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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 7th – Part Two

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Nod to BC

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Shiraz

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

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

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

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

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

~

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

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

CAPS Best Sommelier of Canada Competition

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

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

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

~

Cheers,

David

From VINTAGES March 7, 2015:

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

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


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Valentines Wines

To woo your beloved, or intended, with wine

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

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

~ Treve Ring

All That Sparkles Are Not Diamonds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wooing Whites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romantic Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers ~

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 10th – Part Two

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whites

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

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

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

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

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

Reds

Oak Bay Gamay Noir 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Jan 10th release:

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 10th – Part One

WineAlign: Past, Present and Future, & Smart Euro Wines
By John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

“Hope Smiles from the threshold of the year to come, Whispering ‘it will be happier’…” said Alfred Tennyson. At WineAlign, we have plenty of reasons to be happy about this past year, but even more to welcome the hopeful smiles of 2015. In 2014, over 1.5 million of you and your unique friends visited WineAlign and put your trust in us for recommendations. December alone saw nearly 3,500 new users join the WineAlign community, and close to 40,000 of you logged in, presumably to find great wines and spirits, which remains the raison d’être for our little slice of the World Wide Web. In 2014, 6.3 million pages flashed in front of users’ eyes, with the average session lasting 3 minutes and 26 seconds, a veritable three-day weekend in Internet time. For all of your trust, time and support, we are deeply grateful.

But we won’t be taking too many long weekends in 2015 to reflect on past success. On the contrary, we have big plans. We’ll be undertaking the massive migration to “responsive web design”, which, according to the masters of web land, means that WineAlign will perform magically on whatever electronic device you own now, or will ever own. It’ll be faster, sleeker, more efficient, shearing off precious time between you and your next memorable glass.

WineAlign Unique Visitors

We’re six years old now, as old as the eternal city in the cyber world, so it’s also high time for a little renovation. We’ll be refreshing the site with a more contemporary look; out with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and in with the urban landscape of the future. With the revitalization will come new features, not least of which will be individual pages for all of your favorite critics – you’ll find each of our latest reviews and recommendations, articles, micro posts, videos and photographs in one place, so we can get to know each other even better. We’re also streamlining our data input system to get more reviews onto the site. Soon, all of the additional thousands of wines the WineAlign team reviews on the road each year will find their way efficiently into the database. Many of these wines may not be currently available at your local shop, but we know that you travel, too, and the more the merrier as they say. We aim to be the number one reference resource for all things liquid and tasty not just in Canada but also internationally, and we have the crack team in place to achieve just that. We’d also love to hear any suggestions you have that could make WineAlign even more useful for you. (feedback@WineAlign.com)

So here’s to the past, present and future, on this, the threshold of the New Year 2015. May your cup runneth over with good wine.

VINTAGES 10th Buyers Guide: Smart Euro Wines

Of course, all of this development costs some serious dough, so we’ll be easing off the grand crus and looking for the smartest values for the next little while. That’s what the January 10th release is all about. Part One of the report this week covers the top smart buys from European soil (all under $25, many closer to $16), and next week we’ll look at the rest of the world. David was gathering vinous intel in Argentina in December and missed the media tasting, but he’ll be back next week as usual with all of his reviews from the follow-up tastings.

Euro Whites

Domaine Du Bois-Malinge 2013 Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie Ac, Loire, France ($13.95) John Szabo – A crisp and very dry, classically-styled Muscadet designed for the aperitif hour.

Rabl 2013 Kittmansberg Grüner Veltliner DAC Kamptal Austria ($14.95) John Szabo - A fine buy to keep around the house for casual sipping from the ever-reliable Rudi Rabl, crisp, dry and sprightly.

Domaine Bois Malinge Muscadet Sèvre Et Main 2013Rabl Kittmansberg Grüner Veltliner 2013Borgo Magredo Mosaic Pinot Grigio 2013Gunderloch Fritz's Riesling 2013

Borgo Magredo 2013 Mosaic Pinot Grigio, Friuli Grave, Italy, ($15.95) (72389) Sara d’Amato - A fresh and unadulterated pinot grigio from the gravelly soils of the aptly named “Grave del Friuli”. This innovative winery prides itself on decades of oenological research and cutting edge vinification tools, which it uses to produce appealing and modern wines while preserving purity of fruit – the essence of the terroir. This undressed example boasts lively acids and notable minerality.

Gunderloch 2013 Fritz’s Riesling, Qualitätswein, Germany, ($13.95) Sara d’Amato - Gunderloch’s unbelievably steep, red slate soils on the banks of the Rhein are almost entirely planted with naturally low-yielding riesling. Fritz Hasselbach, along with his wife Agnes manage the estate and are well-known ambassadors of the unique riesling grown on the “Roter Hang” between Nackenheim and Nierstein. Fritz’s riesling is upbeat and playful but delivers great impact for such a small price.

Euro Reds

Château Beauséjour Hostens 2010, AC Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($22.95) John Szabo - A complex, well-structured, succulent and savoury Bordeaux from the excellent 2010 vintage, with concentration and density well above the mean for the price. I like the range of dark fruit flavour, the integrated wood spice, the firm tannins and balanced acids. Solid stuff, and will be even better in 2-5 years.

Lafage Côté Sud 2010, IGP Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, France ($14.95) John Szabo - Source of excellent value, characterful wines, the Roussillon delivers slightly savage, garrigue and blue fruit-flavoured wines, such as this example from Lafage. Across Jean-Marc Lafage’s sizable 160 hectare estate, average yields run about 20hl/ha, barely more than half the permitted yield in Grand Cru Burgundy, which accounts, in part, for the concentration on offer. Thankfully the pricing remains très Midi. For salty protein and snowfalls.

Ontañón 2010 Crianza Tempranillo/Garnacha DOCa Rioja Spain ($16.95) - John Szabo - Another fine, balanced, savoury and succulent wine from Ontañon, a reliable name in the Rioja constellation of producers. Best 2014-2020.

Château Beauséjour Hostens 2010 Lafage Côté Sud 2012 Ontañón Crianza 2010 Boutari Naoussa 2010 San Silvestro Brumo Nebbiolo d'Alba 2012

2010 Boutari Naoussa PDO Naoussa Greece ($13.95) John Szabo - An intriguing find for fans of traditional, old school, European wines at a super price. It’s not for pre-dinner sipping, mind you, but something to pull out with the roasts or braised meats. How refreshing it is to come across a wine that’s so decidedly non-fruity, fully focused savoury, earthy, sundried tomato flavours and much more; Boutari is back on track with this xynomavro classic in 2010. Best 2014-2020.

2012 San Silvestro Cantine Brumo Nebbiolo D’alba Doc, Piedmont, Italy ($15.95) John Szabo – A more than decent entry-level nebbiolo for fans of the grape. Best 2014-2018.

Saint Saturnin De Vergy 2012 Bourgogne Hautes Côtes De Beaune, Burgundy, France, ($24.95) Sara d’Amato - Complex, aromatic and structurally sound, this well-priced Burgundy hits all the right marks. I imagine this classic, polished and stylish pinot to be a top seller in this release.

Maison Roche De Bellene 2012 Cuvée Réserve Bourgogne, Burgundy, France ($21.95) Sara d’Amato - Roche de Bellene’s style tends to veer on the side of restrained and elegant with great finesse and this sophisticated buy is a case and point example. Both dinner party and cellar worthy – this class act exudes refinement and boasts deliciously distinctive pinot noir character.

Saint Saturnin De Vergy Bourgogne Hautes Côtes De Beaune 2012Maison Roche De Bellene Cuvée Réserve Bourgogne 2012Quercecchio Rosso Di Montalcino 2012Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2008

Quercecchio 2012 Rosso Di Montalcino Tuscany, Italy, ($16.95) Sara d’Amato - Good Rosso di Montalcino such as this has characteristics of its big brother, Brunello, and this cheerful and complex example over-delivers. From Quercecchio’s historic estate, this succulent find is certainly a top value in this first release of the New Year.

