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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 18th – Part Two

New World Picks (and notes from the California Wine Fair)
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The first week of fine weather in Ontario for many months has also kicked off the busiest period of wine tasting events of the year. So let’s raise one gigantic toast to the new season! Open something that shouts.

Last week we looked at Euro wines on the release, so this week it’s New World, and we will get to our picks shortly. But I wanted to outline the amazing array of wine events coming our way in the weeks ahead. The season unfurled on April 13th with the 36th annual California Wine Fair in Toronto (see more below), followed three days later by the 4th annual Prince Edward County in the City event. Then on April 20th Ontario’s leading terroir driven wineries present their wares at Somewhereness in Toronto. (Watch for an Ontario Wine Report on both of these important local wine events).

On April 22 the Premium Familiae Vini – an association of Europe’s leading family owned wineries – presents a VINTAGES sponsored tasting in Toronto, followed by a reception and dinner on the 23rd. This is a great chance to taste some of the classics from Europe. For PFV wines being released on April 18 search out our WineAligner reviews from great names like Hugel of Alsace, Perrin of the Rhone, Drouhin of Burgundy, Antinori of Italy and Torres of Spain and many more. Each family has a couple of wines represented (but of course we would prefer they each had many more on the shelf).

The following week, April 29, Portugal’s annual grand tasting runs at the Art Gallery of Ontario. On May 7 there is the New Zealand Wine Fair. Then three consecutive VINTAGES events are on the schedule: May 21 is Next Generation Germany; May 26 is Australia’s First Families and on June 4 in come the Italians for the Gambero Rosso Tasting. So no whining about nothing to do this spring! Check out events at VINTAGES.com.

WineAlign Bus Tour to Prince Edward CountyAnd not to forget our second annual “rolling limestone” WineAlign bus tour to the Terroir Wine Festival in Prince Edward County on May 9. We have two coaches ready to go from Toronto with stops at Hinterland, Rosehall Run and Norman Hardie, plus two and a half hours at the Terroir festival in Picton.

Both Sara d’Amato and I will be onboard to give you some colour commentary. Which is a great segue to one of my top picks of the release.

Norman Hardie 2013 Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($39.20)

David Lawrason – Norman Hardie is of course based in Prince Edward County, but makes wines from prime sites in Niagara as well. I tasted this wine among six other high end chardonnays from Burgundy and elsewhere. It not only stood its ground, it stood tall. Very elegant, taut, well woven and showing great minerality and length.

Graham Beck 2013 The Game Reserve Chardonnay, Robertson, South Africa ($16.95)

David Lawrason – Another surprise in the big chardonnay line-up this release comes from a remote region over the mountains, and away from maritime influence, in the Robertson region. There are limestone pockets here, and some fine chardonnays. This is not “great” but I am impressed that Graham Beck has delivered this much structure and character at $17.
Sara d’Amato – This pioneer of the sparkling variety in South Africa is also no stranger to chardonnay and this striking value is a standout. Get it, enjoy and thank me later.

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2013 Graham Beck The Game Reserve Chardonnay 2013 Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc Dry Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Hall Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Rapaura Springs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Grgich Hills 2013 Fumé Blanc Dry Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California  ($39.95)

David Lawrason – My attraction to this wine is not based on flash in the pan pizzazz, but on the solid, self-confident, nuanced ambiance it presents. I could see myself sitting with this wine over one or two bottles and not getting bored. Is it the biodynamics alone, or a winemaking idea? Very satisfying.

Hall 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California, USA ($34.00)

Sara d’Amato – Great California sauvignon blanc has a way of reeling me in like no chardonnay could ever do. Hall focuses on the sustainable production of Bordelaise varietals, thus choosing sauvignon blanc over chardonnay as its star white grape and we can be glad they do. On the riper style of the spectrum, this wild and wonderful example boasts impressive complexity, balance and appeal.

Rapaura Springs 2013 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($21.95)

Sara d’Amato – A solid example of Marlborough sauvignon blanc without excessive grassy, vegetal or ammonia from under-ripeness. Elegant and herbaceous with notes of mineral, passion fruit and citrus along with a remarkable degree of body.

Barrandica Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Treana 2011 RedTreana Red 2011, Paso Robles, California ($39.95)

David Lawrason This opaque, black wine is a blend of cabernet and syrah from the hotter Paso Robles region of the Central Coast. It’s massive and deep, and I was prepared to dismiss it as a hot chocolate bomb, but lo and behold it shows very good proportion and balance. Large can also be balanced.

Franciscan 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA ($29.95)

Sara d’Amato – With a warm, sunny summer and a cool harvest, 2012 in Napa is proving to be an interesting vintage and one hailed by many local producers as ideal for cabernet sauvignon. A structured, cellar-worthy find in the classic style of the Haut-Médoc.

Barrandica 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Vista Flores, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95)

David Lawrason  One my most important observations from two visits to Argentina in recent months, is the growing importance of excellent cabernets (see next as well). This is from the Vista flores sub-region of the Uco Valley, a region I have come to know for its lifted floral character and a certain wash of intense fruit. Great value.

Sister's Run Epiphany Shiraz 2012

C.J. Pask Gimblett Road Syrah 2013

Tapiz Alta 2011 Collection Cabernet SauvignonTapiz Alta Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)

David Lawrason, This is a balanced and complete if not huge cabernet – an absolute bargain. Argentine cabernet seems to pack in a centre of gravity that some lack (cabs can famously have a ‘hollow middle’).  There is even a sense of graphite minerality. Tapiz employs Pomerol-based Jean Claude Berrouet, perhaps accounting for the great sense of composure. In any event, it too is a great buy under $20.

C.J. Pask 2013 Gimblett Road Syrah, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – This Hawke’s Bay syrah has an expressive cool-climate nature that delivers a surprising amount of flavour on its lighter frame. Peppery, musky and savoury with an abundance of wild flowers and earth – unquestionably stylish.

Sister’s Run 2012 Epiphany Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – An engaging find, stripped down, generous and appealing with a great deal more concentration, power and structure than one would expect at this price. A classic example of the power and purity that can be attained from the Mediterranean climate of McLaren Vale.

Notes on the California Wine Fair

It’s amazing that this event has been going for 36 years in Toronto and almost as long in Ottawa. It is the social wine event of the year, with about 1300 showing up for the trade portion on Monday afternoon in Toronto and over 300 for the luncheon in the Royal York’s largest ballroom. The guest speaker – Margo Van Staaveren, the winemaker at Chateau St. Jean – gave a personal overview of life and wine trends in Sonoma County, her home for 30 years. Well established as a modern haven for chardonnay and pinot noir, I was most surprised to hear her comment that the hottest trend in Sonoma is the improvement in cabernet sauvignons from the inland areas like Dry Creek, Alexander and Knights Valleys. She closed her presentation quoting a new marketing slogan “True Wine Country” that made the Napa winemaker at our table bristle.

We also heard from Shari Mogk-Edwards the LCBO’s Vice President of Products, Sales and Marketing deliver the state of the California nation address, indicating that sales in Ontario amounted to $285 million last year, up 13% over the previous year, with higher growth than any other region (although still behind Ontario and Italy in overall  sales). She kept referring to the quality and value of California being behind the popularity, but I would argue that is more of a stylistic popularity, and a cultural affinity and comfort level. There is undeniable ease and familiarity to California wines. Value is certainly not part of my discussion around California and our sinking loonie will not help in the months ahead.

I spent my afternoon doing a checking out of new labels, and some classics, and getting a bead on the most interesting categories. There were 125 wineries in the room, each with several wines. So it was not a time for detailed reviews.

My first observation was that pinot noirs showed the most “new to me” labels and exciting quality. I was very impressed by the new Kiser “En Haut” from Mendocino County, Far Niente’s new En Route 2013 Les Pommiers; as well as Paul Hobbs 2012, Miramar Torres 2012 Mas Cavalls, Schug 2013 Carneros, Etude’s new Lyric 2013, and Jamieson Ranch 2013 Reata. California pinot is becoming more and more sophisticated every vintage it seems. Sure there are sweetish and hottish examples, but those working at the upper end of the quality spectrum are finding a groove. And the wines have a delicious factor that pinot does not often achieve elsewhere.

Over on the “cabernet sauvignon and friends” side there were some excellent wines indeed, but not as many new wines. I was most impressed by Far Niente 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mt Brave 2011, Stags Leap 2011 Fay Vineyard, Heitz 2005 Cabernet, Chateau St Jean 2010 Cinq Cepages and Quintessa 2011. It is such an interesting exercise to relate the cool vintage 2011s to Bordeaux, with which there is so much in common. It’s all a matter of how much ‘green’ you like in your cabs.

The most disappointing category was zinfandel. I tasted a half dozen and none showed the great brambly, florality by which I judge good zin. The oak mocha machine is gobbling up this once grand category.

~

And that’s a wrap for this rather long-winded edition. Hope to see you out there on the busy wine circuit in the weeks ahead.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES April 18th, 2015:

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Old World
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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Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011


WineAlign PEC Bus Tour

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Second annual WineAlign Bus Tour to the Terroir Wine Festival and Much More! – Saturday May 9th.

Please join us for a fun (and wine) filled day in the ‘County’. We’ve planned an excellent adventure to Terroir, the County’s premier wine festival, as well as stops for lunch and dinner and wine tasting at several of our favourite wineries. Terroir is the annual showcase for new County wines.

Last year’s sold-out trip was so much fun and the feedback so overwhelmingly positive, that we decided to add a second bus this year.

Get on the bus!It’s a full day including:

  • Luxury coach travel between Toronto & Prince Edward County
  • Sparkling wine introduction to the county at Hinterland Estates
  • Gourmet lunch/dinner with wine at Rosehall Run Winery
  • Gourmet pizza lunch/dinner with wine at Norman Hardie Winery
  • Terroir Wine Festival in Picton, Ontario
  • Colour commentary by WineAlign’s David Lawrason & Sara d’Amato

Note that both buses will be visiting all the places listed above, only the order will be slightly different for each bus.

Purchase Tickets Here

Sparkling Introduction the County – Hinterland Winery

If you haven’t already had the chance to try one of Hinterland‘s sparkling wines, you are definitely in for a treat as we sample wines currently available at the winery. “Vicky Samaras and Jonas Newman decided to focus on sparkling wine from the start in 2007, and today make an excellent range of traditional, charmat and ancestral method bubbly.” – John Szabo, MS.

