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If I could buy only one – July 23rd, 2016 VINTAGES Release

As part of our VINTAGES recap, we asked our critics this question:

If you could buy only one wine from this release – which one would it be and why?

Here’s what they had to say. You can find their complete reviews, scores and store inventory by clicking the highlighted wine name or bottle image below.

David Lawrason – My highest scoring wine of the release is the gorgeous Flowers 2014 Chardonnay combining depth and finesse. It shows classic and complex aromas of pear, almond, gentle toast, vanilla, lemon custard and spice. My score may raise eyebrows and expectations, but that rating is based above all on its impeccable detailing and balance – not some onrush of power. I have always been a chardonnay fan but will not spend on cheaper versions that don’t rise to this grape’s potential. This is expensive but I would buy it, so it’s a good thing I am only allowed to buy one wine.

Flowers Chardonnay 2014


Sara d’Amato – A rosé that feels effortlessly beautiful – Hecht & Bannier Bandol Rosé 2015 – a French stereotype. I was swept away by this beauty before I had left for the heart of Provence. I find it genuine with a natural feel, subtle yet unrestrained. There is colour here, but not too much, and a fluidity on the palate that will bring calm to your summer nights.

Hecht & Bannier Bandol Rosé 2015


And, you might need to buy two bottles of this wine!

John Szabo – It’s perhaps a little more expensive than the typical house pour (I guess it depends on the house), but there are several reasons to stock up on the William Fèvre 2014 Champs Royaux Chablis. For one, 2014 is an absolute cracker of a vintage in Chablis, for many producers the best in recent memory, and Fèvre has found another gear for the generally excellent entry level bottling. It has an extra measure of depth and especially stony-mineral character, and I love the sharp acids and the perfectly chiseled citrus/apple fruit, as well as the very fine length. If you love classic Chablis, this is it. And secondly, considering that the region has lost over two-thirds of the 2016 harvest to dramatically bad weather (so far; the seasons is only half over), prices will inevitably rise, so stock up while you can. This will also handily age until the early twenties, so there’s no rush to drink, although it is delicious now to be sure.

Michael Godel – Having just returned from a week in Chablis and now spending four days in Niagara at #i4c16, the Burgundian outpost and chardonnay are front and centre and in my thoughts. It’s been a catastrophic spring there; hail, snow, rain, hail, frost and mildew. Fèvre’s winemaker Didier Seguier makes many great wines and his entry-level Champs Royaux is the perfect lead into the estate’s oeuvre and the crux of Chablis. It is a generalized but oh too important expression from kimmeridgian soil, hedged and qualified from all over the area’s hills, valleys and les clos. It is textbook Chablis, a guarantee of quality, especially out of the cracker 2014 vintage. Lets give Chablis some love.

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2014

From VINTAGES July 23rd, 2016

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES
John Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Lawrason’s Take
All July 23rd 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 – July 23, 2016

Chile’s Cool New Limari Valley is Making Waves
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

There are two wines from Chile’s Limari Valley hitting the shelves this week at Vintages, and both come highly recommended as great values by our WineAlign team, (see below). Co-incidentally, WineAlign hosted a winemaker dinner this week featuring Tabali, yet another winery from Limari.  Three wineries in one week from the same small, relatively unknown region may not constitute a tsunami, but there is obviously a wave of interest in this more northerly region.

As emcee of the WineAlign dinner, which was co-hosted by Hobbs & Co at The Shore Club in downtown Toronto, I spent much of the evening with Tabali CEO and Chief Winemaker Felipe Muller, whose excitement over Limari was palpable. He called it “Chile’s most unique region” and said it is attracting attention from winemakers all over Chile.  Indeed, one of the wines in Saturday’s release is Santa Rita 2014 Syrah, from a giant winery based in Maipo to the south.  And Concha Y Toro, Chile’s largest winery, was quick to open a winery called Maycas de Limari as well, in the early 2000s.  Tamaya (below) is yet another strong presence in Limari.

Chilean Wine Map

Click for larger image

There are two main attractions that create Limari’s terroir. One is the abundance of limestone in the soils, a rare occurrence in Chile. Throughout the valley the limestone is rather scattered amid clay, sand and gravels, but in one area especially there is a very high concentration. This is in Tabali’s Talinay vineyard, which lies only 12 kms from the ocean.  The Tabali Talinay Pinot Noir 2013 released back in June (and still available in limited quantities) is particularly fine and firm, quite different from most Chilean pinots that tend to be a bit jammy.

The proximity of the Pacific with its cold Humboldt current running off-shore is the second piece of puzzle. The way the valley opens gently and broadly to the sea allows the “Camanchaca” fog to blanket the area each morning, and directs cooling breezes inland during the afternoon.  So despite lying at a “warm” latitude 400 kms north of Santiago Limari is one of the coolest, and latest harvested regions of Chile.

The resulting wines have a certain lightness, elegance and freshness, which was on display throughout The Shore Club‘s menu. And in fact, their structure proved to be ideal at the table. They kept palates alive and stood their ground with the bold flavours by chef Angel Sevilla .  The Tabali 2015 Especial Sauvignon Blanc was solid with a very piquant gazpacho.  The subtle, complex Tabali Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2013, released on July 9 was a terrific foil to a ceviche, with bright acidity standing up the citrus and its sweeter fruit bringing calm at the same time.

(Those attending the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C) in Niagara this weekend will get to try this chardonnay).

The main course featured two terrific Tabali reds. The delicious, almost sold out 2012 Reserva Especial Syrah was perfect with grilled Canadian prime ribeye steak, while a brand new, first vintage 2013 Reserva Especial Cabernet Franc, proved the hit of the night with the roast chicken.  The Cabernet Franc is a small production wine that will likely never see release at the LCBO but can be private ordered through Hobbs & Co.

As an added treat we were served the debut bottling of a terrific 2013 Syrah from the Talinay Vineyard. It had great bones and density yet a wonderful sense of restraint and purity.  Alas we may not see this for awhile as only 100 cases were made in this first vintage.

And now onward to wines you can get, as John, Michael and I present our picks from the July 23 release. In case you missed it, John’s preview last week included his faves among the Spanish and sauvignon blanc features.  Sara is off for the next six weeks on her annual family excursion to the south of France – doubtless drinking Tavel on a riverbank somewhere.

Buyers’ Guide to July 23rd release:

White Wines

Pala I Fiori Vermentino Di Sardegna 2015William Fèvre 2014 Champs Royaux, Chablis, Burgundy ($24.95)
Michael Godel – The Champs Royaux is Chablis drawn from a selection of Fèvre’s better grower contracts. It takes all the hills, valleys, les clos and slope/aspect dimensions into account. It is textbook Chablis, a guarantee of quality, especially out of the cracker 2014 vintage
John Szabo –2014 is a terrific vintage for the generally excellent entry level Chablis from Fèvre, with an extra measure of depth and especially stony-mineral character. I love the sharp acids and the perfectly chiseled citrus/apple fruit, as well as the very fine length. And considering that Chablis has lost over two-thirds of the 2016 harvest to dramatically bad weather (so far), and prices are sure to rise, I’ll be stocking up on the excellent ‘14s.
David Lawrason – I like it too! Better than I remember from previous outings.

Pala 2015 I Fiori Vermentino Di Sardegna, Sardinia, Italy ($14.95)
John Szabo –
A lovely wine that would make for a great house pour this summer. It’s dry, crisp and unoaked, pleasantly fruity and saline, smoky and lightly herbal, with exceptional length and complexity in the price category.
David Lawrason – Great value here! Vermentino is an important white grape of the Mediterranean, creating refreshing higher acid wines. This is a mid-weight, refreshing example with lifted aromas of lemongrass and star anise. It has a bit more weight and richness than I expected but remains elegant and refreshing.

Anselmi Capitel Croce 2014Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012Redstone 2012 Riesling Limestone Vineyard South, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara ($19.20)
David Lawrason – Moray Tawse bought the large Limestone Ridge vineyard not long ago, and has been turning out taut, mineral rieslings. The north or lower part of the site goes into his Tawse line-up, the south or higher section is directed to his Redstone Winery label. This is a lovely, clean, medium sweet version with classic peach, lemon, honey and petrol aromas and flavours.

Anselmi 2014 Capitel Croce, IGT Veneto, Italy ($26.95)
John Szabo – This is serious wine, pure garganega from the heart of Soave Classico (though Anselmi voluntarily labels as IGT Veneto). It’s full, rich and concentrated, but perfectly balanced, with strikingly intense minerality and excellent length. I love the ride of sweet herbs, orchard fruit, and exotic tropical fruit, which loops back again to apple and citrus on the acidulated finish. Fermentation/ageing in barrel goes mostly unnoticed, save for the texture enhancement. So very classy, and ageworthy, too.

Sutherland 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Elgin, South Africa ($14.95)
Michael Godel – From Thomas Webb’s Elgin outpost, the Sutherland is a pungent, insistently perfumed cooler clime sauvignon blanc with more texture than its Thelema ’14 cousin. Shows classic Elgin cool savour running linear like a beam through the joist of structure.

Flowers 2014 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($68.95)
David Lawrason – My highest scoring wine of the release is a gorgeous chardonnay combining power and finesse. It shows classic and complex aromas of pear, almond, gentle toast, vanilla/lemon custard and spice. Pricy but impeccable.

Roger & Didier Raimbault, Sancerre 2014, Loire Valley ($26.95)
Michael Godel – Sancerre laid out with clear instruction in precisely what sauvignon blanc needs for it to impress from the Loire. Essential sauvignon blanc with poise, precision and mandatory feel. This is tres fort fricative stuff.

Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2014Flowers Chardonnay 2014Roger & Didier Raimbault Sancerre 2014

Red Wines

Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2012, Limarí Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is a wonderful value in rich New World syrah. The nose is ripe and rich with black cherry/plum, licorice, smoked meat, cedar bough, white pepper and generous oak. It’s full bodied, fairly dense, soft and streamlined, with soft tannin.
Michael Godel – From the northerly clime of the Limari this is seductively floral syrah with an edge of peppery spice. Cue the value jingle.

Tamaya 2014 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Limarí Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This sports a lovely nose of blackcurrant jam, cedar bough, vanillin and some earthiness. It’s medium-full bodied, fairly dense, balanced and complete. Very good cab value.

Creation 2014 Pinot Noir, Walker Bay, Walker Bay, South Africa ($26.95)
John Szabo –
Swiss winemaker Jean-Claude and South African partner Carolyn found a terrific spot for Pinot noir in the southern hemisphere, in the upper reaches of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in the southern Cape. The cooler climate and house style favour balance and finesse over power, as displayed in this silky and suave, refined example, showing the hand of even-keeled, confident winemaking. I like the saliva-inducing, saline finish and impressive length and depth. Best 2016-2022.

D’Arenberg 2013 D’arry’s Original Shiraz/Grenache, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This has long been one the great values from McLaren Vale, a blend with considerable complexity, richness yet decent balance at the same time. It pours quite deep black purple. The nose is nicely lifted with florals, ripe black cherry, mocha, pepper and a touch of menthol. Some graphite on the finish as well. Very good to excellent length. Tasted July 2016

Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah 2012Tamaya Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Creation Pinot Noir 2014D'arenberg D'arry's Original Shiraz:Grenache 2013

Kir-Yianni 2012 Kitma Yianakohori Hills, Imathia, Macedonia, Greece ($19.95)
John Szabo – New to Greek wines? Here’s a fine intro, a pleasantly ripe and generously proportioned blend of half xinomavro with merlot and syrah, with the firm tannic structure of the former lending framework to merlot’s plummy fruit and syrah’s spice. Length and depth are really quite exceptional at the price, as is the over all complexity. Best 2016-2022.

Menguante 2012 Selección Garnacha, Cariñena ($16.95)
Michael Godel – Jose Pablo Casao make full use of oak for this smooth Cariñena operator. It is one of the region’s most accomplished examples of garnacha. His colleague and peer (winemaker) Jorge Navascues Haba told me, “if you come to to experience garnacha, this wine will allow you to discover the wonders of American oak.”

Corte Giara 2013 Ripasso Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Lovely venetian red from Allegrini that accomplishes Ripasso intimacy by doing so at a mimetic remove. Lingers like a perfect pastille.

Querciabella 2013 Chianti Classico, Docg Tuscany ($38.95)
Michael Godel – Remarkable sangiovese steeped in tradition and history meets varietal significance, but it’s a new oration., A brilliant “normale” without the new slang of Gran Selezione but in many respects it may as well be.
David Lawrason – This is a very fine, nervy and intense Chianti, if a bit pricy.

Kir Yianni Kitma Yianakohori Hills 2012Menguante Selección Garnacha 2012Corte Giara Ripasso Valpolicella 2013Querciabella Chianti Classico 2013

And that’s it for this week. As the heat of summer settles in like a wet blanket, we urge you take it easy, drink crisp wine and lots of water. We will be back next week with Australian and other picks from the August 6 release, and stay tuned next week as well as we announce the winners from the National Wine Awards of Canada.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES July 23rd, 2016

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
All July 23rd Reviews

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

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – July 23, 2016

Spanish Cante Jondo, and the non-linear price-quality relationship of sauvignon blanc
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In flamenco music there’s a style known as cante jondo (aspirate that ‘j’), which means literally “deep song”. It’s said to be the purest form of flamenco, unchanged over centuries (watch this short clip). On a parallel plane, this week’s report takes us deep into Spanish wine, exploring the country’s wealth of ancient vines, handed down to us by generations of growers, and less well-travelled regions, seemingly untouched for centuries. This is Spanish wine in its purest form. I’ve highlighted my top picks from the Spanish-themed VINTAGES July 23rd release, as well as some excellent wines from a new Spanish specialist in Ontario, Cosecha Imports. These are some of the most exciting Spanish wines to reach our market in the last decade, available by private order, but well worth the effort.

I also have a look at the curious price-quality relationship of sauvignon blanc. It’s a wine that appears to be priced based entirely on origin rather than quality, which means that some inside information is needed to find the best values in this minefield. I pick a quartet of smart buys to illustrate the point. Read on for the details.

Buyer’s Guide: Spanish Cante Jondo

Alejandro Fernandez, the founder of the Grupo Pesquera, is the man largely credited with putting Ribera del Duero on the map, starting in 1972. Tinto Pesquera is still one of the appellation’s top wines. Fernandez added three other bodegas over the years – Condado de Haza (Ribera del Duero), El Vínculo (La Mancha), and Dehesa la Granja (Castilla y Léon) – and it was wine from this last estate that caught my attention in this release, the 2008 Dehesa La Granja, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León ($22.95). The vineyards around Zamora deep in old Castille are not particularly well known for top quality wine, but this is exceptional tempranillo, unabashedly spicy and wood-inflected, exotic and complex, full of cedar and sandalwood scents in the traditional Spanish style. It’s the best Dehesa I can remember tasting, and superb value at that. Beware the heavy sediment; you’ll want to stand this up for a day and decant. Best 2016-2028.

The roots of the Merayo family run deep in the region of Bierzo (northwest Spain), and they have always owned vineyards, and occasionally made wine. But in 2010, a definitive step was taken to establish a commercial winery. On July 23rd you’ll see the 2014 Merayo Las Tres Filas Mencia, DO Bierzo, Spain ($19.95) reach LCBO shelves, a bright, ripe, red and black cherry flavoured red drawing on the wealth of 80+ year-old mencía vines in the family holdings. I like the rustic, deeply honest country styling; tannins are a little rough and tumble, but in time – 2-3 years – this should soften up nicely. Acids provide necessary energy and tension, and the length is excellent. Best 2018-2024.

Alejandro Fernández Dehesa La Granja 2008Merayo Las Tres Filas Mencia 2014 Almansa Laya 2014

Almansa is hardly a region that flows off the tongue in general wine conversations, even amongst professionals. But this backwater in the country’s deep southeast corner (province of Albacete, Castilla-La Mancha) has plenty to offer, including high elevations to temper heat, ranging from 700m up to 1000m above sea level, and just enough water-conserving limestone in the soils to keep vines alive. The ambitious Gil family, who also bring us excellent values from Jumilla D.O. under Bodegas Juan Gil, are behind Bodegas Atalaya, and the 2014 Laya, DOP Almansa, Spain ($15.95) is another terrific bargain for fans of bold, ripe, oak-influenced wines. A blend of garnacha tintorera and monastrell gives rise to this modern style, full-bodied red, generously endowed with spicy, vanilla-tinged oak flavour, smoky, like well-peated Scotch, and wild resinous herb notes to round out complexity. Best 2016-2022.

Cosecha Imports – Some Producers to Track Down

In May I sat down with Philip George of Cosecha Imports, a new player in the field focusing exclusively on Spanish wines. The company has managed to scoop a handful of “New Spain’s” most exciting producers, exploiting little-known, ancient regions and old vines, and applying post-modern techniques – earlier harvests, old wood, whole bunch indigenous fermentations and a host of other hip practices – that yield, when done correctly, beautifully perfumed and balanced wines, and above all, infinitely drinkable. This is vino jondo.

Rafael PalaciosRafael Palacios is among the portfolio headliners. A scion of the famous Rioja winemaking family, he struck out on his own in 2004, settling on the northern region of Valdeorras in Galicia to make his mark. He works exclusively with the native white godello, making some of Spain’s most exciting white wines today. Bolo (c. $20) is the excellent, stainless steel fermented entry level version; vine age, complexity and ageability are ratcheted up in Louro, which includes a splash of native treixadura and is fermented in old 3000l cask, in my view the best value in the lineup, while the top in the portfolio, As Sortes ($70), made from vines approaching a century old and fermented in demi-muid, is a wine of astonishing depth. These are all worth seeking out.

Commando GCommando G is another cultish producer turning heads around the world. It’s the project of Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia, who selected the remote Sierra de Gredos area about an hour’s drive outside of Madrid as their regional canvas, already painted with garnacha reaching up to 80 years old. Farming is organic/biodynamic in these small parcels, necessarily without machinery, which rise up over 1200m above sea level. If you think garnacha is heavy and alcoholic, you must try these wines, suffused with elegance, freshness and finesse. The prices of the ultra-limited cuvees rise steeply, but I loved the entry point 2014 Bruja de Rozas (c. $30), a vino de pueblo (village blend) of wonderfully silky and spicy garnacha, fresh and mid-weight, very Burgundian in feel.

Other excellent producers to look for in the Cosecha portfolio include Joan D’Anguera in Montsant D.O. and Pardas in the Penedès. It’s so great to see the Spanish wine offering expanding in the province.

On the Curious Relationship between Sauvignon Blanc and Price

The price of sauvignon blanc in LCBO VINTAGES is curiously predictable. It seems to be based on origins, rather than any notion of quality, however slippery that is to define. Chilean and South African sauvignon is invariably in the mid-teens. So too is basic Touraine or Bordeaux, while Aussie sauv seems able to fetch a dollar or two more. New Zealand hovers around $18, occasionally just over $20, alongside Friulian sauvignon, while Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé will set you back somewhere in the mid-twenties. Napa is in a neighbourhood of its own, in which $40 seems to be the standard point of entry.

