. Best now-2025. 2025

Le Cirque 2013 Grenache/Noir/Carignan/Syrah, Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, France ($16.95)

David Lawrason – Here is yet another success from a French co-op – Les Vignerons de Tautavel Vingrau, located in the village of Tautavel in Languedoc-Roussillon. For archaeology buffs this village houses the European Centre for Prehistoric Research. Tautavel Man, an early hominid, unearthed near here is perhaps the oldest human remain in Europe. Nothing prehistoric about this wine however.  It is a pretty, poised and fresh young, modern southern French blend with an easy, breezy drinkability.

Joseph Drouhin 2012 Côtes De Nuits-Villages, Burgundy, France ($34.95)

David Lawrason – Drouhin is another class act from France that for my entire career has been badly represented in Ontario. The house possesses such fine, white gloved hand interpretation of Burgundy, without sacrificing appellation character. Côtes de Nuits-Village will never deliver profound pinot, but I really like the refinement here. A bit pricy but a textural masterpiece.

Le Cirque Carignan Mourvèdre Syrah 2013 Joseph Drouhin Côtes De Nuits Villages 2012 Château Bonnin Pichon 2010 Brigaldara Valpolicella 2013

Château Bonnin Pichon 2010, Lussac St Emilion, Bordeaux, France ($21.95)

Sara d’Amato – Like me, you might find yourself double checking both the price and the appellation of this right bank blend from the Lussac satellite region of St Emilion. Age-worthy, complex and maturing with grace – a wine that exceeds all expectations.

Brigaldara 2013 Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – A textbook Venetian blend that refreshingly tries to be nothing but a juicy, honest wine offering simple pleasures. One could expect no greater refinement and appeal from a $15 bottle of Valpolicella.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 18th, 2015:

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

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 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 - Toronto - April 16

Exclusive Beringer Winemaker’s Dinner – April 14 – Ottawa

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 24 – Part Two

Spring Pinks and Great Red Values from France, Spain, Portugal
by David Lawrason with John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The finest whites of VINTAGES May 24 offering were unveiled last week in Part One of our ongoing double-barreled reports on each and every VINTAGES release. You can also check out the best of the southern Rhônes, which I felt was a strong group value-wise overall, even if a couple of higher end 2011 Châteauneufs were disappointing. But as always happens, the Rhône overshadows the wines of the neighbouring appellations in Languedoc-Roussillon, two of which make my highlight reel this week along with a lovely pinkie from the inlandish (not outlandish) Fronton appellation. Big reds from Spain and Portugal also figure very strongly on the menu between John Szabo and I, including an exhilarating, ridiculously inexpensive Madeira. Sara’s selections range farther and wider, with whites, pinks and somewhat lighter reds, including a pleasant home-grown surprise.

The Stars Align

Les YeusesQuinta Do Vale Meao 2011 Meandro Do ValeMeandro Do Vale Meão 2011, Douro, Portugal ($24.95). Although this label does not have a long history, its excellent vineyards do – at one point contributing to Portugal’s legendary red called Barca Velha. There are several indigenous grape varieties involved, as well as soil types within the vineyard. The fruit complexity and concentration are front and centre in the cellar-worthy red. David Lawrason.  This has been a regular feature on my best buys list, and the 2011 vintage was outstanding in the region to be sure. I suspect that perhaps the best grapes from Vale Meão were mostly directed to make vintage port (understandably), or their top dry Douro red cuvée; but in any case the 2nd wine “Meandro” shows a nice measure of freshness and vibrancy, balanced tannins and decent length and depth – an infinitely drinkable wine with solid regional character and class. John Szabo

Domaine Les Yeuses 2011 Les Épices Syrah, IGP Pays d’Oc, Languedoc, France ($14.95). Here’s another fine value syrah from Les Yeuses, which has been on my best buys lists every time it has been released. Although the price has crept up slightly, this delivers pure syrah character in the form of cold cream, black pepper, wood smoke, espresso bean and more. How that much flavour is stuffed into a $15 bottle is a happy mystery. John Szabo.  I have hit on this great syrah value before. Can’t believe the price/quality ratio! It’s old vine syrah grown on 70 hectares of calcareous soils very near the Mediterranean. Very good weight, density, a real garrigue based Mediterranean red. (Keen eyed label gazers will note this now uses the new EuroUnion IGP designation instead of the former French term IGT.)  David Lawrason.

Lawrason’s Take

Château Bellevue La Forêt 2013 Rosé, Fronton, Southwest France ($14.95). I continue to be impressed by the value emanating from this 112 ha estate that lies west of Toulouse, midway between the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Several varieties grow well in this middle zone, with this rosé being composed of negrette (a deeply coloured red thought to be the same as mavro from Crete), gamay and cabernet franc. The combo creates an intriguing aromatic collage, nicely delivered in a very fresh style. Since 2008 this property has been owned by Philip Grant, a businessman who earned his WSET diploma while flitting around the globe.

Domaine De Bila-Haut 2011 Occultum Lapidem, Côtes de Roussillon-Villages ($25.95). Michel Chapoutier is the world’s leading producer of organic reds made from syrah, grenache and carignan, with vineyards in the Australia, the Rhône Valley and Roussillon, a hot corner of southern France famous for its tough, terraced terrain. This is a behemoth – very powerful, highly structured and complex. Not advised for summer sipping. If you want to dial down a notch try little brother M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila-Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages that is also on this release. Or buy both and compare.

Bodega San Roque De Le Encina 2010 Monte Pinadillo, Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($19.95). I am generally not a huge fan of heavily oaked reds. There needs to be enough fruit stuffing and richness to carry the load, which this 100% tempranillo provides. I was surprised by the depth actually especially at the price, and even more surprised to discover later that it is from a co-operative winery that claims to be one of the first in what is now one of the “hottest” regions of Spain. This could work around the BBQ this summer, later in the evening.

Château Bellevue La Forêt Rosé 2013 Domaine De Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem 2011  Monte Pinadillo Crianza 2010Altocedro Año Cero Malbec 2011Broadbent Rainwater Medium Dry Madeira

Altocedro 2011 Año Cero Malbec La Consulta, Mendoza, Argentina ($21.95). Founded by an Argentine family in 1989, this single vineyard estate in the higher La Consulta region, with its cool nights and rocky soils has caught my attention before. They use an artisan, vineyard driven approach which delivers bushels of fruit within a quite streamlined framework. Many Argentine malbecs can be powerful, but coarse. This has some poise.  There were other good value Argentine and Chilean wines on this release as well.

Broadbent Rainwater Medium-Dry Madeira, Portugal ($20.95). Madeira is considered by some to be one of the planet’s great wines, although in this day and age it is considered an antique. I can only suggest that if you are a lover of flavour rather than style that you give Madeira a try before it becomes extinct. The famous British wine writing Broadbent family have made it their mission to preserve this natural treasure. This is scintillating and delicious with outstanding length. And the price is ridiculously cheap.

Szabo’s Smart Buys

Telmo Rodriguez Lz 2012Castro Ventosa 2010 El Castro De ValtuilleCastro Ventosa El Castro De Valtuille 2010, Bierzo, Spain ($27.95). Regular readers will already know of my fondness for the wines of Bierzo. The predominance of old bush-trained vines, the moderate, fresh climate, and the quality of the mencía variety itself are all contributing factors; then add in one of the regions top winegrowers, Raúl Pérez of Castro Ventosa to the mix, and the results are irresistible. I was first introduced to the wines of this estate by the sommelier from El Bulli during a conference in Spain a few years ago, and have sought out them out ever since. This is a really cracking value, for fans of finesse and elegance with genuine substance and depth. Best 2014-2022.

Telmo Rodriguez 2012 LZ, Rioja, Spain ($15.95). What a fine and delicious value from Telmo Rodriguez, lively and juicy, balanced and fresh, not to mention infinitely drinkable, especially with a gentle chill. (Psst, I like it too – DL)

Sara’s Selections

Bernard Massard Cuvée De l’Écusson Brut Rosé, Luxembourg ($21.95). Bernard Massard is the largest producer of traditional method sparkling wines in Luxemburg and exports a great deal of their wine to Canada, most notably to Quebec. The winery and vineyards are located along the banks of the Moselle river that forms part of the German-Luxembourg border. The soil is made up of limestone in the north of the valley which is ideal for sparkling wine production. This is not the first time I’ve recommended a bubbly from this Luxemburg house that seems to consistently over-deliver. Pleasant, succulent and boasts above average quality for the price.

Mission Hill Family Estate 2012 Reserve Pinot Gris, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, ($14.75). Here is yet another selection that I find consistently appealing and of terrific value. The style is dry and weighty, reminiscent of Alsace but the palate is clean, neat and rather generous giving the wine a unique B.C. character.

St. Supéry 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California ($22.95). The patriarch of the Skalli family, owner of St. Supéry, come from a long line of Southern French wine producers. He fell in love with Napa in the 1970s around the time of the legendary “Judgement of Paris” – the catalyst for the rise of US wine. The winery now owns an astounding 1,500 acres of which they primarily focus on cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. This example is uniquely expressive of Napa’s propensity to produce sauvignon of great depth and character, especially when planted in cooler, more elevated areas.