Terroir Wine Festival 

The Terroir Wine Festival is held annually in the historic Crystal Palace in Picton Ontario.  Many County wineries will introduce their new spring releases and serve their own unique wines paired with delicious cheeses and other gourmet food tastings.  We’ll spend two and a half hours enjoying and sampling the best wines the County has to offer.

Lunch or Dinner at Rosehall Run

Rosehall Run is one of our favourite wineries in the County crafting a wide range of critically aclaimed wines.

Food will be provided by Picnic catering.  Picnic PEC is a food truck operating out of Prince Edward County, ON. They offer picnic style lunches using the freshest, local produce and artisanal ingredients with a focus on healthy and tasty.

Lunch: (includes a gourmet sandwich, salad & wine)

Sandwiches:  Banh Mi, Caprese, Salami ; Salads: Kale Salad, French Fingerling Potato Salad, Quinoa Salad

Dinner: (served buffet style and includes wine)

Choice of pan seared pickerel or Cajun-spiced fried chicken. Salads: Pasta limone with asparagus, Kale salad, Mixed greens salad.

When purchasing tickets you will be able to see more details on the food options and you will be able to choose your lunch or dinner options.

Lunch or Dinner at Norman Hardie Winery

Norm’s gourmet wood-oven pizzas are almost as famous as his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  As his guest you’ll get to enjoy a pizza, salad, wine (and Norm!) during our visit.

Norm Hardie

Purchase Tickets Here

Itinerary: 

Itenary

We’ve put together a fantastic day.  The cost of the sparkling welcome, lunch, Terroir and dinner including all taxes and gratuities is about $130.00.  Add onto the expense of driving from Toronto and you’re north of $200.00.  The price of our trip is $175.00 which includes all wine, food, taxes, fees and gratuities.  On top of that you’ll have room on the bus to store any wine you purchased at our stops, not to mention the peace of mind of not having to drive.

We want to make our bus trip a great experience for everyone.  The last thing we want to do is deal with anyone who has over-indulged.  So while there will be lots of wine to drink, we encourage our members to spit in order to keep their palates sharp and better enjoy the amazing wines available in the County.

WineAlign promotes the responsible, legal and enjoyable consumption of wine to adults over 19 years of age. Please drink responsibly. Please arrange a designated driver to and from Yorkdale, or take public transit.  We will be emailing a RELEASE, WAIVER OF LIABILITY, AND ASSUMPTION OF RISK AGREEMENT out to all participants that will have to be signed and collected when boarding in Toronto.

Purchase Tickets Here

Below are comments and survey results from last year’s inaugural bus trip to the county.  We expect many people from last year’s trip to come back… that’s why we added the second bus.  Last year’s bus sold out in only a few days.  If you are interested in attending, please purchase your ticket quickly to avoid disappointment.

Terroir 2014 CommentsSource: 2014 WineAlign County Bus Tour Survey Comments

2014 PEC Bus Trip - Survey Results

Source: 2014 WIneAlign County Bus Tour Survey Results

Purchase Tickets Here


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 4th – Part Two

Off the Beaten Path, from East to West and a Battle of the Corkscrews
By Sara d’Amato with notes from Michael Godel

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Before leaving for more volcanic wine adventures, John Szabo focused the past newsletter on Easter lamb-inspired wines with a bonus feature of three delectable recipes. The secondary promoted feature in this week’s VINTAGES release is the wine of Veneto, a very short, rather humdrum selection of bottles. More interesting, however, were the selection of idiosyncratic wines from little-known regions and lesser-known grapes. With the aid of Michael Godel, replacing our traveling critics this week, we have therefore decided to take you off the beaten path in order to highlight some of these unique discoveries.

Off the Beaten Path

Livia 2013 Sarba, Cotesti, Romania ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Sarba is a recently developed Romanian cross of two aromatic grape varietals: tamaioasa romaneasca and riesling. The result is a bright, floral zesty wine perfect for aperitif time. The family owned winery of Girboiu is located in the south-eastern Romanian region of Cotesti known for its warmer conditions, mineral rich soils and gentle altitudes of up to 200 meters.

Garamvári Szolobirt 2013 Irsai Olivér, Balatonlellei, Hungary ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Unique to Hungary, the Irsai Oliver varietal has a distinctive muscat-like character but with the fresh, easy-drinking playfulness of pinot grigio. Pretty, appealing, and perfect for a brunch table milieu.

Horse Valley 2013 Single Vineyard Chardonnay, Danubian Plain, Bulgaria, ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – With 3,000 years of winemaking history, Bulgaria is one of the oldest wine producing nations in the world. And while its reputation has taken a hit in recent times, there is quality and value to be discovered. I was particularly taken by this offbeat, fleshy chardonnay, featuring flavours of honeydew melon and apple along with racy acids, saline and fresh herbs.

Livia Sarba 2013 Garamvári Szolobirt Irsai Olivér 2013 Horse Valley Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart of the Barossa Shiraz 2012 Alain Jaume & Fils Clos de Sixte Lirac 2012 Muriel Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada 2008

Dandelion Vineyards 2012 Lionheart of the Barossa Shiraz, Mclaren Vale, South Australia ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Not so much off the beaten path as actually growing on a beaten path. This is shiraz from ancient, gnarled vines, many over a hundred years of age. A wine from Neolithic soils, consumed and procreated on and upon itself.

Alain Jaume & Fils 2012 Clos De Sixte Lirac, Rhône, France ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Lirac is the southernmost cru of the Rhône and one that is often overlooked and overshadowed by its more famed neighbors. This tranquil district butts up against the mecca of rosé, Tavel and the Clos de Sixte vineyards mirror those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape directly across the Rhône river. A Mediterranean influenced and wildly complex blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre .

Cálem Lágrima White Port

Monte Faustino Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico 2008Muriel 2008 Reserva Vendimia Seleccionada, Rioja, Spain ($18.95)
Michael Godel – A great wine for the money, right up there with the Montecillo 1991, but cleaner, juicier and with more sex appeal. A red head, a ginger, Rita Hayworth, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone.

Monte Faustino 2008 Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto, Italy ($45.95)
Michael Godel – Once in a while there comes a Recioto in reserve of its own preciousness. A dessert wine comfortable in its own skin, does not have to try too hard, posits only what it is safely made of. An elegant example with under the radar personality.

Cálem Lágrima White Port, Douro, Portugal ($15.95)
Michael Godel – Sometimes you just need to walk along roads you never seem to take, take in the backstreets or sip along with something that’s always there but you just never bother. Port can be non-descript and it can also be like this Cálem Lágrima, a viscous and seamlessly crafted White Port.

British Columbia & Ontario

Every week we Ontario WineAligners taste over a hundred international new wine releases just before they hit the shelves of the LCBO. What might surprise some is that our local wines, more often than not, hold their own and even shine in this international context. In this release we are fortunate to have an abundance of such shining examples that are well worth singling out. Our top picks highlight the strengths and differences in the contrasting regions of the Okanagan and Niagara.

Vintage variations are at the heart of what makes Ontario wine sing. Some call the region a cool climate when in fact Niagara summers can be as hot as Bordeaux with which it shares similar latitude. In some vintages, cabernet ripens with ease and in others it is a struggle to get most reds off the vine before winter’s icy fingers take hold. These vintage variations are part of what make Ontario wine so unique, excitingly mutable, and able to push the boundaries of feasibility. This “fringe” climate, if you will, causes the unlikely and remarkable benefits of stress to the vine, often naturally reducing yields, forcing growers to focus on particular varietals and the production of premium rather than mass-produced wines. It is in these unique pockets of the world that spring forth some of the most surprising and impactful wines. Careful management in the vineyard and honed, responsive winemaking are the keys to success in Ontario – successes which become more and more apparent as the region comes to maturity.

Golden Mile Bench - Culmina WineryGolden Mile Bench - Culmina Winery

British Columbia is a naturally gifted wine region with great variation in its distinctive and more recently formally recognized appellations, such as the Okanagan’s Golden Mile Bench – the first of many BC sub-appellations to come. From lush to arid, high to low, ocean-influenced to shadowed from the rain and intemperate climate, British Columbia is anything but a one-trick-pony. And although we in Ontario have great reverence for the big, bold and consistently ripened reds of BC, the region has terrific variation to offer, from nervy bubblies to aromatic German varietals, to gutsy and energetic reds.

Without further ado, our local recommendations from the April 4th release:

Gehringer Brothers 2013 Private Reserve Pinot Gris, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – A Golden Mile offering accentuating pinot gris as a strength of the Okanagan. Weighty, earthy, nutty and succulent with a viscous texture and a rather pleasant oxidative character.
Michael Godel – Gehringer offers a unique, golden mile take on pinot gris. The last vintage to pass through these parts had a fuller and slightly oxidative lean. Here the generous alcohol contributes to the mulish attitude though in ’12 the freshness, citrus and aridity bring so much energy to the table.

Pearl Morissette 2013 Cuvée Black Ball Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Ontario, Canada ($32.20)

Sara d’Amato – A polarizing wine that does not aim to please but rather to challenge, requiring patience and an open mind. This type of complex and compelling riesling is a hallmark of Niagara.
Michael Godel – The wines of François Morissette are not meant to please curmudgeons, skeptics, contrarians or members of the wine media. This Riesling has no desire to kiss ass. This will not appeal to late harvest lovers, from Kabinett to Auslese. Is it ripe? Not quite. Is it different? Absolutely.

Tawse 2014 Sketches Of Niagara Rosé, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – It’s spring, isn’t it? This fresh and cheerful dry rosé will have you singing in the rain in no time. Clean, peppy and youthful but with more structure than meets the eye.

Gehringer Brothers Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2013 Pearl Morissette Cuvée Black Ball Riesling 2013 Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Rosé 2014 Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011 Small Talk Vineyards Recap Syrah 2012

Burrowing Owl 2011 Syrah, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($39.95)

Sara d’Amato – The southern Okanagan can produce stunning examples of syrah with impressive depth and substance. This riper version from the desert sites of Burrowing Owl is a true showstopper.
Michael Godel – Is there another Okanagan winery that coaxes maximum ripeness and richesse out of desert sage country syrah? Burrowing Owl pushes the envelope even higher in this ripping 2011.

