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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Mar 5, 2016

“TreMonti” Italian Anteprime, 2010 Brunello, and More.
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Each year, wine regions throughout Italy organize tastings to showcase the latest vintage released to market, called anteprime, the Italian equivalent of Bordeaux’s en primeur tasting, with the one difference being that in many, but not all cases, wines are already finished and in bottle. In this week’s report I cover the best new releases from the “TreMonti”, the trilogy of central Italian hill top towns of Montalcino for 2011 Brunello (by law, Brunello must be cellared five years before release), 2013 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and 2012 Sagrantino from Montefalco in Umbria.

The VINTAGES March 5th release features California, already covered last week by David, as well as mini-feature of 2010 Brunello di Montalcino, rated a five star vintage by the Consorzio di Brunello. The collection on offer is modest, though includes one superlative wine. I’ve also picked out five smart buys from the rest of the release, with some great wines on offer from Spain, France, and Oregon. Read on for all of the details.

Benvenuto Brunello 2016

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Brunello do Montalcino DOC in 1966 (DOCG as of 1980), and it would be hard to overstate the meteoric rise of Brunello in the ensuing years. From one of Siena province’s poorest communes at the beginning of the 19th century – a rural backwater of woods, mixed agriculture, honey production and wine sold by the liter in demijohns – Montalcino has become one of the wealthiest. And the success has been built almost entirely on wine and the gastro-tourism it encourages. In 2015, 1.2 million tourists clambered up to the charming hilltop town (population: 5,272) and surrounding hamlets, lured in large measure by the allure of Brunello di Montalcino, now one of Italy’s most famous wines. Read more …

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Like Montalcino, Montepulciano lives on wine. The industry drives 70% of the local economy. Some 2200 hectares under vine are farmed by over 250 growers (1300 registered for Vino Nobile), and bottled by 90 companies. Average production per estate is higher than in Montalcino, with 7 million bottles of Vino Nobile reaching the market in 2015. But exports are higher, representing 80% of turnover, of which a modest 2% is sent to Canada. Vino Nobile also celebrates its 50th year as an appellation in 2016, first official defined as a wine with “ruby red colour, dry, slightly tannic taste, a scent of violets, and alcohol content of not less than 12 degrees” (now 12.5%).

Vino Nobile had the toughest gig among the various anteprime this year, presenting the challenging 2013 vintage. Read more… 

Montefalco Sagrantino

Around the turn of the millenium, Umbria’s flagship native grape variety sagrantino was very likely not on your radar, nor even most Italians’ radar. I know it wasn’t on mine. Despite it’s 500+ year history in the region around the town of Montefalco in the region of Umbria (“The green heart of Italy”), by the 1960s the grape had all but disappeared. But Umbria, and Montefalco, are on the move. Tourism is up significantly. The number of producer-bottlers has risen dramatically in the last couple of decades, now numbering over 60. If a glass of Montefalco Sagrantino has yet to pass your lips, chances are that will change very soon. Read more…

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 5th: Brunello & More Smart Buys

Click on the link above to get the jump on the latest releases of Brunello from the variable 2011 vintage. A handful of 2010s are offered in the March 5th VINTAGES release, of which the Ciacci Piccolomini D’aragona 2010 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($72.95) is easily the finest, and most expensive. It’s a classy and complex Brunello from the southern sector of the appellation near Castelnuovo dell’Abate, aged in large old cask. Despite apparent light and elegant styling up front, this has power in reserve, building layers of complexity on the palate and continually expanding. Tannins are ripe and silky but present in abundance, and the length is terrific. Aromas and flavours are faithful to traditional sangiovese, all bright red fruit and flowers, gentle spice and earth. Very fine wine, best after 2018 or hold until the end of the ’20s.

Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona Brunello di Montalcino 2010 Domaine Lafage Cuvée Centenaire 2014 Descendientes De J. Palacios Pétalos 2013

Among the miscellaneous whites in the March 5th release, the Domaine Lafage 2014 Cuvée Centenaire, Côtes du Roussillon ($19.95) is well worth a look. I rated the 2011 very highly, the last vintage to be released back in 2013, and the vines have only gotten older. As before this is a blend of Lafage’s oldest grenache gris and blanc, and roussanne, including some centenary vines (with an average of 90 years overall). It’s a lovely, perfumed, floral, fresh but fleshy wine, still a year or two away from prime enjoyment. I like the peach and peach blossom florality, the balanced alcohol and acids, and the fine, lingering finish. There’s lots of character here for the money. Best 2017-2022.

Spain delivers two fine values this week, the first, a perennial favourite and consistent value champion, the ever-delicious Descendientes De J. Palacios 2013 Pétalos, Bierzo, Spain ($24.95). 2013 is another fine vintage, and I’m also very happy to see the price holding steady over so many years when the past success of this wine might have demanded an increase. It’s just such a lovely and floral, succulent and appealingly dark fruit flavoured wine that it’s hard to resist. A streak of stoniness will engage the punters, while everyone else simply enjoys this fruity-savoury, saliva-inducing beauty. Best 2016-2023.

The other side of northern Spain is the origin for another old vine value, the Jardín de Lúculo 2012, Navarra Spain ($23.95). The wine may be young, born in 2004, but the vines are old, among the oldest garnacha bush vines in Navarra, pre-soaked and wild fermented, followed by half a year in mostly old barrels. I love the firm but fresh, structured palate and the spicy, liquorice and orang peel-tinged flavours. Tuck this away for another 2-3 years for maximum aromatic development. Best 2017-2025.

Jardín De Lúculo 2012 Faiveley Mercurey 2014 Scott Paul La Paulée Pinot Noir 2011

Pinot noir drinkers have at least a couple of wines to track down, starting with Faiveley’s 2014 Mercurey, Burgundy, France ($29.95), a wine that effortlessly captures the joyful, forward fruit character of the Côte Châlonnaise, offering lots of pleasure at a reasonable (Burgundian) price. It’s perfectly in line with the Burgundian style but with more approachable and up front red berry character. Best 2016-2022.

Scott Paul 2011 La Paulée Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon USA ($50.95) is a gentle transition to the new world, a wine with definite old world sensibilities. La Paulée is a blend of vineyards in the Dundee Hills, Ribbon Ridge and Chehalem Mountains, from three different soil types, made by the delicate hands of winemaker Kelley Fox. It’s a wine of considerable finesse and elegance, balance and restraint. There’s nary an overt sign of oak, while acids and alcohol seamlessly integrate and the finish lingers impressively. A lovely, silky, beguiling Oregon pinot all in all, and considering that Paul has sold the business to long time frined, and Fox is no longer the winemaker, I’d snap this up while it’s still around. Best 2016-2023.

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

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES March 5, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All February 20th 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!

Pepperjack Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 31, Part Two

Schooling on Tuscany and Red Raves
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

After spending a couple of hours tasting through the Tuscan wines being presented by VINTAGES this weekend I came to the conclusion that all is well in Italy’s most famous wine region; that this assemblage of big name, larger volume producers who export to Canada are doing a good job of making wines that well represent the various sub-districts and styles of this very advanced region. As a previewer/reviewer on your behalf there are very few that I would not recommend, but on the other hand, few that I fervently recommend. What we have here is a classroom on well-made Tuscan reds. Which spawned an idea.

Many, many people in Ontario are now enrolled in wine education programs – through WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust), CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers), George Brown College and Humber Colleges in Toronto, Algonquin College in Ottawa, and Toronto’s Sommelier Factory. In all my years I have never run across so many people studying wine. It’s almost an epidemic of earnest souls delving deep into the grape, and we hope, loving every moment.

So I am going to take this Tuscan release and divide it into three bottle (beginner), six bottle (intermediate) and nine bottle (advanced) study packs. If you can afford them yourself great, but you may want to cobble together a study/tasting group to make a joint purchase. What I do recommend is that you open and compare all of them directly – perhaps meeting late Saturday afternoon to taste then having them all with a Tuscan dinner. I leave the recipes to you.

But first a background. What makes Tuscan unique among Italian wines is a sense of sophistication and refined tension or backbone. They are not heavy, ponderous, thick wines. Instead they are fleet, often nervy yet elegant, with sour red fruit aromas, more so than the riper black fruits of warmer regions. Tuscany’s climate is best described – like Bordeaux – as moderate in the global scheme of things. This creates a sense of balanced acidity upon which all else is built, and the workhorse sangiovese grape also has fairly high natural acidity. In the higher, cooler elevations of Chianti the acidity is even more pronounced. If you go southwest toward the warmer coast through Montalcino and Maremma the acidity lowers and body weight increases. Directly west of Chianti in warmer coastal Bolgheri cabernet sauvignon takes over as the main grape with its different, lifted aromas and firmer tannin. But across the board there remains a sense of fine-pointed balance.

The Tuscan Three-Pack  (Total cost $92.85)
This covers the three basic styles of Tuscan red, all made in a more modern idiom (fruitier, French oak). Chianti is always the touchstone so start your tasting with the sangiovese based Rocca Delle Macìe 2011 Riserva Chianti Classico ($22.95). Then move on to Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2013 ($29.95) to understand the difference between sangiovese and cabernet/merlot based reds. And then go upscale to an intentionally more mature, longer barrel aged sangiovese Poggiotondo 2010 Brunello di Montalcino ($39.95).

The Tuscan Six-Pack (Total cost $161.75)
Start with the basic, light, tart, more traditional Piazzano 2013 Chianti ($14.95), then go to the still traditional, more aged Castelli del Grevepesa 2011 Clemente VII Chianti Classico ($17.00). From here branch out to a warmer, more inland region using a fragrant sangiovese clone called prugnolo gentile in Poliziano 2012 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($29.95). In fourth spot introduce a sturdier sangiovese, cabernet, merlot blend grown in central Tuscany: Ruffino 2011 Modus ($29.95). Then out to the Bolgheri coast again with elegant cab-merlot based Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2013 ($29.95), and finally into Montalcino with the aged Poggiotondo 2010 Brunello di Montalcino ($39.95).

The Tuscan Nine-Pack (Total Cost $293.60)
The first third of this tasting should be spent with Chianti. Begin again with the classic, lightweight traditional Piazzano 2013 Chianti ($14.95), then move to the maturing, lightweight Castelli del Grevepesa 2011 Clemente VII Chianti Classico ($17.00), and end the flight with the top tier San Felice 2010 Il Grigio da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico ($46.95) a profound, more aged single vineyard wine from a leading estate and an excellent vintage. The next trifecta brings cabernet and merlot into the mix. Wine four should be the Borgo Scopeto 2011 Borgonero ($19.95) a maturing sangiovese-cabernet blend from a lighter vintage. Then go to Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2013 ($29.95) to grasp the essential Bolgheri coast cabernet difference; then return to central Tuscany and go way upscale and modern with Tenuta Sette Ponti 2012 Oreno ($77.95) a very youthful, impressive blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. The last stage delves into more evolved Tuscan reds. Marchesi De’ Frescobaldi 2013 Campo Ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino ($21.95) is calendar young but has a smooth, gentile aged feel central to wines from Montalcino. Follow on with big brother Poggiotondo 2010 Brunello di Montalcino ($39.95). Then finish with a fully mature Cafaggio 2006 Cortaccio ($24.95) a 100% cabernet sauvignon.

But if you are not going to school and simply want to enjoy fine Tuscan wine at your table, here are our picks from this release.

Buyers’ Guide for October 31st: Tuscan Picks

Il Grigio da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2010

Poliziano 2012 Vino Nobile di MontepulcianoPoliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2012 ($29.95)

David Lawrason – Whereas most Chianti sangiovese show red currant fruit, the prugnolo gentile clone used in Vino Nobile expresses a riper, more cabernet like blackcurrant note. Here it’s nicely meshed with oak vanillin and cedary spice and evergreen. It’s medium-full bodied firm and dry so set it aside for about two years.
John Szabo – Poliziano is a reliable name in Vino Nobile. The 2012 offers significant fruity aromas and flavours, with plenty of room to evolve. Indeed, it’s still youthful and undeveloped, firm and tightly wound, with abundant, dusty-drying tannins, furthering the case for additional time in the cellar, another 2-4 years or so, at which point it should have evolved nicely. Best 2018-2028.
Sara d’Amato – Vino Nobile is often described as having the aromatic delicacy of a Chianti Classico and the opulence of a Brunello. This classic example from Poliziano shows just this distinctiveness and with refreshing verve and elegance. Tuck this away for another 3 years for optimum enjoyment.

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

John Szabo – The Gran Selezione category is proving to be by and large not just a way to charge more for Chianti, but also a cue for consumers to find excellent, properly-aged wines. This is great stuff, elegant and refined and savoury, with terrific complexity, already seamlessly integrated. Best 2015-2025.
Sara d’Amato – Only the best quality, estate grown fruit makes it in to this Gran Selezione Chianti Classico from this progressive producer. Gracefully maturing, there is still a great deal of power behind the wine’s elegant frame. Smart and sophisticated – the Sophia Lauren of Chianti Classico.

Antinori 2010 Pian Delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino ($69.95)

Sara d’Amato – Although a long time favourite, the Pian della Vigne has had some bumpy vintages of late. The newly released 2010 is a return to a classic interpretation of Brunello and happily marries flavours of cherry, cocoa, fig and leather on the palate of impressive depth. A charmer from the excellent 2010 vintage.

Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi 2013 Campo ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino ($21.95)

David Lawrason – Rosso di Montalcino is a less aged, earlier drinking version of Brunello. This sports a lovely, fragrant nose,  a nicely harmonious gentle palate and very good length. A nice choice if you find Chianti too lean.

Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino 2010 Marchesi De' Frescobaldi Campo Ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino 2013 Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2013 Le Volte Dell'ornellaia 2013

Tenuta San Guido 2013 Le Difese ($29.95)

John Szabo – A highly respectable “second wine” of Sassicaia, authentically Tuscan in style, dusty, resinous, earthy and herbal, with all of the positive connotations. Drink or hold mid-term. (70% cabernet and 30% sangiovese). Best 2015-2023.

Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2013 ($29.95)

David Lawrason – This is of course not as rich, deep and refined as the world famous merlot-based Ornellaia, but I have always admired the same attention to detail applied to a lighter frame of this ‘second wine’. This is not flamboyant on the nose but it is appealing, complex and ripe with wildberry/currant fruit, background oak and herbs. Very refined. Cellar it for now. Best 2018 to 2023.

Buyers’ Guide for October 31st: Other Rave Red Values (Chilean selections were published here last week)

Lavau 2012 Vacqueyras, Rhône Valley, France ($24.95)

John Szabo – Wow, what a mouthful of wine, certainly equal to many southern Rhône reds at twice the price. Fans of massive, big-structured wines will revel in this. Best 2015-2022.
David Lawrason – This is a quite charming, rich and smooth almost creamy young Vacqueyras that is texturally ready to drink in one sense, but I just know it will be more expressive in a couple of years.

Dutton Estate 2011 Karmen Isabella Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County ($49.95)

David Lawrason – Dutton Ranch is one of the great California sites for pinot, with several wineries sourcing here. This is a lovely fragrant, complex slightly edgy, cooler climate pinot with cran-cherry fruit, spice, evergreen forest and nuanced meaty notes. It’s mid weight, fairly firm but not the least austere.

Purcari 2013 Rara Neagra de Purcari, Nistreana, Moldova, ($19.55)

Sara d’Amato – Moldova has been quietly gaining its wine footing after the disbanding of the Soviet Union in the early 90s. This lightly oaked example of the indigenous rara neagra grape is surprisingly robust and mouthfilling as it is a grape that is thin skinned and generally produces light, fresh and early maturing wines. A curio selection with a widely appealing nature.

Lavau Vacqueyras 2012 Dutton Estate Karmen Isabella Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2011 Purcari Rara Neagra De Purcari 2013Château Pey La Tour Réserve Du Château 2010J. L. Chave Sélection Offerus Saint Joseph 2012

Château Pey La Tour 2010 Réserve du Château Bordeaux Supérieur, Brodeaux, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason –  A great buy in modern merlot-based red from a fine property between the city of Bordeaux and the right bank. It’s mid-weight, fairly dense, well balanced and structured, as are so many 2010s. Just right ripeness with black fruit, cedary oak, fresh herbs and pencil notes.

J. L. Chave Sélection 2012 Offerus Saint-Joseph, Rhône Valley, France ($33.95)

David Lawrason – Great value in classic northern Rhone syrah. This has an impressive nose of well integrated cherry, pepper, smoked cured bacon and fine basil herbs. It’s medium-full boded, nicely dense and compact but attenuated by fine acidity and minerality. Pitch perfect Saint Joseph.

Val Auclair 2013 Les Barras Rouge, Vallé du Paradis, Roussillon, France ($19.95)

John Szabo – A fine and spicy, carignan-led blend with syrah and grenache from the deep southwest corner of the Roussillon, farmed organically. I love the spicy black pepper and stemmy/leafy notes, the vibrancy, the freshness and the ultimately drinkability of this wine, succulent, salty and juicy. Best 2015-2021.
Sara d’Amato – Domaine Val Auclair is an estate built by the renown family of Saint-Exupéry in the late 19th century. Organically farmed, the estate is home to a plot of hundred-year-old carignan as well as high elevation plantings of syrah and grenache. This unoaked blend of aforementioned classic southern varietals exhibits lovely notes of black pepper and lavender on a firmly structured palate. Excellent value and attractive packaging.

Socré 2011 Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy ($29.95)

John Szabo – Excellent value, all-estate, family-run, perfumed and mature nebbiolo in the classic spectrum, with well-balanced palate to match. This has terrific depth and intensity for the money, as well as a whack of savoury, umami-laden flavours. The length is excellent, too. Best 2015-2023.

Domaine Val Auclair Les Barras 2013Socré Barbaresco 2011Feudi San Pio Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2013Bodegas Mas Alta Artigas 2008 Heartland Spice Trader Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Feudi San Pio 2013 Ripasso Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – This Ripasso is more akin to a baby Amarone – memorable and wildly complex. Attractive notes of smoky cherry, fresh earth and fennel seed are knit together with delicate spice and rich but not heavy texture. Generous, stylish and well-suited to wintry gatherings.

Bodegas Mas Alta 2008 Artigas, Priorat, Spain ($37.95)

David Lawrason – If you are curious about Priorat, here is a great, affordable window into its soul. And it’s maturing into drinkable form. Blended from garnacha, mazuelo (carignan) and a touch of cabernet sauvignon, the nose shows lovely complex currant/pomegranate/wildberry fruit nicely framed by oak vanillin, graphite and gentle cedary herbs. It’s full bodied, quite soft and dense, with almost velvety tannins.

Heartland 2013 Spice Trader Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, Langhorne Creek, South Australia ($17.00)

Best Performing Small WineryDavid Lawrason – Not all inexpensive Aussie reds are heavy and sweet. Thanks to the special maritime terroir of Langhorne Creek this sports a lovely nose of fresh mint, eucalyptus, dark chocolate, graphite and ripe blueberry/pomegranate fruit. It’s full bodied, smooth and richly fruity, then narrows to a saltier, mineral finish. The tension and purity are excellent.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. In the meantime, check your inbox for news on upcoming events and tastings. John and Sara will be your sensory guides at the Gourmet Games next month and stay tuned for details on a special winemakers dinner celebrating the Best Performing Small Winery of the Year – Thirty Bench Wine Makers.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES October 31, 2015

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide Part One: Chile and Top Whites Picks

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

Stags' Leap 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Oct 25th – Part One

Tuscany and Miscellaneous Top Whites
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report covers top smart buys from Tuscany and recommended white wines from the October 25th VINTAGES release. Next week’s report will follow-up with the best from Chile and more red wines.

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!

The Tuscan “Wine Miracle”

Despite intense competition from other regions of Italy, I’d rank Tuscany as Italy’s most improved wine region of the last generation, at least the last half of the 20th century. In time, regions like Campania or Sicily may claim that title for the first half of this century, but it’s hard to argue with Tuscany’s miraculous turnaround since WWII. Sure, Tuscany has a history of fine wine, and indeed Chianti was one of the first demarcated wine zones in the world (1716), but overall quality has exploded over the last fifty years.

In the aftermath of World War II, when most of Italy had been reduced to rubble, the country underwent a period of miraculous growth – what economists called il miracolo economico. In barely more than a decade, Italy shifted from a rural, agriculture nation to a major world industrial power. But this led to a massive exodus from the countryside, and many wine estates were all but abandoned, even in beautiful Tuscany, and there was little money to focus on top quality production.

Montalcino counted barely a handful of producers, and the majority of Chianti was harsh, acidic red wine sold in a straw-covered flagon.

But from the 1970s on, everything changed. “Super Tuscan” wines emerged from the ashes thanks to the vision of producers like Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia) and Antinori (Tignanello). These wines were so radical that Italy’s entire appellation system would have to be overhauled to accommodate them.

Tuscany - The view south from Montalcino; Photo: John Szabo MS

Tuscany – The view south from Montalcino

Sangiovese, Tuscany’s most planted red grape, along with other local varieties became the objects of serious research in the sixteen-year project called “Chianti Classico 2000”, an effort to identify the viticultural parameters (clones, rootstocks, planting density, soil characteristics, clones, etc.) that would raise quality. The full benefits of this research are just now coming to a wine glass near you.

Money trickled into the region, then flowed, from within the region and other regions in Italy, and eventually from foreign sources. Today the list of wine estate owners in Tuscany is as international as the starting lineup for a Serie A football club. Land prices have skyrocketed; if only my parents had bought a little Tuscan villa with vineyards back in the 1970s.

Montalcino, for example, has grown to over 200 producers making premium quality, and priced, wines, while the baseline quality of Chianti Classico today would be mostly unrecognizable to farmers of the pre-war generation.

The coastal Maremma, and especially Bolgheri, essentially swamps up until the time of Mussolini, have emerged among the world’s most suitable sites for premium wine. Montepulciano has seen the rapidly changing landscape and has been pulled into the quality upswing. And many other regions, like the Val d’Orcia, Cortona, Montecucco, Val di Cornia or Suvereto, among many more, have become serious sources worth investigating. In short, the last generation could be characterized as il miracolo del vino Toscano.

With fame comes higher prices, but the top entry-level Chianti remains one of the best sub-$20 values in the world of wine, especially if you like eating while you sip. And even at the high-end, $40 or $50 for top Chianti Classico or Vino Nobile, or $60+ for Brunello, in light of the average prices for Bordeaux, Burgundy or Napa, are also relative bargains. You can of course easily spend over $100 for fine Tuscan wine, but I don’t recommend it – it’s not necessary. There’s so much unmatchable pleasure in the sub-$50 category; any higher spend is mostly name-brand label buying.

Here are several excellent, sub-$50 wines hitting shelves on October 25th.

Buyer’s Guide October 25th: Tuscany

Antinori Badia A Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2009

Soffocone Di Vincigliata 2011Soffocone Di Vincigliata 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($34.95)
John Szabo – From the stable of Bibi Graetz, one of Tuscany’s most lauded vintners and a man who believes in purity and authenticity, this sangiovese (with a splash of other local varieties) is a wonderfully elegant and pure, savoury and balanced wine of haunting beauty. If that’s not intriguing enough, then perhaps the label will be – it was banned in the US for it’s overt sexual imagery. Best 2014-2023.
Sara d’Amato – Here is a wine with sex appeal, literally. The secluded vineyards near Vincigliata, where the grapes are sourced for this utterly pure, edgy and verve-filled wine, offer scenic views of Florence and are also knows as the local “make-out point” where “soffocone” (fellatio) inevitably happens (hence the erotic imagery on the label). This largely sangiovese based blend is made from 40-year-old vines that deliver serious structure and lovely musky spice. Keep this one for Valentine’s Day.

Antinori 2009 Badia A Passignano, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($44.95)
John Szabo – A former monastery established in 891 (not 1891), Badia a Passignano has been in the Antinori family since 1987. It’s a gorgeous property in Sambuca Val di Pesa, with vineyards stretching up to 300m, producing a reliably excellent Chianti Classico from old sangiovese clonal material cut from the nearby Tignanello estate. This 2009 is a fine example of Chianti Classico’s new top-level classification called Gran Selezione; tasted blind I’d be far more likely to guess Brunello. Best 2016-2024.
Sara d’Amato – This gracefully maturing Chianti Classico Riserva produced from the serene monastery of Badia A Passignano is drinking quite beautifully now. Notes of plum, prune and delicate, exotic spice linger nicely on the finish of this sophisticated wine.

Poggio Verrano Chance 2006

Avignonesi 2011 Vino Nobile Di MontepulcianoAvignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($35.95)
John Szabo – A terrific, balanced, pure, perfumed and savoury, firm and dusty Vino Nobile here from the storied house of Avignonesi, under new ownership since 2009. The entire estate has been converted to biodynamic farming and the positive results are beginning to show in the 2011. Best 2014-2021.

Poggio Verrano 2006 Chance, Tuscany, Italy ($37.95)
John Szabo – For fans of Super Tuscans, this is an exceptional blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc at a fine price within the genre. Poggio Verrano releases this wine at full maturity, a rarity in the world of Tuscan wine, and this is a ready-to-enjoy wine of considerable class. Best 2014-2021.
David Lawrason – This is very good value in a mature (but not at all tired) Tuscan red from an excellent vintage. It spent its first five years ageing at the winery. Verrano is a relatively new venture founded in 2000, based on a 17 ha site in Maremma only 15km from the sea that grows cabernet sauvignon and franc, merlot and sangiovese.

Castello D’albola 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a balanced, authentic and appealing Chianti. I was struck by its freshness as it embarks on its sixth year, with most of its first two years spent in barrel in the cellars of this classic, old property near Radda. Good value for a Riserva.

Ca’marcanda 2011 Promis, Tuscany, Italy ($48.95)
David Lawrason – From the coastal Tuscan property of Angelo Gaia in the Maremma zone comes a real beauty, an exquisite, very fragrant and complex thoroughly modern expression of Tuscany. It is comprised of 55% merlot, 35% syrah, 10% sangiovese that are fermented separately and aged 18 months in new and one year old barrels.

Castello D'albola Riserva Chianti Classico 2008 Ca'marcanda Promis 2011 Livio Sassetti Pertimali Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 Ornellaia 2011

Livio Sassetti Pertimali 2007 Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($45.95) –
David Lawrason – The Sasseti family has been turning out classic Brunello from their 16 has site for three generations. Aged 36 months at the winery, this somewhat lighter vintage has now matured to ideal drinking condition – very complex, very smooth yet braced by fine acidity. Classic styling.

