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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Feb 6, 2016

In the Name of Love
By Sara d’Amato with wine notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo MS

Sara's New Pic Med

Sara d’Amato

‘Tis the month of love, loving, perhaps love-ins, whatever your brand of romance, we have a wine for you. From the city of love, Verona, to the escapist power of Hungarian Tokaji to the aromas of the wind-blown, sunny slopes of Provence – we have all of your romantic destinations covered. So save yourself the airfare and instead spend your precious Canadian dollars at home savoring faraway lands.

If daydreaming of lands afar doesn’t satisfy your cravings, be sure to take in our homegrown selections from Ontario and BC where plush, enveloping merlot and fleshy gewürztraminer are sure to tempt. More babies are born in the early fall than any other season reports Stats Canada, surely caused by our local selection of fragrant, fireside reds and spine-tingling whites best for blistering nights.

In the words of Latin America’s outspoken writer and activist Eduardo Galeano: “We are all mortal till the first kiss and the second glass of wine.” So transcend this mortal coil by indulging with those that matter most this Valentine’s week. We at WineAlign will be doing the same with our top picks from this most important release.

Buyer’s Guide to February 6th: Sparkling, White & Sweet

Taittinger Brut Champagne 2008

Lallier Grand Cru Rosé ChampagneLallier Grand Cru Rosé Champagne, Champagne, France ($58.95)
David Lawrason – This would be my pick to express the depth of your affection on Valentine’s Day. It is very classy, generous pink bubbly with all kinds of freshness, fine fruit, taut minerality and excellent length. It is sourced largely from estate-grown fruit in Grand Cru sites in the Champagne region. This small house was founded in 1903, but purchased by Francis Tribaut in 1984.

Taittinger 2008 Brut Champagne, Champagne, France ($97.95)
Sara d’Amato – Impressive wine has emerged from the rocky 2008 vintage in Champagne and this elegant, lightly matured example sets a high bar. This elegant and savory sparkler with a touch of creamy lees on the palate and a great deal of freshness would make for a cherished Valentine’s gift.

Domaine de Bellene 2013 Les Charmes Dessus Santenay, Burgundy, France ($35.95)
John Szabo – This is a lovely Santenay blanc from Nicolas Potel’s estate vineyards in the Les Charmes Dessus lieu-dit, crafted in the classic style. It’s flavourful but lean, very gently wood-inflected, spicy, savoury, and with a strong hit of umami, and tight enough to need another year or two in the cellar to fully express itself. Depth and complexity in the Burgundy category are exceptional for the price. Best 2017-2023.

Tinhorn Creek 2014 Gewürztraminer, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – It is tough to produce a gewürztraminer with such fine balance and upbeat manner despite the characteristic fatness of the varietal. Compelling aromas of lime, ginger and tender blossom are followed by a lightly sweet, ethereal palate. Don’t underestimate the seductive power of a voluptuous gewürztraminer.
David Lawrason – The Okanagan Valley is rounding into shape as one of the world’s best gewurz regions – not unlike Alsace in aspect with a northerly latitude to preserve acidity, and vineyards that sit in a rain shadow creating plenty of warmth in the growing season. This National Wine Awards gold medalist is very intense and complex with all kinds of spice, lychee, lavender and spearmint. It’s medium-full bodied, off-dry yet very well balanced with great flavour focus. Chill fairly well.

Tiago Cabaço 2014 Premium White, Vinho Regional Alentejano, Portugal ($14.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a tidy little value from southern Portugal, a fruity-floral, engagingly aromatic white blend free from oak, with light-weight palate and crunchy, saliva-inducing acids. This is all about the citrus and nectarine flavours, fresh sweet herbs and yellow flowers. Nicely crafted.

Domaine de Bellene Les Charmes Dessus Santenay 2013 Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2014 Tiago Cabaço Premium White 2014 Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015 Gróf Degenfeld Tokaji Szamorodni Sweet 2010

Ken Forrester 2015 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is a bargain white – a well balanced, fairly smooth chenin that seems poised to age well. I have had vertical tastings of this wine going back over ten vintages and it becomes very complex. But that’s not to suggest you shouldn’t drink it now. It nicely expresses chenin pear/quince, honey, spicy and waxy aromas and flavours.

Gróf Degenfeld 2010 Tokaji Szamorodni Sweet, Hungary ($18.95)
John Szabo – A sweet but balanced and lively, unusually fresh szamorodni (most are purposely heavily oxidative in style), that would make a great restaurant by-the-glass pour (bottles last several weeks after opening). I enjoyed the pleasant quince, dried apple and pear fruit flavours, and the lingering finish, a fine value all in all. Best 2016-2022.

Buyer’s Guide to February 6th: Reds

Grandes Serres 2012 Rocca Luna, Beaumes de Venise, Rhône, France ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – One whiff of this utterly enchanting Beaumes de Venise from Grandes Serres will transport you to the fragrant, arid, sunny and rocky landscape of the southern Rhône.  Although the appellation of Beaumes de Venise is better known for its sweet muscat, it also produces some top notch reds of good value such as this typical blend of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre.

Monte del Frá Lena di Mezzo 2013 Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($19.95)
John Szabo – I find the entire ripasso category challenging, highly varied in style and quality, but Monte del Frà finds the right approach in my view, in this case a balanced and well crafted expression, without excesses of raisined or volatile fruit character, or obtrusive wood, and genuinely dry. It’s an attractively crisp and crunchy red, just with a little more bottom and back end than the (also very good) straight up Valpolicella from the same producer in this release. Best 2016-2023.

Grandes Serres Rocca Luna Beaumes De Venise 2012 Monte del Frá Lena di Mezzo Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2013 Cenyth Red Blend 2010 Boutari Naoussa Xinomavro 2013

Cenyth 2010 Red Blend, Sonoma County, California, USA ($68.95)
Sara d’Amato – Of the Jackson Family of Wines portfolio, Cenyth is the first commercial winemaking project of Hélène Seillan, the daughter of revered Bordelaise winemaker Pierre Seillan. Having studied in France and raised in Bordeaux and Sonoma, her wine feels both traditional and edgy.  There is serious structure here, depth and an abundance of flavours yet to be unveiled. A collector’s find.

Boutari Naoussa 2013 Xinomavro, Naoussa, Greece ($13.95)
John Szabo – Still performing at the top end of the value ladder, I think I’ve recommended virtually every vintage of this reliable bottling from Boutari since I’ve been reporting on wine. The 2013 is another classic, full of dusty, savoury, herbal character, firm but not unyielding texture, and long, dried strawberry-tinged finish. This vintage is reminiscent of good Chianti Classic, for example, and hard to top for value in a flamboyantly old world style red. Best 2016-2023.

Viña Chocalán 2014 Reserva Syrah, Maipo Valley, Chile ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is the bargain New World red of the release pours very deep black purple syrah colour. Expect lifted, surprising complex syrah pepper, boysenberry, licorice, plus thyme and coffee grounds. It’s full bodied, dense, edgy and concentrated.

Viña Chocalán Reserva Syrah 2014 Quadrus Red 2010 Creekside Merlot 2013 Paul Hobbs Crossbarn Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Quadrus 2010 Red, Douro Valley, Portugal ($21.95)
David Lawrason – So many Douro reds show great value in their classic Euro way. This has a nicely lifted, intense nose of pomegranate-blueberry fruit with peppery, spicy and stony complexity. It’s medium-full bodied with classic Douro tension and granitic minerality. Excellent length. Just starting to mature – should live easily beyond 2020.

Creekside 2013 Merlot, VQA Four Mile Creek, Ontario, Canada ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – The 2013 vintage in Niagara saw growers scrambling to keep up with wild weather patterns and is generally considered a better year for cooler climate varietals such as riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir. However, winemaker Rob Power shows his experience by assembling a perfectly ripe merlot with great finesse.

Paul Hobbs 2012 Crossbarn Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California  ($49.95)
David Lawrason – This collectible/cellarable cabernet has more complexity and precision than I expected – in fact it has excellent structure within the New World genre, and it should age very well. Expect a lifted, quite fragrant floral nose with finely tuned cassis, mocha, meaty notes and a touch of mint. Within the rarefied air of premium California cabernets this one stands out for value.

For those looking to treat themselves to additional selections from the February 6th release, see Michael Godel’s recent piece regarding the changing face of South African wine where you’ll find an abundance of hedonistic options.

Santé,

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES February 6, 2016

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

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


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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Feb 6, 2016

To Taste or Not To Taste; Beautiful Southern France
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Controversy is currently swirling around Ontario’s own appellation system, regulated by the Vintners Quality Alliance, or the VQA to you and me. A growing number within the industry believe that it’s time to do away with, or at least modify, the sensory – i.e. tasting – evaluation, which all VQA-aspiring wines must pass to earn the VQA designation. Does the VQA’s current definition of “free of faults and defects”, and “character and typicity of the stated wine category or grape variety”, match the reality of the ever-evolving wine world? Is the acceptable style range too narrow, stifling innovation, creativity, and, paradoxically, suppressing the potential quality of locally grown wines? I share some thoughts on the matter, and would love to hear yours.

If you’re more interested in the excellent and surprising wines from Southern France featured in the February 6th VINTAGES release, skip directly to the top smart buys. Next week, the Buyers’ Guide will highlight all of the WineAlign crü’s top picks from February 6th, while Michael Godel will publish a lyrical piece on developments in South Africa (the mini-theme from the release), along with currently available smart buys from this excellent source of value wines.

Op Ed: To Taste, or Not to Taste?

Last month I sat down with Vintners Quality Alliance executive director Laurie MacDonald, winemakers Norman Hardie and Jonas Newman, and wine industry veterans Will Predhomme and Peter Boyd, to discuss the state of the Ontario wine industry, and specifically the role of the Vintners Quality Alliance tasting panel. The VQA is Ontario’s appellation authority, which guarantees provenance, and regulates production, authorized grapes, and labeling. Additionally, all wines hoping for the VQA seal are put through a rigorous blind tasting to evaluate quality and varietal character before earning a pass.

Hardie had called the meeting to raise some concerns about the future of the industry, leveraging recent comments by respected British critic Jancis Robinson, who wrote after a tasting last May in London that, although there were some notable highlights, “several Chardonnays had that slightly formulaic pineapple-chunk quality that I more readily associate with the 1980s and early 1990s than with this century…”

Although Hardie agrees that the tasting panel has played an important role in raising the overall quality of Ontario wines during the past quarter century, protecting their fragile reputation in the beginning, he, along with a growing number of winemakers, contend that the tasting panel is forcing uniformity and standardization on Ontario wines, but not in the positive sense, and preventing innovation and evolution. Although the lows are screened out, so are the highs, which lie outside of the mainstream, a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Hardie’s own 2008 County Chardonnay failed the VQA tasting panel after multiple submissions for a technical fault – excessive sulphides (aka reduction, or flintiness) – despite strong demand from Ontario restaurants, and critical claim at home and abroad. (It was eventually narrowly passed by an appeals panel). Other high-profile failures in the past include Pearl-Morissette’s ‘Black Ball’ Riesling, deemed atypical and oxidized, though it, too, has garnered somewhat of a cultish following in Toronto sommelier circles.

The Benefits of VQA Designation

VQA Logo Leaf B_G BorderNone of this would matter much if obtaining VQA designation weren’t so critical to the financial success of a business. Wines without VQA status (but still 100% grown and produced in Ontario) are forcibly sold at far slimmer margins, under government laws, while VQA-approved wines enjoy significantly enhanced profit margins.

For example, according to a pricing calculator provided by Duncan Gibson, Director of Finance for the Wine Council of Ontario, from a $19.95 bottle of VQA wine sold directly to a restaurant, the winery retains $14.38. The same bottle of wine without VQA designation, sold to the same restaurant at the same price, earns the winery just $9.64, a 33% reduction in profits. Furthermore, non-VQA wines are effectively excluded from the LCBO’s retail distribution network, which leaves only cellar door or licensee-direct sales opportunities. The difference, especially for small wineries, is quite literally the life or death of the business.

As Norm Hardie puts it: “The economic pressure to pass [the VQA tasting panel] is enormous. Winemakers are encouraged to aim inside the box and not to shoot for potential greatness outside of the box, for fear of failure. Without the VQA sticker it is practically impossible for a winery to stay to economically viable.”