Small Talk Vineyards 2012 Recap Syrah, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, Canada ($24.95) (415612)

Sara d’Amato – Syrah expresses itself fully in the relatively cooler climate of Niagara with intensely peppery flavours and aromatic wild flowers. So distinctive and so divine.
Michael Godel – In the hands of new winemaker Angela Kasimos, Small Talk Vineyards should consider going with and increasing their plantings of syrah. It’s clear that Kasimos has inherited good solid fruit and the Small Talk (formerly Cornerstone Wines) 2012 lays down good solid roots.

Best Canadian Sommelier Competition

Toronto had the fortune of hosting the Best Sommelier of Canada Competition at the new Montecito Restaurant earlier this month. The competition, managed by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS), takes place every two years, each time in a different province. Competitors from coast to coast came to put their best corkscrew forward to try their hand at winning this prestigious award sponsored by Wine Country Ontario.

After a grueling day of written service exams, and a restless, anxious night, the candidates lined up in the presence of over 150 members of the public and countless webcast voyeurs for the announcement of the top three finalists. Those top three were then thrown into the ring, for an afternoon of unknown challenges scrutinized by not only a panel of distinguished judges but by a national community of viewers.

Élyse Lambert - Best Sommelier of Canada 2015

Those esteemed judges included WineAlign’s John Szabo MS along with Geoff Kruth MS, Chief Operating Officer for the Guild of Sommeliers and Ricardo Grellet, founder and Vice-President of the National Association of Sommeliers of Chile as well as guest judge Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario.

Of the three finalists, which included Steven Robinson of Atelier Restaurant, in Ottawa and Carl Villeneuve Lepage of Toqué! in Montreal, the title of Canada’s Best Sommelier was awarded to Élyse Lambert, Sommelier Consultant, Maison Boulud of the Ritz Carlton in Montreal. Lambert’s previous success at APAS, the Pan-American Sommelier Challenge means that she can no longer compete this month in Chile at that same competition, but she will go directly the World’s Best Sommelier competition in Argentina in 2016.

The competition was arduous and exacting, and the crowd showed deserved reverence to those sommeliers who put their reputations on the line for the greater good of promoting the Canadian sommelier trade. Blind tasting was only a portion of the taxing exam but here are the wines with which the finalists were faced. Think you could have correctly identified these wines in succession? Élyse Lambert nearly nailed them all:

Di Prisco 2005 Taurasi, (Aglianico), Campania, Italy

Travaglini 2007 Gattinara, (Nebbiolo) Piedmont, Italy

Silvio Grasso 2009 Annunziata Vigna Plicotti Barolo, (Nebbiolo) Piedmont, Italy

Stay tuned for adventurous reports from Germany and Santorni, among other volcanic destinations by John Szabo in the near future. Word from David Lawrason as he returns from his New Zealand trek is also forthcoming.

For our members in Ottawa, you asked for more wine events, and we deliver! Check out this great evening exploring regional estates with Beringer winemaker Laurie Hook. WineAlign’s Rod Phillips will be your host as Laurie takes you through a tasting that showcases the volcanic, cobbled rock and alluvial soils of Knights Valley, the highest elevations of Napa’s Howell Mountain and the sun-drenched valley floor of Napa’s Oak Knoll district. (Find out more here.)

Until next week!

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES April 4th, 2015:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael Godel’s Picks
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide Part One: Szabo’s Easter Lamb and Red Wine

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!

Golden Mile Bench photos: Culmina Winery, courtesy of Treve Ring


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Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2011


County in the City

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 4th – Part One

Easter Lamb and Red Wine, plus Pre-dinner Whites and a Glass for Dessert
By John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

It’s Easter time again. But whether or not you celebrate the holiday, any dinner that involves succulent roasted or grilled lamb and fine red wine is reason enough to get the family and friends together. In this report we share some of our favourite recipes for lamb, one traditional that I’ve made and enjoyed on many occasions, and one a little more exotic from our friend, chef Michael Pataran.

We’ve picked our top reds from the April 4th release to match with each, and because the chef is always thirsty, we’ve lined up some pre-dinner sipping wines for your consideration, both classics and exotic. We’re happy to welcome long-time WineAlign contributor Michael Godel in this report – he’s filling in for David Lawrason who’s still scouring the globe for more great stories. If at first you don’t understand Michael’s reviews, you may have to smoke a joint or put on some classic 70s tunes and they’ll all make more sense.

Traditional Easter Lamb

Lamb and mint are tried and true soul mates. They just seem right together. But it’s not an accident. As it turns out, the two ingredients share some flavour molecules, so their synergy seems to be preordained. In this simple recipe you’ll be mixing mint, garlic, sea salt, black pepper and olive oil to make a savoury rub for your leg of lamb, which you’ll then roast to rosy rare-doneness. You can use a food processor to make the rub, but I find that pounding in an old-style mortar and pestle releases more flavour from the mint – like a bartender muddling – and prevents the garlic from turning bitter from the violent steel blade chopping action of the machine. It’s also more cathartic. But either way, with enough of the right wine in the end, it’ll all be fine.

Ingredients

– 1 leg of spring lamb, about 2kg
– Coarse sea salt
– Freshly ground black pepper
– 1 large bunch fresh mint, washed and leaves picked
– 2 cloves garlic, peeled
– About 75 ml olive oil
– 500 ml chicken stock (buy from your butcher; avoid the sodium-laced supermarket cans)

Method

Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Score the lamb all over with a sharp knife (not too deeply). In a mortar and pestle (or in a food processor), pound the mint leaves with the garlic cloves until pasty. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper to your mixture to make a moderately thick paste then brush all over the lamb. Roast in the oven for 1½ hours or until done (still pink by the bone), brushing with the seasoned oil from time to time.

Remove the lamb from the oven and set aside to rest in a warm place. In the meantime, drain off some of the fat from the roasting tin and deglaze with red wine. Be sure to scrape up all of the tasty bits. Add the chicken stock and simmer until reduced to a dense and savoury liquid.

Slice the leg of lamb and serve with a drizzle of the lamb jus and your favorite side dishes.

Recommended Wines

This recipe works beautifully with classic cabernet sauvignon and blends, as these wines, too, share a touch of herbal minty-ness, while the rich protein of the meat binds up those tannins and softens the texture of the wine. But most medium-full-bodied reds with a lick of acid and firm texture will work well enough.

Château Haut Selve 2010 Réserve, AC Graves, Bordeaux, France  ($27.95)

John Szabo – Here’s another superb 2010 Bordeaux, from south of the town in the Graves district, one of my favourite corners in the region. It’s a wonderfully classic, unapologetically leafy-herbal red with genuine zest, freshness and crunchy black fruit flavour. I’m willing to wager that it’ll be perfect with the lamb, and your guests will think you spent far more than $28 on it.
Michael Godel – Who wouldn’t want to find a well-priced and expertly made Bordeaux to accompany an Easter feast? The abstraction is not as easy as it may have once been but once in a Paschal full moon a wine comes along and affords the opportunity. This Graves will seal the Easter deal with its cool savour and chocolate hops.

Mayschoss 2013 Trocken Pinot Noir 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein, Ahr, Germany ($21.95)

John Szabo – I know pinot and lamb aren’t exactly old friends, but I had to slip in a mention of this terrific value pinot noir from the northernmost region of Germany, the steep Ahr Valley, and its volcanic soils. And I do think there’s sufficient stuffing and fruit to manage the dish, and certainly the acidity to slice through the tasty, fatty bits. Don’t be afraid to decant this for maximum effect.
Michael Godel – Ahr Pinot Noir (as opposed to those from Germany’s Baden region) are just that much more accessible and wider table friendly. That’s because of volcanic soil and older vines like you find in this Qualitätswein. The fruit is richer, the cure more refined, the flavours full and the wine structurally sound. No matter the colour of your braise or roast, this Pinot Noir will compliment the hue.

Château Haut Selve Réserve 2010 Mayschoss 140 Jahre Jubiläumswein Trocken Pinot Noir 2013 Stephane Aviron Domaine De La Madrière Vieilles Vignes Fleurie 2011

Stephane Aviron Domaine De La Madrière Vieilles Vignes Fleurie, Beaujolais, France ($21.95)

Michael Godel – Old vines and Fleurie together scream “holiday dinner wine” in my books. This is where it’s at Gamay that struts out from a terrific Cru, of maturity, chutzpah and depth. Talk about a red wine that could equally double down for the Easter and Passover table. Gamay that swings both ways, AC/DC, “it’s got two turntables and a microphone.”

Moroccan lamb loin chops

If you’re looking to spice it up, try this exotic, mildly spicy and flavor-packed recipe courtesy of Michael Pataran, executive chef of L’Eat catering. It needs a day of marinating so plan ahead, and it’s best on the BBQ, so keep your fingers crossed for fine weather. It also works as a tasty snack or hors d’oeuvre. Adjust quantities as needed.

Ingredients:

– 12 lamb shoulder chops (3oz.)

Marinade:

– 6 cloves Garlic, minced
– ½ medium Spanish onion, finely chopped
– Zest of one lemon
– 2 tbsp pink peppercorn, crushed
– 3 tbsp Rosemary, chopped
– 2 tbsp Paprika, sweet
– 1 tbsp saffron, ground
– 2 tbsp thyme, chopped
– 2 tbsp coriander seed, crushed
– 2 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed
– 1 tbsp salt
– ½ cup olive oil

Method:

Marinate lamb loin chops, overnight or up to a couple of days, in the minced garlic, chopped onion, lemon zest, crushed pink peppercorns, chopped rosemary, sweet paprika, ground saffron, thyme, coriander seed, fennel seed, salt and olive oil.

Grill over hot coals until desired doneness (recommended medium-rare). Serve with a squeeze of lemon or lime.

Recommended wines:

The sommelier recommends bigger reds with sweet, ripe fruit and full, generous but soft texture. Look to warmer climates and new world style wines.

Seghesio 2013 Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California, USA ($31.95)

John Szabo – Seghesio is a leader in the Zinfandel category in my view, crafting bold and ripe but balanced wines – a tough act to get right. This 2013 is generously proportioned, intensely fruity and lively, with terrific length and depth. This should handle the spice well.

