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Bonus Buyers’ Guide to New Zealand

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

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profiles of the four “dates” are listed below: 

Te Pā Family Ltd 

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

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

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


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

Try: Whitehaven Rosé 2015, Marlborough

Forrest Wines

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

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


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

Try: Ngatarawa 2015 Stables Syrah, Hawke’s Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sara d’Amato

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

Celebrating New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

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

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – May 14, 2016

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

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

The Whites

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

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

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

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

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


Louis Bernard Tavel Rosé 2015

Rollier De La Martinette Rosé 2015

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

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

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


Domaine Courbis St Joseph 2013

Joie Farm Pinot Noir 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 14, 2016

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix
All Reviews

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

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buy The Case: The Vine’s Hidden Gems

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

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

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

The Vine Agency

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

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

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

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

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni Le Torri 2010

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

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

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

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

Valdibella Kerasos Nero D'avola 2014

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

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

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

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

Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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

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

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

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

De Conciliis Selim Spumante Brut

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

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

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

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

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

About The Vine Agency

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

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

Join our Mailing List

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

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

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



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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – April 30, 2016

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

Click here for more from Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

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

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

Buyers’ Guide to Whites & Rosés

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buyers’ Guide to Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The World’s Best Sommelier

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

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


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

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

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


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES April 30, 2016

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

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

Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Chardonnay 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – April 16, 2016

The LCBO Talks about its Future and We Pick from the Present
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Last week John Szabo covered off the “European Vocation” feature of VINTAGES April 16 release; so this week we three chime in with more emphasis on the new world offerings. Australia gets a nice nod with alignments on an elegant chardonnay and a highly quaffable cabernet blend – and Ontario shows how important vine age can be with a couple of excellent rieslings. You can skip the following digression and head to our picks here.

As I walked to the LCBO tasting lab on Tuesday I wondered what might become of VINTAGES in the months ahead, and of the LCBO in general. The day before I had attended the California Wine Fair and listened to Shari Mogk-Edwards, Vice President of Products, Sales and Marketing deliver the LCBO’s annual state of the nation address at the Trade Luncheon. After announcing that California has become the number one imported wine region in Ontario, she spoke about the future of the LCBO now that grocery store sales and a new e-commerce and home delivery system are promised to roll out this year.

Within “a decade” we are promised 150 grocery outlets selling Ontario wine, and another 150 selling both imported and Ontario wines. Given the number of grocery outlets in Ontario this is a pittance, but government promises are rarely writ in stone are they? This is careful politicking and messaging – and I personally suspect accelerated implementation in far less than a decade once the marketplace sinks its teeth into privatized wine and beer retailing.

Shari Mogk-Edwards also said that the new E-commerce and home delivery system, which has already completed initial testing, will expose a wide range of products to consumers – not just existing LCBO General List and VINTAGES products. It will source within the stocks of importing agencies as well, to make selection far greater to the general public. I suspect some agents will not be happy about the deal they get, but I am in favour of anything that widens selection and access for consumers.

So, with all this liberalization, what’s to become of the LCBO itself as a bricks and mortar retailer? And VINTAGES, specifically, around which we publish these previews every month? Well Shari Mogk-Edwards let it be known that “The LCBO’s focus will be on premium products and on-line sales”. This makes perfect sense if grocery will take on the lower end of the market, and it bodes well for an expanded VINTAGES role.

Whether the LCBO needs or will keep all its retail stores is a different issue in a way. And so is the question of whether the LCBO should continue to exist. But as long as it is here I am happy that it is aiming up market. Hopefully we will see much more shelf space devoted to interesting wines from home and abroad, and an end to the arbitrary exclusion of so many wines that want to be here and deserve to be here.

Buyers’ Guide to Whites & Sparkling

Two Rivers Of Marlborough Convergence Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Vasse Felix 2014 Filius ChardonnayVasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2014, Margaret River, Western Australia ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Sublimely elegant and complex chardonnay from the first winery to plant in the Margaret River, in 1967, with their first vintage in 1972. Love the well-honed nose of pear, oak spice, vanilla, honeysuckle and wet stone. Very classy.
Sara d’Amato – Margaret River is a haven for chardonnay and this top example is part of a new breed of elegant, fresh and zesty versions of this classic varietal.  Polished with discreet oak and an ethereal mouthfeel, the Filius chardonnay is a delightful game changer.
Michael Godel – The 2013 Filius was very good. It would be an impossible expectation for winemaker Virginia Willcock to do more with equal or less in 2014, but she has. This is Australia’s great cool-climate value Chardonnay.

Two Rivers 2014 Convergence Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Convergence refers to the fact that grapes are sourced from the two main valleys of Marlborough – Awatere (cooler) and Wairau (warmer). And I sense both influences in the wine, with Awatere’s dill-like greenness and firm acidity, atop some tropical passion fruit from the Wairau. It has a cool, compact feel, with a touch of enlivening C02 spritz. Finish is a bit stony and tart; length is excellent.

Graham Beck 2009 Brut Zero, Méthode Cap Classique, South Africa ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – From coal mining to sparkling wine, Graham Beck’s pioneering spirit and desire to innovate was best expressed in his iconic Cap Classique method wines. This vintage dated, crisp, zero dosage sparkler is an absolute steal. Mid-weight and vibrant with the comforting aroma of warm brioche. At this price, you don’t need a celebration to indulge.

Château des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2013, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, Canada ($16.95)
Michael Godel – One of the finest values vintage after vintage for Riesling in Ontario with a distinct advantage. Old Vines. Riesling from down near the lake that will leave you wide awake.

Vineland Estates 2014 Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Planted in 1979 St. Urban is one of Canada’s oldest riesling sites, and it shows just how important vine age can be. This is a lovely, off-dry, very bright and refreshing with lifted floral, apricot, honey and vaguely stony aromas and flavours. It’s light bodied at only 9% alcohol but some sugar adds flesh. Flavours stay nicely poised; Bench minerality joins the finish.

Graham Beck Brut Zero 2009Château Des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2013 Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2014  Darting Dürkheimer Nonnengarten Gewürztraminer Kabinett 2012Maison Chanzy Rully En Rosey Blanc 2014

Darting 2013 Dürkheimer Nonnengarten Gewürztraminer Kabinett, Pfalz, Germany ($20.95)
Sara d’Amato – Everything a classic gewürztraminer should be: opulent and inviting with an intricate, perfumed nose that fills the room with fragrance. An impressive find just north of $20 perfect for creamy cheese or aromatic curries.

Maison Chanzy Rully en Rosey Blanc 2014, Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France ($26.95) 
Michael Godel – It is not until you get a load of this style and this special layering of Chardonnay that you realize how so many just don’t add up. Here the Côte Chalonnaise showing other Burgundy at its best for a fraction of what more celebrated blocks command.

