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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 5, Part One

Fudging Sweetness: Notes from the New World
By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Without VINTAGES having a specific theme for the Sept 5 catalogue, we have decided to create our own themes for this release.  I make some New World recommendations this week, while John will lead off with European wines next week. That sounded like a straightforward assignment until I came to actually search for my best buy values. While I found some excellent whites, I discovered that there was only one New World red that makes the cut – the good ole’ Faithful Hound from South Africa. The dearth of value picks is partially explained by the fact there are no Australian reds being released, which is very odd. As well, there are only a handful of South American and South African reds. But the real reason for the absence of New World red values rests squarely on the strong core of American wines.

There are 15 American reds on the release – from California, Oregon and Washington. And there are some excellent wines, which Sara has pointed out. But none make my value cut because their prices are high (perhaps thanks to the weak Canadian dollar) and in many cases their quality suffers because of excessive sweetness.

Sweetness in lower priced/commercial American reds is nothing new. Most California reds on the LCBO’s general list have some perceptible sweetness. But I am discouraged that it is creeping into more expensive wines, and moving from California into Washington, in particular, and even into Oregon’s pinot noirs. Let alone into other countries.

It is obvious that American consumers, and many Canadian consumers for that matter, like sweet reds. They sell very well. I have always believed in the idea that ‘there is no wrong or right about what wines you like’; but as a critic who is supposed to be providing an objectively derived opinion on quality, it’s clear to me that excessive sweetness lowers quality – just as excessive alcohol, acidity or tannin lowers quality. It is a question of imbalance, of sweetness making the wines too thick, soft and soupy. They miss that key element of refreshment that underlies all great table wines and makes any wine “drinkable” through more than a few sips. It can also dumb down or mask varietal and regional expression.

It really is a matter of how sweet is sweet on a wine by wine basis. I am in the lucky position of being able to examine this wine by wine, but most consumers are not. There is usually no label indication that there is sweetness/sugar in red wines; one has to read into code words on back labels like ‘smooth’, ‘velvety’ and ‘fruity”. Why isn’t the industry brave and honest enough to call them what they are – sweet reds? Because the industry knows people like sweetness but would rather be perceived to be drinking dry (perhaps because we know a balanced dry wine is better?).

Eleven of the 15 American wines in VINTAGES catalogue are categorized on the LCBO’s official Perceived Sweetness Scale as D or Dry. The other four are categorized as Extra Dry. Which I guess means that Dry doesn’t really mean dry. In any event, in 13 of the 15 reds – including those labeled as Extra Dry – I perceived some sweetness – from the egregious sweetness of Conundrum, to more subtle sweetness in a wine like the very good Hess Select Cabernet (at $24.95 the only one to come close to being recommended on value). The two wines that taste clearly dry are the great Ridge 2012 Montebello ($190) and Grgich Hills 2012 Zinfandel ($49.95), but neither are good value. The LCBO often lists the actual grams of sugar per litre on their shelf tags and on their website, if you want to dig a little deeper.

Here are our picks:

California and New World Reds

Chateau Montelena 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, ($70.95)
Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 2012 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Sara d’Amato – Although this traditional beauty has seen a considerable increase in price over the past year, it has not faltered in its characteristic refinement and elegance. This very old world style evokes the delicacy of the wines of Margaux on Bordeaux’s left bank. If you’re thinking along this vein then the price might seem just right.

Ridge Vineyards 2012 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains, California, ($190.95)
Sara d’Amato – There is no great value here but Ridge’s Monte Bello site, located in the upper elevations of the Santa Cruz Mountains, consistently produces stunning results. Its cooler site gives the wine unusual elegance, a distinctly mineral component and a savory tartness that provides both energy to the palate and great potential longevity.

Hess Select 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino/Lake/Napa Counties, California, ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – This the best value of the Californians in this VINTAGES release and a consumer favourite. I especially appreciated the honesty, generosity and the dry, un-manipulated feel of this solid find.

The Hilt 2012 The Vanguard Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, California, ($64.95)
Swartland Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound 2012 The Hilt The Vanguard Pinot Noir 2012Sara d’Amato – Santa Rita Hills is a very special place for cool climate varietals, in particular, pinot noir. The vineyards are in relative close proximity to the ocean that blows in cool breezes and sweeping fog. This climatic influence gives the grapes of this southerly region freshness and delicacy. Dried leaf, musk and peppery spice enhance the juicy cherry fruit on the palate of this old world inspired but distinctly southern Californian pinot noir.

Mulderbosch 2012 Faithful Hound, Western Cape, South Africa ($20.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very impressive, dense and complex blend of six Bordeaux varieties with cab sauv and franc adding up to 50%. It is certainly ripe but it has impressive tension, complexity and depth at this price; with some Cape granitic minerality and herbaceousness. A classic example of the Old World-New World yin & yang of many South African reds.

Swartland Winery 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, South Africa($12.95)
Sara d’Amato – Who doesn’t love the combination of cheap and delicious? I can’t imagine that this will last long on the shelves so be sure to pick up in multiples this clean, natural feeling, and well-made Bordeaux blend from a winery known for their extensive bush vine plantings.

Ontario & New World Whites

Cave Spring 2013 Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($15.95)

Flat Rock 2013 Riesling

Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2013 Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2013David Lawrason – This is a fine vintage of one of Niagara’s best on-going examples of this distinctively aromatic chardonnay clone. Expect fairly generous floral, lemongrass, lychee-melon and anise on the nose. It’s medium bodied, well-balanced, warm and quite powerful – a great choice for a late summer garden dinner.
Sara d’Amato – Chardonnay musqué is a clone that gives a unique flavour profile to the resulting wine of flowery muscat. This light and fresh example delivers lovely tension from vibrant acids and an elegant mineral component. Drink up – this might just make summer last a little longer!

Hidden Bench 2013 Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($28.95)
David Lawrason – For the past seven vintages Hidden Bench’s “basic non-single vineyard chardonnay” has achieved a 90-point WineAlign rating. This could be the best yet, from a great white wine vintage in Niagara. It is textbook premium Niagara chardonnay – very refined, solid and complex with the ability to age. It has become too easy perhaps to call chardonnay like this Burgundian; but it truly does have a core and elegance mindful of a fine example from the key villages of the Cote de Beaune.

Flat Rock 2014 Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($16.95)
David Lawrason – A stunning riesling and a heck of a good deal – this tense, nervy, mid-weight style delivers tingling vibrancy to the palate which balances its just off-dry character. One of my favourite vintages yet of this consistently good quality find.

Henry Of Pelham 2013 Estate Chardonnay, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)
KWV The Mentors Chenin Blanc 2014 Te Whare Ra Toru 2014 Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2013David Lawrason – Yet another lovely and nicely priced 2013 Niagara chardonnay! It is silky yet poised with well integrated, subtle and complex flavours of ripe yellow pear, butter, almond, toast and vanilla cream. It will equally comfortable as a sipping style, or with grilled white meat dished.

Te Whare Ra 2014 Toru, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – I am not a big fan of aromatic blended whites. Most of them are toss offs to use up spare batches of cheaper wine. So you might at first glance think this rather expensive for a blend. But there is a difference here. It is an organically grown, single vineyard blend of three varieties – gewürztraminer, riesling and pinot gris – that have been co-fermented (not combined after the fact). So not only is it fragrant and well balanced, it has a real sense of integration and completeness.

KWV 2014 The Mentors Chenin Blanc, Paarl, South Africa ($29.95)
David Lawrason – The Mentor’s series are the top wines in the KWV range – changing from year to year, but always sourced from the best older vine sites in this large company’s portfolio of vineyards. This oaked chenin shows great power, depth and exotic, very spicy flavours, right down to a sense of minerality on the finish.
That’s a wrap for this week. If you are reading this over the weekend of August 29 to 31 think of us as at the World Wine Awards of Canada where we tasting through an international selection of wines available somewhere in the country. All to keep you abreast of what’s new and what’s good in more affordable wines.

Cheers
David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Sept 5, 2015
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
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!


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Season 5, Table 14 – The Grand Finale of “So, You Think you Know Wine?”

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
(aka “Surf’s up on Meat Beach”)

Welcome to Table 14, the Grande Finale of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

After weeks of battling for position and points, everything comes down to the final wine. Finalists John Szabo MS, Sara d’Amato and William Predhomme face-off for all the glory with their own compelling arguments as to what’s in the glass. Tune in to see who gets it right and, as host Seán Cullen would say, who gets it more right.