Bernard Massard Cuvée De L'écusson Brut RoséMission Hill Family Reserve Pinot Gris 2012St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2012Henry Of Pelham Family Tree Red 2012Château Saransot Dupré Cru Bourgeois 2010

Henry Of Pelham 2012 Family Tree Red, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($18.95). The 2012 Family Tree Red is half Rhône and half Bordeaux (48% syrah and the rest traditional Bordelaise varietals). What caught me off-guard was the wonderfully wild and complex nose of dried herbs, pepper, earth and dark fruit. It is very approachable, and intentionally so, but offers a little unexpected challenge that will please the more discerning wine drinker of the house.

Château Saransot Dupré 2010, Listrac, Bordeaux, France ($28.95). It is worth taking note of this wonderfully distinctive and harmonious Bordeaux. The blend offers great concentration with a solid core of fruit and expertly ripened tannins. Wood is seamlessly integrated in a fashion mastered by the Bordelaise and the wine is full of pepper, black fruit and musk. A touch of carmenere may go unnoticed but it surely adds to the complexity of the whole.

Château D'aquéria Tavel Rosé 2013Château Camp De La Hire 2010Château Camp De La Hire 2010, Castillon Côtes De Bordeaux, France ($16.95). This malbec dominant Bordeaux from the lesser-known right bank appellation of Castillon is both classic and compelling but still quite tightly wound. If you’re looking for an affordable addition to your cellar that will come to maturity in the next 3-4 years, look no further – but be sure to decant if immediate enjoyment is your goal.

Château d’Aquéria 2013 Tavel Rosé, Rhône Valley, France ($21.95). A perennial favourite, Château D’Aquéria’s 2013 is a classic example of the dry, powerful, complex and nervy roses that can only come from Tavel. Despite the increase in price, the wine delivers both the charming garrigue of the Southern Rhône and the touch of austerity that are distinctive of the house.

And that is a wrap for this edition. If you have not yet done so please check out Steve Thurlow’s new report on new releases and promotions from the LCBOs General List, and stay tuned next week for John Szabo’s look at VINTAGES’ Australian feature in the June 7 release. At that time I will also be publishing a WineAlign feature on Ten New Perceptions of Australia following a visit earlier this year. Until then: They say “money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy wine, and that’s pretty much the same thing”.

Until next time,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 24 Release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Selections
All Reviews
May 24 – Part 1

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


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

New at the LCBO: Pinks and Wine Styles 101

Pinks and Wine Styles 101
by Steve Thurlow with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Welcome to a new monthly report on what’s new – and what’s good! – on the LCBO’s General List and Vintages Essentials list – the wines that are widely available and very likely on shelf now at your local LCBO. We will be covering major themes and promotions – like rosé this month – as well as rating new arrivals.

Best of the New Rosé

Each spring the LCBO rolls out a selection of pink wines under a “seasonal selection” theme. There is growing sentiment that more rosé should be available year’ round. Dry rosé – especially from the south of France and Spain, as well as carefully made wines the world over – are increasing in popularity and proving ideal as dinner wines paired with a wide range of milder and nuanced recipes.

This month there are 35 or so new rose or pink wines, mostly from the 2013 vintage, arriving on the shelves, of which we have tasted several. Some are indeed for the table, others for sipping on the patio when the weather allows.

Concha Y Toro Casillero Del Diablo Shiraz Rosé 2013, Chile ($11.85). Despite a little sulphur on the nose, this is a neatly composed shiraz-based rose with very good length and a dry finish. Lovely acidity and minerality is present on the palate boosting the delicate red berry fruit. Polished, stylish and quite versatile. Sara

Barefoot Refresh Perfectly Pink,  California USA ($11.95). A lightly sparkling pink moscato with lifted aromas of floral tangerine with peach and sherbet tones. It is off-dry with the fruit well-balanced by soft acidity. Decent length. Enjoy on its own or with pastry nibbles. Steve

Roodeberg Rose 2013, South Africa ($12.35). Bright and vibrant with a dark, pink colour and nicely concentrated fruit. Succulent but edgy and tart with wild earthiness on the palate. Dry with notes of cherry blossom, peach and pink grapefruit. Sara

Stoneleigh Pinot Noir Rose 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand ($16.95). This is a very bright, fairly deeply salmon coloured, pinot noir based rose with red currant, cherry and strawberry fruit aromas – a bit confected or jammy on the nose and sweet on the palate. There is also some herbal character. It’s mid-weight, balanced and fresh with a hint of sweetness but good balancing acidity. Very good length. David

Concha Y Toro Casillero Del Diablo Shiraz Rosé 2013  Barefoot Refresh Perfectly Pink  Roodeberg Rose 2013  Stoneleigh Pinot Noir Rose 2013

Picking through the New Arrivals

The LCBO is constantly adding new wines to the General List to replace wines that fail to achieve sales targets that have been removed or “delisted”. This keeps the number of wines available at around 1500. Given all the new rosés this month there were only another ten new wines shown for tasting. Here are three that we thought to be noteworthy

Carpineto Dogajolo Rosso 2012, Tuscany, Italy ($14.95). A fragrant soft flavourful red with a lot going on for the money. Expect aromas of raspberry and plum fruit with vanilla and mild oak spice well-integrated with some floral rose. It has a degree of elegance not often found at this price. The palate is midweight is very smooth and finely balanced with very good length. Best 2014 to 2018. Good value. Try with roast lamb or beef. Steve

Jaszbery Etyek Budai Riesling 2012Chateau Des Charmes Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Carpineto Dogajolo Rosso 2012Château des Charmes Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($14.95). A ripe, firm cabernet with just the right amount of acidity to prove juicy and the appropriate level of tannins to give a solid scaffolding to the wine. Notes of blackberry, graphite, thyme, dried leaf and cedar present themselves on the distinctive palate. Elegant, taught and age-worthy. Very good length. Sara

Jaszbery Etyek Budai Riesling 2012 Hungary ($8.95 + 4 BonusAirMiles). A delicate dry riesling with fragrant aromas of honeysuckle lemon and pear fruit. It is lightweight well-balanced with just enough sweetness to cover the brisk acidity. The finish a little harsh, so it needs food. Try with a creamy pasta dish. Steve

Wine Styles 101

This month the LCBO is introducing a new educational promotion called Wine Styles 101. All wines on the “General List” have been classified into eight style categories; four for whites and four red styles. In each category there are wines on special promotion this month, that are supposed to be typical of a wine of that style. You can pick up a leaflet in stores that explains the wine style categories and promotes the 24 examples. We thought it would be useful to look at these wines to see which we might recommend and also to add some other examples to flesh out some categories where those on promotion are not very noteworthy.

Light Bodied and Fruity Reds

Sterling Vintners Collection Pinot Noir 2012, Central Coast, California, USA ($15.95 + 10 Bonus Air Miles). There is marked improvement here. The nose is bright, engaging and clean with typical California pinot raspberry nicely embedded with spice and a hint of vanilla. It’s light to mid-weight, fairly supple and spicy, with a gentleness that is appealing. A bit warm and bitter and dusty on the finish, with good to very good length. A nice chillable summer sipping pinot. Best now to 2017. David

Medium Bodied and Fruity Reds

Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina ($12.95 was $14.95). This is not the fruitiest malbec on the block, which is one reason I really like it. There is a ring of Argentine authenticity in the vaguely leathery, chocolaty, garrigue (dried herb), peppery notions around the otherwise ripe floral, mulberry fruit. It’s quite full bodied, dense and smooth with some elevating sourness then a dusty tannin. Very good length. Excellent length. Great for BBQ. Just a hint of oxidation so not one to age long. David

Full Bodied and Smooth Reds

Folonari Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2011, Veneto, Italy ($15.95 was $17.95). The 2011 is again an elegant mid weight red with nicely integrated oak and red berry fruit aromas and flavours. Expect red cherry fruit with plum jam, mild spice with hints of tobacco and vanilla to lead to a soft yet structured palate with lots of ripe red berry fruit to balance the tannins and acidity. Very good length. Try with game, lamb or hearty beef dishes. Best 2014 to 2018. Steve

Full Bodied and Firm Reds

Bertani Secco Bertani 2011, Veneto, Italy ($15.95). This is a lighter more elegant style of red wine from Verona. Expect delicate aromas of red cherry with some cranberry jelly and mild spice notes plus a hint of mint. The palate is juicy and well-balanced with lemony acidity driving through to the finish which is dry with some mild tannin appearing at the end. Good to very good length. Try with roast meats or a hamburger. Best 2014 to 2017 . Steve

Sterling Vintners Collection Pinot Noir 2012  Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2011  Folonari Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2011  Bertani Secco Bertani 2011

Light and Crisp Whites

Errazuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Aconcagua Valley Chile ($12.95). A juicy creamy sauvignon from the Aconcagua coast which shows that Leyda Valley isn’t the only great place for this variety in Chile. Expect aromas of passion fruit and lime with hay tones and hints of green peas. It is very smooth with good to very good length. Try with asparagus quiche and salad. Steve