Ornellaia 2011, Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy ($189.95)
Sara D’Amato – An interesting vintage proved 2011 – mainly hot and dry with a period of cooler temperatures in mid-summer. Thus this marked wine shows a great deal of character, colour and richness of fruit but has also preserved an elegant vein of acidity. Classic, highly appealing and worth tucking away for at least the near future.

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES October 25th: White Wines

Vincent Prunier Saint Aubin La Chatenière 1er Cru 2011Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett 2013

Domaines Schlumberger 2010 Saering RieslingDomaines Schlumberger Saering Riesling 2010, Alsace Grand Cru, France ($30.95)
John Szabo – The sandstones and marls of this 27ha grand cru are tailor-made for riesling, especially dry and floral styles. 2010 was a terrific vintage, and this wine shows an advanced, earthy, very stony, terroir-driven character on a bone dry, mid-weight frame. Best 2014-2022.

Gunderloch 2013 Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett, Rheinhessen, Germany  ($21.95)
Sara D’Amato – Old vines, low yields and plantings on unique red slate soils produce this compelling wine brimming with energy, vibrancy and appealing mineral. Excitingly bright with terrific balance and a great deal of staying power.

Vincent Prunier 2011 Saint-Aubin La Chatenière 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($48.95)
John Szabo – Still very youthful and even reductive (flinty), this has depth and intensity above the mean for both the vintage and the appellation, and would sit comfortably alongside more expensive white Burgundy from loftier appellations. Best 2016-2021.
Sara D’Amato – Saint Aubin is known for its floral character and delicacy but this example has much more riveting appeal with racy crispness bolstered by mineral and nicely balanced by saline and stone fruit – a class act.

Dog Point 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)
John Szabo –  Another superior wine from Dog Point, one of the clear leaders in the region. The 2013 has beautiful purity and depth, still in the typical house style of flinty and lightly reductive (matchstick notes), while the palate is beautifully balanced and crystalline with terrific length. Best 2014-2020.

Andrew Murray 2012 RGB Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, California, USA ($29.95) John Szabo – Andrew Murray is a Rhône-fanatic; he sources Rhône varieties exclusively from a long list of vineyards in Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, a sort of micro-negociant. RGB is an equal parts blend of roussanne and grenache blanc with surprising verve and vitality. I like the interplay of ripe orchard fruit, with almost viognier-like perfume and richness, not to mention glycerous mouthfeel, with underlying acids prop up the ensemble. For those who like it both big and balanced. Best 2014-2020.

Castello Della Sala 2013 Bramìto Del Cervo Chardonnay, Umbria ($21.95) David Lawrason –  This is the junior, unoaked chardonnay from Antinori’s excellent white wine estate in Umbria, not far from the classic town of Orvieto. Bramito has long been personal favourite –  stylish, yet light on its feet and fresh, with integration ration of chardonnay apple/pear, lemon and light toasty and nutty notes.

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Andrew Murray Rgb Camp 4 Vineyard 2012 Castello Della Sala Bramìto Del Cervo Chardonnay 2013 Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2013 Yalumba The Y Series Viognier 2013Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2011

Loimer 2013 Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria ($19.95)
David Lawrason – From one of the leading producers of Austria comes a beauty gruner made in an easier, simpler style. Fine structure and elegance if not great complexity or depth, but the fruit aromas ring true and run long on a spine of firm acidity.

Yalumba 2013 The Y Series Viognier  South Australia ($16.95)
David Lawrason – What amazing finesse and freshness (and value) for a wine with so much fruit power. Yalumba has taken on viognier as a cause celebre in Australia, and along the way has emerged as leading global producer of the beguiling perfumed white grape that originated in the south of France.

Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario, Canada ($40.00)
Sara D’Amato – A bold chardonnay with poise and presence and a great deal of crunchy, textural appeal. Non-believers in the excellence of our local wine – take note!

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES Oct 25th:

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

Photo courtesy of John Szabo, MS

AdvertisementsStags' Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2011

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John Szabo’s 2014 Benvenuto Brunello Report

2009 and 2008 Riserva; The Brunello Subzone Debate; Top Picks
Other Fine 2010 Sangiovese

Benvenuto Brunello

Benvenuto Brunello

Benvenuto Brunello, the annual tasting held each February in Montalcino to introduce the latest vintage, went off this year under mainly clear skies and pleasant mid-teen temperatures. The event featured mainly the 2009s, with 2008 riservas and a smattering of earlier vintages also shown. I tasted and have full reviews on over 100 wines out of which I’ve selected the top 30 or so, as well as offer five more excellent sangioveses from outside of Montalcino.

The 2009 Brunello Vintage

The 2009 vintage in Montalcino can be summed up in a word: warm. Like most of the rest of Europe, 2009 delivered temperatures above the mean over a long, dry growing season, with some areas experiencing vine stress due to dehydration. September rains elsewhere in Tuscany lowered alcohols and rebalanced many vines, but little fell in the Montalcino area. Although most producers polled were bullish on the quality, overall I found the wines to be very inconsistent.

Walking to work up the hill to Montalcino

Walking to work up the hill to Montalcino

The least successful have soaring alcohols (15%+), baked and raisined fruit flavours and a lack of structure. The best managed to reel in ripeness and extract gently enough to lend structure without hardness or bitterness, making for charming, satisfying wines. All in all, the majority will be for short or mid-term cellaring, or enjoying now, with only a handful suited for long-term cellaring beyond a dozen years or so.  As is often the case, the most successful wines hailed from generally older, more established vines able to weather the extreme conditions best, as well as properties farming organically/biodynamically (a growing number in the region), whose vineyards have found their own natural balance and have built up stronger resistance to variations.

All in all, the 2009s, along with the 2008s will provide drinking enjoyment as we wait for the much-anticipated 2010 vintage, as well as the powerful 2006s and 2007s to reach maturity.

Should Brunello di Montalcino be Divided into Subzones?

The debate about dividing the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG into subzones to reflect its varying internal growing conditions continues. There is still much discussion amongst producers and within the trade about whether, and how to proceed. But producers readily admit that wines hailing from different parts of the appellation show significant variation in style and composition.

Looking south from Montalcino

Looking south from Montalcino

The commune of Montalcino covers 24,000 hectares, of which 3500 are planted to vines and of these, 2100ha qualify for the production of Brunello di Montalcino. But even within the Brunello zone the appellation is hardly homogenous. Myriad soil types ranging from primary rock to alluvial, not to mention elevations ranging from a low-lying 100m a.s.l up to 700 m make for huge variations from zone to zone and even parcel to parcel. But this is precisely why the region could benefit from some sort of subzonal mapping.

I put the question to several growers, and although not unanimous, the prevailing mood also seems to favour it. “I am very much in favour of subdivision”, says Luca Belingardi of Poggio Salvi quite matter-of-factly. “To create several subzones could be of great use to both experts and the trade, but also for the consumer”, he continues. Laura Brunelli of Gianni Brunelli is likewise convinced that “we need to speak about the different expressions of different zones”.

From my perspective, subzones would go a long way to help sort out and understand what is otherwise a very complex region with greatly varying wine styles.

Sommelier Sabrina Biagini, one of the large Benvenuto brigade

Sommelier Sabrina Biagini, one of the large Benvenuto brigade

Laura Gray of Il Palazzone agrees, but with caution: “At first the concept of subzones seems obvious and of course there are successful paragons in Piedmont and France. As a producer with vineyards in three different areas of Montalcino and proof year-round of the differences and effects of micro and macroclimates, I would love to see Montalcino mapped properly.”

But the question for Gray, and for most others, however, is how to go about it – like creating an appellation in the first place, the question is complex and there are rarely straightforward answers.

In fact, a crude subdivision of Montalcino was already made back in the 1980s, when the region was divided in four quadrants representing each side of the hill of Montalcino – north, south, east and west. It was an effort to communicate the origins of different wines to journalists and Brunello lovers. But the divisions were never made official and are rarely seen on labels.

While it’s generally agreed that the northern side of Montalcino produces more elegant, perfumed sangiovese and the southern side yields more powerful and riper wines, it’s not that simple. As Pierre Jean Monnoyer of Casa Raia points out, “you can be in southern Montalcino but up at 600m, or as low as 200m. So a simple north-south division is not adequate”. My experience is similar. I’ve had wines from the southern end of the appellation like Stella di Campalto or Poggio di Sotto that are as fine and perfumed as any produced in the north.

The Clock Tower, Montalcino

The Clock Tower, Montalcino

Gray outlines the current challenges and some of the main points of debate: “Montalcino terroir is so diverse that almost every producer could make realistic claims to be in a separate subzone. The possible micro-terroirs that have been outlined still lump together some quite different areas and don’t fully consider the effects of altitude. And then there are the producers like us [Palazzone], and many others who blend wine from different subzones. So really the situation is more complex than it would seem at first. In the end, I am not sure that subzones on labels would be ultimately helpful for consumers or producers.”

Fabrizio Bindocci, President of the Consortium of Brunello Producers and General Manager of Il Poggione, is of the same opinion, believing that sub division is not necessary for either producers or consumers, and perhaps not realistically possible.

Bindocci uses the example of Il Poggione, in the southern part of the appellation, to make the point: “We have vineyards planted in parcels ranging from 200m to 400m, and we’ve seen that altitude is always the most important factor. In the warm years we take up to 50% of the blend from the higher elevation [cooler] vineyards and the other half from the middle vineyards. But in rainy years like 2013 we included only 20% of the blend from the highest vineyards. All of which is to say that subdivisions within a single azienda are complicated. So imagine trying to do it across 250 producers”.

But the fact that determining how to divide the region is complex is not a reason not to do it. Any successful map of subzones would clearly have to take soil and vineyard orientation, and perhaps most importantly altitude, into account, which is no mean feat. But there is precedence. The Howell Mountain AVA within the Napa Valley, to cite but one example, sets 430m as the minimum elevation to qualify for the designation. The Douro Valley has a far more complex grading system for vineyards that takes elevation, soil, orientation and many other parameters into account.

Tulio's Osteria Osticcio, for more Brunello outside of the official tasting

Tulio’s Osteria Osticcio, for more Brunello outside of the official tasting

What’s also abundantly clear is that any eventual sub-appellation system in Montalcino would have to remain outside of any hierarchy of classification; such distinctions would have to be left up to the market. Any attempt to designate premiers or grands crus would scuttle the project before it even starts – the stakes are far too high.

From the marketing side, it’s true that a complex layer of subzones within Montalcino can cause confusion. But such a point of view ignores the reality of the premium wine market. Given the high level of education of most consumers of premium-priced wine like Brunello, such fine distinctions are both sought after and appreciated. And as we’ve seen in regions like Burgundy and Piedmont, they ultimately add value to the wines.

And for the consumers who don’t care as much for the nuanced and potentially confusing layers of subzone, and for those wines blended from different zones, well then, the wine can still be labeled as Brunello di Montalcino.

In any case, I hope to see some variation of subzones in Montalcino in the future, a system that will help consumers to better understand what is obviously one of Italy’s, and the world’s, great wine regions. 

Benvenuto Brunello Comes to Toronto: March 10th

Delve into the debate yourself on March 10th when the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino will preview its four star 2009 vintage at Benvenuto Brunello at the Art Gallery of Ontario during two walk-around tastings, one reserved for the trade and the media in the afternoon, and a second evening tasting for consumers.

Sangiovese tasting at Logonovo

Sangiovese tasting at Logonovo

The event will be attended by 31 wineries showcasing their 2009 vintage along with their Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2008, Rosso di Montalcino 2012, Sant’Antimo and Moscadello di Montalcino.

Participating wineries include: Argiano, Banfi, Barbi, Canalicchio di Sopra, Capanna, Capanne Ricci, Caparzo, Caprili, Castello Romitorio, Cerbaia, Col d’Orcia, Collosorbo, Corte dei Venti, Donatella Cinelli Colombini, Fanti, Gianni Brunelli – Le Chiuse di Sotto, Il Poggione, La Fiorita, La Fornace, La Fortuna, La Magia, La Mannella, Le Chiuse, Loacker – Corte Pavone, Paradisone – Colle degli Angeli, San Polino, Tenuta San Giorgio, Tenute Friggiali e Pietranera, Tenute Silvio Nardi, Val di Suga, Villa Poggio Salvi.

For more information or to register for the event please contact:  Lorena Stapff (305) 937-2488;

Highly Recommended Wines

The following are my top picks from over one hundred wines tasted in February in Montalcino – click on each for the full review or use the link Benvenuto Brunello Report for a listing. For a complete list of Brunellos currently available in Canada with reviews and scores, simply set your wine search to “Brunello” in the WineAlign search engine.


