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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Sept 3, 2016

Chile Expands its Reach and the Best of the New World
by Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason and Michael Godel

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Chile is a land of varied extremes and has not been shy to showcase those regional differences in their export wines. It is the idea of value, Chile’s hallmark for decades, which has blocked us from appreciating their complete cachet. Premium quality wines from Chile thus suffer due to an export reputation largely focused on the under $15 price range that has gradually increased to under $20. Thankfully, more and more of those premium finds are trickling into international markets although this week’s VINTAGES Release is extremely shy in this regard. The upswing is that smartly marketed diversity within Chile has helped keep their wine reputation innovative and with a high potential to surprise.

One of the most important strategies of Chile, intentional or not, was to focus on various grape varieties expressive of diverse regions as opposed to one star. They have thus avoided the Argentinian malbec albatross; a one-hit-wonder misconception that continues to plague Chile’s neighbour. Although carménère has reluctantly become Chile’s signature grape, it has not overshadowed the bounty of assorted sidekicks that fit easily into leading roles such as cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. Even the underrated Pais, formerly used almost exclusively to produce bulk wine in Maule and Bio-Bio, has been given the chance to shine again. At no point in my visits to Chile did producers come close to a unanimous consensus on investing the majority of marketing on one key varietal. That decision has been instrumental in keeping Chile fresh and exciting.

Chile’s grape growing regions take up an immense portion of the latitudinal length of the globally accepted grape-growing viability zone. This “Goldilocks” band of latitude for wine production is situated between 30 and 50 degrees both in the northern and southern hemispheres. It is here that grape growing is possible as beyond these borders of extremes, climates are too harsh for the growth of vinifera. This fact, in itself, gives you an idea of how well situated Chile is for the growth of premium wine. Its regional span of quality wine production is among the greatest in the world.

However, what makes Chile extra special is its geographical diversity from east to west. Although a very narrow country, less than 180 km wide, the range of altitudes, penetrating valleys and coastal influences are responsible for a tremendous array of climates within the country. This is a wine grower’s paradise. Despite all of this wealth of land, Chile continues to push further into regions thought impossible to grow. Why? Because Chilean wine producers have an intrepid spirit and an enterprising nature that are crucial to perpetual evolution. As encounters with folk across the extremes of Chile’s geography shaped the revolutionary disposition of Che Guevera, so has the land inspired winegrowers to explore, express and reinvent.

Errazuriz Vineyards

Errazuriz Vineyards

An example of this limit pushing in Chile is the Elqui Valley, the country’s northernmost wine producing region. The Elqui Valley has quickly become Chile’s most talked about quality wine region and is certainly pushing the limits of viability on the extreme edge of the “Goldilocks zone”. High altitude, great diurnal shift, strong maritime influences and almost unparalleled sunlight intensity (similar only to that of the northern region of Salta across the Andes) makes this Chile’s hottest emerging quality wine region. Wineries such as Viña San Pedro have become solidly entrenched in this extreme region, a phenomenon only conceivable over the past decade. Due to the valley’s proximity to the Pacific, it thus benefits from cool, coastal breezes so that even cool climate grapes such as pinot noir and chardonnay can thrive here. Its clear skies and virtually no rainfall make this region perfectly suited to stellar observation and some of the most coveted telescopes are located here. Unfortunately, nothing from the Elqui seems to have made it to this week’s lineup but don’t stop looking as some will surely appear before the end of the year.

Even a desert as harsh as the Atacama is no limit for the adventurous Chilean wine industry. Beyond Elqui, which is already located at the edge of the grape viability growing zone, certain wineries are now pushing into the Atacama desert itself – one of the driest places on earth. The pioneering producer Viña Ventisquero has had success with their hand harvested Tara line, an extreme Atacama viticulture product. Despite the cost of production and challenges of high soil salinity and virtually no water, the project goes forth because the results are outstanding. Unfortunately, you’ll be hard pressed to get your hands on one of these costly, extreme and highly thirsted-for bottles.

Hand destemming at Casa Lapostolle

Hand destemming at Casa Lapostolle

You likely don’t realize that you, as a Canadian consumer, have a big impact on Chilean wine success. Canada is one of Chile’s top importers of wine and is the 5th largest wine importer in the world. Our purchasing decisions have a direct and measurable impact on Chile’s wine economy and future production strategies. It is time that we no longer shy away from spending a few dollars more on these dramatic and dynamic wines from a country whose track record is proven, a country inspiring the world’s best winemakers to produce a second annual harvest in the southern hemisphere.

There is a great deal to learn and more variety than ever before available. Chile is now the 5th largest exporter of wine and is virtually phylloxera free. This means that most of its vines are planted on their own rootstocks unlike the vast majority of classical wine regions – most definitely adding cachet. In this VINTAGES Release, Chile hits hard with classic grape varietals, solidly built and regionally expressive wines. Regardless of missing out on many hot, emerging regions, the selection is solid and evidence not only of the value which exists in Chile but of its quality and variety.

You’ll find below our top picks of this Chilean feature but also the best of the new world. John Szabo will be returning next week to take a closer look at the best from Burgundy and what inspired us from the old world.

Our Top Picks from the September 3rd VINTAGES release:

Buyers’ Guide to Chile

Errazuriz 2015 Aconcagua Costa Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Aconcagua Valley ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A cool and breezy coastal climate gives this sauvignon blanc brightness and the kick comes from its volcanic soils. A striking mineral profile, impressive depth and torrid vibrancy made this the most interesting sauvignon blanc I have tasted, globally, in quite some time. Especially if sauvignon blanc doesn’t float your boat, give this one a go.
Michael Godel – Errazuriz is arguably Chile’s most successful multi-varietal, multi-faceted winery but their accomplishments with several tiers of sauvignon blanc is just amazing. The Estate and Max Reserva Series available at $13 and $16 respectively are terrific and this single vineyard wine elevates the game, as it should, with more tropical fruit and even more acidity. The crisp and strikingly pungent hyperbole of Chilean sauvignon blanc is loyal to the house style with the ratcheted notes of coastal vineyards and schist soils.

Maycas Del Limarí 2014 Sumaq Reserva Chardonnay, Limarí Valley ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Great value here and interesting to compare to quite similar white Burgundies on this release. It’s fits in well. It’s a quiet, confident, subtle and well integrated chardonnay that hails from limestone-influenced soils in Pacific cooled appellation of Limari in Chile’s northern winegrowing zone.

Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015Maycas Del Limarì Sumaq Chardonnay 2014 Junta Momentos Reserve Syrah De Martino Legado Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Junta Momentos 2014 Reserve Syrah/Carménère, Curicó Valley ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This is a creative and effective blend of syrah (65%), carmenere (35%) and cabernet sauvignon (10%), and I like the resulting energy and complexity. Syrah pepper, meatiness and roasted coffee notes dominate the nose, with carmenere currants and tension kicking in on the palate.  Very good value.

De Martino 2013 Legado Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley ($18.95)
David Lawrason – De Martino is one of my favourite Chilean producers, finding complexity and cohesiveness and satisfying texture in an unforced way. It leans organic, or is at least grown sustainable and fermented on natural yeasts.  Complex, interesting cabernet, read to enjoy now.

Escudo Rojo 2013, Maipo Valley ($18.95)
Michael Godel – The amenability factor runs on high and wide in breadth from this very blackberry red out of Maipo. While there have been good vintages of this recognizable blend in the past, I can’t recall one with such balance and structure. You can serve this to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It will solicit nods of approval every time. I know because I’ve done so recently to a crowd. Nods all around.
Sara d’Amato – A blend of Maipo and Rapel Valley cabernet, syrah and carménère from the Baron Phillippe de Rothschild family of wines. A real stand-out in this release offering elegance, harmony and refinement. I would have guessed the cost to be significantly higher if tasted blind. More polished than powerful but offering excellent concentration of fruit and solid structural components.

Escudo Rojo 2013 Arboleda Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Concha Y Toro Terrunyo Andes Pirque Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Casa Silva Cool Coast Pinot Noir 2013

Arboleda 2013 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Las Vertientes Vineyard, Aconcagua Valley ($19.95)
Michael Godel – There is just so much to like about this Chilean cabernet sauvignon. It’s fresh and simultaneously savoury and it has that single-locale sense of place in its step. Wood is certainly in charge but freshness, dusty fruit, crisp bites and beneficial bitters keep everything humming along nicely. Big wine for the money.

Concha Y Toro Terrunyo Andes Pirque Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Las Terrazas Block, Pirque Vineyard, Maipo Valley ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – Sitting within the premium growing region of Maipo, Pirque is a cooler climate oasis in Chile’s central valley. Its elevation and situation are thus that temperature differences between day and night are often upwards of a 30 degrees Celsius difference! This incarnation from Concha Y Toro’s Terrunyo is typically firmly structured and ageworthy with enticing, spicy aromatics and impressive depth of flavour. Worthy of the premium price.

Casa Silva Cool Coast Pinot Noir 2013, Colchagua Valley, Colchagua Valley ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – Many of Chile’s iconic wines come from the Colchagua Valley which offers both heat and sunshine along with cool coastal breezes as the name of this pinot noir suggests. Here is a complex pinot noir of terrific value.  Not too modern but also very clean and offering wide appeal. A great weeknight go-to red when something lighter and more fragrant is what you crave.

