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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 30 – Part One

Pinot Noir’s New World and Ontario Whites
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Nowadays I am having a barrel of fun tasting and tracking pinot noir’s global gallop. The selection coming May 30 to VINTAGES in Ontario is a clinic on the state of affairs.

When I starting following pinot noir in the mid 80s it was an almost monastic, local grape variety turning out occasionally brilliant wines on a slope called the Côte d’Or in Burgundy, France. With over 400 years of experience they had pretty much figured out that this thin-skinned, nervous and unpredictable grape variety had a knack for showing its place or origin. To taste a line-up of pinots from Burgundy from the same vintage and same producer but different appellations – a horizontal tasting – is still the most important thing an inquisitive wine fan can do for him or herself. It is an indelible lesson on terroir.

For most of the past 30 years the wine world has tended to believe that Burgundy – because it was the first and sometimes brilliant – was the only place where pinot noir could possibly be interesting and of high quality. But of course that is not true. A grape that can show terroir in one place can show terroir anywhere. And what we are now enjoying is the rooting of pinot noir in distinctive terroirs around the world.

The only unifier is a certain preferred climate where it is fairly cool through latitude, altitude or proximity to maritime influence to preserve essential acid tension and fruit purity. The pinot vine can actually grow in different soil types, where it will render different textural nuances, and although styles may vary, quality need not. That is in the hands of the winemakers, and pinot winemakers are among the most serious in the world.

I have been paying a lot of attention to New World pinot through my career – it being a focus of my first extended wine travel in 1984, in California. Yes California, where it was supposed to be too hot for pinot. But go tell that to Josh Jensen who had established Calera, Dick Graff at Chalone, the Carneros pioneers at Acacia and Saintsbury, Jim Clendenen at Sanford in Santa Barbara, or Santa Cruz Mountains men like Martin Ray who planted pinot in the sixties. Even Tim Mondavi, back in his exuberant youth was enthralled by California pinot, and we opened a few together in 1984. My personal taste affair with good California pinot has continued ever since, as long as sweetness and confection do not interfere.

Most recently my attention has shifted to New Zealand, which I have visited three times in two years. I think it is the most exciting pinot region outside of Burgundy. Pinot noir is the country’s most important red variety and it grows very well in the cooler southern half of the country. There are many terroirs here, and I have gone over-length in a recent article published here to outline what I think are 24 pinot noir appellations. But I am equally intrigued by pinots in other southern hemisphere locales in the past five years, and how they show their origin. And of course I have written a lot about pinot in Canada. Even Germany, the world’s third largest producer of pinot noir (Spatburgunder) could be considered a “newish world” for pinot.

Beyond the terroir hunting, what I like most about New World pinot is a certain fruit lift, exuberance and drinkability. Great Burgundy can be ethereal, and I have had some NW pinots that get close to that as well. But what I enjoy just as much is simply drinking a fresh, yet complex and generous pinot noir. And that is what this VINTAGES collection offers. They are interesting enough to be discussed, yet generous enough to be enjoyed, ideally with a light chill, from a large, fine rimmed glass, on the deck before, during and after dinner.

Here are our picks, and interestingly almost every pinot in the release has been “picked” by one or more of us. Such is the individuality of pinot, and in a weird way, its greatest strength.

The Pinots

Auntsfield 2012 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, Southern Valleys, Marlborough, New Zealand ($29.95)

Rosehall Run Hungry Point Pinot Noir 2013 Auntsfield Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012David Lawrason – I am delighted to see Southern Valleys on the label! This is a large “unofficial” but increasingly obvious sub-district of Marlborough where pinots are growing on gravel/clay soils. There are very exciting terroir-driven pinots in the five southern valleys that each might one day have their own appellation – Fairhall, Ben Morven, Omaka, Brancott, Waihopi. This is lovely, very expressive pinot from a cooler year, although still showing considerable ripeness.
Sara d’Amato – David Herd, one of New Zealand’s forefather’s of wine, was responsible for planting the first of Auntsfield’s grapes in 1873. Needless to say, Auntsfield is one of New Zealand’s oldest wineries and produces a masterful pinot noir.
John Szabo – The Cowley family now runs Auntsfield, an established regional leader in the Southern Valleys sub-region widely acknowledge as the best spot for pinot noir in Marlborough. This is a wine of pure pleasure, not massive structure, well balanced, juicy and succulent. I love the immediate drinkability; serve with a light chill. Best 2015-2020.

Rosehall Run 2013 Hungry Point Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($24.95)

David Lawrason – Being a County pinot this is a light weight among others in this release, but it does have great aromatic lift and cool climate pinot cranberry-sour cherry fruit. It is not as deep as Dan Sullivan’s more expensive JCR pinot, but there is great piquancy and charm here. County to its roots.
Sara d’Amato – Every time I taste this pinot noir (now for the third time) that is quickly coming into its own, it becomes more and more enjoyable. It is produced on the legendary “Hungry Point” site which surrounds Rosehall Run and is formerly known for its inability to produce sustenance. It is now a premium, nutrient-poor growing site for coaxing out only the most concentrated flavours from the berries.

Argyle 2012 Artisan Series Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($44.95)

John Szabo – Although Argyle started off in the late 1980s as a dedicated sparkling wine producer (launched by Brian Croser of Petaluma fame and Bollinger champagne, among others), it was quickly realized that fine table pinot noir could also be produced in the region. This Reserve is made from Argyle’s top lots in the Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity Hills AVAs and their predominantly volcanic-Jory soils, yielding a perfumed, lightly floral, silky-textured pinot, well-tuned to this ripe vintage. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – This nicely defines Oregon’s pinot place, a cross-hatching of ripeness and tension. Look for pretty aromas of fresh red cherry jam, spice, herbs and light toast. There is elevated youthful tannin, so I would give it a year or two – and it should last admirably for five.

Argyle Artisan Series Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir 2012 Saint Clair Premium Pinot Noir 2013 O'Leary Walker Pinot Noir 2012

Montes 2012 Limited Selection Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($14.95)

David Lawrason – Pinot Noir in Chile is a relatively recent endeavour, and not yet considered a whole-hearted success. But Chilean pinot is developing a signature that echoes its cabernets and carmeneres reds, showing lifted blackcurrant, fragrant rosemary like herbaceousness derived from its local “garrigue” called boldos. This is ultra-fresh, juicy and lively. And very well priced.

Saint Clair 2013 Premium Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – I was instantly enamored by this juicy and succulent Marlborough pinot noir offering plenty of verve and a very pleasant note of red currant jelly. This consistently good value producer is most known in Ontario for their sauvignon blanc and it is no surprise that their pinot noir is of equal and perhaps better quality.

O’Leary Walker 2012 Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The western edge of the forest clad hills above the city of Adelaide offer the best pinot noir conditions in all of South Australia. O’Leary Walker is based in the Clare Valley two hours away but the family has Adelaide Hills holdings with vines planted in the 90s. Very lifted aromatics here and it is fresh and juicy with considerable tannin.

Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Jekel Pinot Noir 2012 Migration Pinot Noir 2013

Frei Brothers 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, USA ($27.95)

John Szabo – This nicely captures the approachable nature of RRV pinot without slipping into excesses of fruit, oak or ripeness. I like the punchy and edgy nature, with balanced fruit and alcohol, herbal and earthy character playing nicely to all preference camps. Best 2015-2020.

Jekel 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California  ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – Bill Jekel is well regarded as an influential and boundary-pushing producer who was instrumental in the creation of a Monterey AVA. If you enjoy this both substantial and elegant pinot, the Jekel riesling is also one to watch for.

Migration 2013 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, USA ($44.95)

David Lawrason – Migration is the Sonoma wing of the Duckhorn flock. And it has the lovely raspberry and florality that I love in Russian River pinot, with just a touch of evergreen foresty character. It’s delicate, fruity and well balanced.

Ontario Whites

Hidden Bench 2013 Estate Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($23.95)

Lailey Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012 Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013John Szabo – One of the province’s top riesling producers, Hidden Bench regularly delivers quality far above the average, proving there’s no substitute for meticulous farming. The 2013 estate bottling is clean, pure, crisp, dry and firmly structured, and even though this is the “mere” estate blend, it could easily sit among the top single vineyard bottlings in the region.
David Lawrason – This is a very complete and complex riesling; a dandy statement to riesling’s prowess on the Beamsville Bench.

Redstone 2012 Limestone Vineyard South Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)

David Lawrason – Redstone is a Tawse owned property that will begin to make its mark in the summer of 2015 when it opens, complete with a restaurant. This riesling comes from the Limestone Vineyard over near Flat Rock on Twenty Mile Bench. The ripe 2012 vintage has provided generous peach, honey and petrol character.

Lailey 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula Canada, Ontario ($14.95)

John Szabo – Unoaked chardonnay is rarely a category that excites, but Derek Barnett has managed to coax an unusual amount of flavour out of this 2013. It’s vaguely nutty and creamy, but still lively and crisp and genuinely dry, and altogether more “serious” than the price would imply. In other words, it’s a great buy for serious Tuesday night sipping.

Other Whites and Rosé

Château De Sancerre 2013 Sancerre, Loire Valley, France ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The only ‘chateau’ in Sancerre is owned by Marnier-Lapostolle, the company that produces Grand Marnier liqueur, and also owns Casa Lapostolle in Chile. This is a beautifully refined, delicate and fresh sauvignon to reserve for delicate seafood occasions.