Eliminate the margin double standard and the problem is resolved – the panel could carry on maintaining the same standards for VQA wines, while other wineries would be free to pursue their own quality vision for Ontario wines without risking profitability, under some generic appellation designation. The aim of the financial incentive was, logically, to support the nascent Ontario industry, and encourage production of wines that met with VQA approval. But now, it has become a hindrance to further development. As I understand from MacDonald, however, quashing it would require a major government mobilization and take years to push through.

The Panel Process

The VQA hires the LCBO to facilitate the tasting panel process: trained LCBO product consultants taste groups of submitted wines blind at the LCBO laboratory, applying a set of rigid quality standards, established by the VQA. Arbitrary standards are set for acceptable levels, of, for example, volatile acidity, oxidation, sulphides, lack of fruit, and unclean aromas and flavours. And it’s a very tightly run ship. Guidelines, and the results and approval rates, are consistent. That’s not the issue. The real issue is the guidelines themselves.

So the question remains: is the VQA tasting panel’s definition of wine too restrictive? Does upholding minimum quality and style standards come at the expense of stifling experimentation and industry development?

Many, including winemakers and wine buyers, feel that rather than ensure quality, the restrictive mandate of the panel instead now shackles the industry within a very narrow band of acceptable wine styles. Is it time then to eliminate the panel, or at least broaden its definition of acceptable, and allow companies the scope and latitude to follow their own vision of quality?

Such a move would simply recognize the reality that the world wine industry has changed radically in the last decade, and that the thresholds of acceptance of certain aspects of wine, such as volatile acidity, turbidity, oxidation, and brettanomyces, to name just a few, are in constant flux, and change from region to region, country to country, sommelier to sommelier, wine writer to wine writer.

Never has this been more clear than in the last half-dozen years, which have witnessed the rise of ‘counter-culture’ or ‘natural’ wines. A growing cadre of winemakers around the world have begun to reject the limiting definition of ‘quality wine’ that was spawned by numerous wine making schools around the world, obsessed with uniform, standard, technical perfection. They’ve embarked on new trails of experimentation, which in many instances have been the re-discovery of old, pre-industrial trails. And sommeliers, critics and consumers are demanding such wines, viewed as unique and artisanal, reflective of their origins, not a recipe. Who’s to say what’s truly good or bad, authentic or contrived? Everyone has an opinion, but no one has an answer. That’s because there is no single answer.

Skin macerated white wines are a good case in point. Although “orange” wines have become exceedingly popular in bellwether markets like London, New York, Tokyo and San Francisco, such wines currently fall outside of VQA tasting norms and would not be approved. A dossier is currently being drawn up to define skin-macerated white wines in VQA-acceptable terms – I was part of a recent tasting with Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble and a large gathering of professionals to attempt to assess just what the taste/style parameters should be for skin contact whites. But the discussion struck me as doomed from the beginning. Any effort to define necessarily excludes, and I wouldn’t want to be shouldered with the responsibility of defining an entire wine category. Yet that is exactly what the VQA, and the tasting panel it oversees, is expected to do: grapple with the slippery notion of typicity, and box in the notoriously flexible edges of faults and defects.

Ontario would not be alone in implementing change. Australia has eliminated the tasting panel requirement for export approval, faced with the embarrassing reality that certain wines, for which importers were clamoring around the world, had been denied an export certificate based on an arbitrary definition of what’s good. South Africa, too, has overhauled its tastings, adding categories that wholly embrace natural wines. Other countries like the United States never established tasting panels in the first place, opting instead to control origin and labeling only, and let the market decide what is good, as should be the case in any free market economy.

(It’s worth noting, as a side bar, that there is a growing number of imported wines that fail the LCBO or SAQ laboratory tests due to high levels of Volatile Acidity, for example, as determined by arbitrary limits. With enough insistence, however, agents have been able to secure the release of these wines, pre-sold in many cases to an eagerly awaiting market, with the caveat that returns will not be accepted. The point is that there is a market for ‘alternative’ wines. Ontario wineries have no recourse for such a release, if they want the VQA seal of approval and financial benefits.)

The role of the VQA should be first and foremost, like all appellation bodies, to regulate origin and to ensure that wines are safe for public consumption – a mandatory chemical analysis is already provided by the excellent LCBO laboratory for all wines sold in Ontario. Beyond that, in a young region, growing dozens of permitted grape varieties, and with no traditional, established winemaking techniques, how is it possible to determine varietal typicity and intrinsic quality?

Even in Europe, with its long-established history of wine production and traditional wine styles, the regional appellation model is cracking at the seams – many of the rules that were put in place originally often enshrined substandard practices, and top producers are struggling to get out.

It’s true that abolishing the tasting panel would open the door for ‘poor quality’ wines to reach the market under the VQA seal. But the reality is that this is already happening. The rejection rate is extremely low – (on average around 3% of submissions, according to the VQA; the panelists are aware of the economic impact of a rejection). The question is, how many more great wines would be made, how many more ground-breaking wines, how many more successful experimental wines would emerge if winemakers weren’t burdened with the knowledge that a wine must fit into a tidy little box in order to gain VQA approval. I think the risks are worth it. As Hardie states: “An ocean of one-dimensional wines is more damaging than one filled with exciting wines of character, mixed with a few oddball wines on the sidelines.”

And in the end, determining good from bad should be entirely up to you, the consumer. I’d love to hear your comments on the matter – please drop us a line in the comments section below.

Smart Buys from Southern France 

VINTAGES surprises with the February 6th feature on southern France, listing a range of decidedly edgy, out of the box, and notably premium-priced selections. This is anything but a ‘safe’ selection of predictable but dull, widely appealing, commercial wines. Rather, the lineup includes a number of bold and intense, characterful wines, the kind that may polarize the room, but at least force you to take notice. It was refreshing to taste through the releases.

My top value for money is the Cave de Roquebrun 2013 La Grange Des Combes, Saint-Chinian-Roquebrun ($18.95). What a distinctive blend of 50% syrah, with grenache and mourvèdre! It’s rare to find sub-$20 wines with this much character, class and complexity, balance and concentration, grown on the poor schist soils of Roquebrun in northern St. Chinian (Langedoc). This is all cold cream, black pepper, smoke and tar, dried garrigue and much more, over dense dark fruit, aged in stainless steel. Chapeau bas, I’d say, best 2016-2025.

Cave De Roquebrun La Grange Des Combes 2013 Château Pech Redon L'épervier La Clape 2012 Domaine Houchart 2013

Slightly more edgy and bold is the Château Pech-Redon 2012 L’épervier La Clape, Coteaux du Languedoc ($24.95), a stylish, modern, very ripe and wood-inflected red blend (syrah, grenache, mourvèdre and carignan), flirting with volatility (acetic and acetone), and with dense and firm tannic structure. This has impressive depth of flavour and complexity, not to mention length. Palate-warming alcohol (14.5% declared) drives the finish home on wintry nights. Best 2016-2022.

Although Provençal wine production, and exports, are overwhelmingly pink, the region is home to supremely savoury red wines, like the fine value Domaine Houchart 2013 Red, Côtes de Provence ($16.95). This is a typical blend of grenache, cabernet sauvignon, carignan and syrah from near Aix-en-Provence, but somewhere between Bordeaux and the southern Rhône in style. Garrigue and fresh black fruit flavours mingle comfortably, offering above-average complexity, and lively, food-friendly acids. I’d serve this with a chill alongside pâtés, charcuterie and tomato-based sauces. Best 2016-2021.

But if rosé it must be (and it should be enjoyed outside the summer months), pick up former rugby star Gérard Bertand’s 2014 Côte des Roses Rosé, Languedoc ($18.95). It’s a lovely, classic southern French rosé blend of grenache, cinsault and syrah crafted in the Provençal style, which is to say, pale, delicate, fruity and bone dry, a sheer pleasure to sip and showing beautifully right now. The stylish package will make an impression on Valentine’s Day, too.

Gérard Bertrand Côte Des Roses Rosé 2014 Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012 Beauvignac Picpoul de Pinet 2014

Although not technically part of the thematic but grown in southern France just the same, the top red in the genre is hands-down the exceptional Château La Nerthe 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($49.95). 2012 provided for a rich and heady, ripe but balanced vintage, made from nearly equal parts Grenache and Syrah, with 14% Mourvèdre and 5% Cinsault, aged two-thirds in barrel and one-third in foudre. It hits a pitch-perfect marriage of fruit, earth, and spice, as well as acid, tannin and alcohol, meaning that this should age exceedingly well, even if it’s already a joy to drink right now. Consider this an archetype from the modern end of the spectrum, best 2018-2028.

And finally, if you want to run the southern French theme all evening, start off with the fresh and engaging Beauvignac 2014 Picpoul de Pinet AP ($14.95). Picpoul from around the seaside town Pinet is considered the Muscadet of the Languedoc, and this is indeed a fruity and crunchy, aperitif-style white, or perfect accompaniment with the fish/seafood course.

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

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES February 6, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys: Southern France
All February 6th 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 – Jan 23, 2016

From Macedonia to the Snake River in Idaho
By John Szabo MS with wine notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Last week I covered the two main features of the January 23rd release, Portugal and South America, with some thoughts on where you’ll likely find the best wine values in 2016. This week, the whole WineAlign crü weighs in with their top smart buys from all regions, covering a wide swath of the world from Macedonia to the Snake River in Idaho, with a little California sunshine thrown in for good measure.

Buyer’s Guide to January 23rd Whites: 

Porcupine Ridge 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa ($13.95)
John Szabo – A subtle and smoky, fairly rich and concentrated sauvignon blanc, especially in this price category. This has ample complexity and depth to satisfy, not to mention fine length.

Domaine de la Janasse 2014 Côtes du Rhône Blanc, Rhône, France ($21.95)
John Szabo – Every time I taste great Rhône whites like this, I wonder why I don’t drink them more often, especially in these cooler months. This is a really lovely, rich, salty, fruity, and complex white, balanced and flavourful, with genuine flavour concentration. I love the white flowers, marzipan and cherry blossom flavours added to the symphony of white fleshed orchard fruit. Best 2016-2022.
Sara d’Amato – A brother and sister duo leads the winemaking team at the innovative Domaine of La Janasse in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Proficient winemakers are exactly what were required in the cool and rainy year of 2014 to manage and compensate for this unusual vintage. This refreshingly zesty blend dominated by grenache blanc is packed with peachy, citrus flavour and a mouthfilling texture. Highly memorable.

Marchand-Tawse 2011 Saint Romain, Burgundy, France ($31.95)
John Szabo – This is fine, old school white Burgundy with great complexity and plenty of chalky texture and flavour from Pascal Marchand and partner Moray Tawse (owner of Tawse and Redstone wineries in Niagara). It’s bright and sharp, still lightly reductive, flinty, with inviting lemon custard and green nut flavours. Drink or hold this into the twenties without concern – the acids will hold this together for some time yet. Best 2016-2021.
Sara d’Amato – A Burgundian-Canadian collaborative negociant project that has proved immensely successful, consistently delivering top examples of a range of appellations throughout Burgundy. Saint-Romain’s characteristic notes of white flower, dried herbs and mineral are nicely expressed on the palate of this fresh and focused chardonnay.

Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Domaine de La Janasse Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2014 Marchand Tawse Saint Romain 2011 Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2014Domaine Chevallier Chablis 2014Martin Ray Chardonnay 2013

Blue Mountain 2014 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, BC  ($24.95)
David Lawrason – The Mavety family purchased their stunning property in 1971 and have created Canada’s finest 100% estate winery, farmed organically from the beginning. The result – up and down their portfolio – are wines of real structure and depth. This subtle barely oaked chardonnay shows a lovely, generous aromas of ripe apple nicely framed by vanillin, subtle herbs/fennel and spice. It’s medium-full bodied, fairly intense with great grip. I would age it a year or two.

Domaine Chevallier 2014 Chablis, Burgunday, France ($23.95)
Sara d’Amato – A dependable favourite of VINTAGES, this new vintage is a superb value delivering an authentic, traditional  Chablis at an impressive depth. A terrific match for moules marinières.