Buyers’ Guide to Reds & Fortified

Culmina R&D Red Blend 2014

Wynns Coonawarra 2012 Estate Cabernet/Shiraz/MerlotWynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2012, Limestone Coast, South Australia ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Great value here! This has a lifted, savoury and complex nose with cedar, blackcurrant, chocolate, mint, pepper and meaty notes. What great aromatics! It’s full bodied, dense, rich and profound with great salt and pepper, charcuterie and fig jam flavours. This is delicious, and deep and so well structured. Very good to excellent length.
Michael Godel – The blend formerly known as “Cabernet Hermitage” involves vines dating back as far as 1969 and in which Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot share the Terra Rossa sandbox. A highly quaffable red blend that brilliantly shows the deft touch of winemaker Sue Hodder.

Culmina R&D Red Blend 2014, BC VQA Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($25.95)
Sara d’Amato – Short for “research and development”, R&D is a new, whimsical and affordable tier of blended wines. The 2014 is primarily merlot with small portions of cabernet franc and sauvignon offering a peppery, full-bodied, firmly structured palate overflowing with black fruit.
Michael Godel – A tribute to proprietor Don Triggs and twin brother Ron, in which research meets development. The culmination of the winery’s R & D is this D-league red assemblage, Culmina 250.

Edmeades 2013 Zinfandel, Mendocino County, California ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Edmeades has long been a favourite small producer of Mendocino, based in the Anderson Valley. This captures the essential joy of zinfandel – that lifted nose of raspberry, lavender, perfume, with a hint of mocha on the side. It’s mid-weight, smooth, sweetish and warm – very easy to drink with little tannin.

Kistler 2013 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA ($103.95)
Sara d’Amato – You won’t get a break on the price here but Kistler’s Russian River pinot noir delivers a transformative experience for serious pinot seekers. Modern but not forceful, elegant but generous, classic but not stodgy, this finely balanced pinot noir is no gamble.

Couly Dutheil Les Gravières D’amador Abbé de Turpenay Chinon 2014, Ac Loire, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Admittedly, the classic cabernet franc region of Chinon often fails to excite me so I was gleefully surprised to come across this lush, inviting and characteristically perfumed example from Couly Dutheil. For those who find cabernet franc too “green”, this dusty herbal example with generous fruit may just get you hooked.
Michael Godel – This Couly Dutheil takes a page out of that savoury book. This is wise, sage and tarragon bombed balm, with full on dark red fruit and mineral stony play.

Edmeades Zinfandel 2013Kistler Pinot Noir 2013 Couly Dutheil Les Gravières D'amador Abbé De Turpenay Chinon 2014 Hauner Salina Rosso 2013 Constance Et Du Terrasous Vin Doux Naturel Hors D'age 6 Ans Rivesaltes

Hauner 2013 Salina Rosso, Italy ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Salina is a 27 square km island off the northern coast of Sicily, and this is the first wine I can recall tasting from its shores. This is a fresh, juicy fruity red with very good concentration of fresh berry/plum fruit, plus savoury notes. Really has some charm and intrigue. Nicely focused and very long.

Terrasous Vin Doux Naturel Hors D’age 6 Ans Rivesaltes, France ($27.95)
David Lawrason – This is an exquisite, lightly fortified, sweet wine from a Mediterranean corner of southeast France. It pours brilliant if subtle orange-copper. The nose shows wonderful dried apricot, honey, wood spice, tea and marmalade confection (a good thing). It’s very smooth, very sweet yet wonderfully light on its feet, with great concentration and elegance all at once.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES April 16, 2016

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
All Reviews

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

Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Chardonnay 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – April 2, 2016

Old World Meets New and Cosmopolitan Syrah
By Sara d’Amato with notes from Michael Godel

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

The upcoming spring release offers more than a few head-turners. Those most memorable are the wines that defy the stereotypes of their origins. Many of these wines are featured in the carefully curated thematic of “New World vs. Old”, the spotlight in this April 2nd release. This grouping presents mirrored pairs of wines from the new world and old with a grape varietal or blend as their common ground. What you may expect are a collection of wines that are very modern representations from the new world and exaggeratedly traditional examples from the old world. Instead, these attentively chosen wines show a stylistic “rapprochement” in these often polarizing worlds. Thankfully and interestingly, we are afforded a selection of high quality new world wines with a focus on purity of fruit and structure while the old world selections offer cleanliness and approachability without the loss of a sense of place. In summary, the wines in this feature are worth discovering in pairs. Even better, have some fun blind tasting and put your pre-conceived notions to the test!

Also worth exploring are a selection of top quality syrahs from across the globe. From the changing style of Australian shiraz to the savoury, and compelling Rhône examples, to local gems, there is something for everyone in this collection. Put together a flight of these largely affordable syrahs to find out what makes each of these regions unique (and keep your friends guessing past April 1st). While doing so, be sure to scope out our double-alignment syrah from Burrowing Owl grown in the desert of the southern Okanagan Valley.

Next week, David and John will have returned from their global travels to offer their thoughts on this release and highlights of their wine expeditions. A couple of weeks later, we hope to see you when Prince Edward Country comes to town for the County in the City Buy and Taste Event as well as the Austrian Wine Fair on April 14th. There is a great deal to discover in April! 


Deu la Deu 2014 Alvarinho, Monção E Melgaço, Vinho Verde, Portugal ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A pure alvarinho Vinho Verde from northern Minho where some of the purest expressions of this varietal can be found. Don’t expect a simple, light, spritzy white as this version not only offers a great deal of fruit but also viscosity and structure. Sure to put a spring in your step.
Michael Godel – Vinho Verde with a twist, like a Pasteis de Nata swimming in a pool of moscatel liqueur. A far cry from the commercial Vinho Verde found on most LCBO shelves.

Sylvain Mosnier 2013 Côte De Lechet Chablis 1er Cru, Burgundy, France
Michael Godel – Classic Chablis from a very old vineyard (belonged to the Pontigny’s monk) with southeast exposure west of the town of Chablis and just above the small village of Milly. What more could be asked of for this next to nothing 1er Cru Chablis price?

Deu La Deu Alvarinho 2014Sylvain Mosnier Côte De Lechet Chablis 1er Cru 2013Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2014 Duquesa de Valladolid Verdejo 2014 Château Haut Philippon 2014

Loimer 2014 Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – A classic grüner veltliner offering peppery spice, zesty lime and green tea. A statement making white that is sure to turn heads.

Duquesa de Valladolid 2014 Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($13.95)
Sara d’Amato – In case the freezing rain has sent you back into hibernation, crack open a bottle of this inexpensive verdejo that has the freshness of spring in a glass with notes crocuses, green apple and zesty lime.

Château Haut Philippon 2014, Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux, France ($14.95)
Michael Godel – It seems that more and more I notice the wines of Entre-Deux-Mers are creeping into the positive vibrations of global sauvignon blanc pleasure. Here semillon and muscadelle lend capable hands to create harmony for a pittance.


Ravenswood 2014 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, California ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Joel Peterson’s 2014 Old Vines Zinfandel reminds at times of schist syrah and alluvial flats grenache. There’s something about zinfandel old vines that educes such a pipe dream. Just imagine the reverie.