Are these prices tied to how delicious the wines are? Hardly. It would be an eye-opening exercise to buy a range of sauvignons from $12 to $40 and taste them together, blind, with origins concealed. The results will surprise you. You’ll find that the cost appears much more directly linked to the wine’s home address than any other aspect of enjoyment. You might then buy 3 or 4 wines from the same region at the same price and repeat the exercise, observing how quality diverges at identical cost.

Now, wine pricing is a complex calculation to be sure. It’s based in part on hard production costs, including real estate and labour, currency exchange, and no small measure of regional and winery brand recognition, with a dash of speculation thrown in. Most regions are constrained to offer their wines in a more or less fixed range of prices, as the cost structure, and market tolerance, is similar for all (minus the individual brand recognition and speculation factor). But for sauvignon blanc, the price range is amazingly consistent, and narrow, from region to region, more so than for any other variety. It’s as though the producers get together to set a standard price for all. Even pinot grigio comes in greater price variation, based to some degree on quality. Why is that? Is it because sauvignon blanc is more a commodity than it is wine? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

In any case, as a buyer, it’s frustrating knowing that a wine fetches a price based on birthright, not merit. But then again, as a smart buyer, I know that when looking for a typical sauvignon blanc experience, I needn’t overpay, either, just for the smart neighbourhood (unless I’m drinking the label). I can get a similar experience in an underprivileged neighbourhood for far less. It’s something to be aware of.

Below is a quartet of sauvignons that can be considered the nicest houses on their respective blocks. You only need choose what neighbourhood you want to live in.

Buyers’ Guide: Sauvignon Blanc

Roger & Didier Raimbault 2014 Sancerre AC, Loire Valley, France ($26.95) A Sancerre archetype: more stony than fruity, more citrus than tropical, more herbal than vegetal. The length, too, is excellent. Textbook. Best 2016-2024.

Domaine de la Commanderie 2014 Quincy AC, Loire Valley, France ($19.95) The so-called Sancerre satellite appellations (i.e. Reuilly, Quincy, Menetou Salon) are usually about 20 percent cheaper than Sancerre, but can offer a similar, lean and brisk profile in the classic Loire style. This is a fine example, a nicely tart, lemony and lightly stony sauvignon, brimming with green herbs and citrus. It’s perfectly satisfying; a classic oyster wine.

Roger & Didier Raimbault Sancerre 2014 Domaine De La Commanderie Quincy 2014 Boya Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Boya 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley, Chile ($15.95) Chile just may offer the best value sauvignon on the planet, especially if you prefer the pungent and smoky, vegetal/green pepper/pyrazine-driven style. Cool coastal regions like the Leyda do it best, and the Garcés Silva family (of Amayna) do it as well as anyone. Boya is the fine ‘entry range’, and this youthful 2015 offers great acids and a nicely acidulated, citrus fruit finish. There’s a lot of energy and life in this bottle for the price.

Sutherland 2014 Sauvignon Blanc WO Elgin, South Africa ($14.95) South Africa also vies for a spot at the top of the southern hemisphere sauvignon heap of value, again drawing from cooler areas, like southerly Elgin, to produce pungent gently smoky and green pepper-inflected wines. Sutherland is well-established Thelema Mountain Vineyards’ newish project in Elgin, and this 2014 is a compelling, if slightly unusual sauvignon. Fruit shifts into the orchard spectrum, like nectarine and green peach, while the palate is quite broad and deeply flavoured, with earthy-medicinal character alongside the ripe-tart fruit and smoky-leesy character. It’s a wine of strong personality. 

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


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All July 9th Reviews

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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If I could buy only one – July 9th, 2016 Release

As part of our VINTAGES recap, we asked our critics this question:

If you could buy only one wine from this release – which one would it be and why?

Here’s what they had to say. You can find their complete reviews, scores and store inventory by clicking the highlighted wine name or bottle image below.


John Szabo – At this time of year I find myself searching the cellar for light summer reds, the kind you can chill and sip alongside just about everything, both refreshing and satisfying. These wines disappear more quickly than any others, and I’m always short. So this release I’ll be buying a few bottles of the Hubert Brochard 2014 Les Carisannes Pinot Noir, a wine that fits the bill perfectly. From a small, 5-hectares family estate just outside the Sancerre appellation yet still on prized-flinty-limestone soils, it’s an absolutely delicious, highly drinkable Loire pinot, with lovely, light, high-toned aromatics, all fresh-tart red berries, strawberry-raspberry, and some attractive leafy flavours. Don’t forget to serve lightly chilled.

Hubert Brochard Les Carisannes Pinot Noir 2014


Michael Godel – In a word, Riesling. Charles Baker is one of the torch bearing varietal leaders in Ontario and it is his Ivan Vineyard 2015 that you can approach with regularity beginning this summer. From rich limestone and sandstone beneath clay, the 1.1 acre (also known as) Misek vineyard sits on a southerly ledge up from Highway 8 and an easterly hill down from Cherry Avenue. In 2015 Ivan delivers the labour of ripe, concentrated fruit, by lower yield, alcohol and spine. I can think of 100 reasons to drink this repeatedly now and over the next three years while the more structured Ivans (and Picone Vineyard) ’13 and ’14’s continue to mature. Three good reasons would be breakfast, lunch and dinner, from scones, through croques and into fresh, piquant and herbed shrimp rolls.

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2015


Sara d’Amato – If you’re unfamiliar with müller-thurgau, start with one of the best from a historic property that specializes in this varietal grown on precipitous, high-elevation slopes. In the Abbazia di Novella 2014 Müller-Thurgau the grape achieves a unique expression in this terroir whereas elsewhere in the world it can be quite bland. The fruit in this example is lush and aromatic and the palate is crunchy with sea salt and lemon giving the palate pep and refreshment. This may just be the perfect summer sipper and at under $20 I’m stocking up!

Abbazia di Novacella Müller Thurgau 2014


From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s I4C Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES
All July 9th 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 – July 9th, 2016

Cool French Finds and a Hotbed of Value in Southern Europe
by Sara d’Amato with notes from Michael Godel and John Szabo, MS

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

This week’s VINTAGES release offers a strong selection of Italian whites, coastal South African finds, reasonably priced Californian reds and a serious, albeit small showing from Portugal and Spain. Note that the vast majority of our selections this week are value-focused at under $20.

It is no secret that the best values in Europe are often found in southern regions where the consistently warm climate allows for higher yields at greater levels of ripeness. Conversely, cooler, fringe climates with greater vintage variation can seldom produce inexpensive, consistent wines at low price points. There are other factors however, that significantly affect value and in Europe one of great importance is prestige of region. Certain appellations, take for example Champagne or Bordeaux, have become akin to brands themselves with names that carry weight and cachet that garner elevated prices.

A combination of these factors is at play in many southern European regions throughout Portugal, Spain, Greece and southern Italy. See below for great values discovered in Rioja in this release. Although Rioja is Spain’s iconic, best-known wine region, it does not yet have the status of Burgundy, for example, and thus cannot yet command a similar average price point. This will not be the case forever especially with a savvy new generation of producers focusing on ever more specific regions and sites for the production of indigenous grapes varieties. In addition, John has highlighted below a stunning aglianico from southern Italy’s Basilicata, a known hotbed for value.

Similarly, southern France’s Languedoc and Côtes de Provence afford hot values and there are some notable finds in this release. We also look further north to the Loire Valley, capable of producing some head-turning pinot noir even outside of distinguished appellations. Such a pinot from a unique parcel of land in the IGP Val du Loire has caught our attention this week. A sauvignon blanc discovery in the relatively humble appellation of Touraine is also the source of a top value pick this week. In both cases, their origins, over their quality, dictate their price.

More summer picks are coming to you next week care of John Szabo and David Lawrason. After briefly assembling last week for the National WineAlign awards, the team is off again travelling to unique wine regions across the globe. Both John Szabo and David Lawrason are back in BC, while Michael Godel is entrenched in Chablis. Shortly I will be off to the southern Rhône for an extended stay. Expect new perspectives on emerging and established wine regions to follow.

Stay cool. Santé,

Sara d’Amato

Buyers’ Guide to July 9th release:

You can find complete critic reviews and scores by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images below

Domaine De La Chaise Touraine Sauvignon 2014

Waterkloof Circle Of Life 2012Waterkloof 2012 Circle of Life, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A Stellenbosch super blend of sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and chardonnay that had me at first sniff. Very careful, very slow wild yeast fermentation of grapes that have been farmed using biodynamic practices has resulted in a very natural feeling wine with almost imperceptible oak and glorious fruit expression.
John Szabo – Paul Boutinot, of French extraction but raised in England, set about searching for his ideal terroir. Ten years later, in 1993, he found it in Stellenbosch, on the south-facing slopes of the Schapenberg, overlooking False Bay in the Cape. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve tasted from this beautiful property, including this intensely flavoured, medium-full-bodied blend of sauvignon, chenin, and chardonnay. It delivers significant density and weight, not to mention complexity at the price, with a range of citrus, orchard and tropical fruit. It’s not a summer sipper; there’s too much edginess (light acetic volatility), but that only adds to the character. Reserve for grilled chicken or high intensity fish dishes.

Domaine de la Chaise 2014 Touraine Sauvignon, Loire Valley, France ($14.95)
John Szabo – From the Sologne in the eastern Loire, almost equidistant from Tours and Dijon, this is a terrific bargain for serious sauvignon fans. It’s ripe, composed and complex, blending wet stone with creamy-ripe citrus and orchard fruit, and just a hint of green. Length is very good to excellent in the category.