Off-dry and Fruity Whites

Deinhard Green Label Riesling 2012, Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany ($10.45 was $11.95). Consistently good value the 2012 is again a well made riesling at a good price. It is a typical Mosel riesling with aromas of melon fruit with lemon with floral and honey tones. It is off dry with the fruit nicely supported by racy lemony acidity. It finishes dry. Well balanced with good length. Try with mildly flavoured seafood. Steve

Aromatic and Flavourful Whites

Are You Game? Chardonnay 2012, Victoria, Australia ($15.95). The cooler state of Victoria is carving out a reputation for more elegant chardonnay, and although not as complex and nuanced as top examples this captures the essential acidity, apple fruit and some vanilla/butterscotch and a hint of toast. It’s quite sleek, fresh and pleasant. Some alcohol heat and minerality on the finish. David

Full-bodied and Rich Whites

Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay 2012, Australia ($12.95 was $14.95). The 2012 is an especially good vintage for this chardonnay with a lot of flavour and some complexity. It is very well-balanced with abundant racy acidity to freshen and lighten the palate. Expect aromas of pineapple, peach, baked lemon and resin with mineral tones. The palate is quite full, creamy smooth with a nice vibrant feel and very good to excellent length. The fruit flavours persist well on the finish. Try with roast pork or sautéed veal. Steve

Ghost Pines Winemaker’s Blend Chardonnay 2012, California, USA ($17.95 was $19.95). A good example of modern California chardonnay with just enough oak for added complexity. Expect aromas of baked apple and melon fruit with buttered toast, oak spice and a hint of lemon. It is medium bodied, rich and creamy but also racy with the focus well maintained from nose thru palate to finish. A little sweet for me with some resin notes on the finish. Best 2014 to 2016. It needs strongly flavoured white meats like pork, veal or chicken. Steve

Errazuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013  Deinhard Green Label Riesling 2012  Are You Game Chardonnay 2012  Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay 2012  Ghost Pines Winemaker's Blend Chardonnay 2012

We would love to get your feedback on this new report. We will look at the June thematics at LCBO next month, as well as more new arrivals. Meanwhile check our my list of Top 50 wine values by dipping into the Top 50 LCBO and Vintages Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste. And in two weeks time I will be back with a look at the updated Top 50 list in our WineAlign Top 20 Under $20 report.

Steve Thurlow

Editors Note: You can find complete critic 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!

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Buyers Guide to VINTAGES May 10 – Part One

South America, Germany and Rosé
By John Szabo with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s Buyers Guide to VINTAGES (note our new name) features wines from South America, Germany and the annual spring fling with rosé. I’m pleased to report that there are plenty of good values, and good wines in the release, and the stars align on a handful. David Lawrason and Sara D’Amato also add their personal recommendations. Read on to see the top picks.

South America

The South American feature is a well-chosen selection that for the most part thankfully avoids the raft of over-made wines that have plagued offers from Chile and especially Argentina in the past. There’s a focus instead on balance and drinkability, and the best selections deliver genuine character and class. It’s also pleasing to see far fewer ludicrously heavy bottles – the kind that weigh a kilo empty – that were once all the rage on the continent.

The Stars Align

Valle Secreto First Edition Carmenère 2011Achaval Ferrer Malbec 20122012 Achaval Ferrer Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($24.95). John Szabo – Since 1999 Achaval Ferrer has been making some of Argentina’s best wines under the guidance of Italian oenologist Roberto Cipresso. If I had to choose one word to describe the estate’s wines it would be purity, though I’d also want to add in elegance and refinement. I find this, their entry-level bottling from three vineyards in Mendoza ranging from 13 to 86 years old, to be one of the most attractive buys in Argentina. One can’t help but be drawn in by the freshness of fruit, the delicate, suave and supple palate and the exceptional concentration and length. Best 2014-2020. Sara d’Amato –  A fresh and elegant malbec that smacks of sophistication for a price that is easy to swallow. A combination of old vines and high elevations makes this a wine to covet for your cellar. Compared to its single vineyard siblings, this entry-level is an undeniable value.

2011 Valle Secreto First Edition Carmenère, Cachapoal Valley, Chile ($18.95). John Szabo –  Carmenère is often a love-it-or-hate-it variety, a late ripener that can be quite burly and green even in Chile’s warm climate. Though this example has its share of wintergreen and fresh bay leaf, it’s nicely balanced and backed by plenty of and black and blue fruit – a solid and satisfying drop. Best 2014-2019. Sara d’Amato – This is a modern carmenère that has fallen into careful hands. It’s beautifully ripened and offers a slowly unveiling palate of rich black fruit, salinity and hint of dried herbs. The unique terroir of the upper Cachapoal has afforded this wine a really delicate balance between alcohol, tannins and fruit that play so effortlessly together on the palate.

John Szabo Recommends

2010 Altos Las Hormigas Terroir Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95). Another pair of Italians, Alberto Antonini and Attilio Pagli, are responsible for the exceptional wines of Altos Las Hormigas, a winery founded in Luján de Cuyo in 1995. The Malbec Terroir hails from the higher, and cooler, Uco Valley, highlighting the appealing floral side of the grape. Best 2014-2018.

2011 Ojo De Agua Cuvée Spéciale, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95). Dieter Meier is an enterprising Swiss artist and musician, the man behind the electronic music group Yello, as well as a professional poker player and formerly a member of the Swiss national golf team, as I learned from his Wikipedia page. In his spare time, he also runs a restaurant in Zurich, and raises cattle and grows organic grapes and produces wine in Mendoza – now that’s a well-rounded CV. His lovely Cuvée Speciale made from half malbec with cabernet sauvignon and franc, is fine, fresh and honest stuff, best 2014-2018.

2010 Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay, Limarí Valley, Chile ($19.95). I’m pleased to see this re-released and back on the shelves of the LCBO, drinking beautifully at the moment. The limestone-rich Limarí Valley in Northern Chile is the finest region in the country for chardonnay in my view, suffusing wines with a distinctively salty minerality, while the cool coastal breezes from the Pacific just a few kilometers away keep grapes fresh and focused.

2009 Tabalí Reserva Especial Limarí Valley, Chile ($22.95). But the Limarí is not just about fine chardonnay, as this blend of 3/4 syrah, with merlot and cabernet from Tabalí clearly shows. I’ve been regularly impressed with the full range from this estate, which I visited several years ago, now celebrating 21 years in business. This is also a re-release from last year, when it was also recommended. The extra year of age has conferred softer tannins and better wood integration, making it even more appealing. Best now-2019.

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir 2010  Ojo De Agua Cuvée Spéciale 2011  Maycas Del Limarí Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2010  Tabalí Reserva Especial 2009  Maipe Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

More from Sara d’Amato

Maipe Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95). At over 3,000 feet above sea level where this delectable cabernet is grown, you can bet that the winds can be felt. The name Maipe means of the “Lord of the Wind” which is still called upon frequently to tame the summer heat. This entry-level cabernet delivers impressive depth and intensity all the while remaining open, honest and expressive.

Lawrason’s Take

Montes Purple Angel 2011Hermanos De Domingo Molina Hermanos Torrontés 2012Hermanos De Domingo Molia 2012 Torrontés Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina ($12.75). Torrontes must be the most obvious wine on the planet, with a peacock’s tail of perfumed aromatics. Some will hate it, others won’t. But whatever your stance, this is a textbook example. And at only $12.75 you can afford to find out where you stand.

Montes 2011 Purple Angel, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($59.95). For several years this has stood as an icon for Chile’s aspirations to make “great, global wine”. And as much as you might balk at spending $60 on Chilean red, I urge you to divert $60 from the purchase of any mainstream Bordeaux or California reds. And take the time to decant and delve into the fine nuances offered within its rich framework.


Riesling is still king in Germany, made in a style that I’ve yet to find reproduced anywhere else in the world, while pricing remains utterly attractive. Consider that barely a century ago, the top vineyards fetched higher prices than Bordeaux’s classified growths. Personally, I’m delighted with the situation – I’ll happily buy a hundred bottles of great riesling for the cost of one first growth. But the country offers more than just riesling, as David and Sara reveal.

The Stars Align

2011 C.H. Berres Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany ($18.25). John Szabo –  Rich, heady and ripe, as is frequently the case for rieslings from this astonishingly steep, perfectly oriented vineyard and its red volcanic soils, this is a real beauty. Have a look at the picture I took of the Würzgarten and marvel at the fact that anyone even bothers to grow grapes on this precipitous slope, and imagine the effort required to produce this wine. Then consider the price – I can say honestly say that $18 wouldn’t begin to cover my danger pay, though the vineyard workers surely have impressive calves. There’s enough dry extract, noble bitterness and lively acids to dry out the finish, making this off-dry wine seem virtually dry. Best 2014- 2023. Sara d’Amato – This prime Mosel house claims an impressive legacy: since 1510, twenty-one generations have worked the estate. Fermented with natural yeasts and afforded all the luxuries that riesling could ever want (and devoid of almost any interference), the result is a wonderfully expressive and highly intriguing wine – a steal!