Burrowing Owl 2013 Syrah, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($40.95)
Michael Godel – A combination of northern Rhone and B.C. desert character defines this perennial Okanagan This is a big syrah with plenty of time on its side. “Let it ride.”
Sara d’Amato – This southern Okanagan syrah rarely fails to deliver offering a blend of old world and new with firm structure and peppery, earthy flavours along with compact, ripe fruit.

Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2014 Burrowing Owl Syrah 2013 Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2013 Jean Luc Colombo Terres Brûlées Cornas Syrah 2012

Jim Barry 2013 The Lodge Hill Shiraz, Clare Valley, Australia ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – A sophisticated, sultry syrah bursting with peppery, floral aromatics from its cooler climate locale. Powerful but not boastful.

Jean Luc Colombo 2012 Terres Brûlées Cornas Syrah, Rhône, France ($72.95)
Sara d’Amato – Fearless innovator Jean Luc Columbo not surprisingly offers an exquisite syrah from this very special, very rugged northern Rhône terroir with a great deal of natural spice. Gems from Cornas are rarely on the shelves for long especially when part of a small In-Store Discovery release such as this so don’t miss out.

Fabre Montmayou 2013 Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)
Michael Godel – A stylistically firm Mendoza malbec possessive of a backbone to improve with three to five years in the cellar. Though it was a perennial steal at $16, the price increase brings it in line with the level of its quality.

Fabre Montmayou Reserva Malbec 2013 Alois Cunto Pallagrello Nero 2011 Maison Chanzy Rully en Rosey 2013 Château Lamartine Cuvée Particulière 2011

Alois Cunto Pallagrello 2011 Nero, Terre del Volturno, Campania, Italy ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Possibly an ode to the 17th century fairytale “Lo cunto de li cunti,” the tale of tales, or story of stories, now called Pentamerone by seventeenth-century Italian poet and courtier Giambattista Basile. If that collection of tales could influence the form of fairytales in Europe, perhaps the Alois Palagrello Nero can do the same for natural wine.

Maison Chanzy 2013 Rully en Rosey, Burgundy, France ($26.95)
Michael Godel –  Rully is better known for Chardonnay but this is a stellar example of its pinot noir. Blessed with Côte Chalonnaise’s own specific tangy red fruit flavour and really ripe tannins. A poor person’s Burgundy bargoon.

Château Lamartine 2011 Cuvée Particulière, Cahors, Southwest, France ($26.95)
Sara d’Amato – French malbec is often overlooked, often, simply because it doesn’t don the market worthy varietal name on the label and sometimes lacks the overt fruity character more common in its South American home. This example offers the best of both worlds, however, with a great deal of fruit, firm tannins and nicely balanced acidity.


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES April 2, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix

All Reviews

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Frozen Harvest

by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Across the country, the Icewine harvest has recently finished. The Canadian ambrosia, which has put focus on our burgeoning wine regions, is still our greatest wine export and one that is big business. Although numerous wineries across the country produce at least one bottling per year, others focus the majority of their resources on Icewine.

The Icewine harvest is the catalyst for a profusion of festivities celebrating this golden-hued nectar. In Ontario alone, the celebrations showcasing Icewine include Niagara’s Icewine Festival, the Xerox Icewine Gala, Jordan’s Winterfest and Niagara-on-the-Lake’s equally chilly Icewine Fest where Icewine-based cocktails are showcased for an international panel of judges. When the harvest is in full swing, so are a multitude of rosy-cheeked wine lovers on Niagara’s wine route.

A 200 year-old German accident, thought to be the result of an early frost in Franconia may have been the birth of Icewine, but it has become known as a Canadian specialty. British Columbia wins the race for the earliest commercial incarnation of Icewine which was produced by the Okanagan’s Hainle Vineyards in 1978. In Ontario, Karl Kaiser, Austrian-born biochemist and viticulturalist, is widely credited as the pioneer of our Icewine tradition with notable contributions from Donald Ziraldo, his business partner and co-founder of Inniskillin, along with the efforts of Peter Gamble, at the time winemaker of Hillebrand and Ewald Rief, of Reif Estates, among others. Cementing Canada as Icewine specialists was the win of Vinexpo’s Grand Prix d’Honneur in 1991 given to Inniskillin’s 1989 Vidal Icewine. This award was not only a tremendous honour but one that shifted the world’s attention, if only for a moment, to our heritage and to the potential future of wine production in our nation.

Icewine 2016 Chateau des Charmes 2

We have an advantage here in Canada: it is cold every year, cold enough every winter for the grapes to freeze on the vines, should we let them, and make a relatively fine Icewine. Even the majority of Icewine producing nations cannot claim this level of reliability. As much as some may hate to admit it, it is the cold that has made us famous.

Our VQA standards are strict for the production of Icewine and it is these high standards that strengthen our reputation. These requirements include a sustained temperature requirement of minus 8 degrees Celsius or lower in order to begin harvest.  Most producers wait until the thermometer dips just a little further, between -10 and-12 degrees for the sake of certainty. Harvest is usually done after nightfall, when the temperatures are lowest. These temperatures hit the country’s Icewine producing regions anytime between December and February. This year’s harvest, largely complete by January, proved to be right on average for Ontario and even earlier in BC.

Due to the specialized requirements of Icewine, harvest is usually done by hand, but recently, mechanized harvesting has become a possibility. The main advantage of machine harvesting is speed, which is nowhere more imperative than in the picking of Icewine where timing is crucial and expense is steep.

In addition to the temperature restrictions, in order to bear the VQA symbol the grapes must be either vinifera or made from the vidal hybrid variety. Those hallowed varieties must be carefully monitored from just before full ripeness to the moment of picking. Grapevines destined for Icewine production must be netted to prevent bird attacks, at least to some extent. We’re not the only ones with a sweet tooth – without those pricey nets, you might think you were in a Hitchcock film. Other perils such as wild animal grazing, including bears, require clever diversion.

Pressing of these frozen morsels must also be done at the same low, sustained temperatures. As about 80% of the grape is composed of water, and in the case of Icewine, most of it frozen, only about 15% of a normal table wine yield is expected. Not only are these grapes frozen but they are also partially dehydrated, further concentrating the sugars. The pressing is usually done in smaller sized, hydraulic presses and requires a much greater degree of pressure than for other wines. Left behind in the press is much of the frozen water, separated from juices that are often measured well above the minimum VQA Brix requirement of 35. If that number is of no meaning for you, it is often twice the amount of sugar required for a table wine of the same variety. Brix is the scale for measuring the amount of sugar in a solution at a given temperature.

Icewine Wines of Ontario 2

As frosty and uninviting as the Icewine harvest sounds, once the pressed juice enters the winery, the hardest part is not over. Even once the temperature of the juice rises, having yeasts ferment in such a high sugar medium is no easy task. Many winemakers have aptly called this process “extreme winemaking”.