Maison Roche De Bellene 2012 Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay, Burgundy, France ($20.95)

Sara d’Amato – Tremendous value alert! This entry level Burgundy is anything but simple exhibiting a leesy texture, fresh acids and delicately integrated oak. Although this chardonnay would certainly prove versatile with food, I recommend sipping on its own, barely below room temperature.

Château De Sancerre 2013 Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Gewurztraminer 2010 Castello Di Ama Rosato 2014

Domaines Schlumberger 2010 Kessler Gewurztraminer, Alsace Grand Cru, France ($33.95)

John Szabo – Gewurztraminer is the most planted grape in this 28ha grand cru in the village of Guebwiller, and Schlumberger its most emblematic producer. The pink sandstone seems tailor-made to produce a terrifically rich, exotically ripe and plush, opulent style, such as this. The 2010 vintage also yielded wines with brilliant acids, which in this case beautifully balance the considerable residual sugar. A textbook lesson in Alsatian GW. Best 2015-2022.

Castello Di Ama 2014 Rosato, Tuscany, Italy ($21.95)

Sara d’Amato – Lending some credibility to the rosé category, the famed Chianti Classico producer, Castello di Ama, has put forth an undeniably sophisticated blend of merlot and sangiovese. Sourced from high-quality, low-yielding old vines, this rosé was certainly not a mere afterthought, as are many commercial pink wines.

~

That is enough for this week, and what a busy week it has been at WineAlign. We have published an Ontario Wine Report update on Prince Edward County, and have released our 7th instalment of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”. (We get better folks!). We are also ramping up for the National Wine Awards of Canada that are just a month away in Niagara Falls. We are pleased to announce that Jamie Goode will be joining us again from the UK. British Columbia wineries are rapidly reaching their shipping deadline and the response has been excellent, so now it’s time for Ontario wineries to ante-up and register their wines. In recent years the medal performance of B.C. and Ontario has nicely evened out.

John will be here next week covering the substantial southern Rhône Valley collection on the May 30 release.

Until then.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 30, 2015

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

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


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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011


Taste the soul of Portugal

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 16 – Part Two

Fresh and Fruity Whites and the Best of the Rest
By Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo MS

Sara d’Amato

Sara d’Amato

Wines for spring cleaning, wines for sunshine or wines for being social on the porch again, this week’s VINTAGES release theme of “Fresh and Fruity Whites” is a sure sign that the warm weather is upon us. As John Szabo completes his tour of the world’s most spectacular volcanic peaks (somebody’s got to do it) I sit grounded in Toronto, for at least the time being, choosing from among our top picks of this most anticipated change of the season.

In addition to these ephemeral selections, we bring you what impressed us most from this release, wines with both staying power and those we think you shouldn’t overlook. Unlike the whites, the reds available have not yet caught up with trend of warmer weather and I both hope and expect to see lighter, fresher reds in the next release. We will certainly see more gamay, primitivo/zinfandel and sangiovese on the shelves that are ready-to-drink and do best with a slight chill.

Fresh and Fruity Whites

Stoneleigh 2014 Latitude Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, ($21.95)

David Lawrason – The 2014 vintage was considered excellent in Marlborough with a bumper crop that ripened in “near perfect’ conditions – until the tail end of a cyclone came through late in the harvest. It’s hard to say which wines were picked soon enough of course. I have found many of the 2014 sauvignons a bit leaner, cooler and more compact – of which this an example. And that’s not a bad thing.
Sara d’Amato – A classic, elegant sauvignon blanc that rivals the best of Marlborough at a fraction of the price. Bring on the seafood kabobs!

Tiefenbrunner 2014 Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – It wouldn’t be a “fresh and fruity” release without a solid pinot grigio. Tiefenbrunner is located in a picturesque spot fixed in the Italian Alps and is known for its meticulous winemaking and control from grape to bottle. Because of its reliable quality and its price point, it has frequently been a staple for me when creating wine lists.

Finca El Origin 2014 Reserva Torrontés, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – Although there are many obstacles to the further development of this remote wine-growing region, the wines, short in supply, are as uniquely arresting as the landscape. This is the home of the exotic torrontés, light, fresh and fragrant. The best examples, such as this, show some restraint and mystique.
David Lawrason – If you have not yet put Argentine torrontés in your summer patio repertoire don’t hesitate with this classic example from the Cafayate Valley in northern Argentina. A citrus explosion! Bring on the ceviche.

Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2014 Finca El Origin Reserva Torrontés 2014 Matetic Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Matetic 2014 Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc, San Antonio Valley, Chile ($13.95)

John Szabo – Tough to beat this crunchy, green apple and green pepper-flavoured sauvignon for sheer value, another welcome release from biodynamic producer Matetic in the cool, coastal San Antonio Valley. This tops many wines asking $5 more.
David Lawrason – A great buy here in a brilliant, juicy sauvignon that bristles with intense grapefruit/lime, nettles and passion fruit. It’s from an excellent, biodynamic producer that is the sole owner of the isolated Rosario Valley right on the edge of the San Antonio and Casablanca Valley appellations. It is a cool coastal site that has infused great energy.

Creekside 2013 Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula Canada ($17.95)

John Szabo – Creekside has made sauvignon a specialty, but there appears to have been a slight style shift in 2013 – this is less effusively aromatic and tropical than previous vintages, and I must say I like the more subtle and crisp profile. A mix of citrus and green apple, and gentle green herbs makes this a lively and pleasant wine, a little more “grown up” in my view.

Best of the Rest

Simonsig 2012 Kaapse Vonkel Brut Cap Classique, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($19.95)

John Szabo – From the house that first made traditional method sparkling wine in South Africa, this pinot-chardonnay blend with a splash of pinot meunier offers considerable toasty richness in a broad and mouth-filling style, notably dry despite the richness.

Vinum 2012 Africa Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – Incorrectly slotted into the VINTAGES “fresh and fruity” feature, this rich and savory chenin blanc still deserves recognition. Body, texture, viscosity – all of these are impressively featured at such an unassuming price.
John Szabo – Fans of complex, wood aged whites will rejoice at the quality/price of this chenin. Made in a “natural” (nothing added or subtracted) and idiosyncratic style, it’s a wine of texture more than immediate fruitiness, balancing ripeness with both acids and salinity. There’s loads of character for $16 in any case.

Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Cap Classique 2012 Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2012 Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011

Hillebrand 2011 Showcase Wild Ferment Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($36.20)

John Szabo – As far as premium chardonnay goes, I’d say that winemaker Craig MacDonald has nailed this beautifully, and kept the price fair. As with most great chardonnay, this is a wine of mainly textural interest, offering a rich and complete mouth full of just-ripe orchard fruit, balanced with high quality wood. I like the succulent acids that prop up this flavour-heavy ensemble, and the excellent length. A very serious, accomplished cuvée all in all. Unfortunately the fruit source is not revealed – it’s labeled only as “Niagara Peninsula Vineyards” – but I’d be curious to know from where this hails exactly. Best 2015-2020.

Tawse 2011 Growers Blend Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato  – A wine that has experienced impressive evolution – with a cohesive palate of wood, fruit and acids and much smoother tannins than its jerky beginning. A gem of a pinot that still has years to come.

Corvidae 2013 Lenore Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Here’s a rarely seen (at the LCBO) great buy in Washington syrah – which in my mind is the premier red grape of eastern Washington and the southern Okanagan in BC. It’s a medium to full bodied, classic cool climate syrah with deep colour, considerable density and ripeness, yet just enough cool climate black pepper, licorice and smoked meat to please northern Rhone syrah fans.

Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir 2011 Corvidae Lenore Syrah 2013 Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Château Haut Peyraud 2010

Lapostolle 2012 Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon, Apalta Vineyard, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($24.95).

David Lawrason –  Yet another biodynamically-grown Chilean wine shines on this release – from a great estate occupying one of the great vineyard sites in the country. The depth, harmony and complexity here are remarkable for a $25 wine.

Château Haut Peyraud 2010, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, France ($16.95)

David Lawrason – I love the sense of poise and subtlety in this ‘petit’ 2010. What a wonderful vintage. This is a Bordeaux bargain, a lightweight, fairly supple merlot that is moving into prime.

Château De Gourgazaud 2013 Cuvée Mathilde Minervois, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – A spicy, peppery, musky and sweaty blend from southern France – unpretentious, raw and rustic. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Château De Gourgazaud Cuvée Mathilde Minervois 2013 Meandro Do Vale Meão 2012 Coppi Peucetico Primitivo 2008

Meandro 2012 Do Vale Meão, Douro, Portugal ($24.95)

David Lawrason – This is a very high energy red, bristling with wild berry and woodsy aromas, and all kinds of zesty acid and tannin. So you may want to age it, but I really feel that this vibrancy is key to its enjoyment. Chill just a bit and pair it with savoury seasoned red meats.
John Szabo – Even more impressive than the excellent 2011, this is another top value, complex, concentrated and structured Douro red blend from Vale Meão. Although considered the “second label”, this is better than most from the valley, especially at the price. Best 2015-2022.

Coppi Peucetico 2008 Primitivo, Gioia Del Colle, Puglia, Italy ($13.95)

Sara d’Amato – Vibrant and peppery, this mid-weight primitivo exhibits lovely, lingering floral and cherry notes. Savory, fun and summery – a wine that can take a slight chill for added refreshment.

That’s all folks! David Lawrason will highlight the best of the May 30th release and features next week along with an Ontario Wine Report with news on new wineries and trends in Prince Edward County.