C.H. Berres Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2011  Max Ferd. Richter Riesling Kabinett 2007Heinrich Vollmer Altum Spätburgunder Dry 2008  Königschaffhausener Vulkanfelsen Trocken Pinot Gris 2012  Werner Anselmann Edesheimer Rosengarten Siegerrebe Spätlese 2012

John Szabo Also Recommends

2007 Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany ($19.95). The Sonnenuhr (Sundial) is one of the Mosel’s great vineyards, combining perfect exposure with well-drained, pure slate soils that consistently yield startling fresh and balanced Riesling. This 2007 was first released in August 2009, and amazingly five years on since my first tasting, the fruit has advanced, but not much, and there’s still a delicious sapidity and freshness to the orchard fruit, not to mention a large dose of classic Mosel slatey minerality. Ahh, the magic of Mosel Riesling, truly timeless wines.

More from Sara d’Amato

Looking down to the Mosel River from the Würzgarten

Looking down to the Mosel River from the Würzgarten

2008 Heinrich Vollmer Altum Spätburgunder Dry, Qualitätswein, Pfalz, Germany ($19.95). You say spätburgunder and I say pinot noir – it’s all the same and yet completely different when planted in the almost Mediterranean climate of the Pfalz. Here vines ripen more quickly, benefitting from sunnier days and a drier climate than much of winegrowing Germany. This pinot will surprise you with its complexity and brooding smokiness.

Lawrason’s Take

2012 Königschaffhausen Vulkanfelsen Trocken Pinot Gris, Baden, Germany ($14.95). One of the great revelations from a trip to Baden in southern Germany last summer was the quality, style and depth of their pinot gris and pinot blanc. Not surprising really given these varieties also thrive over the Rhine River border in Alsace; but I think the best examples from Baden – like this great value – bring a certain slender elegance and polish often missing in Alsace.

2012 Anselmann Edesheimer Roséngarten Siegerrebe Spätlese, Pfalz, Germany ($16.95). Not unlike the Argentine torrontes in this release, this has incredible aromatics – very heady stuff.  Indeed that is siegerrebe’s claim to fame. And as with torrontes some may find it over the top, but I guarantee there will be occasions as our weather warms and you are enjoying a citrus or tropical fruit based salad where a chilled bottle of this modestly priced wine will be just perfect.

John on Rosé

Rosé wines are hot in Canada. Consumption has grown by 38 per cent in the last five years, and a recent Vinexpo study forecasts another 45% increase in sales by 2016. Most of these impressive gains are driven by cheap sweet blush to be sure, but I was happy to taste through the range of releases for May 10th, a solid collection of mostly dry, serious, food-friendly wines. Nearly half of the features are recommended by one or more of the WineAlign cru. Southern France remains the region where I do most of my shopping – I love those pale, delicate, dry, aromatic versions – though there are some fine contenders from elsewhere, too.

2013 Château La Tour De l’Évêque Rosé, Provence, France ($18.95). I could cut and paste just about any previous review for this wine without misleading – this is consistently solid, arch-classic Provencal rosé, and 2013 continues in the same lineage, if perhaps a little riper than average with its generous 13.5% alcohol.

2013 Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé, Languedoc, France ($19.95). Bertrand’s entire collection of wines, a considerable portfolio, is invariably worth a look. Part of your money goes no doubt to cover the cost of the attractive bottle with the bottom molded like a rosé flower, but the wine inside is also of premium quality, in the pale, dry, savoury and fruity southern French style. I’m inclined to pay the premium, and think of the designs you can make in the sand on the beach this summer.

2013 Château Val Joanis Tradition Syrah Rosé, Luberon, France ($15.95). This vineyard in the Luberon sits on round pudding stones like much of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, though the higher elevation yields lighter and more finely detailed flavours. This is pale, dry and fruity-savoury in the classic southern French style, gentle and delicate.

2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, Coastal Region, South Africa ($12.95). Be thankful that the Swedes, who guzzle countless thousand cases of Mulderbosch’s rosé, saved us a few. This is nicely priced, simple but well-balanced cabernet rosé, with the merest hint of sweetness but lots of juicy acids to keep it firm and focused.

2013 Château La Tour De l'Évêque Rosé  Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2013 Château Val Joanis Tradition Syrah Rosé 2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2013  Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2013

Lawrason and d’Amato Align

2013 Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé, Costières de Nîmes, Rhône Valley, France ($15.95). David Lawrason – This nicely captures the basic appeal of southern French rosé – and despite the great pink leaps being made the world over the Rhône still owns this style, with classic fruit so deftly accented by fennel, pepper and that general sense of shrubby “garrigue”. Very well-balanced and priced. Sarah d’Amato – Consistently a bargain, this dry, classic, southern Rhône rosé brimming with spice and pepper is sure to bring the sunshine to you. Costières de Nîmes is located where the Rhône and Languedoc meet (and has changed sides of the border once already), and although the wines tend to be similar to those of the Southern Rhône (with that pleasurable garrigue and blasted by sunshine and heat), they do exhibit greater freshness due to the region’s proximity to the sea. No summer street festival of the South could do without.

Zenato Bardolino Chiaretto Rosé 20132013 Famille Perrin Tavel RoséAlso Recommended by Sara d’Amato

2013 Famille Perrin Tavel Rosé, Rhône, France, ($19.95). With Tavel on the shelves summer can’t be far behind (despite the fact that most of us are still waiting for spring). This small appellation surrounding the picturesque cliffside village of Tavel produces exclusively pink wines (and don’t dare call them rosé!), always dry, aromatic and savory. The Famille Perrin’s is super snappy and taught in an exciting and nervy way with Provençal herbs, lavender and perfectly ripened strawberries.

Lawrason’s Take

2013 Zenato Bardolino Chiaretto Rosé, Veneto, Italy ($14.95). This is utterly charming, and if that’s not what you want from rosé perhaps you are being too demanding. Based on the corvina grape, Bardolino is known for its light, fragrant charming reds and this ‘chiaretto’ is simply a lighter shade of pale. Very fresh, balanced and chock full of fruit and freshness.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign 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!


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Forget flowers, buy rosés for Valentine’s Day

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

This Valentine’s Day show your affection to your sweetie with a bottle, or few, of rosé. Rosé wines reach from bone dry and elegant, to sparkling and celebratory and through to sweet and sultry. Just as pink is the half way hue between white and red on the colour spectrum, drinking pink offers up the best of both in the wine worlds. You get the freshness and acidity of white wines, plus the structure, berry fruit and tannin presence of reds. This matrimony of styles makes rose wines particularly food-friendly, and the darling of many sommeliers and chefs. You needn’t be either to pick a pack of rosés to suit your Valentine’s Day plans, whether it’s a romantic multicourse dinner à deux, a solo supper or a brunch with family and friends.

Forget flowers, buy rosés.


I’d put forth that sparkling is on my mind in advance of Vancouver International Wine Festival, and their Global Focus this year on Bubbly, but that would be a bit of a pink lie because bubbles are always on my mind.

Haywire The Bub Pink 20128th Generation Vineyard Confidence 2012Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé BrutSegura Viudas Brut Rose

Haywire Pink Bub 2012 is a new release just in time for Valentine’s Day, a lively, crisp orange and pear blossomed traditional method bubble from a cooler mountain site near Oliver in the southern Okanagan. 8 th Generation Confidence 2012 is another Okanagan mainstay, this one in an off-dry frizzante style, topped with a crown cap and blended from merlot, pinot noir, dunkelfelder, pinot gris and viognier. Henry Of Pelham N/V Cuvee Catharine Rosé Brut from the Niagara Peninsula is a perennial favourite, a classy and classic traditional method sparkler with juicy raspberry and strawberry fruit. Segura Viudas Brut Rosé NV is a regular visitor to my fridge, a bright cava welcome for its value and consistent red apple and pomegranate fruit.

Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut ChampagneLouis Bouillot Perle D'aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De BourgogneJust released in Ontario (already in BC & Quebec) is Louis Bouillot Perle d’Aurore Brut Rosé Crémant De Bourgogne from Burgundy. It has all the class if not the depth of pink Champagne, at one third the price. If you have a Champagne budget this Valentine’s Day, then nothing but Champagne will do. Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut NV is as distinctive a bottle as it is in the flute; elegant and full-bodied, with fine mousse and notes of strawberry, cream, brioche, dark cherry and mineral and a lingering cherry-currant finish.


There are as many styles of still rosés out there as there are fish in the sea. I’m sure I’d make a horrible human matchmaker, but I can definitely help find the perfect rosé for you this Valentine’s Day. And who knows what wine-savvy drinker you’ll meet in the rosé aisle of your liquor store…

Marqués De Cáceres Rosado 2012Miraval Rosé 2012Joie Farm Re Think Pink Rosé 2012

Once again Spain shines with delicious, affordable selections. Marques de Caceres 2012 Rioja Rosado 
from Rioja was category champion at the 2013 World Wine Awards, and it’s no wonder with the dusty floral, stonefruit and wild strawberry notes. Pair with paella! If a Hollywood romcom Netflicks marathon and a couch is the plan for this weekend, go all out and chill a bottle of Miraval Rosé 2012, from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s Côtes De Provence winery. No fluffy rosé here though – the Perrin family (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) are bringing their ample winemaking credibility to this delicate, aromatic, herbal wild strawberry wine. If you are looking for a fuller, creamier, more substantial rosé, BC benchmark JoieFarm Re Think Pink Rose 2012 will suit in spades. The blend shifts annually depending on grapes and vintage, but the profile always feels pleasantly familiar: a touch off-dry, with desert sage, wild strawberries and structured cherries.