Col D’Orcia Poggio Al Vento Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2006

Pian del Orino Brunello di Montalcino 2009

Villa I Cipressi “Zebras” Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Collemattoni Brunello di Montalcino Fontelontano 2007

Poggio Di Sotto Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Casa Raia Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

La Fornace Brunello di Montalcino 2009

Cupano Brunello di Montalcino 2009


Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino 2007

Caparzo La Casa Brunello Di Montalcino 2008

Renieri Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Canalicchio Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Sesti Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Salvioni Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Fuligni Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino 2008

Conti Costanti Brunello Di Montalcino 2009


Villa I Cipressi Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Col D’orcia Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Talenti Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Brunello Di Montalcino San Felice Campogiovanni 2009

Il Marroneto Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Collemattoni Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Le Macioche Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

La Fiorita Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Fornacina Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Piombaia Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

La Velona Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

La Lecciaia Brunello Di Montalcino Vigna Manapetra 2009

Lisini Brunello Di Montalcino Ugolaia 2008

Il Poggiolo (Rodolfo Cosimi) Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Other Fine Tuscan Sangiovese

Montevertine Le Pergole Torte 2010

San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo 2010

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 2010

Isole e Olena Cepparello 2010

Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione 2010

Editors Note: You can find John Szabo’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Sept 28 Release

Why Tuscany? Pretty Pinots Under $40, Sauvignons, Bargains and Constellation Brands

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The monumental September 28 release at VINTAGES unleashes 137 new products, (of which I have tasted 85) and those numbers will only ramp up as we get deeper into the holiday buying season. The main focus is Tuscany and the selection is nicely representative of its various appellations and styles – at decent prices. My picks today are more far-reaching, with pretty pinots, snappy sauvignons and some well-priced off-the-beaten track, cool whites and reds. We end with wines of interest from Ontario’s Constellation wineries; Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin and Le Clos Jordanne.

Why We Buy Tuscany

It’s difficult to find something new to say about Tuscany because a) Italy’s premier region seems to be featured every year, and b) I have not been there for a while to bring you news. It remains a solid source of upscale, usually quite elegant, middlin’ weight reds that should add class to your table. As anyone who has visited Tuscany will tell you, the food connection is the lynchpin of Tuscany’s success. One never hears of people buying Tuscan wine to “drink” on its own. And only a few buy its top – overpriced – icon labels “to collect and lay away”. So most of us are buying it for the sense of tension and complexity that sangiovese, its main grape, brings to the table. And not just with Italian cuisine. It is a great choice with any foods that have some acidity and savoury character.

Capezzana Barco Reale Di Carmignano 2010San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2009Argiano Non Confunditur 2009Argiano 2011 NC Non Confunditur, ($24.95). I have always been a fan of this classic estate in Montalcino. Its 48 acres of hilltop vineyard enjoy a mild climate and there is always a sense of richness and smoothness in their Brunello and Rosso. This blend of 40% cabernet sauvignon, 20% sangiovese, 20% merlot and 20% syrah was first created in 2002, and although young, this vintage is already offering some supple elegance.

San Felice 2009 Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva, ($26.95) is truly a classic Tuscan, in intent and taste profile. It is 100% sangiovese grown in calcerous marl soils at 350-400 metres. Most of the wine (80%) is aged in large, old oak casks, the other 20% in new French oak, both for two years. It is then aged a further six months in bottle. In this case the hot 2009 vintage has added a bit of ripeness and richness.

Capezzana 2010 Barco Reale Di Carmignano, ($16.95). This is a great buy in the “second’ wine of this classic estate. Carmignano lies west of Florence a bit closer to the sea and at lower altitude than Chianti Classico. Thus cabernet sauvignon has long been allowed in the DOC, long before other areas waved it through. So there is somewhat meaty, tannic cabernet ambiance here despite only 15%, plus 5% cab franc, in the mix. Lots of stuffing, structure and Tuscan complexity for $17.

Cool Whites

Of the 34 whites in this release, fifteen are chardonnays. And there some good ones. But I was more taken in terms of quality and value by some less well known wines that deserve your attention. And yes one is sort-of chardonnay – a chardonnay musqué – from a clone with a distinctive florality. I’ve heard some argument that “chardonnay” should be dropped from the label where musqué is involved because the wine is aromatically so removed from chardonnay’s normal profile. I would agree with that, but I am not much more in favour of calling it simply “musqué” because of the confusion with muscat, and the fact that there are “musqué” clones of other varieties as well, like sauvignon blanc. Let the debate, such as it is, continue.

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2011Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt Scharzhofberger Riesling KabinettFantinel Vigneti Sant'helena Ribolla Gialla 2011Cave Spring 2011 Chardonnay Musqué Beamsville Bench, ($15.95) is well known to followers of Niagara wine because Cave Spring was first to bottle it separately many years ago. I consider it a bit of a bellwether for Niagara’s white vintages, usually preferring it in cooler years like 2011. Its fine fragrance and liveliness get too muddled in hot years. This is the best edition in recent memory.

Reichsgraf 2008 Von Kesselstatt Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett, ($20.95). Speaking of balance and precision – for which the Mosel is famous – few demonstrate it so succinctly as the Von Kesselstatt of the Ruwer (a tiny, steep banked tributary of the Mosel). With only 7.5% alcohol, melting sweetness and silvery acidity this wine almost floats along. And some maturity sews in intriguing complexity.

Fantinel 2011 Vigneti Sant’Helena Ribolla Gialla ($20.95). Ribolla Gialla is an antique variety thought to originate in Greece but settling at the top of the Adriatic in Friuli and Slovenia. Before phylloxera in the late 19th C it dominated this area, then fell to 1% of production, replaced by French varieties. I am happy to report it is back strong, and in the hands of good producers like Fantinel it shines brightly. Their website uses words like “luminescence” and “radiance”, with which I must agree. This is not a powerhouse, but it has a certain quite confidence and shimmer.

Pretty Pinots Under $40

The ten pinot offerings are overall very good this time out so I have picked two that surprised me in their finesse and a certain light-heartedness.

Seresin Leah Pinot Noir 2009Bachelder Pinot Noir 2011Bachelder 2011 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley ($34.95). Ontario-based Thomas Bachelder has established himself as a chardonnay specialist, making chardonnay in three countries. But having made pinot in Ontario, Oregon and France in his previous career, he is just about to launch tri-regional pinots as well. The first out of the gate is a very pretty, restrained and fragrant edition from Oregon, where many examples are often quite beefy and rich.

Seresin 2009 Leah Pinot Noir Marlborough, ($39.95). After spending two weeks tasting pinot in New Zealand earlier this year I cannot say that my mental image of the genre is one of delicacy and subtlety. So this one surprised me – being both exuberant and refined, and featuring fruit aromas in that cran-raspberry-currant zone that to me is the finest expression of pinot noir. I thought this must be from a single, blessed vineyard, but it is actually from three sites. So kudos to the winemaking!

Snappy Sauvignons

There are only four sauvignons on the release and two are great buys in a style I really like. And interestingly they are from the two New World regions I think are at the top of the game; indeed I think Chile’s San Antonio/Leyda Valley is the greatest challenger/threat to Marlborough’s supremacy.

Matetic Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc 2012Wither Hills Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2012Matetic 2012 Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc, San Antonio Valley, Chile ($13.95). Matetic is an impressive winery/restaurant/hotel complex deep in the coastal hills with three large, organic and biodynamic certified vineyards straddling the Casablanca and San Antonio regions. This straightforward, sauvignon nicely parlays classic passion fruit, citrus and fine herbaceous elements. It also has more depth than expected at $14, which I chalk up to biodynamics.

Wither Hills 2012 Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand $17.95. When I visited Wither Hills earlier this year and tasted with winemaker Sally Williams, I was fascinated by the scope and technical advancement of this property, including an optical berry sorter worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. But she was very down to earth, casual and practical, and there is a certain calm, cool, collected ambiance to this wine as well. It took the coveted Sauvignon Trophy at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards last year.

South of France Bargains Under $20

It’s becoming almost a cliché to find 90 Point bargains under $20 from the sprawling Mediterranean regions in the south of France – from Provence in the east, to the Rhône Valley, to the vast regions of Languedoc-Roussillon in the west.

Domaine Lafage Tessellae Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2011Xavier Côtes Du Rhone Villages 2011Xavier 2011 Côtes-Du-Rhône-Villages ($18.95). Here is yet another biodynamically produced Rhône that packs in amazing purity, energy and depth for its price. And although there are many great organic wines in the dry, hot south, I am really heartened to see some now emerging in basic Côtes-Du-Rhône-Villages wines, at such honest prices. This wine is by Xavier Vignon, a consulting oenologist based in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Domaine Lafage 2011 Tessellae Vieilles Vignes Carignan ($16.95). Old vine carignan is becoming one of the new “it” wines for the somm set and industry insiders. Long buried in blends from southern France and northern Spain (where it is called carinena), it is emerging as a seriously good varietal in its own right when harvested from old vines and made with a modern eye to quality. But there is still something slightly rustic about it. Côtes Catalanes  – the catch-all, non AOC, region of Roussillon, next to Catalonia in Spain  – is prime real estate for this grape.

Piqued Interest in Ontario’s Constellation Wineries

I have long watched Ontario’s “Constellation” wineries – Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin and Le Clos Jordanne – evolve and manoeuvre through changes of ownership, branding and outlook. Each winery, over its history, has been on a different trajectory in terms of ambition, quality and focus. Pioneering Inniskillin started boutique and went large, with a focus on icewine. Jackson-Triggs started very big and commercial then added an up-market business. Le Clos Jordanne started boldy upscale and niche with pinot noir and chardonnay only. But after a recent visit to all three in one-day, it is apparent that things are evening out after several years of ownership by American-owned Constellation Wines – the largest wine company in the world.

Each winery continues to operate at separate, well-equipped facilities with its own winemaker and for the most part their own grape sources (at least in terms of company owned vineyards). But they do come together in that they are aiming collectively at the middle to higher end of the market to make super clean, polished, accessible (often with subtle sweetness) and fairly priced wines targeted to the larger consumer base. (Le Clos Jordanne is still super-premium, but even here there is new sense of wanting wider appeal). This is dictated by their large presence in LCBO stores and Constellation’s chain of Wine Rack stores. If you are looking for the rare and idiosyncratic you are not likely to find it here, but that said there are peaks and specialties that piqued my interest on a recent tour – where certain vineyards and winemakers clearly express their intent and their passions very well.

Here are wines that caught my eye. Click on each for the full story, review and rating:

Inniskillin 2012 Montague Vineyard Chardonnay

Inniskillin 2012 Viognier Reserve

Inniskillin 2012 Pinot Grigio

Jackson-Triggs 2012 Fume Blanc Delaine Vineyard

Jackson-Triggs 2011 Delaine Vineyard Syrah

Jackson Triggs Entourage Grand Reserve Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Pinot Noir

Le Clos Jordanne 2011 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay

Anthony Walkenhorst

Kim Crawford Winemaker Anthony Walkenhorst

And that’s it for this edition. I look forward to seeing some of you October 3 at our tasting and dinner with Anthony Walkenhorst, winemaker for Kim Crawford of New Zealand. We are assembling at the wonderfully funky Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. As this newsletter went “to press” on Thursday, Sept 26 the $60 tickets were selling very quickly indeed. No surprise given that Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc is one of the LCBO’s hottest sellers. (Here’s the link for more info) [Ed note: Thursday is now sold out, Friday night has been added due to demand.]

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

We invite our Premium Subscription members to use these links for immediate access to all of David Lawrason’s reviews. Paid membership to WineAlign has its privileges – this is one of them. Enjoy!

From the Sept 28, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Fortessa Canada Inc

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for September 28th 2013

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

I’m filing this week’s report from Adelaide, Australia, where hundreds of delegates from around the world have gathered to participate in the most comprehensive conference on Australian wine, and food, yet held. I’ll share a few observations on the event and the state of Australian wine. Thirsty readers can head straight to this week’s top ten picks from the VINTAGES September 28th release and a pair of smart wines from the Tuscany theme.

Savour Australia 2013 

It’s only day two of the conference but the theme and purpose are clear: to re-position Australia as a premium producer of diverse wines that can compete at all levels internationally, and in the process, distance themselves from the specter of cheap and cheerful that still seems to dog Australian wine. Australia is re-introducing itself to the world as a first class tourism destination with superb, fresh local foods grown in its pristine environment, and as a producer of a deep, varied and rich wine scene.

But it takes time to make a second impression. In the 1980s when Australian wine began to flood international markets, the rallying battle cry was fun and friendly sunshine in a bottle, offered at prices that no one in the world could compete with at the time. As one panelist in a lead-off presentation entitled “Myth Busting” said: “everything in the UK from 2 to 9 quid a bottle was undrinkable”. Australia simply filled that gap with fruity, easy-going wines that were both technically flawless and widely appealing.

Savour Australia 2013Success was swift and impressive. In a short time Australia became a leading exporter of wine to the world’s major markets including the UK, US and Canada, reaching and even surpassing their most aggressive predictions of export turnover, far earlier than anyone could have hoped. It was an amazing success story that countries like Chile and Argentina looked upon with envy.

Yet fast forward to the turn of the millennium, and dark storm clouds were already brewing. Australia had become synonymous with inexpensive branded wines spanning a very narrow stylistic spectrum. It appeared as if all of Australian wine could be summed up into jammy shiraz and oaky chardonnay. But the world was moving on. Consumers were becoming ever more educated and demanding, and other countries had been able to re-tool their industries to deliver the same types of wine at lower price points. Australia had lost its competitive advantage and sales were sliding fast. Today, Australia continues to lose market share internationally and it has become desperately important for the industry to get an image makeover and re-write the book on Australian wine.