Villa Mora Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2008, Umbria, Italy, ($16.95) Sara d’Amato - A “super-Umbrian” blend of sangiovese, sagrantino, merlot and cabernet that has been given a great deal of attention. Wonderfully decadent, upfront, highly appealing and complex – a sure-fire hit.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES January 10th, 2015:

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

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


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Wines for the Personalities on Your Christmas List

By Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Although it may not be possible to hop in to the LCBO for all your gifting needs over the holidays, you’ll certainly be able to please most of the personalities on your list with the gift of wine. In fact, there is nothing more perfect than the gift of wine for those hard-to-shop-for-folks, especially when time is tight.

This year, instead of a simple list of what I would most like to receive over the holidays, I will endeavor to be more selfless and put together a gift list based on needs and personalities you may encounter among your circle of friends and family.

Not only are these wines chosen because they are personality-appropriate, our experts have also vetted them as delicious.

The Jetsetter

Stobi Vranec 2010 Domaine de Sahari 2012A taste for the exotic is certainly what the jetsetter craves, so here are wines sourced from beyond the classic growing regions to rouse and inspire their adventurous spirit.

Domaine De Sahari 2012, Guerrouane, Morocco ($16.95) – A Bordelaise blend from Morocco which is surprisingly on the shelves of our LCBO. Elegant, floral and even subtle – certainly a diamond in the rough.

In reality, Morocco has some serious potential for producing quality wine in North Africa because of its proximity to the cooling Atlantic and higher elevation terrain which can combat the plentiful heat.

Stobi Vranec 2010, Tikves, Macedonia ($13.95) – Macedonian wine is slowly creeping into our market and its signature red grape is vranec – darkly coloured, crisp and tannic often with notes of exotic spice and chocolate.

The Chef

Whether they are a professional chef or that person in your life with great culinary prowess, (whose home you hope to get an invitation to over the holidays) a wine that a chef will appreciate takes some thought.

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer 2012

Di Majo 2011 Norante Contado Riserva Aglianico Del MoliseDi Majo Norante Contado Riserva Aglianico del Molise 2011, Italy, ($18.95) – Italian wine is widely regarded among the most food friendly styles of wine in the world which is in part due to its often high levels of acidity in whites and a common zesty bite in reds. Aglianico produces a full-bodied and flavourful red with vibrant acids that call for rich and aromatic Mediterranean flavours. Maybe they’ll even invite you back to try the pairing!

Cave Spring 2012 Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer, Cave Spring Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($17.95) – Chefs love to make use of the most local ingredients and what better offering than a food-friendly, local selection such as this from Ontario quality wine pioneer, Cave Spring.

The Vegan

Most people don’t realize that animal-derived products may be used in winemaking, especially during the fining process (which removes protein, yeast, sometimes colour and other undesirable organic compounds). However, there are many alternative fining agents on the market and wineries such as Southbrook produce lip-smacking wines that are also vegetarian and vegan friendly:
Southbrook 2012 Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, Canada ($22.95)

The Martha Stewart

Perrier Jouet La Belle Epoque 2006 Descendientes de J. Palacios Pétalos 2012Everyone knows someone like this, the crafty DIYer whose home looks like it has just been the subject of a magazine shoot, whose beautifully presented meals seem effortless and who can pleasantly speak to just about everything. That friend who makes you wonder if they have the annoying super-ability to stop time, just for themselves, so that they can bake those six different types of shortbread just before you arrive. Well, it’s just about time you turn the tables and wow them with an exceptional bottle of wine that they know nothing about.

Descendientes de J. Palacios 2012 Pétalos, Bierzo, ($26.95) – Beautiful inside and out, this clean, floral, spicy and seductive blend is sure to whisk you off your feet. Palacios is a progressive producer who uses a region blend from several villages in the Bierzo region located in northwestern Spain (I bet they didn’t know that!).

Perrier Jouet 2006 La Belle Epoque, Champagne, France ($189.95) – Possibly the most beautiful wine bottle ever created, your artistic and resourceful friend will not want to throw this away once they have reveled in every sip of this exquisite and ethereal cuvée.

The New Parent

You can barely recognize them, sleepless, disheveled, and incoherent – these are the folks that need the gift of wine the most. And just because they don’t realize that they’ve accidentally just poured breast milk into their coffee, that doesn’t mean that they won’t appreciate a terrific bottle of wine. Throw in a night of babysitting and a massage and you’ll forever be their hero.

Delouvin Bagnost Tradition Brut Champagne, Récoltant Manipulant, Champagne, France ($47.95) – They are so busy that they forgot to celebrate the arrival of their child – an ornate and distinctive grower’s Champagne ought to fix that.

The Hipster

Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Lingenfelder Bird Label Riesling 2012 Delouvin Bagnost Tradition Brut ChampagneWhat to pair with topknots, plaid and carefully manicured facial hair? How about sustainably produced, unusual or esthetically pleasing labels with ample cool factor?

Lingenfelder Bird Label 2012 Riesling, Pfalz, Germany, ($14.95) – Lingenfelder is certainly an idiosyncratic producer with a keen sense of what will fly in just about every market. The attractive and vintage looking label is sure to catch the eye of your bohemian buddy and the wine inside is a funky and succulent treat.

Bonterra 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, California, USA ($19.95) – Travel and Leisure Magazine voted San Francisco the No.1 city for hipsters in the USA recently and luckily some of the world’s most revered wine regions are located a quick trek north.  This affordable, excellent value cabernet is organically produced and although widely pleasing, has edgy acidity that makes it a versatile pairing with almost any kind of cuisine.

The Health Nut

Cygnus Brut Nature Reserva Cava Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2011Health conscious folks still imbibe, but may need justification to do so. Recently, as reported in The Daily Mail, a former World Health Organization expert, Dr Kari Poikolainen, claimed: “The weight of the evidence shows moderate drinking is better than abstaining and heavy drinking is worse than abstaining . . .”  (as long as we don’t inflate moderate standards.) I’m willing to believe and perhaps those who want to justify their drink will do so as well. Need something more? It should be noted that wine is gluten-free, being made from grapes. Certain additives may contain gluten but even so, the vast majority of wines would contain such a small amount that they are generally considered safe even for those with Celiac disease (but a doctor’s advice is better than mine).

Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Village Reserve Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($30.00) – Cool climate pinots are known to have the greatest concentration of resveratrol – an antioxidant found in the skins of red grapes which lessens the likelihood of cancerous tumors.

Cygnus Brut Nature Reserva Cava, Méthode Champenoise, Penedès, Spain ($19.95) – The Zero Brut or Brut Nature styles are marketed as low-cal styles of wine. Due to the zero dosage (the sweet liquid added to traditional method sparkling wines before bottling), these wines are very dry and low-cal. As a bonus, this wine is also organically produced making it a more healthy option.

The Jock

Mike Weir 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Wayne Gretzky Estates No. 99 Cabernet Merlot 2010Hockey is winter, summer is football and basketball is there to bridge the gap. The Olympics shuts down your friend or family member’s house. During playoff season your sporty pal becomes incoherent. Fear not, with these selections you may be able to find some common ground with them even through game season.

Wayne Gretzky Estates No. 99 2010 Cabernet Merlot, Niagara Peninsula, $14.95 – This cabernet, not made by Wayne Gretzky (thankfully) but under this named label gets better and better with every vintage. Rich, muscular and agile – a wine a sportsman can be proud to call his own.