Mendel 2011 Malbec Mendoza Argentina ($27.95)

John Szabo – Mendel is another producer who crafts balanced wines in a region known more for monolithic bulldozers. This is full and plush, richly concentrated to be sure, and it delivers the fruit intensity needed for this spicy lamb preparation. Yet it stays composed and poised throughout.
Michael Godel – On the rare occasion when a Mendoza Malbec exhibits restraint, balance and all around congenial behaviour, it is imperative to sit up and take notice. The Mendel will seduce, hypnotize and cause general swooning. Like a Grand Budapest Hotel box of treats, it will sooth even the savage beast.

Seghesio Zinfandel 2013 Mendel Malbec 2011 Andrew Rich Red Willow Vineyard Merlot 2010

Andrew Rich 2010 Red Willow Vineyard Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA, ($29.95)

Sara d’Amato – This small-lot, boutique wine from a prime vineyard within Columbia Valley has an impressive hook. This is holiday in a glass with notes of Christmas pudding, bayberry and liquorice complimenting the generous plum and red berry fruit proving an excellent choice for an exotically spiced main course.

Barque Smokehouse: Smoked Lamb Ribs

Our last recipe comes to us from Barque Smokehouse, from the complex BBQ mind of owner David Neinstein. Lamb Ribs will blow your mind and smoke along with your wine.

Ingredients:

– 2 racks of lamb ribs, trimmed
– Herb Spice Rub (see below)
– Pomegranate Molasses BBQ Sauce (see below)

Barque RibsRub:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside

– 1 tbsp white granulated sugar
– 1 tbsp brown sugar
– 1 tbsp kosher salt
– 1 tsp granulated garlic
– 1 tsp granulated onion
– 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
– 1 tsp ground cumin
– 1 tsp freshly ground coriander
– 1 tsp mustard powder
– 2 tsp dried rosemary

Pomegranate Molasses BBQ Sauce:

In a sauce pan over medium-low heat, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer at low for 15 minutes, careful not to burn.

– 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
– 2 tbsp honey
– 2 tbsp orange juice
– 2 tbsp ketchup
– 2 tsp red wine vinegar
– 2 tsp kosher salt
– 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Smoker Method (see below for backyard grill instructions):

Set the smoker to 280F and season the Lamb with rub on both sides, be generous. Smoke bone down for about 2 hours and 15 minutes, depending on how meaty your ribs are. They’re done when the meat evenly pulls back from the tips of the bone.

– Remove from the smoker and let cool.
– Pre-heat the oven to broil.
– Cut the ribs into individual pieces and place them on a cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick spray.  Baste the ribs with the pomegranate bbq sauce.
– Place the tray on the middle rack and cook with the door slightly ajar until the sauce starts to bubble slightly.
– Remove the ribs and serve right away with lime wedges if you’d like.

Alternatively:

Set a deep fat fryer to 325F and fry the individual bones for 60 seconds and then toss in the pomegranate bbq sauce.

Set and serve with lime wedges.

Backyard Grill Instructions

To turn your backyard grill into a smoker, follow these simple steps:

1. Remove half of the grill from the bbq and turn on only the element from the exposed side to its lowest setting. This method will heat the average grill to 250 F (120 C). Adjust if needed.

2. Take a square foot of foil and fill with two cups of wood chips (hickory is a good choice). Create a pouch and pierce multiple times with a fork or knife to allow for airflow. Repeat, making enough to last throughout the cooking process.

3. Place the pouch directly on the heat source. Wait about 15 minutes, or until smoke appears, then place the food directly on the side of the grill without heat underneath. Follow the same cooking instructions, keeping the lid of the grill closed as much as possible.

4. Place a large metal bowl with water in it beside the grill. Using long metal tongs, place used smoke pouches in the water bowl to douse. Discard them once they’ve soaked through and there are no hot coals left inside.

Recommended wines: 

Luigi Bosca De Sangre 2011 Diemersfontein Pinotage 2013Smoky, earthy wines tend to compliment this richly flavoured dish best. Look to South African and Southern Italian reds along with robust new world blends for inspired matches. 

Diemersfontein 2013 Pinotage, Wellington, South Africa ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – I’ve been a long admirer of Diemersfontein’s rich, robust and smoky pinotage which proves an exciting match for earthy or gamey red meats. Try with smoky barbeque or coffee/cocoa rubbed lamb.

Luigi Bosca 2011 de Sangre, Mendoza, Argentina, ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – From the high altitude desert region of Lujan de Cuyo, butted up against the Andes, and known for its lush malbec comes this compelling blend of cabernet sauvignon with a touch of syrah and merlot. Impactful and head turning so it needs an appropriately bold and flavourful food pairing.

Pre-Dinner Sipping wines

Dog Point 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, South Island New Zealand ($24.95)

John Szabo – I love the house style of Dog Point: comfortably flinty, grapefruit-driven and gently reductive, clearly more ripe and concentrated, and less grassy, than the average from the region. But it really shines on the palate with its exceptional depth and density, and terrific length. You’ll wait patiently, and happily, for the lamb to roast while sipping this.
Michael Godel – This Sauvignon Blanc may just be the most consistent in every vintage, not only stylistically but also for the hedging of probability bets for guaranteed Marlborough quality. Like school in fall, winter and spring, the Dog Point is all class.

Krauthaker 2013 Grasevina Kutjevo, Slavonija Croatia ($23.95)

John Szabo – Don’t be frightened by the name. Just think aromatically intense, sauvignon blanc-like, with uncommon density and weight. This was evidently grown with care and the low yields that lead to this sort of concentration.  Grasevina (aka welschriesling) is the company’s focus and flagship.

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Krauthaker Grasevina 2013 Montresor Soave Classico 2013

Montresor 2013 Soave Classico Dop, Veneto, Italy ($13.95)

John Szabo – A tidy little value from one of Italy’s most overlooked areas, still dragging the baggage of the bad old wines from decades past. This is fresh and lively, with gentle peach flavours and a light dose of petrol-like minerality. Length and depth are impressive for the price category.

Fielding Viognier, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($25.95)

Michael Godel – Winemaker Richie Roberts has worked tirelessly with Viognier to find out where it fits into the lexicon and ambience of Niagara Peninsula white grape varieties. The 2013 vintage marks a turning point in his and by extension, all of our understanding. The tropical fruit is now reigned in and the tension on the back bite a perfect foil to that well-judged, rich fruit. Sip it joyously on it own or bring on the Easter Rijsttafel!

Sara d’Amato – The seductive viognier is not only characteristically viscous, honeyed and peachy, it also exhibits refreshing balance with verve and brightness. This warm climate varietal does not often exhibit such beauty in our local fringe climate.

Fielding Viognier 2013 Cdv Brazão Colheita Seleccionada Arinto 2013 La Jara Organic Brut ProseccoChâteau La Tour Blanche 2011

Cdv Brazão 2013 Colheita Seleccionada Arinto, Vinho Verde, Portugal ($16.95)

Michael Godel – A highly unique Vinho Verde that works as a sipper and as a solid, pair me with just about anything table wine. This Arinto will tie appetizers together and buy time until the bird, hock or shank is on the table with the feast’s big reds.

La Jara Organic Brut Prosecco, Veneto, Italy ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – This dry, charmat method Prosecco is one of the best values in this release and although it may not fool anyone into thinking it is Champagne, it is a festive delight with an impressive amount of complexity. Peach blossom, pear, honeysuckle and lemongrass make for an exotic, lush and spontaneous bubbly. “La Jara” is the name for “gravel” in local dialect referring to the large calcareous white stones of the river Piave adjacent to the vineyard – a similar surreal landscape to the much warmer vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

And For Dessert

2011 Château La Tour Blanche AC Sauternes, 1er Cru France — Bordeaux  ($49.85)

John Szabo – An arch-classic, beautifully balanced, complex and silky textured Sauternes, still extremely youthful but already nicely layered and complex. Dessert? Who needs dessert after a glass of this?

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 4th, 2015:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Picks
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 2 of “So, You Think you Know Wine?”

Blind Tasting meets Sauvignon Blanc

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?”

Seán Cullen

The multi-camera format of Season 5 captures up-close jousting between participants who sit at a studio round table and focus on identifying the concealed “jug of freedom” (as host Seán Cullen calls it) in front of them.

Without any clues, comedian Seán Cullen takes each table through the sniffing, tasting, and gurgling ritual—asking them to correctly identify the grape, country, region, vintage, and price of the wine. Cullen then issues each player a score but not without, first, testing a few of his own theories against the experts. A champion eventually emerges.

The series showcases some of Canada’s most widely recognized, award-winning sommeliers and wine critics as well as three top local food personalities.

Seán Cullen is a triple Gemini and Canadian Comedy Award winner. He has made multiple appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and CBS’s The Late Late Show and has a number of his own specials including Comedy Central Presents, Comedy Now and was a finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing.

Click here to watch Table 2 or read on to learn more about the contestants in this round and the scoring method.

Table 2

At Table 2, wine experts David Lawrason (WineAlign, Toronto Life), Sara d’Amato (WineAlign, Chatelaine) and Will Predhomme (Sommelier, Wine Educator) battle it out to see who can correctly identify Creekside Sauvignon Blanc 2013.

David Lawrason

Sara d'Amato

Will Predhomme

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 2 here.

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

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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Report on Cuvée and Expert’s Tasting 2015

Ontario Wine ReportMarch 16, 2015

by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

February 27, 2015 was a frigid day to set off to Niagara’s Fallsview Casino for Cuvée’s annual grand tasting and the first time I experienced the Falls frozen over, almost entirely so. Not only did the grand affair take place on the 27th but it was also the 27th anniversary of the event.

The format has changed greatly over the years but this year, like several years before it, participant wineries were asked to have their winemakers present one wine of their choosing to the large gathering of consumers and media. At $200 a ticket, attendees were afforded the chance to hobnob with the winemakers (all in their finest black-tie garb) and enjoy some exquisite cuisine presented by the finest local Chefs.

The evening kicked off with Tony Aspler’s presentation of his annual Cuvée Award of excellence to Laurie Macdonald, the director of VQA. The soiree finished memorably as guests were treated to a selection of craft beers, sparkling wine and Icewine as the dance floor filled up, brought to life by live music at Après Cuvée.

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White wine highlights:

Riesling and chardonnay made their usual splashes at the Grand Tasting but there were some surprisingly lovely entries made of semillon, chenin blanc and pinot gris.

Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay 2013 Big Head Wines Chenin Blanc 2013 Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2012

Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay 2013 ($22.95) – Organic and biodynamic production are the hallmarks of Southbrook but it is the attention to detail and an uncompromising approach that produces some of the region’s most memorable wines as well as its most unconventional and polarizing bottlings. This example is elegant, sublimely integrated, undeniably sophisticated and thankfully, well-priced.

Big Head Chenin Blanc 2013 ($22) – Prolific winemaker Andrezj Lipinski knocks it out of the park, once again, with this substantial, unctuous and widely-appealing chenin blanc from old vine Niagara Lakeshore fruit.

Cave Spring Cellars 2012 Riesling CSV, Beamsville Bench ($29.95) – I seem to be drawn in by the warmer vintages of Cave Spring’s CSV riesling and this example exhibits those notable flavours of petrol and passion fruit as well as a rich, tongue-coating texture and memorable length.

Red wine highlights:

Not surprisingly, gamay and cabernet franc were standouts in this year’s tasting and prove that Niagara has both the climate to produce consistently outstanding examples of these varietals and the gumption to craft fine, high-end examples.

Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2012 Two Sisters Cabernet Franc 2010 Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve 2012

Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2013 ($18.75) – Talented Winemaker Katie Dickenson, has been making a splash since her debut as Winemaker with Peller only three years ago. She continues to produce serious and noteworthy wines such as this Gamay, one of her favourite varietals – and it shows!

Two Sisters Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2010 ($48) – The buzz continues to grow about Two Sisters who have been officially open for less than a year but have captured the attention of top critics across the globe. Proprietors Angela and Melissa of the Marotta construction family have brought Adam Pearce, a Niagara College Wine and Viticulture graduate, to lead the winemaking team with his low interventionist methods.

Vineland Estates 2012 Cabernet Franc Reserve, Niagara Peninsula ($40) – Soon to be released, this show-stopping Cabernet Franc is vibrant but meaty and substantial. It is a solid expression of the unique, high-quality and age-worthy style of cabernet franc of which Niagara is most capable of producing.

Expert’s Tasting

John Szabo

John being congratulated by Magdalena Kaiser and Zoltan Szabo

Once a year, a gathering of Ontario’s top winemakers, educators, sommeliers and wine critics are brought together by Brock University’s CCOVI for a day of academic discussion on the state of affairs of local, cool climate wine production and the unique potential of the industry. This is usually mixed with a little competitive joviality as attendees are asked to identify wines blind among international ringers. All in all, a chance to get serious after the Gala’s revelry.

The Expert’s tasting was hosted by the gregarious Jamie Drummond, Sommelier and wine and food journalist with Good Food Revolution who has been a long-term promoter of Ontario wines. Along with the wine flights, the coveted VQA Promoters Awards were presented by WineAlign principal critic Janet Dorozynski. Some notable mentions were the Media Award bestowed upon WineAlign’s very own John Szabo MS as well as the educator award to Evan Saviolidis, a past WineAlign World Wine Awards Judge. The Lifetime Achievement Award was rightfully granted to Len Pennachetti, proprietor of Cave Spring Cellars and a pioneer in the development of Ontario’s quality wine production. For a list of all the deserving recipients: http://Cuvée.ca/news/

A snapshot of four flights of note:

Legends Estates Pinot Gris Terroir 2013 Pelee Island Pinot Grigio 2013Flight #1: The beauty of the middle path – a discussion focused on pinot gris and pinot grigio lead by LCBO product manager, Ontario Wines, Astrid Brummer. Although Niagara produces both these distinctive styles, it is no surprise that pinot grigio is a much better marketing title.

No longer do the names on the label necessarily implicate the style of wine produced. That being said, many of Ontario’s dazzling pinot grigios seemed to prove a much greater value than one of LCBO’s top sellers, Santa Margherita our ringer of the flight.

Pelee Island 2013 Pinot Grigio, Ontario ($13.95) – Hailing from the most southern wine production area in Canada, Pelee Island winery is one of Ontario’s most visible wineries on the shelves of the LCBO. It has been some time since I have revisited this top selling, well-priced pinot grigio and I was pleasantly surprised by the wine’s clean, pure and elegant output.

Legends Estate 2013 Terroir Pinot Gris, Lizak Vineyards, Niagara-on the-Lake ($17.55) – Here is one fresh, crisp pinot gris that exhibits the lovely lightness and refreshing dryness more common in pinot grigio. Regardless of the name, it is certainly a focused and finely crafted pinot.

Flight #2: For whom the bell pepper tolls lead by Shiraz Mottiar, Malivoire winemaker

Peller Estates Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Trius Showcase Clean Slate Sauvignon Blanc Wild Ferment 2013Our flight illustrated the wide diversity of sauvignon blanc present across Ontario. The region has yet to focus on a particular style but given the level of quality and the bold fruit tasted perhaps it shouldn’t. There was some consensus that perhaps the industry’s styles should be as diverse as our vintages.

Trius 2013 Clean Slate Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc, Niagara-on-the Lake Vineyard ($32) – As premium of a price as you can pay for sauvignon blanc in Niagara, this stylized sauvignon benefitted from a touch of oak and a good deal of creamy lees ageing. Its wild ferment only enhanced its local character.

Peller Estates 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Four Mile Creek ($30.20) – A riper style of sauvignon blanc almost devoid of the grassy, green vegetal notes characteristic of the varietal’s cool climate expression. A solid, well-made and appealing wine.

Flight #3 Weirdos, misfits and uprooted things with thoughts from Joshua Corea, Sommelier Archive Wine Bar

Sad to say goodbye to some of these uprooted varietals after our, literally, killer winter. With semillon and chenin blanc likely on the chopping block, some other varietals like viognier and gamay surprisingly took center stage.

Creekside 2013 Viognier Reserve, St. David’s Bench, Queenston Road Vineyard ($29.95) – Creekside has long been one of Niagara’s most important producer of this varietal. Call it a guilty pleasure, this lips-smacking viognier is a bombshell with epic flavour and impact.

Creekside Estate Winery Reserve Viognier 2013 Keint He Voyageur Gamay Noir 2013 Malivoire Courtney Gamay 2013

Flight #4 Hip Hip Gamay! Amelie Boury, Winemaker at Chateau des Charmes lead this rousing discussion on a topic that everyone in attendance seemed to champion. The excitement for gamay has certainly gained strength if the empty glasses and rapid-fire discussion were any indication.

Keint-He 2013 Voyageur Gamay Noir, Beamsville Bench, Niagara ($25.00) – This peppery beauty is indicative of a unique Niagara expression of gamay that is brimming with big aromatics and a great deal of charm.

Malivoire 2012 Courtney Gamay Noir, Beamsville Bench, Niagara ($25.95) – This top block from the winery’s estate puts the succulent fruit center stage. Malivoire’s gamays are consistently exciting and are among the top examples in Niagara.

That’s all for this year! I look forward to watching out for these many exciting Ontario trends in the year to come.

Santé!

Sara

From John Szabo: Cuvée 2015: Judging vs. Choosing and The Winemakers’ Stories

Cuvée Event Photo credit goes to: Fab Formisano

Brock-U-2015-Cuvee-Fab-122Brock-U-2015-Cuvee-Fab-295

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 March 21st – Part One

Icon Wines Demystified
By David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

“Icon comes from the Greek word eikenai, meaning ‘to seem or to be like.’ In certain religions, statues of religious figures are referred to as icons – because they are prayed to as if they were the thing they represent.” So goes one definition plumbed from the web.

So what do icon wines represent? We assume they are wines – often made in the image of Bordeaux from cabernet, merlot and their disciples – that have reached some awe-inspiring, mystic, spiritual pinnacle of perfection and grace. But often icon wines are simply the most expensive wines that a producer can get away with stuffing into an overly heavy bottle, in the hope that the consumer will be so besotted by the gravitas of it all that they won’t notice that the wine itself is only very good, not great.

South Americans, Americans and yes some Canadians are particularly fond of the term, and it’s all about hype. Which is certainly the case of the California wines that VINTAGES has chosen to call icons in its March 21st release, that leads up to the 36th annual California Wine Fairs in Ottawa April 10th and Toronto April 13. And the fact that some soar past $100 adds to their sense of gravitas. I am not saying most are not excellent wines; I have scored several 90+ (my threshold of excellence). But at $100 or more they should be jaw-droppingly outstanding at 95 points +, which they are not.

For many, my protest will not matter a fig. These wines will sell quickly because there are enough buyers with enough money who choose to pay more to assure they will get quality. And that reason is just fine. I only want to temper the expectations of those who might venture a pile of money on an icon and expect the moon, only to find out they are looking into the glare of a streetlight – hardly a celestial, spiritual or unique experience.

Below we focus on the California “icons” that actually come closest to delivering somewhere near greatness, 92 or 93 points. At the same time we put forward some Bordeaux on the same release that also deliver quality very nicely. Some are just as expensive as the Californians (but Bordeaux wines ironically are rarely called icon wines). And then we scatter in some true values as well for those who just want an honest bottle.

Just before we get there, I have another observation from this tasting that relates to vintage variation. The Californians include 2011s and 2012s, and there is quite a difference between the two years. The 2011s are less ripe, with more Bordeaux-like leanness and greenness but they do have terrific energy. The 2012s are riper, softer and frankly a bit understated and lacking some energy. They may open and rev up with more bottle age, but they fail to ignite at the moment. Over on the Bordeaux side, the 2011s are also of lighter stock. Not green necessarily but lacking some depth of flavour (length) for their price tag. While beside them, a clutch of minor, less expensive, good value 2010s show the class and structure of that great vintage.

California “Icons”

Cade 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley ($112.95)

Dominus 2011

Dominus Napanook 2011

Cade Cabernet Sauvignon 2011David Lawrason – Cade is a recent arrival on the slopes of Howell Mountain, an off-shoot of the famous Plumpjack Winery created in part by former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom. The winemaker is Danielle Cyrot, a woman of French descent who has managed to bring considerable elegance and a complex weave to Howell Mountain fruit more commonly known to make blockbuster, masculine cabs. This contains non-estate fruit; the Cade Estate cab rings up at $300US at the winery.
John Szabo – If you’re going to spend big in Napa, spend it on a “mountain” wine like this one. The 21-acre Cade estate was established in 2005 high on Howell Mountain, and vines are farmed organically. The 2011 is a grand success for the vintage, no doubt in part to the vineyard being above the fog line and thus maximizing the benefits of the scarce sunlight. It’s a densely packed wine, as savoury as it is fruity, with the expected grip and firm dusty texture of hillside Napa wines, in need of another 4-6 years in the cellar. Best 2020-2030.
Sara d’Amato – Power and refinement are distinctive features of the volcanic, higher elevation plantings of cabernet on breezy Howell Mountain. The cooler 2011 vintage is surely responsible for the wine’s terrific acid structure, fine tannins and lovely purity of fruit – a real standout for collectors.