Of course, this is a highly simplified version of the story. Already back in the late 1990s, Wine Australia, the industry’s marketing and promotional arm, along with forward thinking producers had already seen the writing on the wall. Marketing and promotional programs even back in the early 2000s were starting to re-focus on regionality and diversity. But consumer perception is nothing if not impervious to rapid change; first impressions are as tough to purge as an inky black shiraz stain on a white shirt.

The myth busting session that kicked off the conference aimed at addressing the old perceptions of Australian wines. Impressions such as Australia only produces homogeneous and inexpensive wine, or that all Australian wines are blends, or that there is no terroir and wines are designed in a laboratory rather than reflections of their origins, were taken on by a large panel of leading winemakers and debunked one by one.

To the largely highly informed trade audience, the session seemed unnecessarily apologetic (judging by some of the twitter comments posted on the spot), as though the industry were lying on a sofa and working through their demons in front of us onlookers, or confessing their past sins in the hopes that a few Hail Marys will abolish the past.

In reality, I’d speculate that most of the attendees have moved well beyond that early simplistic impression of the Aussie wine offering. Anyone who has being paying attention knows that Australia has a marvelously complex and diverse wine making landscape, complete with distinctive regional styles and a wide array of successful grape varieties. Australia’s wines also reflect the wonderfully indomitable Aussie spirit, the frontier land attitude that anything is possible. It was said repeatedly by several on the panel that one of Australia’s great advantages is that there are no rules, no established precepts or traditional baggage to hamstring innovation and evolution.

And at the same time, Australia has a winemaking history that spans over a hundred and fifty years. Some of the oldest living vinifera vines in the world can be found here, some of which have been producing single vineyard-designated wines for as long as Burgundy Domaines have been bottling their own wines. There are exceptional terroirs, dry-farmed vineyards, organic and biodynamically grown grapes, wines made with minimal intervention and zero added sulphur.

I’ve seen every colour of the spectrum from lime-green tinged whites to orange wines (whites made with skin contact) to pale red and inky black, oaked, unoaked or minimally oaked wines, low alcohol, high acid, to dense, plush and generously proportioned wines. In a single day I tasted wines made from fiano, nebbiolo, aglianico, barbera, sangiovese, marsanne, roussanne, viognier, vermentino, tempranillo, grüner veltliner, pinot noir, mourvedre, grenache, tinto cão, souzão, touriga nacional, riesling and others I’ve forgotten. And I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

In short, there’s a wine for everyone from the geekiest sommelier to the most casual of Saturday night dinner party drinkers. But while trade insiders know all of the this, I wonder about consumers, or even under-informed wine buyers and sommeliers who are still trapped in the 1990s paradigm of Australian wine. Are they aware of what’s going on here? My guess is no. The myths that were presented are not really myths. They’re based on true stories, ones that were told and retold in the early days of Australian exports. We didn’t invent the stories.

But it’s time to move on. That’s why the world’s wine communicators, importers and buyers have been invited down to Savour Australia. We’ll share the stories on the ‘new Australia’, the one that has always been there but that was trampled by a marketing juggernaut. Let’s hope the wine importers and Liquor Board buyers get the message – I know the LCBO has already planned a January 2014 promotion of Aussie wine that will highlight its diversity, and has already rolled out a highly successful campaign in 2011 focusing on new, cool Australia. Restaurants are not yet back on board, and consumers also lag behind, but with time and education the pendulum will swing again as inevitably as a wine matures in bottle. It’s time for Australia to stop apologizing and for us to get on with discovering.

Top Ten Smart Buys

Lionel Osmin & Cie Cami Salié 2010Dreyer Family Lion's Lair Family Reserve White 2012Matetic Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc 2012This week’s top ten features a range of whites with above average quality and character. Worth highlighting is the juicy, lively, authentic 2012 Matetic Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc, San Antonio Valley ($13.95) that’s as good as many $20 examples, and the 2012 Dreyer Family Lion’s Lair Family Reserve White, Swartland ($13.95), an intriguing blend of 50% chenin blanc with grenache blanc, roussanne, verdelho and clairette blanche with marked minerality, very light wood influence, and honeyed, creamy, orange blossom and white orchard fruit flavours that deliver well above average complexity for the price category.

Fans of idiosyncratic, unique regional whites should consider the 2010 Lionel Osmin & Cie Cami Salié Jurançon Sec ($18.95). It’s full of nutty, walnut, dried apple, grapefruit, old wood and honey-hay flavours, with a rich, full and structured palate – a white for the table. Decant (and keep chilled but not iced) and serve with white meats like veal, chicken and similar.

Lacroix Vanel Fine Amor Pézenas 2008Château Du Cèdre Cahors 2009Maria Alvarez Serrano Abadía De Gomariz 2010Smart buys on the red side include 2008 Lacroix-Vanel Fine Amor Pézenas ($19.95), a fine and elegant expression of Midi wine. I appreciate the well-integrated wood spice, perfectly ripe red, black and blue fruit, generous garrigue spice, while the palate delivers firm grip and juicy acids, with an appropriate measure of tannins and superior length.

Classic Bordeaux drinkers should take note of the 2009 Château Du Cèdre ($21.95). It’s the equivalent of the quality you’ll find at $40+ range. A classy, complex, elegant and well crafted wine that effortlessly blends modern-leaning characteristics (softer tannins, more black fruit-forward flavours) with the typical firmness and structure one expects from classic Cahors.

The 2010 Maria Alvarez Serrano Abadía De Gomariz ($20.95) is a superbly food friendly wine, made from an authentically regional blend of sousón, ferrol, brancellao and mencía, bottled, according to the label “in fruit day” – the first time I’ve seen this (presumably referring to the biodynamic calendar). In any case, the nose is fresh and engaging, floral and zesty-fruity, with wonderfully lively, fresh acids and marked mineral character. It’s a wine you can drink all evening without tiring.

Two From Tuscany

Capezzana Barco Reale Di Carmignano 2010Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2007Tuscany gets the spotlight this week as the main theme of the September 28th release. Two of the wines stood out for their quality and value:

2007 Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.95) is solid, flavourful and very Tuscan expression of cabernet sauvignon at a fair price considering the depth and complexity on offer. It mixes red and black fruit with some dried fruit, resinous herb and earthy-leafy components, extending the complexity into the outer field. This could give several much higher priced super Tuscans a run for the money to be sure.

2010 Capezzana Barco Reale Di Carmignano ($16.95) is a well-priced, friendly wine that blends tradition and modernity to good effect, offering solid fruit intensity alongside a good measure of Tuscan earthiness. Tannins are light and acids bright but balanced.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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Top Ten Smart Buys
Tuscany Two
All Reviews

Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

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Italy Featured: Top Tuscan Wines And the Best of the 2013 Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri Awards

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Attenzione lovers of Italian wine! I know you’re out there in large numbers, and this special report is for you. It’s focused on wines from Alto-Adige to Sicily, and specifically on highlights of the recent Gambero Rosso tre bicchieri tasting, as well as a comprehensive look at Tuscany with reviews of the latest releases from Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano covering 2007-2011.

Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri 2013 

Gambero Rosso’s highly anticipated “Tre Bicchieri” (“three glasses”) tour landed in Toronto for the first time on June 5th. The event highlighted over 130 wines, including nearly 120 awarded the tre bicchieri, the highest rating given for wines in the Vini d’Italia guide, now celebrating its 27th edition. In 2013, The Vini d’Italia Guide assigned 399 tre bicchieri out of a total of 40,000 wines tasted from over 2,350 producers. Piedmont led the way with 75 tre bicchieri awards, followed by Tuscany with 68 and Veneto with 36. 
From my little corner of the Liberty Grand ballroom where I looked like the most antisocial guest in attendance, and from a handful of other agent-organized tastings pre and post the main the event, I managed to taste and review nearly 40 wines – not comprehensive admittedly, but these wines demanded attention and time to unravel. I discovered several new gems in any case, and reconfirmed affection for long time favorites.

Gambero Rosso Tre Biccieri Event

Tre Bicchieri Tour

One interesting observation is how the style of the three glass winners appears to have changed in recent years. There has of course been no stated policy change in the criteria for winning wines; the evaluations “are above all humanistic, cultural and hedonistic rather than scientific”. But it seems that hedonism has taken on a new meaning. Whereas in earlier editions of the guide it was often the most impactful, full-bodied, rich, extracted, heavily oak influenced wines that came away with a three glass rating, in 2013 there were decidedly many more leaner, more savoury, fresher, less-wooded wines that came out on top.

I discussed this with several winemakers and we share the feeling that the shift is for the better. Sergio Germano of Az. Agr. Ettore Germano in Piedmont was pleased that his 2010 Riesling Hérzu won three glasses, while his flagship, and more expensive Barolo Cerreta earned two red glasses. Stefano Bariani from San Patrignano in Emilia-Romagna was also not displeased that the estate’s mid-range “Ora” Sangiovese di Romagna garnered the highest accolade, instead of the top of the range “Avi” Sangiovese. “Next year my goal is to win three glasses for San Patrignano’s Aulente Rosso” he laughed, the winery’s entry-level, unoaked bottling. There’s evidently a cultural shift underway in Italy, returning towards more drinkable, less “important” wines, and it’s great to see a guide with the clout of Gambero Rosso driving the change, or at least recognizing that consumer preferences have shifted.

All of my reviews from the tastings, including several absolutely cracking nebbiolos from Piedmont, Burgundy-like Brunello, and many more familiar and little known gems are posted on WineAlign. Availability varies (LCBO, Consignment, Private order), but all are available from one channel or another. (You can find them by entering “Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri Event” in the search panel, top right.)

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri Event

Tuscan Previews

For the last twenty years in late February, consortiums from each of the big three DOCGs of Tuscany – Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino – have coordinated a series of comprehensive tastings to introduce the latest vintages to the professional wine world. These have become significant events on the yearly calendar; this year over 200 journalists from 30 countries attended the Chianti Classico Collection preview in the Leopolda Train Station in Florence, and they came in even greater numbers to Benvenuto Brunello in a wet and uncharacteristically cold and snowy Montalcino. Read on for a brief report on each region along with specific recommendations.

Degustazione alla Toscana

Unlike the primeur tastings held in Bordeaux, which feature unfinished wines drawn from barrels, the vast majority of the wines presented for the Anteprime Toscane (“Tuscan Previews”) are finished and bottled, if not yet commercially released. This makes the tastings far more useful and representative of what consumers can expect to actually purchase down the line. And there is often more than one wine on hand from a single estate, considering special designations such as riserva, legally matured for longer before release than non-riserva wines, as well as special single vineyard cuvees. Add in IGTs, and other appellations like Rosso di Montalcino, Sant’ Antimo and Moscadello di Montalcino, and the list of wines available for tasting is very long indeed.

Over the four days that I attended these events – a day each in Chianti Classico and Montepulciano and two days in Montalcino – I tasted several hundred wines. Yet even still I was unable to cover everything. I wrote full reviews on some 200+, and further whittled the list down to just over 85 recommended wines from across the three regions. Many of the estates will be familiar to Canadian drinkers (at least those who drink Italian wines), so you can expect to find them available in restaurants, consignment/private import portfolios and provincial liquor board shelves in the coming year.

Sommelier Pouring in Montalcino

Sommelier Pouring in Montalcino

The format for the tastings is quite unique. Attendees are provided a catalogue of all available wines, referenced by number. Each then selects the wines they wish to taste, jotting down the numbers for one of the army of sommeliers on hand in the traditional Associazione Italiana Sommeliers attire, complete with silver tastevins hanging around the neck on a thick heavy chain. The wines are quickly brought (stunningly quickly in fact, considering the number of samples available), and poured for you at your table. All the necessities of modern tasting – WiFi, electrical outlets, bottled water – are provided. You can taste at your own pace, and cover all, or only some of the wines offered. And if you’re still in the mood for more, many of the producers are on hand in a separate room pouring yet more preview wines.

I’ve included some brief notes on each region, the conditions of the vintage previewed, and the odd observation or two on the evolution of wine styles. Following that is the list of recommended wines, broken down into categories.

Chianti Classico: A new Designation

In the news, the Chianti Classico Consortium announced some modifications to the DOCG regulations during the preview. In addition to the existing “Annata” and the “Riserva” designations, a new level of Chianti Classico, called Gran Selezione, is reserved for wines “produced exclusively and entirely by a single producer, allowing no percentage whatsoever of grapes (or wines) bought from other producers”. Gran Selezione, which takes effect from the 2010 vintage, can be released on the market 30 months after the harvest, of which a minimum of three months must be in bottle. The Riserva minimum ageing requirements remain 24 months, and 12 months for the Annata.

The announcement of the category has been met with mixed reviews. Paolo De Marchi of Isola e Olena told that “People are already confused between Chianti and Chianti Classico. I don’t really see the need for a new category unless it relates directly to wines of origin.” But Sergio Zingarelli, president of the Chianti Classico Consorzio, contends that: ‘Gran Selezione will not create any confusion. Rather, our aim – which we are certain we’ll achieve with this new type of Chianti Classico – is to give better order to our denomination and further valorise our territory’s excellent wines.’

Vittorio Fiore of Poggio Scalette believes that ‘The new denomination should be based on the differences of the region, not on shortcuts that are an end in themselves,’ while David Berry Green, Italian wine buyer for Berry Brothers & Rudd in the UK, ridiculed Gran Selezione as ‘bureaucratic tinkering’ and ‘more of a whimper’. We shall see.