Oh, Canada and other New World

Cave Spring 2013 Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer, Cave Spring Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Love at first sip, the evolving style of gewürztraminer from Cave Spring has really hit its stride in this 2013 incarnation. Its slow maturity has unveiled new complexities and the length is outstanding. Be sure to pick up a bottle for now and three more for the cellar. One of many in a lineup of strong Canadian showings in this week’s Vintages release.

Burrowing Owl 2014 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($34.95)
Michael Godel – The Owl’s chardonnay shows some yet seen elegance in 2014, cooler in temperament and slower on the swelter and the smoulder. I really like the balance struck and the length is better than many, including versions of itself. To me this 2014 Burrowing Owl is an exemplary poster child for cool-climate meets rich and creamy Okanagan chardonnay.

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer 2013 Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2014 Fielding Estate Cabernet Franc 2013 Inniskillin Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 Château Des Charmes St. David's Bench Vineyard Gamay Noir Droit 2014

Fielding Estate 2013 Cabernet Franc, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($21.95)
Michael Godel – Fielding’s consistent take on Cabernet Franc might be labeled as boring in proportion to its lack of ego but it is getting better with each passing vintage. Winemaker Richie Roberts’ end game is temperance, modesty and goodness. Fielding’s Cabernet Franc is not one of Ontario fiction in requiem of drama, egotism, vanity and venality. It’s the real deal.

Inniskillin 2013 Montague Vineyard Pinot Noir, Four Mile Creek, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – Still holding on strong due to finesse, concentration and structure, the 2013 Montague Pinot Noir received a noteworthy silver medal at the most recent National Wine Awards of Canada. A compelling, old world inspired pinot at the top end of Niagara’s premium pinot pyramid.

Château Des Charmes 2104 St. David’s Bench Vineyard Gamay Noir Droit, St. David’s Bench, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($17.95)
David Lawrason – The critics are getting excited about Ontario gamay. This was a gold medalists at the 2016 National Wine Awards and the Ontario Wine Awards. From a gamay clone developed at Chateau des Charmes, this is a quite substantial gamay, with impressive, creamy texture and intriguing red fruit and peppery complexity.

Auntsfield 2013 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, Southern Valleys, Marlbrough, New Zealand, $31.95
David Lawrason – Something good is happening at Aunstsfield in Marlborugh. This is their second wine this year I have rated above 90 points. What a lovely, pure and generous pinot!  It is certainly in NZ’s somewhat riper style but not at all blowsy or overdone.  Sara d’Amato – Auntsfield has proven its consistency and has now become a coveted find at Vintages among new world pinot lovers. Modern in style with impressive structural components and exciting verve on the finish. Keep an eye out for this sophisticated find.

Auntsfield Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 L'Avenir Pinotage 2014 Rodney Strong Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Zuccardi Q Malbec 2013

L’avenir 2014 Pinotage, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a pinotage that has not succumbed to commercial ‘mocha-fication’. Which leaves you able to actually make an informed decision as to whether you actually like or don’t like South Africa’s signature variety. It’s a mid-weight, sour-edged but quite smooth example  good energy and length at the price.

Rodney Strong 2013 Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, California ($35.95)
Michael Godel – I have always considered Sonoma’s Knight’s Valley appellation to share equal or congruous footing with many parts of Napa Valley. Cabernet can ripen consistently and also develop complexity some other Sonoma valleys don’t always succeed at doing. This 2013 from a great vintage is rich and dark as per the Knight’s Valley give. Rodney Strong moves to accentuate and celebrate the darkest of the valley’s fruit qualities. Very complex Sonoma County cabernet with three times the value as compared to the three times more expensive Rockaway kin.

Zuccardi Q Malbec 2013, La Consulta and Vista Flores Vineyards, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A blend of two premium malbec growing sub-regions from one of Argentina’s most influential and innovative wine families. Zuccardi has invested significantly in pushing altitude boundaries in order to produce extreme and chillingly haunting reds. This thoughtfully crafted assemblage is both youthful and poised with a pulsating and full-flavoured palate.


Sara d’Amato

For Premium Members, use these quick links for immediate access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release.

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
All September 3rd Reviews

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

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

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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If I could buy only one – July 23rd, 2016 VINTAGES Release

As part of our VINTAGES recap, we asked our critics this question:

If you could buy only one wine from this release – which one would it be and why?

Here’s what they had to say. You can find their complete reviews, scores and store inventory by clicking the highlighted wine name or bottle image below.

David Lawrason – My highest scoring wine of the release is the gorgeous Flowers 2014 Chardonnay combining depth and finesse. It shows classic and complex aromas of pear, almond, gentle toast, vanilla, lemon custard and spice. My score may raise eyebrows and expectations, but that rating is based above all on its impeccable detailing and balance – not some onrush of power. I have always been a chardonnay fan but will not spend on cheaper versions that don’t rise to this grape’s potential. This is expensive but I would buy it, so it’s a good thing I am only allowed to buy one wine.

Flowers Chardonnay 2014


Sara d’Amato – A rosé that feels effortlessly beautiful – Hecht & Bannier Bandol Rosé 2015 – a French stereotype. I was swept away by this beauty before I had left for the heart of Provence. I find it genuine with a natural feel, subtle yet unrestrained. There is colour here, but not too much, and a fluidity on the palate that will bring calm to your summer nights.

Hecht & Bannier Bandol Rosé 2015


And, you might need to buy two bottles of this wine!

John Szabo – It’s perhaps a little more expensive than the typical house pour (I guess it depends on the house), but there are several reasons to stock up on the William Fèvre 2014 Champs Royaux Chablis. For one, 2014 is an absolute cracker of a vintage in Chablis, for many producers the best in recent memory, and Fèvre has found another gear for the generally excellent entry level bottling. It has an extra measure of depth and especially stony-mineral character, and I love the sharp acids and the perfectly chiseled citrus/apple fruit, as well as the very fine length. If you love classic Chablis, this is it. And secondly, considering that the region has lost over two-thirds of the 2016 harvest to dramatically bad weather (so far; the seasons is only half over), prices will inevitably rise, so stock up while you can. This will also handily age until the early twenties, so there’s no rush to drink, although it is delicious now to be sure.

Michael Godel – Having just returned from a week in Chablis and now spending four days in Niagara at #i4c16, the Burgundian outpost and chardonnay are front and centre and in my thoughts. It’s been a catastrophic spring there; hail, snow, rain, hail, frost and mildew. Fèvre’s winemaker Didier Seguier makes many great wines and his entry-level Champs Royaux is the perfect lead into the estate’s oeuvre and the crux of Chablis. It is a generalized but oh too important expression from kimmeridgian soil, hedged and qualified from all over the area’s hills, valleys and les clos. It is textbook Chablis, a guarantee of quality, especially out of the cracker 2014 vintage. Lets give Chablis some love.

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2014

From VINTAGES July 23rd, 2016

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES
John Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Lawrason’s Take
All July 23rd 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!


Premium Stuff


Non-Premium Stuff



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If I could buy only one – July 9th, 2016 Release

As part of our VINTAGES recap, we asked our critics this question:

If you could buy only one wine from this release – which one would it be and why?

Here’s what they had to say. You can find their complete reviews, scores and store inventory by clicking the highlighted wine name or bottle image below.


John Szabo – At this time of year I find myself searching the cellar for light summer reds, the kind you can chill and sip alongside just about everything, both refreshing and satisfying. These wines disappear more quickly than any others, and I’m always short. So this release I’ll be buying a few bottles of the Hubert Brochard 2014 Les Carisannes Pinot Noir, a wine that fits the bill perfectly. From a small, 5-hectares family estate just outside the Sancerre appellation yet still on prized-flinty-limestone soils, it’s an absolutely delicious, highly drinkable Loire pinot, with lovely, light, high-toned aromatics, all fresh-tart red berries, strawberry-raspberry, and some attractive leafy flavours. Don’t forget to serve lightly chilled.

Hubert Brochard Les Carisannes Pinot Noir 2014


Michael Godel – In a word, Riesling. Charles Baker is one of the torch bearing varietal leaders in Ontario and it is his Ivan Vineyard 2015 that you can approach with regularity beginning this summer. From rich limestone and sandstone beneath clay, the 1.1 acre (also known as) Misek vineyard sits on a southerly ledge up from Highway 8 and an easterly hill down from Cherry Avenue. In 2015 Ivan delivers the labour of ripe, concentrated fruit, by lower yield, alcohol and spine. I can think of 100 reasons to drink this repeatedly now and over the next three years while the more structured Ivans (and Picone Vineyard) ’13 and ’14’s continue to mature. Three good reasons would be breakfast, lunch and dinner, from scones, through croques and into fresh, piquant and herbed shrimp rolls.

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2015


Sara d’Amato – If you’re unfamiliar with müller-thurgau, start with one of the best from a historic property that specializes in this varietal grown on precipitous, high-elevation slopes. In the Abbazia di Novella 2014 Müller-Thurgau the grape achieves a unique expression in this terroir whereas elsewhere in the world it can be quite bland. The fruit in this example is lush and aromatic and the palate is crunchy with sea salt and lemon giving the palate pep and refreshment. This may just be the perfect summer sipper and at under $20 I’m stocking up!

Abbazia di Novacella Müller Thurgau 2014


From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s I4C Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES
All July 9th 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!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – July 9th, 2016

Cool French Finds and a Hotbed of Value in Southern Europe
by Sara d’Amato with notes from Michael Godel and John Szabo, MS

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

This week’s VINTAGES release offers a strong selection of Italian whites, coastal South African finds, reasonably priced Californian reds and a serious, albeit small showing from Portugal and Spain. Note that the vast majority of our selections this week are value-focused at under $20.