Martin Ray 2013 Chardonnay Russian River Valley, Sonoma County ($28.95)
David Lawrason – Martin Ray was a pioneer of boutique California winemaking. He was based in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The winery that now bears his name is centred in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. This suave, rich chardonnay has fine bones, showing welcome restraint for California chardonnay with lovely subtle aromas of yellow/Japanese pear, gentle wood spice, dried herbs. Very focused, poised and complete with excellent length.

Russian River Valley Vineyards ©John Szabo, MS

Russian River Valley Vineyards ©John Szabo, MS

Buyer’s Guide to January 23rd Reds: 

Tormaresca 2012 Trentangeli, Castel del Monte, Puglia, Italy ($19.95)
John Szabo – Antinori’s establishment of the 100 hectare Boca di Lupo estate, certified organic and within view of the Vulture volcano next door in Basilicata, was a real shot in the arm for Puglia, historically a bulk wine producing region. Fans of plush and dense reds will love this blend of aglianico with cabernet and syrah, delivering massive fruit extract – the sort of modern style southern Italian red wine that turns heads in North America. Best 2016-2022.

Vincent Girardin 2013 Vieilles Vignes Santenay, Burgundy, France ($37.95)
John Szabo – Genuine values in Burgundy are few and far between, so it’s tempting to snap them up when they appear. Vincent Girardin has been a reliable name in the negociant world of Burgundy for as long as I remember, and this is a particularly compelling red from the southernmost commune in the Côte d’Or, best left for another 2-4 years in the cellar. It’s more structured and vibrant than the mean; I like the juiciness and vibrancy, and the tanginess on offer. Best 2018-2025.

Popov Versnik 2011 Merlot Tikves, Republic of Macedonia ($13.95)
John Szabo – Go on, get out of your comfort zone and try this exceptional fine value from Macedonia. You’ll be surprised, as I was, by the complexity delivered here, as well as firm structure and spicy fruit flavours. This would not be out of place in a tasting of premium Right Bank Bordeaux.

Tormaresca Trentangeli 2012 Vincent Girardin Vieilles Vignes Santenay 2013 Popov Versnik Merlot 2011Château des Demoiselles 2010

Château Des Demoiselles 2010 Castillon – Côtes de Bordeaux, France ($17.95)
David Lawrason – There is a fine little tranche of 2010 Bordeaux on this release, and this is a great value example – a delish yet structured merlot from the region neighbouring St. Emilion up-river.  It nicely combines ripe berry fruit, cream, oak spice and some gentle earthiness. There is some green tannin and heat, and it has very good fruit and depth at the price.

Carpineto 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy  ($29.95)
David Lawrason – From a leading Tuscan family, here’s an estate Chianti Classico from an excellent vintage. It is showing great lift, presence and maturing complexity. The nose is nicely spiked with meaty and herbal bits, but also with classic sangiovese currants, vanillin and smoke. It’s mid-weight, firm and tart edged, and the length is excellent. Still could use a year or two.

Terrazas de los Andes 2013 Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)
David Lawrason – The challenge with inexpensive, young malbec is how to balance such a big-boned, flavourful and often tannic wine – without resorting to sweetness and trickery.  Not sure of the secret here but it is a very complete, natural and detailed malbec with ripe blackberry, subtle herbs, licorice and oak. So well stitched and effortless. One of my favourite Argentine producers year after year.

Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 Terrazas de Los Andes Reserva Malbec 2013 Ste. Chapelle Gem State Red 2012 Mocali Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Ste. Chapelle 2012 Gem State Red, Snake River Valley, Idaho, USA ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Idaho is known as the “Gem State” due to its abundance of natural resources and its substantial rare mineral deposits. Although this is not the first release in VINTAGES of a wine from Idaho, such an offering easily qualifies as a seldom seen, curio selection. The Snake River valley is a shared appellation that also runs into the state of Oregon and produces fresh and elegant reds nicely portrayed in this value-priced example from Ste. Chapelle.

Mocali 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rosso Toscano, Tuscany, Italy ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – In a “Super Tuscan” style, this inexpensive IGT delivers impressive power and structure for the price.  It’s bold and satisfying, and may just cure the chills, though a touch tannic, so be sure to decant and pair with a salty protein.

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

From VINTAGES January 23rd, 2016

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

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


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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Jan 23, 2016

Playing the Currency Markets; Portugal and South America
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Canadian dollar took a beating last year, and continues to languish against most currencies. While this is good news for exporters, it’s nothing but strife for importers, who must continually wrangle with their suppliers and distributors over whose belt gets tightened to maintain steady prices.

In the Ontario wine world, however, there’s no wrangling with the retailer. The LCBO doesn’t cut margins to keep shelf prices of import wines steady. The onus is instead on the supplier, or the supplier’s Ontario agent, to cut profits, or see shelf prices rise. And even a $1 or $2 increase in the most vulnerable sub-$20 category can have a direct and dramatic effect on sales.

Last week, the Canadian dollar reached a 10-year low vis-à-vis the US dollar, dropping nearly 20% over the course of the past year. And the trend is predicted to continue. The full effects of that significant bottoming out have yet to be felt. The LCBO buying cycle is very long, often more than 6 months, so most of what is currently on the shelves was purchased at a more favourable exchange. And large companies can buffer currency fluctuations with foreign exchange reserves – for a while – but not forever. So you can expect to see the prices of all your favourite Californian wines inch inexorably upward in 2016, and real values will be ever more elusive.

The Euro on the other hand, gained a relatively modest 6% against our dollar in 2015, which, to be fair was already very strong in previous years, but is predicted to trend sideways or even lose against the dollar in 2016. The Australian dollar remained steady last year, and the Argentine peso actually dropped 4% against the dollar. The Chilean peso was almost steady, but the sputtering South African Rand has been on a downward spiral for several years, losing around half of its value in the last five years against our loonie.

So, what does this mean? In terms of pure currency exchange, for my money, the bargains to be found in 2016 will come from Europe’s already depressed economies, namely Spain and Portugal, and South America, while Australia will continue to regain the market share it lost in the first decade of the millennium. South Africa has been one of the best bargains of all in recent memory, and will continue to impress at every level.

Now factoring production costs into the equation, my predictions are similar. Wine is cheaper to produce in all of the above-named countries compared to the US or northern Europe. This same group of countries will be the ones to watch when seeking the biggest bang for your buck.

Portugal and South America – Playing the Markets

And as if to drive home the point, by luck or coincidence, or improbable foresight, the January 23rd VINTAGES release features a fine range of values from both Portugal and South America.

Portugal in particular is producing wines of exceptional quality at prices that hardly seem sustainable. For Europhiles looking for their fix of savoury, dusty, firm reds under $20, Portugal should be the first stop.

The Barão de Vilar 2012 Proeza, DOC Dão ($13.95) is a case in point, made by a port house belonging to the Van Zeller family. Proeza is a collection of wines from “meaningful” Portuguese regions, and this Dão is indeed a tidy little value, not fabulously complex or life changing, and a touch sweet, but at least as good as many similar wines at twice the price.

Similarly, the Flor de Maio 2012 Mayflower, Vinho Regional Alentejano ($13.95) is fine and spicy-floral, savoury red blend (Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, Trincadeira, Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon) aged in stainless steel, juicy and firm, perfectly serviceable for the money, made by a partnership of three enologists under the company Magnum Vinhos. In fact, the complexity is quite high and the balance very good for the sub-$15 category.

Barão De Vilar Proeza 2012 Flor De Maio Mayflower 2012 Vale Do Bomfim 2013 Pomares Tinto 2011

It’s clear that the low prices for Douro table wines cannot be maintained. Once considered an afterthought, and subsidized by grapes destined for port wine production, the high production costs of dry Douro reds – made essentially from the same steep, low yielding vineyards as port – are not currently reflected in their price. Enjoy the likes of the Vale do Bomfim 2013 ($15.95) and the Pomares 2011 Tinto ($16.95) while you can. Both are representative of the region, on soft and supple frames. The former is attractively dark-fruited, the latter plush and supple, spicy and licorice-tinged. Each offers plenty of pleasure, and drinkability for the money.

South America

South America, on the other hand, is a value haven for fans of new world style, generously proportioned fruit forward wines. Chile is particularly dynamic. A country in the midst of a comprehensive renovation from monochromatic cabernet and chardonnay, to a multi-coloured display of depth and diversity. One of the most exciting developments is the re-discovery of a wealth of old vines of once-unfashionable varieties, mainly in the deep south, and their revalorization.

The 2011 Santa Carolina Specialties Dry Farming Carignan, Cauquenes Valley, Chile ($17.95) is a prime example, made from 80 year-old vines dry-farmed in the Maule Valley. Santa Carolina’s Specialties range is where you’ll find the company’s most exciting wines, and this is an attractively herbal, succulent and juicy, yet still fruity, very ripe, almost liqueur-like carignan. 15% alcohol is high, but think of this in, say, a southern Rhône context and you’ll see that it fits into the world of fine value, with a savoury edge. Try with braised meat dishes.

But Chile also still does classic cabernet as well as anyone, as in the Cono Sur 2014 Single Vineyard El Recurso Block 18 Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.95). It’s a high-toned but varietally accurate Maipo Valley red from the company’s top vineyard, which finds a balance between succulent and juicy fruit, neither over nor under ripe. Modest wood influence adds another layer, rather than dominates, the flavour profile. Decant and serve with salty protein.

Chile has long been a source of particularly good value sauvignon blanc, and Casa Silva’s 2014 Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc ($16.95) from the far out Paredones sub-region of the Colchagua Valley captures the cool pacific influence nicely in its lean, bright, sharp, and tangy and profile, as the name promises.

Santa Carolina Specialties Dry Farming Carignan 2011 Cono Sur Single Vineyard El Recurso Block 18 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Casa Silva Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Viña Cobos Felino Chardonnay 2014 Trapiche Broquel Bonarda 2013

Over in Argentina, the market is still overwhelmingly dominated by malbec, but fans of rich and creamy west coast style chardonnay will love the Viña Cobos 2014 Felino Chardonnay, Mendoza ($19.95) by peripatetic winemaker Paul Hobbs. It delivers multiple layers and terrific texture, seamless, with excellent length, a fail-safe option to bring to any gathering.

For something other than malbec from Mendoza, check out the Trapiche Broquel 2013 Bonarda ($14.95) Made from a grape I’d like to see more of, this is a juicy, dark, succulent red with a touch of coffee liqueur on the finish from toasted wood, but still a fine mouthful of wine for the price.

That’s it for my VINTAGES Preview, but we’ll be back next week with our complete BUYERS’ Guide for the January 23rd release, with David and Sara’s picks as well.

See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES January 23, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys: Portugal and South America
All Reviews

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Jan 9, 2016

Finding Value in the VINTAGES section
By John Szabo MS with wine notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Dear WineAligners,

Top of the New Year to you! December was a record-breaking month for us. Nearly 250,000 of you read close to million pages of wine reviews and news. We’re thrilled that you came to us for advice and suggestions, and we sincerely hope you found what you were looking for. 2016 looks to be even bigger and better. We’ll be rolling out our newly redesigned, mobile-friendly website in the first quarter, with additional features, new columnists, more comprehensive coverage, and more reviews than ever. If you’re passionate about drink and food, WineAlign will be your top bookmarked page in 2016.

In this report we cover the January 9th VINTAGES release, with the annual focus on value. I’ve covered the top European value releases, while David covers the new world, and Sara spots her top picks from all worlds. If your cellar was depleted, like mine was over the holidays, it’s time to restock. Wines from seven countries make the list this week, all under $25.

Buyers Guide For January 9th: Best Buys under $25

White and Sparkling

Pupillo 2010 Cyane Moscato, Sicilia, Italy ($18.95)
John Szabo – It’s curious to see this released now – a dry, five year-old muscat from Sicily. But it’s far from past prime; it offers an arrestingly complex mix of dried, yellow-fleshed orchard fruit, mango and melon, bees-wax, honey, and baking spice, while the palate delivers genuine depth and concentration, and a lovely creamy texture. It’s idiosyncratic to be sure, but well worth discovering; try it at the table with herbed pork roast or veal scaloppini.
Sara d’Amato – Pupillo devotes most of their energy to the production of wines of the moscato variety and they are passionately devoted to the cause of reviving Sicily’s most ancient DOC, that of Moscato di Siracusa. This curious, dry, going on six-year old IGT moscato is wildly complex and thought-provoking. A touch oxidative but drinking beautifully now and offers an impressive range of flavours.