Abbazia di Novacella 2014 Müller Thurgau, Valle Isarco Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95)
John Szabo – With nearly a thousand years of winemaking history, the Abby of Novacella in the upper Adige Valley consistently produces one of the top müller-thurgau’s in Italy (and therefore the world!). The 2014 is a varietally accurate, floral-fruity example, bursting with fresh apple/cherry blossoms, alongside fleshy white orchard fruit, pears, apples and the like, lingering impressively on the palate. It’s a lovely sipping/summer patio wine, great with, say, shaved fennel and orange salad.
Sara d’Amato – A smart, elegant summer sipper from high altitude sites on the slopes of the southern Alps. Lightly tropical with distinctive floral aromas and mineral character, both food friendly and widely appealing.

Tablas Creek 2013 Côtes de Tablas Blanc, Paso Robles, California, USA $33.95 (36616)
Sara d’Amato – Available in select VINTAGES stores, this In Store Discovery (ISD) is well worth seeking out. This collaborative project between the Perrin Family of the southern Rhône and Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands quickly achieved cult wine status shortly after its inception. The wines are modeled after the blends of Beaucastel and are organically dry-farmed in limestone-based soils very similar to those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The Côtes de Tablas tier falls just below that of the Esprit series and is approachably lush. A blend based on viognier, it is rich and mouthfilling with the wild floral character, peach and honey very typical of this seductive grape varietal.
Michael Godel – Paso Robles esprit of high command designates this ranging Rhone blend into a category singularly held. The white Chateauneuf-du-Pape oeuvre may be the muse but cooler California is the reality and the ideal. Grip, structure and the anti-boozy blend are hallmarks of great Rhone meets Paso Robles whites.

Abbazia Di Novacella Müller Thurgau 2014Tablas Creek Côtes De Tablas Blanc 2013 Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013 Henri Gaillard Rosé 2015

Flat Rock 2013 The Rusty Shed Chardonnay, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Jay Johnston’s handling of the exceptional Twenty Mile Bench fruit in 2013 is a best of effort. He is the benefactor and we will all be benefactors of such a balanced chardonnay. A wine to impress critics and consumers alike. Bravo.

Henri Gaillard 2015 Rosé, Côtes De Provence, France ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – A light and elegant Côtes de Provence with gentle floral aromatics, dry and utterly refreshing. Named after the well-respected negociant Henri Gaillard who was instrumental in the international prominence of the Côtes de Provence appellation.

Cune 2012 Rioja Crianza, Rioja, Spain ($16.95)
John Szabo – Ever-reliable CVNE (Compañia Viñícola del Norte de España) crafts another vibrant, savoury, well-balanced wine here, with exceptional length and depth in the price category. What a delightful wine for the money – all vibrant, tart red berry fruit and spice. Serve lightly chilled. Best 2016-2022.

Olarra Laztana 2010 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – From Bodegas Olarra, the Laztana Reserva exhibits impressive complexity for the price and is produced infrequently in small lots. Showing some graceful maturation in flavour profile although the structure is still solid and the fleshy mouthfeel is highly pleasurable.

Cune Rioja Crianza 2012 Olarra Laztana Reserva 2010 Tessellae Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2014 Señorío De Los Baldíos 2009

Tessellae 2014 Vieilles Vignes Carignan, Côtes Catalanes, France ($17.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a real tour de force for the price, which shows the possible heights of old vines carignan. It offers a lovely meadow of wild mountain herbs and flowers, with smoky-rocky black fruit, generous, dense and full palate, with high but integrated alcohol. At the price, fans of southern Rhône-style wines should leap at this. Best 2016-2024.
Michael Godel – I can’t say this will please every palate but it if you like fresh, affordable and crushable you should raise your hand and be counted. It has patio, dock and lazing in the grass written deeply with intrinsic vernacular. Cheat on your cellar and defend them all right here.

Señorío De Los Baldíos 2009, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A lush and modern tempranillo with bold fruit unencumbered by heavy oak. Wholly satisfying and drinking at peak maturity.

Chapoutier 2014 Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – A re-released favourite, this summery, lighter bodied red with the freshness of grenache and the pep of syrah is offers authentic, regional typicity at a steal of a price.

Hubert Brochard 2014 Les Carisannes Pinot Noir, Val de Loire, France (17.95)
John Szabo – From a small, 5-hectares family estate just outside the Sancerre appellation yet still on prized-flinty-limestone soils, this is an absolutely delicious Loire pinot. It has lovely, light, high-toned aromatics, all fresh-tart red berries, strawberry-raspberry, with some attractive leafy flavours. While concentration is fairly modest, it remains an infinitely drinkable, fresh, wine. If I had a restaurant I’d be pouring this by the glass (and drinking it after my shift). Serve lightly chilled.

M. Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Villages 2014 Hubert Brochard Les Carisannes Pinot Noir 2014 D'angelo Aglianico del Vulture 2012 Cigliano Chianti Classico 2013

D’Angelo 2012 Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata, Italy ($17.95)
John Szabo – Traditionalist D’Angelo delivers a wildly savoury-earthy, pot pourri-inflected aglianico from the slopes of Vulture volcano, full of wild cherry, beef jerky, leather and more. If you’re seeking a fruity wine, this is not it. But fans of rustic, old country wines will revel in this. Best 2016-2022.

Cigliano 2013 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Some slopes is the San Casciano Val di Pesa (like those occupied by Luiano) have the mineral composition to impose upon and gift dramatic foreshadowing to sangiovese. Here for $20 is such a case.

From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s I4C Preview
All July 9th Reviews

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – July 9, 2016

International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration Preview, & Killer, Almost-Chardo Whites
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

It’s July, which means it’s that time again for some of the world’s top chardonnay producers to join their counterparts in Canada for the annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c) in Niagara, July 22-24. Since 2011, over 174 wineries from planet wine have poured their coolest chardonnays in Ontario, and this year, the 6th edition, another 30 visiting vintners will show their wares alongside 30 Ontario oenologues, well over 100 wines altogether, with many extra-curricular options. The program this year is as jam-packed as a winery tasting room on a long summer weekend, full of fun, covertly educational events, including the main event, the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner on Saturday night. See the schedule and get your tickets. I’ll see you there.

The LCBO joins the celebration with an i4c preview for the July 9th VINTAGES release. By design or diplomatic faux pas, the Ontario selections largely outshine the foreign ones, all from the watershed 2013 vintage, arguably the best yet for Ontario chardonnay. Read on for the best of the lot in the release, plus a few others great chardonnays I’ve swallowed lately. And for those of you who love chardonnay, but would enjoy a little dalliance, I’ve got three irresistible whites, which in a dark glass at the end of the night could pass for a delicious chardo, with an exotic twist.

Chardonnay: You Are The One

It’s never the special bottlings or experimental lots that define a wine region, no matter how impressive they are. It’s the baseline and the top end, and everything in between, which proclaim a region’s signature grape status. What’s the most consistent and reliable variety, at all price points, capable of displaying a range of styles yet still regionally recognizable?

By these criteria, Ontario has a clear champion: chardonnay. Riesling, it’s true, performs superbly and dependably well, and easily anchors the best value category. But it hits a glass ceiling of price and, more contentiously, quality. I know of no Ontario riesling that sells over $40, which would be hard to justify in any case in my view, and most are under $20, right where they should be, with notable exceptions.

Chardonnay, on the other hand, while weaker at the bottom end, can nonetheless peak interest under $20, and ramp up all the way to $50-$60+ with plenty of points of interest along the way. And at the ultra-premium end, the top wines handily equal, and often best, similarly priced wines from around the world. It’s rare that a young wine region hit upon a signature variety within the first generation, but with barely forty years of serious commercial winegrowing, Ontario has found a successful vector with chardonnay.

“We focus so much on Chardonnay as we believe it’s the first white grape of Ontario in terms of consistency, quality, and also its expression of terroir”, declares Daniel Speck of Henry of Pelham, one of the original Niagara wineries, echoing the sentiments of many others. You can bet that if I were planting a vineyard in Ontario, there would be a healthy percentage of chardonnay in the mix. As further evidence, last week at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada judging in Penticton, BC, there were no fewer than three flights of chardonnay, the largest group, along with pinot noir, that made it to the final rounds. This clearly shows that the bulk of entries was very strong (including wines from elsewhere in Canada, but many from Ontario) – it was a sheer pleasure to taste through them all. But it was also bloody tough to pick a top wine. (You and I will have to wait a few more weeks to discover the overall top wines.)

NWAC16 Chardonnay_SZ

And The Original

In a move of supreme foresight, or sheer luck, chardonnay was the first vinifera planted in Ontario in the late 1950s by Bill Lenko. The local Horticultural Research Institute had cautioned Lenko that European grapes wouldn’t survive; how fortunate that he defied those warnings. Today, chardonnay is the most important grape by number of varietal bottlings in the province. It’s also the protagonist of Ontario’s biggest and most important event, the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, or colloquially “i4c”. Ontario vintners are proud to put their wares on display alongside chardonnays from all of the world’s coolest regions.

Summer School at i4c

So, if you’re still not convinced spend some time over the i4c weekend getting to know the top drops in your backyard. And for the particularly keen, take some summer school courses. I’m chuffed to be back as moderator for the weekend opening “Summer School of Cool” day of seminars on Friday, July 22nd. This year’s three riveting topics are Harvest Timing and Implications – for me the most important decision a winemaker makes every year, which dramatically impacts what’s in the glass. It’s a move you can never take a mulligan on. As the great Chablis producer Bernard Raveneau once told me, “twenty years ago only the most audacious producers had the courage to wait and harvest late. Now, only the courageous harvest early”. It’s a make or break call.