Dominus 2011, Napa Valley ($176.95)

David Lawrason – If fame is the foundation of icon-hood, storied Dominus is perhaps most deserving of icon status. I have often found Dominus rather simple and almost boring for the price it garners, but something in this vintage turned my expectations on their head. I immediately thought of a fine, traditionally made Bordeaux, perhaps because the cooler 2011 vintage has imparted some tension. Very nicely constructed and focused, with excellent to outstanding length.
Sara d’Amato – It is no surprise that some of the best wines in this feature come with a hefty price tag but here is one worthy of attention. This old world, cabernet-focused blend from the Bordelaise Moueix dynasty offers immediate appeal, huge structure and a wide breadth of flavours.

Dominus 2011 Napanook, Napa Valley, USA ($76.95)

John Szabo – Admittedly I loved the 2011 Dominus (above), but for pure value Napanook, the second wine of the estate, is the one to buy. It’s very nearly as good with its lovely and savoury, earthy and complex profile, firmly in the old world stylistic camp as Dominus has been from the start. Best 2015-2026

Ridge Three Valleys 2012

Ridge 2011 Estate Cabernet SauvignonRidge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains ($61.95)

John Szabo – Just about everything from Ridge is worth a look, and in the context of top California cabernet, this is an outright bargain. Forget what you’ve heard about the 2011 vintage – top producers like Ridge made some of the most compelling, balanced wines in the last two decades. This is all class, firm, succulent, zesty and ripe, still tightly wound and closed up, but this unquestionably has the balance and stuffing to evolve beautifully over the next 2-5 years. Best 2018-2030.
David Lawrason – Ridge is perched high on the crest of a mountain south of San Francisco – the Silicon Valley in view to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west. The wines have never lacked structure. In this cooler vintage you will indeed detect some greenness and firmness, but it is a cabernet-lovers cabernet. Excellent length.

Ridge 2012 Three Valleys, Sonoma County ($35.95)

Sara d’Amato – Only a warm California vintage can perfect fruit ripening like in this Sonoma zinfandel and carignan dominant blend. Ripe red fruit abounds on the palate featuring peppery spice along with refreshing notes of pine and menthol. Clean and succulent with a very authentic, un-manipulated feel.
John Szabo – A fine vintage for the Three Valleys, Ridge’s Zinfandel-led blend, with firm and honest, woolly tannins, a nice mix of ripe and sour fruit, red and black, along with a range of savoury wild herbs. Best 2015-2027.

Clos Pegase 2012 Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, ($29.95)

Calera Chardonnay Mt. Harlan 2013 Clos Pegase Mitsuko's Vineyard Chardonnay 2012Sara D’Amato – There is a real traditional California feel to this well-balanced and beautifully integrated chardonnay featuring a great deal of presence, ripened tree fruit, oily viscosity and creamy malolactic texture. Mitsuko’s Vineyard is a large, 365-acre site in the cooler climate of Los Carneros named after proprietor Jan Shrem’s wife. The site’s varying degrees of slope, of elevation and soil types create great diversity in the grapes harvested often resulting in rather complex and compelling wines.
John Szabo – Mitsuko’s Vineyard is a sprawling 365 acre parcel on the Napa side of the Los Carneros AVA with diverse soils and aspects, all of which builds complexity. This substantial chardonnay doesn’t sacrifice freshness despite ample richness, and while oak influence is abundant, there’s also impressive fruit extract to compensate. To be cellared another 2-3 years; best 2017-2022.

Calera 2013 Chardonnay Mt. Harlan, Central Coast, USA ($49.95)

John Szabo – This is a serious bottle of wine. The Mt. Harlan Chardonnay Vineyard was planted in 1984 on own roots (un-grafted) using cuttings from errant vines found among the pinot noir of Josh Jensen’s original vineyards. The site is naturally low yielding, which shows in this generously proportioned wine. There’s a real sense of chalky-minerality, and while wood is very marked for the moment, this will surely knit together beautifully in time. Best 2018-2025

Bordeaux

Château Pontet-Canet 2011, Pauillac 5eme Cru ($150.00)

David Lawrason – Riding a Parker 100pt rating the previous 2010 vintage of Pontet-Canet sold at VINTAGES last month for $300. So it’s decent of them to have cut the price by half for this less good vintage. (You won’t see Napa doing this). The 2011 remains a firm, reserved and well-built young Pauillac, but it does not have the depth or wow you may expect if this is your first brush with one of the most talked about properties of Bordeaux.
John Szabo – Pontet-Canet is perhaps the most progressive Château in Bordeaux. Alfred Tesseron converted to organic/biodynamic farming some years ago, and vineyards are worked by horse. Clay amphorae were introduced in 2012 in an effort to decrease wood influence – all things that would have seemed impossible a decade ago. The efforts have been worth it, for although ’11 was a challenging vintage, this wine is a marvel: explosive and concentrated, full, dense and rich – a real honest and solid mouthful of wine. Cellar at least 4-6 before opening, or hold a couple of decades. Best 2020-2035.

Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2011, Margaux, 3eme Cru ($89.85)

David Lawrason – This is a lovely blend very much in the Margaux vein; which to me is all about charm and refinement. The blend here is 50% cabernet sauvignon, 35% merlot, 10% cabernet franc and 5% petit verdot. A very fine effort in a lesser vintage.

Château Clerc Milon 2011, Pauillac, 5eme Cru ($89.85)

John Szabo – 2011 is a nicely polished, full but firm, succulent and vibrant vintage for Clerc Milon, perfect for enjoying while waiting for the 2009s and 2010s to come around. But don’t drink it right away – give it another 3-4 years to fully knit. This is classy wine, full stop. Best 2018-2031.

Château Pontet Canet 2011 Château Malescot St. Exupéry 2011 Château Clerc Milon 2011 Château Bel Air 2010 Les Charmes De Magnol 2010

Château Bel-Air 2010, Haut-Médoc ($28.95)

David Lawrason – For one bottle of Chateau Pontet-Canet you could buy five bottles of this firm, well structured mid-weight Medoc cabernet-based red – that I rated the same as Pontet-Canet in terms of quality. What a difference a vintage can make? And with five bottles you could open one to test drive then stick the rest into the cellar, for another ten years. It’s textbook Bordeaux.

Les Charmes De Magnol 2010, Médoc ($18.95)

David Lawrason – This is very good value – a nicely balanced, ripe and decently structured Bordeaux for under $20. It is a second label from the grand (and also large) Château Magnol, a showpiece property and hospitality centre just north of Bordeaux’s city limits.

Other Bordeaux-Styled Reds

Pondview Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2012

Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Chakana Estate Selection Red Blend 2012Chakana 2012 Estate Selection Red Blend, Mendoza, Argentina ($29.95)

David Lawrason – This is a fairly new winery based in Lujan de Cuyo, but focused on wines grown in stonier alluvial soils whether in Agrelo or in Altamira in the southern Uco Valley. Increasingly revered Chilean viticulturalist Pedro Parra has helped Chakana map its vineyards. The winemaking consultant is Italian Alberto Antonini, who also works his minimalist, terroir-first magic at Altos Los Hormigos. This compiles 60% malbec, 20% cabernet sauvignon and 20% syrah into a quite fragrant, savoury young red. It’s quite dense, elegant and refined.

Tahbilk 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria, Australia ($22.95)

David Lawrason – This is not a cabernet with gravitas, but it does have complexity, vitality and pretty good depth. It’s a bit more cool, curranty and spare than many Aussie reds, and I could drink a bottle with ease; especially around rack of lamb.

Pondview 2012 Cabernet Merlot Reserve, VQA Niagara Peninsula Canada ($18.95)

John Szabo – This is an enjoyable wine from Pondview, an honest and juicy, Bordeaux blend with sweet-tinged fruit and decent depth and structure. This should please fans of cool climate cabernet at the price. Best 2015-2022.

And that is a wrap for this edition. John leads off next week with the wines of Southwest France and other sundry picks from the March 21st release. Meantime also look forward as John and Sara d’Amato both report on this year’s Cuvée event for the Ontario Wine Report. I will be on holiday and travelling for the rest of March and will not be covering any of the April 4th release; but we have asked Michael Godel to offer some of his recommendations. Michael’s often lyrical reviews are fascinating, and he is in there tasting constantly – which to me is the pre-requisite to being a successful, objective critic.

Cheers,

David

From VINTAGES March 21, 2015:

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
John 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!


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 7th – Part Two

The Tuscan Tapestry
By David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES has entitled its March 7 release: The Tuscan Renaissance. Tuscan wine has been reborn so many times – even within the span of my 30 year career – that the word renaissance hardly applies anymore. It must be in the genome of the place to always be evolving, and nowadays Tuscan wine has become a blur of all its various eras, grape varieties, climates, altitudes and winemaking philosophies. Starting out, one still needs to learn the main appellations (or DOCs) and their authorized grape varieties, with sangiovese as its soul, but you then need to embrace all the variations as well.

It’s easiest in the end to try to define Tuscan wine as a whole – as it manifests in the glass. What is it? Is there a hook, a mood, a signature? Well I am looking for wines that are linear, trim, tucked in (like a well made bed), with aromas and flavours that are detailed, nuanced and finely interwoven – like a finely embroidered tapestry. Tuscan wines should not be loud, brash, aggressive or – god forbid – sweet or mochafied. They always seem to be aiming for sophistication even if some don’t achieve it.

The 15 Tuscan wines in this release offer a decent cross-section of regions, prices and styles with very good to excellent quality, and we three critics cover most of the selection here.