Donnachiara 2013 Irpinia Coda di Volpe, Campania, Italy ($16.95)
John Szabo – There’s lots of character for the money in this native Campania white made by the charismatic Ilaria Pettito, aromatically subdued, but intriguingly earthy and herbal. The palate is mid-weight with fine drive and length; I like the cooked lemon and wet clay-like character. Ready to enjoy.

Pupillo Cyane Moscato 2010 Donnachiara Irpinia Coda di Volpe 2013 Fred Loimer Lois Grüner Veltliner 2013

Fred Loimer 2013 Lois Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria ($17.95)
John Szabo – Although this is Fred Loimer’s entry-level Grüner, and not certified biodynamic like the rest of the range, the Lois 2013 is drinking marvellously at the moment and is well worth the money. It functions in both the aperitif slot, as well as with substantial dishes: fish, white meat, for example.
Sara d’Amato – A textbook grüner with spine-tingling vibrancy, focus and great purity. Tangy lime, bitter almond and cool stone dominate the mid-weight palate. Pair with raw oysters or sashimi.

Mulderbosch 2015 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is very good buy in SA chenin – one of the leading value white wine categories in the world right now. It has complexity well beyond its price, offering mid-winter warmth, almost non-oaked tropical fruit richness. Roast pork or ham could work very nicely.

Alamos 2015 Torrontés, Salta, Argentina ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Sourced from the higher elevation Salta region where torrontes thrives; this is very bright – ringing with classic, lavender/Easter lily florality, lemongrass and lime. Very nicely balanced, with just right acid-sugar level and dryness. Great with Asian meals, but save a few bottles for spring sipping.

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2015 Alamos Torrontés 2015 Château d'Argadens Blanc 2014 Familia Zuccardi Cuvée Especial Blanc de Blancs

Château d’Argadens 2014 Blanc, Bordeaux, France ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – In the shadow of glorious reds, dry white Bordeaux often gets overlooked on this side of the pond. Styles of this sauvignon blanc/semillon blend can vary between smoky-oaky to more floral, fruit-forward, aromatic examples such as this compelling offering. Try with soft, ripe cheeses or fish and chips.

Familia Zuccardi Cuvée Especial Blanc de Blancs, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Mendoza’s high elevation sites make for some pretty special sparkling wine, often produced in a Traditional Method style. Immensely popular in South America, these well-priced bubbles rarely make it to Ontario. This non-vintage chardonnay cuvée balances mineral and razor-sharp freshness with comforting notes of warm bread on its ample palate.

Red

Domaine Dupré 2012 Vignes de 1935 Morgon, Beaujolais, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – As the cuvée name implies, this wine hails from a small parcel planted in 1935 called Les Cras, on the hill of Morgon, origin of most of Beaujolais’s sturdiest crus. The nose is textbook – all stone-tinged tart red berry fruit – while the palate offers lively acids, light tannins but with a firm grip, and lingering, juicy finish. Delicious wine, best 2016-2020.

Thunevin-Calvet 2012 Cuvée Constance, Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, France ($18.95)
John Szabo – Those looking for a satisfying winter wine under $20 will find comfort and shelter here in this deeply coloured, deeply fruity, plush, dark and immediately appealing red from Bordeaux bad boy Jean-Luc Thunevin (of Chateau Valandraud in Saint Emilion) and his southern partner Jean-Roger Calvet. Evolving from a garagiste operation to a modern domaine with 60 hectares, I’d guess this was made with all of the technological advancements currently available; it’s designed to impress upon release, which it does. 15% alcohol declared gives this a warm and mouth filling impression, but it’s backed by a whack of ripe and concentrated fruit and an impression of sweetness. Best 2016-2020.

Domaine Dupré Vignes de 1935 Morgon 2012 Thunevin Calvet Cuvée Constance 2012 Aydie l'Origine Madiran 2012

Aydie 2012 l’Origine Madiran, Southwest, France ($14.95)
John Szabo – Fans of classic old world reds will appreciate this structured, earthy-spicy blend (70% tannat with 30% cabernets – sauvignon and franc), firm but not hard or unyielding.  This would even benefit from another year or three in the cellar – an attractive value for the money. Best 2016-2022.

Honoro Vera 2013 Garnacha, Calatayud, Spain ($15.95)
John Szabo – This is a fine, generous and juicy, savoury and fruity old vine garnacha from northern Spain, at a very attractive price. Tannins are soft but the palate maintains some tension and freshness, while wet concrete and resinous herb flavours add complexity. Serve with a light chill. Best 2016-2019.

Indomita 2013 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Indomita has splashy modern winery in Casablanca but goes to its Alto Maipo estate for cabernet. No profound depth here, but it is well structured, dry and classic without resorting to undue sweetness and oak influence. A cab lover’s cab with a hint of greenness but also classic currant fruit, and a touch of graphite.
Sara d’Amato – A generous cabernet sauvignon with an old world feel from Chile’s most historically steeped wine region. There is a seductive darkness and density to this aromatic red with very fine oak. Tastes twice the price.

Honoro Vera Garnacha 2013 Indomita Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Nieto Senetiner Don Nicanor 2012 Montes Limited Selection Carménere 2012

Nieto Senetiner 2012 Don Nicanor Cabernet/Malbec/Merlot, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This traditional house has more Euro, textural approach to winemaking that nicely buffs the edges of often brash young Argentine reds. Sourcing from 40 year old vines helps. This is quite classy, and the one South American red on this release that I would pick off the shelf for a classic mid-winter prime rib, with mashed potatoes and gravy all in.

Montes Limited 2012 Selection Carmenère, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Montes has always been a go-to Chilean producer but of late I am sensing an extra degree of purity (varietal acuity) and depth in its less expensive wines. So if you like your carmenere with lifted currants, greenness and cedar this one is textbook and ultra-Chilean. Roast lamb.

Sister’s Run 2012 Bethlehem Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very stylish, great value 100% Barossa-grown, 100% cabernet by winemaker Elena Brooks, one of the said sisters. This has an intense, very ripe, chocolate mint, blackcurrant and graphite nose. I really like the energy and mid-palate balance (reminded me of Coonawarra).

Sister's Run Bethlehem Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Château des Aladères Sélection Vieilles Vignes 2012 Michel Gassier Nostre Païs 2012

Château des Aladères 2012 Sélection Vieilles Vignes, Corbières, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Corbières produces an abundance of lavish, spicy reds of excellent value and here is a fine example. A blend of syrah, carignan and grenache made entirely in stainless steel vats allowing the fruit to expresses itself fully and generously. A punchy and powerful red with wide appeal.

Michel Gassier 2012 Nostre Païs, Costières de Nîmes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – Soft, supple and enveloping, this low-yielding, hand-picked, organically farmed red blends local varieties: grenache, syrah, carignan and mourvèdre. Balanced, inviting and comforting in a full-flavoured, unfiltered style.

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

From VINTAGES January 9th, 2016

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Dec 12, Part Two

Holiday Value Selections
by John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason & Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

After last week’s preview of the best buys over $25, this week we look at the best selections under $25 included in the December 12th release. Also stay tuned for my annual fizz report coming out on the 18th just in time for the holidays, which will be full of premium sparkling wines available both at the LCBO and in consignment, for gifting, celebrating and collecting, a special feature on grower champagnes, as well as a revised look at an old favourite pastime, matching oysters and wine.

White And Sparkling Wines

Zenato 2014 San Benedetto Lugana, Veneto, Italy ($16.95)

Sara d’Amato – A great holiday white for a low price especially if you enjoy fresher, unoaked whites. Lugana is made primarily from verdicchio and this example shows well the variety’s generous fruity character and nervy nature.
David Lawrason – This is one of Italy’s great underrated whites based on the trebbiano grape grown in northern Italy. It sports a very generous nose of lemon, apple custard, vague almond and subtropical star fruit. It’s medium weight fleshy, very bright and fresh. For fans of viognier and the exotic.

Wynns Coonawarra 2014 Estate Chardonnay, Coonawarra, South Australia ($17.95)

John Szabo – A lovely, brisk, fresh, minimally-oaked chardonnay from the ever-reliable Wynns of Coonawarra, and terrific value at that.

Cave Spring 2013 Estate Bottled Chardonnay, Cave Spring Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)

David Lawrason – Ontario winemakers and pundits are pegging 2013 as a great white wine vintage in Ontario (and please abide my opinion that great white wine vintages are more important than great red wine vintages here in the homeland). This is a tender yet ripe and quite elegant chardonnay. Lighter and fresher than many but has some textural weight and creaminess at the same time.

Zenato San Benedetto Lugana 2014Wynns Coonawarra Estate Chardonnay 2014Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2013Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Sparkling Riesling 2013Mountadam Estate Chardonnay 2013

Tawse 2013 Spark Limestone Ridge Sparkling Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Tawse’s cleverly named and varied Spark sparklers have been hit and miss in my view, but this is solid and great value – a quite fine, complex, tightly woven riesling with a compact and complex nose of dried green pear, petrol and chalky stoniness. And it’s priced for generous pours over the holidays.

Mountadam Estate 2013 Chardonnay High Eden, Eden Valley, South Australia ($23.95)

John Szabo – The cool Eden Valley above the Barossa in South Australia is the origin of this pleasant, fragrant and lifted chardonnay with plentiful white-fleshed ripe orchard fruit. Concentration aligns with balance, and length and depth are also exceptional for the category. Best 2015-2021.
Sara d’Amato – Anything but a rich oaky chardonnay, this high elevation Aussie version is perfumed and elegant with impressive harmony and refinement. A classy addition to your holiday table that makes an easy match for a wide array of cuisine.

Red Wines

Pinacle De Fakra 2010, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon ($14.95)

John Szabo – And now for something different … this cabernet-syrah-cinsault blend from Lebanon delivers a mouthful of savoury, dusty, succulent red fruit, full of wild herbs. Tannins are light and fine grained, acids are balanced and the overall length and depth are terrific for the price. A charmingly rustic, old world style wine, best 2015-2020.
Sara d’Amato – A curio selection with wide appeal, this blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and cinsault from the heavily French-influenced, super high elevation Bekaa Valley, offers softened tannins and a ready-to-drink nature. Mid-weight and loaded with fruit, it is one of the better values in this release.

Emiliana 2013 Novas Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Maipo Valley, Chile ($15.95)

David Lawrason – Wow, let Chile’s leading organic producer take a bow. This is an even-handed, quite delicious cab-merlot blend with complex notes of cassis, chocolate, graphite and mint. Well proportioned, even, fairly extracted but slender. May not have the density and depth of most wines that score 90, but impeccable balance trumps depth.

Pierre Laplace 2012 Madiran, Southwest France ($16.95)

David Lawrason – Here’s a textbook example of one of the world’s toughest-to-love reds. Madiran is a tannat-based red from the southwest of France, its name derived from the ferocity of its tannins. This example brings order to the house. The nose is a bit shy but appealing with blackberry, a touch of evergreen and vaguely iron-like minerality. It is medium-full bodied, quite firm and taut, but not overly aggressive.

Pinacle De Fakra 2010Emiliana Novas Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013Pierre Laplace Madiran 2012Cabriz Reserva 2012

Cabriz 2012 Reserva, Dão, Portugal ($17.95)

David Lawrason – Great value here! The landlocked, moderate climate, complex-soiled hill Dão region in central Portugal has huge potential, but is currently constricted by its mid-price range. Lovely lifted floral, plummy, blackberry and violet aromatics on display. It’s medium-full bodied, surprisingly gentle, soft and fruity with just enough drying tannin.

Salentein 2013 Reserve Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – Rich and inviting with notes of cocoa and black currant, this comforting red is best for curling up by the fireplace. It’s not all guilty pleasure though offering surprising dimension for the price. Peppered with notes of anise and juniper that linger on the marathon of a finish.