Debra Inglis, Ph.D. and associate professor at CCOVI at Brock University, in her cleverly titled article, “Make Icewine Easier, at Least for Yeast” offers an “arsenal of best practices” for winemakers to use to combat the problems of this “hostile territory for yeast”, causing “sluggish, incomplete fermentations, which can lead to wines with low alcohol and high volatile acidity (VA).” This volatile acidity can be quite notable in a problematic Icewine and is a greater risk for wines harvested at very high Brix levels.

Yet, year after year, hardy Canadian winemakers and viticulturalists brave the cold and defy odds in the winery to produce this most famous Canadian treat. Thankfully, the results seem promising for a quality vintage in 2015 for two of the most important Canadian regions for quality Icewine production: BC and Ontario.


We all think we’ve been lucky this year with a green Christmas and featherweight parkas into January, but despite some higher than seasonal temperatures, it was not an unusual year for Icewine. The harvest was largely complete in January and although many producers were reporting lower yields than the norm, VQA reports this has been a relatively average year.

Icewine 2016 Chateau des Charmes

However, the vintage of 2015 will certainly be more than just “average”. One of Niagara’s most esteemed producers of Icewine, Piliteri Winery’s Director of Viticulture, Jamie Slingerland (and reigning Grape King) says, “The 2015 vintage of Icewine grapes this year was a resounding success contrary to opinion that numerous media outlets felt would occur.” He also reports that birds were less of a problem this year, fewer in number and well fed due to less snowy ground cover which helped yields in certain sites. Pilliteri’s winemaker Aleksandar Kolundzic also predicts great results as a “few days after fermentation started, the whole fermentation room was filled with aromas of flower garden in full bloom which is sign of good Icewine in making.”

Michèle Bosc of Chateau des Charmes winery echoes these thoughts: “January 12th came and we saw daytime temperatures hover around -12C. Perfect conditions. We picked everything that day.” Although yield reductions were notable for the winery, they were not cause for alarm.


In BC, the harvest was early and the yields were low, at least in some parts of the Okanagan – both of those factors make for a promising outcome. In fact, the first picking this year was as early as November 25th when the temperatures first dipped below 10 degrees Celsius. January 2nd saw the last of the frosted grapes picked, at a time when most in Ontario had not yet begun. The BC Wine Institute reports that this is the third consecutive year BC’s Icewine harvest started as early as November.

Volcanic Hills Winery was one of the earliest to harvest, reporting that: “Our Icewine harvest this year was really fantastic. We picked the majority of our chardonnay, riesling, and zweigelt Icewines on Nov. 25th. An early harvest means we aren’t competing with the hungry birds and bears, and we also had an unusual early 2015 Spring”, says proprietor, Amit Gidda.

Winemaker David Paterson of Tantalus Vineyards makes the point that Icewine is a much riskier business in BC than it is in Ontario. Due to the variegated sloped terrain, mechanized picking is not possible in most areas and many wineries, such as Tantalus would agree that Icewine is a very small portion of their business. In some years, it is difficult to produce any Icewine south of Naramata due to warmer temperatures. Although Icewine isn’t big business in BC, certainly in comparison with Ontario, the last three, early harvested vintages have shown some exquisite results.

This year, a great range of grape varieties were used for the production in BC including cabernet franc, chardonnay, ehrenfelser, gamay noir, gewürztraminier, merlot, oraniensteiner, pinot blanc, pinot noir, riesling, sauvignon blanc, syrah, vidal, viognier and zweigelt, reports Laura Kittmer of the BC Wine Institute.

Icewine in Export

How are we doing? Strong and steady! In Ontario, the largest export market by far is China with an estimated $4,022,135 sold in 2015.  In 2013 the Icewine craze hit the United States, resulting in a six-fold increase in Ontario Icewine sales. The US now sits just behind China with an estimated $3,969,644 in sales in 2015. South Korea followed by the UK are showing steady increases in sales since 2011.

BC’s much smaller production and hence smaller exportable product has seen less growth and is more affected by variations in crop yields and vintages. Regardless, despite vintage fluctuations, its export quantities remain steady with 25,422 litres exported in 2014.

Icewine Wines of Ontario 3

Despite an often lukewarm appeal to wine lovers at home, there is no sign of decline in popularity of this sweet nectar abroad. There is no way around the fact that it is a “special occasion” beverage due to its price and high level of sweetness. Luckily, Icewine has an extremely long lifespan due to the convergence of, primarily, a high degree of residual sugar and an important acid content, so there is plenty of time to find just the right occasion to indulge.

Varietal Selection and Technological developments

Icewine is more dynamic than one might expect. It can be drunk right away, or can age and develop for decades. But further to this, it can be made from a multitude of varieties, though only possible with ones hardy enough to make through the coldest months of the year. An aromatic character and a good balance of natural acidity are also preferable for producing high quality Icewine.

Despite the rise of the popularity of red Icewines, most notably that of cabernet franc, the two main varieties remain vidal and riesling. The hybrid vidal that makes up a considerable percentage of Ontario’s total wine production is very winter hardy and grows easily in Niagara’s climate (where the majority of Icewine is produced). Due to its bracingly high natural acidity, Riesling is a star candidate for producing finely balanced Icewine. The best stuff is not cloying and the natural potency of freshness innate to the riesling grape makes for a consumer favourite.

Icewine Wines of Ontario 1

New technologies over the past 5-10 years have lead to a significantly better product and most of these advances are focused on crop loss, pressing, and speed of harvest. Martin Werner of Ravine Vineyard credits new colour-striped netting helpful in bird diversion for lessening crop loss.  Jamie Slingerland of Pilliteri sheds light on how new technologies have greatly impacted their production:

“I have to credit the changes in technology that have resulted in greater efficiencies of harvest and presses. 20 years ago most grapes were harvested by hand and people lasted 4-6 hours in the cold on their knees when cold snaps lasted 24 hours. Today there are significantly fewer people looking to pick Icewine and significantly more wineries. Mechanical harvesting has enabled growers to harvest more per hour, lose less grapes and work much longer hours…  As for pressing the frozen grapes, the industry uses specialized hydraulic presses for Icewine only. These presses are five times faster than screw or bladder presses and extract better/more juice per hour. With our crews working around the clock a vintage of Icewine grapes can be pressed within a three week period.”

Terroir in Icewine

The most intriguing and noteworthy wines display a sense of regional character, and a sense of place that gives them unique character. However, in wines that have a high concentration of alcohol, oak or sweetness, one could argue that that sense of place is overwhelmed or masked. Does the blanket of sweetness obscure the expression of terroir in Icewine? In order to get some perspective on the issue, I spoke to “terroir specialist” David Paterson of Tantalus Vineyards in B.C., who focuses on the production of single-vineyard wines that express an authentic sense of place. Paterson suggests that early picks of Icewine show a greater expression of terroir than do later picks. The thawing and freezing common to later picks causes some desiccation and cellular breakdown leading to complex flavours but it is the pure flavours of the early freeze that allow the wine to express the terroir more authentically. The terroir marker of “crunchy acids,” apparent in the white wines of Tantalus, is also notable in their early freeze Icewines of the past three vintages. That acidic component gives the wines a tart-sweet lemon meringue pie flavour as opposed to a cloying feel.