Additionally, in a minor modification to the regulations for the Riserva designation, producers are now required to declare the intended classification of a wine (annata or riserva) at the beginning of the certification process, with the goal of encouraging “producers to plan more effectively which grapes they intend to use for each level wine, from the beginning of the harvest.” Previously, the riserva designation could be applied for any wines that had spent the required two years in the cellar before release, regardless of whether the quality merited such long aging or not. This should in theory tighten up quality, forcing producers to separate out the best, most ageworthy parcels from the start, and remove the temptation to retroactively apply for riserva for wines that had simply been sitting around in the cellar long enough. And considering that riserva wines currently represent 30% of the total production and 40% of the total revenue for the DOCG, this change could have a significant financial impact.

The Chianti Classico Style: Hard to Define

Over 500 wines from 150 producers in the region between Florence and Siena were presented for the Chianti Classico Collection preview 2013, mostly from 2011, 2010 and 2009. I found the quality overall to be quite spotty, with wide stylistic variations. The addition of up to 20% of grapes other than sangiovese, including both other local varieties such as cannaiolo, colorino and mammolo, and international grapes like merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah, leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Add in the variations on ageing (stainless steel, concrete, large old botti, small new barriques and everything in between, and it’s become tougher to pin down a regional or sub-regional style.


Chianti Classico Collection

I also got the impression that a lot of time, effort and money, much of which goes into the pockets of freelance consulting oenologists, has been spent on making “important” wines, with maximum extraction, concentration and structure, to compete with the world’s other perceived important wines. There’s nothing inherently wrong with aiming high, but sangiovese is not generally suited to making big, burly wines. At its best it is a refined, perfumed and delicate grape, comfortable in the medium, not full-bodied range. Perhaps if the benchmark model were Burgundy rather than Bordeaux or Napa Valley, Chianti Classico (and other sangiovese-based wines) would be much finer.

On the positive side, there are many excellent wines that do manage to capture sangiovese’s hallmark crackling acidity and fine-grained, gritty tannins, with a range of flavours that have little to do with chocolate, vanilla and coffee grounds, and everything to do with vibrant red berry fruit, savoury herbs, faded flowers and an umami-laden succulence that makes sangiovese a food-friendly wine with few equals.

Recommended Wines:

Chianti Classico

2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico

2011 Rocca di Castagnoli Chianti Classico

2011 Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico

2010 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico

2010 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico

2010 Querciabella Chianti Classico

2010 Toraccia di Presura Il Tarocco Chianti Classico

2010 Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico (Barrel sample) 

Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Le Fonti Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Castello di Querceto Il Pichio Chianti Classico Riserva

2008 Poggio Bonelli Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Castello di Meleto Vigna Casi Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Castello Vicchiomaggio Vigna La Prima Chianti Classico Riserva

2010 Tolaini Chianti Classico Riserva

2009 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva

2008 Setriolo Chianti Classico Riserva

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano


Welcome to Montepulciano

Overall I was very impressed with the Vino Nobiles presented in the Fortezza di Montepulciano, the first time that the anteprima has been held here. The wines showed considerable consistency and a lot of finesse, and they represent some of the best values coming out of Tuscany. Larger houses like Avignonesi have taken up the challenge to push quality to the outer limits, and since taking over in 2009, Valery Saverys has converted the entire estate – nearly 200 hectares and one of the appellation’s largest – to biodynamic farming. Having a driving force like Avignonesi with a strong international reputation and wide distribution will only serve the interests of the entire appellation. Already 70% of the DOCG’s production is exported, and sales are strong. The DOCG is outperforming most other sectors of the Italian economy to be sure.

“Were optimistic about the quality of our wines, which is rising every year”, says Andrea Rossi, president of the Consortium of producers of Vino Nobile. He describes the wines as “austere, wines of the interior, not the sea, with solid structure and astringent tannins”. Although admittedly, this is about the opposite of what I found at the tasting.

In general I find the 2010s to be far fresher and more balanced than the 2009s.

Recommended wines:

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Boscarelli Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Talosa Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Montemercurio “Messagero” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Croce di Febo Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Godiolo Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Corte alla Flora Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Il Conventino Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Tenuta Valdipiatta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva & Vineyard Designated

2009 Canneto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

2010 Lombardo “Poggio Saragio” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Tenuta Valdipiatta “Vigna d’Alfiero” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2010 Bindella “I Quadri” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

2009 Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

2009 Contucci Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

2009 Corte alla Flora Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva

Brunello di Montalcino

I’m a big fan of the 2008 vintage, which was the year on display at Benvenuto Brunello for the normale bottlings. According to the Consortium, the 2008 harvest took place in optimal conditions and the wines showed good acidity, with soft structures and not too aggressive tannins. “The result – declared President of the Consorzio, Fabrizio Bindocci – are wines fascinating for their aromatic intensity and for their softer characteristics. A balanced and pleasant Brunello, that can be enjoyed straightaway and that fully deserves the four stars that had been assigned to it five years ago”.

Benvenuto Brunello

Benvenuto Brunello

Today 65% of the total production of Brunello di Montalcino is exported, a significant increase since 2007. In real terms, this translates to an increase of over 2 million bottles in the last five years.

Times are indeed prosperous in Montalcino and property is hot; investment is also coming in from abroad. The Argiano estate was recently purchased by Brazilian investors, while Swiss industrialist Ernesto Bertarelli acquired the Poggio di Sotto estate in 2011 and Riccardo Illy, ex-governor of Friuli Venezia Giulia and president of the Gruppo Illy, took over the Mastrojanni Estate in 2008, to name but a few.

The wines are of course not inexpensive, but the top remain among the best in Italy and the world, and the overall median quality is very high – the stakes are just too big these days to get away with mediocre wine under the Brunello DOCG.

Recommended Wines:

Rosso di Montalcino

2004 Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino

2008 Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino

2010 Stella di Campalto Rosso di Montalcino

2008 Salicutti “Piaggione” Rosso di Montalcino

Brunello di Montalcino

2007 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Gianni Brunelli Le Chiuse di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 95

2008 Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Agostina Pieri Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Campogiovanni Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino

2004 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino

2008 La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Sesti Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Talenti Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2006 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2005 Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Barbi Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Capanna Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino

2008 San Polino Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Val di Suga Brunello di Montalcino

2008 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata

2006 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Annata

2008 Paradiso di Frassina Brunello di Montalcino

2007 Fornacina  Brunello di Montalcino

2007 Fattoi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello di Montalcino 

Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva & Vineyard Designated

2007 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2006 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2008 Siro Pacenti Pelagrilli Brunello di Montalcino 94

2007 Siro Pacenti PS Brunello di Montalcino

2004 Col d’Orcia Poggio al Vento Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Gianni Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2006 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso Santa Caterina d’Oro

2007 Sesti Phenomena Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Castello di Velona Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 La Velona Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Pianrosso

2007 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

2007 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino Riserva


John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

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Tuscany Unleashed; Lawrason’s Take on Vintages February 16 Release

Tuscany Unleashed & Gems from the Rhône, Oz, Ontario and Otago

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Tuscany is the backbone of Vintages February 16 release, with most wines hovering around 90 point excellence in a collection that nicely showcases the major regions and styles. But I also found some other nuggets from the Rhône (it just keeps on delivering), Australia, Ontario, and a dandy pinot from New Zealand’s Central Otago. I am just back from my long, eight region sojourn to Middle Earth, with almost 1000 tasting notes and several themes for the weeks and months ahead. There is nothing like travel to keep perspectives changing. But the early days of 2013 are bringing change in other ways too, as we say goodbye to Wine Access magazine which folded last week – 21 years after I founded it as a newsletter in 1991. At the same time we say hello to exciting new initiatives here at WineAlign to be revealed shortly, including Season 3 of “You Think You Know Wine“. I also return to the classroom delivering WSET programs in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal (see below).

Tuscany Unleashed

This is an excellent Tuscan release! But don’t go looking for bargains. Tuscany has joined the elite wine regions of the world (with Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa etc) and in this position it commands a decent buck. I would argue however that if you remove the overpriced collector wines like Tignanello, Solaia, Sassicaia and Masseto (I recently had a head-spinning 1996), Tuscany is easily the best value region among the elites. And if you are a wine drinker who likes reds with tension, complexity and finesse (if you are pinot fan) you will also like Tuscan reds. I really enjoyed tasting through this collection. I took my time, as the wines themselves demanded.

Campigli Vallone 'Terre Nere' Brunello Di MontalcinoCastello Di Querceto Chianti Classico RiservaCastello Di Ama Chianti Classico RiservaCastello Di Ama 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva ($34.95) defines Tuscany all by itself. Chianti Classico Riserva has always represented, to me, the essence of Tuscany – a sangiovese based blend grown at higher altitude in the Classico zone, selected from the best sites and aged a year longer. And Castello di Ama has worked its reputation up to the pinnacle of the genre. The property is ancient but the winery only opened in 1972, and did not begin to make its mark until the 90s after a young viticulturist named Marco Pallanti had re-planted 23 hectares of vineyard – after exhaustive research – with a strategy to highlight the best parcels for sangiovese. The result here is wine of wonderful precision, elegance and length, in a narrower style that is all about the traditional flavours of Tuscany.

Castello Di Querceto  2008 Chianti Classico Riserva ($27.95) is perhaps more hedonistically engaging, slightly richer but still very authentic.  This estate has  been around much longer, indeed it was a founding member of the Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico in 1924, a quality focused association with the famous black rooster as its emblem. It also went through a very similar process of vineyard parsing and replanting in the 1980s under the direction of Allesandro Francois, who has also developed Querceto as an ‘agritourismo’ property.

Terre Nere 2006 Brunello Di Montalcino ($34.95) is a terrific, mature Brunello from a great vintage. There are two other very good 2007 Brunellos on the release (the current release of this long-aged wine), but neither have quite the depth and structure of this wine. It is very much a traditional Brunello, lacking the manicure of modern wines but unleashing flavours that flood the senses and warm the heart. And it is absolutely ready to roll out for a February roast or stew, after an hour in a decanter.

Et tu, Rhône 2010?

The wave of delicious, well-structured 2009 Rhône reds that swept through Vintages last year was one of the top wine stories of 2012. Could the wave of 2010s – a great vintage in France – plus some lingering 2009s, continue to dominate this year? This seems to be the case, as four out of five Rhônes on this release are very much worth buying, with three hitting 90 points.

Domaine De Fontavin Terre d'Ancêtres Châteauneuf Du PapeDelas Frères Les Launes Crozes HermitageDomaine Saint Pierre VacqueyrasDomaine De Fontavin 2010 Terre d’Ancêtres Châteauneuf-Du-Pape ($37.95) makes its debut in Ontario, as far as I can gather. And it is an auspicious debut – a finely constructed if not yet very showy wine that epitomizes the 2010 vintage. I have been disappointed with about 50% of the Chateauneufs of late, especially in terms of value, but this is a solid purchase, and a wine to cellar for about three years as it uncoils. It’s from a relatively new estate founded in the eighties that is expanding toward 45 hectares within eight villages in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The latest endeavour by Martine et Michel Chouvet is conversion to organic viticulture, a long process given the size and scattering of the holdings.  The 2011 is the first organic vintage.

Delas Frères 2010 Les Launes Crozes-Hermitage ($20.95) is a fine young syrah that sets the tone for the vintage with classic smoked meat flavours, tension and stoniness. Do expect the 2010s to have more nerve than the softer 2009s. Delas is an old name in the Rhône that went through a massive facelift after being purchased by Roederer of Champagne in the nineties. It makes a very wide range, but its portfolio is focused on the northern Rhône. Les Launes is a compilation of the many soil types and aspects found in Crozes-Hermitage, an apron of vineyards that flows out from the side and back of the majestic hill of Hermitage.

Domaine Saint-Pierre 2009 Vacqueyras ($24.95) is remarkable for the youth it still possesses and its sturdy nature which will reward even further ageing.  It is from a well-established domain based near Vacqueyras but owning almost 50 hectares of sustainably farmed vineyards throughout the southern Rhône. This Vacqueyras is very typically comprised of 60% grenache and 40% syrah harvested at fairly low yields.  In recent years, since I began visiting the region annually with a Gold Medal Plates group, I have developed a keen understanding and appreciation of Vacqueyras’ powerful, masculine style.

An Excellent Aussie Pair

Majella Cabernet Sauvignon 2009Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2009Penfolds 2009 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz from South Australia ($44.95) has always been my favourite of the mid-priced “Bin Series” wines.  While moving through a fairly typical and average selection of Australian reds on Vintages tasting bench, this draped across my palate like a royal purple robe. It’s amazing how Penfolds manages to pack such depth, richness, precision and luminosity into its wines. What more can I say, except that I sense the special attributes of Bin 389 are due to the very successful melding of cabernet and shiraz.

Majella 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($36.95) hails from one of the oldest family wineries in Coonawarra, with four generations of the Lynn family, that originated as shopkeepers in the local town of Penola. This is a wonderfully rich, evenly sculpted wine, bursting with energetic cassis and eucalypt flavours yet contained, dense and very long.  With such a wine it is not difficult to understand why Coonawarra, with its terra rosa soils and moderated, coolish climate is one of the world’s truly great spots for cabernet – so good that they dare go with 100 cabernet sauvignon in this bottling.