Poderi Angelini 2010 Primitivo Di Manduria, Puglia, Italy ($18.95)

John Szabo – Lovers of full-bodied, big, intensely flavoured wines in the style of Amarone will appreciate this similarly styled primitivo from Puglia. But it’s more than just raisined fruit; Poderi Angelini provides an example with excellent complexity, mature and earthy, pleasantly rustic and decidedly old school. This radically over-delivers on the price – I’d put this up against $40+ Amarone any day. Best 2015-2025.

Salentein Reserve Malbec 2013Poderi Angelini Primitivo Di Manduria 2010Ernie Els Big Easy 2013Murua Reserva 2007

Ernie Els 2013 Big Easy, Western Cape, South Africa ($19.95)

John Szabo – This entry-level wine from Els shows the high level at which the estate is currently performing. Mainly shiraz-cabernet, with some grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault and viognier, this is superb value, appealingly complex, savoury-earthy and herbal, well-structured, dense and polished. Lots of joy and pleasure here, best 2015-2021.

Murua 2007 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($21.95)

Sara d’Amato – A solid, old school Rioja at the peak of maturity. Pairs well with everything from nuts and hard cheeses to roast bird and beef tenderloin.

Château Pierre De Montignac 2009, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($23.95)

Sara d’Amato – With equal parts cabernet sauvignon and merlot, this juicy Médoc is fresh, friendly and easy to appreciate. From the highly lauded, riper 2009 vintage, this is a safe bet for holiday offering.

Château Pierre De Montignac 2009Mazzei Ser Lapo Riserva Chianti Classico 2011Wakefield Jaraman Shiraz 2013Domaine Karydas Naoussa 2010

Mazzei 2011 Ser Lapo Riserva Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($23.95)

John Szabo – Tuscan stalwart Mazzei, family owners of the Castello di Fonterutoli in Chianti Classico since 1435, deliver an open, very pretty, silky and perfumed wine in the 2011 vintage, with sangiovese softened by a splash of merlot. Although tempting now, this should continue to improve over the next 2-4 years, developing appealing savoury character along the way. Best 2017-2023.

Wakefield 2013 Jaraman Shiraz, Clare Valley/McLaren Vale, South Australia ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The Clare Valley is admired in Oz, but overlooked here as just another Aussie region. Its wines can offer impressive structure and depth – to wit this elegant red packed with generous currants, herbs, pepper, vanilla bean and cedar shaving. It’s full bodied, fairly dense and warm yet mineral.

Domaine Karydas 2010 Xinomavro, Naoussa, Greece ($25.95)

John Szabo – Ok, this is marginally above $25, but I believe it’s worth including, especially for lovers of light, dusty reds in the style of pinot noir, nebbiolo or sangiovese. Xynomavro is the Greek variation on this theme, a native variety to Macedonia and specifically the Naoussa region. Expect dried and candied red berry fruit, Turkish delight and leather, and firm but not aggressive tannins and acids. Decant for maximum enjoyment or hold through to the mid-’20s.

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

From VINTAGES December 12th, 2015

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Dec 12, Part One – Holiday Gifting and Gathering

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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Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Dec 12, Part One

Holiday Gifting and Gathering
By David Lawrason, with notes by John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The last Vintages release of 2015 is as big or bigger than any this year, designed to bulk up the shelves down the holiday home stretch – the most intense shopping period of the year. For starters, there is a large selection of sparkling wine. John Szabo and Sara tease with three dandies below but John will be publishing his comprehensive fizz report in the days ahead. The other Vintages ‘theme’ is Holiday Gatherings, which contains a smorgasbord of styles and prices. Many of the high-priced and highly prized collectibles were released in November, and some are already off the shelves.

So without much ado we have chosen to divide the selection by price point – wines over $25 in this edition in the expectation that you may want to be thinking ahead and budgeting for more expensive gifts. Next week we turn the focus onto less expensive wines under $25, which can be grabbed up with less pre-meditation as stocking stuffers or last minute going-to-a-party wines. But as always our selections are value-based within their price tier.

White Wines

Hidden Bench 2013 Fumé Blanc, Rosomel Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($27.95)

David Lawrason Since launching his highly successful estate winery with the 2005 vintage, owner Harald Thiel has been setting a benchmark for Bordeaux-style, barrel whites thanks to old semillon and sauvignon vines in the Rosomel Vineyard. No one else in Niagara has touched their quality. Nuits Blanche is the top expression, but this Fume Blanc comes close. Something different for the turkey table.
Sara d’Amato – A lightly smoky sauvignon blanc with more richness and viscosity than is traditional. A classy offering on a festive occasion.

La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay 2012Jermann Chardonnay 2014Hidden Bench Fumé Blanc 2013Jermann 2014 Chardonnay, Venezia Giulia, Italy ($34.95)

David Lawrason – From one of the great white wine producers of Italy, this is a chardonnay that will restore the faith of those who have left the chardonnay fold. It’s taut, fresh and elegant with a bouquet of fruit and flowers well ahead of the well-fitted oak. Delicious and classy.

La Follette 2012 Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($50.00)

David Lawrason – Here’s a situation where the vineyard – planted in 1927 in lower Sonoma/Carneros – is more well-known than the winery. That’s because La Folette is a fairly new winery name (formerly Tandem) with veteran chardonnay-pinot noir specialist Greg La Folette (ex Flowers, Kendall-Jackson, Beaulieu) at the helm. It’s a powerful, complex, reductive Burgundian style chardonnay with great complexity and length.

Red Wines

Punset 2010 Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy ($55.95)

Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Punset Barbaresco 2010John Szabo – Here’s a gorgeous, floral-fragrant, potpourri and faded red berry scented Barbaresco in an absolutely classic mould that will surely impress. Be sure to forewarn your giftee that it’s still several years away from prime, another 3-5 years in the cellar. Best 2018-2025.
Sara d’Amato – A Barbaresco with the firmness and depth of a Barolo. Cherry, leather and dried herbs are wonderfully harmonious and sing in the glass. Still requires time to open up so decant in the morning or afternoon before serving.
David Lawrason – Here is a rugged, powerful and rustic Barbaresco to add to an Italian cellar. The irony is that it is one of very few Barbarescos or Barolos made by a woman (Marina Macarino), and made organically. It was a great vintage that will age long. It’s medium-bodied, very firm, dry and very tannic but the flavours pour through the sieve.

Burgess 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($56.95)

David Lawrason – Many of the big name Napa cabernets were released last month (except for the $200 Caymus Special Selection coming Dec 12). This much better value Burgess is a cab lovers cab, with great aromatics of lifted blackcurrant, fresh mint/evergreen, nicely inlaid with cedar, pepper and lavender. It’s medium-full bodied, fairly dense, warm and engaging.

Stonestreet 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California ($52.95)

John Szabo – A terrific option for fans of bold, impressive reds, with some regional name brand recognition, Stonestreet’s exceptional Alexander Mountain property delivers wines of exceptional class. This is densely knit and tightly woven, offering a fine range of ripe, fleshy dark fruit, integrated barrel spice, and excellent length, and would compete handily with many mountain Napa cabernets at twice the price. Best 2015-2028.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2012Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Beringer 2011 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($164.95)

Sara d’Amato – A special occasion bottle best enjoyed in good company. The cooler 2011 vintage is wildly expressive and refreshingly less heavy and bold than in previous incarnations.

Penfolds Bin 389 2012 Cabernet/Shiraz, South Australia ($59.95)

David Lawrason – Long vaunted as the ‘Baby Grange’ this wine has always struck me as more than that – certainly value – now that Grange as attained unreachable prices. This is such a classic – very deep, dense and ripe Aussie red that is all about restraint (believe it or not). It’s full bodied, sinewy, warm and dense. Powerpacked, and structured to live for decades, although you or your giftee will enjoy it whenever the urge strikes.

Barossa Valley Estate 2008 Ebenezer Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($39.95)

David Lawrason – If you missed the sensational E&E Black Pepper Shiraz last month, the junior Ebenezer is a great comparative value at less than half the price. It’s full bodied, dense, rich and firm. Very dry, inky and intense – a dry, Barossa classic. Great depth, length and extension.

Château L'hermitage 2003Domaine Gagey Clos Du Roi Marsannay 2013Barossa Valley Estate Ebenezer Shiraz 2008Domaine Gagey 2013 Clos Du Roy Marsannay, Burgundy, France ($44.95)

David Lawrason – For that someone on your list who fancies fine pinot noir – or finer things in general – this Burgundy is light to medium bodied, firm, fresh and even with an engaging, almost haunting nose of pink flowers, pomegranate-cherry fruit and very fine oak smoke and spice. Give it a year to soften just a bit.

Château L’Hermitage 2003 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France ($39.95)

Sara d’Amato – This tiny four hectare property produces lush merlot and their blend is usually made up of at least 90% of the varietal. Behind the wine’s plush nature, there is a great vibrancy offering balance. You’ll have to go to the big store to find this Flagship Store Exclusive.

Sparklers and Sweets

Henry Of Pelham 2010 Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche, Estate Blanc De Blanc, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($44.95)

John Szabo – An excellent bubbly, in the top class of Canadian sparkling, Henry of Pelham’s premium bottling of pure chardonnay finds a very elegant expression in the 2010 vintage. It would make for a fine and smart gift for both proud locavores and demanding wine lovers, drinking now, or hold for 2-3 years for additional toasty complexity.

Tarlant Brut Rosé, Champagne, France ($62.95)

Sara d’Amato – This low-dosage Champagne from the house of Tarlant is refreshing and festive with a chic, pale colour. A tingling peppery palate and a fresh mineral component add extra sparkle.

Henry Of Pelham 2010 Cuvée Catharine Carte BlancheTarlant Brut RoséCa' Del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Brut FranciacortaChâteau Dereszla 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú 2008

Ca’ Del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Brut, DOCG Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy ($39.95)

John Szabo – Impress with your breadth and depth of wine knowledge by gifting this excellent bottle from Italy’s premier sparkling wine region. Leader Ca’ del Bosco’s prestige cuvée is intensely biscuity and toasty, full flavoured and impressively complex, in an elegant yet powerful style.

Château Dereszla 2008 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú, Hungary ($45.95)

John Szabo – For something different and exotic from one of the world’s legendary regions, choose this tokaji aszú; you can be sure plenty of Hungarian-Canadians will be sharing it over the holidays. It’s crafted in the mature, more old school style, which is to say highly savoury-spicy and replete with dried apricot and dried peach fruit, ginger and Sichuan pepper spice. 5 puttonyos means considerable residual sugar (c. 150grams/liter), but this is balanced on a firm frame of acids, and the finish lingers admirably. Best 2015-2028.

Thanks for taking the time to read this far during your busy holiday season, and if you are still thinking about how best to share your interest in wine with friends and family consider purchasing a subscription to WineAlign, which will give them a thirty-day head start to purchase our most highly recommended wines. Or have a look at The National Wine Awards Wine of the Month Club to bring you direct delivery of Canadian wines that have taken top honours at the National Wine Awards of Canada.

Until next week…

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES December 12, 2015

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 28, Part Two

Our Finest from Europe
by John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason & Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

No need for a preamble this week; I’ll jump straight into the recommended wines. In part two of coverage for this largest VINTAGES release of the year, we look at European wines, minus the super Tuscans that David covered admirably last week.

We have suggestions from no fewer than nine countries, from Germany to Greece, Portugal to Austria, $18 to $90. I’m confident you’ll find something to love on the list. And don’t forget to log on and use the “find wine” feature on WineAlign, as we’ve been busy tasting and reviewing hundreds of wines over the last couple of months, including many wines in the consignment world, worthy of buying by the case for the holidays and beyond.

Buyers Guide for November 28th: Our Finest European White

Giannikos 2014 At Sea Roditis, Peloponnese, Greece ($17.95)

John Szabo – Fans of aromatic white wines will want to discover this fruity, peachy and floral expression of roditis, reminiscent of viognier, farmed organically. Enjoy it in the flower of its youth.
Sara d’Amato – This organically farmed Peloponnese white is made from the indigenous roditis variety, a pink grape that has the ability to hold on to freshness and acidity even when planted in hot climates. Fresh, light and typically aromatic, the palate boasts sweet fruit and tender blossom.