From VINTAGES May 16, 2015

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Buyers’ Guide Part One: Australia First Families
All Reviews

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


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Beringer Knights Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012


Australia's First Families of Wine

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 16 – Part One

Australia First Families & Sara in the Pink Once Again
By David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato, with notes from John Szabo MS

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Last month the LCBO’s VINTAGES hosted Europe’s first families of wine (Premium Familiae Vini); this month it’s Australia’s First Families, a relatively new organization that formed in 2009. Families are a good idea – we all belong to one – although they can be trying at times. But I am not sure we need every wine region in the world to put together roving bands of families. There is just something a bit clubby about the idea. And can you imagine how it must feel if you are an upstanding family that is left out of the group?

The real question is whether families make better wine, and my short answer would be yes – because they tend to be driven by some sort of code of honour, pride and legacy, not just pleasing the shareholders. Their wines may or may not have a particular family personality but they are usually quite high quality, which shone through in many of the reviews of the May 16th batch that VINTAGES has put forward. Just about every wine got a kudo from John, Sara or I.

My only disappointment was not seeing a much broader, and higher range of wines in this release – we the large Ontario family of wine enthusiasts are tending to get their lower tier offerings. To get into the upper tier you have to attend the Australia’s First Families of Wine Event on May 26, where dozens of others will be available. See the list at http://www.vintages.com/events/australia_event.shtml but watch for those pesky little asterisks that indicate which wines are for tasting only (not purchase). Only in Ontario do we get to pay to taste wines that we can’t buy.

One last comment before trotting out our favourites. As I tasted through the reds I kept saying to myself – these are actually a pretty, fresh and bright bunch. More lifted on the nose, with cranberry, crushed berries and florals and less overripe jamminess and oaky. And less alcohol heat. For months now our WineAlign critics who have visited Australia have been reporting back that Oz is in transition to less heavy, fresher wines. And it struck me as I tasted along that they are now arriving on our shelves, and that this new mood is now showing up at lower price points.

The Whites

Tyrrell’s 2013 Brookdale Semillon, Hunter Valley, New South Wales ($24.95)

John Szabo – It is all too easy to overlook a wine such as this: bone dry, tart, lean and seemingly short on flavour. But give this 5+ years and it undergoes a full metamorphosis. If you enjoy flint and smoke, and smoldering, discreet fruit flavours, tuck away a few bottles of this arch-typical semillon in the unique Hunter Valley Style, part of Tyrell’s “Hunter Heroes” range. Best 2020-2030.
Sara d’Amato – A Hunter Valley semillon on the shelves of the LCBO is cause for celebration as it has been so long! Semillon reaches the peak of its expression in the warmer grounds of Hunter Valley. Tyrell’s semillons are legendary so stock up now! If your haul takes awhile to get though – that’s okay. Wait another 5 years on this semillon for optimum drink-ability.
David Lawrason – My colleagues have covered a lot of ground already. Let me just add that I loved the linearity and focus of this wine. It’s not Tyrrell’s top Hunter semillon, but it is bang on style-wise and affordable to those who might want to take it for a first-time spin.

Tyrrell's Brookdale Semillon 2013 Yalumba Viognier 2013 Henschke Tilly's Vineyard 2013

Yalumba 2013 Viognier, Eden Valley, South Australia ($24.95)

David Lawrason – I like viognier but often find them either overblown and cloying, or among cheaper versions, under-blown and kind of boring. This comes right up the middle, with quite precise, complex aromatics and a fine sense of weight and even-handedness.
John Szabo – Yalumba is a specialist in viognier, and has the oldest vines in Australia planted in 1980, so the high quality of this wine comes as no surprise. A little more than half is barrel fermented and treated to a little lees stirring, yielding a beautifully perfumed, arch-typical viognier, with marvellous silky-soft textured. If this had Condrieu on the label, no one would blink an eye at the price, indeed folks would be gushing all over it.
Sara d’Amato – The cooler, higher elevations of Eden Valley are a haven for vibrant whites. This sustainably produced viognier can be considered Yalumba’s signature grape varietal – they do it well and devote a great deal of the energy on this Rhone varietal. Terrific body, length, weight and presence.

Henschke 2013 Tilly’s Vineyard, Adelaide Hills/Eden Valley, South Australia ($26.95)

David Lawrason – This multi-grape blend is a bit of an odd duck – with a classic candle wax smokiness that I often find in Aussie whites – particularly in semillon (which is one of the grapes here). Some like this note, others not, so test drive a bottle if you are unfamiliar. It is the most “aussie” white of the bunch, substantial, complex yet fresh at the same time.

The Reds

Yalumba 2012 The Strapper GSM, Barossa, South Australia ($19.95)

John Szabo – Another fine buy in this release from Yalumba, the oldest family-owned winery in Australia (since 1849). The Strapper is a nicely measured GSM blend, incorporating all of the best elements of the grapes: the strawberry pie flavors of grenache, the black pepper and violets of syrah, and the earthy-meaty architecture of mourvèdre. It’s the wine that “the winemakers drink, when they’re not having a riesling or an ale”. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – I was struck by a certain unexpected freshness and even tenderness here. The GSM’s of Australia can be big, rich and gooey, but this wine is more refined. That certain elegance I find in the best Chateauneuf-du-Pape crossed my mind as this crossed my palate. Absolutely delish and ready to drink.

Jim Barry 2013 The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, Australia, (26.95) (677476)

Sara d’Amato – Coonawara is a very special place for cabernet sauvignon in the world where the varietal expresses itself in a uniquely elegant way, rooted in the region’s iron rich, premium terra rossa soils. This distinctively polished example is rife with floral, mineral, herbal and peppery notes that are sure to woo.
David Lawrason – This is one of the reds that struck me as having a new sense of aromatic freshness and brightness, and a palate that is both spry and elegant at the same time. So well balanced that it is actually quite drinkable now, just a touch green on the finish. Fine Coonawarra cab.

Yalumba The Strapper Gsm 2012 Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Tyrrell's Rufus Stone Shiraz 2012 De Bortoli Villages Pinot Noir 2012

Tyrrell’s 2012 Rufus Stone Shiraz, Heathcote, Victoria, Australia, ($22.95) (91488)

David Lawrason – Here’s another bright, wonderfully lifted shiraz but it also shows a deeper side thanks to its origins in Heathcote, an increasingly important shiraz region in hills north of Melbourne in Victoria. Love the aromatics here – floral lift all kinds of blackcurrant/cherry fruit, menthol, pepper and slightly mineral/ferrous/iron-like notes that strike me as solid Heathcote.
Sara d’Amato – It wouldn’t be a proper Australian release without some serious shiraz and I was very pleased to find this reasonably priced example from the famed shiraz producing region of Heathcote in Victoria. Notes of cassis, licorice and cool herbs are seamlessly integrated and make for silky and approachable sips.

De Bortoli 2012 Villages Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia ($23.95)

John Szabo – A keenly priced and representative wine from the Yarra, which highlights Steve Webber’s minimalist style. This is a fine buy for fans of old school, not to say Burgundian, pinot noir, lean and savoury, in a distinctively cool climate idiom. Best 2015-2020.

d’Arenberg 2010 The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($49.95)

David Lawrason – This is about the only red of the bunch that I would describe as more traditional. It is a rich, full-on, maturing Aussie red with a complex, very ripe nose. Heavier for sure, but when you get up into this quality level that can work well. It was not wines like this that gave Australia problems. It was packing too much alcohol, jammy fruit and oak into cheaper wines that didn’t have the bones to carry the load.

Tahbilk Estate 2010 Shiraz, Nagambie Lakes, Central Victoria, Australia ($22.95)
John Szabo
– A shiraz that hits a comfortable juste milieu between ripeness and restraint, fruit and wood, plushness and firmness. Tahbilk has been at it since 1860, so there has been ample time to perfect and draw the maximum from the moderate Nagambie Lakes region. Best 2015-2020.

D'arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Tahbilk Shiraz 2010 Henschke Henry's Seven 2013 Howard Park Miamup Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Henschke 2013 Henry’s Seven, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($42.95)

David Lawrason – This is named for Henry Evans who planted the Keyneton area in 1853, and it’s very interesting that when visiting Henschke you get this amazing sense of historical depth, in a region that seems so remote that you can almost not imagine some farming there over 150 years ago. Anyway, this Rhone-inspired blend is yet another example of the wonderful freshness now appearing more routinely in Oz reds.

Howard Park 2012 Miamup Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This gets the nod on value, a very fine, classic Margaret River cabernet for $20. This maritime region is known for making leaner, very aromatic cabs, and this one is spot-on with lifted blackcurrant fruit, fresh green eucalyptus, finely woven tobacco and earthy notes.

Real Men (and women) Drink Rosé
by Sara d’Amato

Sara d’Amato

Sara d’Amato

‘Tis the season for rosé and I admit, I can’t get enough. And although I may be a woman and one who doesn’t shy away from pink, that is certainly not the reason I love this style of wine in which red wine meets white in a refreshing package. Sure, I take big reds seriously but it is one of the last things I want to imbibe in a hot summer’s day unless I’m in an air-conditioned basement.

And, I’m not the only one. North American men are a growing segment in the market of rosé but most I know still need some encouragement. If my repeated Buyers’ Guide segments on rosé aren’t enough to make you give it a try, then maybe some of these reasons will make you take the plunge:

1. Oh So Dry – Rosés need not be sweet and in fact, most of the classic rosés, especially those of Southern France, are and always have been dry. The most refreshing ones, whether simple or complex, have no sweetness. On that note, there is no evidence to suggest that women like sweeter wine than men, we are just marketed to that way.