It is no secret that the best values in Europe are often found in southern regions where the consistently warm climate allows for higher yields at greater levels of ripeness. Conversely, cooler, fringe climates with greater vintage variation can seldom produce inexpensive, consistent wines at low price points. There are other factors however, that significantly affect value and in Europe one of great importance is prestige of region. Certain appellations, take for example Champagne or Bordeaux, have become akin to brands themselves with names that carry weight and cachet that garner elevated prices.

A combination of these factors is at play in many southern European regions throughout Portugal, Spain, Greece and southern Italy. See below for great values discovered in Rioja in this release. Although Rioja is Spain’s iconic, best-known wine region, it does not yet have the status of Burgundy, for example, and thus cannot yet command a similar average price point. This will not be the case forever especially with a savvy new generation of producers focusing on ever more specific regions and sites for the production of indigenous grapes varieties. In addition, John has highlighted below a stunning aglianico from southern Italy’s Basilicata, a known hotbed for value.

Similarly, southern France’s Languedoc and Côtes de Provence afford hot values and there are some notable finds in this release. We also look further north to the Loire Valley, capable of producing some head-turning pinot noir even outside of distinguished appellations. Such a pinot from a unique parcel of land in the IGP Val du Loire has caught our attention this week. A sauvignon blanc discovery in the relatively humble appellation of Touraine is also the source of a top value pick this week. In both cases, their origins, over their quality, dictate their price.

More summer picks are coming to you next week care of John Szabo and David Lawrason. After briefly assembling last week for the National WineAlign awards, the team is off again travelling to unique wine regions across the globe. Both John Szabo and David Lawrason are back in BC, while Michael Godel is entrenched in Chablis. Shortly I will be off to the southern Rhône for an extended stay. Expect new perspectives on emerging and established wine regions to follow.

Stay cool. Santé,

Sara d’Amato

Buyers’ Guide to July 9th release:

You can find complete critic reviews and scores by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images below

Domaine De La Chaise Touraine Sauvignon 2014

Waterkloof Circle Of Life 2012Waterkloof 2012 Circle of Life, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A Stellenbosch super blend of sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and chardonnay that had me at first sniff. Very careful, very slow wild yeast fermentation of grapes that have been farmed using biodynamic practices has resulted in a very natural feeling wine with almost imperceptible oak and glorious fruit expression.
John Szabo – Paul Boutinot, of French extraction but raised in England, set about searching for his ideal terroir. Ten years later, in 1993, he found it in Stellenbosch, on the south-facing slopes of the Schapenberg, overlooking False Bay in the Cape. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve tasted from this beautiful property, including this intensely flavoured, medium-full-bodied blend of sauvignon, chenin, and chardonnay. It delivers significant density and weight, not to mention complexity at the price, with a range of citrus, orchard and tropical fruit. It’s not a summer sipper; there’s too much edginess (light acetic volatility), but that only adds to the character. Reserve for grilled chicken or high intensity fish dishes.

Domaine de la Chaise 2014 Touraine Sauvignon, Loire Valley, France ($14.95)
John Szabo – From the Sologne in the eastern Loire, almost equidistant from Tours and Dijon, this is a terrific bargain for serious sauvignon fans. It’s ripe, composed and complex, blending wet stone with creamy-ripe citrus and orchard fruit, and just a hint of green. Length is very good to excellent in the category.

Abbazia di Novacella 2014 Müller Thurgau, Valle Isarco Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95)
John Szabo – With nearly a thousand years of winemaking history, the Abby of Novacella in the upper Adige Valley consistently produces one of the top müller-thurgau’s in Italy (and therefore the world!). The 2014 is a varietally accurate, floral-fruity example, bursting with fresh apple/cherry blossoms, alongside fleshy white orchard fruit, pears, apples and the like, lingering impressively on the palate. It’s a lovely sipping/summer patio wine, great with, say, shaved fennel and orange salad.
Sara d’Amato – A smart, elegant summer sipper from high altitude sites on the slopes of the southern Alps. Lightly tropical with distinctive floral aromas and mineral character, both food friendly and widely appealing.

Tablas Creek 2013 Côtes de Tablas Blanc, Paso Robles, California, USA $33.95 (36616)
Sara d’Amato – Available in select VINTAGES stores, this In Store Discovery (ISD) is well worth seeking out. This collaborative project between the Perrin Family of the southern Rhône and Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands quickly achieved cult wine status shortly after its inception. The wines are modeled after the blends of Beaucastel and are organically dry-farmed in limestone-based soils very similar to those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The Côtes de Tablas tier falls just below that of the Esprit series and is approachably lush. A blend based on viognier, it is rich and mouthfilling with the wild floral character, peach and honey very typical of this seductive grape varietal.
Michael Godel – Paso Robles esprit of high command designates this ranging Rhone blend into a category singularly held. The white Chateauneuf-du-Pape oeuvre may be the muse but cooler California is the reality and the ideal. Grip, structure and the anti-boozy blend are hallmarks of great Rhone meets Paso Robles whites.

Abbazia Di Novacella Müller Thurgau 2014Tablas Creek Côtes De Tablas Blanc 2013 Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013 Henri Gaillard Rosé 2015

Flat Rock 2013 The Rusty Shed Chardonnay, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Jay Johnston’s handling of the exceptional Twenty Mile Bench fruit in 2013 is a best of effort. He is the benefactor and we will all be benefactors of such a balanced chardonnay. A wine to impress critics and consumers alike. Bravo.

Henri Gaillard 2015 Rosé, Côtes De Provence, France ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – A light and elegant Côtes de Provence with gentle floral aromatics, dry and utterly refreshing. Named after the well-respected negociant Henri Gaillard who was instrumental in the international prominence of the Côtes de Provence appellation.

Cune 2012 Rioja Crianza, Rioja, Spain ($16.95)
John Szabo – Ever-reliable CVNE (Compañia Viñícola del Norte de España) crafts another vibrant, savoury, well-balanced wine here, with exceptional length and depth in the price category. What a delightful wine for the money – all vibrant, tart red berry fruit and spice. Serve lightly chilled. Best 2016-2022.

Olarra Laztana 2010 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – From Bodegas Olarra, the Laztana Reserva exhibits impressive complexity for the price and is produced infrequently in small lots. Showing some graceful maturation in flavour profile although the structure is still solid and the fleshy mouthfeel is highly pleasurable.

Cune Rioja Crianza 2012 Olarra Laztana Reserva 2010 Tessellae Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2014 Señorío De Los Baldíos 2009

Tessellae 2014 Vieilles Vignes Carignan, Côtes Catalanes, France ($17.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a real tour de force for the price, which shows the possible heights of old vines carignan. It offers a lovely meadow of wild mountain herbs and flowers, with smoky-rocky black fruit, generous, dense and full palate, with high but integrated alcohol. At the price, fans of southern Rhône-style wines should leap at this. Best 2016-2024.
Michael Godel – I can’t say this will please every palate but it if you like fresh, affordable and crushable you should raise your hand and be counted. It has patio, dock and lazing in the grass written deeply with intrinsic vernacular. Cheat on your cellar and defend them all right here.

Señorío De Los Baldíos 2009, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A lush and modern tempranillo with bold fruit unencumbered by heavy oak. Wholly satisfying and drinking at peak maturity.

Chapoutier 2014 Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – A re-released favourite, this summery, lighter bodied red with the freshness of grenache and the pep of syrah is offers authentic, regional typicity at a steal of a price.

Hubert Brochard 2014 Les Carisannes Pinot Noir, Val de Loire, France (17.95)
John Szabo – From a small, 5-hectares family estate just outside the Sancerre appellation yet still on prized-flinty-limestone soils, this is an absolutely delicious Loire pinot. It has lovely, light, high-toned aromatics, all fresh-tart red berries, strawberry-raspberry, with some attractive leafy flavours. While concentration is fairly modest, it remains an infinitely drinkable, fresh, wine. If I had a restaurant I’d be pouring this by the glass (and drinking it after my shift). Serve lightly chilled.

M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2014 Hubert Brochard Les Carisannes Pinot Noir 2014 D'angelo Aglianico del Vulture 2012 Cigliano Chianti Classico 2013

D’Angelo 2012 Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata, Italy ($17.95)
John Szabo – Traditionalist D’Angelo delivers a wildly savoury-earthy, pot pourri-inflected aglianico from the slopes of Vulture volcano, full of wild cherry, beef jerky, leather and more. If you’re seeking a fruity wine, this is not it. But fans of rustic, old country wines will revel in this. Best 2016-2022.

Cigliano 2013 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Some slopes is the San Casciano Val di Pesa (like those occupied by Luiano) have the mineral composition to impose upon and gift dramatic foreshadowing to sangiovese. Here for $20 is such a case.

From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s I4C Preview
All July 9th 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!

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Jun 25, 2016

Sara’s Take on Provence and Southern France
by Sara d’Amato with notes from John Szabo, MS

Sara's New Pic Med

Sara d’Amato

It has been a week of Provence for me as Southern French wines rise to popularity here in Ontario due to summer’s fast approach. This is especially apparent in the rosé category where the palest of pink hues line the shelves in the stylish category of Provençal rosés. In anticipation of a lineup of Southern French releases next week and the general excitement in Ontario for these southern belles, representatives from the Vins de Provence were in town as well as legendary oenologist and flying winemaker Philippe Cambie whose work in the Southern Rhône, and now worldwide, has met with great critical acclaim. Thomas Perrin also made a visit to Toronto and afforded me a taste of Perrin’s new lineup of pink.