Watch the Finale

Table 14 – The Finalists

Sara d’Amato

Sara is a Toronto-based wine consultant, sommelier, wine critic and principal partner with WineAlign. She has worked in cellars both in Niagara and in France, as Sommelier at the Four Seasons Hotel and at the Platinum Club of the Air Canada Centre. She is also a contributor to Chatelaine magazine. Sara is the first and only woman to have won the Grand Award at the prestigious Wine Tasting Challenge.

Sara d'Amato

John Szabo, MS

John is Canada’s first Master Sommelier. He’s a partner and principal critic for WineAlign and authors the bi-monthly Vintages Buyer’s Guide. John is wine editor for Toronto’s CityBites Magazine and is the author of Pairing Food and Wine For Dummies. John also designs wine programs, teaches, speaks, judges and travels around the world, and to round out his experience and get closer to the land, he also owns a small vineyard in Eger, Hungary, the J&J Eger Wine Co. These days you’ll find him climbing volcanoes.

John 1

Will Predhomme

Will Predhomme is a prominent Canadian Professional Sommelier, beverage business development specialist, and industry liaison. Will’s experience reflects a career based in the beverage alcohol, hospitality, education, government and private sectors. For several years, he was the Senior Sommelier at Canoe Restaurant. Now he teaches WSET courses, is o-producer of Ontario and Oregon-made wines, host of The Globe & Mail Wine Basics videos, and is Managing Director of Predhomme Market Insights. He is an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and in 2010 he won the title of Best Ontario Sommelier.

will

Watch the Finale

The Scoring

The scoring on each wine remains similar to past seasons with points for Variety, Country, Region, Appellation, Vintage and Price.

Variety:  3 points
Country, Region, Appellation:  up to 4 points
Vintage:  up to 2 points
Price (within 10% on either side): 1 point

Score Card:

Click on the score card below to see how the semi finalist and finalist were selected.

The Scorecard

 

Thank you for watching this fifth season of “So, You Think You Know Wine?” We hope that you found this new series entertaining and that you had as much fun watching as we did filming. As usual, please send your comments to feedback@winealign.com and feel free to share this video with your friends and family.

Previously on Season 5 of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”:

Table 1 – Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013
Table 2 – Creekside Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Table 3 – Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Table 4 – The Grinder Pinotage 2013
Table 5 – Faustino VII Tempranillo 2012
Table 6 – Gnarly Head Pinot Noir 2012
Table 7 – Laroche Chablis St. Martin 2012
Table 8 – Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2010
Table 9 – Root: 1 Carmenère 2012
Table 10 – Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2012
Table 11 – Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012
Table 12 – [Semi Final #1] Sterling Chardonnay 2012
Table 13 – [Semi Final #2] Fontanafredda Barolo Nebbiolo 2010

For those of you new to our video series, “So, You Think You Know Wine?”, you can watch all previous seasons under the Videos tab.

Special thanks to our glassware sponsor, Schott Zwiesel, for their beautiful glasses and carafes used during filming.


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 22, Part Two

Finding Value over $20
By Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo MS

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Last week David Lawrason highlighted some of the best money could buy in this upcoming release for under $20. This week we focus on some higher priced offerings.

At these price points, we know that your expectations run high and so do ours. Wines recommended at this level tend to be excellent examples of classic styles and varietals that are characteristically representative of their region. However, they must be more than that to achieve top marks. They must excel in the categories of complexity, structure and finesse. Let it be known that our scores are not impacted by price although scores tend naturally to be higher at these price points. For example, when a wine achieves a score of 88+ at under $20, you can bet we are screaming at you to check it out. At the upper echelons of price point, more of these high scores should be expected.

What makes a wine worthy of a hefty price tag? There is no debate that a great wine costs more to make, as much as the bargain hunter in us would like to believe otherwise. There are more and better quality wines available now at low prices, in particular, from such regions such as Portugal, Argentina and Chile. However, great wines, more often than not, cost more.

Here are just a few reasons why. First, labor costs are higher. Consider, for example, how labor intensive it is to maintain an organic vineyard without the wave of a chemical wand, the work that is required to bury vines and uncover them as is done in the high quality production of Prince Edward County wines, or, how in the upper Cru Classé of Bordeaux’s left bank, an individual is assigned to manage every row of vines. A Bordelaise winemaker once told me of Chateau Margaux: “On brosse les dents des vignes” referring to the painstaking detail that goes into maintaining each vine. Triple sorting, manual de-stemming of grapes and small lot punch downs by hand are a few of the labor-intensive techniques that may go into the production of a fine wine.

In addition, better quality grapes involve lower yields in the vineyard, which impact the quantity, quality and thus the price significantly. The use of high quality, new oak barrels for long periods of time, uniquely designed amphorae, or the use of a new fleet of concrete eggs can also lead to an increase in cost. You will see below that we have highlighted for you some of these special techniques.

Due to the high quality and limited production of our top picks, many of our $20+ recommendations are in short supply. As such, some of these wines fall into what the LCBO used to call “ISD” (In Store Discovery) and is now referred to as FSE (Flagship Store Exclusives). Technically these wines offered in limited quantities are part of the VINTAGES bi-monthly releases. The listings can be found both in the VINTAGES catalogue and online. As the name suggests, these wines are available only in select stores. This category is often overlooked and, not surprisingly misunderstood, but there are some real gems to be found.

Without further ado, the best bets for your cellar, for good friends and for yourself:

WHITE

Von Hövel Scharzhofberg Saar Riesling Auslese 2011

Charles Baker 2012 Picone Vineyard RieslingCharles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($35.20)
John Szabo – Not to be shown up by the Germans, Niagara, too, has its special sites, like the cru-worthy Picone vineyard and its 35 year old riesling vines. Baker’s interpretation is crackling, sinewy, as mineral as they come. And thanks to riesling’s dark shadow, you’re getting one of Ontario’s best wines for under $35. If it were labeled chardonnay, nobody would blink at double the price.
Sara d’Amato – Often, slightly warmer years like 2012 produce more interesting and age-worthy rieslings in Niagara and here is a spot-on example. The clay-limestone soils of the small but mighty Picone vineyard are uniquely suited to this finicky varietal. Only free-run juice, not pressed, is used to make this consistently memorable wine.

Von Hövel 2011 Scharzhofberg Saar Riesling Auslese ($48.00)
David Lawrason – This 21 acre estate was taken over by 7th generation winemaker Max  Schatzi in 2010, who began immediately to convert the site to organic viticulture.  This is not cheap, but it is a gorgeous, precise example of late harvested Saar riesling. Sweet of course but ultra-refined with lacy acidity and such tenderness. Love the ripe apricot, melon, honey and floral aromas and flavours.
John Szabo – As I never tire of saying, German Riesling is one of the world’s greatest values. Period. Here’s an unimpeachable bottle of poetry from one of the country’s greatest vineyards, the majestic Scharzhofberg, in auslese ripeness (late harvest, medium-sweet) for under $50. Laughable. The depth of flavour on a 7% alcohol frame is nothing short of astonishing. I’d like to see this again in another half dozen years. Best 2020-2030.

Buena Vista 2013 Chardonnay, Carneros, California ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Since being taken over by Boisset of Burgundy Buena Vista wines are indeed striving for finesse and layers. This is a quite rich, elegant and complex chardonnay with lifted very toasty, nutty, slightly caramelized\fried onion aromas, with honey and corn in the background. Quite exotic.

Vidal Fleury 2012 Condrieu, Rhône, France ($49.95)
Sara d’Amato – We rarely see whites of the northern Rhône in Ontario much to shame. This 100% viognier offers a lush texture and notes of peaches and cream. Unfined, produced using wild, indigenous yeast in small lots, and after, spend 12 months on their lees. Available in limited quantities as a Flagship Store Exclusive.

Buena Vista Chardonnay 2013 Vidal Fleury Condrieu 2012 Beringer Luminus Chardonnay 2013 Domaine Cordier Père Et Fils Maçon Fuissé 2012

Beringer 2013 Luminus Chardonnay, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, USA ($39.95)
John Szabo – In the oft over-priced world of Napa chardonnay, here’s an example that shines for far fewer dollars than most. This has nothing to do with the blowsy, woody Beringer wines of yore – it’s far more “luminous”, truly enlightened, lively, and well balanced, from one of the cooler pockets of the Napa Valley. There’s genuine length and depth here, too. Best 2015-2021.

Domaine Cordier Père et Fils 2012 Mâcon Fuissé, Burgundy, France ($29.95)
John Szabo – Burgundy is frequently skewered for its poor value quotient, but the savvy know that there are plenty of brilliant values as soon as you step off the Route des Grands Crus. The town of Fuissé in southern Mâcon has enviable terroir, and the Cordier family coax out it’s best. Yes, fine white Burgundy for under $30. Best 2017-2022.