Mike Weir 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, $14.95 – Although this label has been inconsistent in the past, I am holding the torch for this zesty and goosebump-inducing sauvignon blanc whose proceeds go to the Mike Weir Foundation, dedicated to advancing the physical, emotional and educational welfare of children in Canada (so you can feel charitable too!)

Seasons greeting to you and your eclectic group of friends and family!

Sincerely,

Sara d’Amato

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images. 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 Dec 6th – Part Two

Unearthing Aged Reds, Great Explorations and Surprising Values
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

This is the second look at what may be the largest Vintages release of the year (we covered bubbles and whites last week). Close to 200 products land December 6 in the final attempt to pad the shelves for the holiday madness. Sara and I managed to taste all those presented – over four days – filling in for John who was scaling volcanos, all in the name of research of course. Most of the big gun gift items were released in November; this time we have a wealth of middle-priced, sometimes obscure or first-time-through-Vintages labels. Some are couched in a cosy feature called “Family Gatherings” but there is little to differentiate those from the rest of the pack. An interesting theme did however catch my eye!

Collectors often save their aged wines for special occasions, like Christmas and New Years, serving them to family and friends during lavish meals, and embellishing the event with tales of the wine’s provenance, how it became an honoured member of the cellar corps, and how it was cared for forever since (in that great old cellar) with an eye to opening it for someone special (just like you, dear guest). My sincere hope is that many such mature wines see the candlelight this season for appreciative audiences.

But if you don’t have your own cache of mature wines, how can you feel a part of this time-honoured ritual? Watchful shoppers are aware that Vintages places mature wines in the line-up from time to time, but this time there are several, and most are reasonably priced given their time on Earth – they just happen to come from regions that are unvalued as a whole. We have highlighted a few favourites below, in descending price order.

But, please note that not all the aged wines on this release are in great condition. We all tend to tire, and get a bit more earthy and grumpy as we pass our prime; especially if we have had to live our years within the confines of a hollowed out cork tree. So you should begin the presentation of these old wines to your guests with a caution that “not all wines are better with age” (which is very true), and that “there can be significant bottle variation in older wines” (also true). That said, I would avoid the following for the reasons stated above: Cicchitti Gran Reserva 2004 Malbec, Argentina (three bottles cork tainted); Monastir S.Xii Cluny 2006 Navarra, Spain (tired & farmy/manure-like aromas); Bodegas Balbás 2005 Ardal Crianza, Spain (good wine but impossibly youthful for a 2005, despite the tasting note quoted in Vintages catalogue. I don’t know why, I just know it doesn’t look, smell or taste nine years old).

Aged Reds

Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($119.95)
David Lawrason – If you are willing to pay up front to join the big leagues in great mature red, this is a classic and utterly gorgeous Napa cabernet from one of the families that put Napa on the map as a collector’s paradise.

Caprili 2009 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($44.95)
David Lawrason – Five years may not seem very old, but Brunello spends over four years ageing at the winery, a minimum of two in barrel. This hastens the onset of brick-amber colouring and all the classic mature characteristics. As well, this was a hotter, and faster maturing vintage due to its lower acidity.

Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006Caprili Brunello Di Montalcino 2009Morgenster Lourens River Valley 2005Il Molino Di Grace Riserva Chianti Classico 2006Poderi Angelini Primitivo Di Manduria 2009

Morgenster 2005 Lourens River Valley, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($25.95)
David Lawrason – This will be a controversial recommendation! It’s a fully mature cabernet with distinctive meaty and iodine-like Cape flavours, and you may even detect some cork taint. I tried it three times and one bottle was corked – the others were fine. Beyond this lurks an amazingly complex, beautifully textured wine with profound depth of flavour from a small Cape producer rooted in Euro traditions. Match to lamb or game.

Il Molino di Grace 2006 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($23.95)
David Lawrason – This is a mature Chianti from a good vintage known for its power and longevity (most Chianti’s are peaking at about seven years). It is not hugely deep, but we are catching it at its most complex, with still fresh fruit nestled amid the leather, earth and spicy complexities. Ready to drink now and will run another couple of years.

Poderi Angelini 2009 Primitivo di Manduria, Puglia, Italy ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Normally I would not expect a soft, cushy, higher alcohol red from Italy’s deep south to age well. They often develop stewed, raisiny flavours. This maintains some piquancy but it is indeed rich, smooth and heart-warming.

Pomum Shya Red 2008Monasterio De Las Viñas Gran Reserva 2005Monasterio de las Viñas 2005 Gran Reserva, DO Cariñena, Spain ($16.95)
David Lawrason – The Spanish love mature wine; it’s a cultural thing rooted in generations of drinking wines that oxidize/mature easily in this sunny clime. So the whole country is a veritable museum of older wines, from the bodegas of Rioja to the more out of the way zones like Carinena. This is a mature, smooth, complex and very tasty blend of garnacha, tempranillo and carenina – a great old Spanish chestnut at an amazing price.

Pomum 2008 Shya Red, Yakima Valley, Washington, USA (24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Pomum focuses on artisanal, handcrafted wines with very limited production. This exceptionally elegant and well-structured Washington Bordeaux is demonstrative of 2008’s cooler temperatures and longer growing season. The balance of acid, tannins and fleshy fruit provide the framework for great longevity.

Great Value Red Explorations

Ernie Els 2012 Big Easy, Western Cape, South Africa ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Of all the celeb winery owners, PGA golf pro Ernie Els gets my vote as the one who really cares most about quality in the glass. Sorry Wayne, Mike and Dan (Canada’s celeb winemakers), but it’s the truth. I was totally impressed with his whole range in South Africa earlier this year, and even this “entry level’ blend of several grapes shows excellent structure.

KWV 2011 The Mentors Canvas, Coastal Region, South Africa ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – A funky and intriguing blend of shiraz, tempranillo, mourvedre and grenache. The complexity here is absolutely splendid and makes it a perfect pairing for a holiday spread. With its elegant packaging, it also makes for an attractive host gift.

Ernie Els Big Easy 2012Kwv The Mentors Canvas 2011Descendientes De J. Palacios Pétalos 2012Lavau Rasteau 2012Terrazas De Los Andes Reserva Malbec 2011

Descendientes de J. Palacios 2012 Pétalos, Bierzo, Spain ($26.95)
David Lawrason – Alvaro Palacios was just in Toronto (unfortunately, I missed him this time). He has been here a lot recently which may have something to do with the reception that ultra-modern Spanish wines are getting in Ontario. They nicely bridge approachability and serious structure, while still capturing the essence of the three regions he operates within (Rioja, Priorat and Bierzo). The latter is a fantastic red wine region in northwest Spain that has great slate soils and experiences some Atlantic influence.
Sara d’Amato – Palacios is an innovator whose wines have become benchmarks of quality and distinctiveness in their respective regions. These modern wines, progressive in style with seductive appeal offer outstanding value.

Lavau 2012 Rasteau, Rhone, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – It has only been four years (since 2010) that the Cotes du Rhone Villages appellation Rasteau was given its very own AOC and can now be labelled as simply “Rasteau” – since that time the quality of the wines continue on an uphill trajectory. This lovely example made from equal parts grenache and syrah certainly made me take note with sensual, floral and spicy notes backed by a great deal of power but also finesse. This family-owned negociant hails from the right bank of Bordeaux but has now established three successful cellars in the southern Rhone.

Terrazas de los Andes 2011 Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)
David Lawrason – I will be in Argentina as this is posted, and Vintages large and interesting December selection from Mendoza has given me much food for thought, and for questioning winemakers when I a am there. This is my favourite, and it’s great value in well structured, compact malbec that shies away from the obviousness of so many. I look forward to reporting back.