Nipozzano 2011 Vecchie Viti Riserva Chianti Rúfina, Tuscany ($29.95)

Il Grigio Da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2010 Fattoria Carpineta Fontalpino Do ut des 2011 Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Riserva Chianti Rúfina 2011David Lawrason – This lovely Chianti best expresses the sophisticated weave I was trying describe above. It has real charm and very good depth with classic, modern Chianti attributes.
John Szabo – Made from the oldest vines on Frescobaldi’s Nipozzano estate (age not specified), this clearly has better depth, structure and complexity than the average. I like the firm and dusty structure and the balanced-lively acids typical from this, the coolest and highest elevation Chianti subzone. It will certainly gain in complexity over the next 2-4 years in the bottle and hold even beyond that.
Sara d’Amato A premium bottling from the Nipozzano estate, this spicy, bold and exotic Chianti Rufina is undeniably compelling. I was enamored with the complex tapestry of cool spices, licorice and juicy cherry. Top notch!

Fattoria Carpineta 2011 Fontalpino Do ut des, Tuscany ($39.95)

David Lawrason – Vintages matter in Tuscany, and 2011 was not one of the greats. But this is one of the better 2011s I have had – showing better depth and power than most.  It is still young and sinewy with vibrancy and energy.
John Szabo – I’ve admired the Do ut des for several vintages now from Carpineta Fontalpino, a blend of equal parts sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon grown in the heart of the Classico zone of Chianti. I like the dark and smoky fruit profile, the abundant spice, the integrated barrel influence and the clear concentration and density. It’s enjoyable now, but better after 2017.

Il Grigio Da San Felice 2010 Gran Selezione Chianti Classico, Tuscany ($46.95)

Sara d’Amato – The Il Grigio carries the Gran Selezione designation, only two years old now, which demands a longer ageing period than a riserva, a panel tasting and requires the use of highest quality fruit of the estate. Certainly living up to its top quality rank, the wine exhibits exquisite complexity, great harmony and impressive length.
David Lawrason –  I first encountered this wine while tasting the range from San Felice, one of the grand wineries and hotel properties of Tuscany. It was clearly the most structured and deepest wine, and the longer ageing had clearly – and by design – removed fruit as a flavour focus. Yet there is great complexity. It is a wine from a great vintage destined to be drunk around 2020.

Castelli Del Grevepesa Panzano Chianti Classico, Tuscany ($23.95)

Tenuta Di Trecciano Chianti Colli Senesi 2013 Rocca Di Frassinello Le Sughere Di Frassinello 2011 Panzano Chianti Classico 2008John Szabo – Castelli del Grevepesa is an association of 150 winegrowers throughout central Tuscany, and this is a selection from the village of Panzano in the Classico zone. It’s an ambitious style, which, at 6 years of age, has entered a nice stage of evolution with its dried plum, dried cherry and freshly-turned damp earth character. Acids and tannins are still firm and structure-giving – the cooler vintage shows through – making this a lively and balanced wine.
Sara d’Amato – This Chianti has been perfectly held back and is ready for immediate enjoyment. Fig, cherry and leathery notes are boosted by acidity from a cooler vintage.

Rocca Di Frassinello 2011 Le Sughere Di Frassinello, Maremma, Tuscany ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The southern, more coastal Maremma region is in one sense the new wild west of Tuscany, where sangiovese opens its arms to cabernet, merlot and other varieties. This is the ‘second’ wine of a large joint venture between Castellare di Castellina and Domain Baron de Rothschild. This is a quite ripe, fairly opulent, fleshy yet dense and very warming. Delicious yet still Tuscan.

Tenuta Di Trecciano 2013 Chianti Colli Senesi ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Another allure of Tuscany is its lively, fresh young sangioveses. Minimum oak, lighter structure and exuberant sour red fruit aromas. This is a fine and easily affordable example.

A Nod to BC

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Shiraz

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013Four wines from British Columbia are grouped as a mini-feature in this release. Wines from Canada’s left coast are vastly under-represented by the LCBO – this is our country after all – so it’s somewhat encouraging to see this grouping. There should be many, many more. Of course the best way to appreciate what’s happening in the Okanagan, which is bursting with innovations and new wineries, is to plan a week wine touring this summer. Get to know your favourites personally then begin to order them direct. The LCBO says you can’t do that, but the federal government says you can, and many in Ontario are already doing just that. It is entirely legal, by the way, for British Columbians to order Ontario wines direct.

Gray Monk 2013 Pinot Gris, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Gray Monk Pinot Gris is a benchmark for a variety that is almost the white signature of the Okanagan. It’s bright and tender and full of peachy fruit.

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Shiraz, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($26.95)

David Lawrason – Mission Hill has been working hard to up its game with the red grape that has taken the southern Okanagan by storm in recent years.  From an excellent vintage, this catches classic blackberry/cherry fruit, chocolate and peppery notes, finishing with that earthy desert sand and sage finish common in BC reds from Oliver-Osoyoos.

~

Who’s the best Sommelier in Canada?
by Sara d’Amato

If you happen to find yourself in Toronto this weekend, the Best Sommelier of Canada Competition 2015 will be taking place on March 8th at Montecito Restaurant presented by CAPS and Wine Country Ontario.

CAPS Best Sommelier of Canada Competition

Top Sommeliers from across the country will compete in front of a live audience beginning at 10 AM.

It is free to attend the viewing, however purchasing a Day Pass ticket will get you into two Master Classes: Wines of Chile with WineAlign’s John Szabo MS and that of the BC Wine Institute lead by Kurtis Kolt and Véronique Rivest. In addition, Day Pass holders will have the option to attend an exclusive afternoon tasting and lunch as well as a sparkling reception and dinner.

Tickets can be purchased at : Best Sommelier of Canada Competition.

~

Cheers,

David

From VINTAGES March 7, 2015:

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
John 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!


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Valentines Wines

To woo your beloved, or intended, with wine

Chocolates are cliché and rosés win out over roses any day. What about swapping the overpriced heart shaped box for something that will get your Valentine’s heart, and palate, racing? A little thought goes a long way with wine, especially if you gift these along with a home-cooked meal, or card with the promise of a future pairing to come (the wine, and you).

Ontario’s Sara d’Amato (SD), Quebec’s Bill Zacharkiw (BZ) and I (TR) from British Columbia offer up suggestions to woo your beloved or intended with wine.

~ Treve Ring

All That Sparkles Are Not Diamonds

Forget expensive jewellery. Nothing signals celebration more than a flute of sparkling wine, and our choices below won’t cost two months salary (and some will last longer than most marriages). Ideal any time of day or night, there is a sparkling wine to pair with any dish, and every person.

Chandon Rosé Sparkling Huff Cuvee-Janine Sparkling Rose-2012SD. Let this lovely Prince Edward County Huff 2012 Cuvée Janine Sparkling Rosé do the charming for you. This local find features dried red fruit and fragrant floral notes, laced with the County’s elegant mineral character. Starting off your day with the traditional method Chandon Rosé Sparkling from California will save yourself from the cost of Champagne, and if your thrifty ways aren’t enough to impress, this sensational, pink-hue delicacy is sure to amp up the romance

BZ. Celebrate love with Champagne. I have always maintained that great Champagne is best drunk with one other person, so a little tête a tête will get the proper lift with the right Champagne. If you want to go all in, my favourite cuvée of love is Perrier Jouet 2006 Belle Epoque. From the flowers on the bottle to the refined elegance, you can do no wrong pooping the cork on this bottle. At close to $200, Belle Époque can be a bit pricey. But you can still get elegance and finesse at a more reasonable price with Henriot’s Blanc de Blanc.

TR. Perfect way to kick off a special date, or make a regular day special instantly? Fresh oysters and champagne. Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Cuis 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut is pristine elegance, and worthy of the occasion. This linear, vibrant Grower Champagne is crisp green apple, mineral, white flowers and lemon pith, with a clean, pure delivery and lengthy mineral finish. Pass the oysters.

Perrier Jouet La Belle Epoque 2006 Henriot Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut Blanc de Blancs Cuis 1er Cru Lini 910 Labrusca Lambrusco Rosso

And for Sunday brunch on the 15th, pop the cork on a bottle of Lini 910 Labrusca Rosso. This dry, fruity Lambrusco has plum, blueberry and cherry compote depth, tannin to tackle foods plus fresh and taut acidity to carry them. And bubbles! Pour with savoury waffles with blackberry and bacon, or mushroom and spicy sausage poached eggs.

Wooing Whites

These white wines are versatile, friendly and alluring, a bit adventurous, a lot electric and memorable – just like your sweetheart.

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012 Château De Jurque Fantaisie Jurançon Sec 2012SD. Unique, relatively rare to find in these parts and terrifically compelling, the dry whites of Jurançon also have a very sexy reputation. Produced from grapes gros and petit manseng grapes and grown on the foothills of the Pyrenees, the wine was historically thought to contribute to virility. The early 20th century French poet Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette seemed to agree and famously spoke of the provocative nature of Jurançon wine as “séduction du vert gallant”. In an effort to fight obscurity, producers of the region came out with an advertisement claiming: “Jurancon = Manseng = Sex” – a plain and simple equation. Think you can handle the power of the seductive Château De Jurque 2012 Fantaisie Jurançon Sec?

Nervy, electric and exciting, Niagara riesling is sharp as a whip and irresistibly flirtatious. Vineland Estates 2012 Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling from Vineland Estates hails from some of the oldest riesling plantings in the region and delivers a spine chilling sensation sure to make your date cozy up.

BZ. If bubbles aren’t your thing, how about a rich and seductive white? Pierre Gaillard’s 2013 Condrieu is a thought provoking and sensual wine that is like an hour long hug in front of a fire. Try it with tender seared scallops.

If you want a touch more freshness, but still luxurious and rich, the Schug’s 2013 Chardonnay will do the job. Can California make balanced and interesting chardonnay? You bet they can. Break out the lobster for this creamy white.

TR. The full, creamy, textured palate of Pentage Winery 2011 Roussanne Marsanne Viognier is not a shy wine; fortunately, Valentine’s Day is not the day to be shy. With heady seashell, peach fuzz and honeysuckle, this intriguing wine from the Okanagan’s Skaha Bench is best discussed with someone, preferably over prosciutto and melon.