RED

Cakebread Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Thirty Bench 2013 RedThirty Bench Red 2013, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($24.00)
Sara d’Amato – An underpriced, stunning red which from a high achieving winery at this year’s National Wine Awards. This knockout Bordelaise blend delivers both power and elegance along with enticing notes of smoky herbs and spicy black pepper.
David Lawrason – Thirty Bench was named Best Small Winery in Canada (under 10,000 cases) at the 2015 WineAlign National Wine Awards, partially because winemaker Emma Garner snagged medals across a range of wines, including a bronze for this wine. It’s a nervy, juicy Niagara red from a cooler vintage that avoids the greenness and sourness of many others. It has lifted aromas of cedar, currants, tobacco and graphite. It’s not at all heavy but flavour concentration is very good to excellent.
John Szabo – A classic cool climate Bordeaux-style blend done very well, showing the touch of a gentle, deft hand. It’s not for nothing that Thirty Bench earned the inaugural Best Performing Small Winery award at this year’s nationals. This is all elegance and class at a rare price. Best 2015-2023.

Cakebread 2011 Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA ($162.95)
Sara d’Amato – Cakebread can do magnificent work with cabernet sauvignon making it elegant, polished and playing up its complexity. Here is an open and revealing wine, not masked by over treatment and showing off ingredients of superb quality. The cooler vintage adds to the wine’s refinement and dimension with notes of wild, dried herbs and acids that peak out from behind the fruit.

Cantina Del Pino 2010 Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy ($37.95)
Sara d’Amato – In the shadow of its more renowned neighbor, this Barbaresco is testament to the appellation’s undervalued nature. This offering easily rivals the complexity and structure of your average Barolo with great intensity and potential longevity for much less of a price.
John Szabo – If, like me, you liken Piedmont to Burgundy (similar philosophy-obsession of expressing vineyards through a single grape), the former can be considered great value. This “village”-level equivalent from various vineyards averaging 40 years old is a perfect example, in perfect sync and harmony, from a cracking vintage. Best 2017-2025.

Mocali 2009 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($44.95)
David Lawrason – One of the great joys of Brunello is that its long ageing at the winery renders it ready to drink. Add the lushness of  2009 vintage and the efforts of one my fave small Brunello producers, and this is a winner. This is very fragrant, tender yet intense Brunello to enjoy right now- so elegant, supple yet not at all blowsy. The tannin is well fitted. Excellent to outstanding length.

Poggio Bonelli 2011 Poggiassai  ($31.95)
David Lawrason – Available only in Vintages Flagship stores, this is a very impressive modern Tuscan red from sangiovese and 25% cabernet sauvignon grown on a classic 81 ha estate near Siena. It has a lifted, very engaging nose of blackcurrant, coffee, sage and cured meat, with underlying green olive/caper notes. It’s medium weight, fairly juicy and tender, with a certain vibrancy. Very Italian! Excellent to outstanding focus and length.

Cantina Del Pino Barbaresco 2010 Mocali Brunello di Montalcino 2009Poggio Bonelli Poggiassai 2011 Castello di Gabbiano Bellezza Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2011  Finca de la Rica El Nómada 2011

Castello Di Gabbiano 2011 Bellezza Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG, Tuscany, Italy  ($39.95)
John Szabo – $40 Chianti you say? This is every bit as good as any Brunello, which start at $40 and move quickly up in price. While not exactly classic sangiovese (it reminds me more of old school Spanish Rioja), this is a big, bold and impressive wine to be sure, with terrific complexity and length. Best 2015-2026.

Finca de la Rica 2011 El Nómada, Rioja, Spain  ($24.95)
David Lawrason – From a south facing vineyard near the village of La Bastide, “The Nomad” is a smart, tense yet delicious young Rioja, made from 90% tempranillo and 10% graciano, aged 16 months in French oak.  It shows nicely concentrated and ripe currant/berry fruit integrated with pine/herbal notes, gentle oak and savoury notes. I like tension, juiciness and depth here.

Château La Bienfaisance 2010

Domaine Durieu 2012 Lucile Avril Châteauneuf du PapeDomaine Durieu Lucile Avril Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012, Rhone, France ($44.95)
Sara d’Amato – An offering that should go straight to your cellar. A finely crafted Châteauneuf-du-Pape that is built to age and needs time for its tannic toughness to soften up.

Château La Bienfaisance 2010 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux ($39.95)
David Lawrason – The excellent 2010 vintage strikes again. This is a nicely fragrant, complex St. Emilion with a sense of elegance and precision.  Classic Bordeaux cedar currant/raspberry, tobacco, wood smoke and foresty aromas are very attractive. It’s mid-weight, firm and well proportioned – a bit on the light side. Not quite ready yet thanks to its firmness, but its showing fine promise.

~

We return next week with fall offerings (already!) as we move into what is best when the air becomes crisp. At that time we will be deep into sorting out our top international picks at the World Wine Awards of Canada that begin on August 27th. We are pleased to have some of Canada’s top palates from coast to coast with us in Toronto to help with this enormous task. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @WineAlign #WWAC15 for live updates of the awards.

Cheers,

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES August 22nd, 2015

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 22, Part One – Super Values Under $20

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 Aug 22, Part One

Super Values Under $20
By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Here at WineAlign we score wines on their quality. Yet value is the reason we usually highlight certain wines in these VINTAGES preview newsletters. This week Sara and I highlight super values under $20, and next week John Szabo returns from vacation to join us in putting forward values over $20. Which makes the essential point that value is not just a matter of lower price, and that it can be found, or at least argued, at almost any price point.

I have long struggled with whether to include a separate value rating with my reviews. In fact I did use a three-star value rating, as well as a score, at one point when reviewing for Wine Access. As did John. I have two counter arguments. One is that value does get a bit more subjective, and two, that readers engaged enough to be reading wine reviews in the first place are entirely capable of making that value judgement themselves, and can fit it into their own budgetary parameters.

But the temptation to rate value remains large. What is our job if not to find the best wines at the best possible price? At WineAlign we are currently tinkering with mathematical methodology to design a meaningful value rating system, and due to the size and history of our database we should be able to arrive at a fairly accurate statistics-based scale.

I guess the question is whether you, dear reader, want it. We would love to get your feedback in our Comments forum at the end of this newsletter.

Meanwhile, here are some super values for late summer enjoyment.

Whites

Grace Lane 2013 Riesling, Yakima Valley, Washington ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Yakima Valley is a large, high desert region with controlled irrigation from water descending the Cascade Mountains. Its situation allows for hot days and very cool nights – the ideal setting for growth of high quality wines. Grace Lane specializes in riesling and this excellent value, off-dry example is dynamic, nervy and surprisingly complex.
David Lawrason – Riesling is the #1 white variety in Washington and underpriced due to lower land costs and a softer market for riesling in the US. But here in Canada we know good riesling when we see it. It’s quite fulsome, ripe and rich with generous aromas of pineapple, yellow plum, honey and spice. It’s medium bodied, fleshy, off-dry and quite concentrated.

Von Buhl 2012 Armand Riesling Kabinett, Pfalz, Germany ($18.95)
David Lawrason – True Pfalz! This is great value in organically grown riesling from a classic producer. It’s very pretty and complete with refined aromas of pineapple, peach and lemon; some white flowers and clover honey. It’s light bodied (9.0%) yet fleshy and delicate. Such precision!

Man Vintners 2014 Free-Run Steen Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region, South Africa ($13.95)
David Lawrason – Free-run chenin blanc is not quite the same as say, free run chicken. But there is a similar sense that quality should be better. (Free run juice flows freely out of the grapes without pressing of the bitter skins and should therefore be more delicate). This shows authentic and generous aromas of quince, honey and candle wax of Cape chenin. Quite substantial and complex for the money. MAN might seem an odd name but it is actually a compilation of the initials of the names of the wives of the three couples that own this winery.

S. Cristina Massoni 2014 Lugana, Lombardy, Italy ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – The northern Italian region of Lugana is well-known for its structured, mineral influenced and aromatic whites made principally from the turbiano variety (or Trebbiano di Lugana). Here is a classic example that is zesty, nutty and lightly tropical with fresh acids and a little lees contact. A wonderful treat for the last, lazy days of summer. (DL agrees!)

Grace Lane Riesling 2013Reichsrat Von Buhl Armand Riesling Kabinett 2012Man Vintners Chenin Blanc 2014S. Cristina Massoni Lugana 2014

De Wetshof 2014 Limestone Hill Chardonnay Unwooded, Robertson, South Africa ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Unique and intriguing! From limestone soils in the hot inland region of Robertson, this is bold, ripe yet firm unoaked chardonnay. There is some flinty sulphur on the nose, but also very generous green melon, wildflower and vague orange scents. It’s medium weight, fleshy, elegant and loaded with exotic flavour. Danny De Wetshof has long been considered one of the best chardonnay producers of the Cape.