Red Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013Volcanes De Chile Tectonia Pinot Noir 2012Volcanes de Chile 2012 Tectonia Pinot Noir, Bío Bío Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is not a super-serious pinot in terms of structure, depth, etc., but for me it’s a bellwether for a new, more subtle take on Chilean pinot that steers well south of that exuberantly fruity, minty style I have come to know. One reason may indeed be that they have gone far south in Bio Bio for this pinot. Good value and some charm here.
Sara d’Amato – Fresh, ethereal, and elegant – a cool climate, floral and lightly peppered pinot noir with an upbeat, jazzy feel. As “volcanic wines” are on the brink of widespread consumer fascination, be ahead of the trend and pour this at your next gathering. The volcanic soil in these vineyards comes from sediments of the Antuco and Lonquimay volcanoes – notable features of the southern Bío Bío Valley landscape.

Red Hill 2013 Estate Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – Red Hill, boutique winery with serious award-winning clout, has been an iconic fixture of the Mornington Peninsula for the past 25 years. Its cooler, fringe climate is ideal for the production of Burgundian varietals with style and complexity such as this tantalizing example.

And that is a wrap for the last Vintages newsletter of 2014. But do keep checking your inbox through December. John, Sara and I will be doing one newsletter per week to help you gear your wine selections to the Christmas season. Next week a last minute gift guide, the following week wines to match a variety of holiday foods, moods and events; and then just before Christmas, our annual far-reaching Fizz Report. Don’t go away.

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES Dec 6th release:

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Dec 6th – Part One

Sparklers, Whites and Sweeties
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

I’m climbing volcanoes in Italy this week so my boots will be covered in tephra and assorted pyroclasts by the time this reaches your inbox. But David, Sara and I have managed to assemble a smart list of sparkling wine recommendations from the December 6th VINTAGES release – the theme of the week – along with a handful other white and sweet wine picks for your consideration. And some highly recommended Canadian wines have risen to the top as well. We will be following up with a more comprehensive Fizz Report on sparkling wines currently available in Ontario on December 23rd, just in time for the holidays and of course New Year’s Eve. We’ll be sifting through dozens of bubblies to find the sharpest buys at all prices, including a wide range of grower champagnes as well as local sparkling.

In Part Two, next week David and Sara will highlight the best reds of the December 6th release.

Sparkling

Benjamin Bridge 2009 Reserve Brut Sparkling, Nova Scotia ($47.95)
David Lawrason – Most Canadians are still in disbelief that Nova Scotia can make bubbly to rival Champagne in terms of quality and price. I visited the pastoral Gaspereau Valley in October and spent two hours tasting with owner Gerry McConnell, consultant Peter Gamble and winemaker Jean-Benoit Deslauriers. I encountered deep seated passion, patience and belief in the future of Nova Scotia sparkling. In fact BB will be doubling its vineyard acreage in the next few years. I find Nova Scotia bubbly to be lighter in body than many other traditional method sparklers, but they possess real finesse and class.
John Szabo – Since launching with the 2002 vintage, Benjamin Bridge has significantly raised the bar on Canadian sparkling. And although this 2009 is less evolved than earlier ‘reserve’ releases, it’s evidently made with the care and very low yields necessary to make top-notch wine in Nova Scotia (or anywhere else). Expect a lean, essentially dry and crisp, fruity wine, with serious vinosity on the palate.
Sara d’Amato – Benjamin Bridge continues to fool sommeliers and critics alike when tasted blind for top end, much pricier vintage Champagnes. In an elegant package and full of the potential to surprise and wow – here is a great option for festive gatherings.

Moët & Chandon 2004 Grand Vintage Brut Champagne, France ($84.95)
John Szabo – Fully mature at this point, Moët’s 2004 Grand Vintage is a particularly dry (just 5 grams of dosage) and toasty blend of about equal parts of champagnes three main varieties. It’s pricy to be sure, but quality is definitely on par.

Benjamin Bridge Nova Scotia Brut 2009 Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Champagne 2004 Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne 2004Château De Bligny Champagne Blanc De Blancs Brut

Moët & Chandon 2004 Grand Vintage Brut Rosé Champagne, France ($91.95)
Sara d’Amato – The 2004 growing season in Champagne was long and drawn out and delivered an abundance of healthy, good quality fruit – ideal conditions for a standout vintage. This Grand Vintage Brut Rose is surprisingly youthful, concentrated and compelling with happy funk, perky fruit and elegant bubbles.

Château De Bligny Blanc De Blancs Champagne, France ($49.95)
John Szabo – A particularly vinous grower champagne from the Rapeneau family, the second largest owners of vineyards in the region, made from pinot noir and chardonnay grown in the Côtes des Bars in the southern end of champagne. The southern richness shows through in spades.
Sara d’Amato – With elegance, power and a great deal of complexity, this non-vintage grower Champagne is a shockingly good value. The secret to the wine’s potency is the location of the estate’s vineyard which allows for a greater degree of ripeness at harvest than is the norm.

Lallier Rosé Champagne, France ($56.95)
John Szabo – A pinot noir based wine sourced from Lallier’s home village of Aÿ in the Montagne de Reims, as well as Bouzy and Avize (all grand cru-rated villages) with a splash of chardonnay. I like the spicy ginger-tinged profile, powerful but finessed, suitable for the apéro hour or at the table with a wide range of seafood, shellfish, or white meat.

Perrier Jouet 2006 La Belle Epoque Champagne, France, $189.95
Sara d’Amato – I admit a weakness for La Belle Epoque which characteristically exudes sophistication, elegance, an ethereal texture and nuanced flavours and all in the most lovely packaging of any Champagne. The airy, gilded, floral, Art Nouveau bottle imagery created in 1902 symbolically illustrates the house’s very consistent style. The 2006 is an exceptional vintage and exhibits charm, poise, harmonious composure and impressive persistence on the palate.

Lallier Brut Rosé Champagne Perrier Jouet La Belle Epoque 2006 Champagne Josef Chromy Sparkling 2008 Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava

Josef Chromy 2008 Sparkling Méthode Traditionnelle, Tasmania,  Australia ($29.95)
John Szabo – Tasmania is quickly making an international reputation for fine sparkling wine (and more – watch this short video filmed last fall in Tassie including commentary from Bill Zacharkiw and I on the industry), and Chromy makes a premium version at an attractive price. The style is brisk and fresh, full of green apple and citrus, well suited for those who like it very dry, apéritif style.

Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut Cava, Spain ($19.95)
John Szabo –
Here’s a keenly priced, satisfying bubbly, albeit not exactly traditional in style – there’s significant chardonnay in the blend, but all the more widely appealing for it. Serve chilled if you prefer it more crisp, or allow to warm a few degrees for added richness.

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2012 Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay 2013 Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012White Wines

Vineland Estates 2012 Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling, Niagara Peninsula Canada ($19.95)
John Szabo – A highly reliable Ontario riesling from some of the province’s oldest riesling vines planted in the late 1970s. Serious flavour sits on a just 9% alcohol frame.
David Lawrason – This is not only among the best Canadian wines on this release, it is one of my top scoring whites period.  The St. Urban Vineyard at Vineland has real heritage, being among the very first riesling sites in Niagara, now more than 35 years old.

Southbrook Triomphe 2013 Chardonnay, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This is well-structured yet refined and tender organically grown wine. I like the weaving of the complex flavours as well, and it’s fairly priced. I continue to be impressed by Ontario’s 2013 whites.

Cave Spring 2012 Estate Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – The estate-grown vines used to create this chardonnay are low yielding at between 29-35 years of age.  The wine’s captivating floral aromas are in part due to the 18% chardonnay musqué in the blend. Powerful, elegant and certainly exhibiting above average complexity for the price – this highly appealing chardonnay will certainly do the job of impressing relatives from afar over the holidays.