Donnachiara 2013 Greco di Tufo, Campania, Italy ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – Donnachiara is located in the hilly vineyards of Avellino and is known for producing wines with great regional typicity. This distinctiveness is well represented in this aromatic, food friendly expression of Greco di Tufo offering notes of peach, grapefruit and melon.

Vignerons de Buxy 2103 Buissonnier Montagny, Châlonnais, Burgundy ($19.95)

David Lawrason – The Buxy co-op is one of the more successful in this region just south of the Côte de Beaune, and with its more famous neighbours now financially out of reach I urge you to try this for $20 bucks. It is not a dramatic or powerful chardonnay, but it is poised, complex and well integrated with peach, vanilla, wood spice and vague hazelnut notes. It’s lighter weight, quite tender and refined. Very good value.

Giannikos At Sea Roditis 2014 Donnachiara Greco Di Tufo 2013 Vignerons de Buxy Buissonnier Montagny 2013 Leth Brunnthal Grüner Veltliner 2013

Leth 2013 Brunnthal 1öwt Grüner Veltliner, Fels Am Wagram Austria ($24.95)

John Szabo – Here’s an archetypal grüner from a family-operated, regional leader on the deep loess soils of the Wagram region, replete with sweet citrus, fresh parsnip and sweet green herbs off the top, just slipping into the honeyed spectrum. It’s generous and broad, intensely flavoured, with fine depth and excellent length, with the merest impression of sweetness; a top class example at a very keen price. Best 2015-2021.

Jean-Max Roger 2014 Cuvée G.C. Sancerre, Loire Valley, France ($28.95)

John Szabo – 2014 was a cool and challenging vintage, but Roger comes out here with flying colours, delivering pure, crisp, bright and sharply focused flavours, with plenty of thrust and drive on the palate. This wine hails from the Grand Chemarin vineyard (“GC”), a top, particularly stony site in the village of Bué with the soil type known locally as caillottes.  Best 2015-2020.

Château de Beaucastel 2014 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc, Côtes du Rhône, Rhône, France ($33.95)

Sara d’Amato – Known as the “baby Beaucastel” Coudoulet blanc’s 3 hectares of vineyard are located just across the highway from those of the revered Château de Beaucastel’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This cooler and wetter vintage in the southern Rhône has produced more delicate and fresher wines, which is evident in this elegant, graceful beauty with impressive complexity.
David Lawrason – I am a huge fan of Perrin family white wines. This is a refined, richly flavoured and exotic southern Rhône white with subtlety and integration – ripe peach/melon, oak spice, vanilla cream and the unique perfume of viognier peaking through. It’s mid-weight, fairly creamy yet fresh.

Jean-Max Roger 2014 Cuvée G.C. Sancerre Château De Beaucastel Coudoulet De Beaucastel Blanc 2014 Antinori Castello Della Sala Cervaro Della Sala 2013 Miraval Rosé 2014Künstler Hochheimer Stielweg Old Vines Riesling Trocken 2013

Künstler 2013 Hochheimer Stielweg Old Vines Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany ($42.95)

John Szabo – Künstler is a leader in the dry riesling genre from the Rheingau, with an enviable collection of top vineyards. The 50+-year-old vines from Stielweg provide an explosive, dense, concentrated mouthful of wine, with terrific length and genuine complexity, and real old vine vinosity, best in at least another 3-5 years. Künstler describes the wine as “sustainable and robust”. “Stielweg is the only vineyard where old vines combine an enormous wealth of fruitiness with the delicate ways of a Riesling.” Best 2018-2025.

Antinori 2013 Castello della Sala Cervaro della Sala IGT Umbria, Italy ($57.95)

John Szabo – A classy, complex, mid-weight, sinewy and lean vintage for the Cervaro (chardonnay and grechetto blend) with integrated wood and notable lees character, and exceptional length and complexity overall. This is 2-4 years away from prime enjoyment, but should satisfy fans of the genre handily. Great depth. Best 2018-2025.
Sara d’Amato – The flagship wine of Antinori’s Castello Della Sala estate is a blend of chardonnay and grechetto. A smart, sophisticated buy that is also immensely satisfying. Lightly buttery with nicely integrated French oak treatment and a hint of creaminess from the fine lees ageing. Pair with a festive turkey dinner.

Miraval 2014 Rosé, Côtes De Provence, Provence, France ($22.95)

Sara d’Amato – A new shipment of the Miraval Rosé is quite welcome any time of the year. Just because the cold is upon us, it doesn’t mean that rosé should be off the table. In fact, it makes for a versatile wine over the holidays that works well with everything from roasted poultry to fish to lamb. The Perrin family and the Pitt-Jolie’s collaborative effort yields a dry, classy rosé with subtly and elegance.

Buyers Guide for November 28th: Our Finest European Red 

Lungarotti 2012 Rubesco, Rosso di Torgiano, Umbria, Italy ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – This sangiovese-based blend, akin to a good quality Chianti Classico, is Lungarotti’s flagship wine. Licorice, leather and pomegranate make up the inviting nose of this traditional and lightly floral Rubesco.

Château Trillol 2011 Corbières Grenache Carignan Syrah, Languedoc, France ($19.95)

John Szabo – The Languedoc continues to be a source of characterful wines at down-to-earth prices, like this Grenache-syrah-carignan blend. It’s a genteel and elegant Corbières, more refined than the average to be sure, with elegant styling and suave, silky tannins. Length and depth are uncommonly good for the price category. Best 2015-2021.

Prazo De Roriz 2011 Tinto, Douro, Portugal ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is ‘basic’ Douro red from a high-powered duo – the Symington family that forms the aristocracy of the Douro and Bruno Prats of Bordeaux’ Cos d’Estournel.  It has a generous nose of mulberry/blackberry with some vanillin, light mocha and cigar. It’s full-bodied, fairly dense, rich and smooth, yet showing firm tannin.  Youthful, from an excellent vintage.

Lungarotti Rubesco 2012 Château Trillol Grenache Carignan Syrah 2011 Prazo de Roriz 2011 Plavac Frano Milos 2011 Olim Bauda Le Rocchette Barbera D'asti Superiore 2012

Frano Milos 2011 Plavac Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia ($20.95)

John Szabo – Lovers of savoury, old world wines will want to make the acquaintance of native plavac mali from Croatia, and no better introduction than from regional star Frano Milos and the dramatic, terraced Dolomitic vineyards of the Peljesac (pell-yeh-shatz) peninsula overlooking the Adriatic. Wild fermented and aged in old Slavonian casks, this is a marvellously firm and complex red, with puckering walnut skin-like tannins, yet enough fruit extract to make it work. It will never be a supple and smooth red, but rather one destined for the table with a large roast of beef, served rare with a last minute sprinkle of sea salt. Best 2015-2025.

Olim Bauda 2012 Le Rocchette Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Piedmont, Italy ($28.95)

Sara d’Amato – Barbera is a great wine to include on your festive table. It is characteristically deliciously juicy, not too filling, and with both freshness and fleshiness to complement a wide array of dishes. This particularly memorable example is lightly oaked with more colour and structure than the norm, making it an excellent choice for a festive occasion.

Chapelle de Potensac 2010, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($29.95)

John Szabo – A well structured and proportioned, lively 2nd wine from Potensac, perfectly mid-weight, zesty and fresh. I love the balance and class on offer – this is arch classic left bank Bordeaux, with firm, elegant tannins and bright natural acids. Lovely wine, drinking now, but better in 3-5 years.
David Lawrason – This is an even-keeled, fresh and engaging young Bordeaux – another very fine 2010 – with a fragrant, balanced nose of raspberry/fresh fig fruit, spice and fresh herbs. Quite juicy yet it firms up on the finish. Will thrive through this decade.

L’Expression de Margaux 2010 AC, Bordeaux, France ($33.95)

David Lawrason – I approached this wine with all red flags flying – a Margaux from a negociant, not an individual property (chateau). But it actually does express Margaux well (as advertised), which is so rare given that Margaux is pricing out of reach for most. The essence is nicely lifted fragrant black raspberry, cedar and vanillin. It’s smooth, elegant and a bit warm (14%) with very fine tannin.
John Szabo – Stylish and plush but balanced, this is a terrific mouthful of wine, even-keeled, with supple tannins that still frame the billowing dark fruit nicely. Acids are likewise firm and fresh, and the length is excellent. Elegant and suave in the Margaux style, and top value. Best 2015-2025.

Chapelle De Potensac 2010 L'expression de Margaux 2010 Faustino I Gran Reserva 2004Le Fonti Di Panzano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013

Faustino I 2004 Gran Reserva,  DOCa Rioja, Spain ($35.95)

John Szabo – A classic, old school Rioja here from Faustino, showing beautifully right now. Tannins are supple and suave, in place but perfectly integrated, while acids remain fresh and bright. The range and depth of flavours is excellent. Fine wine, drink or hold another decade.

Le Fonti di Panzano 2011 Chianti Classico Riserva, DOCG Tuscany, Italy ($41.95)

John Szabo – This may seem pricey for Chianti Classico, but tasted alongside a range of more expensive Brunello, this wine stole the spotlight. From a small organic farm in Panzano, the delicate hands of respected winemaker Dr. Stefano Chioccioli show through in this concentrated, very ripe, full and stylish wine made in a clearly defined riserva style, from evident low yields and careful crafting. Barrel ageing adds depth and texture without excessive impact on flavour, polishing and softening tannins. Excellent length. Best 2015-2025.

Château de Beaucastel 2013 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape AC Rhône, France ($89.95)

John Szabo – 2013 was a stellar year for Beaucastel, surely one of the Châteauneufs of the vintage. It’s rich, balanced, spicy, nicely delineated, clean-and very focused, firm, lively and elegant. I appreciate the freshness and pinpoint flavours, the light but tightly knit texture, like Kevlar, and the lingering, cherry-perfumed finish. Classy stuff, and best after 2020, when it will have shifted fully into the savoury spectrum. Drink 2020-2030+.

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

From VINTAGES November 28th, 2015

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 28, Part One – The Super-Tuscans

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 Nov 28, Part One

The Super-Tuscans, Our Finest and New World Picks
by David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES November 28 release offers a once-a-year opportunity to buy all the major super-Tuscans in one fell swoop. And indeed they will be swooped. In most other places you could find them any time of year, but the system here forces them out through a window that can be only open for a matter of hours. I won’t rag on about that. Buyers of these very collectible wines already know that supplies are limited and the appetite is huge.

I thought it might be useful however to provide brief background on the super-Tuscans, and to compare the current offerings, to help you decide which ones to buy. I very conveniently had an opportunity to taste them shoulder to shoulder earlier this month. For starters all scored 90 points or better in my books – so yes they are excellent wines. But all sell for more than $100, with a couple nudging $200 and one at $250. One bottle of each will cost you $865! I have not scored any at 95 or better, which is where I think they should be at these prices. So if you are value shopping you might want to skip down to the other New World wines being recommended this week.

The original, core Super-Tuscans – the royal family – are Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Solaia, Luce and arguably Guado Al Tasso, that came along later. (I would add San Felice’s Vigorello to the list but it is not in the Nov 28 tranche). They were all hatched in Tuscany in the heyday of the New World expansionism – post 1976 Judgement of Paris when California wine’s bold, fruit forward style began seeping into European consciousness. The innovative Antinori and Frescobaldi clans of Florence said – ‘we can do that’. They planted cabernet and merlot in the Chianti hills, and especially along the warmer coast near Bolgheri. They practiced safe winemaking, coddled the wines in French barriques, established high prices and voila – they were a hit, first with news-hungry journalists, then with collectors.

But because they didn’t adhere to local DOC appellation regulations the new wines were only labeled as ‘vino da tavola’, the lowliest classification. It is still debated who coined the term super-Tuscan, but it was Wine Spectator magazine that at least made the name known worldwide. It stuck because it is such an apt name, still enduring 30 years later. And the word super has now been adopted by every Italian producer making non-DOC wines. There are about a billion of them by now. Super this, super- that.  Some not so super-duper at all.