2. Brad Pitt– yes, iconic manly role model Brad and equally influential Angelina Jolie have become pushers of the pink stuff with the purchase of Chateau Miraval in Provence. Maybe some of their success will rub off on you? Their excellent rosé graced the shelves of the LCBO last summer and I hope it does again.

3. The Men’s Movement – “Real Men Drink Pink” – it’s a thing, really, I kid you not. There are t-shirts galore to be found online and an empowering yet humorous commercial by WineAwesomness.com. Be a part of the movement to change pre-conceived and bigoted notions!

4. Barbeque – There is very little that goes better with a smorgasbord of backyard bbq than a ballsy but refreshing glass of rosé. With the mild tannins and weight of a red plus the versatile freshness of a white, you can pair rosé with almost anything.

Without further ado, my top three pink picks from the May 16 release:

Delas Frères Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône Rosé 2014 Somontes Rosado 2014 Megalomaniac Pink Slip Pinot Noir Rosé 2014

Delas Frères 2014 Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône, France ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – This Côtes du Rhône blend made up largely of the sun-loving grenache which gives it a pale but vibrant pink hue, lightness of flavour and great approachability. Delas has been taken over by the Champagne house of Louis Roederer, makers of the famed Cristal but remains a consistent producer with a large offering of often well-priced and impactful wines from the northern Rhône to the southern tip.

Somontes 2104 Rosado, Serra Da Estrela, Dão, Portugal ($12.95)

Sara d’Amato – By far, the best deal in the rosé category. Dão is known for its sensual wines with spice and elegance and this example captures that character so beautifully.

Megalomaniac 2014 Pink Slip Pinot Noir Rosé, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – One of the more potent styles of rosé with just a hint of sweetness and a fresh new label. Punchy with crunchy acids and loaded with summer berry fruit. Chill well and pair with mid-day sunshine.

~

And that is all for this edition. John (the Crater Man) Szabo returns to lead off next week’s ramblings with a slew of interesting picks from the Cool Summer Whites selection just ahead of the Victoria Day (May 2-4) long weekend.

Cheers.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 16, 2015

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 2 – Part Two

New Zealand On Our Minds and The First Big Pink Release
By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Early May in Canada has become synonymous with New Zealand wine. The marketing folks from the tiny, perfect, green isles have owned this calendar moment for years, with wine fairs in four cities this month (Montreal May 5, Toronto May 7, Halifax May 12 and Vancouver May 14). And to no one’s surprise, NZ is the feature on VINTAGES May 2 release – along with some German delights which John covered last week. There is also the season’s first platoon of 2014 pinkies, on which Sara reports below.

New Zealand is on my mind a lot these days, having visited three times within the last two years, most recently in March. I am particularly interested in NZ pinot noir (no other country boasts pinot as its lead red wine) and next week I will publish an overly long and long overdue WineAlign exclusive identifying over 20 pinot noir appellations in the country. NZ has come up the middle between Burgundy and warmer New World regions to establish a very appealing pinot comfort zone that slices off pieces of both old and new worlds.

For now however we focus on the VINTAGES selection, featuring new wines sourced by LCBO buyers, who have also visited NZ recently. There will be those who question government officials jetting off on wine buying trips, but I would rather have informed and engaged buyers than uninformed buyers. That said, I also know they are buying to a quality/price formula that will “work” on VINTAGES shelves in Ontario. There are some new brands, which is always great to see, but they fall within a predictable price/quality spectrum – late teens pricing, 87-90 range scoring. Perfectly fine, but they have not really unearthed what’s new and exciting in NZ.

What is happening is real terroir-based winemaking by some very accomplished, inquiring and impatient winemakers. And the Kiwi terroir is a complex, diverse, regional and interesting as any place on Earth. NZ has been reticent to trumpet this. Remember that it is a tiny global player and they are still more concerned about entrenching brand New Zealand than promoting terroir-driven wines. I would argue that they (and the LCBO) need to get beyond this mindset very quickly or they will lose engaged wine lovers willing to pay the $30, $40, $50 that shows what they can really do.

This is especially urgent with Marlborough sauvignon blanc, a wine in danger of flame-out if more terroir-based diversity and nuance is not pushed forward PDQ (pretty damn quick). And then there are the increasingly fascinating universes of pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling and even pinot gris – all being terroir wines that wine enthusiasts love to drink and discuss, and will happily pay a premium to acquire, when quality is there. And the quality is there.

The New Zealand picks

Te Whare Ra 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, South Island ($24.95)

Dog Point Pinot Noir 2012 Te Whare Ra Sauvignon Blanc 2014David Lawrason – Te Whare Ra is a member of a small but formidable Marlborough association of organic wine producers. Located near Renwick its biodynamic vineyards are on a terrace above the Wairu River valley floor (almost neighbours of Seresin). This is a cool, compact style that I really like, and is increasingly common (thank goodness).
John Szabo – Say what? That’s Tee-Far-ee-Rah, or “the house in the sun” for you non-Maori speakers, or simply TWR to friends. Anna and Jason Flowerday’s organically certified, biodynamically dabbling family estate has some of the oldest vines in Marlborough, closing in on four decades. And their wines, like this pure citrus and chive-scented, green apple and herbal sauvignon, are superior. There are no concessions to base commercial appeal made here, just authentic and honest stuff.

Dog Point 2012 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, South Island ($49.95)

John Szabo – I can’t remember a Dog Point wine that hasn’t been a leader in its category, and the 2012 pinot is no exception. If your impression of Marlborough pinot is a wine of light, simple, tart red fruit flavours (like many), this will change it. It’s rather dark and savoury, considerably more concentrated and deep than the average, with excellent intensity, length and complexity. Cellar for another 2-3 years for maximum enjoyment, or hold into the ’20s without a stretch. Best 2017-2024.
David Lawrason – So if you want to experience the kind of quality and excitement I am referring to above, this is your chance.  From one of the great estates of Marlborough, this is a lovely lifted, rich, vibrant and delicious pinot with compelling freshness amid a riot of flavours.

Elephant Hill 2013 Syrah, Hawke’s Bay, North Island ($22.95)

David Lawrason – The 2013 vintage is one of the best yet for NZ reds, including Hawke’s Bay. The region’s syrahs are on fire in NZ, but just beginning to appear here. If you are at all a fan of Rhone wines you need to give this a try – but age a few bottles as well. Very good value.  The Elephant Hill 2013 Pinot Noir is also a good buy.
Sara d’Amato – Elephant Hill’s syrah never disappoints with its immensely satisfying profile that has the peppery character of the Northern Rhone but the density of fruit of the new world.

Elephant Hill Hawke's Bay Syrah 2013  Opawa Pinot Gris 2014 Waimea Classic Riesling 2014Sugar Loaf Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Opawa 2014 Pinot Gris, Marlborough, South Island ($16.95)

David Lawrason – As anywhere NZ has some wineries trying to cash in on the fresh, simple pinot grigio global phenom. But they also have an increasing number of pinot gris aiming at Alsatian opulence and complexity. Some use some residual sugar cosmetics, but many others – like this – do not.  This is a great buy from stony soils in the Wairau.

Waimea 2014 Classic Riesling, Nelson, South Island New Zealand ($18.95)

John Szabo – As if to underscore the region’s rapidly growing reputation for fragrant wines, every three years Nelson hosts the “International Aromatics Symposium” (next on is in 2017) to dig deeply into what it takes to grow aromatic varieties like riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, grüner veltliner, and the like. Waimea seems to have it dialled already, as the winery’s two offerings (also check out the Pinot Gris) in this release are terrific. Perhaps it’s the slightly cooler, cloudier, moister conditions here relative to Marlborough across the hills to the south. Maybe it’s acquired knowledge. Whatever it is, keep it up, please.

Sugar Loaf 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, ($20.95)
Sara d’Amato – A classic Marlborough sauvignon blanc at a very reasonable price. White pepper, lemon, cucumber and grapefruit don the palate of this complex and elegant find.

The Rosés are Flowing
by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

The rosés are out in full force and I can’t help but delight in this time of year. The romantic in me feels spring is truly upon us but the pragmatist sees that rosés are sorely under-used and under-appreciated. Rosés have both the refreshing nature of a white but the substance of a mild red which makes them incredibly versatile with summer food from barbeques to Souvlaki to fish and seafood.

In our annual round up, as often they do, the French lead the charge with the driest, most authentic and appealing wines. Unfortunately our selection is extremely limited when it comes to rosés and thus we have many styles and regions completely absent from our pool.

However, if our small assortment is any indication, the style of rosé is changing as a reflection of changing consumer preferences. I would like to say that the sweet candied rosés are a thing of the past but they do still creep in, providing the same type of satisfaction as a snow cone on a sunny day. But it is the less simplistic styles that are making the biggest splashes.

More and more, wineries are beginning to produce increasingly serious rosés in the fashion of Tavel in the southern Rhône. It makes a world of difference, in terms of quality when the rosés were intentionally made pink as opposed to being bled out to further concentrate red wines or are a result of a melting pot of underripe grapes unacceptable for reds. Usually darker in colour and with a more significant tannic presence, these styles can even undergo a small degree of ageing.

But rosés need not be too serious and often a simple dry style, refreshing and easy to drink on a hot summer day is the most satisfying of them all. Classically, you can find these wines from the pink capital that is the Côtes de Provence but the grenache-based reds of Spain can provide equally undemanding pleasure. These inexpensive, terrifically popular styles from across the globe are thankfully in good supply in this spring VINTAGES rosé feature.