Pieropan 2013 Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – This youthful Soave Classico delivers an unexpected explosion of fruit at first sip. Not only impactful, it also offers a delightful degree of complexity from organically farmed, estate vineyards.

Tselepos 2013 Classic Moschofilero, Mantinia, Greece ($17.95)
John Szabo – The best Mantinia I’ve tasted from regional leader Yiannis Tselepos, with an almost muscat-like perfume, and uncommonly rich, mouth filing palate (this has 13% alcohol declared, a good 1% higher than the regional average). Think serious, dry pinot gris and you’re in the right style camp.

Pieropan Soave Classico 2013 Tselepos Classic Moschofilero 2013 Dr. Bürklin Wolf Estate Trocken Riesling 2012 Thierry Delaunay Sauvignon Blanc Touraine 2013

Dr. Bürklin-Wolf 2012 Estate Trocken Riesling, Pfalz, Germany ($19.95)
John Szabo – Bürklin-Wolf really seems to have turned the corner after they converting to biodynamic farming, as evinced by this precise, well-chiselled example, with a pitch-perfect equilibrium of acids and residual sugar. Drinking now, but better in 1-3 years.
Thierry Delaunay 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Touraine, Loire, France($14.95)
David Lawrason – Touraine sauvignons are usually bright, shiny and simple with lip-smacking granny smith apple. This one is notable for backing extra depth and complexity, getting close to Sancerre stylistically but of course being up to $10 less

Medium-Sweet & Sweet

Puklus Pincészet Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2008

Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2012

Château Suduiraut 2010Château Suduiraut 2010, Sauternes, 1er Cru Classé, Bordeaux, France ($62.85)
John Szabo – A brilliant Sauternes, full stop. This would make an extravagant holiday treat. Best 2014-2028.
David Lawrason – I have been pouring fine Sauternes all year in my Fine Vintage Ltd. WSET classes. Again and again students who have never laid lips on Bordeaux’ famous botrytis-affected semillons are shocked at how much they love it.  And this bottling steps it up even more; earning one of my highest ratings of the year.

Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben 2012 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany ($29.95)
John Szabo – A medium-sweet wine in which significant residual sugar is pitched against serious acids, with salty-mineral flavours and genuine vibration, from one of the Würzgarten vineyard’s top interpreters. Best 2014-2028.

Puklus Pincészet 2008 Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos, Tokaj-Hegyalja Hungary ($35.95)
John Szabo – An accurate, old school aszú from a great vintage, complete with orange blossom, honey, green tea, Chinese five-spice and dried apricot-botrytis flavours. The palate is sweet but balanced in the way that tokaji does so well. Best 2014-2020.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Dec 6th:

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 22nd – Part Two

Holiday Gift Bottles
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week the WineAlign crü has come together to offer some gift suggestions for the wine lovers on your holiday shopping list. And since all love is not equal, we’ve split the recommendations into three price categories: under $30, under $60 and “money is no object”. Instructions: select the recipient, select the price category, then cut and paste in the suggestion of your favorite WineAlign critic, and send. Don’t forget to include the write-up in the gift card; that way, if your recipient is disappointed, you can blame us.

Under $30

Vallado 2011, Douro, Portugal ($22.95)
John Szabo – The perfect wine for anyone looking for a horizon expansion. A dense and ripe red blend, thanks to the soon-to-be-legendary 2011 vintage (what a port year!). This will satisfy high-impact new world style wine lovers as well as those after a little more earth, minerality, genuine tension and structure. Enclose this photo of the magnificent Douro Valley for added vicarious value, and mention that Vallado has a beautiful boutique hotel, just in case.

View over the Douro River

Lungarotti 2010 Rubesco, Rosso di Torgiano, Umbria, Italy ($19.95)
John Szabo – A fine discovery for the Italian wine lover on your list who’s stuck in the more popular tourist destinations. Lungarotti single-handedly established this appellation surrounding the beautiful hilltop town of Torgiano in the “green heart” of Italy, as Umbria is known, and has been producing classic dusty, red-fruited sangiovese for decades. As fine as any Chianti at the price, and something a little different.

Finca Constancia 2011 Altos De La Finca, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain ($21.95)
David Lawrason – This is for the explorer on your list who relishes rich reds. Finca Constantia is a very modern new winery by Gonzales Byass – a large Spanish wine company based in Jerez. This creative multi-grape blend includes tempranillo, petit verdot and syrah. At this price you might want to buy several and spread them around – as a curio host/hostess gift, or for mates at the office Christmas party.

Quinta Do Vallado Vinho Tinto 2011 Lungarotti Rubesco 2010 Finca Constancia Altos De La Finca 2011 Paolo Conterno Bricco Barbera d'Alba 2013Humberto Canale Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Paolo Conterno 2013 Bricco Barbera d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy ($19.95)
David Lawrason – For the lover of all things Italian (who may be also happen to be Italian) here is a wonderfully exuberant, approachable young barbera from one of my favourite Piemontese producers. The wines are always meticulous and exact for their variety. This would be ideal around a holiday charcuterie and cheese board. Better buy two or three.

Mcwilliam's Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2007

Salomon Undhof Alte Reben Grüner Veltliner 2012Humberto Canale 2013 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Alto Valle Del Río Negro, Patagonia, Argentina, ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato - Cool climate growing areas are all the rage and if you’ve wondered why, check out this exceptional value sauvignon blanc from the cool and arid reaches of Patagonia – one of the world’s most southerly wine regions. Humberto Canale is a pioneer of this sunny and windswept part of the world, having established the winery in the early 1900s.

Salomon Undhof 2012 Alte Reben Grüner Veltliner, Kremstal, Austria ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato - Flavour-wise, this is a textbook grüner veltliner but with more oomph and power than the norm. It is immediately impressive and is an excellent introduction to this exotic and compelling varietal.

McWilliams’s 2007 Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon, Hunter Valley, Australia ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato - For those who love aged semillon, you will find this 2007 Hunter Valley an absolute treat. I couldn’t get enough of its lovely nuttiness, its youthful vibrancy and its long, creamy finish.

$30 to $60

Cune 2008 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($39.95)
John Szabo – As all great Rioja, this wine should be on the list for all old world pinot noir fans (including Burgundy) considering the parallels in elegance, finesse and minerality. They also age magnificently; mention to the recipient that he/she can drink it now or hold twenty years or more sin problema.

Confidences De Prieuré-Lichine 2010, Margaux, Bordeaux ($48.95)
David Lawrason – In great vintages like 2010 the “second” labels of famous chateau like Prieure-Lichine offer great value. I would give this to the budding, young wine enthusiast who would normally not fork out $50, but needs to experience the seamless finesse that Bordeaux, and indeed Margaux, does better than most. A very similar Margaux was my first true fine wine experience and I have never looked back.
John Szabo – I couldn’t agree more with David. This is very classy, elegant, highly pleasurable Bordeaux, and a great reference for Margaux. The budding sommelier/wine enthusiast will thank you for this experience.

Cune Gran Reserva 2008 Confidences De Prieuré Lichine 2010 Cuvelier Los Andes Grand Malbec 2009 Daniel Rion & Fils Les Grandes Vignes Nuits Saint Georges 2011 Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2008

Cuvelier Los Andes 2009 Grand Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($61.95)
David Lawrason – An ideal gift for the wine drinker on your list who loves inexpensive Argentine malbec but might never spring for an expensive example. This is from one the great new properties of Mendoza, owned by the Cuvelier family that has made wine in France since the early 19th Century. They bring the Bordeaux vision of a structured, layered wine for cellaring, and it’s a dandy!

Daniel Rion & Fils 2011 Les Grandes Vignes, Nuits Saint Georges, Burgundy, France, ($59.95)
Sara d’Amato - This Nuits Saints Georges is impressive across the board from complexity to length and finesse. If pinot noir is the heartbreak grape, then prepare for a tear-jerking episode. But truly, pinot noir can provoke knee-quaking sensations when exceptional and this is an experience you won’t want to miss.