Koncho & Co. 2012 Tsinandali, Kakheti, Georgia ($12.95)
Sara d’Amato – Nervous about picking up an inexpensive Georgian wine from the shelves? Don’t be! This is a gem of a find and one at a price that is notably low for VINTAGES. Tsinandali wines are generally made from a blend of rkatiteli and mtsvane and have a relatively long ageing process of several years in order to develop a more integrated, complex profile.

Henri Bourgeois 2014 Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc, Vins de Pays du Val de Loire, France ($15.95)
David Lawrason – One of the best sauvignon producers of Sancerre goes outside the zone to lower the price on a very well defined Loire sauvignon, that is both sleek and structured. It shows nicely lifted mint, lavender, grapefruit, green apple and pepper on the nose, with very good focus and length.

Paco & Lola 2013 Albariño, Rías Baixas, Spain ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This is a lovely albarino with snap and crunch, very good depth and well defined, lifted aromas of pineapple/starfruit, fresh herbs and yellow flowers. It’s mid-weight, very fresh and well structured, with great acidity and a sense of minerality.

De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay 2014Koncho & Co Tsinandali 2012Henri Bourgeois Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc 2014Paco & Lola Albariño 2013

Reds

Herdade do Rocim 2011 Red, Alentejano, Portugal ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is a quite charming, juicy yet substantial red with lifted aromas of currant/raspberry fruit nicely inset with oak spice, toast and light char. It’s medium weight, a bit tart and green on the palate, but I like the tension and length for the money.
Sara d’Amato – From Lower Alentejo in southern Portugal, Herdade do Rocim is a state of the art project which produces widely appealing blends. The indigenous varieties of aragonez, touriga nacional and alicante bouschet are represented in this savory blend along with spicy syrah. Try with barbecued short ribs.

Château Des Moines Menodin 2010, Bordeaux Supérieur ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Great Bordeaux authenticity and half-decent depth and complexity for the money. For two years now I have been singing the praises of this vintage in Bordeaux. Do not overlook 2010 while it is still hanging around.

Herdade do Rocim 2011 RedChâteau Des Moines Menodin 2010La Ferme Du Mont Le Ponnant Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2012

La Ferme Du Mont 2012 Le Ponnant Côtes Du Rhône Villages, France($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – La Ferme Du Mont’s grenache focused wines of Provence are often top value. Here is a wine with a traditional feel – a little earthy, funky and rustic. It is well seasoned with saline and black pepper which nicely compliments the juicy cassis fruit.

Palacios Remondo 2014 La Vendimia, Rioja, Spain ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – This is a fresh, youthful Rioja with very little oak blended from grenache and tempranillo. Despite the plump, plummy fruit on the palate, this year’s Vendimia shows surprising restraint and elegance. A sultry and aromatic find.

Palacios Remondo La Vendimia 2014Tahbilk The Tower Shiraz 2013Viña Maipo Gran Devócion Carmenère Syrah 2012

Tahbilk 2013 The Tower Shiraz, Central Victoria, Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is a quite intriguing, somewhat sinewy shiraz that harkens back to the northern Rhone to some degree. Not great power or depth but I like the weave of pepper, vanillin, blackcurrant, vague mint and resin. There is grip and intrigue unexpected at the price.

Viña Maipo 2012 Gran Devócion Carmenère/Syrah, Maule Valley, Chile ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – An intense and concentrated blend with the elegant dried herbal notes of carmenere and the peppery vibrancy of syrah. Focused and impressively structured for the price.

That’s a wrap for this week. Tune in next Thursday for our more expensive recommendations.

Cheers
David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES August 22nd, 2015
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
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!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 8th, Part One

Loire Valley and Smart White Buys
By John Szabo MS with wine notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Loire Valley is one of my favourite regions. Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé remain world sauvignon benchmarks. Cabernet franc from the appellations around Tours and Saumur define the perfumy cool climate style. Chenin reigns supreme east of Tours and south of Angers, challenged only perhaps by South Africa for its most singular expression, though the Loire wins hands-down on diversity. And Muscadet remains, dollar for dollar, the best value white wine on the planet (if you define best as dry, stony, lean and taut, as I do). The moments when my home Muscadet supplies run dry are very dark indeed.

The August 8th VINTAGES release features a competent but limited selection from the banks of France’s longest, languidly lumbering river, enough to get you started. We reveal our top in this report, along with a miscellaneous assortment of attention-grabbing whites. Next week David leads off on the larger Pacific Northwest thematic and other memorable reds. I won’t keep you any longer; there’s mid-summer sipping to be done.

Buyers’ Guide for August 8th 2015: Loire Valley

Domaine Bonnard Sancerre Rouge 2013

Domaine des Côtes Blanches Sancerre 2013Domaine des Côtes Blanches 2013 Sancerre, Loire, France ($24.95)
John Szabo – An arch-classic, old school, very chalky-flinty example of Sancerre, with fine depth and length. Textbook. Love the dusty texture and ripe-creamy-taut texture, as well as the length.

Domaine Bonnard 2013 Sancerre Rouge, Loire, France ($23.95)
John Szabo – Pinot noir was more widely planted in Sancerre before phylloxera, and is slowly making a bit of a comeback. Attentive viticulture is key, but even still these are light, transparent, fragrant versions without the meat and fat of even lighter-style Burgundy. But that’s their charm: all lace and grace, pinots to drink with a chill. Bonnard’s fits perfectly within the regional idiom, crunchy and leafy.
Sara d’Amato – This light bodied, fragrant pinot noir is an absolutely delightful sipper. Cherry, thyme and dried rose add elegance and intrigue to the palate. Chill slightly for ultimate refreshment.

Bouvet Nv Brut Excellence Crémant de Loire, Loire, France ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Good Loire chenin sparklers can be great value when they deliver – and this delivers. It is brightly fruity – loaded with chenin’s pear/quince waxy fruit, lemon and a touch of biscuit. It’s light, slender, a touch off-dry with brilliant acidity and fruit on the palate. Quite delicious, penetrating and very good value.

Clos Les Montys 2013 Vieilles Vignes Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie, Loire, France ($13.95)
John Szabo – Lean, crisp, bright, totally transparent and bone dry, in other words, textbook Muscadet. Complexity and length are ultimately modest, but at the price, this delivers everything it needs to and more.
David Lawrason – It is simplistic, but a light, polished, super fresh young Muscadet with green apple fruit, lime/grapefruit and vague stoniness. It’s quite juicy and tart with some bitterness on the finish. Wanted a bit more complexity for a higher rating (87) but at $13.95 who’s complaining.

Bouvet Brut Excellence Crémant De LoireClos Les Montys Vieilles Vignes MuscadetChâteau Favray Pouilly Fumé 2011

Château Favray 2014 Pouilly Fumé, Loire, France ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – Upon the pebbly Villiers limestone soils, sauvignon blanc flourishes in Pouilly-Fumé. This dynamite offering from Château Favray exemplifies the region’s characteristic flinty, mineral character, with racy acids that are refreshing as opposed to austere.
David Lawrason – This is from a 15 hectare estate on pebbly limestone soils, owned by a gent named Quentin David who revived an ancient property in 1980 that had been laid low by phylloxera in the 19thC. It’s an excellent buy in a solid, firm and nicely complex sauvignon with grapefruit, green pear, spice and dried herbs. It’s medium weight with taut acidity, some warmth and very good to excellent length. The herbal elements carry well on the finish, to excellent length.

Buyers Guide for August 8th 2015: Smart Whites

Wegeler Sweet Riesling 2012

Rieflé Steinert Pinot Gris 2010Rieflé 2010 Steinert Pinot Gris AC Alsace Grand Cru, Alsace, France ($24.95)
John Szabo – A pinot gris in the opulent, late harvest, distinctively Alsatian style, dense and robust, from the calcareous Steinert grand cru. Fans of exotic, flirtatious fruit underpinned by residual sugar and acid take note. Would be a treat with roasted pork or chicken, or soft cheeses.

Wegeler 2012 Sweet Riesling, VDP Gutswein, Mosel, Germany ($19.95)
David Lawrason – I looked up Gutswein (good wine) and found the following definition: “VDP GUTSWEIN, or regional wines, originates from an estate’s holdings within a region. They are entry-level house wines that meet the general standards prescribed by the VDP and provide a good introduction to the VDP’s hierarchy that inherently links wine quality with origin”. Well this certainly out-performs that definition. It is a lovely, pristine, off-dry riesling with classic Mosel charm, delicacy yet authority. Expect lifted floral, honeyed, peachy fruit with some lemon. Great fruit here; real precision that only the Mosel can really deliver.