Ontario Notables

Rosewood Estates Merlot 2010Palatine Hills Neufeld Vineyard ChardonnayRosewood Estates 2010 Merlot from the Niagara Escarpment  ($22.00) is fine little gem – everything you could want from a cool climate merlot – and very good value from the warm 2010 vintage. It is sourced from two vineyards – Wismer and Renencau – that were fermented and aged in barrel separately before blending.  Having also recently reviewed an excellent Rosewood pinot noir, I would suggest that Rosewood is moving into the top ranks of Niagara wines. It took 16 medals in the Canadian Wine Awards and ranked 14th in the country. But all this comes with an asterisk since winemaker Natalie Spytkowsky’s departure last year. Her protégé Luke Orwinksi has is now involved as is Ross Wise, formerly of Flat Rock Cellars. It’s wait and see.

Palatine Hills 2010 Neufeld Vineyard Chardonnay from the Niagara Lakeshore ($22.95) is also a very good buy. It is a bit soft and warm as a result of the hot growing season, but there is fine complexity and nuance in and around the peachy fruit – a character I find often in Lakeshore wines. Palatine Hills is another label on the move with the arrival in 2011 of winemaker Jeff Innes who had honed his skills at the Grange of Prince Edward in PEC. He is selecting grapes from a very large vineyard acreage of maturing vines owned by winery owners John and Barbara Neufeld.

A Fine Otago Pinot

Loveblock 2011 Pinot Noir from Central Otago, New Zealand ($28.95) is first and foremost a quite delicious, fragrant and sturdy biodynamically-grown pinot noir. But the back story is also of interest.  The label is a new endeavour by Erica and Kim Crawford, the NZ power-couple that launched Kim Crawford wines which was taken over by Vincor, then Constellation Brands a few years back. Kim Crawford remains one of the most recognized NZ exports and it sauvignon blanc is a best seller at the LCBO – but the Crawfords have nothing to do with it.  Imagine your surname becoming a brand over which you have no control?

Loveblock Pinot Noir 2011The other back story is how this wine represents the current situation in Central Otago, where I spent five days last month, tasting over 220 wines from virtually every producer.  I will write more about Otago in future – specifically its diversity of terroirs that desperately need to be sorted out via sub-appellation labelling. For the moment however suffice to say Otago is in transition from frontier outpost of people with purple passion for pinot, into a much more commercial region wrestling with price point issues and distribution.

The 2008 recession forced the high-faluting prices to moderate, which meant developing more vineyards and economies of scale.  The barefooted, renegade pioneers were forced to introduce lower tiers, and the rush was on as outsiders – like Erica and Kim Crawford –  came in to establish brands for wider distribution, often making their wines elsewhere.  The result is that I did encounter some ho-um Otago pinots, but in this case, the Crawfords have done a very good job of bringing in a reasonably priced, high quality wine that captures Otago authenticity.

Back to the Classroom – WSET

Throughout my career I have enjoyed teaching about wine as much as I have writing about it. I often run into “students” who remember my private tastings in the 90s and early 2000s in the cellars of Movenpick, Vines and Crush, and others who attended my CAPS New World courses at George Brown College during the mid-2000s. There has been a bit of a chalkboard lull since 2008, when WineAlign started up and life got extremely busy. But now an opportunity has come along that nicely puts me back at the lecturn.

Starting next month I will be conducting Level 1 (Foundation) and Level 2 (Intermediate) WSET courses in Toronto, in conjunction with Fine Vintage Ltd. WSET is the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, the world’s largest and globally recognized four-level program that ultimately leads to a Masters of Wine, for those hardy palates who can go the distance. There are very few MWs in Canada, and one of them is James Cluer, who runs Fine Vintage Ltd. I audited courses he ran in Toronto last fall, and will do so again this weekend, and I was struck by the level of professionalism and organisation, the quality of the materials, the rigour of the examination process and, importantly, the wine quality/budget he brings to this exercise. Even in the Foundation courses we let the wines do the teaching by focusing on very high quality regional wines. Fine Vintage was honoured as the WSET 2011 International Educator of the Year.

On a personal level, I also really like the location at the hotel/residences of One King West, steps from the subway, and the weekends-only schedule that allows students quick progression through the various levels (and works with my busy schedule as well). The one-day Foundation Course on Saturday, March 9 is already full. The three day Intermediate Course March 16, 17, 23 has space remaining. I will also be conducting courses in Montreal and Ottawa this spring, so please visit to check out all the details and upcoming schedules programs. Other WSET Courses are offered in Toronto through the Independent Wine Education Guild at

Cuvee Coming Up

The 25th edition of Ontario’s Cuvée is coming up on the weekend of Mar 1-3, offering a great opportunity to taste deep and put on the ritz. It opens Friday evening with a Grand Tasting Gala evening at the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort, with those who purchased VIP tickets through WineAlign getting early access (5:30pm) to the over 40 producers who are pouring their best. On Saturday morning there is the always excellent invitation-only experts tasting at Brock University, while other guests begin two-days of Cuvée En Route passport tastings at the wineries. For full details and ticket information, read our blog posting or click on the advertisement below.

I’ll be back for the March 2 release, meanwhile see all my reviews below.


David Lawrason VP of Wine

From the February 16, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews


Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2009

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for Feb 16, 2013

Chaos Theory and the Importance of Good Wine Lists; Tuscany; Kosher Picks, Top Ten Smart Buys.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In this report I look at the Chaos Theory and why restaurants with bad wine lists will go out of business. I also cover the February 16 release featuring the wines of Tuscany. About a dozen wines are hitting the LCBO shelves, and overall, the quality is high. What’s also notable is that despite the Tuscan predilection in the last couple of decades for highly polished, internationally styled wines, this release highlights steadfastly traditional producers; no modern IGT blends, no Napa lookalikes. Read below for my top picks from classic appellations like Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello. Following Tuscany, you’ll find the top ten smart buys from the rest of the world and my kosher wine suggestions for Passover.

Chaos Theory: The Butterfly Effect on Wine.
Why Restaurants with bad Wine Lists will go out of Business.
(Modified from my original article published in 2012 on

Chaos theory is a fascinating field of mathematics with far-reaching implications for just about everything, including physics, economics, the weather, and whether or not you’ll enjoy your glass of wine tonight, and the meal, and the company. It has to do with the interconnectedness of all things: nothing exists in isolation; the laws of cause and effect govern all. Even chaos is predictable.

dreamstimefree_248000Chaos theorists study systems that are constantly changing, dynamical systems as they’re called. A minor change in a dynamical system at one point will lead to a massive change in the future. This was famously termed the “butterfly effect” by Edward Lorenz in a paper delivered 40 years ago entitled Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas? A seemingly insignificant change in one part of the system, like the gentle flap of a tiny butterfly wing on a distant continent, or the first family to default on a sub-prime mortgage, potentially leads to a dramatic outcome at some point down the road. [1]

But chaos, as I see it, is not limited to physical systems. Psychological chaos also exists. It’s the idea that some minor thought that flashes across the mind almost imperceptibly, insignificant at first, can change your entire perception of something over time. That little thought drops in your mind, and then ripples outward, lapping against other parts of the brain and triggering other, more powerful impressions until suddenly your life view is different.

It’s well documented that outside influences affect sensory perception. Marketers know that branding is powerful; even pre-school children are subject to the powerful influence of brand perception. In a study some years ago, 77% of children offered three bags of identical French fries preferred the taste of the fries in the bag with the MacDonald’s logo over the fries in the two generic, unmarked bags [2]. Adults are no less immune. Time and again, studies have shown how a higher price associated with a bottle of wine correlates with greater enjoyment, compared to the identical bottle believed to be less expensive. And price is just one factor. Region, grape, producer, label, closure, critic’s review and countless other factors also affect perception of quality. (I’ll note that in these studies the wine experts are less easily swayed.) It’s not that consumers are simply being fooled, either. They really are enjoying the product as much or more. FMRI scans in study subjects show the identical images associated intensified pleasure [3]. Sometimes it’s enough to think the wine is good. This leads to the conclusion that for most people, the perception of quality is as powerful, if not more powerful, than the quality of the actual molecules swimming around inside the bottle.

But let’s get back to chaos: does it work both ways? Does your perception of the wine spill back over to other perceptions? If all is truly interconnected, then the influences that change how you perceive the wine must also in turn be affected by the wine itself. I’d say that wine, like everything else, has the ability to change how you perceive your surroundings (aside from the effects of alcohol).

You’ve experienced how human relations can turn on seemingly insignificant details – they’re  complex, dynamical system. Just think of that first date or job interview when you had an intuitive sense that things were going well, or badly, without really being able to put your finger on it. Maybe it’s a minor, mildly annoying habit like fidgeting that sets you off, a barely perceptible nasal whine or a disagreeable eau-de-toilet. Suddenly, and involuntarily, once the butterfly has flapped its wings in your mind, the weather changes. The person may start to seem a little less smart, not quite as beautiful, and finally downright unsuitable. A minor detail has coloured the perception of apparently unrelated things – is fidgeting or perfume related to intelligence or beauty? No one would claim so, but perception is powerful.

Now imagine a restaurant scenario, a very complex system indeed. The success or failure of a restaurant is based on so many factors that no one has been able to nail down exactly the secrets of success. There are the tangible things that don’t change like the location, the décor and the menu, and then the things that are constantly changing, such as the actual food delivered, the service, the mood of the maître d’ and the waiter, the company you’re with, the general vibe and even the weather. All of these elements are interconnected and each affects the perception of the others, fixed or not. A sunny day on the patio with close friends makes everything taste a little better, just as a surly waiter or a tense meeting with an acquaintance produce the opposite effect. Minor things are constantly happening that have a profound effect on your overall enjoyment – it’s chaos theory at its best.

dreamstimefree_254455And wine, too, is part of the puzzle. Imagine the cheerful server arrives and suggests a wine from your favorite region, one famous for its fine wine. He reassures you that it’s excellent and will be a fine match for your main course. The bottle arrives, the label is attractive, it’s closed with a high-end natural cork (or screw cap, whichever you prefer) and served at the perfect temperature. You will like the wine. And not only will you like it, but your enthusiastic energy will likely spillover to your tablemates, too, who will also perceive the wine as excellent. And not only will the wine be excellent, but the food will also taste better, the ambiance will be a little more pleasant, the location not so far out-of-the-way and the service will even appear more seamless. In the end, you are more likely to return to the restaurant.

In a study conducted by Cornell University entitled Fine as North Dakota Wine, diners in Illinois were offered a free glass of cabernet sauvignon along with a prix fixe menu. Half of the diners were told that the wine was from Noah’s Winery in California, the other half that it was from Noah’s Winery in North Dakota; both were identical (Two Buck Chuck, as it turns out). And the results? “Those drinking what they thought was California wine, rated the wine and food as tasting better, and ate 11% more of their food. They were also more likely to make return reservations.” Not only does this support the theory that everything is interconnected and that chaos theory rules, but also shows that restaurants with crappy wine lists are bound to go out of business, sooner or later.

Classic Tuscany

The February 16th release features the wines of Tuscany. About a dozen wines are hitting the LCBO shelves, and overall, the quality is high. What’s also notable is that despite the Tuscan predilection in the last couple of decades for highly polished, internationally styled wines, this release highlights steadfastly traditional producers; no modern IGT blends, no Napa lookalikes. All are from classic appellations: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Brunello. And for the most part, they are classic, savoury, dusty, gritty wines that highlight the many faces of Sangiovese. Hats off to the Vintages team for focusing on the more unique and distinctive wines of the region.

Antinori Badia A Passignano Chianti Classico RiservaPoliziano Vino Nobile Di MontepulcianoCoincidentally I’ll be in Tuscany from February 19-24 for the Anteprime Toscane, the annual gathering to taste the latest releases from Chianti, Vino Nobile and Brunello, so I’ll save a more detailed report on the state of the region and vintage details for a later posting, so let’s get on with the highlights from February 16.

Topping my list this week is the 2007 Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva ($44.95), a very strong vintage for the wine. It’s produced from the vineyards surrounding the fortified abbey of Passignano, which have been yielding impressive wine for a thousand years. Antinori acquired the land in 1987 and has also used the Abbey’s cellars for winemaking since. This is a rich, ripe, concentrated and highly savoury example, umami-laden, with superb complexity, suave but taught and firm palate, like raw silk, and excellent length.

I’ve been an admirer of the Poliziano estate in Montepulciano for several vintages now, and the 2009 Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano ($25.95) is well worth a look. 85% prugnolo gentile, the local name for sangiovese, is blended with cannaiolo and colorino, plus a splash of merlot to produce this wonderfully, earthy, herbal, dusty red fruit-flavoured Vino Nobile. It incorporates all of the expected savoury character of sangiovese from the region, neither overly rustic nor compromisingly modern – just right.

Altesino Brunello Di MontalcinoCaparzo Brunello Di MontalcinoA pair of Brunelli also worth your attention: 2007 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino ($41.95) and 2007 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino ($57.95). Caparzo is another longtime favorite, regularly bringing together traditional styling, high quality and fair price. The estate belongs to the single-minded businesswoman Elisabetta Gnudi-Angelini, and comprises the vineyards on the hill of Caparzo north of Montalcino as well as selected sites in the southern, eastern and western parts of the appellation. The estate Brunello is made from a blend of all of these, aged for 3 years in large (5000-8000l) neutral casks to retain the natural expression of the variety. It’s a terrific value, favourably axed on finesse and feminine elegance.