Henry Of Pelham 2008 Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario, Canada ($44.95)
Sara d’Amato - Whether to ring in the New Year or to crack open and enhance the mood, the Carte Blanche Estate Blanc de Blanc over-delivers and is a great way to get the experience of a vintage Champagne for a fraction of the price.

Masi Campolongo di Torbe Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2007

Masi Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2007Money No Object

2007 Masi Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto, Italy ($101.95) and
2007 Masi Campolongo di Torbe Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto, Italy ($101.95)
John Szabo – So, if money really is no object, buy a bottle of each of these extraordinary amarones for someone special – preferably a friend you still intend to have in twenty years. Then, hopefully, you’ll also be invited to compare these two side by side, for a truly memorable experience. I’ve done it with the last handful of vintages of Masi’s two great crus (alas when far too young), and I love the consistently muscular, herculean strength of the Mazzano, accurately described by Masi as “austere and majestic”, as much as I love the ethereal finesse and opulence (relatively speaking) of the Campolongo di Torbe, “Masi’s elegant cru version of Amarone”. Both of these 2007s will surely be counted among the great Amarones of the modern age.

Stags’ Leap 2010 The Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA ($89.95).
John Szabo – For the Napa collector, invite him to compare this wine, preferably blind, with more expensive versions. In the perilously over-valued world of Napa cabernet, this is an example with true depth, complexity and concentration that’s worth the money. There won’t be any disappointment.

Spottswoode Estate 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($167.95)
David Lawrason – Regular readers know I struggle with the lack of value in California – not so much due to lack of quality but exaggerated pricing. Well if I were to buy one $100+ Napa cab as a gift for a California wine collector this would be it. Spottswoode is spot-on in terms of finding nuance and complexity. The cool 2011 vintage is panned by some, but I think it is providing added vitality and nuance.

Stags' Leap The Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Barossa Valley Estate E & E Black Pepper Shiraz 2008 Château Pontet Canet 2010

Barossa Valley Estate 2008 E&E Black Pepper Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($89.95)
David Lawrason – I suggest you don’t dither over this – it will be gone in a flash. It’s an iconic Barossa shiraz from a great vintage, and it’s packing incredible intensity, layering and depth. It’s actually decent value at $90, so if you were thinking in this generous but non-ostentatious price range for a business associate who loves wine, this is the ticket. And it doesn’t need to be cellared further, though it will certainly live another decade with ease.

Château Pontet Canet 2010, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France, ($249.85)
Sara d’Amato - Thrilling, riveting, downright sensational and perhaps the finest example from this Chateau I have ever tasted. Quite impressive already, this is also a gift with a great deal of staying power.

Volcanic Wine Tour

Still wondering what to do Friday night (November 21st)? Join me at the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo at 6:30pm, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, for an exotic tour of the world’s best volcanoes. And, of course, the exceptional wines that grow on them. Find out why I spent the last 4 months touring volcanoes from Hungary to the Canary Islands to Chile. To buy tickets, go to foodandwineexpo.ca. Guaranteed explosive fun.

That’s all for this week. Happy shopping and see you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Nov 22nd:

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 22nd – Part One

Shakeup in the Rhône & Dynamic Global Reds
By Sara d’Amato with notes from David Lawrason

Sara's New Pic_Sm

Sara d’Amato

While John Szabo is busy scaling volcanoes (the life of a wine writer is a difficult and perilous job) I am only too happy to fill in with my thoughts on this week’s enormous release. In fact, as we approach the holidays, these releases will not get any smaller and the selections become quite varied with plenty of big names and labels. As wine writers, we are working double time in order to keep up with it all (as I mentioned, we have it tough).

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images. You can also find the complete list of each VINTAGES release under Wine >> New Releases. Remember, however, that to access this list and to read all of the reviews you do need to subscribe (only $40/year). Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Rhône and the Midi

In the midst of some heavy hitters in this release, there is an impressively large number of wines from the Rhône and the Midi that collectively deserve a closer look. It just so happens that this is the region in which I have summered, ever since I was a little tike, and have made some discoveries as of late that are really quite a shakeup for this usually quite consistent region.

First, unusual weather patterns, especially in the winter of recent vintages, have thrown many wrenches into what is a generally a stable region. For example, the heat-seeking grenache is at an all-time low in the Rhône and southern France due to harsh cold snaps over the winters of 2010, 2011 and 2012, causing damage, and in some cases vine death, along with low fruit set at the onset of the growing season. So what does this mean? Well, certainly it means less grenache in blends and often less alcohol and concentration. But tribulation in the world of wine can often yield surprisingly fabulous results and critics worldwide are praising these unique, recent vintages as some of the finest in the last several decades. The resulting wines are stripped down and characterized by purity of fruit and mineral along with a certain finesse making for a compelling outcome.

Second, syrah, oh syrah, is experiencing a heyday both in the northern Rhône where it reigns supreme and in the south where it is experiencing temporary higher concentrations in blends. Cooler temperatures in the north have only enhanced the grape’s naturally peppery, floral character and in the south it benefited from a shorter growing season and some increase in the activity of the Mistral – the cooling, drying wind that sweeps through the Rhône valley (reportedly having caused the madness in Van Gogh that lead him to cut off his own ear). Yes, syrah needs coolness to thrive and fully express its sensual, spicy nature. Extreme heat squashes and fattens this stirring variety and thus it is often carefully planted at higher altitudes or in more shaded locales in southern France. Those wines that featured higher ratios of syrah in these past vintages also benefited from increased concentration due to naturally low yields, most notably in 2012.

Finally, who’s heard of Rasteau, Vacqueyras, Lirac and Tavel? More of you than ever before thanks to efforts by houses such as Perrin and other like-minded producers who push to highlight these distinctive southern regions. Châteauneuf-du-Pape may be the kingpin of the south, but many of the surrounding appellations have stepped up in terms of quality and their competitive prices may have you spending your money on them instead.

Without further ado, our thoughts on the best of the lot followed by statement making reds from around the globe:

Grands Serres Les Hautes Vacquieres Vacqueyras 2012

M. Chapoutier Petite Ruche Crozes Hermitage 2012

Saint Roch 2013 Vielles Vignes Grenache Blanc/MarsanneSaint Roch Vielles Vignes Grenache Blanc Marsanne 2013, Côtes Du Roussillon, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – The whites of the southern France remain unknown to many consumers on this side of the pond,ok but the few that trickle in should not be overlooked. This is a fine, well-priced offering that boasts impressive freshness, vibrancy and elegance.

Chapoutier Petite Ruche Crozes Hermitage 2012, Rhône, France ($24.95)
David Lawrason –  If you need convincing about the difference that biodynamic viticulture makes, buy one bottle of this and another 2012 Crozes-Hermitage to compare directly. This is an absolute northern Rhône classic syrah, firm yet generous with excellent length.
Sara d’Amato – Naturally low yields of concentrated syrah have produced a more firm and robust version of this far-reaching northern Rhône appellation – a product of an exceptional vintage.

Grands Serres 2012 Les Hautes Vacquieres, Vacqueyras, Rhône, France ($24.95)
David Lawrason – There have been about dozen Vacqueyras released in 2014, and all but one or two were excellent buys – if you like your southern Rhônes to be rich, dense and complex, as this example shows. I am coming around to the idea that most Vacqueyras are bigger than most Châteauneuf-du- Pape, at half the price.