Contrade Di Taurasi 2012 Grecomusc’, IGT Campania Bianco, Italy ($32.95)
John Szabo – An utterly arresting wine made from the unique and rare Rovello grape, formerly known as Grecomuscio (no relation to Greco), this has substantial complexity in a decidedly non-fruity style. It’s focused entirely on stony-flinty-chalky flavours on a lean, almost austere, taut frame, not a crowd pleaser by any means. But I love the tension and the quivering acids, and the green herbs and sea salt wash on the long finish. Very original.
Sara d’Amato – This Campanese rovello is a stunner with the potential for interesting evolution. The broad and complex palate is dizzying and offers compelling notes of honey, stinging nettle, parsnip, lime and white tea. Collectors take note!

Domaine Lafage 2013 Côté Est, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is an exotic, bloomy and spicy young white that combines Mediterranean varieties grenache blanc and vermentino. I would have bet on some muscat as well, but apparently it is the vermentino providing all the lemongrass and floral lift. It is very crisp, tidy and well-balanced, with a tart, stony finish. The catalogue says it is “new at VINTAGES” but it was actually on the General List some years ago and was just as good then.
Sara d’Amato – A grenache blanc and vermentino blend perfect for summer sipping. A sure-fire crowd pleaser, this dry, punchy, flavourful white is well-priced enough for everyday drinking.

Contrade Di Taurasi Grecomusc 2012Domaine Lafage Côté Est 2013Vicente Gandía Nebla Verdejo 2014Santa Tresa Rina Lanca Grillo Viognier 2013

Vicente Gandía 2014 Nebla Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Attractive tropical notes have been coaxed out of this fleshy verdejo whose bright acidity provides freshness and focus. To boot, you can put your conscience at ease as this 125-year old, highly-awarded Valencian winery is well-known for its sustainable winemaking and social responsibility practices.

Santa Tresa Rina Lanca 2013 Grillo Viognier, Terre Siciliane, Italy ($13.95)
David Lawrason – Located on 50 hectares with a surface layer of light red sandy loam over well-drained limestone base in the vicinity of Mt. Etna, this is great value at $13.95. It’s a sub-tropical, semi-exotic white that combines perfumed spicy viognier with Sicily’s grillo grape of similar aspect. Look for fairly ripe star anise, pineapple, licorice and spicy aromas and flavours.

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

From VINTAGES August 8th, 2015
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
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!


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Season 5, Table 12 – Semi Final #1 of “So, You Think you Know Wine?”

Sterling Napa Valley Chardonnay 2012 (aka Quacks Like a Duck)

After weeks of battling for position and points, only six contestants have advanced to the Semi Finals of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”

John Szabo, David Lawrason and Jennifer Huether qualified as group two of the semi-finalists, and they will be up next time. Sara d’Amato, Will Predhomme and Bill Zacharkiw qualified as group one and they will lead off in today’s episode.

The group at Table 12 agree hands-down that the grape variety is chardonnay, but where exactly is it from? Watch to see who goes on to the Finals and takes home the ultimate bragging rights.

Table 12

Watch Table 12 or read on to learn more about the contestants and the scoring method.

Score Card:

Advancing to the Semi Finals are:

Group 1 : Sara d’Amato, Bill Zacharkiw and Will Predhomme

Group 2: John Szabo, Jennifer Huether and David Lawrason

Have a look at the score card below to see how the semi finalist where selected.

Score Card

Table 12

As always, the video series brings together Canada’s top wine experts, but this time a few well-known food personalities have taken on the daunting task of competing against wine critics, sommeliers, and wine educators.

Sara d’Amato

Sara is a Toronto-based wine consultant, sommelier, wine critic and principal partner with WineAlign. She has worked in cellars both in Niagara and in France, as Sommelier at the Four Seasons Hotel and at the Platinum Club of the Air Canada Centre. She is also a contributor to Chatelaine magazine. Sara is the first and only woman to have won the Grand Award at the prestigious Wine Tasting Challenge.

Sara d'Amato

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill is a partner and principal critic at Chacun son vin. His writing career began in 2004 with The Caveman’s Wine Blog, one of the first on the internet. For the last 5 years he has been the weekly wine writer for the Montreal Gazette. His articles are carried across Canada via NationalPost.com and other newspapers. Bill can be heard on CHOM FM (Montreal) every Friday morning to talk about Wine that Rocks.

Bill Zacharkiw

Will Predhomme

Will Predhomme is a prominent Canadian Professional Sommelier, beverage business development specialist, and industry liaison. Will’s experience reflects a career based in the beverage alcohol, hospitality, education, government and private sectors. For several years, he was the Senior Sommelier at Canoe Restaurant. Now he teaches WSET courses, is o-producer of Ontario and Oregon-made wines, host of The Globe & Mail Wine Basics videos, and is Managing Director of Predhomme Market Insights. He is an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and in 2010 he won the title of Best Ontario Sommelier.

will

 

The Scoring

The scoring on each wine remains similar to past seasons with points for Variety, Country, Region, Appellation, Vintage and Price.

Variety:  3 points
Country, Region, Appellation:  up to 4 points
Vintage:  up to 2 points
Price (within 10% on either side): 1 point

Let the games begin! Pour yourself a glass of wine and watch table 12.

For those of you new to our video series, “So, You Think You Know Wine?”, we have saved all previous episodes under the Videos tab.

Previously on Season 5 of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”:

Table 1 – Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013
Table 2 – Creekside Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Table 3 – Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Table 4 – The Grinder Pinotage 2013
Table 5 – Faustino VII Tempranillo 2012
Table 6 – Gnarly Head Pinot Noir 2012
Table 7 – Laroche Chablis St. Martin 2012
Table 8 – Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2010
Table 9 – Root: 1 Carmenère 2012
Table 10 – Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2012
Table 11 – Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2012

We hope that you find this new series entertaining and that you have as much fun watching as we did filming. As usual, please send your comments to feedback@winealign.com and feel free to share this video with your friends and family.

Special thanks to our glassware sponsor, Schott Zwiesel, for their beautiful glasses and carafes used during filming.


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Wines of Argentina – Wine Tasting and BBQ

Toronto, July 29th – The Consulate General of Argentina and Wines of Argentina invite you to:

An Argentine Wine Jam & BBQ!

Wines of Argentina

Located in the Southern Cone of the American Continent, with a population of 42 million inhabitants and a territory that is four times larger than France, Argentina is one of the world’s nature reserves. Privileged with outstanding natural richness and extraordinarily diverse landscapes, Argentina boasts high mountains and plains, lush vegetation and extreme deserts, forests and steppes, glaciers and waterfalls.

This wealth of natural ecosystems includes vast grapegrowing regions stretching at the foot of the Andean strip, to the West of the country, from latitude 22° south to latitude 42° south. The cultivated area covers more than 538,071 acres. Argentina’s vineyards are at varying altitudes with some as high as 3000 meters.

It is in this context, and in the course of five centuries, that Argentina has developed such an extraordinary wine industry. The altitude, the wide range of temperatures, the local know-how, the new technologies and a deeply-rooted popular wine culture lend their wines their unique identity and quality.

 

Purchase Tickets here

Wines of Argentina

 

Experience this unique environment for the creation of great wines

Join us to taste exciting wines from 20+ wineries from Argentina. Enjoy succulent bites and an ‘asado’ style BBQ. All set to the great tunes from BELLOSOUND

Date: Wednesday, July 29, 2105

Time: 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.

Place: Snell Hall, St. James Cathedral Centre, 65 Church St., Toronto, ON M5C 2E9

Price: $65 (plus applicable fees) – Save $5.00 with Promo code: WINEALIGN

 

Purchase Tickets here

“Think Argentina is all about malbec? Here’s your chance to discover the diversity of this vast country not only within the varied, new sub-regions that produce malbec but also the unique expression of both indigenous and international varieties. With some of the world’s most elevated vineyards and arid climates, it is no wonder that Argentina is home to some of the most unique and appealing wines in the world. Although only recently declared, wine has been long been the national beverage of Argentina – a country which has an impressively long history of wine consumption. Learn about some of the world’s most iconic wine personalities who have pushed boundaries, built communities and risked it all to forge new ground.” – Sara d’Amato, WineAlign

Las_compuertas-Mendoza


Afternoon Trade Sessions

The Evolution of Argentina – A Trade tasting for professionals

A tasting of wines from the ‘new’ Argentina showcasing wines from 20+ wineries, some new to market.