Mas Des Bressades 2014 Cuvée Tradition Rosé, Costières de Nîmes, Rhône Valley, France ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – A perennial favourite, the Mas des Bressades combines the dry, authentic, seriousness of the southern Rhône with the charm and easy-drinking appeal of the Languedoc. Excellent value.
David Lawrason – Made from the classic Rhône varieties – grenache, syrah and cinsault – this perennial fave  shows fairly generous floral, red currant, strawberry aromas with vague peppery spice. A rose for the table.

Bisquertt 2014 Kissing Rosé, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($13.95)

John Szabo – Forget the kitschy packaging and silly name; this wine is really much better than the label would indicate. I suggest soaking it off so you can properly enjoy this tidy rosé from the newly-admired país grape, a perfectly light, lively and serviceable, dry and fruity wine, best with a firm chill. I like the wild strawberry flavours and savoury herbal notes.
David Lawrason – The pais, or mission grape, was first brought to the western hemisphere by Spanish missionaries. By-passed for generations as a serious table wine grape it is finding resurgence in South America as a rose/fruity wine variety. This is very pleasant indeed.

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2014 Bisquertt Kissing Rosé 2014 Brotte Les Eglantiers Tavel 2014 Carpineto Rosato 2014 Torres Sangre De Toro Rose 2014

Brotte 2014 Les Eglantiers Tavel, Rhône Valley, France ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – Tavel is a mecca for rosé lovers. This appellation produces only rosés and locals prefer to distinguish these high-class beauties by calling them only Tavel and never cheapening them with the term “rosé”. Here is a classic, timeless style and one of the very few wines in this release that can do with short to mid-term ageing.

Carpineto 2014 Rosato, Tuscany, Italy, ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – A more subtle offering than the norm from Carpineto but very appealing in its delicacy and ethereal lightness. Notes of tomato leaf compliment the salinity and dried strawberry fruit.

Torres 2014 Sangre De Toro Rosé, Catalunya Spain ($13.95)
John Szabo –
Another reliable wine from Don Miguel Torres, well-priced, admirably dry, juicy and crispy. This is easy and accessible, but also better than the mean.

Château De Beaucastel Coudoulet De Beaucastel Blanc 2013A Parting Thought

Château De Beaucastel 2013 Coudoulet De Beaucastel Blanc, Côtes du Rhône ($33.95)

David Lawrason – In recent years I have been mesmerized by the white wines of Beaucastel. Is anyone doing better whites in the south of France?  This is a bright, gently nuanced, very elegant and reserved white from local Rhone varieties like grenache blanc, roussanne and viognier.  This is an In Store Discovery.

~

And that’s a wrap for this edition. We are already hard at work on the May 16 release, and we have some other things up our sleeve in May, including a new feature called Buy the Case that will highlight best buys from the consignment stocklists of Ontario’s importers. And I am particularly looking forward to the great WineAlign Rolling Limestone bus excursion to Terroir in Prince Edward County. Until then, enjoy a great week of weather ahead and hope to see you at the New Zealand Wine Fair.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 2, 2015

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Part 1
All Reviews

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 2nd – Part One

Ontario Shakes Up Retail Alcohol Sales; Next Generation Germany; Smart Reds
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Before we get to our picks this week, a word on some other important recommendations announced late last week. The big news in the Ontario beverage alcohol industry was of course the government’s announcement to shake up The Beer Store, the foreign-owned monopoly that accounts for 80% of beer sales in Ontario, forcing it to give local brewers better access to market. The government is also moving forward on the recommendation to allow the retail sale of beer in up to 450 grocery stores across the province. The move stems from a report commissioned by the government to find ways to generate more revenue from provincial assets.

On the surface it looks like a big change (and Wynne touts it as the biggest change to alcohol retailing since the 1920s when the LCBO was created), and it’s been a long time coming, but underneath the recommendations are a typically Canadian assemblage of compromise and concession and a game of shells. And consumers appear to be far down the list of interests to please. But it’s better than nothing.

It’s staggering to think that successive Ontario governments over nearly 90 years could have allowed The Beer Store (TBS), which is owned by Molson-Coors, Labatt (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev) and Sleeman (owned by Japan’s Sapporo), all with head offices outside of Canada, to exist at the expense of local enterprise. For the small boys, access to market has always been the number one concern.

Now the government intends to require TBS to allow local brewers to buy shares in the distribution monopoly, which might suit the not-so-micro breweries like Mill Street or Steam Whistle just fine, but just how many truly micro-brewers will be able to play in the game remains to be seen, and many remain skeptical. In any case, apparently no more than 20% of shares will be offered, keeping the foreign ownership intact.

The government is also insisting that TBS invest $100m over four years to modernize what is surely one of the most drab retail environments in the developed world. But I’d wager that consumers are more interested in convenience and selection than fancy beer shops. How about allowing the Ontario Craft Brewers Association to open up their own shops? That would be true and fair access. “This would immediately increase distribution, visibility and availability of local craft beers as well as putting the profits back into the brewers to foster their growth and economic development”, says Dave Reed of the Forked River Brewing Co. in London, a recent micro start-up.

The plan to sell beer in grocery stores is also promising, but not as revolutionary as it seems, nor as helpful to small brewing businesses as other changes might have been. The Advisory Council has recommended that the LCBO be the sole beer wholesaler to grocery stores, which suggests that breweries will still need to churn through the administrative mire of the LCBO, as they already do for the privilege of selling through their retail network, before they can access grocery stores. Essentially, its looks like a monopoly expansion via the franchising of LCBO beer sales, rather than a true opening of the marketplace.

TheBeerStore

And there are still a lot of unanswered questions on how it will happen. “Will we run into Listing Fees? Shelf Fees? What products will they want to carry? They mention that 20% of shelf space will be reserved for Ontario craft beer, but how much of that will be for smaller brewers who perhaps cannot supply all their stores in Ontario?”, Reed asks.

There is also the risk that the move will only create a collection of smaller regional monopolies, as the equitable distribution of such precious retail beer licenses will be fraught with challenges. For this reason, don’t expect to see much beer in grocery stores anytime soon. “This new channel should be phased in over time with up to 150 outlets in operation by May 1, 2017”, says the Advisory report. Things move slowly in Ontario.

I’m reporting this not only because I drink beer, but also because the same discussion is playing out over changes to wine retailing, of keen interest no doubt to readers. The same Advisory Council is still currently reviewing options for wine distribution, and further recommendations for changes to the LCBO are forthcoming.

The Ontario wine industry is naturally observing the situation with great interest. Most local “craft” wineries complain about the access to market, which, outside of the winery itself, a handful of farmer’s markets, the lottery of an LCBO listing or costly hand-to-hand guerilla sales to restaurants, doesn’t exist.

Richard Linley, President of the Wine Council of Ontario, is “encouraged by the recent report on improving retail conditions for Ontario craft beer”, and trusts that “similar changes will be made for wine retailing in Ontario”. Ontario VQA wineries, he states, want an opportunity to compete, “but in a growing market that gives wine consumers new choice and increased convenience”.

Veiled in under these hopes is the reality that NAFTA and other international trade agreements make it illegal for Ontario to favour the sale of local wines at the expense of foreign products. (Since beer distribution is already controlled by the biggest multinationals, they’d never complain, while other craft local breweries around the world are, by most definitions, for locals and won’t likely be interested in taking on the Canadian government for trade violations.)

But wine is a different matter, with countless large, well-funded foreign companies, not to mention regional and country associations, chomping at the bit for access to a piece of our pocketbooks. So don’t expect an all-VQA wine shop or wine section in a grocery store anytime soon.

Allowing grocery stores to sell wine will raise all of the questions that beer retailing has raised, and many more. Franchising LCBO selections to grocery stores may improve convenience, a welcome change, but it would obviously not improve selection, either for Ontario or out of province/country wineries.

Striking the Right Balance - Report

Ed Clark, principal author of the report, stated on the CBC that the pre-NAFTA, grandfathered wine retailing licences enjoyed by a very few large Ontario wineries, the ones that bring you the Wine Rack and The Wine Shop kiosks and stores, need to be protected in any future changes to wine retailing. Anything that favours the sales of Canadian products is highly valuable, he said with patriotic grandeur. I wonder if Mr. Clark has any idea that the majority of the non-VQA wine sold in those shops is actually imported foreign bulk wine, blended and bottled in Canada. Are those licences really worth protecting? How about converting them to real private wine shop licences, with a requirement for minimum Can-con? I’m sure Harper can finesse that agreement with his delicate diplomacy.

“Allowing for beer and wine in grocery stores doesn’t go far enough toward allowing for true, independent retail which would offer consumers the best selection of wine, beer and spirits”, writes Heather MacGregor, Executive Director of Drinks Ontario, the association representing the majority of beverage alcohol agents and suppliers in Ontario. And I agree.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: private, independently run wine shops in Ontario (with the parallel existence of the LCBO) would increase consumer selection, provide access to market for local, out of province and foreign wineries hitherto excluded, create jobs, generate revenue for the province, download some of the retailing costs to private business instead of taxpayers, and well, make people happy. The model exists. No need to write yet another report. Your comments?

For details on how it can work, visit the Wine Council of Ontario-run website www.pairsperfectly.com

Note: the opinions of the author don’t necessarily represent the views of WineAlign nor any of its contributors.