Perrin & Fils L'andéol Rasteau 2012

Domaine De Vieux Télégraphe Télégramme Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012

Chàteau De Nages 2012 JT Costiéres De NîmesChâteau De Nages JT Costiéres De Nîmes 2012, Rhône, France ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Formerly part of the Languedoc, Costieres de Nimes has aligned itself with the Rhône and is now its most southern appellation. The region features a unique microclimate which is significantly cooler than its surrounding appellations (but no less sunny). This version is both robust and vibrant with exceptional balance.

Domaine de Vieux Télégraphe 2012 Télégramme Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône, France ($49.95)
Sara d’Amato – A lighter, brighter Châteauneuf-du-Pape and one which is terrifically approachable. The blend boasts a classic, traditional feel with plenty of garrigue, musk and earth.

Perrin & Fils 2012 l’Andéol Rasteau, Rhône, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Since 2010, Rasteau is an independent AOC in the Rhône Valley and focuses a great deal on grenache. This example is a wine of contrast featuring an abundance of succulent, zesty fruit along with a rich, mouth-filling texture and a dose of peppery syrah.

World Reds

Calera Pinot Noir 2012

Domaine De l’Herminette 2013 Grand Cras MorgonDomaine De L'herminette Grand Cras Morgon 2013, Beaujolais, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This young textbook Morgon nicely bridges the two styles of Beaujolais that I like. The aromatics showcase very pretty fruit and florality, while the palate battens down with more mineral driven character, and becomes more pinot-like.

Calera 2012 Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California ($33.95)
David Lawrason – Josh Jensen of Calera almost single-handedly gives pinot noir cred in California with his calcerous-soiled single vineyard wines from high on remote Mt. Harlan in San Benito County. This edition calls on fruit from Central Coast locales but possesses the same structure and complexity as the now very expensive editions. It runs in the family.

Josef Chromy 2010 Pepik Pinot Noir, Tasmania, Australia ($18.90)
Sara d’Amato – This high-tech, cool climate winery has produced a sensational result in this nervy pinot noir at a steal of a price. An exciting, modern style with no shortage of personality.

San Felice 2010 Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($27.95)
David Lawrason – Go to school on authentic Chianti – a 100% estate grown sangiovese aged 80% in larger, old Slavonian and 20% in smaller French barriques. No merlot or cabernet to in-fill more berryish fruit, it has all kinds of savoury, sour red fruit complexity – a lovely texture.

Tenuta Stefano 2009 Farina le Brume Langhe, Piedmont, Italy ($16.95)
David Lawrason – If you are Barolo/Barberesco fan, or want to know what they are all about, without paying $40 to $60, try this maturing nebbiolo from the Langhe zone that surrounds those two famous appellations. Lacking some of their depth perhaps but bang-on nebbiolo.

Josef Chromy Pepik Pinot Noir 2012 San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 Tenuta Stefano Farina Le Brume Langhe 2009 Cavino Grande Reserve Nemea 2008 Meerlust Rubicon 2008

Cavino 2008 Grande Reserve Nemea, Greece ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Agioritiko ages so gracefully and here is a perfect example to highlight this characteristic. Although the wine is drinking beautifully now, it is certainly still kicking and has opened to offer an impressive array of flavours.

Meerlust Rubicon 2008, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($38.95)
Sara d’Amato – This iconic Bordelaise blend from Meerlust had me at first sip. Its pleasant maturation did not deter the flood of flavours on the palate of this complex and highly appealing wine.

~

TT_Session_VolcanicWinesAnd that concludes this week’s edition of the Buyer’s Guide. We will be back next week with Part Two featuring John’s picks and many heavy hitters under VINTAGES’ “Our Finest” Feature.

For those of you in the Toronto area, please join WineAlign’s John Szabo MS at the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo on Friday, November 21st for an exotic tour of the world’s best volcanoes! And, of course, the exceptional wines that grow on them.  The Volcanic Wines tasting will take place from 6:30 to 8 pm at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  To buy tickets, please go to foodandwineexpo.ca.

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES Nov 22nd:

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 8th – Part Two

Red Highlights, Bargains and Obscurities
by David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS

David New 2014

David Lawrason

Last week we covered the whites and fortifieds from the massive Nov 8 release; this week we focus on the reds. Vintages has grouped several under the title ‘Star Quality’, which begs the question as to whether stardom automatically equates with quality. You probably just answered that yourself.

So off we go with various picks from the WineAlign team. I have focused somewhat on Italian entries – a mini-tour de force of Italian regions and style. This is partially inspired also by having attended the Italian Trade Commission tasting that landed in Toronto on Monday, part of a four-city Canadian tour. I was very impressed by the overall quality of the wines that Italy is producing; the new wines they are always attempting, and the sense of style and modernity they possess. It was a great tasting, and I have written a short report with personal picks that follows. But we give you our Vintages picks first – organized by Italian Reds, Other Euro Reds and New World Reds.

Italian Reds

Giacomo Mori Chianti 2011Aurelio Settimo Rocche Dell'annunziata Barolo 2008Orestiadi Ludovico 2008Orestiadi 2008 Ludovico, Rosso Sicilia, Italy ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is perhaps the best buy of the release in my books – a complete surprise in terms of the tension, structure and perfume it displays for $20. Usually Sicilian reds based on nero d’avola are softer and rounder. It is likely that the 10% cabernet here is giving it some of its lift and elegance, but the rest must be coming from the site in the hills above the Belice Valley in the westernmost province of Trapani. Into the cellar!

Aurelio Settimo 2008 Rocche Dell’Annunziata Barolo, Italy ($51.95)
David Lawrason – I do not put this forward as a wine that I think everyone will love. But if you are fan of traditional maturing Barolo, you will certainly appreciate the complexity, tension and depth of this vintage – a wine that will carry on another decade. It is from a prized calcerous ‘cru’ of 3.4 hectares with a southwest exposure. I met Tiziana Settimo at the Italian Trade Commission tasting and was totally impressed by this small firm’s attention to authenticity and detail.

Giacomo Mori 2011 Chianti, Tuscany, Italy ($19.95)
David Lawrason – So many Tuscan reds are becoming “juicy”, that combo of being brightly fruity yet tart. This struck me as a beautifully balanced, compact, drier and ultimately authentic Chianti. It is largely sangiovese with a small percentage of colorino (no merlot or cab or syrah, although these varieties are grown at this small estate). It was aged in Slovenian and some French oak, giving it that fine-grained wood seasoning (no vanilla or cocoa).

Other Euro Reds

Roger Champault Les Pierris Sancerre Rouge 2013Domaine Michel Magnien Cote De Nuits Villages 2011Domaine Michel Magnien 2011 Cote De Nuits Villages, Burgundy, France ($36.95)
Sara d’Amato – A true beauty, this Cote de Nuits Villages is elegant, ethereal and absolutely captivating. Grapes are sourced from 50-year old non-certified organic vines on this reliable estate’s tiny 19-hectare property.

Roger Champault 2013 Les Pierris Sancerre Rouge, Loire Valley, France ($23.95)
John Szabo – A rare red Sancerre (pinot noir), suited to fans of crunchy, zesty versions full of joyful berry fruit and ripe acids. I’d expect to pay at least 30% more for similar quality from more heralded pinot regions. Best 2014-2020

Giroud 2013 Terra Helvetica Pinot Noir, Valais, Switzerland ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – A rare find in these parts but a rather common varietal to find in Switzerland. In fact pinot noir (also blauburgunder) is the most planted red variety in the country. This example proves undeniably seductive with lovely notes of sandalwood and musk and featuring above average depth and complexity.

Pascal Aufranc 2013 Vignes De 1939 Chénas, Beaujolais, France ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – I am excited to see this lovely gamay once again grace the shelves of the LCBO -produced from 75-year-old vines (pre WWII) no less! Chénas is the smallest of the Beaujolais Cru designations – no larger than one square mile of planted vine. The area gets its name from the oak trees (chêne) that once used to fill the slopes.