My general sense of those being offered by VINTAGES on the 28th is that they are quite ripe (the summer of 2012 was hot), fairly supple, subtle, layered and refined – all good things. And they are very modern, with only Sassicaia leaning to a more traditional ambiance. I pinpoint my lack of 95-point enthusiasm more around lack of depth and length; and lack of wow factor. They are tidy, pristine and polished, but they are not world beaters; they are not magical or individual. This may be related to youthful reticence, and perhaps the hot summer has depreciated their acidity and nerve.

So here is my take on this royal family. Sassicaia is the leaner, age-worthy still very Euro cabernet, king of the empire, thin and wiry and ruling with a tight fist, but a recluse. Ornellaia, is the queen, a merlot based seductress with beguiling subtlety and depth of character. Luce, in this vintage at least, is the brute elder heir to the throne, muscular, a bit volatile and overripe – perhaps fearful of losing its rights to Guado al Tasso, the dashing yet substantial prince from the coast (and best buy of the bunch). And then there is Solaia, which in this vintage, for some reason, comes across like the court jester – notably sweet and engaging but lacking substance. Which is odd given it is the most expensive.

Here are recommended wines from the WineAlign court of opinion, not only on super-Tuscans and other wines from VINTAGES Our Finest selection, but from the New World offerings as well. Next week John leads off with Old World picks.

Super Tuscans

Ornellaia 2012, DOC Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy ($195.95)

John Szabo – In a side by side tasting of a half-dozen of the top 2012 super Tuscans, Ornellaia (and Sassicaia) came out measurably ahead of the pack. It was a warm and dry vintage with cool nights and a timely splash of rain towards harvest that shepherded grapes through to full and even ripening. The result is a marvellously composed, generous but balanced and seamlessly integrated edition of Ornellaia, bringing together a compelling mix or perfectly ripened fruits, integrated and subtle barrel spice, and slowly emerging earthy and savoury notes. The palate is pitch perfect, well structured, with fine-grained tannins and lively, vibrant acids building around a core of succulent fruit. Exceptional length. It’s not hard to see why this wine was nicknamed “L’Incanto” (The Enchantment) at the estate. Best after 2020, or hold until the late 2030s.

Sassicaia 2012 DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, Tuscany, Italy ($199.95)

Antinori Guado Al Tasso 2012 Sassicaia 2012 Ornellaia 2012John Szabo – The 2012 Sassicaia is surely one of the wines of the vintage in Tuscany, and one of the most impressive from the estate in the last decade. As usual, it delivers the most old world, Italianate expression amongst the elite of the 2012 super Tuscans, focused more on structure and finesse than sheer concentration. It’s very firm at the moment, offering fine detail and remarkable freshness, but still years away from full unravelling. Yet already an impressive mix of red and black fruit, fresh and lightly dried, and subtle barrel spice and dusty, savoury Tuscan character are revealed, boding very well for future development. Best 2020-2035+.
Sara d’Amato – There is a great purity to this Sassicaia, rustic would be too gruff but there is certainly an authentic beauty to this marvellously expressive wine. A classic incarnation of this Bordelaise blend with distinct Tuscan charm.

Antinori 2012 Guado Al Tasso,  Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany ($104.95)

David Lawrason – With the first vintage in 1990, Guado is the late comer to the Antinori super-Tuscan family, from an estate that rises from the sea coast into calcareous hills. It is a gorgeous, vibrant and refined, cabernet-merlot-franc-petit verdot blend with a fine sense integration. Best 2020 to 2030+. Best value among the super-Tuscans in my books.

Others from VINTAGES’ Our Finest

Barossa Valley Estate 2008 E&E Black Pepper Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($89.95)

David Lawrason – I am already quoted in VINTAGES magazine from a release of this wine last year, so I won’t go into full descriptive mode here. But an image came to mind as I tasted it – of a dusty black steam engine dragging a slow freight train across a weathered plain on rails of iron and graphite, spewing smoke and sparks as it goes. My top score of the Our Finest Collection.
Sara d’Amato – E&E’s small production has a cult following and for good reason. This classic, old vines Barossa shiraz is impactful, edgy and exotically spiced offering a complex, lengthy finish. Due to impressive structure and filling, you can happily tuck this one away for 5-10 years.

Catena Alta 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Historic Rows, Mendoza, Argentina  ($46.95)

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012 Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Barossa Valley Estate 2008 E&E Black Pepper ShirazSara d’Amato – Catena Alta’s limited production is sourced from top parcels at various elevations throughout Catena’s estate vineyards. High elevation cabernet sauvignon has a distinctly unique expression with a wild aromatic profile of violets, currants, sandalwood and pepper. A seriously sophisticated and structured offering with surprising approachability.
David Lawrason – This “Historic Rows” is from two older vines sites in the Agrelo heartland of Mendoza. It is deeply coloured with a lovely nose of ripe mulberry, sage, fine oak spice and vanilla. There is sophistication as well as generosity. The focus and length are excellent. Will age 20 years.

Joseph Phelps 2012 Insignia, Napa Valley, California($299.95)

David Lawrason – Here is a beautifully honed wine that showcases all kinds of sophistication through the winemaking, but doesn’t lose the lion-heartedness of cabernet sauvignon. Great aromatics here. It’s dense, continuous and deep. The length is outstanding.

Chateau Montelena 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga, Napa Valley, California  ($187.95)

John Szabo – Although roundly panned in the press, 2011 is proving to be one of my favourite vintages in the Napa Valley, forcing many winemakers into a generally fresher, firmer more balanced style. Not that Montelena needed a push in that direction; the estate has steadfastly produced wines of genuine finesse, complexity and elegance for decades in an unwavering style. The 2011 flagship estate cabernet is outstanding, a beautiful, lifted, fragrant and complex, marvellously savoury and vibrant vintage, with crackling red and black fruit, fully integrated wood, terrifically elegant tannins and exceptional length. This is all class and finesse. Best 2020-2035+.

Ridge 2013 Geyserville, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California  ($62.95)

Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2007 Ridge Geyserville 2013 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011John Szabo – 2013 yielded a terrific Geyserville from Ridge, with pitch-perfect balance, elegance and lingering finish. There are few wines that can carry 14.7% alcohol with so much grace and elegance; wood is not a flavour feature, but rather this is all about the wild and savage fruit flavours, and the California garrigue (resinous herbs). Best 2015-2028.

Quintarelli 2007 Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($104.95)

Sara d’Amato – Quintarelli is not exactly known for value but if you want to know what all the fuss is about for a relatively moderate price (in Quintarelli terms), then here is your chance. This is certainly no ordinary, basic Valpolicella, however, offering a perfectly matured, highly pleasurable experience. Its mid-weight frame belies its power and complexity. A sleek, harmonious and exceptional bottle of wine

Shafer 2013 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay, Napa Valley/Carneros, California ($76.95)

David Lawrason – This grand, opulent and silky chardonnay is not afraid to be California. The nose is quite spectacular – so tropical it’s almost as if some viognier is involved. Quite full bodied to be sure (14.9%) with some heat on the finish, and wood tannin as well, yet it has poise and depth within its large footprint.

Kistler 2013 Les Noisetiers Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($99.95)

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2012 Kistler Les Noisetiers Chardonnay 2013 Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 2013John Szabo – Steve Kistler has focused exclusively on mostly single vineyard pinot noir and chardonnay since 1978, and his mastery of, and consistency with these grapes is by now beyond question. Les Noisetiers is a Sonoma Coast blend of mainly Vine Hill, Dutton Ranch and Trenton Roadhouse vineyards, all planted on the region’s coveted marine sedimentary Goldridge soil. In 2013 the results are superb: creamy, ripe but still fresh, a complete wine with balance and concentration, complexity and intensity. Comfortably in the premium category. Best 2015-2023

Cloudy Bay 2102 Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand ($35.95)

David Lawrason – This an elegant, tart edged, cooler vintage chardonnay from Marlborough with a sense of tartness and austerity Shows lovely, almost satiny texture spread thin over sour, lemony acidity. Burgundian to be sure.

Other New World Whites

Josef Chromy Pepik Sekt, Tasmania, Australia ($26.95)

Sara d’Amato – A dry, refreshing and elegant traditional method sparkling riesling from Joseph Chromy, a venerable personality in Tasmanian wine who spent his life investing in and developing its wine producing landscape before opening Josef Chromy Wines at the age of 76. Try with shrimp tempura.
John Szabo – Leading Tasmanian producer Joseph Chromy, nicknamed Pepik, delivers here a fine, fresh and apple –flavoured, riesling-based sparkling wine in the traditional method, with 12 months on the lees adding just a touch of toasty-biscuity character. This would make a fine Sunday morning Brunch wine, not overly complex but refreshing and enlivening.

Spy Valley 2013 Envoy Sauvignon Blanc, Waihopai Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand ($29.95)

John Szabo – Spy Valley’s premium Envoy range is a considerable step up from the ‘regular’ range. Sauvignon Blanc from the gravelly Johnson Vineyard, Spy Valley’s oldest vines, is barrel fermented and aged on lees for a year before bottling, though wood is barely detectable. It has lovely wild yeasty aromatics with pungent green herbs and dense citrus-pear-pineapple flavours in palate arresting concentration and complexity. Fans of distinctive wines will revel in this.

Josef Chromy Pepik Sekt Spy Valley Envoy Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Tomich Woodside Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Delheim Family Chenin Blanc 2014

Tomich 2014 Woodside Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, ($16.95) (430660)
Sara d’Amato – Master of Wine John Tomich along with his son Randal are an innovative team creating new viticultural practices for cool climate growing regions such as their own Adelaide Hills site. Although there is no shortage of sauvignon blanc on the shelves of VINTAGES, here is one that stands out from the rest. Refined and elegant without overt grassiness or underripe vegetal undertones, it is lively and refreshing with notes of birch bark, lemongrass and quince.

Delheim 2014 Family Chenin Blanc 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95) (429720)
Sara d’Amato – Delheim is a consistent, value-oriented producer who has knack for chenin blanc. This lush and opulent example is sure to quell your craving for anything-but-chardonnay.

Other New World Reds

Lapostolle 2012 Canto de Apalta, Rapel Valley, Chile ($19.95)

John Szabo – Canto is the recently created second wine from Lapostolle’s excellent Apalta Estate in the heart of the Colchagua Valley, which, like the grand vin, is a carmenere-led blend, with merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah.  Wood, fruit concentration, acids and tannic structure are sensibly doled out in balanced measure, giving this high drinkability and an appealing, savoury-gritty edge. Best 2017-2022.

Clos De Los Siete 2012, Uco Valley, Mendoza ($23.95)

David Lawrason – This is one wine sourced from four French owned properties that have formed a foreign legion-like enclave at the base of the Andes in the Vista Flores sub-region of the Uco Valley. This a full bodied, warm, dense and powerful yet also vibrant malbec-based blend. Better than the 2011.

Stags’ Leap Winery 2012 Petite Sirah, Napa Valley, California ($39.95)

John Szabo – A perennial favourite of mine from Stags’ Leap, this savage and savoury petite sirah offers a fine mix of earth, resinous herbs and dark fruit character, and firm and burly tannins, but there’s more than ample fruit to ensure proper integration in time. Best 2017-2025.

Lapostolle Canto De Apalta 2012 Clos De Los Siete 2012 Stags' Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2012 Perez Cruz Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Dos 2 Estacas Reserva Malbec 2012 Montes Alpha Malbec 2012

Perez Cruz Limited 2012 Edition Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Alta, Chile ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is estate grown from selected higher altitude vineyard blocks. It rings of a cooler climate cabernet with medium weight and lifted, slightly herbal aromas of roasted red pepper, cassis and chocolate mint.

Dos 2 Estacas 2012 Reserva Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – Offering great value, this soft, seamless and compelling malbec has been only mildly oaked and offers impressive aromatics. The cooler, high elevation climate of the Uco Valley contributes the lively notes of pepper and violets on the nose and palate.

Montes Alpha 2012 Malbec, Colchagua Valley, Chile  ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is a shiny, vibrant and quite juicy young Malbec – with a typically slender Chilean feel as opposed to the chunkier malbecs form over the Andes in Mendoza.  Very nicely balanced and intense.