Although the Provence Wine Council or CIVP represents a large swath of Provence with 582 producers from three major appellations including Côtes de Provence, Côteaux d’Aix-en-Provence and Côteaux Varois en Provence, the region of Provence is far more expansive encompassing much of the Southern Rhône including that most famous region of rosé, Tavel, as well as the Camargue and Costières de Nîmes. More than that, Provence can be felt and smelled, it is a visceral experience that travelers to the region won’t soon forget. Provence is where the aromas of lavender, rosemary, juniper, thyme, dusty earth and salty air are ever-present — this is “garrigue”.

Some of the best value and most consistent rosés to hit the LCBO fall under the envelope of the Famille Perrin. The 2015 Miraval Rosé (22.95), which will be released in VINTAGES July 9th, is a consumer favourite and for good reason. This collaboration between the Perrins and celebs Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt is delicately perfumed and coloured with an elegant vein of acidity. The grapes of Chateau Miraval are planted on the valley slopes at 350 meters of altitude and benefit from a great shift in temperature from day to night thus preserving all of those delicate flavours. Not new to star-powered culture, Chateau Miraval used to house a recording studio popular with bands such as Pink Floyd, Sting, ACDC and The Cure). Yet still no Pink Floyd rosé! From a more humble price point, the Vielle Ferme 2015 Rosé Ventoux ($10.95) is a terrific value and is in abundant supply on the general list side of the LCBO.

Thomas Perrin breathing in the aromas of Provence

Thomas Perrin breathing in the aromas of Provence

Philippe Cambie is a formidable figure with a prodigious winemaking experience and influence both in the Southern Rhône and the Languedoc, most notably in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and surrounding appellations. A former rugby player, Cambie is known for his gutsy wines, his belief in teamwork and the idea that people are the most important component of terroir. A recent project is in collaboration with Michel Gassier of Costières de Nîmes producing a line-up of grenache-based blends from various southern appellations called “Les Halos de Jupiter”. The reference to Jupiter, the god of gods, is likened to grenache – the leader of the southern grape varieties. The “halos” are the unique expression of grenache in various appellations. The Halos series Côtes du Rhone and Costieres de Nîmes have been available in Ontario through VINTAGES since the inaugural 2009 vintage. The Vacqueyras, Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape expressions of Halos are available through private order, in small quantities but are worth seeking out.

John and I share our top French picks below. Next week John will be back to lead a Canada Day tribute, along with picks from David and Michael to help ring in our nation’s birthday in high style.

Buyers’ Guide to June 25th: Southern France

Claude Vialade Le Carla Special Reserve Colombard Sauvignon 2014

Domaine De La Baume Elisabeth Viognier 2014

Gérard Bertrand Gris Blanc Rosé 2015Gérard Bertrand 2015 Gris Blanc Rosé, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – As pale as pink can be, this stylish rosé is an ethereal blend of grenache gris and grenache noir. Light, elegant, delicately perfumed and a perfect match for summer. (Also available is party size 1500 mL)

Domaine de la Baume 2014 Elisabeth Viognier, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – A generous, fresh and surprisingly complex viognier for the price from Domaine de la Baume’s varietal series of wine.  Notes of white tea, dried lemon, lavender, honey, sweet pea and sage with some added viscosity due to several months ageing on its lees.

Claude Vialade 2014 Le Carla Special Reserve Colombard Sauvignon Blanc, IGP Côtes de Gascogne Blanc France ($15.95)
John Szabo – Among the Midi whites in the release, this snappy colombard-sauvignon blanc is the most appealing, a fresh, crisp, crunchy, green fruit-scented white, simple but enjoyable. Serve well chilled.

Domaine Des Terrisses 2012 Grande Tradition, Gaillac, France ($17.95)
John Szabo – This was one of the great discoveries of the release. Duras and braucol may not be household names, but they’re authentic southwestern French grapes to which syrah is added to create this nicely balanced, firm and authentic country red made by 7th generation winemakers. Acids and tannins find harmony, and everything is nicely pitched. All in all, it’s a really fine, complex and lengthy red wine punching far above its price category, for fans of old world balance and firmness. Also ageworthy.
Sara d’Amato – The southwestern AOC of Gaillac is located just north of Toulouse, bridging a gap between the Languedoc and southern Bordeaux and offers grapes common to both of these appellations. This particular blend is made from syrah, duras and braucol (fer servadou) with a great deal of character such as smoky, dusty herbs and sundried tomato alongside the ripe fruit on the palate.

Domaine Les Yeuses 2013 Les Épices Syrah, Pays d’Oc France ($15.95)
John Szabo – I don’t think this wine has ever not made my best buys list – it has always been, and remains, one of the best values in French syrah that has come through the LCBO. It has all of the radical cold cream and black pepper that one hopes for from old world style syrah, with fine density and weight, balanced acids, and lots of red and black berry fruit. Length is impressive, too. To buy by the case for summer BBQs.

Domaine Des Terrisses Grande Tradition Gaillac 2012Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2013 Mas Des Bressades Les Vignes De Mon Père Cabernet Syrah 2013 Cuvée Du Vatican Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012

Mas des Bressades 2013 Les Vignes de Mon Père Cabernet Syrah, Vin de Pays du Gard, France ($21.95)
John Szabo – For a more modern take on southern French red, here’s an impressive Provence-inspired Cabernet-Syrah blend, deeply coloured, deeply fruity, dark and satisfying. Tannins are ripe and firm, and length is excellent. Best 2016-2023.

Cuvée du Vatican 2012 Manus Dei Châteauneuf du Pape, Rhône, France ($38.95)
Sara d’Amato – The Manus Dei is the second label of Cuvée du Vatican now called Chateau Sixtine and is a blend of 60% grenache, 25% syrah and 15% mourvèdre. A refined expression of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with great ageing potential at a steal of a price.


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES June 25, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
All June 25 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!

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Sara’s VINTAGES Preview – Jun 11, 2016

Beat the heat with Bubbles
by Sara d’Amato

Sara's New Pic Med

Sara d’Amato

No better way to beat the heat than with a crisp, well-chilled glass of bubbly which is why this week’s VINTAGES sparkling wine feature has arrived in the nick of time. Sparkling wine is doubly refreshing due both to the high acid nature of these wines, a result of the underripe character of grapes sourced for sparkling wine, as well as the bright texture of the bubbles themselves. Thankfully this week you don’t have to overreach yourself on expensive Champagne as the offering is quite broad and includes many well priced and top quality sparklers – lucky you!

There are a few categories worthy of your attention that are highlighted in these selections. One that is top of mind for me, that I pay due attention to when travelling the world’s wine regions, is Charmat Method wine. I am always anxious to try these simpler wines of great value as the quality and number of offerings worldwide is on the increase. For you sophisticates who seek out Traditional/Champenoise Method wines, it is worth opening your prospects to these commonly thought of as “lesser wines” that encourage everyday enjoyment of sparkling wine. At accessible price points, these selections are worth your consideration.

Charmat method wines are distinctly different from those produced in the traditional method as these wines attain their bubbles by a second fermentation in a pressurized, sealed tank as opposed to in the bottle itself. The carbon dioxide is trapped and bubbles are formed in the tank as opposed to the bottle. Although there is contact with the lees that adds body, depth and flavour, contact overall is less. This lower cost, large production method can be done in a way that offers broad appeal and sometimes surprising complexity.


A memorable Charmat method wine in this release is the return of Benjamin Bridge’s Nova 7 Sparkling ($24.95) made from a blend of select muscat varieties, low in alcohol and widely appealing. Think of a local version of Moscato d’Asti with a great deal of character. Another fine example is Emiliana Organic Brut Sparkling ($15.95) – an organic wine at an accessible price due to its Charmat Method of production. Despite its non-traditional style, the sparkler exhibits great focus with obvious attention to detail from vine to finish. A terrific value, be sure to stock up for the warm weather ahead.

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 Sparkling 2014Emiliana Organic Brut Sparkling Creekside Backyard Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc 2013Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling 2014

We Canadians love sparkling wine and our local production has been experiencing wide international acclaim. Both Peller of Niagara’s Ice Cuvée and Henry of Pelham’s Cuvée Catharine (regular LCBO listings) were presented at this year’s Prowein, one of the world’s most important international wine shows. As Canada Day festivities approach, you may want to think about serving one of our local specialties. From this release there can be nothing more fitting than Creekside’s Backyard Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc ($24.95) – utterly refreshing and with pronounced sauvignon blanc character.



Another Canadiana option is Tawse 2014 Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling ($19.95). This Sekt-like sparkler offers impressive complexity at a steal of a price. This third vintage of the popular bubbly is now certified both organic and biodynamic and is perhaps the most interesting incarnation yet.

New world Traditional Method wines can offer terrific value and rival good quality entry level Champagne. Two such wines in this release are worthy of serious attention. First is Domaine Chandon’s Blanc de Noirs at $30.95. Not new to California, the renowned Champagne house established roots in Yountville in 1973. With grapes planted in top site in Yountville, Carneros and Mt. Veeder, Chandon has the ability to offer impressive quality sparklers with serious complexity.

Not to be missed is Graham Beck’s 2010 Brut Rosé ($21.95). Graham Beck is a pioneer of sparkling wine in South Africa and we see far too few of Beck’s wines come through VINTAGES. Made in the Cap Classique method (South African for Traditional Method), this sparkler offers a great degree of charm, smoky, earthy goodness and a voluminous palate.