Wednesday, July 29 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Snell Hall, St. James Cathedral Centre, 65 Church St., Toronto, ON M5C 2E9

Open to Media and Trade Professionals – by invitation only – please register here prior to attending.

Wines of Argentina Masterclass:  The Evolution of Argentina

Innovation in the vineyard and the winery. Moderated by Sara d’Amato, Sommelier and WineAlign Critic, and Marcelo Pelleriti, winemaker at Monteviejo.

Rock Talks: Terroir developments
Altitude: It Never Mattered More!
Varietal & style trends: What’s next?

Wednesday, July 29 from 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.
The Lecture Room, St. James Cathedral Centre, 65 Church St., Toronto, ON M5C 2E9

Limited seating – Open to Media and Trade Professionals – by invitation only – please register here prior to attending.

 

Spread the word.

Web:              www.winesofargentine.org
Facebook:   Wines of Argentina
Twitter:        @winesofarg

Please Drink Responsibly


An Argentine Wine Jam and BBQ

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Season 5, Table 10 of “So, You Think you Know Wine?”

A Proper Pinot Noir (aka Blind Taster’s Treat)

The oh-so serious sport of wine tasting is receiving a major reality check in Season 5 of WineAlign’s “So, You Think You Know Wine?”. Without any clues, host Seán Cullen takes each table through the swirling, sniffing, and gurgling ritual of wine tasting – asking them to correctly identify the grape, country, region, vintage, and price of the wine.

Table 10 brings together Sara d’Amato, Véronique Rivest, Brad Royale and chef Chris McDonald. Véronique has her heart set on pinot noir from the very first sniff and leads off with that strong suggestion. Then, for the others, it comes down to a contest of vintage, country and region. The one thing they all agree on is that this is a lovely wine.

Click here to watch Table 10 or read on to learn more about the contestants and the scoring method.

Score Card:

Tensions are mounting as the scores have now been released. ONLY the top six will advance to the playoffs. Here’s a look at how the contestants are doing so far, not including today’s episode.

Score up to Table 9

Table 10

As always, the video series brings together Canada’s top wine experts, but this time a few well-known food personalities have taken on the daunting task of competing against wine critics, sommeliers, and wine educators.

Sara d’Amato

Sara is a Toronto-based wine consultant, sommelier, wine critic and principal partner with WineAlign. She has worked in cellars both in Niagara and in France, as Sommelier at the Four Seasons Hotel and at the Platinum Club of the Air Canada Centre. She is also a contributor to Chatelaine magazine. Sara is the first and only woman to have won the Grand Award at the prestigious Wine Tasting Challenge.

Sara d'Amato

Brad Royale

Brad has been involved in retail and restaurant management for fifteen years and he is now the Wine Director for Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts. He has won multiple awards for his wine programs. In 2012 Brad launched his own wine label, Kitten Swish…it’s delicious.

Brad Royale

Véronique Rivest

Véronique won second place at the prestigious Sommelier du Monde Competition in 2013, in fact, she is the first woman ever to have made it to the podium. She is a wine columnist for Ottawa’s Le Droit newspaper and Radio-Canada and she has just opened her own wine bar in Gatineau, Quebec called Soif.

 

Véronique Rivest

Chris McDonald

Chris has worked in Toronto restaurants for 40 years. He started out as a busboy and quickly traveled up the ranks eventually becoming chef and owner of two of Toronto’s most loved restaurants – Avalon and Cava.  He’s now taking a well-deserved break before he starts his next adventure.

Chris McDonald

The Scoring

The scoring on each wine remains similar to past seasons with points for Variety, Country, Region, Appellation, Vintage and Price.

Variety:  3 points
Country, Region, Appellation:  up to 4 points
Vintage:  up to 2 points
Price (within 10% on either side): 1 point

Let the games begin! Pour yourself a glass of wine and watch table 8.

For those of you new to our video series, “So, You Think You Know Wine?”, we have saved all previous episodes under the Videos tab.

Previously on Season 5 of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”:

Table 1 – Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2013
Table 2 – Creekside Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Table 3 – Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Table 4 – The Grinder Pinotage 2013
Table 5 – Faustino VII Tempranillo 2012
Table 6 – Gnarly Head Pinot Noir 2012
Table 7 – Laroche Chablis St. Martin 2012
Table 8 – Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2010
Table 9 – Root: 1 Carmenère 2012

We hope that you find this new series entertaining and that you have as much fun watching as we did filming. As usual, please send your comments to feedback@winealign.com and feel free to share this video with your friends and family.

Special thanks to our glassware sponsor, Schott Zwiesel, for their beautiful glasses and carafes used during filming.


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 27 – Part Two

Canada is Bigger than Canada Day
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

As VINTAGES releases its token selection of new Canadian wines this week ahead of Canada Day – all ten of them among 120 new releases – John, Sara, Michael and I plus other WineAlign critics are in Niagara judging over 1400 Canadian wines at the National Wine Awards of Canada. I have never been one to overplay patriotism as a reason to drink Canadian wine, firmly believing that quality must be the driver of its success. These annual awards are a significant tool to that end, helping winemakers benchmark themselves, and providing consumers with the names of those wines that stand out. We will certainly be displaying the winners in the weeks ahead. Your inbox will be buzzing with the news.

But I am disappointed that VINTAGES, during Canada’s national week, has not greatly bumped up its Canadian representation. Why not devote an entire release to Canadian wine? There are certainly enough very good wines out there from B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

Well here’s why it’s not happening. The LCBO has a template that prescribes how many wines, from which countries/regions, get released every two weeks. And it’s really all about store/shelf management – keeping the same number of SKUs in the same locations within the same stores week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. Arguably it is for the shopping ease and familiarity of consumers, but it’s more for the convenience of unionized staff. Heaven forbid they would have to create a new, enticing display of 100 great new Canadian wines on Canada Day. Much easier to plaster big very expensive posters in the window and call that a promotion.

I am not blaming any individual within the LCBO, except perhaps its leadership. The LCBO’s intrinsic and historic inflexibility is one reason that the Canadian wine industry – and those of all other countries in fact – are crying for some form of privatization. A model that will allow at least a tripling of SKUs sold within a network of stores that includes supermarkets, cold beer and wine stores, fine wine stores and regionally dedicated shops (these all exist elsewhere in Canada). A network that will allow the elasticity required to manage the ebb and flow of a product so wonderfully diverse as wine.

This summer I am more hopeful than ever. We are on the eve of major change in Ontario. By September ex-TD Bank chairman Ed Clark, mandated by Kathleen Wynn’s Liberals, is supposed to propose how wine in supermarkets might work. Which of course will be a welcome start when it finally does come about. But as listed above, supermarkets are only one piece of a much more diverse template that is required.

The Ontario wine industry itself is strongly in favour of independent wine shops selling both Ontario and imported wine. This a bold and crucial stance, because as I said, patriotism should not be the only reason that we buy Canadian wine. It must compete head to head in a fair retail environment, and at least some of Ontario’s winemakers have figured that out – often those that do best in the National Wine Awards.

My greatest hope is that Ed Clark also believes this. That he beats back the howls of the vested interests who seek advantage for themselves over what makes sense for the industry at large and the consumers it serves. Wine in supermarkets is a huge first step, but independent stores must soon follow.

As an interim step the existing private retail licenses granted to the large Ontario wineries before 1988 must be re-distributed among the many interests selling Canadian and imported wines. Ontario’s international trade partners cannot, and will not, disagree. When it is proven to work – which it will – many more licenses need to be made available. As many as the market demands. And Ontario will finally join the rest of the globe in terms of natural wine retailing. We are still, as we speak, an anomaly on this planet. And we are widely ridiculed.

We ask you to celebrate Canada Day with a bottle of Canadian wine, but in the true spirit of Canadian globalism, if you decide that a wine from France, Chile or New Zealand is what you want in the moment then do so without guilt. Canada welcomes all. Canada is bigger than Canada Day. Every person contributing to wine production somewhere in the world matters too.

Here are our picks from the June 27th release, plus a couple of recently tasted Canadian selections from VINTAGES Essentials

Canadian Wines

Vieni Estates 2012 Foch Vintage Reserve Ontario Canada ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Canada’s wine industry began with hybrids like marechal foch, and a few remaining old vine versions garner an almost cult-like following (eight were entered in this year’s wine awards). This deep, gnarly, rustic red explains their curious durability.
John Szabo – This is one of the best hybrid wines I’ve come across in long-term memory, great for the back yard or cottage with is smoky, forest floor, resinous herbs and dried plum flavours.

Calamus 2013 Steely Unoaked Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($14.95)

David Lawrason – Unoaked chardonnay is often boring, giving us no reason not to drink pinot grigio instead (which can also be boring). This is a nicely fresh, quite fulsome unoaked chardonnay with ripe pear, florals and honey. Calamus has re-designed its labels and found some new energy  in its wines of late.