Sweets for your sweetie, right? Classic sommelier pairing of like + like = like a lot? There are rivers of sweet wines out there, but I’ve selected a few with a definite rosy glow, sure to be passed along to your cheeks after a couple of glasses.

Croft Pink PortSouthbrook Farms FramboiseChambers Rosewood Rutherglen MuscatInniskillin Okanagan Estate Tempranillo Icewine 2012

Why not kick off the weekend with a cocktail? Croft Pink was the very first pink port on the market and aimed at a new generation of port drinkers. I like this fortified wine over ice with a wedge of orange. Southbrook Vineyards Framboise from Ontario does double duty, carrying cocktails with its concentrated raspberry, or as a fine match for dark chocolate. If you’re looking for a rare gem, you must fine one of Australia’s sensational stickies. Chambers Rosewood Rutherglen Muscat is an outstanding example on this market, with generous waves of raisin, dried apricot and honey. And naturally, I will suggest a Canadian icewine in case you’re pairing wines to Olympic viewing. Inniskillin Okanagan Estate Tempranillo Icewine 2012 scores a gold medal for being adventurous enough to attempt an icewine from tempranillo grapes, with tasty caramelized brown sugar and boysenberry results.


If you’re looking for a gift beyond a bottle, why not treat your special someone to tickets for the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Now in its 36th vintage, the VIWF is one of the top wine festivals in North America, offering something for every level of wine drinker, collector and trade professional. Winery principals (winemaker, proprietor, senior executive) representing 178 selected wineries from 14 countries will be in attendance to pour and discuss their wines. Every year, this international festival shines the spotlight on one country or region, and this year the country is France. As mentioned above, the global focus for 2014 is Bubbly, and many will be poured throughout the week of seminars, dinners, minglers, brunches and at the heart of the festival – the tasting room floor. NEW this year, and highly welcome, is a partnership with beVancouver. If you book a room between February 20 and March 9, 2014 at a participating downtown hotel (there are 37 to choose from), and you’ll get ONE FREE TICKET (value up to $89) to your choice of four International Festival Tastings. Book two nights, and you’ll get TWO FREE TICKETS (value up to $178).

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Treve Ring


Vancouver International Wine Festival - Feb 27, 28 and Mar 1

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Announcing the Rosé Results from the National Wine Awards of Canada

The run for rosés turned out to be a horse race

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

From dry to sweet and everything in between rosé is back in vogue with wine drinkers and the very best examples are often only exceeded by the worst, which is likely the best indication a category of wine is really hot.

This year we set a record for entries at The Nationals (nee the Wine Access CWAs) with 61 submissions. Canada is hardly a haven for rosé given our long winters and the early onset of west coast rains but when the sun comes out and the temperature rises no one is quicker to get to the patio than Canadians either in restaurants or at home. It’s this zeal that drives the rosé market and Canadian wineries are responding in droves.

If and when the warm weather finally arrives consider serving your pinks out-of-doors in the setting best suited to the nature of these wines. The driest versions can be served with fish or fowl, white meats work, so do grains and pasta and most summer produce. The off-dry and sweet bottles which tend to dominate the shelves are another choice and the advice is to serve them the same way you might use a riesling or a chenin blanc. They need to be thoroughly chilled and then mingled with big barbecue sauce covered burgers or ribs, aromatic curries and a variety of spicy Asian fare. Remember the younger and fresher the better.

At the Nationals we were impressed by some of the top scoring pinks. None tipped the gold bar but if any wine is under scrutiny at a blind competition it’s rosé. The judges were looking for freshness and balance, residual sugar isn’t a huge issue if the wine is balanced. Colour appears to be more and more of an issue, as in the lighter the better, whereas the grape variety used is not an issue at all as long as the wine is lively, fresh, and inviting on the nose and palate. If we wanted our rosé to be on the heavier side we would choose a light red hence the scoring and selection in 2013.

As we head into the depths of summer it makes no sense to delay the rosé results so we are announcing them now. We want to remind you that you will see these wines again when they are embedded in the official results of the WineAlign 2013 National Wine Awards of Canada to be released online at 1PM EST, Wednesday, September 4 at

There was no gold award this year but the top six wines were all awarded silver medals and the split was 50/50 from British Columbia and Ontario. New this year to the results are the top five best value wines in the category, in this case $15 or less.

The Silver Medal Winners:

NWAC Silver MedalFlat Rock Cellars 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé
Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $17

Gray Monk 2012 Rotberger
British Columbia $16

Peller Estates Niagara-on-the-Lake 2012 Private Reserve Rosé
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $16.75

Red Rooster Winery 2012 Reserve Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $22

Trius Winery at Hillebrand 2011 Trius Rosé
Ontario $15.75

Volcanic Hills Estate Winery 2012 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $19

The Bronze Medal Winners:

NWAC Bronze MedalArrowleaf 2012 First Crush Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $15
“Best Value $15 or less”

Baillie-Grohman 2012 Blanc de Noirs Rosé
Baillie-Grohman Vineyard, British Columbia $19

Chateau des Charmes 2012 Rosé Cuvée d’Andrée
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario $15
“Best Value $15 or less”

Covert Farms Family Estate 2012 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $17

Featherstone 2012 Rosé
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $15

Fielding 2012 Rosé
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $15

Gaspereau Vineyard 2012 Rosé
Nova Scotia $16

Haywire Gamay Noir 2011 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $19

Huff Estates 2012 Rosé
Prince Edward County, Ontario $18

Inniskillin Niagara Estate 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario $15
“Best Value $15 or less”

JoieFarm 2012 Re-Think Pink Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $21

Kraze Legz Vineyard and Winery Speakeasy 2012 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $20

Lang Vineyards 2011 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $15

Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Rosé 2012
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $15
“Best Value $15 or less”

Moon Curser Vineyards 2012 Nothing to Declare Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $22

Nk’Mip Cellars 2012 Winemaker’s Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $18

See Ya Later Ranch 2011 Nelly Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $16

Southbrook Vineyards 2012 Triomphe Cabernet Franc Rosé
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $20

Spierhead Winery 2012 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $19

Tawse 2012 Rosé
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $16

Therapy Vineyards 2012 Pink Freud
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $16

Thornhaven Estates 2012 Rosé
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $17

Union Rosé 2012
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario $14
“Best Value $15 or less”


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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for May 11, 2013

Rosé; The Doctor Recommends; Highlights From Top Ten Smart Buys

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report features a handful of rosés that shine above the rest for their quality/value/pleasure. Few producers take rosé production seriously, and finding the good stuff is like panning for gold. My selection includes a shiny range from $13 to $27; all are dry. I’ve nothing against sweet pinks – they’re great for spritzers. I also highlight a naturally low alcohol white made by a medical doctor in New Zealand who believes he’s hit on an innovative method (patent pending) to achieve full flavor at under 10% ABV, saving countless calories, livers and maybe even marriages. And the Top Ten Smart Buys this week include two astonishingly good $50 wines, which, if they hailed from Burgundy, Bordeaux or Napa, would easily cost in the $100s, plus a whole lot more. Read on.

Perilous Rosé

I know that rosé is a perilous category for wine consumers, fraught with the frustrations of trying to find what you’re looking for out of a jumble of radically different styles all lopped under the same loose heading. It’s kind of like tossing all fruits into one bin at the grocery store and letting shoppers muddle through, only they’re blindfolded and each fruit is wrapped in newspaper. Grab and hope. You’re as likely to find a green apple when looking for a juicy peach, or an avocado instead of a mango. So what can you do to navigate these murky waters? Not much I’m afraid, except find somebody you can trust who’s already tasted the wine, or stick to the regions and producers for whom rosé is not an afterthought or by-product of red wine, or worse yet, the dreaded “brand extension”. If you enjoy dry rosé with some authentic regional character, these are for you:

2012 Muga Rosé ($12.95). Garnacha, tempranillo and viura are blended in this well-priced, dry and lively rosé. 2012 was a warm and dry year in Rioja, conditions under which garnacha thrive. Muga’s vineyards in the cooler, higher elevations of the Rioja Alta also contributed to maintaining the impeccable balance here, and while this may be slightly riper than previous vintages, it’s still lean and crisp with low alcohol. Perfect for patios and paellas.

Muga Rosé 2012Château La Tour De L'évêque Rosé 2012Château Léoube Rosé De Léoube 2011No other region in the world is more closely associated with quality rosé than Provence in the south of France, and it’s still the source of the world’s best in my view. Château La Tour De l’Évêque makes regular appearances in Canadian stores and the 2012 Rosé ($18.95) is an arch-classic, dry, savoury, solidly built and concentrated example without sacrificing refreshment.