Sue Ann Staff Howard's Vidal Icewine 2012

Cave Spring Riesling Icewine 2014

Malivoire Cabernet Franc Icewine 2013The Canadian Icewine industry is indisputably evolving with the rise of the export market, more efficient production methods and growers and producers finding new ways to promote and encourage the consumption of Icewine locally. The meritorious hype regarding this 2015 vintage in BC and Niagara will surely only help to ensure the survival and flourishing of this product that has put Canada’s wine industry on the international wine map. And although Canadian producers seem to be divided by those who put out an obligatory Icewine and those who choose to focus the majority of their attention on the style, we still, as an industry, to some degree rely on the awareness of it to promote other wines. Love it or hate it, the 2015 vintage will be one that is worthy of our attention and perhaps, rediscovery.

Top Ontario Picks:

Malivoire 2013 Cabernet Franc Icewine, Beamsville Bench, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Cave Spring 2014 Riesling Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula

Sue Ann Staff 2012 Howard’s Vidal Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula



Sara d’Amato

Photos courtesy of Chateau des Charmes and Wines of Ontario

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – March 19, 2016

Spring is in the air, and in the glass…
By Sara d’Amato with notes from Michael Godel

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

A strong showing from France and South Africa in this springtime release piqued our attention this week. As the weather warms, our preferences naturally shift to wines that are refreshing, energetic and stripped down. So if that uncontrollable urge to purge, freshen and keep fit has you motivated, we have chosen a selection of nervy, palate cleansing and floral whites that should fit the bill. Rainy times are also ahead and what better remedy is there than to curl up inside, out of the fog, with a spicy glass of heartening red offering comforting appeal. Whatever your mood and whatever the weather, we have you covered with our top picks from both camps.

Although a substantial selection of generic Italian wine was featured in this week’s VINTAGES release, it was largely hit and miss. John highlighted a couple interesting whites in his VINTAGES Preview last week, and I selected a Gavi below. Israel also received a much-anticipated mini-feature that was rather disenchanting with largely problematic and oxidative selections save for a gem or two. Outside of those thematics, we have one double alignment on a mouthwatering, high-end pinot noir from Hamilton Russell, a producer whose infatuation with the expression of terroir rivals most in Burgundy.

If an Easter feast is on the horizon than you will have ample choice given our range of picks from bubbly to fresh, aromatic whites and reds ranging from light and complex to peppery and sensual. If pairing wines over the holidays with dishes that involve sweet, minty sauces or if honey and maple syrup should accompany your mains, choose red wines that are low in tannins and whites that have a rich, fruity base. Without further ado, our top dinner table picks:

Graham Beck Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc de Blancs 2010, Robertson, South Africa ($23.95)
Michael Godel – In which Méthode Cap Classique meets Blanc de Blancs executed to near Cape perfection, especially at this price point by a winemaker (Pieter Ferreira) and a house expertly versed in Sparkling wine production. Robertson Chardonnay with a purpose.

Guasti Clemente 2014 Gavi di Gavi, Piedmont, Italy ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – From the cortese grape, Gavi wines can range from subtle to energetic but the finest are prettily aromatic and elegant in nature. Unfortunately, the selection of Gavi released by VINTAGES of late has been rather hit or miss so I am particularly pleased to have come across this absolutely fetching example – upbeat, widely appealing and brimming with zesty flavour.

Graham Beck Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc De Blancs 2010Guasti Clemente Gavi Di Gavi 2014 Domaine Besson Chablis 2013 Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012

Domaine Besson 2013 Chablis, Burgundy, France ($28.95)
Sara d’Amato – A pure, full-on, traditional Chablis with welcoming notes of honey and beeswax along with citrus, mineral and a hint of a lactic character that adds dimension and personality. An independent, family owned winery, winemaker Camille and her brother and viticulturalist, Adrien, represent a new generation of producers respecting the traditions of the past.

Charles Baker 2012 Picone Vineyard Riesling, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($35.20)
Sara d’Amato – Not the first opportunity I’ve had to taste this exceptional riesling but the first occasion as it comes out of its shell of austerity. Its stony, mineral character is brought to life by freshness and energy along with notes of saline and juicy citrus.

Hamilton Russell 2014 Pinot Noir, Hemel en Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa, ($57.95)
Sara d’Amato – A lighter but hugely complex pinot noir, brooding and still enigmatic. Smoky, with charred fruit, black licorice and pine needles, cedar and cherry. Firm structure gives the wine opportunity to age. An expensive addiction!
Michael Godel – Having tasted the forward and accessible 2014 at and alongside some old vintages of Bouchard Finlayson in South Africa back in September, perspective is here revealed for this tougher 2014. It must have been a demanding drop in its early youth, as it still is, but the inherent Hemel En Aarde Valley sweetness is guaranteed. The Valley is Grand Cru South African Pinot Noir territory and this HR is no exception.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2014 Château De L'ou Infiniment Syrah 2012 Le Gravillas Séguret Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2014Château Coufran 2005

Château De l’Ou Infiniment Syrah 2012, Igp Côtes Catalanes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($25.95)
Michael Godel – Can a wine be so bloody versed in the ways of modern Syrah architecture and still achieve balance? Within the context of objective assessment the question may not be will it please but rather, will it succeed? Yes to the second and yet subjective experience calls on you to provide the answer to the first.

Le Gravillas Séguret 2014 Côtes du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – An inexpensive treat from the Southern Rhône not to be overlooked. Peppery spice on the palate is softened by fruity grenache of solid typicity. Impressive concentration is noted in this vintage along with notable and winsome “garrigue”.

Château Coufran 2005, Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($56.95)
Michael Godel – Well made and properly preserved Haut-Medoc that while not inexpensive is a must buy for those who can afford and want to drink older Bordeaux. A show piece for the dinner table without having to raid someone else’s cellar.

Austrian Wine Fair California Wine FairSpring is also bringing some great wine fairs to Toronto and Ottawa – for trade and consumers alike. You can find all the details and special offers on our site by following these links: California Wine Fair and the Austrian Wine Fair.

Hope to see you there!

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES March 19, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael Godel’s Picks
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 5, 2016

The Napa Locomotive
By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Another batch of 20 California wines hits the LCBO’s VINTAGES shelves March 5. This makes 78 California labels released by VINTAGES so far this year, feeding the thirsty beast that makes California wine the number one imported wine in Ontario, and most Canadian provinces for that matter, except Quebec where French wine reigns. One could lament that other regions deserve more play, but VINTAGES is only reacting to what sells. You can skip directly to the California picks by Sara d’Amato, Michael Godel and myself, or read on for my thoughts on California, and Napa in particular.

California Value Proposition

Regular readers may be aware I have issues with the price/quality ratio of California wine – a straight value proposition that has nothing to do with style. Well perhaps just a bit when I detect overt residual sugar and mochafication that distracts from varietal character, and makes the wine a beverage rather than a product of place.