The second seminar explores the age-worthiness of Cool Climate Chardonnay, and the factors that most directly affect it, an FAQ if I ever heard one (plus we’ll be tasting some tidy old vintages – always a treat). And lastly, we’ll get into a deep topic of increasing relevance and bring it out of the winemaking shadows: Skins & Stems: Whole Cluster Winemaking (or Not): Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I know I know, it sounds geeky. But considering the increasing prominence of whites made with skin contact, it will be stimulating to examine chardonnay under this light. And as a first, red wine – in this case pinot noir – has been allowed into the celebration, opening the door to a discussion on the use of stems during vinification. If you’ve ever wondered why this pinot is more deeply coloured and exuberantly fruity, while that one is pale, floral, spicy and earthy, you may want to check this tasting out.

In the meantime, warm up your chardonnay palate with the following excellent examples.

Buyers’ Guide: Cool Chardonnay

Jay Johnson must have been possessed. Or maybe he reached enlightenment, or solved the mystery of the universe. Whatever happened, it conspired to make the Flat Rock 2013 The Rusty Shed Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($24.95) the best yet from this chardonnay-pinot specialist. It hits pitch perfect balance between fruit and wood, acids and alcohol-richness, while offering a fine array of still youthful citrus and pear/apple/orchard fruit. This is a head-turning wine.

Another ‘best yet’ in 2013 comes from Pearl Morissette and the 2013 Cuvée Dix-Neuvième Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($38.20). It’s the most ‘chardonnay-like’ chardonnay to emerge from the Pearl Morissette cellar to date, fermented in assorted, mostly old oak casks, then left unmolested without racking until bottling save for a partial short passage in Georgian clay qvevri which, according to Morissette, snapped the wine back into shape after a period of ‘laziness’. It really excels on the palate – this is all about the texture, unctuous and luscious – and palpable salinity that acts like the fulcrum in tandem with acids to rein in and balance the billowing, lightly oxidative orchard fruit. You’ll get a good ways through War and Peace before the finish dissipates.

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2013 Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2013 Hidden Bench Chardonnay 2014 Tabali Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2013

The Speck boys found a terrific groove in 2013 as well, offering us the conspicuously excellent Henry of Pelham 2013 Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay, VQA Short Hills Bench ($29.95). It’s delightful to see this top tier wine from Henry of Pelham crafted with such restraint and delicacy – I suppose it’s the confidence that comes with 30 years in the business that you can let your old vines and vineyard speak more loudly than your barrel supplier or winemaking savvy. This is a wine of genuine presence and depth.

Also at the top of their game, Hidden Bench’s 2013 Estate Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara ($28.75), is another Niagara classic with every bit the complexity, flavour, savouriness and seamlessly integrated wood of the best. And this is just the ‘entry level’, a blend of HB’s three estate vineyards designed for earlier enjoyment. But it delivers marvellous density and intensity on a lithe and vibrant frame. And it’s a steal for the price. Buy a few bottles to enjoy while you’re waiting for the trippy 2013 Felseck vineyard chardonnay to be released later this year.

And lest our guests feel slighted, here’s the top value non-Canadian selection from the July 9th release: Tabalí 2013 Reserva Especial Chardonnay, Limarí Valley, Chile ($18.95). The Limarì valley and its high active limestone and cool coastal influence is in my view Chile’s most suitable chardonnay region, at least of those in commercial exploitation. This is a complex, well-balanced wine to be sure, but what excites me most is the palpable saltiness, the crunchy acids, the well-integrated oak (9 months in barrel), and the lingering, lightly creamy finish. A fine value in premium chardonnay, at a sub-premium price.

Buyers’ Guide: Killer, Almost Chardonnay-like Whites

I’ve enthused about Soave’s Pieropan before, so you won’t be surprised to see the Pieropan La Rocca 2013 Soave Classico DOC Soave, Veneto, Italy ($37.95) on this list. It’s one of the great single vineyard wines of Soave, and indeed of Italy, from a limestone-based site that delivers an exceptionally rich and creamy wine here in 2013. The texture is absolutely gorgeous, creamy and layered, ample and mouthfilling, while crackling acids aided by palpable saltiness reel in the richness and retain balance. Best 2016-2025.

Admittedly I find the wines of Paso Roble in California’s Central Coast area often overblown, but one of the mighty exceptions is the great estate of Tablas Creek, a joint venture between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel, and American importer Robert Haas. The 2013 Côtes de Tablas Blanc, Paso Robles, California ($33.95) is a superb white blend of viognier, grenache blanc, marsanne and roussanne, inspired of course by the Rhône, and grown from cuttings brought directly from Beauscatel. The vineyards sit on the west side of Paso on cooler, limestone soils, which, coupled with the old world winemaking philosophy, result in exceptionally well balanced wine, ripe and rich but equally fresh, with neither excess nor deficiency of any elements. The creamy, orange peel-laced finish lingers on and on. Very classy and collected; best 2016-2024.

Pieropan La Rocca Soave Classico 2013 Tablas Creek Côtes De Tablas Blanc 2013 Palacios Remondo Plácet 2012

Palacios and quality are virtual synonyms, so don’t miss the Palacios Remondo 2012 Placet Valtomelloso, DOCa Rioja, Spain ($29.95), a pure viura grown at nearly 600m one of the highest vineyards in Rioja, just hitting perfect drinking stride now. It can be considered a more modern style, which is to say absent the obvious oxidative and coconut/sandalwood flavours of long American oak-aged, traditional examples, but it has an impressive range of flavours of its own. I like the gently creamy but balanced palate and the long finish, all white flowers and soft fruit. Really lovely; best 2016 2022.

That’s all for this week. Happy Canada Day!


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All July 9th Reviews

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Jun 25, 2016

Canada’s Day is coming
by John Szabo, MS with notes from David Lawrason and Michael Godel

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

WineAlign critics and invited judges are currently sifting through over 1500 entries at the annual WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in Penticton, BC, a record number. This will be the most comprehensive look at Canadian wine ever held to date, and I know we are all keen to get the latest reading on our growing industry, and uncover the very best. Stay tuned for complete results in the coming weeks.

We are also aware that Canadian wine is gaining significant traction internationally. Listings are more and more common in top US wine bars, while in the UK, the number of wineries with distribution has grown from two or three a half decade ago to nearly a dozen and a half wineries, and growing. Cracking hyper-competitive markets like London and New York is a massive coup, and confidence builder, to be sure.

But before you say that it’s terribly Canadian for vintners to need outside validation in order to feel secure about the quality of their wines, I can tell you that the sentiment is hardly uniquely Canadian. Everywhere I travel, even in the most well-established, historic wine regions, producers are desperately seeking recognition and validation of their work. It’s inherent in the nature of anyone making a non-essential, luxury, hedonistic good. So, Canadian winemakers, don’t feel insecure about being insecure. You’re not alone. And be proud of the massive strides you’ve taken in a short period of time.

For more news, read Dr. Jamie Goode’s recent WineAlign article on the tasting held at Canada House in London last month, in which Emma Finn of the Canadian High Commission reported that ‘You can tell by the buzz in the air and the record number of guests at this Canada House tasting that it’s an exciting time for Canadian producers.’ Yes it is.

Canada House - photo by Janet Dorosynski

Celebration-worthy Ontario Wines

So, to celebrate Canada’s birthday this year, as well as the terrific rise in quality engineered in a single generation, here are some premium local wines for the occasion.

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine BrutBubbly is a logical point of departure, and while competition has stiffened considerably in the last decade, nobody has been doing it for longer or better than Henry of Pelham, since 1999. The standard Cuvée Catherine is a reference bottling for Ontario sparkling, but step up to the top-of-the-line Carte Blanche Blanc de Blancs, VQA Short Hills Bench ($44.95). Since the introduction of this premium, pure chardonnay cuvée in 2008, it has been in the very top echelon, made from the best 30 year-old estate vineyards in the Short Hills Bench where heavier clay naturally restricts yield and berry size. Part of the finest free-run juice is fermented in old 500l barrels before secondary bottle fermentation and aging about 54 months en tirage. The 2010 vintage finds a very elegant expression, building layers of citrus and green apple fruit, delicate brioche and puff pastry-yeasty notes, on a firm acid frame. Concentration is evident, though this is all about finesse, delicacy and refinement.

Riesling has become a Niagara calling card, and the June 25th release features the excellent Hidden Bench 2014 Estate Riesling, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($23.95). It’s organically-grown and classically styled, which is to say properly balanced by bright, crunchy-fresh acids that cancel out a pinch of residual sugar, resulting in an essentially dry expression. Typical pear and citrus flavours lead, with a backbeat of florality. I’d be sipping this all afternoon.

Chardonnay remains the most bottled single variety white in Ontario (300,000+ cases in 2015) and a Niagara signature (don’t miss the annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration this July in Niagara). So there are plenty of excellent wines to choose from, but year after year I find myself captivated by the Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($35.95, winery). I love tasting the Tawse chardonnay range blind, and I’m comforted to have picked out the Quarry Road again from the line-up of 2012s. It may not be the most immediately appealing; indeed it’s a little more reticent at this stage than the Estate or the Robyn’s Block, and with perhaps less mid-palate flesh, but has the most crackling seam of acids, and the tightest fruit expression (very subtle, light citrus), and the greatest range of non-fruit (read: mineral) flavours that keep me coming back for more. I also love that the price has remained the lowest within the premium range.