Finally, the Old World is no slouch when it comes to serious sparklers but unfortunately, in this release, the offerings of Champagne are not particularly exciting. Therefore, save your money and look to more modest styles that are sure to surprise and captivate.

Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs Graham Beck Brut Rosé 2010 Bailly Lapierre Brut Crémant de Bourgogne Fantinel’s Extra Dry Prosecco Rotari Brut Rosé

The ever-consistent Bailly-Lapierre Brut Crémant de Bourgogne at $24.95 is a first-rate Blanc de Blancs style Traditional Method cuvée offering comforting brioche character from fine lees ageing. The most Champagne-esque of the release at half the price. Don’t miss out on this consumer favourite that is sure to sell out quickly.

Happily, a go-to refreshing sparkler Prosecco is recommended in this release. Wines from the DOCG region often offer more complexity and better balance than their DOC counterparts. Seeking out these DOCGs is usually an assurance of higher quality Prosecco. A surprising DOC example is Fantinel’s Extra Dry Prosecco at $16.95. A fun trivia fact: the term Classico, used in Italy to communicate that the grapes are sourced from the original delimited area of the appellation, cannot be used on Prosecco labels as it would cause too much confusion with the term “Classical Method” (not typical for Prosecco wines).

The prolific Trentino region, Italy’s most northerly wine region, is home to superior quality sparklers. This mountainous area comprised of high altitude vineyard sites is ideal territory for cool climate growing of high acid fruit. If you are curious to give these mountain wines a try, look for Rotari’s Brut Rosé ($17.95) made from pinot noir and chardonnay. Mid-weight and exuberant, this Traditional Method bubbly is sure to impress.

Sparkling wine from the mountains - Trentodoc

If you need a bit more fizz, check out Michael Godel’s mix below. Then stay tuned next week for David Lawrason’s Buyers Guide to zinfandel and other top picks from the June 11th release, with contributions from Michael and myself. In the meantime, Steve Thurlow recommends best values in the general list section of the LCBO perfect for summer barbecue season.


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES June 11, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Sparkling Mix
All June 11 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!

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Bonus Buyers’ Guide to New Zealand

Sustainability, Low Alcohol, the Rise of Rosé and Profiling Unique Sub-Appellations through Speed-Dating
By Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

The New Zealand Wine Fair’s 2016 Tiki Tour through major centers across the country made its final stop on Wednesday at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Never failing to draw a large crowd, this trade tasting attracts consumers, media and sommeliers alike. However, a peculiar invitation I received several weeks ago inviting me to speed-date several travelling winemakers was hard to pass up.

Several hours before the show, a select group of media arrived to be set up at individual tables across from seats that would soon be filled by a winery principal and their local representative agent. We were given 15 minutes of face time to get to know each winery. This forum not only gave us the opportunity for an impressively focused look into the ideology of a particular producer but helped paint a picture of the changing landscape of New Zealand wine. Four noteworthy points are worth sharing from this efficient and perspective changing hour: New Zealand’s unity when it comes to sustainable production, the low alcohol movement sweeping the nation, the importance of rosé and the desire to profile unique sub-appellations.

New Zealand is not a bulk wine producing nation, which is an important consideration when trying to get your head around the fact that 90% of the country’s wine is sustainably produced and another 5% is either biodynamically or organically focused, reports Whitehaven’s Simon Toneycliffe. Undeniably, New Zealand has a world leading sustainability program that is both standardized and certified. In addition, the country derives 70% of its power from renewable energy sources with a goal of 90% by 2025. Given the fact that there is no polluting land mass nearby and even the rain from Australia is barred from entering the country due to the Southern Alps, New Zealand is as clean as it gets.

In appurtenance to those impressive numbers, I was in admiration that so many producers were able to come to a unified conclusion that environmental impact was of utmost importance. When asked how this kind of overreaching consensus could have been reached, Te Pā’s haysley McDonald pointed out that both isolation and climatic conditions ripe for sustainability were most influential.

Low Alcohol
The idea behind the low alcohol movement is impressive and one which New Zealand’s government has invested nearly 20 million dollars to research and market. Obviously, health and safety is impacted but there is more depth to this investment, one that is banking on the global change in attitude towards lighter, more food friendly and most expressive wines. In this context, New Zealand is most favorably positioned.

The producer leading the low alcohol charge in New Zealand is that of Forrest Wines. Dr. John Forrest was my date #3 and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to monopolize his attention for 15 minutes. His research on the topic has been extensive and after many years, he has been able to establish a sound formula for mitigating the leanness of low alcohol wines. This valuable information has been widely shared within the country and has resulted in the production of relatively complex low alcohol wines with texture and mouthfeel. The majority of wineries support the initiative and more and more low alcohol wines are popping up in the market. Keep your eye out for wines that use the “low alcohol” term on their label or declare their alcohol percentage front and center.

More rosé appeared on the tables at the fair this year than I can ever remember. Toneycliffe of Whitehaven has noticed that rosé is on the rise in popularity within the country and there is a focus on pinot noir based examples which are dry and fresh in style. Here’s hoping we see an influx of those before the end of the summer!

Diversification is not just a trend in wine; it is one that is typically the result of a deeper understanding of terroir and sensitivity to the unique properties of defined parcels of land. It is a consequence of a region growing up and into itself.  The sub-appellations which we are beginning to see appear on the labels of NZ wines are not particularly recent but are now comfortably exported. Over the course of the hour, I was especially intrigued by the premium growing region of Bridge Pā in Hawke’s Bay, producing exceptional syrah such as that of Ngatarawa, and the Wairau Valley of Marlborough producing more fleshy, slightly tropical examples of sauvignon blanc such as those of Te Pā.

Profiles of the four “dates” are listed below: 

Te Pā Family Ltd 

Te Pā Family LtdTe Pā is the oldest family estate in New Zealand but was planting potatoes until 2003. Proprietor Haysley MacDonald sees a growing demand for diversification within the realm of New Zealand sauvignon blanc and favours promoting regional differences.

The ocean flanked site in the Wairu is very fertile which would have originally dissuaded producers from vinifera growth here. However, it turns out that the nitrogen rich soil gives more structure and weight to the wines. Expressive single vineyard sauvignon blanc is the hallmark of Te Pā whose characteristic style is riper and more tropical than most would expect from Marlborough.

Try: Te Pā Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Marlborough ($19.95)


WhitehavenGeneral Manager Simon Toneycliffe also recognizes the importance of defining sub-regions and produces both single vineyard styles of sauvignon blanc with unique expression, experimental versions and cross-regional wines of character. Wild yeast and some oak usage has been experimentally successful thus far. A 100% pinot noir rosé will hopefully nudge its way into our shelves before long. Due to demand, the range of Whitehaven wines has been steadily increasing to better express the diversity of Marlborough. Low alcohol approach is generally but not explicitly taken.

Try: Whitehaven Rosé 2015, Marlborough

Forrest Wines

Forrest WinesLow alcohol style from “The Doctor’s” line of wines has set the innovative Forrest Winery apart. Owned by Dr. John Forrest, it is a leader in research and innovation and is known for having been a great instigator in the screw cap closure movement that subsequently swept the nation. Dr. Forrest has noticed that low alcohol wines tend to age better and longer than their standard counterparts. Look for “The Doctor” line of low alcohol wines in the upcoming May 30th release.

Try: Forrest Estate The Doctors’ Pinot Noir 2015, Marlborough


NgatarawaEstablished in 1981, is one of the oldest families in New Zealand wine, previously making wine in Lebanon. The winery was named after the famous racing stable now part of the winemaking facilities in their Hawke’s Bay home. The region is known for a slow growing season moderated by maritime influences. The wines are soft and approachable but with great depth. John Mackinder of Ngatarawa also supports the low alcohol initiative and produces 10% of crop in this fashion. The pinot noir and the northern Rhone-like syrah are worth particular attention and are surprisingly expressive.

Try: Ngatarawa 2015 Stables Syrah, Hawke’s Bay

New Zealand was also the mini feature of the May 14th VINTAGES release. John has already highlighted his favourite sauvignon blanc in his VINTAGES Preview, so listed below are the additional picks from the rest of the team.

New Zealand May 14th Buyers’ Guide
with notes from Sara d’Amato, David Lawrason & Michael Godel

3 Stones Premium Selection Pinot Gris 2015, Marlborough ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – Dry and elegant with great purity of fruit and a salty, mineral edge. Widely appealing but still quite complex and ponder-worthy.

Te Pā Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Marlborough ($19.95)
Michael Godel – After tasting the winery’s Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc back in 2014 I wrote “If Te Pā can find a way to get their wines into VINTAGES stores, I will buy them by the case and hand them out on Halloween as adult treats.” Why wait for October?
David Lawrason – This is intense, almost searing sauvignon blanc hails from sea level vineyards on a sand bar where the Wairau River meets Cloudy Bay.  Expect complex passion fruit, persimmon, green pepper and lime cordial aromas. Chill well.

3 Stones Premium Selection Pinot Gris 2015 Te Pā Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2013 Thornbury Pinot Noir 2014 Elephant Hill Le Phant 2014

Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2013, Central Otago ($29.95)
Michael Godel – This is a characterful, high-toned and slightly rustic Pinot Noir from Kim Crawford’s Small Parcels program in Central Otago. It will begin to show its best just around the bend.