And that is a wrap for this edition. Tune in next week for a continued look at this huge release.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES November 28th, 2015

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

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


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Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Nov 14, Part Two

Super-Sized and the Best of the New World
by Sara d’Amato, with notes from John Szabo MS

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Whether you saw it coming or not, the holiday entertaining season is upon us and with this comes some pretty fierce marketing directed at you, consumer. The LCBO and VINTAGES is now committed to convincing us to purchase premium products, and in this release, large format bottles are pushed. VINTAGES is featuring a “simple solution for elegant holiday entertaining: Ten favourite high quality wines in large format bottles.”

Given that the cost of a magnum is often significantly more than double the price of the same standard format 750 ml bottle, is it worth it? To answer that question, it is worth considering what is in the bottle and your intentions for its uses. For those of you, like most, who don’t have a great deal of experience with larger formats, our interaction is usually in the form of imposing bottles at the entrance of restaurants, aiming to impress. Their novelty factor makes us look but the fear of a hefty price tag makes most of us stay away.

It is an indisputable fact that large format bottles make a show-stopping impression. Open a large bottle at any dinner party and it is sure to make for a memorable evening. That dazzle alone is worth an extra buck or two, no? But is the industry just pulling the wool over your eyes or should premiums for large formats not sway your investment?

To answer the question of why they cost so much I spoke with Marlize Beyers at Hidden Bench winery in Niagara who has a good breadth of experience with bottling both magnums (1.5 L) and 3 L bottles (sometimes called Jeroboams, or more prosaically, double magnums). She says: “First, we only consider wines that are age-worthy to go to large format, usually single vineyard pinots and chardonnays from outstanding, cooler vintages. We do not release these wines for at least 2 years after bottling, so there is a storage cost involved, they take up a lot of room.” In addition, the packaging material is significantly costlier, for example, glass for magnums are 4.2x more expensive than a standard glass bottle, corks to match the wider diameter are 9.7x more and labels are 16.8x more expensive due to unique size and small runs.

Because the large format bottles are too large to fit onto a regular bottling line, Beyers needs a week or more to transfer the wine (for just over 500 bottles) to kegs after which they are filled by hand. Everything must be done manually in a smaller scale winery. “To conclude,” says Beyers, “it takes tremendous‎ time, effort, dedication, labour and detail to bring these to fruit and that is why they are worth more.” And although the costs for large format bottling are less for a commercial-scale winery, they are still significant.

But does it taste better and does it last longer? The prevailing opinion is that magnums age more slowly and perhaps result in a greater degree of harmony in the long-term than do smaller formats. The physical explanation for this is that the amount of space between the level of wine in the bottle and the bottom of the cork, known as the ullage, is roughly the same in various size bottles but the volume of wine is significantly different. Therefore, more oxidation would occur in smaller formats than in larger formats. More oxidation leads to more rapid ageing. However, whether such a small amount of oxidation makes a difference is inconclusive. In addition, often times the neck opening is slightly larger in a large format bottle so the difference in oxygen contact may not be that significant. Slower oxidation through the cork may also have an impact, but currently this is more of a hypothesis than a conclusively proven fact. Certainly, experiential and anecdotal evidence seems to point in the direction of slower ageing of large formats and if true, then the bottles clearly have more value in the long term.

The Finest BubbleInterestingly, all is different with Champagne bottles. We have more than anecdotal evidence and more science to demonstrate the intrinsic value of these wines in large formats. There seem to be significant differences in the flavour profile and in the way a Champagne magnum ages that is unlike any still wine bottling. The reason why has to do with a couple of key factors: carbon dioxide and autolysis. If you have ever used a gas preservation system like “Private Preserve” to keep your unfinished bottle of wine fresh, you’ll find that your wine will get a day or two of extra life. The spray is made up of carbon dioxide and nitrogen mix that settles on the surface of the wine preventing its exposure to oxygen. The same principle applies in Champagne where the natural carbonation will help preserve the wine from oxidation, slowing its development. Slower oxidation plus the high level of acidity characteristic to Champagne gives it a longer life in any format. Therefore, Champagne makes an ideal, age worthy addition to a collector’s cellar.

There is yet another factor that sets magnums apart. A degradation of yeast cells into “lees” – known as autolysis – also takes place differently in a large format bottle of Champagne. The explanation given by Nick Baker’s The Finest Bubble, a successful UK-based merchant of Champagne, is that the process “can take up to four weeks longer, but magnums also have proportionally more glass surface than [standard format] bottles, allowing more contact between the lees on the inside of the bottle and the wine. This results in magnums displaying much more roundness as the wine ages and crucially, much more complexity.” In short, a magnum of Champagne has a more extensive lees ageing process in a large format bottle resulting in a more complex wine.

A final factor in the value of a magnum is rarity. Like anything that is rare or scarce, a higher value will be attached to it. A winery may only choose to bottle in large formats in special vintages or for special clients but the runs in almost all cases are limited. A special bottling of your favorite wine may then be of interest to seek out from a collector’s standpoint just like that rare, signed baseball card.

As far as I’m concerned, the worth of a magnum is dependent on what is in the bottle. A large run of a large format by a large producer has very little intrinsic value – you will get wow factor for the bottle, but essentially the same product inside as two standard bottles. If the awesomeness of a large format is what you seek and can’t spend the big bucks, then the acquisition may just be worth a small additional cost. A large format bottling of Champagne, however, seems to be inherently different than standard formats and have value beyond the cost of their production. Thus, they may very well be worth the investment. If you collect, than a rare, large format bottling of your favourite wine is also worthy of your attention. As Marlize Beyers of Hidden Bench highlights, what makes it into these magnums are special wines, often from exceptional vintages that are naturally more age worthy. These large formats are a labour of love for small to mid-sized producers and they can make a very special part of your collection.

In any case, if you find yourself in possession of a magnum, be aware that they come with special needs. Some tips – chilling a white or sparkling wine must be irksomely done outside of the confines of a fridge, in icy water. Use two hands when pouring or decant into two standard size decanters. If you do not have room in your cellar for large formats and thus store them upright, make sure that are they regularly placed on their sides, propped securely, so that the cork stays fresh and moist.

Here are our top picks from this mini release of magnums. Unfortunately there are no whites or sparkling wines in this offering but there is a range of both affordable and collector-worthy bottles. We also offer recommendations on the new world portion of the VINTAGES release. Check last week’s recommendations to find the best of the old world.

Buyers Guide For November 14th: Large Formats

Masi 2009 Riserva Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva, DOC, Veneto, Italy ($149.95, 1500mL)

John Szabo – This is precisely the sort of wine you want to have in magnum, one that will age for a very long time indeed. It’s still another 4-6 years away from prime enjoyment I’d suspect, but already shows terrifically richness, balance, and complexity. Masi is one of the undisputed masters of the appassimento genre. Best 2019-2036++.
Sara d’Amato – The quality of this Masi offering is no surprise as this top producer of Amarone is a consistent overachiever. The wine offers great poise and depth of flavour as well as the structural framework that will allow for masterful evolution over the next 5-10 years.

Domaine Du Vieux Lazaret 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone, France ($84.95, 1500 mL)

Sara d’Amato – With a traditional feel, this wonderfully complex, fleshy and slightly lactic southern Rhone blend offers a great deal of bang for your buck. A deal at less than twice the price of a standard format bottle.

Masi Riserva Costasera Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Riserva 2009 Domaine Du Vieux Lazaret 2012 Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012 Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Santa Carolina 2008 Reserva de Familia Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley Chile ($37.95)

John Szabo – Here’s the best value going in this magnum feature, a nicely mature, savoury, herbal, earthy and balanced cabernet from Santa Carolina, hitting full stride now. Best 2015-2023.
Sara d’Amato – This well-priced magnum is ready to impress and perhaps the best value in this release. There is nothing pretentious about this approachable and gently matured cabernet from Santa Carolina.

Robert Mondavi 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, USA ($70.95)

John Szabo – An excellent value in the rarefied world of Napa cabernet, Mondavi’s 2013 finds a comfortable balance between well-measured fruit and wood, and savoury-earthy components. Tannins are still grippy and angular, in need of another 3-5 years to smoothen out, but this hits all of the right measures in an elegantly styled cabernet. Best 2018-2033.
Sara d’Amato – A solid, dry and age worthy example of Napa cabernet with a tannic firmness that requires three or more years to resolve. A splendid addition to your cellar at a fair price.

Buyers Guide For November 14th: New World White & Red

Jost Vineyards 2014 Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – Although there are some great Canadian finds in this release, I am particularly enthusiastic about this bright, cheerful and playful blend from a pioneer wine producer of the east coast. If offers elegant notes of mineral and white peach along with a hint of effervescence that adds to its refreshing character.

Bachelder 2012 Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula Canada ($44.95)

John Szabo – This is one of the more refined and fine-grained, sinewy and linear chardonnays in the excellent Bachelder range, with gentle lees influence and salty finish. It’s showing nicely at the moment, but one of the intriguing features of Bachelder’s wines is their ever-changing character, revealing new facets with each bottle. It’s a wine to buy several bottles of to track its fascinating evolution. Best 2015-2022.

Jost Vineyards Tidal Bay 2014 Bachelder Saunders Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 Stratus White 2012 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013

Stratus 2012 White, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake Canada ($44.20)

John Szabo – The 2012 is one of the finest Stratus white blends to date, densely woven, creamy, honeyed, very far from the Ontario white wine paradigm and much more at home in some old world, warm climate region (southern Rhône white?). I really appreciate the depth and the extract, almost thick but not heavy. I’d like to see this again in another year or two when the masses of dried fruit will have subsumed and integrated with the non-fruit flavour. This should age well. Best 2017-2024.

Flowers 2013 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, USA ($64.95)

John Szabo – Flowers remains a leader in the Sonoma Coast AVA, on the second ridge in from the Pacific in a decidedly cool slice of California. The natural vocation thus is to produce wines (chardonnay and pinot) of terrific precision and tension. This 2013 represents nicely: pure, fragrant and floral, gently reductive, succulent and savoury, salty and tight, but also generous and mouth filling, achieving a fine power-finesse balance. Best 2015-2023.

Rustenberg 2010 Buzzard Kloof Syrah, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – The Buzzard Kloof vineyard is located on one of the coolest sites of Rusternberg’s estate and produces a unique, peppery syrah that is terrifically compelling. The site is named after the Jackal and Steppe Buzzards that circle the thermal currents which rise above the ravine (kloof) adjacent to the vineyard.

Grand Vin de Glenelly 2009 Red, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95)

John Szabo – Bordelaise doyenne May-Éliane de Lencquesaing (of Pichon Lalande) is behind the Glenelly Estate in Stellenbosch, so the class, balance and composure of this shiraz + Bordeaux varieties blend is no surprise. What is surprising however is the exceptional; this ticks all of the boxes of top wine. Best 2015-2021.

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2010 Grand Vin De Glenelly Red 2009 D'arenberg The High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Strewn Canadian Oak Meritage 2013 Stratus Red 2012

d’Arenberg 2012 The High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($19.95) (943456)

Sara d’Amato – This highly acclaimed wine has been produced for four decades now and is sourced from the first of d’Arenberg’s vineyards (planted in the late 1800s) to be trained above knee height. The power and elegance offered here for under $20 is nothing short of impressive.

Strewn 2013 Canadian Oak Meritage, Niagara-On-the Lake, Ontario, Canada ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – Although not a new product, Canadian oak is not widely used nor mass-produced and thus you may not be aware of its existence. This elegant Bordelaise blend is a lovely introduction to our tight-grained, homegrown oak that (arguably) some describe as adding a slightly spicy, maple flavour to wine. Regardless, there is freshness but not under-ripeness to this ready-to-drink offering from Strewn.

Stratus 2012 Red VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada ($44.20)

John Szabo – Stratus winemaker J.L Groux evidently had an excellent 2012 season, hitting the both this flagship red, as well as the white, out of the park. It’s 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 to be sure for the region, but it works very well here. Drinking now, but better in another 3-5 no doubt. Best 2018-2025.

If you don’t already have your tickets for the 2015 Gourmet Games featuring, you are not too late! John and I will be your sensory guides through this great evening of food and fun. WineAlign members will get a $25 discount on tickets AND a $25 Special Gift Certificate. Click on the ad below for all the details.

Santé!

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES November 14th, 2015

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

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


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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008