What makes California a tough value proposition is that, without question, it has the highest average price of any region on the shelves, and this will only become more dramatic in the months ahead as stock purchased with our weakened loonie begin to hit the shelves. I suspect we will also see shrinkage of selection as California producers shy away from our market, especially at the higher end. Why struggle with high priced wines here when it’s so much easier elsewhere?

Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon is the engine of California wine pricing. There are many regions in the Golden State where prices aren’t as high, and other varieties are cheaper as well. But “Napa Cab” has swept America and the globe as the New World’s number one prestige wine, creating a pricing up-thrust of San Andreas fault proportions for California wine in general.  Nor does it hurt of course that the California marketplace is one of the wealthiest on the planet.

Last week I returned to Napa Valley after a long hiatus and got right into the boiler room of the locomotive that drives California wine pricing. I attended the annual Premiere Napa Valley auction, at the invitation of Napa Valley Vintners Association. It was a chance to re-calibrate what is happening in California’s flagship region by at least doing some intensive tasting to better judge if all the fuss is warranted by what’s in the glass.

Napa Auction

The annual Auction is a showcase for the winemakers, each selecting a best barrel or three of this and that. Most of the 226 auction lots were barrels sold as futures from the hot, drought-stricken 2014 vintage, and many of the wines were certainly well concentrated and structured. A surprising number were 100% cabernet sauvignons, a statement that in this climate the king of Napa’s grapes can clearly stand on its own sturdy legs, without needing the Bordeaux-esque tweaking and coddling by blending merlot and cab franc. In fact more muscular malbec and petit verdot were just as likely to be the blending widgets.

The buzz in the spacious and hallowed halls of the Culinary Institute of America (one felt like one was in church) was about who bought what for how much. The lots were from five to twenty cases and by my rough math the average case price was about $1500 (probably higher). The auction raised over $5 million dollars in three hours of live bidding, and a new e-bidding program.

For those who might want some sense of who is “hot” in Napa the following fetched the highest prices:  Memento Mori, Nine Suns, Realm Cellars, Rombauer Vineyards, Shafer Vineyards, TOR Kenward Family, Duckhorn Vineyards, Silver Oak Cellars and ZD Wines.

So who is buying these wines? Well doubtless some very wealthy folk, but with multiple case lots at play it was largely an audience of retailers and restaurateurs more so than individuals. There were only two successful Canadian buyers of which I am aware: Willow Park Wines that has several stores in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and Liquor Stores North America that owns the Liquor Depot and Liquor Barn chains in Alberta.

Out beyond the auction hall I got an even better perspective of Napa in 2016. The first shock was the growth of America’s most famous wine region, the wall-to-wall and up-the-wall vineyards that now encompass 43,000 acres on the valley floor and in five mountain appellations on either side of the valley. By comparison, all of Canada has about 30,000 acres.

There are over 500 members of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, with 80% producing fewer than 10,000 cases. And 95% are family owned! Several of the 226 wineries in the auction were producing less than 1,000 cases, some less than 500. I can only assume that with Napa prices so high, many can actually afford to make a go of small volumes – selling direct to mailing lists and key restaurant clients and skipping all the marketing and middleman costs.

Napa’s Recent Vintages

So the critical mass is certainly apparent but what about the actual quality in the bottle? I tasted a number of great wines at the auction but there was so much hubbub it was very hard to focus. I fared much better the previous day at a well-executed blind tasting of the 2013, 2012 and 2011 vintages across 16 Napa wineries. These are the vintages on shelf or soon arriving in Canada, although few of the labels I encountered are available here.

Napa Blind Tasting

Held at the historic Charles Krug Winery on a misty Napa winter morning, I spent three hours cross-checking variation of the three years. And yes vintages do matter in Napa! I was so pleased to see the consistency of the different years vintage to vintage. We also tasted flights of wines from the 2006, 2001 and 1996 vintages and the vast majority were holding and maturing very well, another barometer of quality.

The other overall observation was that the wines had more finesse and structure than I expected – there were very few jammy, soft, sweetish and hottish wines. They were very classy, and the vast majority easily scored over 90 points. So there is qualitative substance, and as for pricing – well that is clearly set by how much and how many people are willing to pay.

I was very taken by the quality of the soon arriving 2013 vintage (one of the first in Ontario being the Frog’s Leap arriving March 5). In most cases I was scoring the 2013s a couple of points higher than 2012 or 2011. Typical of young wines many of the 2013s were aromatically reserved at this point. But they have impressive colour depth, body, concentration and tannin. Indeed it is the tannic structure combined with the fruit depth and purity that portends a long-lived vintage. They do have tension, and brilliance, and fine moderate to warm climate black fruit detailing.

The 2012s tended to be the most plush, fruity and approachable now. There was great hoopla and relief over 2012, the first of three drought year vintages after the greener 2011s. Ripeness had returned. But in tasting through the 2012s last week I kept feeling that they hang a bit heavy, and lack some elan and poise.

The lighter 2011s were engaging on two fronts. First, from a cooler, wetter year several were already starting to show some evolution – good complexity, integration and refinement of the tannin. And second, if you like and are accustomed to some cabernet greenness as I am – from years of tasting Bordeaux and Canadian reds – the 2011s showed more “classic” character. I thoroughly enjoyed many and did not find them “weaker”. They were more linear.

It was out beyond the decanters and tasting halls that the real allure of Napa was to be found, one that has infiltrated me every time I return. The scenery is stunning, from the sweep of the valley floor to the vineyards perched high in the five mountain appellations, which I visited on a gorgeous five hour Sunday drive. If one wants a sense of place in wine, Napa has got it.

Spring Mountain

And the people I met are as pleasant and down to earth as anywhere in the world. Restaurant service is superbly friendly and genuine. And at two Napa restaurants I encountered ‘Bring Your Own’ policies with zero corkage! That alone is testament to the strength of the wine market in the New World’s epicentre. And that alone is enough to endear any Canadian.

Here are some California picks from the March 5 release, which should hold you until the California Wine Fair touches down in Ottawa, Friday April 8 and Toronto, Monday April 11.

Buyers’ Guide to California Whites

Beringer Chardonnay 2014

Macrostie Chardonnay 2013

Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2013Kistler 2013 McCrea Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Mountain ($120.95)
David Lawrason – Few California chardonnays crack the $100 mark, and when it happens one needs to look deep into the glass. What I found here, within the friendly ambiance, was a very generous, complex nose that weaves yellow fruits and flowers, hazelnut, lemongrass/conifer, gentle peat smoke and wet stone. It’s medium weight, very elegant, just a touch sweet on the palate, with a dry, stony finish. The focus and length are outstanding.
Michael Godel – Considered the most Chablis-like in the Kistler range from the eastern flank of Sonoma Mountain out of a rare mix of Sonoma volcanics and limestone. To my mind the McCrea Vineyard is the coolest climate Kistler, of gemstone and tart orchard fruit personality

Macrostie 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, California ($35.95)
Michael Godel – A true melting pot Chardonnay of Sonoma Coast origins. Vineyards involved include Sangiacomo and Champlin Creek (Carneros), Dutton and Martinelli (Russian River Valley) and Wildcat Mountain Vineyard (Petaluma Gap). Really defines then territory.
Sara d’Amato – A chardonnay that stands out in a release that features mostly creamy, full-bodied and oak-driven styles of times past. Although the palate offers creamy coconut and pineapple, there is a pleasant undercurrent of acidity that adds brightness and balance – a relatively fine value too!