Hermanos Peciña 2009 Señorío De P. Peciña Crianza, Rioja Spain ($21.95)
John Szabo – I love the old school, zesty, American oak-tinged wines of the brothers Peciña, encapsulating the best of traditional style Rioja. This is the sort of wine you can drink all evening without tiring, blending savoury and fruity notes with uncommonly good balance. Best 2014-2020.

Alvaro Palacios 2013 Camins Del Priorat, Priorat Spain ($24.95)
John Szabo – An excellent value from Palacios that captures the stark graphite minerality and savage, wildly herbal and generously proportioned character of Priorat, without breaking the bank (relative to Palacios’ L’Hermita at $700+/bottle, I’d say this is smoking value). Best 2014-2020.

Viña Real 2009 Oro Reserva Rioja, Spain ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Rioja is such a chameleon, depending on the winemakers philosophy on the use of oak. One in this release (Pecina Crianza above) is plugged with resinous oak; another finds a nice fruit/oak balance through age (Otanon 2001), this one tilts to a fruitier style – perhaps due to the warmth of the 2009 vintage. It is a very elegant wine with pitch perfect balance, and oak nicely tucked in the corners.

Quinta Da Romaneira 2010 Touriga Nacional, Douro Portugal ($29.95)
John Szabo – Although 2010 was considered a cooler, lighter, non-vintage port year, the table reds from the Douro benefited from the less extreme climate, and like this lovely example from Romaneira, show great finesse and complexity. Best 2014-2020.

 

Giroud Terra Helvetica Pinot Noir 2013Pascal Aufranc Vignes De 1939 Chénas 2013Hermanos Peciña Señorío De P. Peciña Crianza 2009Alvaro Palacios Camins Del Priorat 2013Viña Real Oro Reserva 2009Quinta Da Romaneira Touriga Nacional 2010

New World Reds

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché Meritage 2010No Unauthorized Reproduction @Jason DziverBurrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2012Burrowing Owl 2012 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($40.95)
Sara d’Amato – This Canadian gem is modern, juicy, exotic and features an abundance of fruit. A new world style done exceptionally well with huge appeal and surprising complexity.

Flat Rock 2012 Gravity Pinot Noir, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($29.95)
John Szabo – A fine, classically-styled pinot from Flat Rock, one of the best yet from the estate. Give it another year or two in the cellar to mesh. Best 2015-2020.

Hidden Bench 2010 Terroir Caché Meritage, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($38.95)
John Szabo – Hidden Bench’s 2010 Bordeaux-style blend is showing beautifully at the moment, certainly one of the best in the genre and with nothing to envy Bordeaux itself. Yet it still has plenty of potential development ahead; enjoy this now or in a half-dozen years or more.

Raven’s Roost 2012 Cabernet/Merlot, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)
John Szabo – this is the first I’ve seen of this label from Coyote’s Run, and I find it compelling. It’s a dead ringer for solid Bordeaux Supérieur, the kind of savoury, twiggy, earthy wine that sings with the right piece of salty protein. Best 2014-2019.

Laurel Glen 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Mountain, California ($77.95)
John Szabo – A classy wine from an historic vineyard site on the cooler west side of Sonoma mountain and its volcanic soils, recently purchased and revived by Bettina Sichel. Sichel, ironically, is a former executive of the Napa Valley Vintners association, but has found love in Sonoma. It’s a rare Californian example that proudly displays an authentic herbal, minty, spicy edge. Best 2014-2022.

Frei Brothers 2012 Reserve Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California ($24.95)
David Lawrason – I have often lamented the demise of zinfandel, an intriguing, storied grape that has been commercialized as a chocolatized confection with punster labels that play on the word zin, or allude to the grape’s potential to make powerful, high alcohol reds (like the Boneshaker in this release). So make room from an honest, authentic and delicious zin from a classic hillside site in Sonoma County. Frei Brothers is a line by E & J Gallo.

Halter Ranch 2011 Syrah, Paso Robles, California, ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – An innovative producer that uses all sustainably grown estate fruit to make this immediately appealing syrah. An impactful California style yet the wine has delightfully retained its peppery and expressive character.

Domaine Tournon 2012 Shay’s Flat Vineyard Shiraz, Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia ($37.95) David Lawrason – This is a biodynamic wine by Michel Chapoutier of France’s Rhone Valley. It is one of three labels from individual granite-based vineyards in the remote Pyrenees regions of Australia about 200 km northeast of Melbourne. Simply but – Australia meets Hermitage, with stunning result.

Meerlust 2012 Pinot Noir, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($27.95)
Sara d’Amato – You may very well find yourself lusting over this pinot noir at first sip. More mature looking than it tastes, the wine over-delivers in terms of complexity and sophistication. Pinot lovers take note.

Raven's Roost Cabernet:Merlot 2012Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Frei Brothers Reserve Zinfandel 2012Halter Ranch Syrah 2011Domaine Tournon Shay's Flat Vineyard Shiraz 2012Meerlust Pinot Noir 2012

The Annual Italian Trade Commission Tasting

For as long as I can remember the Italians have been coming to Toronto the first week of November, with a massive array of wines. On November 3rd ninety producers were pouring at Roy Thomson Hall. With an average of six wines per stand, that’s just under 600 wines crammed into a five hour tasting window for media and trade, and any consumers pro-active enough to get themselves invited. It was a tour de force of what’s happening in ever-evolving Italy. I was taken by many of the wines I tasted but that amounted to less than 10% of the offering. And that’s about the same percentage that will actually ever show up at the LCBO or Vintages. No wonder the general public is not invited. It would only feed their frustration. And for the same reason I am hesitant to write about the wines that most interested me. You will not be able to buy them easily here in “not yours to discover” Ontario.

I entered the tasting – after an impolite security search of my knapsack – with the plan of focusing on one region (Piemonte) but that quickly fell apart as different producers and some obscure grapes and regions caught my eye. There was a viognier from Casale del Giglio in Lazio near Rome. I loved the dolcettos from Clavesana in the Dogliani zone of Piedmont. I was very impressed by the value and modern vibe of the general list Cusumano 2013 Syrah from Sicily. I was totally smitten by the Pasetti 2013 Pecorino from Abruzzo as well as their trebbiano/pecorino white blend called Testarossa. I loved Planeta 2013 Etna Bianco from Sicily, 100% from a white variety called carricante. There was another white that was sensational too – Tenuta Malgra 2013 Roero Arneis from Piedmont. And I found my favourite bargain red of the year, Monte del Fra 2013 Bardolino that is still kicking around in a few Vintages outlets.

But after three hours, as the crowds began to swell, I was done for the day. After another knapsack search to ensure I was not unleashing a bottle of dolcetto on an unsuspecting world, I took my leave. As a personal journey it was very fulfilling and enjoyable, and it was very well organized. But as a professional exercise from which to generate meaningful reviews, it was all but pointless. And this event has always been thus, as are many of the large fair-type tastings. This is not the fault of the organizers. It is the product of the oh-so limited LCBO retail environment in which all we wine lovers must live and work.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. We will back at the end of next week with Part One from an equally massive November 22 release 0f about 200 wines, that features many heavy hitters under Vintages “Our Finest” Feature.

For those of you in the Toronto area, please join WineAlign’s John Szabo MS at the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo on Friday, November 21st for an exotic tour of the world’s best volcanoes! And, of course, the exceptional wines that grow on them.  The Volcanic Wines tasting will take place from 6:30 to 8 pm at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  To buy tickets, please go to foodandwineexpo.ca.

David Lawrason

VP of Wine

From VINTAGES November 8th release:

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Nov 8th Part One – Tuscany and Miscellaneous Top Whites

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 to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 2012

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008