~

Next Generation Germany 

If you’re still with me, let’s get on to this week’s recommendations. The May 2nd VINTAGES release sees a terrifically well-chosen selection of German wines arrive just ahead of the “Next Generation Germany” taste event in Toronto on May 21st. David Lawrason will be leading a trade tasting in the afternoon along with German Wine Queen Janina Hahn, exploring new developments and celebrating the latest generation of German vintners to crush the grape.

Vineyards in the Kaiserstuhl, Baden-9872

Vineyards in the Kaiserstuhl, Baden

I had the pleasure of the queen’s company for a couple of days this past March as I toured from Mainz down to Baden in search of volcanic terroirs and fine wine. But aside from the queen’s beauty, I was most struck by the change in attitude that has occurred over the last few years in Germany. Not so long ago, German vintners (like many Canadians), were almost apologetic about their cool climate and their “struggle” to ripen grapes, especially red grapes. That was during the bigger-is-better era of wine production.

But as the whimsical tide of fashion invariably changes, cool climates have become all the rage. Now, warm regions bend over backwards to be cool, going ever higher up mountain peaks or further out to the coast, stopping only short of floating vineyards on barges in cold seas. German vintners are now delighted to trumpet their natural coolness, and are enjoying a return to mainstream fashion.

Truthfully, German wines haven’t changed radically. They didn’t need to. The wine was always good, and many estates have multigenerational track records to prove it. So it’s not you, Germany, it’s us who have changed, and we’re glad to have you back.

The renewed self-confidence has had an impact however on the next generation. According to German Wine Institute chief Stefan Schindler, enrolment in viticulture studies is exploding. And it’s not just the sons and daughters of winemakers, but also many students from non-traditional wine families. A third winemaking school has opened in Neustadt, and all the courses are fully subscribed. Winemaking, too, has become cool. The future of more unapologetically cool climate, great German wine seems assured.

The selection offered on May 2nd includes some new and welcome names to the market, with most worth checking out. There’s also plenty of Alignment amongst the crü, so if you’re not afraid of being cool, there are several low-risk, high-pleasure options, and not just Riesling (though there’s brilliant riesling, too). My only regret is the absence of any German red wines, especially pinot noir, which is rapidly gaining prominence in Germany and abroad for good reason.

We’ve also included a handful of smart, miscellaneous red suggestions in this report, since not all wine can be white.

David follows up next week with an equally exciting range from New Zealand and the customary spring rosé collection.

Buyers’ Guide to Germany

Markus Molitor 2013 Haus Klosterberg Riesling, Mosel Valley, Germany ($20.95)

John Szabo – Triple alignment on this terrific riesling from Molitor, unsurprisingly, one of the Mosel’s leading producers. It’s at the drier end of the spectrum, and reverberates on and on with terrific energy and vibrancy. Best 2015-2023.
David Lawrason  – Young riesling is aromatically challenging off the top. Then add in Molitor’s aromatically reserved style. The result is a slow starter on the nose. But this is a very compact, well balanced and in the end riveting riesling, that just shouts Mosel in its own stern way.
Sara d’Amato – A serious riesling of tremendous value. The rather heavy stony soils of Klosterberg with high iron content produce mineral-driven and earthy wines with delicate fruit and great syle.

Konrad Salwey in the Kaiserstuhl-9903

Konrad Salwey in the Kaiserstuhl

Salwey 2013 Pinot Gris, Baden, Germany ($21.95)

John Szabo – Like David, I spent an afternoon with young Konrad Salwey last month and believe him to be making some of the Kaiserstuhl’s, and all of Baden’s, best wines. This pinot gris represents the (excellent) entry level, focused on refinement thanks in part to a change in philosophy as of 2011. “I was caught in the German quality system. Very often we left the grapes out too long. We could have gotten much more elegance if we had harvested earlier. This is the result of the shift. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – In 2014 I spent a fascinating afternoon tasting is the cellars of the inquiring, intense Konrad Salwey. It started as a gentle fencing match as we felt each other out, but after a couple of pinot gris (before the pinot noirs) I knew I was in the company of a winemaker extraordinaire, and by the end of the day he was opening some great aged pinot noirs. This is lower tier in his range but very nicely done.

Sander 2013 Pinot Blanc Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany ($15.95)

John Szabo – Pinot blanc (aka weissburgunder), may get little airtime, but it was the variety that most captivated me by its unexpected beauty while in southern Germany. This is a fine example of its delicate floral aromatics and neither austere nor overly soft texture. It would make a superb sipping wine for spring and early summer dining al fresco.
David Lawrason – I have been quietly intrigued by pinot blanc (weissburgunder) since first visiting Germany’s Baden years ago.  The interest re-kindled at a tasting of German pinot varieties in Mainz in 2014. The biodynamically produced Sander encapsulates everything I love about this grape, about which I plan to write more soon enough. Don’t miss this bargain opportunity to get to know it for yourself.

Ruppertsberger 2014 Linsenbusch Gewürztraminer Spätlese Prädikatswein, Pfalz Germany ($17.95)

John Szabo – A medium-dry version that delivers all of the perfumed richness and flavour intensity one would hope for from the grape and the price category. This is tailor-made for afternoon sipping, or with richer pâtés, foie gras, spicy Asian-inspired fare or softer cheeses.

Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013 Salwey Pinot Gris 2013 Sander Pinot Blanc Trocken 2013 Ruppertsberger Linsenbusch Gewürztraminer Spätlese 2014 Klumpp Riesling 2013 C.H. Berres Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2012

Klumpp 2013 Riesling Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany ($19.95)

John Szabo – Klumpp is a rapidly emerging star from southern Germany that I’m happy to see in Ontario after tasting some superb wines in Deutschland. This vineyard blend offers both fleshy orchard and ripe citrus fruit along with the merest hint of sweetness. Fine value in a well measured style. Best 2015-2023.

C.H. Berres 2012 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany ($24.95)

David Lawrason – This shows surprising ripeness for a kabinett (almost spätlese level), with classic peach, honey and stony aromas and flavours. Really quite delicious. Markus Berres is only the 21st generation to run this family winery in Mosel, and he has gone to screwcap. Good move.
Sara d’Amato – Consistently a top scoring wine, this Kabinett once again proves generous, rich and zesty with a great deal of character. So pleasurable now but hold onto it for another 5-6 years to experience the lovely honeyed, nutty and petrol flavours that come with evolution.

Buyers’ Guide to Miscellaneous Smart Red Wine Buys 

Marqués De Cáceres 2005 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($29.95)

John Szabo – While tasting wines like this I’m constantly reminded of the value that Spain offers, and it’s so very kind of them to cover the expense of storing wine for many years on top of it all for us. The reliable Marqués de Cáceres offers us a ready to drink gran reserva of tremendous complexity and superb balance, not to mention length, for a modest sum. Best 2015-2025.

D’angelo 2010 Aglianico Del Vulture, Basilicata, Italy ($17.95)

John Szabo – Tired of tutti frutti wines? This is for you. I love the absolutely fruitless, savoury, pot pourri-scented character of this wine, crafted in the very old school one from of Italy’s most swarthy red grapes and traditional producers on the slopes of the extinct Vulture volcano. It’s like wet, hot gravel and rusted iron. Sounds delicious, no? Best 2015-2020.

Terra Noble 2011 Gran Reserva Carmenère, Maule Valley, Chile ($18.95)

John Szabo – A tidy little value offering a wallop of sweet herbs and black fruit, and excellent depth and concentration for the money. Best 2015-2019.

Marqués De Cáceres Gran Reserva 2005 D'Angelo Aglianico Del Vulture 2010 Terranoble Gran Reserva Carmenère 2011 Château Tour Saint Vincent 2010

Château Tour Saint-Vincent 2010 Médoc, Bordeaux  ($23.95)

David Lawrason – The 2010 vintage continues to impress, a vintage where lower priced, unsung chateau rise up with structure and depth beyond their station in life. This is an 11-hectare cru bourgeois estate with thirty year old vines – 60% cabernet sauvignon and 40% merlot. It has power, depth and tension. Try one now and cellar a few.

G.D. Vajra 2011 Barbera d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy ($21.95)

David Lawrason – This is one of my personal favourites on this release, from a smallish, very enthused and engaged family winery. Barbera is never easy, but this fine somewhat juicy example builds in just the right fruit depth and complexity.

Somontes 2009 Reserva, Dão, Portugal ($18.95)

David Lawrason – Once or twice a year in comes a really fine Dao.  Long time readers might recognize my enthusiasm for this hilly, mineral rich region in the heartland of Portugal. This is one I would not hesitate to buy if you like nervy, wild berry-scented yet delicious reds.

G.D. Vajra Barbera d'Alba 2011 Somontes Reserva 2009 Cathedral Cellar Triptych 2012 Lanciola Le Masse Di Greve Chianti Classico 2010

Cathedral Cellar 2012 Triptych, Western Cape, South Africa ($16.95)

Sara d’Amato – High quality parcels of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot and tannat are blended to form Cathedral Cellars excellent value Triptych. Revealing, honest and ready-to-drink with compelling notes of smoke, pepper and plump, plummy fruit.