Vieni Foch Vintage Reserve 2012 Calamus Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 Sperling Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2013 Malivoire Musqué Spritz 201413th Street Cabernet Merlot 2012

Sperling 2013 Gewurztraminer, Okanagan Valley ($28.95)

David Lawrason – Born and raised on the family’s vineyard in East Kelowna, Anne Sperling is better known in Ontario as the veteran winemaker at Southbrook and formerly Malivoire. She also commutes home to BC to tend Sperling Vineyards. This is a quite delicate, off-dryish gewurz  from estate vines well positioned on a south-facing hill overlooking west Kelowna and the lake.

Malivoire 2014 Musqué Spritz Beamsville Bench, ($19.95)

John Szabo – Lively, fresh, off-dry, and yes, spritzy, Malivoire’s 2014 Musqué Spritz is an infinitely drinkable, aperitif-friendly white that goes down with alarming ease. A great wine to have around the house for the summer, for those impromptu afternoon occasions.

13th Street 2012 Cabernet Merlot, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

David Lawrason – The 2012 vintage is perhaps the best all ‘round vintage Niagara has seen to date. Having been dealt nicely ripened fruit, JP Colas has delivered a quite lifted complex cab/merlot blend with notes of slightly stewed raspberry currant, herbs, leather, grilled red pepper and fresh herbs.

Culmina 2012 Hypothesis, Okanagan Valley ($39.95)

David Lawason – Since departing Jackson-Triggs when the label was sold to US-based Constellation Brands, Donald Triggs and his family have been carving out an ambitious new vineyard project on the benches of the south Okanagan’s Golden Mile. This is a very serious, sculpted, deep merlot-based red.
Sara d’Amato – From the recently delimited, sub-appellation of Golden Mile Bench, this BC Bordeaux blend has the complexity of left bank Bordeaux but the appealing, generous nature of a new world. Youthful and spicy but with excellent structure for mid to long term cellaring.

Culmina Hypothesis 2012 Malivoire Chardonnay 2012 Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2013 Queylus Reserve Du Domaine Merlot Cabernet Franc 2010

Malivoire 2012 Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

John Szabo – Made from essentially all Beamsville Bench fruit, Malivoire’s 2012 is a typically ripe and flowery, gently oaked, lively and well-balanced chardonnay. Acids are crisp and lively, and fruit is in the ripe orchard spectrum. Lovely wine, well priced.

Cave Spring 2013 Estate Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)

John Szabo – Cave Spring’s 2013 riesling is just off-dry but balanced, lively and vibrant, with arch-typical riesling profile – as reliable as they come.

Queylus 2010 Reserve du Domaine Merlot Cabernet Franc, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($39.95)

Sara d’Amato – A head turning Bordeaux blend from the hands of one of Canada’s most celebrated consultant winemakers, Thomas Bachelder. From rose and violets to blackcurrants and plums, this fleshy but structured palate is swoon-worthy.

International Reds

Finca Sophenia 2013 Reserve Malbec, Tupungato, Mendoza ($17.95)

David Lawrason – This is a very pretty, floral and lifted malbec that doesn’t succumb to oak from the high country at the north end of Mendoza’a Uco Valley.

Château Pey De Pont 2010, Médoc, Bordeaux $21.95

David Lawrason – The 2010 vintage continues to deliver great value among the petits chateaux. With well layered currants, spice, herbs, vanilla and a hint of maturing leather, this is ready to roll and should hold over the next three to five years.

Finca Sophenia Reserve Malbec 2013 Château Pey De Pont 2010 Gran Passione Rosso 2013 Domaine Le Clos Des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas 2012

Gran Passione 2013 Rosso, Veneto, Italy ($15.95)

David Lawrason – Lots here for $16! This is a very smooth, ripe and easy going ripasso with very good density. It has a nicely lifted nose of plum/cherry fruit, chocolate, some underlying meatiness and herbs.

Domaine Le Clos Des Cazaux 2012 La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas, Rhône France ($28.95)

John Szabo – A complete southern Rhône package here, classy and compelling, drinking well now, but should also hold a decade in the cellar quite comfortably. Best 2015-2025.

Il Molino Di Grace 2007 Il Margone Riserva Chianti Classico, Tuscany. Italy ($34.95)

John Szabo – There’s a lot of wine here for the money; this drinks up there with Brunello costing twice as much. I love the fully mature, earthy, mushroom and wet clay/wood- oxidative feel. There’s a touch of funk here to be sure, but it melds seamlessly with the rest of the ensemble. Best 2015-2022.

Domaine Le Clos Des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas 2012 Il Molino Di Grace Il Margone Riserva Chianti Classico 2007 Michel Gassier Les Piliers Syrah 2012 Sileni The Triangle Merlot 2013

2012 Michel Gassier Les Piliers Syrah AC Costières de Nîmes, Rhône, France ($18.95)

John Szabo – Here’s a fine value, lively and authentic syrah, floral and very pretty, with elegant tannins and vibrant acids. Very classy, and really well priced.  Best 2015-2020.
Sara d’Amato – Costieres de Nimes’ milder climate sandwiched between the southern Rhone and the Languedoc provides a haven for finicky syrah, allowing it to express itself in all its peppery and floral glory. An excellent value that has crowd-pleasing appeal.

Sileni 2013 The Triangle Merlot, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – Since the late 90s, Sileni has been producing a wide range of wines in the milder climate of Hawke’s Bay. This standout merlot shows terrific concentration and fruit but with a nervy acidic backbone that makes it versatile with food.

Ermete Medici & Figli Concerto 2013And for Something Special on the Patio This Summer…..

Medici Ermete & Figli 2013 Arte E Concerto Lambrusco, Emilia-Romagna  Italy ($19.95)

John Szabo – A long-time standard-bearer for Lambrusco, Medici Ermete’s Concerto, made from the Salamino member of the vast lambrusco family of grapes, is a deeply-coloured, very fruity and engaging wine, essentially dry (10 grams of residual sugar) and light-mid weight on the palate (11.5% alcohol). I like the dark berry flavours, the floral and peppery notes reminiscent of syrah done in carbonic maceration. Decent length. Perfect for the charcuterie board (is it a coincidence that the grape is named salamino, after the salami-like shape of its bunches?).

From VINTAGES June 27th, 2015

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


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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

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Argentina Part I : Rewarding Freshness

by Treve Ring, Sara d’Amato & Rhys PenderJune 22, 2015

 

Over the past seven months, five of our WineAlign contributors travelled to Argentina. We are all familiar with the Canadian wine industry’s version of Argentina wines, based on what we see on our shelves and tables. That said, we realize we’re tasting through a filter shaped by trends, markets and, often, laziness. So each of us journeyed south to discover for ourselves what was really happening, beyond what our importers and our borders allow entry. What we found was enlightening, affirming and interesting, enough so that we want to share our discoveries with you. If you’re not seeing these wines and themes on your shelves, ask for them. Seek them out. The only way to change the flow is to be in the know.In the first of our two-part series, we cast an appreciative, closer look at the fresher, brighter wines being produced in Argentina. Sara d’Amato saw very well the results of this trend as a judge at the 2015 Argentina Wine Awards, especially within the iconic and omnipresent malbecs. Diving deeper, Rhys Pender, MW trumpets the country’s new found freshness through their greater use of altitude and lesser use of oak. ~ TR

 

Canucks in Argentina

 

Sara d’Amato
Judging the “Empowerment of Women” Argentina Wine Awards of 2015

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Earlier this year, I was invited to judge the best of Argentina’s wines over a week’s stay in Mendoza followed by a whirlwind tour of the country’s extensively spread-out wine regions. Beyond the obvious lure of the offer, what was most intriguing was the topic of the awards: “The Empowerment of Women in Wine”. For the past nine years, the Argentina Wine Awards have chosen a yearly theme. For example, a previous year’s theme involved exclusively Masters of Wine as judges and another year, a panel made up entirely of journalists. This year, women were to exclusively make up the judging panel, an opportunity I could not pass up.

For ten years now I’ve been judging wine competitions and I am often the sole woman on any individual panel, partially due to the fact there are far fewer women in the industry than men. However, the tide is rapidly changing, especially in North America. Here in Ontario, the enrolment in the Niagara College Wine & Viticulture program this year is 17 women to 17 men.

Tasked with the challenge of choosing the best wines of Argentina, I think we women of the jury were also hoping to find some insights into women and wine, and to explore the age-old question of whether women taste differently than men.