Taking it up a notch into a rarefied quality level for rosé is the 2011 Château Léoube “Rosé de Léoube” ($26.95); available through the agent The Case For Wine. Léoube is a 550 hectare property of dramatic beauty, nestled within sight of the Mediterranean with 62 hectares of organically farmed vineyards surrounded by forests and wild scrub. The English owners of Léoube launched Daylesford Organic foods in the UK over 25 years ago, so respect for the land runs deep in the house philosophy. Château Léoube’s winemaker is Romain Ott, originally of the highly respected Domaine Ott in Provence, who came to the property after the family estate was purchased by Champagne Roederer. He brings considerable experience to the Léoube project, with the know how to make rosé of the highest order. This classic blend of 40% Grenache, 40% cinsault and 10% each of syrah and mourvèdre is a rosé of considerable depth and class. Pale in colour but deep in flavour, it delivers a marvelous fragrance of white flowers, sweet herbs and fresh strawberry, while the palate offers a harmonious balance of acids and alcohol (13%), just hitting perfect drinking stride now. It’s a compelling example of how some time in bottle can do wonders for classically structured rosé, especially when built on genuine concentration rather than merely clever winemaking. Bottom line: it’s well worth the asking price.

Domaine Allimant Laugner Rosé Crémant d'AlsaceMas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2012Next door to Provence on the other side of the Rhône delta is the AOC of Costières de Nîmes, where the Marès family has been making wine for six generations. Mas Des Bressades 2012 Cuvée Tradition Rosé ($14.95) is a reliable blend of Grenache, syrah and cinsault made in a dry style, reminiscent of Tavel with its generous 13.5% alcohol and powerful fruit.

And rounding out these five picks is the Domaine Allimant-Laugner Rosé Crémant d’Alsace ($19.95), from a region admittedly not known for rosé, but very much worth a look nevertheless because the adjectives good, bubbly, pink and under $20 are rarely found in the same sentence. Hubert Laugner is the 10th generation in a succession of winemakers in the Allimant-Laugner family farming twelve hectares spread over three villages. The Crémant rosé is a traditional method bubbly made from pinot noir, designed to be enjoyed young and fruity. It’s bright and fragrant, with red berry, raspberry, cherry and green apple aromatics, balanced palate and very good length, offering lots of pleasure.

The Doctor Recommends

Drs. John and Brigid Forrest operate Forrest winery in Marlborough, New Zealand, and also own prime parcels in the Gimblett Gravels in Hawke’s Bay, Bannockburn in Central Otago and the Waitaki Valley. Considering the Forrests’ medical training – John spent eight years at the Salk Institute studying neurology – there’s an extra measure of scientific rigor applied to the wines, along with a great deal of empiricism: learning through experimentation and observation, which has lead to many innovative techniques and new wines. The range is indeed huge and would seem impossible to stay on top of, that is, until you meet this energetic and indefatigable couple, the kind of people that make you feel as though you should’ve accomplished more today.

Dr John Forrest

Dr John Forrest, Forrest winery

John and Brigid launched the Doctors’ range to represent their growing roster of alternative grapes like arneis, gruner veltliner and St. Laurent, and to label the results of innovative winemaking techniques that have led to wines like the 2011 Forrest Estate The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95). This dry wine clocks in at a featherweight 9.5% alcohol, naturally achieved, without chemical or mechanical de-alcoholization.

My conversation with Dr. Forrest on his methods quickly surpassed my knowledge of plant biology/physiology, touching on concepts such as the splitting and deviations of carbon rings as the plant grows grows – this is clearly a process that Forrest has studied deeply. He has drawn upon work done at the Geisenheim Research in Germany, where Professor Hans Schultz has been investigating methods to maintain the traditionally low alcohol style of German riesling in the face of global warming. According to Dr. Forrest, the initial step is to carefully select sauvignon blanc clones from specific vineyards and microclimates. Then, methods of vine de-vigoration are applied, such as the targeted removal of young basal leaves from vines at critical times, which are far more efficient at photosynthesis, leaving the less efficient older leaves to do all of the ripening work. The result is lower sugar accumulation but longer hang time, allowing full flavour development with less potential alcohol. This, and other “top secret” viticultural techniques, as well as less secretive winemaking techniques such as using low-efficiency yeast strains that pump out less alcohol per gram of sugar, have enabled Forrest to create this dry 9.5% alcohol sauvignon naturally, a first of its kind to my knowledge.

Forrest Estate The Doctors' Sauvignon Blanc 2011Forrest first applied his techniques to riesling with tremendous commercial success before turning his sights on Marlborough’s calling card variety. The 2012 is the third and most successful attempt to date, a wine in which he finally achieved the balance he was looking for.  Forrest needed one last little tweak: the addition of a small portion of slightly overripe/late harvested sauvignon to add a tropical fruit nuance that was missing from the previous trials.

While the Doctors’ sauvignon blanc may not make the angels sigh, I find it remarkably flavourful nonetheless, not to mention regionally and varietally accurate, for such a low alcohol wine – I have to marvel at the ingenuity of its production and the commercial potential. For anyone who enjoys Marlborough sauvignon blanc, or any other zesty-herbal white, and wants a low alcohol alternative with fewer calories and lower alcohol-related health (and moving violation) risks, this is worth trying. Forrest plans to share his research with others later this year.

Highlights From Top Ten Smart Buys

In this week’s top ten I’ve included two wines that are well above the price range normally recommended: 2010 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg ($50.00) and 2007 Manzone Gramolere Barolo ($51.95). The reason is simple: these are great value wines, period.

Weinbach Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling 2010Manzone Gramolere Barolo 2007The Schlossberg riesling is made by one of the most respected domaines in Alsace, from the world’s most noble white grape, grown in one of the top vineyard sites for the variety in all of northern Europe, in a classic vintage. $50 is actually a bargain. The 2010 is a pure marvel of the grape with a palpably gritty texture, riveting acids and striking salty minerality – this is all about vineyard expression with a minimum of winemaking interference. Be forewarned that this is not an immediately accessible wine, but rather one for both long ageing in the cellar and for terroir fanatics – a real intellectual challenge in the best sense. But those are precisely the qualities one looks for in premium wines – the fruity fluffy stuff can be made just about anywhere by anyone. (This wine is available in VINTAGES Classics Catalogue from February, so supply may be limited.)

I have a similar pitch for the Barolo: an historic estate making limited quantities of wine from Italy’s most aristocratic red grape grown in the legendary hilltop vineyard Gramolere in Monforte d’Alba, in a top, age-worthy vintage. ‘Nuff said. It’s just starting to open nicely now on the nose, showing its evident class and quality right off the top and textbook floral, red fruit, licorice, tar and violet aromatics. The palate is firm and very well structured, with wave after wave of palate-coating flavour and pleasantly grippy texture. It’s an expansive wine of genuine concentration and authentic complexity that can only derive from a unique combination of suitable conditions, i.e., a terroir wine.

Although $50 is a lofty price to pay for any bottle, I have to say that relative to the equivalent top wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Napa Valley for example, you could argue that these are outright giveaways. I’d say it’s where the smart money goes if you’re into the premium category.

See below for the link to the rest of the top ten. You’ll find more smart white wine values from the Loire and the Mosel, one of my favorites whites from Campania, sturdy reds from Calabria, Spain and the Languedoc, and one of the best values from California I’ve encountered in some time.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

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

From the May 11, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Rosé Selection
All Reviews

 Stags' Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

German Wine Fair - WineAlign Offer

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The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Wine education for us all – Rosé wine ~ Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

What’s all the blush about?  

What is rosé? Is it a red wine or a white wine?

Truth be told, it’s a little of both. With several exceptions, most rosé is made from red grapes using white winemaking methods.

There are two common ways of making the ideal summer sipper. The first is to simply crush the grapes and let them ferment with the juice for up to three days in stainless steel vats, after which the juice is ‘run off.’ Fermented at cool temperatures the same way white wine would be, the result is a very pale red (or pink) wine with a discernible white wine personality.

Chateau d’Esclans Garrus Rose

On the other hand, most of the world’s finest rosés are produced using the saignée method. This is a little more complicated. Instead of immediately crushing the grapes, they are left relatively unbroken to chill and macerate for up to two days, after which they are fermented like any other white wine; any ‘free-run’ juice is then drained from the vat and eventually bottled. Not surprisingly, this is more labour-intensive, and quality will depend on the experience and/or talent of the winemaker. Isn’t this always the case?

Chateau d’Aqueria Tavel Rose

So in what places is the best rosé produced? In France, great rosé can be found throughout virtually all southern winegrowing regions, particularly Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Southern Rhône Valley (most notably the Tavel appellation). In each case, the wine is typically a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvèdre; though the style may vary depending on grape blends and the level of extraction involved. Delightful rosé can also be found in theLoire(the best made from Cabernet Franc), Burgundy (particularly the commune of Marsannay), and even Bordeaux. Spain and Italy also produce their fair share, under the names ‘rosado’ and ‘rosato,’ respectively. In each case, local grapes are commonly used, though Spanish versions are often more reliable, especially those made from Garnacha (Grenache).