Altesino coincidentally also belongs to Gnudi-Angelini, who purchased the well-established estate in 2002 (she also owns Borgo Scopeto in Chianti and Doga delle Clavule in the Maremma). Altesino has always been on the forefront of innovation in the region, including being the first Montalcino estate to introduce the concept of cru wines (especially the excellent Montosoli Brunello) and was among the first to use small French barriques for their IGT wines and to shorten ageing in wood to preserve more fruit in their Brunelli. Consequently, the Altesino style is modern leaning, offering a fruitier, richer, riper style than Caparzo. The 2007 delivers dried red and even blue fruit on the nose, with substantial depth and intensity on the palate; tannins are light and fine-grained, evidently very ripe, while sweet, chocolaty wood notes emerge on the finish and pull this back into the more modern style category. I’d like to see this in 2-4 years when the ensemble has better integrated, and considering the length and depth, I suspect this will improve significantly.

Castello d'Albola Chianti Classico RiservaTeruzzi and Puthod Vernaccia Di San GimignanoMore moderately priced and fully ready to enjoy is the 2006 Castello d’Albola Chianti Classico Riserva ($22.95). Albola’s Riserva is a lean, mid-weight, juicy-tart example with modest wood influence. The fruit is mostly red, texture is firm and dusty with mouth-watering acids, and length is good to very good.

And lastly, Tuscany is not particularly known for its white wines, but 2011 Teruzzi & Puthod Vernaccia Di San Gimignano ($15.95) is a regional stalwart above the mean. Don’t expect a fruity wine; this will appeal to those who enjoy distinctively old world style whites build on chalky, mineral, resinous flavours. The palate is light, bone dry and very crisp, and thus more suited for pairing with food than sipping. Try this with herb-flecked, olive oil drizzled Mediterranean sea bass on the grill.

Top Ten Smart Buys

Beyond Tuscany, the February 16th release offers a handful of excellent old world wines. Highlights include a pair of Bordeaux whites: the intense and age worthy 2009 Clos Floridène Blanc ($31.85) crafted by white specialist Denis Dubourdieu, and the flavourful and zesty 2011 Château Roquefort Blanc ($14.95).

Ayala Majeur Brut ChampagneChâteau Teyssier 2009Château De Pez 2009A pair of Bordeaux reds is also worth considering. Put the 2009 Château De Pez ($58.95) in the cellar for 3-5 years, or pull it out for a special occasion in 2025 – this is a seriously structured and substantial wine. The 2009 Château Teyssier ($23.95) offers more immediate pleasure in a tasty mid-weight red, highlighting the quality of the 2009 vintage.

Greece and the venerable firm of Boutari offers us the 2007 Boutari Grande Reserve ($16.95). It’s an extraordinary value for aficionados of traditional style nebbiolo, which the grape of Naoussa, xinomavro, closely resembles stylistically.

One of my favorite champagnes makes a return to Vintages on the 16th: Ayala Majeur Brut Champagne ($48.95). I’m a fan of the Ayala house style, a model of delicacy and elegance (certainly relative to Bollinger champagne, which owns Ayala). This bottling, disgorged in July of 2012, highlights the mineral profile strengths of champagne, and with low dosage (7grams), comes across as riveting and fresh. See the rest of the Top Ten Smart Buys

Passover Picks

February 16th also features a handful of kosher wines, several of which are mevushal (see definition) listed as KPM in the LCBO catalogue and on the website. It’s a challenge to make good pasteurized wine to say the least, but two stood out from the release for both their fresh fruit flavours and overall high quality. If you’re inviting me for Passover dinner this year, I hope you’ll be serving the Banero Extra Dry Prosecco ($13.95) to start, followed by the 2010 Vignobles David Réserve Côtes-Du-Rhône Villages ($23.95).


John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

From the February 16, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Tuscans
All Reviews



Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2009

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Sept 29th Release

Super Tuscans, Power Pinots, Giants of South America and Bargain Whites

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Vintages September 29 release is in most respects a tour de force – with brilliant if small collections from the hills of Tuscany, the pinot fields of Australia and New Zealand, the energized valleys of Chile and Argentina, and arguably from a laid back California (although hardly a good value selection in this instance except for the 2010 Artezin Zinfandel).

There are also many interesting whites and reds from the various corners of Europe, making this a release to pore over carefully as you research your purchases on WineAlign, then pour generously when the time comes to indulge.

Tuscany Defined

I very much enjoy both tasting and drinking Tuscan reds. And it goes deeper than all that Tuscan romance – you know – those warbling tenors strolling amid the olive groves, non-chalantly leaning against crumbling stone walls and soulfully serenading star-crossed lovers in village trattorias. I like to taste Tuscan reds because they are challenging and complicated, and I like to drink them with food for exactly the same reason. They are almost never boring,  even if they can sometimes go the other way and become too jarring.

Vintages has done a fine job collecting some excellent examples while presenting a cross section of prices, styles, regions, big names and little names. Someone really thought this through; in fact if I were to conduct a one-day course on Tuscany I would grab each and every one. So its rather hard to isolate a very few to highlight here (I have gone for value), and I urge you spend time researching all the selections.

Remember that most are variations on a sangiovese theme, a grape with an often tart and impudent reputation. Some are aged longer, some shorter, some in old Slavonain oak, some in new French barriques, some blended with merlot, cabernet and syrah to in-fill sangiovese’s aggressiveness, some straight-up. The only thing relatively new under the Tuscan sun are the cabernet-merlot sangiovese-free reds from the coast in Bolgheri.

Poggio Al Tesoro SondraiaSo let’s begin in Bolgheri with the very sensous 2008 Poggio Al Tesoro Sondraia, which beautifully defines ultra-modern sensibilities at a comparatively reasonable price of $44.95. The most famous wines of the region – Sassicaia and Ornellaia – are five times this price, and believe me, they are not five times better. (I recently scored 08 Sassicaia under 90). Sondraia was made by a young Nicola Biasi, working at a new winery founded recently in part by the Allegrini family of Verona in northeast Italy. Knowing this after having tasted put the style very much into perspective. Allegrini wines are always sleek, layered and accessible. This one also has impressive depth that belies its sculpted ease.

Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti RiservaLivio Sassetti Brunello Di MontalcinoBy contrast, Livio Sassetti 2005 Brunello Di Montalcino is more rustic, mature and typically Tuscan. And in the world of Brunello, Tuscany’s “biggest” sangiovese, it is very well priced at $39.95. There are two other excellent brunellos on the release as well but this conveys a bit more excitement and sensuality, which is something Tuscan red should always have. Grown on the Pertamali estate owned by the Sassetti family for three generations, this is traditionally made 100% sangiovese grosso aged three years in old Slavonian barrels.

The 2008 Rocca Delle Macìe Chianti Riserva at $15.95 is a more basic Chianti, but this repeat listing gets a mention once again due to its great value. It is indeed lighter and shorter than the more expensive wines above, and it does rely on quite generous oak. But in behind the lushness lurks a finesse and again, sensuality, that rarely found in any wine at this price.

Aussie & Kiwi Power Pinots

After buying all the Tuscans, I would love to buy virtually every pinot noir on this release too.  Vintages has focused on a mittful from the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria, Australia and Central Otago in New Zealand, and there is an excitement factor across the range that should convince the last die-hard Burghound that there are great pinot sites in the New World. Indeed all of them up the wattage over Burgundy, without sacrificing the nuance and complexity that makes pinot noir so intruiging in the old country.

Kooyong Estate Pinot NoirRiorret Merricks Grove Vineyard Pinot NoirKooyong Estate 2010 Pinot Noir from the Mornington Peninsula is one of several bottlings en route to Ontario from this cool climate pinot specialist. The others are single vineyard wines made at the striking Port Philip Estate winery situated in the Red Hill area in the heart of Mornington. It is powerful, riveting, bold fruited yet natural pinot that should be cellared, but it captures amazing character $49.95.

Riorret Merricks Grove Vineyard 2009 Pinot Noir, also from Mornington Peninsula, is the real sensualist. Riorret, which is “terroir” spelled backwards, is a line of single vineyard pinots from giant De Bortoli of the Yarra Valley. Merricks Grove is a cooler, north-facing, red soiled site in central Mornington planted in 1992. This is a very complex, intriguing, and almost haunting, offering plenty of funky character at $34.95

Tarras The Canyon Single Vineyard Pinot NoirThe 2008 Tarras The Canyon Single Vineyard Pinot Noir ($46.95) from Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island is perhaps the most intense and heady. Tarras, named for a nearby town, only ramped up in 2007, and almost immediately won a slew of international honours. The Canyon vineyard is on terraced high ground on a Bendigo sheep station that was planted to several French clones in 2003.

91+ South American Reds

Still below the equator, Chile and Argentina each put forward intriguing wines in this release. I have visited both countries in recent years and I am keenly aware of the huge resources, talent, energy and ambition that is at work on both sides of the Andes. Anyone who still views South American winemaking as a third world enterprise needs to give their head a shake. The advances are shocking in their scope and velocity.

Catena Zapata Nicasia Vineyard La Consulta MalbecLuca MalbecIn Argentina, much of this has been driven by a huge company called Catena, but nowadays dozens of others have picked up the baton. One of the great challenges facing Argentina is to convince the world it can make top tier reds to compete with the best of France, California, Italy and California. It’s easy to slap a big price on the wine but it has to excel in the glass, and usually expensive Argentine reds do not.  So at $89.95 the success of Catena Zapata 2008 Nicasia Vineyard La Consulta Malbec is critical. Many will still balk at $90, but I must tell you that it has rare elegance, layering and precison for malbec that is all the more impressive given its richness and weight. The 2009 Luca Malbec, also from the Catena fold, and from the Uco Valley, is one-third the price at $29.95 but still very impressive and an opportunity to school yourself on the discussion.

Polkura SyrahTerranoble Gran Reserva CarmenèreOver in Chile two great values piqued my interest. I approached the Terranoble 2009 Gran Reserva Carmenère from the Maule Valley with little expectation, but was greeted with a wonderful nose that effortlessly combined deep seated fruit, luscious oak and carmenere’s distinctive herbaceousness. Quite elegant and a great buy at $17.95.

While yet another lesser known house has delivered the astounding Polkura 2009 Syrah for only $23.95. Polkura is a syrah project, founded by Chilean winemaking friends who had travelled together in the south of France. In 2004 they planted a 14 ha syrah vineyard sculpted within a crater-like hillside in the lee of the coastal ranges of western Colchagua. It doesn’t get full-on Pacific influence but enough that you will recognize the cool climate black pepper side of syrah. More importantly, it has some poise amid that drenching of cassis/cherry fruit.

Bargain Whites Under $20 Picks

And as usual I would like to quickly point you to three terrific white wine values. This is becoming a regular habit, and I hope a useful feature. And I have noticed it tends to highlight more Euro whites than new New world whites. If there is a bias at work it is unintentional, but it probably has to do with the higher level of acidity and lower level of alcohol in the Euro whites. As well, modern winemaking is now giving greater freedom to express the subtle aromas of white grapes and preserve their inherent freshness.

Markus Molitor RieslingRudolf Rabl Löss Grüner VeltlinerChampy Signature Chardonnay BourgogneMarkus Molitor 2011 Riesling is a cracker, dry Moesl riesling at only $18.95. As much as I technically admire the complex, riveting Molitor single vineyard rieslings, I do find them overbearing at times. While this is one to reach for every day and still be impressed. Likewise with the apparently simple 2011 Rudolf Rabl Löss Grüner Veltliner from Kamptal, Austria at a mere $13.95. It is very well made, subtle and well balanced – the ideal chef’s white when preparing your evening meal. And chardonnay fans shouldn’t miss Champy Signature 2009 Bourgogne at only $18.95, a wine with surprising complexity and depth under $20. I visited this very small negociant property in Beaune in May. Under new owndership since 2007, it is in the midst of restoring its reputation with some brilliant winemaking and by aggressively buying vineyards to build its domain portfolio.

Up Coming Events:

Next week is a big one for wine events.

The annual Chilean Wine Festival runs Tuesday evening, October 2nd at the Royal Ontario Museum and WineAlign readers can still take advantage of a savings through a promotional offer here. Presented by Wines of Chile and the Chilean Trade Commission, over 30 wineries will be pouring over 150 wines – a great chance to explore varieties, regions and meet winemakers themselves. Those attending the afternoon trade-only session will enjoy a seminar moderated by WineAlign’s Janet Dorozynski, who will also write a wrap up piece here next week.

The very next evening, October 3rd, you can attend Sip and Savour Ontario at the Distillery District. This is the annual event that showcases winners of Tony Aspler’s Ontario Wine Awards and raises funds for This year there is a new twist as about 30 Ontario wineries are joined by six celebrity chefs. Full details and tickets are available at

That’s a wrap for this week. From here through December the Vintages releases get bigger and even better, so don’t go away.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the September 29th, 2012 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews


Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2009

Chilean Wine Festival

The Wine Establishment - Code 38 Stealth

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