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2014Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2012 Pearl Morissette Cuvée Métis 2014 Stratus Red 2012

When it’s time to shift into red, consider the Pearl Morissette 2014 Cuvée Métis Cabernet Franc, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($30.00, winery). Former sommelier-turned-Burgundy-trained-winemaker François Morissette has quietly been crafting some of Niagara’s most intriguing experimental wines, not without controversy, since 2007. But in 2013-2014 he appears to have hit full stride, having made an uncontestably cracking range across the board. This 2014 is a dead ringer for cultish Loire Valley cabernet franc (think Pierre & Catherine Breton), a wine of fully engaging floral perfume, perfectly ripe fruit, and the herbal twang beloved by cab franc drinkers. Enjoy with a slight chill for maximum effect.

Full-bodied red drinkers will revel in the Stratus Red 2012, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($44.00), the premium bottling from one of Niagara’s most experienced winemakers, the indefatigable JL Groux with 35+ vintages under his belt. The 2012 is the best yet from Stratus in my view, an impressive Bordeaux style blend that would be equally at home in Tuscany with its high-toned, floral and dusty-herbal red and black fruit, thanks in part to long hang time, and long ageing in wood to develop complexity. The style is unique, and concentration, length and range of flavour are all excellent, with genuine depth and density on the palate. Decant this before serving.

Buyers’ Guide to June 25 Ontario & VINTAGES Essentials:

Wildass Rosé 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)
Michael Godel – Aromatically off the charts for Niagara Peninsula Rosé, like strawberry mingling with marl. Wildass strikes ruby in 2015.
David Lawrason – I continue to find the Wildass branding rather silly, and beneath the quality of the wine and winery. This is a bright, fresh and gentle rose with complex florality, cinnamon spice and fresh currant/strawberry fruit. Some sense of sweetness, but nicely bright as well. Exotic and perfumed, with very good length.

Thirty Bench 2014 Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Available as a VINTAGES Essentials. This is a riveting riesling! It sports very lifted aromas of petrol, green pear, lime and fine balsam notes. It’s light bodied (10.8% alch), off-dry taut and juicy.  Another riesling that should age very nicely.

Wildass Rosé 2015 Thirty Bench Riesling 2014 Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2014Tawse Sketches Chardonnay 2013

Tawse Quarry Road 2014 Organic Riesling, VQA Vinemount Ridge ($23.95)
David Lawrason – From a cool site up on Vinemount Ridge, this is a slender, juicy riesling with mouth-watering acidity. Classic lime, fresh herbs, pine and green apple on the nose; the latter really following through on the palate. There is wisp of nicely balanced sweetness. A VINTAGES Essentials.

Tawse Sketches of Niagara 2013 Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula, ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Now replacing the 2012 in the VINTAGES Essentials portfolio, the is a fine, well balanced, sipping chardonnay with fresh pear, lemon, vague vanillin and spice from a short time in barrel. Very good value.

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2012, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($31.95)
Michael Godel – Paul Pender has indicated that this may be the last of the Laundry Vineyard mohicans. You could absolutely drink this now and also watch it slowly turn over 10 years time. Might it have been the last?

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2012 Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2013 Norman Hardie Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir 2012

Hidden Bench 2013 Estate Pinot Noir, VQA Beamsville Bench ($29.95)
David Lawrason – I have tasted this VINTAGES Essentials often over the last six months, choosing it to represent Niagara pinot in the Canadian Wine Scholar course being held across Canada.  It’s still two years away from prime, with some tannic grit, but the structure is solid, the cran-cherry fruit and oak are nicely harmonized.

Norman Hardie 2014 Unfiltered Niagara Pinot Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($39.00)
David Lawrason – Although not from PEC where Norm Hardie is located this elegant, tart-edged pinot shows the styling and intensity making his wines famous. It’s sleek, sour, bright with lifted cran-cherry fruit, toast, smoke and some spice. A VINTAGES Essentials.

Szabo’s Smart Buys from elsewhere in the release

Domaine Bott-Geyl 2012 Schoenenbourg Grand Cru Riesling, Alsace, France ($50.95)
John Szabo – This may be more than you’re used to paying for Alsatian riesling, or riesling of any kind, but it is truly an exceptional wine. Bott-Geyl is a young organic/biodynamic producer aiming at the top level in the region, and Schoenenbourg is an exceptional riesling site, a steep south-southeast-facing vineyard on shaley-marl and dolomite soils. This shows maturity, but also amazing perfume and complexity, offering caramelized citrus and candied floral notes, honey spice and ginger. The palate is fullish and fleshy, bone dry, intensely flavoured, with memorable length and depth – a real powerhouse that demands attention and commands respect. Drink or hold another decade.

St. Urbans-Hof 2014 Old Vines Riesling, Mosel, Germany ($21.95)
John Szabo – Germany continues to turn out top value riesling, and this is a terrific old vines Mosel from Nic Weis, perfectly pitched, succulent and juicy, genuinely flavourful in the classic register. St. Urbans-Hof is also coincidentally the origin of much of Ontario’s riesling vine material, brought over to Vineland Estates in the late 1970s. Best 2016-2024.

Domaine Bott Geyl Schoenenbourg Grand Cru Riesling 2012 St. Urbans Hof Old Vines Riesling 2014 Domaine Roux Père & Fils Bourgogne Chardonnay 2014 Parker Coonawarra Estate Chardonnay 2014

Domaine Roux Père & Fils 2014 Bourgogne Chardonnay AC France ($20.95)
John Szabo – The 2014 vintage in Burgundy made for more riveting wines, with less fat than the mean, but all the livelier for it. Roux’s version is nicely stony, minimally oaked, properly tight and chiselled, a classic cool climate chardonnay with an extra measure of depth and complexity all in all, and solid value at that. Best 2016-2020.

Parker Coonawarra Estate 2014 Chardonnay South Australia ($19.95)
John Szabo – John and Faye Parker established Parker Coonawarra Estate in 1985 with an ambitious plan for quality, which has not wavered since. This is a pleasantly lifted and perfumed, fresh and deftly wooded chardonnay from cool Coonawarra, with lovely acids and a fine streak of flinty reduction that runs through the long finish. For the money, this is superb wines – I love the limey flavours and acids with a touch of fresh cream.

Domaine Michel Juillot Mercurey Les Champs Martin 1er Cru 2012

Podere La Cappella Querciolo Chianti Classico Riserva 2011Podere La Cappella Querciolo 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy ($38.95)
John Szabo – Established in 1979 in the southern part of Chianti Classico by Bruno Rossini, though bottling only since 1995, La Capella is now run by daughter Natascia and quality is exceptional. Organically-farmed sangiovese is rendered in a nicely evolved, elegant, old school style, crafted with authenticity and complexity in the crosshairs. It offers lovely length and depth, not on a big frame, but rather a perfectly pitched, mid-weight, elegant frame designed for wine lovers sitting around the table. Drink or hold into the early-mid-’20s.

Domaine Michel Juillot 2012 Mercurey Les Champs Martin 1er Cru AC, Burgundy France ($45.95)
John Szabo – Based in Mercurey, Laurent Juillot is one of the regional leaders in the Côte Châlonnaise (southern Burgundy). The domaine’s parcel of Les Champs Martins was planted in 1973 with high-density, 10,000 vines/hectare, and generally yields wines for medium to long term cellaring. The 2012 is classically styled, fine red fruit and spice-scented, with no evident wood influence save for the gentle oxidation and textural development that develops best in barrel. I like the lightly stemmy-herbal character that lifts and freshens the palate; tannins are medium-fine grained, lightly dusty and grippy but sufficiently coasted by fleshy fruit, and length is excellent. All things considered, this is fine value for fans of traditional red Burgundy. Best 2018-2024.

That’s all for this week. Happy birthday, Canada.


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES June 25, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Sara’s South of France feature
All June 25 Reviews

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Jun 25, 2016

Sara’s Take on Provence and Southern France
by Sara d’Amato with notes from John Szabo, MS

Sara's New Pic Med

Sara d’Amato

It has been a week of Provence for me as Southern French wines rise to popularity here in Ontario due to summer’s fast approach. This is especially apparent in the rosé category where the palest of pink hues line the shelves in the stylish category of Provençal rosés. In anticipation of a lineup of Southern French releases next week and the general excitement in Ontario for these southern belles, representatives from the Vins de Provence were in town as well as legendary oenologist and flying winemaker Philippe Cambie whose work in the Southern Rhône, and now worldwide, has met with great critical acclaim. Thomas Perrin also made a visit to Toronto and afforded me a taste of Perrin’s new lineup of pink.

Although the Provence Wine Council or CIVP represents a large swath of Provence with 582 producers from three major appellations including Côtes de Provence, Côteaux d’Aix-en-Provence and Côteaux Varois en Provence, the region of Provence is far more expansive encompassing much of the Southern Rhône including that most famous region of rosé, Tavel, as well as the Camargue and Costières de Nîmes. More than that, Provence can be felt and smelled, it is a visceral experience that travelers to the region won’t soon forget. Provence is where the aromas of lavender, rosemary, juniper, thyme, dusty earth and salty air are ever-present — this is “garrigue”.

Some of the best value and most consistent rosés to hit the LCBO fall under the envelope of the Famille Perrin. The 2015 Miraval Rosé (22.95), which will be released in VINTAGES July 9th, is a consumer favourite and for good reason. This collaboration between the Perrins and celebs Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt is delicately perfumed and coloured with an elegant vein of acidity. The grapes of Chateau Miraval are planted on the valley slopes at 350 meters of altitude and benefit from a great shift in temperature from day to night thus preserving all of those delicate flavours. Not new to star-powered culture, Chateau Miraval used to house a recording studio popular with bands such as Pink Floyd, Sting, ACDC and The Cure). Yet still no Pink Floyd rosé! From a more humble price point, the Vielle Ferme 2015 Rosé Ventoux ($10.95) is a terrific value and is in abundant supply on the general list side of the LCBO.