In California, white Zinfandel was all the rage in past decades, crafted using the saignée method but with a much shorter maceration. However, the past ten years have seen white Zinfandel give way to darker-coloured, fresher, and much more potent styles. Many of these are crafted using whichever grapes the specific region is most famous for, or from whichever grapes are most widely available. Other than this, generalizations are hard to make, rosé is now so widely produced. Large-scale producers can be found throughoutCalifornia,South America,Australia,New Zealand, andSouth Africa. In each case, they will often taste much stronger and more extracted than their European counterparts, as well as possess a much darker colour. Not surprisingly, smaller producers with a good reputation are the ones to watch out for.

Most rosé can be easily enjoyed on its own, either as an aperitif on the summer patio or as an accompaniment to all sorts of dishes. While it may seem surprising, rosé pairs amazingly well, not just with seafoods and creatures formerly feathered but a wide assortment of foods. The ideal serving temperature is anywhere between 6 and 8°C. Just remember one thing: excepting champagne versions, rosé does not age. Particularly on this account, it is indeed neither a red wine nor a white wine.

Click here for a few gems from the 23 June 2012 Vintages Release.

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 12th Release: 90 Point Reds, Rosé, Alsace and French “Natural” Wines

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Last week colleague John Szabo covered off the featured themes in Vintages May 12 release – California, Rosé and Israel. It’s an intriguing release for the variation in its themes, and there are some very notable – if pricey – wines, especially from California. I will touch on some favourites in each theme but I have not tasted the full release this time due to an in-progress trip to France. So I also want to bring some fresh perspective to some items related to my travels. This month I am blessed to be spending one week in Alsace, one week in the southern Rhône and Provence, and a third in Burgundy. The theme of biodynamic and “natural” wines is popping up everywhere, so I have included some recent thoughts. Open a bottle of something you like and read along.

90 Point Cabs, Merlots and Blends
Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon

There are several big California reds coming out Saturday, yet another wave in a season that since Christmas has brought us dozens of heavy hitters. The best and most expensive on this release is Far Niente 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, but when looking for value I would put my money on Sequoia Grove 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley at $54.95. This house has been on the landscape for as long as I can remember, but not one that has attracted much attention. Sitting on the valley floor in Rutherford it just seems to blend in rather than stand out. But this well-structured, quite powerful and complex vintage leapt out of the line-up. 2007 was a great vintage for Napa cabs, the kind of year where you should always be looking for lesser known wines to rise up.

Recanati Reserve Single Vineyard MerlotChâteau FonplégadeSpeaking of California, have a look at the very California-like wines of Israel. The general quality level of the Israeli wines is very good, and Vintages has put together some interesting new names. Overall I was struck by the ripeness, richness and cleanness of the wines. Among the best is Recanati 2007 Reserve Single Vineyard Merlot ($28.95) from a modern winery founded in 2000. It draws grapes from several sites in Upper Galilee. I was struck by how well this wine captures merlot’s rich, soft, evenness. It could have been from Napa.

Château Fonplégade 2008 St-Émilion, Grand Cru Classé ($47.95) is actually a bit of a New World styled Bordeaux, quite ripe for 2008, very brightly made and layered in fruit. Not historically known as one of the best châteaux on the St. Émilion hillside it has fairly recently undergone a makeover and its quality has jumped.

And finally, the release also features one of the more serious Bordeaux style blends made in Ontario in 2008. This was a cool, wet vintage that, at the time, was expected to be a write off for red wines. But at Hidden Bench they practiced patience by letting healthy grapes hang as long as possible, then doing rigorous berry sorting. The result is the excellent 2008 Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage, Beamsville Bench at $35.20.

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage

In the Pink in Provence

Muga RoséChâteau d'Aquéria Tavel RoséI am writing this from a Canadian-owned Relais & Châteaux Hôtel Crillon le Brave in a medieval hilltop town at the base of Mont Ventoux, on the vinous boundary between Provence and the southern Rhône. I am wine-hosting 60 Canadians from Montreal to Vancouver who bid on a Gold Medal Plates gastro-cycling epic in support of Canadian Olympians. (We have raised almost $6 million in six years). We are in rosé country – the pale, salmon coloured wine that seduces in spirit, and brings a brisk, sometimes heady if subtle ambiance to any summery endeavour. The concept of light, dry pink wine was born in this region, made from a blend that usually includes grenache, carignane and syrah. Rosé seems to be drunk anywhere and anytime in this area, so we decided to put it to the table test, by drinking nothing but rose – some very local to the Ventoux region, some from the Côtes de Provence, and some from Tavel.

We ended our pink Provencal feast with Château d’Aquéria 2011 Tavel Rosé, being released Saturday at $18.95. This wine has come to Vintages every year of late. It’s a bright pristine example of France’s most famous pink, Tavel, a rosé that clocks in at an average of 14% alcohol, and pairs with just about any food you might want to serve on the deck. But I also want to draw your focus to a pristine, very light and crisp pink from northern Spain – which to be fair has a rosé heritage almost as robust as southern France. In terms of climate and terroir southern France and northeastern Spain are cousins – so no surprise about pink prowess. Muga 2011 Rosé from Rioja is a steal at $12.95. It is very light, dry and ultra-fresh – some may find it almost watery – but there is a fine precision at work here. Much classier than $13 suggests.

Electric 2010s of Alsace

Helfrich GewurztraminerI have just spent five days in Alsace, tasting about three hundred wines over 14 wineries. There was also a terrific tasting of over 40 biodynamic wines hosted by the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA). I have written more about biodynamic and natural wines below, and I hope to write more in depth soon about this incredibly complex, terroir driven region. There are 13 soil types, 51 grand cru vineyard sites and over 900 producers in one of the oldest wine regions of Europe.

But I want to briefly alert you to an important and easily digestible insight. The 2010 vintage in Alsace is terrific. Growers are grumpy because bad weather at spring flowering reduced crop yields as much as 30%. But that is great for quality because it concentrated flavours in the remaining 70%. And it was a coolish year (especially compared to the ripe 2009s) and it has produced laser beam, poignant whites. I am delighted to be able to recommend Helfrich 2010 Gewürztraminer as a case in point. It is being released Saturday at only $19.95, and gewürz fans shouldn’t miss it. I tasted this wine before leaving for Europe and I was mightily impressed by its intensity and great tension.

The Motley Crus; France’s Natural Wines

I will discuss Alsace more in the weeks ahead, but I want to discuss this move to “natural” wines based on observations at a wine fair called Salons des Vins Libres that I attended in the town of Rouffach on my last day in Alsace. It brought together producers from all over France, plus Serbia. Not on my official itinerary I tagged along at the suggestion of Vincent and Brigitte Fleith who make biodynamic wines at their small family winery in Ingersheim near Colmar.

Foire Ecobio d’AlsaceWhen we arrived at the Salon I felt like I had stepped back into a farmers market in 1935. It was a completely agrarian event, and a community event, and a family event – as far removed from posh hotel ballrooms and Michelin restaurants as you could get. Although a Michelin starred sommelier from Strasbourg was there with an entourage, on a buying trip. Yes, one could buy wines! People arrived in jeans and sweaters with dollies to take wines to their Citroëns. Children played hide and seek among the stands; fromageries sold cheese; boulangers sold pastries; a chip truck sold frites in the courtyard.

And the wines were indeed an odd and motley collection of crus. I had more flawed wines in two hours than I have experienced so far this year in the Vintages tasting room. Oxidation, brettanomyces, acetic acid, bacterials and wines that smelled of stinky cheese. But – and this is a huge but – the wines had amazing structure, energy, textural perfection built of great balance, and incredible length of finish. And when I did taste examples that were also clean, the wines were thrilling.

This tasting posed serious questions about the “natural wine” movement – which is by definition organic and biodynamic. But more than that it is a philosophical, anti-establishment/anti-big movement. It is a revolt against clinical, squeaky clean wines. In a larger scope it is an agrarian revolt against urbanization, convenience and artifice.

So when do such funky wines become acceptable? I guess when one accepts them. That could take awhile in arenas like Ontario. Many of these wines would never pass LCBO tasting panel scrutiny. One producer I talked to actually had 30 cases of wines smashed by the LCBO because they contained too much of some substance that she didn’t know the name for in English, nor I in French.

For two generations now, ever since technology came to the world’s vineyards and cellars, we have become culturally attuned to cleaner and cleaner wines. And most who have invested in making these wines will not soon change their minds or abandon the world’s gleaming wine factories.

Regardless, tastes can change, and it is conceivable that this “natural” movement is the leading edge of a huge shift in wine taste. It is certainly embraced by sommeliers and writers who ferret out the latest trends, both in France and in Canada. And I will add my voice to those who are getting just a bit fatigued by the homogeny of modern wine and I will admit there is a certain appeal to the ideals of these idealists.

But how far can I go as a critic, who values purity as a cornerstone of quality? Well I certainly appreciate and enjoy the sense of energy and life in most biodynamic and “natural” wines. And I do like some degree of funk in my wines as well. But to me the fruit is sacrosanct. It too is natural, and flavours – intended or accidental – that divert my attention too far from that central pleasure, are negatives. Natural wines can’t be an excuse for bad wines, whether made out of ideological or slovenly practices.