Beringer 2014 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Although a touch sweet and obviously oaked I sensed some purity of fruit and genteel character here. This is generously flavoured yet refined chardonnay at a very acceptable price.

Buyers’ Guide to California Reds

Frog's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Shafer 2013 MerlotShafer Merlot 2013, Napa Valley ($94.95)
David Lawrason – Doug Shafer and his wines hold sway in Napa. Everybody seems to love Shafer, but I think it comes down to a consistent sense of silk and purity in the wines themselves. This is a gorgeous merlot that I would drink nightly if it weren’t almost $100 a bottle. It has a lifted nose of currants, red plums, fresh herbs, lavender and a touch of pepper.
Sara d’Amato – A fine, age-worthy merlot, sleek and sophisticated. Like many of the wines in this feature, the alcohol is high and so it would benefit from a slight chill for best expression of the marvelous fruit and floral aromas.

Joseph Phelps 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($106.95)
David Lawrason – Another legendary Napa house that seems to deliver year and year out. This is beautifully rendered, fruity, elegant and finely-toned cabernet from the ripe 2012 vintage. All the classic cab and Napa elements are nicely layered. So smooth, dense and refined, with youthful tannin.
Sara d’Amato – A lovely vintage of this iconic cabernet sauvignon which is definitively Napa Valley.  Best to wait another 2-3 years for the muscular tannins to mellow and the fruit and oak to coalesce. If you are in no hurry, there is a decade or more of time yet to enjoy this monumental tour de force.

Frog’s Leap 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley ($83.95)
David Lawrason – One of the first 2013 cabs onto the market in Canada shows a deep colour and a fragrant, concentrated nose of red and blackcurrants, among other complexities. It’s medium-full bodied, fairly dense, vibrant, juicy and tannic, with excellent length. Cellar a bit.

Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir 2012

Jonata Todos 2011 RedJonata Todos Red 2011, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County ($79.95)
Sara d’Amato – This small, artisanal winery is the sister property to Napa’s Screaming Eagle and has had no shortage of critical praise. Vineyards are cared for using organic and biodynamic techniques and the resulting wines offer an abundance of character and impressive finesse. The 2011 blend is largely based on syrah with a peppery nose and kirsch-like flavours on the palate.
Michael Godel – Eighty dollars is not exactly pocket change but a scant few California peers compare at the price. Syrah leads a supporting cast of seven total grape varieties for a big, balanced and age-capable wine. Blending never tasted so worthy.

Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County ($26.95)
Michael Godel – Purposefully ripe, dark and warm Pinot Noir from winemaker Scott Kozel who firmly believes in growing the right grapes in the right places and not messing with the purest expression of those grapes. This is Pinot Noir with commercial appeal and the quality to stand behind the product.

Josh Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, California ($17.00)
Sara d’Amato – Certainly the best value in this release, this generic California cabernet sauvignon is well balanced, mid-weight and with alcohol nicely in check. Expressive and aromatic with wide appeal.

Sommelier Fun & Fundraising

CAPS Team Canada FundrasierThe Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) Ontario chapter is hosting a fundraising event on Monday, February 29th to celebrate Canadian wine talent. Join Sara d’Amato, John Szabo, Bruce Wallner and other guest sommeliers at Terroni’s new event space on Adelaide. They have a fun event planned with a blind tasting challenge, raffle prizes, great wine and tasty treats. Tickets are only $40 ($30 for CAPS members) – all to support your Canadian wine community. This event is open to the trade and the public. Hope to see you there. (You can find more info here:

And that’s a wrap for this week. John Szabo returns from Italy next week just in time to discuss the Brunello contingent on this release, along with other picks.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES March 5, 2016

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Feb 20, 2016

By John Szabo MS
with notes from Sara d’Amato, Michael Godel, and even a travelling David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s Buyers Guide features a range of classic wines from both the old and the new world, including double alignment on an Alsatian pinot gris from a family with 500 years of winemaking experience, and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape from 110 year-old vines that oozes concentration and class, and marathon ageability, for just $50. Chardonnay and pinot noir from Niagara and Northern California, textbook red and white Burgundy, traditional Brunello, and more, all get a nod this week. See my VINTAGES Preview from last week for some horizon expanding selections from the February 20th release, as well as the top picks from Australia, the main feature.

February is a busy time in the wine world. The Vancouver International Wine Festival kicks off on February 20th, one of the continent’s top wine shows, this year featuring Italy. With a total of 155 wineries participating, all with principals in attendance, you won’t want to miss it if you’re on the west coast. And in an important report from WineAlign founder Bryan McCaw, the pre-festival skiing at Whistler this year is also awesome.

In slightly warmer climes, David and Michael were down in California this week for the 20th annual Premiere Napa Valley barrel tasting and futures auction, along with about 700 wine professionals from around the world, so expect some news from the United States’ marquee appellation in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, I’m somewhere in central Italy working through the latest vintages of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino and Sagrantino di Montefalco. A report on the “tre monti” is forthcoming, along with the latest on 2012 Amarone della Valpolicella from the preview tastings I attended in Verona two weeks ago. And if you’re still keen for more, read the background and portfolio reviews for two Sonoma County producers you’ll want to get to know: Flowers and Wind Gap/Pax Mahle wines.

Hopefully that will get you through to the first spring rays of March.

Buyer’s Guide to February 20th: Whites

Josef Chromy Sparkling 2010

Trimbach Réserve Pinot Gris 2012Trimbach 2012 Réserve Pinot Gris, Alsace, France ($23.95)
John Szabo – This is firm, tight and upright in the Trimbach house style, dry, subtle and precise, but also with some extra flesh and weight. The lightly tannic texture will require a few more years in bottle to fully resolve. This should be a beauty in 2-3 years, or hold another decade or more. Best 2018-2027.
Michael Godel – A visit to Alsace cannot be complete without a stop at Trimbach, the epicentre of rhythm in Ribeauvillé. The Trimbach aura is triggered by joie de vivre, in pulse, metre and cadence. This pinot gris celebrates what the house is all about. Stop in at VINTAGES and find out what their music is all about.

Josef Chromy 2010 Sparkling, Tasmania, Australia ($29.95)
Michael Godel – Winemaker Jeremy Dineen must be grinning from ear to ear with the thought of where this fizz will go, carrying so much wisdom in its autolysis and tazzy vernacular in its mousse.