Thornbury 2014 Pinot Noir, Central Otago ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This is not as structured and deep as the top Otago pinots but it does show the deeper colour and ripe black cherry fruit of the region, framed by oak vanillin, spice and smoke.  Nothing dramatic but it nicely expresses NZ pinot charm, freshness and has drinkable appeal.
Sara d’Amato – Thornbury produces wines over 5 regions on the north and south Islands. This zesty, peppery example from Central Otago shows less characteristic weight and more finesse.

Elephant Hill 2014 Le Phant, Hawke’s Bay ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – A rich and savory blend of merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon harvested from Gimblett, Te Awanga and Triangle vineyards. A captivating and stylish wine from a solid producer.
David Lawrason – This is an unusual but effective blend of cabernet, merlot and syrah, with the latter delivering peppery, meaty character. The fruit is quite ripe cherry and the oak is very notable, with chocolaty, smoky character. It’s quite smooth and supple, for current drinking.


Sara d’Amato

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – New Zealand Sauvignon, A Volcanic Duo & More
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES to Their Favourites, Our Favourites
All May 14th Reviews

Celebrating New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

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!

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – May 14, 2016

Their Favourites, Our Favourites
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The May 14 release features 23 “Customer Favourites”, as selected by VINTAGES without any explanation of the reasoning. One can only assume they have impressive sales history – but this is not explained to us in the magazine. Do you need to know? Maybe not, but there is comfort and sway in buying something others consider favourites. We go our own way to present our picks, and explain why (hint, quality/price relationship is a rather critical element).

John has been travelling in recent days and will return with his top smart buys in next week’s report, which will also focus on New Zealand and include a report by Sara d’Amato on the New Zealand wine fairs being held in Ottawa (May 9) and Toronto (May 11 – sold out).

So right to it with our release highlights, with a reminder that you can click on David Lawrason, Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel to see the complete list of our most recent reviews.

The Whites

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Blanc 2015, Costières De Nîmes, France ($17.95)
Michael Godel – Unctuous floral white blend in which viognier lifts grenache blanc, marssanne and roussanne. Really special vintage from Mr. Marès – the most ethereal yet.
David Lawrason – This is a very fine southern French white blend. Lovely aromas of orange blossom, star fruit, lychee and wood. Quite creamy but not overblown with some fine acidity. A summer patio winner. Great value.

Rodney Strong 2013 Chalk Hill Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Sonoma is California’s bastion for refined chardonnay, and for many vintages now Rodney Strong’s Chalk Hill has been a classic motif of the genre. This is a very elegant and complex chardonnay with lovely scents of vanilla, orange Creamsicle, Crème brûlée, spice and tobacco. Priced well for the quality delivered.

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Blanc 2015Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2013 Bischofliche Weingüter Trier Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett 2013 Gehringer Brothers Classic Riesling 2014

Bischofliche Weingüter Trier Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett 2013, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany ($23.95)
Michael Godel – This is a ripe to ripping off-dry wow release with a searing tang. Wait and watch it develop for many years.

Gehringer Brothers 2014 Classic Riesling, British Columbia ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – Brothers Gordon and Walter have trained in top institutions in Germany and bring their riesling expertise to Okanagan’s Golden Mile Bench. Their focus for several decades has been on aromatic whites from dry to Icewine. This particular riesling shows a real respect for terroir exhibiting riper characteristics and more of an unctuous quality than your typical Mosel brand but still retains a lively vein of acidity keeping it balanced and focused.


Louis Bernard Tavel Rosé 2015

Rollier De La Martinette Rosé 2015

Fielding Rosé 2015Fielding Rosé 2015, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Quietly Fielding has become one of the leading Niagara wineries for offering expertly made, good value VQA wines. This is a beautifully composed, balanced and fresh rosé with just the right acid-sugar balance. Sip all summer long.
Michael Godel – Some rosé just rubs the wrong way. At first sniff and sip you just know this Fielding ’15 is not one of those. In its fresh and spritely youth this is one of the most pleasurable rosés from Ontario.

Rollier De La Martinette 2015 Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France  ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Whiter Shades of Pink seems to be the new anthem for serious producers of rosé around the world, and they are looking to Provence for inspiration. This very pale Provencal rosé packs more flavour intensity than its appearance suggests. The nose shows subtle, pure sour cherry/currant fruit, rosewater, grapefruit and herbs. It’s mid-weight, firm and dry with a warm, spicy finish. A dinner wine.

Louis Bernard 2015 Tavel Rosé, Rhône, France ($21.95) (450833)
Sara d’Amato – It’s not spring without a great rosé and this classic Tavel fits the bill. To call it bottled Provence is a bit romantic but it certainly exudes typical notes of lavender and wild herbs. The fruit is nicely concentrated and there is a slight tannic edge that makes it suitable for pairing with red meat.


Domaine Courbis St Joseph 2013

Joie Farm Pinot Noir 2013

Viewpointe Focal Pointe Cabernet Franc 2010Viewpointe 2010 Focal Pointe Cabernet Franc, Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Lake Erie North Shore is the warmest VQA region in Ontario, well suited to reds made from Bordeaux varieties. We see too few prime examples! This is a quite substantial, complex and deep cab franc that is maturing into prime time but holding some vitality. Expect lifted aromas of red currants, raspberry, wood smoke, capers and spice. Scores on depth and complexity.
Michael Godel – Wine Country Ontario’s Lake Erie North Shore appellation flashes onto the radar here with Viewpointe’s very youthful and soulful 2010 Cabernet Franc. A huge accomplishment and so worth the side trip.

Joie Farm Pinot Noir 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Despite a challenging vintage in the Okanagan, this more delicate style of pinot noir is not short on complexity or length. Very expressive with great definition and real purity of fruit – for pinot noir traditionalists.
Michael Godel – A dark berry and mineral pinot noir that will drink well for five years or more though I’m not sure there can be any reason to wait.

Domaine Courbis St Joseph 2013, Rhône, France ($36.95)
Michael Godel – Note the deft touch and dearth structure from this powerful yet elegant northern Rhône syrah. So much berry and tannin, with everything structure requires in between.

Pierre Amadieu 2013 Romane Machotte Gigondas, Rhône, France ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – The wines of Pierre Amadieu are widely recognized as having a “Burgundian” appeal and focus on balance, respect for terroir and purity of fruit rather than boldness, power or muscle. There is no heaviness here in this 2013 incarnation but certainly a great deal of flavour and focus. Pepper and Provençal garrigue add a great deal of charm and typicity to this blend.

Tüzkö 2012 Cabernet Franc, Tolna, Hungary ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Under the management of the Antinori family, Tuzko Estate produces noteworthy whites along really interesting reds such as this unexpected find. Interestingly, the rolling hills of Pannon surrounding Bátaapáti in Tolna are said to resemble those of Tuscany.  The pleasant cool herbal notes compliment the fruit on the palate while the firm tannins give this cabernet franc structure and longevity. Excellent value.

Pierre Amadieu Romane Machotte Gigondas 2013Tuzko Cabernet Franc 2012 Rendola Rosso Di Montalcino 2009 Fabre Montmayou Gran Reserva Malbec 2012

Rendola 2009 Rosso Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($15.95)
David Lawrason – At this price grab a handful for everyday drinking with your favourite Italian dishes, or to sip with mild, firm cheeses. From a ripe, softer vintage, this has evolved to prime, and has developed lovely of sweet cherry/tomato fruit, cedar, dried rosemary and licorice aromas. Smooth, warm and delicious if not deep.

Fabre Montmayou 2012 Gran Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Here is an impressive, beefy and complex malbec that I would cellar for future grilling events. It is approachable now but has the structure to live well into the next decade. It’s full bodied, fairly dense and juicy with considerable alcohol, but dense fruit, licorice and intriguing vermouth-like spices carry the day.

And that’s a wrap for this week. Tune in next time for the up and down, north and south of New Zealand. If you need an excuse to have a glass of wine today, you should know that it’s International Sauvignon Blanc Day. Just use the hashtag #SauvBlanc and you’ll be sharing in good company from around the world.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 14, 2016

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix
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!

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buy The Case: The Vine’s Hidden Gems

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

Buy the CaseIn this regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report. Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines. 

For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here

The Vine Agency

Sometimes we fantasize about Ontario being populated with fine wine shops owned by some of the top wine importers and Ontario wineries – people who love wine, select their portfolio’s with pride, and sell them with diligence and the utmost in customer service. While there are many “agencies” that we can envision in this role, we suspect that The Vine Agency would end up being among the most popular and successful. Owner Rob Groh founded The Vine with the goal of bringing Ontario wine drinkers and restaurateurs a fine selection of wines from Italy and California (primarily). We tasted a selection of new arrivals for this feature, and it was a delightful experience.

The Vines mantra (taken from their website) is “Authenticity, Distinction, Character” and for a glimpse into how this is achieved consider their approach to their relationship with their suppliers. “When we take on representation, our view is long term. Because we insist on the highest standards, we visit the wineries and get to know the people. We look for relationships where we connect both personally and professionally, and only work with those who meet these criteria”. We suspect they deal with their customers with similar sincerity and thoroughness.

Sometimes you buy a product because it is specifically the product you want; sometimes because you like and trust the store. Here are our critics picks from current Consignment offerings at The Vine.