Lanciola 2010 Le Masse Di Greve Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($23.95)

Sara d’Amato – Almost entirely sangiovese, this traditional Chianti Classico is made up from Lanciola’s premium vineyard sites in Greve. A discreet and elegant wine but with a great deal of charm. Drinking optimally right now.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES May 2nd, 2015:

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 18th – Part Two

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barrandica Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sister's Run Epiphany Shiraz 2012

C.J. Pask Gimblett Road Syrah 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes on the California Wine Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

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

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES April 18th, 2015:

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Old World
All Reviews

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 18th – Part One

The Old World
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report cherry picks the top smart buys from the Old World in the April 18th release. We’ve highlighted a fine collection of classics from familiar friends like Italy and France (including one triple alignment), while Spain gets a nod with wines ranging from $14 up to $90, for one of the best bottles from the Iberian Peninsula. Adventurous drinkers will find discoveries from Slovakia and Hungary. Next week David will lead the discerning charge into the new world.

If it’s not already in your google calendar, be sure to carve out some time to attend the “County in the City” tasting of Prince Edward County wines on April 16th in Toronto, details here. The WineAlign crü will be there scouring the room for the best from Canada’s coolest and stoniest region. And on April 14th, for our members in Ottawa, WineAlign is hosting Beringer Winemaker Laurie Hook. Got to love a tasting that showcases wines from volcanic, cobbled rock and alluvial soils (details here).

Whites and a Rosé

Trimbach 2011 Réserve Riesling, Alsace France ($29.95)

John Szabo – You have to appreciate that the Trimbach house style has remained virtually unchanged over several centuries. Here, the wines are decidedly dry and austere in the best sense, relying on sheer density rather than sugar for their weight. The grapes for the reserve are source entirely from the village of Ribeauvillé, mainly old vines (40 years average), on clay-limestone soils. And although this usually ages magnificently (and slowly), the 2011 is surprisingly ready to enjoy, and won’t require, nor benefit much from long term cellaring. Best 2015-2026.

Tokaj Kereskedoház 2012 Grand Selection Semi-Dry Tokaji Furmint, Tokaj, Hungary ($16.95)

John Szabo – Don’t be put off by the semi-dry designation; this is drier than most purportedly “dry” commercial chardonnays, not to mention more complex. 2012 was the first vintage for well-regarded winemaker Károly Áts, who brings over two decades experience to Tokaj’s largest producer. This plump, pineapple, pear and sage flavoured wine is well worth a look, especially with some lightly spiced southeast Asian dishes or salty west coast oysters.

Trimbach Réserve Riesling 2011 Tokaj Kereskedoház Grand Selection Semi Dry Tokaji Furmint 2012 Hugel Riesling 2012 Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2011 Château Belá Riesling 2012

Hugel 2012 Riesling, Alsace, France ($24.95)

David Lawrason – That Hugel riesling and other Hugel labels like Gentil (also on this release) are not available continuously in Ontario is a travesty of our system. This is so refined, layered and downright delicious – textbook Alsatian styling with a modern sensibility. It could make a riesling-lover out of the most reticent.

Vignerons de Buxy 2011 Buissonnier Montagny, Burgundy, France  ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This tender and nicely polished young chardonnay makes a return engagement after a debut last autumn. Glad to see quality and value being rewarded. The Buxy Co-op (located in the Côte Châlonnaise) is one of the largest in Burgundy and an evident success.

Château Belá 2012 Riesling, Muzla, Slovakia ($24.95)

Muga Rosé 2014 Gradis'ciutta Pinot Grigio 2013Sara d’Amato – A Slovakian riesling made under the guidance of renowned Mosel producer Egon Müller, co-owner of Chateau Belá. This must-try, drop-dead beauty is edgy and tense with outstanding length. Off-the-beaten-path but certainly not a gamble.

Gradis’ciutta 2013 Pinot Grigio, Collio, Friuli, Italy ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – The sur-lie aging of this pinot grigio has created the presence and texture to balance the wine’s razor sharp acids. Immensely attractive, this punchy grigio is no pushover.

Muga 2014 Rosé, Rioja Spain ($13.95)

John Szabo – A genuinely dry, simple but highly appealing, strawberry and red cherry-scented rosé from one of the region’s most reliable producers. Full stop. A perfect start to spring.

Reds

M. Chapoutier 2013 Les Vignes De Bila-Haut, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, France ($15.95)

John Szabo – While Chapoutier’s Rhône wines are rightfully admired widely, his Roussillon operation is where I go shopping for the top values in the portfolio. Bila Haut is regularly a terrifically fruity, dense and compact, savoury and complex southern French red, which delivers an extra gear and flavor dimension above the price category.
David Lawrason – It’s hard to choose between this and the neighboring, fresh, elegant fruit driven Roussillon Le Cirque, so don’t choose. Buy some of each! “Bila haut” by tres serieux, biodynaminista Michel Chapoutier has been a great buy in juicy yet well-formed southern French reds for a decade. This vintage is very satisfying once again.
Sara d’Amato – Southern French charm bottled at an indisputable price. A hand-harvested blend of syrah, grenache and carignan offering a real sense of place with enticing aromas of lavender, pepper, earth, smoky meat, underbrush and wild berries.

Alión 2011, Ribera Del Duero, Spain ($89.95)

John Szabo – Top Spanish reds have yet to command the cache of certain other celebrated regions for myriad reasons, but the wines of Vega Sicilia come as close as any. Considering the superlative quality of the 2011 Alión, a tempranillo of massive structure, complexity and ageability, this remains a very smart buy. Revisit after 2020 for best enjoyment.
Sara d’Amato – Drink now or anticipate the delight it will bring in a decade or more. The 2011 Alión exhibits all those exciting little faults that make for a brilliant, compelling and all-consuming experience.

M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2013 Alión 2011 Torres Celeste Crianza 2011 Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2009

Torres 2011 Celeste Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($20.95)

John Szabo – I admit I greatly admire Miguel Torres, one of the most consistent and reliable names in the global wine industry. Every wine, it seems, is crafted in an appealing style that at the same time manages not to sacrifice the regional identity of its respective appellation. This 2011 Ribera Del Duero does the job nicely, delivering plenty of engaging and fresh red and black berry fruit with a significant but balanced dose of wood in the Spanish style. Best now-2025.

Fattoria Dei Barbi 2009 Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($49.95)

John Szabo – Barbi does old school style Brunello very well, the way sangiovese was intended to be rendered in my view. This 2009 has evolved nicely, delivering engaging candied red fruit flavours, dried earth, zesty herbs, faded flowers and so much more. I love the delicate tannins, the balanced acids and the exceptional length – a very harmonious wine all in all. Best now-2025. 2025

Le Cirque 2013 Grenache/Noir/Carignan/Syrah, Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, France ($16.95)

David Lawrason – Here is yet another success from a French co-op – Les Vignerons de Tautavel Vingrau, located in the village of Tautavel in Languedoc-Roussillon. For archaeology buffs this village houses the European Centre for Prehistoric Research. Tautavel Man, an early hominid, unearthed near here is perhaps the oldest human remain in Europe. Nothing prehistoric about this wine however.  It is a pretty, poised and fresh young, modern southern French blend with an easy, breezy drinkability.

Joseph Drouhin 2012 Côtes De Nuits-Villages, Burgundy, France ($34.95)

David Lawrason – Drouhin is another class act from France that for my entire career has been badly represented in Ontario. The house possesses such fine, white gloved hand interpretation of Burgundy, without sacrificing appellation character. Côtes de Nuits-Village will never deliver profound pinot, but I really like the refinement here. A bit pricy but a textural masterpiece.

Le Cirque Carignan Mourvèdre Syrah 2013 Joseph Drouhin Côtes De Nuits Villages 2012 Château Bonnin Pichon 2010 Brigaldara Valpolicella 2013

Château Bonnin Pichon 2010, Lussac St Emilion, Bordeaux, France ($21.95)

Sara d’Amato – Like me, you might find yourself double checking both the price and the appellation of this right bank blend from the Lussac satellite region of St Emilion. Age-worthy, complex and maturing with grace – a wine that exceeds all expectations.

Brigaldara 2013 Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – A textbook Venetian blend that refreshingly tries to be nothing but a juicy, honest wine offering simple pleasures. One could expect no greater refinement and appeal from a $15 bottle of Valpolicella.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 18th, 2015:

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 4th – Part Two

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

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

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

Off the Beaten Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cálem Lágrima White Port

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

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

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

British Columbia & Ontario

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

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

Golden Mile Bench - Culmina WineryGolden Mile Bench - Culmina Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Canadian Sommelier Competition

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

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

Élyse Lambert - Best Sommelier of Canada 2015

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

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

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

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

Travaglini 2007 Gattinara, (Nebbiolo) Piedmont, Italy

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

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

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

Until next week!

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES April 4th, 2015:

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

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 4th – Part One

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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

Traditional Easter Lamb

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

Ingredients

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

Method

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

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

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

Recommended Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moroccan lamb loin chops

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

Ingredients:

– 12 lamb shoulder chops (3oz.)

Marinade:

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

Method:

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

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

Recommended wines:

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

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

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

Mendel 2011 Malbec Mendoza Argentina ($27.95)

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

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

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

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

Barque Smokehouse: Smoked Lamb Ribs

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

Ingredients:

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

Barque RibsRub:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside

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

Pomegranate Molasses BBQ Sauce:

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

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

Smoker Method (see below for backyard grill instructions):

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

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

Alternatively:

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

Set and serve with lime wedges.

Backyard Grill Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended wines: 

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-Dinner Sipping wines

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

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

Krauthaker 2013 Grasevina Kutjevo, Slavonija Croatia ($23.95)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And For Dessert

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

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

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 4th, 2015:

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 21st – Part Two

Southwest France, Riesling & the Best of the Rest
By John Szabo MS with notes from Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The deep southwest remains one of those lost and misunderstood corners of France, as seemingly impenetrable as the local accent. I’ll never forget watching a news report in Paris in which a farmer from the Gers, a region to the west of Toulouse, was being interviewed. His accent was so thick the TV station posted subtitles so the rest of France could understand.