Thomas Perrin breathing in the aromas of Provence

Thomas Perrin breathing in the aromas of Provence

Philippe Cambie is a formidable figure with a prodigious winemaking experience and influence both in the Southern Rhône and the Languedoc, most notably in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and surrounding appellations. A former rugby player, Cambie is known for his gutsy wines, his belief in teamwork and the idea that people are the most important component of terroir. A recent project is in collaboration with Michel Gassier of Costières de Nîmes producing a line-up of grenache-based blends from various southern appellations called “Les Halos de Jupiter”. The reference to Jupiter, the god of gods, is likened to grenache – the leader of the southern grape varieties. The “halos” are the unique expression of grenache in various appellations. The Halos series Côtes du Rhone and Costieres de Nîmes have been available in Ontario through VINTAGES since the inaugural 2009 vintage. The Vacqueyras, Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape expressions of Halos are available through private order, in small quantities but are worth seeking out.

John and I share our top French picks below. Next week John will be back to lead a Canada Day tribute, along with picks from David and Michael to help ring in our nation’s birthday in high style.

Buyers’ Guide to June 25th: Southern France

Claude Vialade Le Carla Special Reserve Colombard Sauvignon 2014

Domaine De La Baume Elisabeth Viognier 2014

Gérard Bertrand Gris Blanc Rosé 2015Gérard Bertrand 2015 Gris Blanc Rosé, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – As pale as pink can be, this stylish rosé is an ethereal blend of grenache gris and grenache noir. Light, elegant, delicately perfumed and a perfect match for summer. (Also available is party size 1500 mL)

Domaine de la Baume 2014 Elisabeth Viognier, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – A generous, fresh and surprisingly complex viognier for the price from Domaine de la Baume’s varietal series of wine.  Notes of white tea, dried lemon, lavender, honey, sweet pea and sage with some added viscosity due to several months ageing on its lees.

Claude Vialade 2014 Le Carla Special Reserve Colombard Sauvignon Blanc, IGP Côtes de Gascogne Blanc France ($15.95)
John Szabo – Among the Midi whites in the release, this snappy colombard-sauvignon blanc is the most appealing, a fresh, crisp, crunchy, green fruit-scented white, simple but enjoyable. Serve well chilled.

Domaine Des Terrisses 2012 Grande Tradition, Gaillac, France ($17.95)
John Szabo – This was one of the great discoveries of the release. Duras and braucol may not be household names, but they’re authentic southwestern French grapes to which syrah is added to create this nicely balanced, firm and authentic country red made by 7th generation winemakers. Acids and tannins find harmony, and everything is nicely pitched. All in all, it’s a really fine, complex and lengthy red wine punching far above its price category, for fans of old world balance and firmness. Also ageworthy.
Sara d’Amato – The southwestern AOC of Gaillac is located just north of Toulouse, bridging a gap between the Languedoc and southern Bordeaux and offers grapes common to both of these appellations. This particular blend is made from syrah, duras and braucol (fer servadou) with a great deal of character such as smoky, dusty herbs and sundried tomato alongside the ripe fruit on the palate.

Domaine Les Yeuses 2013 Les Épices Syrah, Pays d’Oc France ($15.95)
John Szabo – I don’t think this wine has ever not made my best buys list – it has always been, and remains, one of the best values in French syrah that has come through the LCBO. It has all of the radical cold cream and black pepper that one hopes for from old world style syrah, with fine density and weight, balanced acids, and lots of red and black berry fruit. Length is impressive, too. To buy by the case for summer BBQs.

Domaine Des Terrisses Grande Tradition Gaillac 2012Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2013 Mas Des Bressades Les Vignes De Mon Père Cabernet Syrah 2013 Cuvée Du Vatican Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012

Mas des Bressades 2013 Les Vignes de Mon Père Cabernet Syrah, Vin de Pays du Gard, France ($21.95)
John Szabo – For a more modern take on southern French red, here’s an impressive Provence-inspired Cabernet-Syrah blend, deeply coloured, deeply fruity, dark and satisfying. Tannins are ripe and firm, and length is excellent. Best 2016-2023.

Cuvée du Vatican 2012 Manus Dei Châteauneuf du Pape, Rhône, France ($38.95)
Sara d’Amato – The Manus Dei is the second label of Cuvée du Vatican now called Chateau Sixtine and is a blend of 60% grenache, 25% syrah and 15% mourvèdre. A refined expression of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with great ageing potential at a steal of a price.


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES June 25, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
All June 25 Reviews

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

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Jun 11, 2016

Zinfandel, Straight Up Please
by David Lawrason with notes from Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

California’s “heritage” grape has fallen on ignoble times. Zinfandel, which is featured in the June 11th release, certainly has its proponents; indeed there is an entire fan club in California called ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers), and I am sure there are zin purists on the executive. But zinfandel has become a clown prince, with copywriters and marketers squeezing out every possible pun and alliteration around its name, and winemakers throwing every possible confection into America’s vinous milkshake. The problem is that zin’s natural ripeness, warmth and richness is just so easy to exploit and caricaturize. It has become the Donald Trump of American wines – the coiffed buffoon.

Zinfandel – also known as primitivo in southern Italy – was brought to America during the gold rush era of the 19th Century by Italian emigres. They have left a strong legacy in California winemaking – Gallo, Mondavi, Sebastiani and Trinchero of Sutter Home. (Sutter’s Creek was where gold was first discovered in the Sierrra Nevada in 1849). Many zin vineyards were planted around the state, concentrated in the foothills of Amador County, Paso Robles and Sonoma County. Some of those sites are still producing wonderful wines with uniquely perfumed, pure black fruit and fruit aromas. And many are safely in the hands of earnest wineries like Ridge, Seghesio and Paul Dolan, three of the producers represented on VINTAGES release. Plus Larry Turley, the high priest of California zin.

The Turley Zins

I attended a tasting of Turley zins in Toronto in early May, hosted by importer Rob Groh of The Vine, who was showing the tightly allocated range to downtown somms at Momofuku. The wines were presented by Larry Turley’s daughter Christina, who could single-handedly reverse the fortunes of the grape California like to call its own. She has already made the Forbes magazine’s list of Top 30 Under 30, and with good reason. She is erudite, intelligent and comes across in a very engaging way. She knows every inch of detail about the soils and climates of the single vineyard zins she presented.

Christina Turley

Christina Turley – Turley Wine Cellars


And it was here in the glasses that zinfandel’s pedigree and potential really showed – with its wonderful brambly fruit. I urge you to link to the reviews presented below for the full descriptions. You may be shocked to see some of them at $70 or $80 per bottle, but these are great wines, offering far more quality and value than most California cabs at the same price. Turley zins are available from The Vine Agency through Consignment, but they sell out quickly, so ask about their mailing list.

Turley Zinfandel Juvenile 2014

Turley Zinfandel Kirschenmann Vineyard 2014

Turley Mead Ranch Zinfandel 2014

Turley Rattlesnake Ridge Zinfandel 2014

You may not be able to buy the Turley zins this weekend, but you do have a shot at those we recommend below from the June 11 release. Seghesio leads the pack, from yet another Italian family that has staked its reputation on the heritage grape. Ridge too built its early fortunes largely on isolating old vine zin sites across the state. And Paul Dolan – a pioneer of organic winemaking in Caliornia – has long favoured zinfandel as well, sourcing this wine from sites in Mendocino County.

And then there are several other wines worthy of your attention on this release.

Buyers’ Guide to June 11th: Zinfandels

Seghesio 2014 Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California ($29.95)
David Lawrason – This is a handsome zin, not a word I have ever used before, but it fits. So often zins are outgoing and brash, but this has solid, tucked-in elegance while still being broad shouldered. The fruit is nicely ripened – classic blackberry, plum – with well etched floral notes, and supporting oak vanillin.
Michael Godel – Here is a prime example of taking big bones and aligning them for structure. Maximum ripeness, optimum acidity and fine-grained tannins all on the same page.

Paul Dolan 2013 Zinfandel, Mendocino County, California ($29.95)
David Lawrason – This is an organically grown zinfandel from Paul Dolan, one of the pioneers of “green” winemaking in California back in his Fetzer days. This sports a lovely floral (peony) nose with classic zin brambleberry fruit, a hint of evergreen, fine oak spice and cedar.
Sara d’Amato – In a release feature of bold, high alcohol wines, this zinfandel from Paul Dolan stands out.  Sleek with moderate alcohol, great varietal typicity and authentic fruit flavours. It is hard not appreciate the purity of this unadulterated zinfandel.

Seghesio Zinfandel 2014Paul Dolan Zinfandel 2013 Ridge Lytton Springs 2013

Ridge 2013 Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County ($57.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very elegant, concentrated and refined zin with impressive length and depth. But cooked fruit aromas in two bottles drop my rating.
Michael Godel – From the vineyard planted in 1902, with petite sirah as the number two support to Zinfandel (as opposed to Geyserville). Tremendous balance in a characterful field blend red.
Sara d’Amato – Using sustainable farming and pre-industrial techniques, Ridge relies on expressive vineyard sites to produce impressively concentrated wines with distinct aromatic profiles. This zinfandel, bolstered by petit sirah, is produced from vines planted in 1902 and exudes the befitting sensuality and impact of such a historic vineyard.