Béjot 2013 Les Bouchots Montagny 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($27.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a tidy value in white burgundy, certainly not a grand wine, but a genuinely firm, fresh, minerally and complex expression, regionally accurate, with driving acids and crunchy fruit. This would be highly versatile at the table, and could be drunk now, or cellared a half dozen years. Best 2016-2022.

Flat Rock 2014 Unplugged Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($16.95)
John Szabo – Flat Rock’s Unplugged (unoaked) Chardonnay is a nicely tight and taught example, with riveting crunchy acids and tart apple-citrus flavours. Length and depth more than deliver in the price category. This is a versatile white for chilling and cracking on just about any occasion.

Le Clos Jordanne 2012 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($40.00)
David Lawrason – This is an impressive, mineral driven and multi-faceted chardonnay with very complex aromas of dried peach, lemon custard, creme brulee/marzipan, wood smoke and intentionally reductive/flinty notes. It has big flavours but a sense of narrowness, with mouthwatering acidity and minerality. The length is excellent.

Béjot Les Bouchots Montagny 1er Cru 2013 Flat Rock Unplugged Chardonnay 2014 Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2012 Rombauer Chardonnay 2014 Ilocki Podrumi Premium Grasevina 2013

Rombauer 2014 Chardonnay, Carneros, California, USA ($51.95)
Sara d’Amato – The Carneros region is a unique pocket of terroir found where San Pablo Bay meets the southern end of Napa and Sonoma valleys with cool, foggy influences that make it excellent for producing fresh chardonnays and elegant pinot noirs. Rombauer is a seasoned, 30-year old producer who specializes in Carneros chardonnay and consistently offers complex and dynamic examples that are hard to pass up.

Ilocki Podrumi 2013 Premium Grasevina, Croatia ($21.95)
Michael Godel – Such potential from Croatia found, packaged and articulated in this bottle. Classic furmint in grasevina clothing, right along the wire where pinot gris looks over towards chenin blanc and says “let’s spend the night together.”

Buyer’s Guide to February 20th: Reds

Raymond Usseglio Cuvée Impériale Châteauneuf du Pape 2012

Abbadia Ardenga Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

Creekside Estate Queenston Road Pinot Noir 2014Creekside Estate 2014 Queenston Road Pinot Noir, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($18.95)
John Szabo – Good pinot under $20 is a rarity to be sure, so this is a happy discovery. Rob powers has crafted a pleasantly firm and grippy, dark fruit-led example with firm grippy tannins and pronounced acids from the relatively warm Queenston Road vineyard (site for fine syrah as well). I appreciate the honest rusticity here, and the genuine pinot character. Revisit this in 2-3 years. Best 2018-2022.

Abbadia Ardenga 2010 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($49.95)
John Szabo – Ardenga’s vineyards are in a prime site on the north side of Montalcino, origin of some of the appellations most refined and elegant, perfumed expressions. This is traditionally styled Brunello from the great 2010 vintage, full of earthy, savoury, dusty and floral flavours, and with genuine concentration and depth. I love the terra cotta, warm brick, and classic herbal notes of authentic sangiovese, and the balanced, bright and lingering palate lovely, powerful yet elegant stuff all in all, best 2016-2026.

Raymond Usseglio 2012 Cuvée Impériale Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France ($57.95)
John Szabo – This is serious, ageworthy Châteauneuf du Pape, the flagship of Usseglio, made from vines planted in 1901 and 1902. Mostly grenache and 10% of other mixed varieties come together here to yield an aromatically closed but dense, slightly reductive, intense and heavily extracted old vine cuvee, with terrific length and depth. This has complexity and depth in spades, a great example, best after 4-6 years at least or hold till it’s 20th birthday sans soucis. Best 2020-2032.
Sara d’Amato – Domaine Raymond Usseglio has focused on sustainable and biodynamic wine production in Châteauneuf-du-pape since the ‘30s. The premium Cuvée Imperiale is 90% grenache from century-old vines and is wildly aromatic, traditional in style and has excellent potential for longevity.

La Ferme du Mont Côtes Jugunda Gigondas 2013

Pasolasmonjas 2011

Domaine Pavelot 2013 Aux Gravains, Savigny-Les-Beaune 1er CruDomaine Pavelot Aux Gravains Savigny Les Beaune 1er Cru 2013, Burgundy, France ($59.95)
John Szabo – I’m a long time fan of the wines of Jean-marc and, increasingly, son Hugues Pavelot, one of the most consistent and fairly priced in Savigny. The 2013 aux gravains is a fine, sappy, genuinely concentrated, authentic red Burgundy, brimming with fleshy and pure cherry flavours, like biting into a fresh morello cherry, and succulent acids, and with excellent length. This will improve surely over the next 2-4 years and continue to hold into the mid-twenties without a stretch. Best 2018-2027.

Pasolasmonjas 2011, San Martín de Unx, Navarra, Spain
Michael Godel – Unencumbered and unadulterated garnacha, the way it needs to be, even from such a varietal outpost as Navarra. This is handled with spanish care and shows how the grape needs no support when left to shine like this. Tapas and pintxos come forth.

La Ferme du Mont Côtes Jugunda 2013 Gigondas, Rhône Valley, France ($29.95)
Michael Godel – Beautifully balanced and warming Gigondas with as much mellow garrigue as rabid fruit. This is so reliant and allegiant to appellation, reminiscent of what was produced in the golden years between 1998 and 2000.

La Posta Armando Bonarda 2014

D'arenberg The Custodian Grenache 2012

Cambria Julia’s Vineyard 2012 Pinot NoirCambria Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Certified Sustainable, Santa Maria Valley, California
Michael Godel – A very important Santa Maria Valley vineyard has gifted more verve in 2012 than even it usually has. No fruit bomb here but with time, could very well become the bomb.

D’Arenberg 2012 The Custodian Grenache, McLaren Vale, Australia ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Grenache has a unique expression when grown in South Australia and this is a spot-on example of the pleasure it can deliver. The palate offers sweetly flavoured fruit, ample body and soft, supple tannins without the impression of heat or heaviness.

La Posta 2014 Armando Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – La Posta is known for both value and savvy packaging. Bonarda makes an easy to appreciate wine with soft tannins and a great deal of plummy fruit. A widely appealing weeknight red that won’t break the bank.

Somm Fun & Fundraising

CAPS Team Canada FundrasierThe Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) Ontario chapter is hosting a fundraising event on Monday, February 29th to celebrate Canadian wine talent. Your support will help CAPS send a Team Canada delegation focused on promoting the participation of Canadian wine professionals in the World’s Best Sommelier Competition being held in Mendoza this April. Come out to see Terroni’s new event space on Adelaide, to taste and buy, bet on auction items and participate in activities with guest Sommeliers. Tickets are only $40 ($30 for CAPS members) – all to support your Canadian wine community. This event is open to the trade and the public. Hope to see you there. (You can find more info here:

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES February 20, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael Godel’s Picks
All Reviews
Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview: Sorting out Australia’s Present from the Past

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!

Pepperjack Cabernet Sauvignon

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008