The region’s two marquee appellations, Cahors and Madiran, featured in the March 21st release, could likewise use some subtitles to help consumers understand them a little better. I was also inspired by a quartet of rieslings from three classic regions, and Sara and I have a handful of additional smart buys for you, filling in the gaps while David continues his peripatetic wine research.

Buyers’ Guide March 21st:
Southwest France, Cahors, Madiran & Fronton: Lost in Translation

Cahors

Considering Argentina’s success with malbec, a grape that originates in southwest France on either side of the Lot River near the town of Cahors, you’d have thought that some reflected spotlight would have shone back home. But I’d wager that most enthusiastic drinkers of deeply fruity malbec from Mendoza would have little inkling of the grape’s true origins, a perfectly understandable knowledge gap considering for one that the French original is rarely labeled with the name of the grape, but more importantly, how radically different the two styles are.

Ironically, these days it’s Argentina that has a more clearly defined style for the variety, and the old world is busy reinventing itself. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve been to that corner of France, so I asked local writer and wine importer Alain Laliberté for his most recent impressions of the region – Laliberté is somewhat of a specialist and has travelled there on many occasions over the last decade for his importing business.

“A generation of young producers have picked up the baton since the turn of the century, with a far more rigorous approach to quality than the previous generation. And they’ve already had a big impact”, he reveals [my translation]. “The rustic, bony wines of the ‘70s, ’80s and even ‘90s, with their drying tannins, have ceded place to structured wines that are more like an iron fist in a velvet glove.”

Cahors has indeed improved a great deal, and the top examples highlight malbec’s floral character, like a field of violets, and bring graceful natural acidity to bear on chiseled tannins, lifting and framing the wine. It was in fact that naturally high acid working with green tannins in the past that made the old “black wine” of Cahors so unruly.

Pont-Valentré, Cahors. (Photo from tripadvisor.ca)

Pont-Valentré, Cahors. (Photo from tripadvisor.ca)

There are also notable style differences depending on precisely where the grapes are grown, as the Cahors appellation has three distinct areas. “Malbec from the low-lying, gently inclined parcels facing the Lot River are less dense”, Laliberté confirms, “while the elevated inclines above produce more structured wines.” The Cahors most suitable for long ageing, however, are those grown on the iron-rich limestone plateau that sits above the river and the other two areas, which yields the most firm and dense wines, according to Laliberté, but also the most finessed. Clos Troteligotte, one of the producers Laliberté represents, has vines on the plateau and produces no fewer than six malbec cuvées according to the concentration of iron in each micro-parcel. (Clos Troteligotte K-Or Cahors 2012 is set to be released in April or May).

For more immediate gratification, try the Château Pineraie 2011 l’Authentique ($39.95) from this release. It’s a bold and seriously pure malbec from the plateau. Sixty year-old vines are harvested very ripe and grapes are fermented in wooden vats (more oxygen, softer tannins) before ageing in barriques, 2/3rds of which are new, for a year and a half. The net result is a dense and supple wine with excellent quality tannins: ripe but firm, fine-grained and neatly woven. Even at the premium price this over-delivers. Best 2015-2026.

Madiran

Tannat, the principal variety in the appellation of Madiran even further southwest of Cahors in Basque country, has yet to really garner any significant international attention. Unlikely Uruguay has made it somewhat of a signature variety, and I’ve seen it pop up in regions as far-flung as Greece and Australia, but its wiry, impermeable character make even malbec look like a plush and cuddly stuffed animal, and has limited its appeal in a new world looking above all for soft, fruity wines. During my first visit to Madiran in 2000, my palate was stripped of all flesh and saliva after a barrel tasting of just four wines, needing a full afternoon to recover from the blitzkrieg of tannin.

It’s not tough to imagine why micro-oxidation (or “micro-ox”), a technique of gently dosing wine with oxygen bubbles to soften tannins, would have been invented here to deal with tannat. But as in Cahors, more attentive viticulture, lower yields, and riper grapes have altered the style landscape. Also, in theory tannat need only represent 40% of a Madiran final blend, even if in practice the percentage is much higher, and producers have the option of adding cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon or fer to complement (it’s telling that cabernet sauvignon would be considered a softening variety here).

Château Pineraie l'Authentique Cahors 2011 Château Peyros Vieilles Vignes Madiran 2009 Château Bellevue La Forêt 2011

Most take advantage of the rules and blend 20%-30% of other grapes, as in Château Peyros 2009 Vieilles Vignes Madiran ($18.95). For this old vines cuvée, average 50 year-old Tannat is blended with 20% of cabernet franc to great effect yielding a very pretty, violet-scented example with an engaging medicinal note, like walking into an herbalist’s shop. For the money you’d be hard pressed to find more complexity; this is a flavour trip into wonderland. Now five years on it’s drinking very well, though it’s still Tannat, and tight tannins call for salty protein. Best 2015-2021.

Fronton

It seems only one estate waves the flag internationally for the small AOC of Fronton north of Toulouse and its unique specialty, négrette. Sara d’Amato recommends it:Château Bellevue La Forêt 2011 ($13.95). The blend is primarily made up of négrette, a grape found in very few places outside of Fronton or the southwest. As the name suggests, it produces deeply coloured wines, spicy with medium tannins but short on acids. In this case it is blended with syrah (adding appealing notes of black pepper and purple flower), cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. Impactful and memorable.”

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: Riesling Rules!

A quartet of excellent rieslings from regions with proven track records of success – Germany, Alsace and Ontario – inspired this mini-thematic. Gather your tasting group and line these up for a thorough schooling in riesling styles. Lovers of classic Mosel will find happiness in the Dr. Hermann 2010 Erdener Treppchen Kabinett Riesling ($17.95). It would be hard to imagine stuffing more regionally distinctive character, and just plain lots of wine, into a bottle for less. And if you saw how steep and difficult to farm the Treppchen vineyard is, you’d almost feel guilty. Almost. This wine will live on until the early ‘30s no doubt.

Ontario is by now internationally recognized for the quality of its riesling, and March 21st sees two of the finest examples offered. Since the first vintage in 2002, Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling ($19.95) has turned heads. The 2013 is yet another lean, tightly wound, sharp riesling the way we like them, finely woven and very nicely balanced. Drink or hold until the early ‘20s.

And with an even longer track record, and some of the oldest riesling vines in Canada panted in the late 1970s, Vineland Estates 2012 Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling ($19.95) continues on in the Germanic tradition, carrying amazing flavour intensity on a featherweight, 9% alcohol frame. I like the off-dry, crisp-balanced, spiced apple flavours and the lingering apple blossom finish. Drink through 2022.

Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Kabinett Riesling 2010 Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2013 Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012 Trimbach Riesling 2012

If you prefer your riesling fully dry and upright, you need only knock on the centuries old house of Trimbach, where dry riesling has been a specialty since 1626. The 2012 Trimbach Riesling ($21.95) is a terrific, arch-classic dry Alsatian style with deceptive intensity and length on a seemingly light frame. This quivers and reverberates on and on. Best 2015-2022.

Buyers’ Guide March 21st: More Smart Buys

Force Majeure 2011 Collaboration Series VI Red Mountain, Columbia Valley ($64.95)

John Szabo – In a short time Red Mountain has become Washington State’s premium red wine AVA, and Force Majeure one of its maximum interpreters. Paul McBride planted his first vines in 2006, but while waiting for them to mature, embarked on a series of collaborative wines with Ciel du Cheval vineyard. The series is being phased out as estate fruit comes into production, so it’s unlikely we’ll see this again, a sturdy and well-structured blend of mourvèdre and syrah with a splash of grenache offering plenty of dark fruit and spice, integrated wood, and liqueur-like concentration. Best 2017-2026.

Tinto Pesquera 2010 Reserva, DO Ribera del Duero, Spain ($44.95)

John Szabo – One of my first great wine moments involved a bottle of Pesquera, and happily, some years later, the wine is still as memorable. There are few places, and indeed fewer wines on earth that can pull off such a fine balance of fruit and oak, structure and suppleness. This wine also ages magnificently, and I recommend cellaring another three years or so before making your own memories. Best 2018-2030.
Sara d’Amato – An iconic, generous wine sure to etch itself in your memory. Drink selfishly or please, give a taste to a first time wine drinker and you may just be responsible for the birth of a new oenophile.

Force Majeure Collaboration Series VI 2011 Tinto Pesquera Reserva 2010 Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette de Limoux E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2013

Domaine J. Laurens Le Moulin Brut Blanquette De Limoux, Languedoc, France ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – Limoux is known as the “original Champagne” as the bubbly was thought to have come about in the 16th century, close to 200 years before Champagne became prominent. With lots of depth, succulence and creaminess, this appealing and frothy example has me wanting to celebrate.

E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2012, Rhône, France ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – White Rhône floats my boat and it is a shame we see it so infrequently on our shelves. This is a fine, well-priced southern example, very characteristic and easy to appreciate. Notes of lush apricot, lavender and crunchy sea salt will have you salivating. Try with white fish in a peppery lemon butter sauce.

That’s all for this week. But in case you missed it, check out d’Amato’s and my report on Cuvée 2015 and the best from Ontario, complete with compromising photographs! See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES March 21, 2015:

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
March 21st Part One – Icon Wines Demystified
All Reviews

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


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