Podere le Boncie Le Trame 2012, Tuscany, Italy ($59.95)

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni Le Torri 2010

Podere Le Boncie Le Trame 2012Michael Godel – Giovanna Morganti makes Le Trame, from southeastern Tuscany in San Felice just outside of Castelnuovo Beradenga. It is essentially Chianti Classico but labeled IGT, known as “the intrigues” and that it surely is. It will drink into longevity up there with some of the best Brunello, Vino Nobile and Gran Selezione. A Cellaring Wine
John Szabo
– Fans of elegant/delicate sangiovese should line up for this gorgeous example, organically/biodynamically farmed in the heart of Chianti Classico. It’s elegant, an expression of pure finesse, all ripe and vibrant red berry fruit flavoured, exhaling faded roses and spice. A supremely pretty wine with soaring grace all in all, to enjoy now or forget for a decade.
David Lawrason – This is an estate grown sangiovese with great energy and fruit depth. Balanced to drink now but will stretch beyond 2020. It is available in six packs, so just go for it. It is so good that you might regret splitting it with friends. It’s also an ideal size for trying it out on a wine list.
Sara d’Amato – An authentic Tuscan blend from an organically farmed vineyard planted at high density. Predominantly wild yeast fermented sangiovese, this sophisticated find is absolutely captivating. Drink on its own but best with roasted pork.

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni 2010 ‘Le Torri’ Rosso Piceno Superiore, Marche, Italy(21.95)

John Szabo – A leading estate from Le Marche, Cocci-Grifoni’s montepulciano-sangiovese blend is an engaging, dark, earthy-spice, roasted coffee, and bitter chocolate flavoured red, succulent and satisfying. It’s a big and robust mouthful of wine perfect for big cuts of roasted/grilled meat.
David Lawrason – It’s a bit rustic and may not appeal to all tastes – so I would be wary of buying for by-the-glass pours or occasions where you don’t know your guests tastes. But this is delicious in its way; ready to drink and a great match for stews. Buy a case for autumn and winter drinking and split with like-minded friends. Great value from one of the best estates of the region.
Steve Thurlow – This is quite delicious with a delicate nose of black cherry fruit with mineral, herbal and spicy notes. It is complex on the palate also with the delicate fruit finely balanced by soft acidity and gentle tannin. This is ready for fine dining with roast meats or bold mature cheese. Buy a case and enjoy a bottle from time to time over the next few years.

La Mozza I Perazzi Morellino di Scansano 2014, Tuscany, Italy ($24.95)

Valdibella Kerasos Nero D'avola 2014

La Mozza I Perazzi Morellino Di Scansano 2014Michael Godel – One of the freshest and most exciting examples of Morellino di Scansano to come across the consignment channels of the Ontario market. A project of Mario Batali and the Bastianich family, this is one of the best examples of humble decadence in their portfolio. Should very much be considered when bringing tutta la famiglia al tavolo. Consider wine pooling.
David Lawrason – From a modern estate in the southwest corner of Maremma this good value is a blend 85% Morellino (the local name for Sangiovese in Maremma), 5% Syrah, 5% Alicante, 2% Colorino and 3% Ciliegiolo. Sangiovese turns in a riper, darker performance in this area, with a certain plushness and richness. But it’s also quite lively and fresh. It could be my Tuscan house wine, or a decent pour by the glass in an Italian restaurant.

Valdibella 2014 Kerasos Nero d’Avola, Sicily, Italy (19.95)

John Szabo – Here’s a particularly lovely, lively, floral and vibrant version of nero d’Avola, organically grown. I love the energy and tension, the vibrancy and genuine flavour concentration. Dark spice, earth and ash flavours linger.
Michael Godel – Truly modern Sicily here from Valdibella, a.k.a. the “cherry tree”. Its wide ranging flavours make it a limitless match for so many different foods and because it’s amenably virtuous in so many ways. Restaurant pour by the glass. 

Château de Saint Cosme 2013 Gigondas, Rhône, France($57.95)

Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Chateau De Saint Cosme Gigondas 2013David Lawrason – Of all the Cotes du Rhône villages Gigondas often produces wines with the most finesse. Power too, but there is a textural evenness thanks to limestone marl in the soils. It becomes Chateauneuf-like, and is priced in that realm as well. But still good value for fans of southern Rhône. It comes in a six-pack, ideal for a home or restaurant cellar.
John Szabo
– Saint Cosme has crafted a savoury grenache-based masterpiece here in 2013, massively concentrated, but not heavy, structured and full of black pepper and spice. This has enough of an acid lift to keep fruit and spice focused, with abundant but fine and dusty tannins that lend grip. I’d love to see this again in another 3-5 years; there’s more than enough stuffing to see this blossom.
Sara d’Amato – A very old, revered and consistent producer. Grenache and very peppery syrah make up the majority of this spirited and well structured blend. Many great Gigondas keep step with the best of Chateauneuf du Pape and here is a spot-on example.
Steve Thurlow – There is great finesse to this wine with a very fresh pure yet complex nose of black cherry fruit with some sweet herbs a hint of licorice and a floral hint. It is midweight and delicate on the palate with the fruit well balanced by acidity and fine tannin. Excellent length.

Von Strasser Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California (89.95)

John Szabo – This is another terrific vintage from Rudy von Strasser, making the most of his superb volcanic terroir on Diamond Mountain. It’s a classic Napa ‘mountain’ cabernet, which is to say dark and swarthy, ripe and firmly structured to be sure, with serious depth and length, and significant black fruit extract. Broad shouldered but flexible, this has all angles covered, best after 2018.
David Lawrason – This has terrific presence and structure with lifted aromas of blackcurrant, green cedar/conifer, earth, mineral and dusty, spicy oak – all well integrated. It’s full bodied with some heat and tannin to be sure, but fine acidity as well. The focus and length are excellent. I would age it another three years to calm the tannin. Best 2019 to 2030. Split a case with cab collecting friends.

Groth Hillview Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, California ($56.95)

De Conciliis Selim Spumante Brut

Groth Hillview Vineyard Chardonnay 2014Michael Godel – From a 44-acre Yountville vineyard founded in 1982 and (mostly) re-planted in 1996. This is a perfect and prime example of all the right directions Napa Chardonnay has taken in the last 10 years, with kudos to Suzanne Groth for embracing the ideal, from restraint, for elegance and in balance. Gifting Wine.
Sara d’Amato – If you are suffering chardonnay fatigue, this ought to spice things up! Whole cluster pressed, fermented in fine French oak but offering youthfully exuberant fruit. A chardonnay worth its weight in coin.
Steve Thurlow – This is a beautiful classic California chardonnay that’s fine now but will improve in integration and complexity with a few more years in the cellar. Expect aromas of pineapple and cantaloupe melon, with smoky, nutty and buttery tones with hints of caramel. It is full bodied but feels slimmer due to soft lemony acidity. Excellent length.
David Lawrason – This is a very classy, rich and well honed chardonnay that’s delicious now but could also age nicely for five years. Agree with Michael that it would be a great gift item for chardonnay fans, or introducing casual California chardonnay drinkers to the real thing!

De Concilis Selim Spumante Brut, Campania, Italy ($32.95)

Sara d’Amato – Here is something you don’t come across that often, a tank method sparkler from Campania based on local fiano and aglianico grapes. Pricey for a curio find but the result of this winemaking effort is most definitely rewarding. Available in a six bottle case.

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

This report was sponsored by The Vine Agency. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. The Vine has provided the following agency profile.

About The Vine Agency

The Vine AgencySince we took the leap to start The Vine in 2000, our goal has never been to be the biggest, most all-encompassing wine agency in the province or the country. Instead, we set out to offer a focused selection of wines that reflect our personal taste and interests. We believe that smaller wineries – estate oriented and family-owned – provide the best source of characterful wines that deserve our attention. We also place a high value on trust: yours.

To that end, we strive to deliver outstanding customer service, trustworthy recommendations and informed conversation. But ultimately, the portfolio speaks for itself – this is a collection of great wines, selected and supported by people who know the people behind the wines. Most of the winery owners we represent in Ontario are people we are proud to consider friends.

Join our Mailing List

If you wish to have your name added to our mailing list (to be notified of featured wines, tastings or events) please call 416-693-7994, email or write to The Vine, 105 – 625 Queen St. East, Toronto ON M4M 1G4

All the wines are sold in cases of 12 bottles, unless noted otherwise. Unfortunately, mixed cases are not possible due to LCBO regulations. We quote prices per bottle, excluding
Refundable Bottle Deposit. HST is included in Retail prices. Delivery charges may apply.

Nobody home to receive your delivery? No problem – just give us 36 hour’s notice — we’ll have your wine ready for drive-by pick-up. You’ll barely have to slow down. Our office is on Queen St. East, immediately opposite the ramp to northbound DVP. Call as you drive up, we’ll run your wine out to the car, and load it in while you stay warm & dry.



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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – April 30, 2016

Global Chardonnays, Springtime finds and What it takes to be The World’s Best Sommelier
By Sara d’Amato with notes from David, John and Michael

Click here for more from Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

From Tasmania to Washington to the Côtes de Provence, there are so many gems in this weekend’s release that we each had difficultly narrowing down our top five picks. Thankfully John Szabo covered the two main features of this VINTAGES release, that of the Pacific Northwest and rosés last week. In addition to those spotlights, this release offers a substantial selection of quality wines from both BC and Ontario as well as very fine global chardonnays of which we have several double alignments. An out-of-this-world Chilean sauvignon blanc was also successful in charming more than one of our palates.

Although some interesting rosé finds from the south of France where previously highlighted, we couldn’t resist recommending a few more from this twelve bottle springtime release. Hoping for warm days ahead, you’ll find plenty of fresh, nervy offerings to tantalize your senses as well as some rich, comforting reds in case the beau temps doesn’t arrive.