Pierre Gaillard Condrieu 2013 Schug Chardonnay Carneros 2013 Pentage Roussanne Marsanne Viognier 2011 Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Vinho Branco 2012

Part of the fun of being a couple is adventuring together. The Luis Pato 2012 Vinhas Velhas Branco, a blend of indigenous Portuguese grapes becal, cerceal and sercialinho is a wine adventure worth exploring. Lose yourselves in this bright, crisp and herbal kissed wine, textured with white peach and quince and finishing with beauty freshness and energy. Pour this with confidence (and grilled white fish and walnut arugula salad) and a second date is yours, confirmed.

Romantic Reds

When things are getting serious, it’s time to bring out the big guns, or at least, the main course (and some tannins to cut to the chase). These reds range from fresh and spicy, to sultry and seductive, to age-worthy and rare.

Argentiera Poggio Ai Ginepri 2011 Casas Del Bosque Gran Reserva Syrah 2012SD. There is little sexier than a musky, peppery, evocative red from Chile’s coastal region of Casablanca. Cool climate syrah has a uniquely titillating quality that can give you goosebumps in the same way that only a lover’s first touch can provoke. With Casas Del Bosque 2012 Gran Reserva Syrah, perhaps a date this Valentine’s isn’t required . . .

Super Tuscans were created to be powerful, forthright and a blend of modern inspiration with old world character. For these reasons, they are almost universally appreciated and a great example, such as Argentiera 2011 Poggio Ai Ginepri, a densely concentrated blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot, is sure to make an impact on even the pickiest of dates.

BZ. If you want to go red, there is no lack of love bottles out there. If you want to go delicate, perfumed and romantic, the 2013 Frappato from COS is ideal. So delicate, and with very potent aromatics it will take you from a lighter meal to the couch with ease.

But if you want a wine that will ignite the passion with a touch more torque, then Bill Easton’s Terre Rouge Tête a Tête is a great choice. Cold foie gras, braised meats, richer cheeses, this Rhone styled blend will handle them all with confidence, allowing you an easy evening tête a tête with your Valentine.

TR. Diamonds may be forever, but Golden Stones are for sharing, and isn’t that what this is about. Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorèes l’Ancien Beaujolais 2012 comes from a limestone-rich area known as the Region of the Golden Stones. From vines 50-80 years old, this biodynamically farmed wine opens with potent white pepper and fine rasped cloves before bright cherry, dried sage and sea salt on the juicy palate. Elegant and honest; a beautiful match for your herb trussed poultry or pork tenderloin.

Azienda Agricola Cos Frappato 2013 Terre Rouge Tête à Tête 2010 Jean Paul Brun L'ancien Beaujolais 2012 Marqués De Murrieta Finca Ygay Reserva 2008

Special times call for special wines. Marquès de Murrieta Rioja Reserva Finca Ygay 2008 comes from a pristine, peaceful, unhurried and untouched estate in Rioja, and is a memorable and thoughtful way to set the stage for a lingering date. The quietly confident blend of tempranillo, garnacha, mazuelo and graciano carries worn leather, fragrant red florals and sun warmed pottery across long, fine tannins. Drinking lovely now with tender young lamb or truffles, but will continue to gain complexity over the next five-ten years (your anniversary?)

And if you are still looking for ideas, take our advice with rosés over roses for Valentine’s Day. Here are Treve’s rosé picks for Valentine’s Day from last year for inspiration.

Cheers ~

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 January 10th – Part Two

The New World Order
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Last week John and Sara cracked open the first VINTAGES release of 2015 by focusing on European or Old World wines. Which leaves the New World for me; and that’s just peachy. New World wines tend to get painted with one broad fruit-bomb brush (especially by Europeans), but given my own travels (at least twice to each of the five major countries since 2010), I can tell you that the New World is a fascinating and fast-moving arena of discovery, diversity and sub-regionalization. John’s recent excellent essay on what’s going in Chile, could be written about any New World wine country.

Please indulge me for a moment. Grab a pen, and list New World wine countries as they spring to mind. Waiting, waiting …. tum ti tum….rump a pum pum…….New World wine countries….

Okay, time’s up. What have you got? I would bet that you have listed five or six countries, and that the order in which you listed them probably goes something like: California (US), Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, South Africa. You may, as a Canuck, have put Ontario or BC in there somewhere – while most citizens of our planet would not. But what do they know?

Well, if your list does mirror the list above, in that general order, then you have just defined the New World pricing hierarchy.

Popularity, reputation and history – general top-of-mindedness – are the pillars of wine pricing. Just look back to Europe for proof – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, Piedmont etc. Fame begets fortune. In the New World California has attained that status (thanks Napa), and Australia is not far behind (thanks Grange). Things begin to blur after that but New Zealand has vigorously marketed itself at a higher price point. Canada is paddling the same canoe, if still about three years upstream.

Then come South America and South Africa, which remain clearly at a lower overall price tier. I am not saying that these countries deserve to be there; I am saying that they are still there, despite proven capability to make good wines at almost any price point. The rest of the world just doesn’t yet know it or believe it.

So now I would like to redraw the list based on value. And it goes like this – South Africa, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and California. The complete inversion of the popularity list!

I totally understand if you are not convinced to go out and buy wines from a certain country just because we critics say it’s good value. You may have not had good experiences with their cheapest wines, or have sensed a regional style or flavour profile you don’t like, or heard negative things. Maybe your attitudes are coloured by cultural imagery. But our job as wine critics is to ignore all that and locate quality. Then when we find it at a good price we need to tell you about it. The rest is up to you.

And at this juncture in history I am most frequently finding the best value in South America and South Africa – at all price points. Here are some of the best wines and best values in VINTAGES January 10th release; which is billed in the catalogue as “The Smart Buys Issue”.

Whites

Mulderbosch 2012 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Chenin blanc is the brightest light among South African whites, a specialty thanks to large and often old plantings that are being re-tooled to create premium wines. This is a tropical beauty.
Sara d’Amato – Yet another South African chenin stunner finds its way to the VINTAGES shelves. This is my top value pick in this release offering a terrific depth of flavour from old bush vines. A sustainable wine from an impressive producer.
John Szabo – Sourced almost exclusively from bush vines (Swartland, Malmesbury), many over 30 years old and all dry farmed, this is a bone dry chenin with great depth of flavour for the price. 20% barrel fermentation adds additional layers. It’s drinking now, but will be even better in a year or two.

Zuccardi Serie A 2013 Torrontés, Salta, Argentina ($15.95)
David Lawrason – During ten days in Argentina last month, I tasted dozens of torrontés – a highly aromatic muscat-crossed grape that has become that country’s signature white. The quality level was universally high, and no different here. Torrontés may never attain the complexity or finesse, or price, of top chardonnays or rieslings, but it is undeniably appealing, especially astride exuberant Asian cuisine.

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2012 Zuccardi Serie A Torrontes 2013 Keint-He Voyageur Chardonnay 2012 Talley Vineyards Bishop's Peak Chardonnay 2013

Keint-He 2012 Voyageur Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($16.00)
John Szabo – Here’s a fine value from Prince Edward County-based Keint-He winery, but sourced from vineyards in the Niagara Peninsula (hence the “Voyageur” brand). It delivers more than sufficient limestone-minerality to keep the punters happy, and I like the tight but ripe acids and firm structure. This will please widely at the price.

Talley Vineyards 2013 Bishop’s Peak Chardonnay, Edna Valley, Central Coast, California ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – Deliciously easy to drink but with restrained oak and alcohol which makes it also versatile with food.  Elegant with bright acids and savory dried herbs – a lovely example of Edna Valley’s long and moderate growing season (the longest in California). Keep this sophisticated find on hand for surprise guests.

Reds

Oak Bay Gamay Noir 2012

Momo 2012 Pinot NoirMomo Pinot Noir 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
David Lawrason – There are three of four decent, moderately priced New World pinots on this release. I like this for it’s extra somewhat savoury/foresty complexity.
Sara d’Amato – The length and complexity here surprised me in this upbeat pinot noir that brightens and unfolds in the glass. The Momo portfolio offers an accessible range of wines produced from three of Seresin’s biodynamic vineyards and offers some great value (hard to find in a pinot noir!)

Oak Bay 2012 Gamay Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – #GoGamayGo – an expression and hashtag that is rapidly gaining popularity among winos in the know. Find out what all the buzz is about with this gold medal award winner from the National Wine Awards of Canada
John Szabo – This NWAC gold medalist, is a crisp, fresh, light, infinitely drinkable gamay, the way nature intended it to be rendered into wine. Serve chilled for maximum enjoyment.

La Posta 2013 Armando Bonarda Mendoza, Argentina ($14.95)
John Szabo – Argentina’s “other” grape (originally from northern Italy where it’s known as croatina) this is well worth investigating at the price for a full, generous, fruity, and engaging wine with plenty of dark berry fruit and minimal oak influence. Decant before serving; best 2014-2020.

Rupert & Rothschild 2011 Classique, Western Cape, South Africa ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This was my highest scoring New World wine of this release, thanks to its fine sense of composition, focus and length. South Africa has been making Bordeaux-styled reds for generations and they have learned a thing or two. This joint venture with the Rothschilds of Bordeaux only adds to the experience bank.

Devil’s Corner 2013 Pinot Noir, Tamar Ridge, Tasmania, Australia, ($23.95)
Sara d’Amato – This cool climate pinot noir taps into some old world flavours such as pepper, earth, red meat and sweet sweat. This intriguing conversation starter is a lovely package both inside and out.

La Posta Armando Bonarda 2013 Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2011 Devil's Corner Pinot Noir 2013 Concha Y Toro Serie Riberas Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2012

Concha Y Toro 2012 Serie Riberas Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Marchigue, Central Valley ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Cabernet remains Chile’s most important red grape, and again the experience of large and well established company pays off. This is a very nicely balanced, complete and typical Chilean cabernet that brings it all together at a good price. This hails from granite based red clay soils of the Palo Santo Vineyard, on the south bank of the Tinguiririca River. Marchigue is a sub-region of Colchagua

Featherstone 2012 Red Tail Merlot, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario  ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A substantive and riper than usual merlot from Featherstone – indicative of the hot, dry vintage in Niagara. Oh-so sensual, this appealing red boasts a voluptuous body and notes of wild flowers, plump plums and exotic spice.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. John returns next week with our first report on the January 24 release, while I will follow in with more detail on Chile & Argentina, the sub-feature on the 24th.

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Jan 10th release:

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 10th – Part One
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews

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


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