Buyers’ Guide to June 11th: Worthy Whites & Reds

Fielding 2014 Estate Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Fielding continues to burn brightly. This is a squeaky clean riesling with a hint of sweetness, then bracing lemon-lime acidity. Crisp, tart-edged and mouth-watering. The 2015 Unoaked Chardonnay is great value too.

Flat Rock 2015 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Nadja’s vineyard contiguously brings great riesling terroir from off of the Twenty Mile Bench. In 2015 this is a great Nadja to be sure but of a deferential sort of character.

Fielding Estate Riesling 2014 Flat Rock Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2015 Whitehaven Pinot Gris 2014 St. Paul's Pinot Grigio 2014

Whitehaven 2014 Pinot Gris, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Pinot Gris is ascending in NZ! This has a lovely, ripe, rich but not overbearing nose of peach, grapefruit, fennel and mint. Very good fruit depth and concentration. Very impressive and great value.

St. Paul’s 2014 Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Exuberantly floral with body from fine lees ageing, this surprisingly complex pinot grigio is worth some serious attention. Compelling and widely appealing, enjoy as an aperitif or with grilled shrimp.

Quails’ Gate 2014 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($27.95)
Sara d’Amato – One of the best incarnations of Quails’ Gate pinot noir to date. Supremely elegant showing purity of fruit and careful winemaking guidance. Not to be missed.

Tabalí 2013 Talinay Pinot Noir, Coastal Limestone Vineyard, Limarí Valley ($27.95)
Michael Godel – Limestone and maritime influences converge in this highly perfumed pinot noir. At $28 it is a terrific, unexpected find.

Quails' Gate Pinot Noir 2014 Tabalí Talinay Pinot Noir 2013 Creekside Estate Laura's Red 2012 Brigaldara Valpolicella 2014

Creekside Estate 2012 Laura’s Red Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)
David Lawrason – The excellent 2012 vintage was kind to Laura’s Red, one of the better value “Bordeaux” blends in the market. It is youthfully purple-ruby in colour and has very good flavour depth, ripeness, intensity and structure. Best 2018 to 2023.

Brigaldara 2014 Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – With finesse and complexity that you rarely find in a Valpolicella level wine, this stunner from Brigaldara will have you captivated. This is a steal at under $16 so don’t miss out before this flies off the shelves.

Château Grand Moulin 2012 Vieilles Vignes, Corbières, France ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This is a quite intense, somewhat taut and brittle, quite savoury red with good acid backbone. A great buy that should hold in the cellar for five years, but you may just want to drink it now to capture its exuberance.

Byron & Harold 2013 Rose & Thorns Shiraz, Great Southern, Western Australia  ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Just as every rose has its thorn, Western Australia has its knight is shining armour in Great Southern. A cool, long drink of shiraz with relative cool climate acidity. Special value here.

Château Grand Moulin Vieilles Vignes 2012 Byron & Harold Rose & Thorns Shiraz 2013 Domaine La Fourmone Le Poète Vacqueyras 2013 Olivier & Lafont Gigondas 2013

Domaine La Fourmone 2013 Le Poète, Vacqueyras, Rhône Valley, France ($29.95)
Michael Godel – Le Poète indeed. Poetic and stunning, fluid, natural and effortless. This is exactly what restrained Rhône and vacuous Vacqueyras need to be.

Olivier & Lafont 2013 Gigondas, Rhone, France ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – The fruit in this wine is so opulent and spicy that it may distract from the absence of oak. This concrete aged Gigondas offers splendid garrigue and southern charm. The Olivier & Lafont range focuses on producing wines of sensual pleasure and this example certainly delivers.

And that’s it for this edition. John and team will back the end of next week to preview the south of France feature on the June 25th release. There will also be a Canada Day feature for the following week, perhaps with some insights from the National Wine Awards of Canada that we all will be judging in Penticton, B.C. from June 22 to 26th. Stay tuned, and drink good wine.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES June 11, 2016

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Spotlight on June 11th Sparkling
All June 11 Reviews

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

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Sara’s VINTAGES Preview – Jun 11, 2016

Beat the heat with Bubbles
by Sara d’Amato

Sara's New Pic Med

Sara d’Amato

No better way to beat the heat than with a crisp, well-chilled glass of bubbly which is why this week’s VINTAGES sparkling wine feature has arrived in the nick of time. Sparkling wine is doubly refreshing due both to the high acid nature of these wines, a result of the underripe character of grapes sourced for sparkling wine, as well as the bright texture of the bubbles themselves. Thankfully this week you don’t have to overreach yourself on expensive Champagne as the offering is quite broad and includes many well priced and top quality sparklers – lucky you!

There are a few categories worthy of your attention that are highlighted in these selections. One that is top of mind for me, that I pay due attention to when travelling the world’s wine regions, is Charmat Method wine. I am always anxious to try these simpler wines of great value as the quality and number of offerings worldwide is on the increase. For you sophisticates who seek out Traditional/Champenoise Method wines, it is worth opening your prospects to these commonly thought of as “lesser wines” that encourage everyday enjoyment of sparkling wine. At accessible price points, these selections are worth your consideration.

Charmat method wines are distinctly different from those produced in the traditional method as these wines attain their bubbles by a second fermentation in a pressurized, sealed tank as opposed to in the bottle itself. The carbon dioxide is trapped and bubbles are formed in the tank as opposed to the bottle. Although there is contact with the lees that adds body, depth and flavour, contact overall is less. This lower cost, large production method can be done in a way that offers broad appeal and sometimes surprising complexity.

A memorable Charmat method wine in this release is the return of Benjamin Bridge’s Nova 7 Sparkling ($24.95) made from a blend of select muscat varieties, low in alcohol and widely appealing. Think of a local version of Moscato d’Asti with a great deal of character. Another fine example is Emiliana Organic Brut Sparkling ($15.95) – an organic wine at an accessible price due to its Charmat Method of production. Despite its non-traditional style, the sparkler exhibits great focus with obvious attention to detail from vine to finish. A terrific value, be sure to stock up for the warm weather ahead.

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 Sparkling 2014Emiliana Organic Brut Sparkling Creekside Backyard Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc 2013Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling 2014

We Canadians love sparkling wine and our local production has been experiencing wide international acclaim. Both Peller of Niagara’s Ice Cuvée and Henry of Pelham’s Cuvée Catharine (regular LCBO listings) were presented at this year’s Prowein, one of the world’s most important international wine shows. As Canada Day festivities approach, you may want to think about serving one of our local specialties. From this release there can be nothing more fitting than Creekside’s Backyard Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc ($24.95) – utterly refreshing and with pronounced sauvignon blanc character.

Another Canadiana option is Tawse 2014 Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling ($19.95). This Sekt-like sparkler offers impressive complexity at a steal of a price. This third vintage of the popular bubbly is now certified both organic and biodynamic and is perhaps the most interesting incarnation yet.

New world Traditional Method wines can offer terrific value and rival good quality entry level Champagne. Two such wines in this release are worthy of serious attention. First is Domaine Chandon’s Blanc de Noirs at $30.95. Not new to California, the renowned Champagne house established roots in Yountville in 1973. With grapes planted in top site in Yountville, Carneros and Mt. Veeder, Chandon has the ability to offer impressive quality sparklers with serious complexity.

Not to be missed is Graham Beck’s 2010 Brut Rosé ($21.95). Graham Beck is a pioneer of sparkling wine in South Africa and we see far too few of Beck’s wines come through VINTAGES. Made in the Cap Classique method (South African for Traditional Method), this sparkler offers a great degree of charm, smoky, earthy goodness and a voluminous palate.

Finally, the Old World is no slouch when it comes to serious sparklers but unfortunately, in this release, the offerings of Champagne are not particularly exciting. Therefore, save your money and look to more modest styles that are sure to surprise and captivate.

Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs Graham Beck Brut Rosé 2010 Bailly Lapierre Brut Crémant de Bourgogne Fantinel’s Extra Dry Prosecco Rotari Brut Rosé

The ever-consistent Bailly-Lapierre Brut Crémant de Bourgogne at $24.95 is a first-rate Blanc de Blancs style Traditional Method cuvée offering comforting brioche character from fine lees ageing. The most Champagne-esque of the release at half the price. Don’t miss out on this consumer favourite that is sure to sell out quickly.

Happily, a go-to refreshing sparkler Prosecco is recommended in this release. Wines from the DOCG region often offer more complexity and better balance than their DOC counterparts. Seeking out these DOCGs is usually an assurance of higher quality Prosecco. A surprising DOC example is Fantinel’s Extra Dry Prosecco at $16.95. A fun trivia fact: the term Classico, used in Italy to communicate that the grapes are sourced from the original delimited area of the appellation, cannot be used on Prosecco labels as it would cause too much confusion with the term “Classical Method” (not typical for Prosecco wines).

The prolific Trentino region, Italy’s most northerly wine region, is home to superior quality sparklers. This mountainous area comprised of high altitude vineyard sites is ideal territory for cool climate growing of high acid fruit. If you are curious to give these mountain wines a try, look for Rotari’s Brut Rosé ($17.95) made from pinot noir and chardonnay. Mid-weight and exuberant, this Traditional Method bubbly is sure to impress.

Sparkling wine from the mountains - Trentodoc

If you need a bit more fizz, check out Michael Godel’s mix below. Then stay tuned next week for David Lawrason’s Buyers Guide to zinfandel and other top picks from the June 11th release, with contributions from Michael and myself. In the meantime, Steve Thurlow recommends best values in the general list section of the LCBO perfect for summer barbecue season.


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES June 11, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Sparkling Mix
All June 11 Reviews

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

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008