Buyers’ Guide to Whites & Rosés

Quinta de Couselo 2014 O Rosal, Rías Baixas, Spain ($23.95)
David Lawrason – The albarino-based whites of Spain’s northwest Galician coast can range from dull and weak to overly tropical and blowsy. I like them somewhere between these two extremes, as delivered here. The property once belonged to Cistercian monks but it has been a family winery since 1864, and there is a sense of this pedigree in the bottle. It is a lovely example of Rias Baixas – elegant, a touch floral, complex and well balanced.
John Szabo – A serious version of Rias Baixas, crisp, crunchy, bone dry, genuinely concentrated and richly flavoured. I like the lick of white pepper (“stony, mineral”), and the sharp, well-chiselled acids.

McGuigan 2015 Bin 9000 Semillon, Hunter Valley, New South Wales Australia ($14.95)
John Szabo – Hardly a wine of earth-shattering complexity, but this fits the bill for fans of crisp, bright, saliva-inducing unoaked whites, simple but highly quaffable, ready to enjoy. Think of it as a dry riesling/unoaked chardonnay sort of wine, at a nice price.

Josef Chromy 2014 Pepik Chardonnay, Tasmania, Australia ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – A crisp but leesy chardonnay with a northern Burgundian feel. The vibrant, floral and delicate flavours of cool climate chardonnay are beautifully expressed here.
John Szabo – Chromy makes a fine representation of cool Tasmanian terroir, zesty and lively, unoaked, and bearing more than a passing resemblance to Chablis. It’s all citrus and green apple fruit, enlivened by tight acids and a pinch of CO2 on the palate. An ideal oyster/patio sipping, aperitif wine.

Quinta De Couselo O Rosal 2014McGuigan Bin 9000 Semillon 2015 Josef Chromy Pepik Chardonnay 2014 Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2014

Norman Hardie 2014 Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($39.00)
Sara d’Amato – Norm’s Niagara chardonnay offers more plumpness than its County’s counterpart without sacrificing elegance, verve and focus. Drink now and don’t chill excessively.
Michael Godel – It’s hard not to compare Norman Hardie’s Niagara Chardonnay side by side with his County-grown and produced estate counterpart but this much I know. A Hardie Niagara Chardonnay is meant to be enjoyed in its early youth. This 2014 is so good right now.

Vignerons de Buxy Les Chaniots Montagny 1er Cru 2013, Burgundy, France ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – A real steal, this chardonnay from the white only appellation of Montagny in the Cote Chalonnaise is skillfully produced with terrific intensity and structure. Despite its technical correctness, it still offers an abundance of ready-to-drink pleasure.

Montes 2015 Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc, Zapallar Coast, Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($19.95)
Michael Godel – This is an exciting hyperbole of Chile, a Sauvignon Blanc from the coast with wild flavours and singing aromatics. Job well done with this newly directed Montes.
John Szabo – The Zapallar D.O. is a new, cool coastal region in Chile pioneered by Aurelio Montes on the far out Pacific coast at the end of the Aconcagua Valley. And this is very pungent and zesty sauvignon to be sure, like jalapeño purée with lime zest and lemon juice, all good things, offering good density and weight.

Vignerons De Buxy Les Chaniots Montagny 1er Cru 2013 Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Domaine Maby La Forcadière Tavel Rosé 2015 Gassier Sables D'azur Rosé 2015 Villa Maria Private Bin Rose 2015

Domaine Maby La Forcadière Tavel Rosé 2015, Rhône, France $18.95 (701318)
Sara d’Amato – Longing for hot, sunny days, this most sophisticated of French rosé appellations is a terrific way to take a mental vacation. A spot on, very distinctive Tavel offering rich colour, a dry palate and some tannic presence giving it the ability to stand up to meat such as pork and lamb.

Gassier 2015 Sables d’Azur Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France ($15.95)
Michael Godel – Consistently and unquestionably pure and classically reasoned Rosé from Gassier. A dictionary entry rendering from Provence.

Villa Maria Private Bin Rosé 2015, East Coast, New Zealand ($17.95)
Michael Godel – Villa Maria produces one New Zealand’s most consistent portfolios across a wide range of whites and reds. It is no surprise to see the same high quality with this lively Rosé. It possesses palpable aridity and true red fruit aromas.

Buyers’ Guide to Reds

Featherstone 2013 Red Tail Merlot, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A red blend that is ageing remarkably still with an abundance of fresh fruit and a plump, fleshy palate. Offers everything an affable textbook merlot should including flavours of Christmas cake, chocolate and deep plummy fruit.

Le Gravillas 2014 Plan de Dieu Côtes du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Known for fairly average wines, Plan de Dieu can surprise every once and awhile. Due to lack of wide recognition, this southern Rhône region offers approachable pricing. Lavender, tapenade, black pepper and sundried tomatoes evoke Provence and its sunny warmth.

Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2013 Le Gravillas Plan De Dieu Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2014 Lamadrid Single Vineyard Reserva Malbec 2012 Pata Negra Reserva 2010 Tenuta di Capraia Chianti Classico 2013

Lamadrid 2012 Single Vineyard Reserva Malbec, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina ($17.00)
David Lawrason – One of my main beefs about Argentine malbecs is that many are released too soon, and come across as too blunt and coarse. This is still youthfully tannic but it is also fresh and juicy with lifted mulberry, herbs and graphite aromas and flavours. But the real attraction was the very good concentration for the money. The length surprised me.  The style immediately suggested a barbecue.

Pata Negra 2010 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($17.00)
David Lawrason – There is a very traditional school of winemaking in Rioja that reveres textural richness and length, even if the flavours are not bright and fruity. Indeed some can be downright farmy.  This maturing example is chock full of cured meat, leather, peppery spice and cedar but so smooth and complex. Very impressive depth of flavour for the money and great balance.

Tenuta Di Capraia 2013 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($21.95)
Michael Godel – Red fruit forward, leather and spice. These are the hallmark characteristics of classic, charming Chianti. This is Capraia’s 2013. A six days a week Chianti Classico.

Tabalí Reserva Especial Syrah, Limarí Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – From an underrated, emerging Pacific cooled region well north of Santiago, this is a deep, dark syrah with quite lifted aromas of tar, licorice, stewed blackcurrant/cherry fruit. I would like to see a bit more linearity and finesse but it is very impressive in terms of flavour depth, complexity and genuine syrah-ness.

Tabali Reserva Especial Syrah 2012 De Grendel Shiraz 2013 Château Bouscassé Vieilles Vignes 2006 Sordo Rocche Di Castiglione Riserva Barolo 2008

De Grendel 2013 Shiraz, Coastal Region, South Africa  ($24.95).
David Lawrason – Syrah/shiraz is the most exciting red from the Cape nowadays. I had several stunning examples on a recent visit.  This is from a vineyard in the Durbanville Hills only 7kms from and 200 metres above the cold Atlantic Ocean. It is a classic with all kinds of complexity, verve and depth. The ferrous minerality and acidity is very mindful of the northern Rhone, and it boasts amazing complexity and depth for the money.

Château Bouscassé 2006 Vieilles Vignes Madiran, France ($38.95)
John Szabo – This is clearly a superior, ambitious wine of class and pedigree, from the sister property of regional leader Château Montus. At this stage it’s pretty much fully mature, with a taste reminiscent of porcini mushroom broth – a big hit of umami. Yet it’s also still very structured, tannic even, with puckering astringency, so serve with assorted salty protein dishes. Terrific length and complexity overall. Best 2016-2026.

Sordo 2008 Rocche di Castiglione Riserva Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($49.95)
John Szabo – A fine and savoury, now nicely mature nebbiolo from the village of Castiglione Falletto, crafted in a rather classic style, complete with leathery and tarry red fruit, liquorice, dried herbs and more. The palate is medium-full bodied, filling and washing over the taste buds, with excellent length, depth and complexity. Best 2016-2025.


The World’s Best Sommelier

He’s Swedish, 31 and loves hip-hop music. The title of World’s Best Sommelier was bestowed upon the unconventional Arvid Rosengren this month in Mendoza, Argentina. Fifty-six countries participated in this “Olympics of Wine” including our Canadian champion, Elyse Lambert of Quebec.

What does it take to achieve this most coveted of titles? Over the course of five days, the competitors are whittled down to 15 and then to 3 finalists. Rigorous theory exams, blind tasting and identification of spirits and wines, locating errors in wine lists, pouring a magnum of Champagne into 15 different shaped glasses, menu pairing and convincing a table of guests to buy expensive wine are among the many tasks. All of this must be diligently and calmly performed in a timed setting in front of thousands of of spectators in a language other than your mother tongue.


The fifteen semi finalists of the Best Sommelier of the World Contest Argentina 2016

It is not unusual for competitors to train five to ten years for this very competition. All candidates are national champions before they are offered a seat on the world stage. This year, three of the top five finalists were women including Elyse Lambert. A substantial Canadian delegation attended the competition made up of members of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, a national organization with chapters in BC, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and the Atlantic provinces. Celebrated winemakers and great supporters of Canadian Sommeliers, Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling (producers of both Sperling Wines and Versado among others) offered their Mendozian home to Canadian delegates over the course of the week.

The results are clear, Canada has a wealth of talent and our sommeliers rank among the world’s best. This international recognition of our Canada’s wine savvy community is the reason it has been chosen as the location for the Pan American Best Sommelier Challenge in 2018 which will take place in Montreal. Raise a glass to those who make a living serving others, and in particular, making sure that we are only served the best of wine!


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES April 30, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s Smart Buys
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!

Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Chardonnay 2012

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008