And a Correction

In the last issue I discussed the LCBO’s new method for indicating sweetness levels in the wines, as it moves away from the numerical sugar scale. The new system measures not only sugar in the wines, but acidity as well, which gives us a much more accurate indication of how the wine actually tastes. But I made an error in saying that the acidity level reading was achieved by a taste panel. It, like the sugar, is actually measured in the lab. Watch for the new system – that indicates Extra Dry, Dry, Medium, Medium Sweet and Sweet wines to be rolled out in stores in the weeks ahead.

That’s it for this time. Onward towards Burgundy.

From the May 12th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines

All Reviews


David Lawrason,
VP of Wine at WineAlign

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for May 12th 2012: Golden California, Spring into Pink, Limestone in Israel; Top Ten Smart Buys.

John Szabo, MS May 12th shines the spotlight back on the Golden State, though California is already golden in the eyes of LCBO-Vintages buyers – it’s the number one selling region in Vintages. I explore the secrets of their success and pick out the highlights from the release. Israel is featured with a selection of eight wines designed to underscore the country’s potential (it’s not a kosher wine feature). I take a closer look at one estate in particular, Clos de Gat, and pick out a pair of intriguing wines worth highlighting. And rosés are back on drinkers’, and LCBO buyers’ minds, with a dozen on offer May 12th. There was the usual wide variation in style, and my preferred three also made it into the top ten smart buys, covered in this report.

Top Ten Smart Buys: Rosés

Château la Tour de L'Evêque RoséRosés are featured in the May 12th release, and I found three exceptional bottles. The 2011 Château la Tour de l’Evêque Rosé Côtes de Provence is a long-time favorite and regular yearly listing at Vintages. It’s in the top-end price category (with two others at $18.95), but well worth the premium for fans of classic Provençal rosé. The château comes by its name honestly: in centuries past it was the summer residence of the Bishops of Toulon. In 1958 the property came into the hands of the Soumeire family, and in 2005 the vineyards became certified organic. The 2011, the first vintage made in a new gravity-fed facility, is typically dry and medium-full-bodied, with plenty of red berry fruit and wild Mediterranean herbal flavour, like a stroll through the Côtes de Provence at dusk.

The nearby Costières de Nîmes, on the other side of the Rhône delta, is the source of another excellent French rosé, 2011 Mas des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé ($13.95). From a family with six generations of winemaking experience in vineyards from Bordeaux to Algeria, Mas des Bressandes is among the leading estates in the appellation. The rosé is a typical blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault, and is generously proportioned with ample wild herb and red berry flavour in a plumper, fuller style.

Muga RoséMas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition RoséAnd rounding out the recommended rosés, we go across the Pyrenees to Rioja and the delicate 2011 Muga Rosé ($12.95). Muga’s vineyards are in the Rioja Alta sub-region, where it’s notably cooler than the lower lying areas of the appellation. Like the French rosés, this too is based on garnacha (grenache) with 10% tempranillo and 30% of the white variety viura (aka maccabeo). The inclusion of viura makes this a particularly juicy example, bone dry, fragrant and lively, with tart, mouth-watering acids and light, red berry-strawberry-currant flavours.

Other top ten smart buys include a classic ten year-old Rioja for under $25, an excellent and characterful garnacha from the little-known Montsant DO next door to trendy Priorat, and an indigenous plavac from the Peljesac (pell-yeah-SHATZ) Peninsula in southern Croatia, a country whose wines have seen a huge surge in interest of late thanks in large measure to a visit from everybody’s favorite gastro bad boy, Anthony Bourdain, to film an episode of No Reservations. See the full Top Ten.


As mentioned in the intro, California is hot. Total US wine exports, driven 90% by California, were up over 25% by revenue from 2009 to 2010. And Canada is the number one country by value, purchasing almost $308 million worth of wine. (The entire 27 member European Union accounted collectively for $435 million, but breakdown by individual country is complicated by trans-shipments between EU members, so we’ll claim nº1).

But what’s most interesting to note is that volume of US exports to Canada was actually down by 23%, while value was up over 27% – that’s a huge swing, showing clearly that people are paying more, much more for California wine than in previous years. What’s the reason for this success? Aside from obviously very good wines with reputations to match, and a recovering economy, I’d say it has much to do with the relentless and effective marketing efforts of the California Wine Institute, of specific regional associations, and of individual wineries. Virtually every week I’m invited to at least one trade tasting of California wines, with producers or winery principals on hand to lead it. And consumers have plenty of opportunities to taste as well; for example, I’ll be co-hosting a WineAlign-promoted tasting with Etude’s (Sonoma) Jon Priest on May 16th, an event that sold out in a day at $65/person. The lessons to be learn? The market responds to education and to direct contact with wineries; marketing pays off.

But back to the wines: there’s a pair of terrific chardonnays in the May 12th release, which underscore a now-several vintages old trend towards, lighter, less oak-driven and more refreshing wines. The 2009 Talbott Logan Estate Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County ($26.95), is an excellent example, and a super value at that. Don’t worry, Cali hasn’t gone all Chablis on us; this is still rich and generous, and with 14.9% alcohol can hardly be called light and stony, but it has marvelous depth of flavour that’s certainly the equal of many wines at twice the price.

Talbott Logan Estate Sleepy Hollow Vineyard ChardonnaySonoma Cutrer Les Pierres Vineyard Chardonnay

And at about twice the price but also worthy is the 2009 Sonoma-Cutrer Les Pierres Vineyard Chardonnay ($49.95). Les Pierres has always been my favorite from Sonoma-Cutrer’s range of single vineyards, sitting atop an ancient riverbed thick with cobblestones and heavily moderated by fog off of San Pablo Bay. It consistently yields a tighter, leaner more minerally style of chardonnay. The excellent 2009 vintage resulted in a wine of distinction and class, with terrific length carried on generous but balanced 14.5% alcohol. It’s drinkable now, but will be better in 1-2 years.

Storybook Mountain Mayacamas Range Napa Estate ZinfandelRavenswood Old Vine ZinfandelOn the red side, there’s a pair of Zinfandels worthy of note, a grape to which I am rarely drawn even if it was first brought to California by a Hungarian, Agoston Haraszthy. It’s so frequently made in a likeness to motor oil (or sweet blush) that one could be forgiven for all but writing it off. If you, too, have become jaded, then try a little remedy in the form of Storybook Mountain Estate’s 2009 Mayacamas Range Napa Estate Zinfandel ($46.95). Zinfandel has been made at Storybook Mountain since 1880, and such history tends to regard current fashion with some disdain. It’s hardly inexpensive, but considering how classy, elegant, well balanced and above all lively this is, it may just make you a believer. In any case it’s a zinfandel of rare depth, intensity, minerality and freshness with a degree of complexity that should be the envy of those from the over ripe/raisined school of production.

I was happily surprised by the 2009 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel, Sonoma County ($23.95). Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, considered one of the godfathers of California Zin, is also well known for his motto of nullum vinum flaccidum, or, “no wimpy wines”. So when I tasted this balanced example I could only guess that maybe Peterson’s getting a little wimpier (for the better) with age. This is still big and ripe to be sure, but with complexity well above the mean. There’s intriguing licorice, cherry, dried flower and spice aromas/flavours, while the palate is dense, full, well-structured but also balanced with bright acids, firm but moderate tannins and generous but not excessive (14.5%) alcohol. Terrific length, too, and well priced for discovery.

And speaking of tasting opportunities, if you missed getting a ticket to the Etude event, there’s a large Vintages-sponsored “Zinfinite Possibilities” Taste & Buy event on the same evening in Toronto where you’ll taste dozens of different wines in every style imaginable. Visit the Vintages website for details. See the full list of top rated California wines here, including wines from Shafer and Far Niente.


 Clos De Gat Ayalon ValleyClos De Gat ChardonnayIsraeli wines are also featured in the May 12th release, and though some are kosher, that’s not the theme, but rather a look at what the country can do. But despite the tight selection, there was evidence of erratic winemaking and over-exuberant use of wood. There was nonetheless enough to generate some real excitement for Israel’s potential. Of the estates on offer, Clos de Gat was clearly the most interesting, with vineyards in foothills of the Judean Mountains surrounding a 3000 year-old wine press (“Gat” is Hebrew for winepress). Thin topsoil over limestone bedrock is particularly well suited to quality grape production, and natural yeasts are used for fermentation. The 2009 Clos de Gat Chardonnay ($47.95) is an intriguing blend of old and new world style, offering generous alcohol, ripe orchard fruit flavours and full body, but underneath there’s significant minerality and marked leesy, nutty, rancid butter notes that’s more reminiscent of Burgundy. It’s well worth a look if you were under the impression that Israel couldn’t make fine wine. The red counterpart from the same estate, the 2007 Clos de Gat Ayalon Valley ($47.95), was less successful in my view. Although there’s the same sense that the terroir is really quite exceptional, the winemaking is heavy handed and obscures the potential distinctiveness.

Recanati Reserve Single Vineyard Merlot

My preferred Israeli red is the 2007 Recanati Reserve Single Vineyard Merlot, Galilee ($28.95). It’s crafted more in an old world style with marked herbal, crushed leaves and black tea flavours alongside ripe black berry fruit.

From the May 12, 2012 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Golden California
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008