We were aided by a guest judge from the Argentinian industry on each of our panels. Some were winemakers and winery owners such as the influential and formidable Susana Balbo and Laura Catena and others were top sommeliers such as Flavia Rizzuto at CAVE in Buenos Aires. Our ability to pick up on regional subtleties was largely due to the guidance of these very talented and in-the-know locals.

The Empowerment of Women in Wine

As for the jury, I would be remiss not to mention the names of each of the 12 members of the international jury as they make up some of the most important voices in the industry today. I was joined by two highly accomplished fellow Canadians: Barbara Philip MW, European Portfolio Manager for the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) and Shari Mogk Edwards, Vice President Sales, Products and Merchandising LCBO; from the UK, Jancis Robinson MW herself led the charge and from Germany, Felicity Carter, Editor of one of Europe’s most influential wine publications, Meininger’s; from Finland, Essi Avelan, who is easily the world’s foremost expert on sparkling wine; from the US, Christy Canterbury MW, writing for top publications such as Decanter, TimAtkin and Wine Enthusiast along with Senior Editor of Wine Enthusiast, Susan Kostrzewa; from Asia, Megumi Nishida, Tokyo’s leading female wine voice, writer and importer along with Annette Scarfe MW from Singapore; from South America, Suzana Barelli, leading Sommelier from San Paolo, Brazil and winemaker Cecilia Torres Salinas of Chile. Needless to say, I was in excellent company.

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Jane Hunt MW, Sara d’Amato & Jancis Robinson MW

We had five days in which to carefully examine 700 wines, an exacting, stamina-testing and very difficult assignment. As you can imagine, malbec was center stage and with judging as many big red wines as we did in the day, palate fatigue presents a challenge – hence the need for big lunches and capping the wines to 60-90 daily.

When all was said and done, the Awards were announced at an energy-charged evening ceremony and more than a few trends manifested themselves:


Malbec and Medals

IMG_0042Malbec is Argentina’s highest card and it is played throughout the country’s vast regions. The grape’s most esteemed expression is that of the high altitude Uco Valley in Mendoza. Over the course of the week, our panel learned to discern characteristics of these high altitude plantings that expressed the best vibrancy, sometimes a leaner profile and peppery, wild flower aromatics. Indeed, many of our highest scoring wines came from this region. One of our top finds was from the Tupungato region of the west Uco Valley from Rigolas winery. The project is being consulted on by Paul Hobbs who is a prolific advisor in Mendoza outside of his own project of Vina Cobos. The Quinto malbec took home top honors with a memorably aromatic richness of fruit and exceptional balance.

Surprisingly, not one single malbec was awarded a “regional trophy”, given to the highest scoring wine of a particular region. Other varietals like petit verdot and cabernet franc along with red blends were given top billing. The malbecs were incredibly varied mainly based on the multitude of sub-regions in which they are produced. Not until very recently have these sub-regions been listed on the label and we are already beginning to see them in Canada. Many more smaller producers rather than large conglomerates received awards, with leaner, drier more aromatic styles of malbec favoured.

The results beg the question, did these dramatic differences from previous years have anything to do with “the female palate” or did they have more to do with stylistic changes related to producers and changing tastes worldwide? Did the fact that this year proved the lowest scoring year in terms of gold medals awarded have anything to do with a more “discerning female palate”? They certainly could but I would tend to weight the changing worldwide styles and preferences of critics and consumers just as heavily or more than any differences due to the sex of the tasters.

The only true difference I can state as to our female judging is that, as master organizer Jane Hunt MW of the Argentina Wine Awards can attest, the women of the jury were able to achieve consensus more rapidly than previous years, were more decisive and diplomatic with each other, were able to stay focused and were more cohesive in their scores.

Tannat

What made us most excited? A real shocker to many of us: tannat. Outside of France, it is rare to find enough of this grape produced in a single varietal to make up a whole flight of wines. These examples should have been tough and mean but instead were generous, aromatic and appealing and still characteristically forceful. What a difference in expression here! A top, gold medal example came from the northern reaches of Argentinian wine producing country, from the small, high altitude dessert valley of Cafayate in the vineyards of El Porvenir de Cafayate. At these altitudes of well over 2,000 meters, the UV index is high but the diurnal temperature shift is extreme with frigid nights contributing to the preservation of acids. In this region, cabernet sauvignon also is divinely expressed but so little is produced in comparison with the rest of the country that few will find their way abroad.

IMG_0038

Bonarda

Argentina’s workhorse grape, bonarda, has only recently been usurped by malbec as Argentina’s most planted varietal. It is a vigorous varietal that can take a great deal of sunlight. Top examples can be produced with little effort. Not surprisingly, these wines are often of great value, fruity, approachable and easy to appreciate although often lacking in complexity. From the Santa Rosa region of eastern Mendoza, densely packed by an extraordinary number of wineries and plantings, our top bonarda, Guarda from winery SinFin, finds its home. SinFin is a mid-size, family-owned boutique producer focused on high quality production that was well recognized in this year’s competition. At a lower elevation of 700 meters, such as this example, bonarda thrives in the heat and sunlight offering generous fruit for a relatively small price.

Torrontés

Torrontés proved to be a much smaller category than expected. Many of the top examples come from the smaller northern producing regions of Salta and Cafayate. At those extreme elevations, torrontés not only has impressive aromatics but also more acidity and often more subtlety. The Mendozian examples often lacked character and were sometimes manipulated with oak to add flavour and richness at the expense of delicacy and purity of fruit.

Sparkling

Finally, the value in sparkling wine could not be overlooked. With close to 80 wineries now producing sparkling wine in Argentina and big hitters such as Moet & Chandon in the picture, Argentina’s quickly burgeoning bubbles continued to take us by surprise. Although we found that in some cases, the sweetness levels were questionable even in the Brut Nature or Extra Brut categories, many fine, honest examples did exist such as the top scoring Brut Nature from Trivento winery from Mendoza’s Uco Valley.

So at the end of the day, do we women taste differently? Although the variables were too great to come to any sort of fact-based conclusion, I do believe that our diplomatic approach to tasting in groups of women was unique and that our commitment to finding balance and freshness in wine was unwavering. In the end, I was much less interested in the answer than I was to begin with. Although the results may have been surprising to some, I think most would agree that the strong, experienced and dynamic group of judges were able to pull, from the multitude of entries, the finest examples from across the country, regardless of the sex of the tasters.


Rhys Pender, MW
Argentina’s New Found Finesse

IMG_0172Finesse and Argentina are not words that have traditionally been used together. In fact, Argentinian wine shot to popularity in Canada because of the fact that its wines were full bodied, rich and red at a time when big body, big alcohol, big oak and jammy big ripeness was what consumers were looking for. However, times have changed in Canada and elsewhere, and big is no longer better. Argentinian winemakers are looking to find a new, lighter, elegant side to their wines, and they are having some success.

It is not necessarily an easy task to make lighter, more refreshing wines in what is a warm to hot climate. Picking early may result in lower alcohol but if the tannins and flavours are not ripe the resulting wine will not be any good. There needs to be a balance and the Argentines need to find that sweet spot of keeping their naturally generous fruit flavours without being over the top.

The number one way that Argentina is finding success is by going up, up in altitude or to wherever the cooler weather naturally keeps more acidity and slows down ripening. Hot spots right now are the Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo, sub-regions of Mendoza, Pedernal in San Juan and new areas being explored far to the north at staggering altitudes in Salta province around Cafayate and Molinos. The cooler temperatures allow the grapes to be harvested while ripe but with lower alcohol levels and the flavours are less jammy and more elegant. Combine this with mineral soils in some areas and the wines are much fresher. Argentinian appellations can be confusing but if you see any of the above mentioned names on the label you should be looking at the more restrained side of the country’s offerings.

Another big trend that is encouraging to see and one that is having a big impact on the wines is the use of oak, or the non-use of oak to be exact. Many producers reported pulling back and using both less oak as well as larger and older barrels to avoid overpowering the wines and allowing the bright, vibrant fruit to show through. Wines such as Trapiche Pure are testament to the success of this shining new style.

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Many have questioned if there is such a thing as Argentina beyond big, ripe, rustic malbec. Based on my travels and tasting, it certainly seems there is. Smart producers are figuring out how not to throw out the baby with the bath water, by keeping the fruit ripeness that comes naturally but stopping it from being too much. The wines, as a result, are fresher, more finessed and infinitely more drinkable than ever before.

~

Next month: In Part II of this series, David Lawrason shines a light on cabernet franc’s ascension, while Anthony Gismondi takes us on a latitudinal tour of Argentina, spotlighting locations along the way. I will take a look at wines that may be outside of your current viewfinder, like Argentine sparkling.

Salud!
Treve Ring


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