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If I could buy only one – Aug 20th, 2016 VINTAGES Release

As part of our VINTAGES recap for August 20th, we asked our critics:

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

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

John Szabo – Great value whites are always in demand, at the tail end of summer, and always. And Soave is fertile hunting ground, where quality has risen astonishingly since the turn of the millennium, with prices yet to follow suit. La Cappuccina 2014 Soave is a fine example of the value to be found, a gentle but fresh and nectarine-flavoured wine with appreciable character and evident depth and concentration, not to mention an extra dimension of stony-minerality on the long finish.

La Cappuccina Soave 2014

David Lawrason – I have known Norman Hardie’s pinots from the beginning, watched his evolution in the County over the years, and tasted every vintage multiple times. So call me a homer if you want, but there is an aromatic thrill in this pinot that I don’t get anywhere else. And I will never tire of it.  As in my review – gorgeous, impeccable pinot nose with vibrant cherry/strawberry, light spice, lazy woodsy smokiness and wet stone.  You can judge its weight or lack thereof as you will, but great wine captivates on the nose. And this is great value in the pinot firmament, even at its new $45 price.

Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2014

Michael Godel – The label on this four endemic varietal red blend from the Douro tells us it’s “unoaked.” This seemingly insignificant bit of marketing is simply brilliant. Such knowledge is power and usually reserved for whites, especially chardonnay. Why not tell us your red wine spent no time in barrel? This is nothing short of awesome for the consumer. And so we have pure fruit and a simple, unadulterated experience. Quinta Nova de Nossa 2011 Senhora do Carmo is a terrific summer red (especially with grilled chicken on the BBQ) when procured with a chill that will serve and protect your palate and your will. At five years of age it has held up beautifully, a testament to hands off and trustworthy winemaking.

Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo Colheita Tinto 2011

Articles covering the VINTAGES August 20th release:

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES


For Premium Members, use these quick links for immediate access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release including John Szabo’s First-In-Line.

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
All August 20th Reviews

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Editors Note: You can access critic reviews and scores by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews and scores 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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South Africa: Best Value Wines in the World

…and Worth the Drive to Pickering
by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Earlier this year I spent virtually the entire month of March in South Africa, on dual assignments. The same happened in 2014. So after spending almost 60 days in this fascinating land, I am getting nicely familiar, more so than with almost any wine producing country beyond Canada, and perhaps New Zealand.

I have even fantasized about taking advantage of the weakness of the South African rand to spend several weeks there each winter – running a sort of WineAlign field office as it were. Some Canadians are doing just that. Once you have ponied up the airfare you can live very well for very little – in a wine paradise.

The Cape winelands are alive with innovation, diversity, regionalism/terroir – and huge value. I often tell anyone who is interested that South African wines are the best value wines in the world at this point in history. Which should be joyous news to all who care.

But the issue of price – SA’s low price – is also creating difficulties for South African wine in Canada, and elsewhere. We all like a bargain, but when the overall price of a country’s wines is too low, low-grade expectations follow. And this creates an inability to have more expensive and even higher quality wines taken seriously.

Very few South African wines on the LCBOs General List are priced over $13.95, and several are under $10. And the thirty-odd South African wines that come through VINTAGES each year seldom break $19.95. The LCBO buyers will tell you it’s because no one will buy more expensive South African wines. (But they aren’t offered either). So dog dizzily chases tail.

While in South Africa I suggested the entire wine industry should unilaterally increase prices by 10% or even more. Just to equalize with the price/quality ratio with the rest of the world. Eyebrows arched! They could take that 10% windfall and put it into programs that help the winery and vineyard workers better cope. Their wages are dismal – by Canadian standards – which is a major reason that the wines are cheap in the first place.

In this article I don’t want to rehash the climate, geography, sociology and history of South African wines. Several WineAlign critics have travelled there recently and done a great job of this – as well as writing about the youth movement in the wineries and the “Swartland Revolution”. So I link you to the thorough pieces by Treve Ring: Cape Wine Discoveries and Michael Godel’s: South Africa’s Capelands. I also published a too-long treatise on pinotage – South Africa’s heritage variety – last year.

Worth the Drive to Pickering

I do want to make you aware that a new LCBO South African destination store is opening at 1899 Brock Road in Pickering east of Toronto on September 16. It will feature all the LCBO general list wines, any VINTAGES wines in the system, plus wines only otherwise available directly from importers. More importantly, these will also be available at the new LCBO.com website and available for home delivery. So you don’t have to drive to Pickering, although for instant gratification it might well be worth it.

This newest “Products of the World” store is a foot in the door for higher priced Southern African wines.  And I just hope Ontario’s importers seize the opportunity. Indeed, they should be stampeding to do so.  The value that can be found in all price ranges from $10 to $50 is terrific. And believe me when I say that I tasted dozens upon dozens of 90-point plus wines in South Africa in March, wines that deserve to be on your table and in your cellar.

Barrels in Klein Constantia wine Cellar; Credit : Klein Constantia

Barrels in Klein Constantia wine Cellar

Here are many of the fine producers I encountered this year, most that you are not encountering- but we might hope to see some day: Leeuwenkuil, De Trafford/Sijnn, Constantia Glen, Klein Constantia, David and Nadia, Fram, Stranveld, Black Oyster Catcher, Crystallum, Thorne and Daughters, Chris Alheit, Creation, Newton Johnson, Reyneke, Tamboerskloof, Keinrood, Keermont, Glenelly, Drift Farm, Journey’s End, Raats, Paul Cluver, Radford Dale, Cederberg and Boekenhoutskloof.

Even some of the larger wineries that are represented here from time to time – KWV, Fairview, Glen Carlou, Mulderbosch, Bellingham, Ken Forrester, Jardin (Jordan) and Hamilton Russell – have much larger, more diverse and high qualities portfolio to which we are not exposed.

Should wines from this bunch ever show up in the LCBO South Africa destination store, or at LCBO.com, I will let you know.  Meanwhile, here is my hit list of a dozen great value South African wines available right now. Some are being promoted and discounted in Ontario until September 11. Yes, they are cheap, but the best are also great value. So why not capitalize?

Whites

Bellingham 2014 The Bernard Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region ($23.95)
Coming to the Pickering LCBO store, “The Bernard” is locally famous as being one of the finest chenin blancs of South Africa. Picked from old vines, fermented with natural yeast and barrel aged, it is indeed big (14%), but it carries itself well with confidence, even some elan. Expect lifted aromas of poached pear/peach fruit, lemon blossom, oak spice, cedar and honey.

The Wolftrap 2014 White, Western Cape ($13.95)
Blending Mediterranean varieties like viognier, grenache blanc and South Africa’s chenin blanc, this an exotic white with a generous nose of tropical green melon, pineapple fruit, a floral note (lily) and vaguely herbal complexity. It’s medium weight, fairly soft and warm but maintains a nice sense of freshness.  Marked down to $11.95 until Sept 11

Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2015The Wolftrap White 2014Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2015 Nederburg Sauvignon Blanc The Winemaster's Reserve 2015 Bellingham Homestead Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Boschendal 2015 The Pavillion Chenin Blanc ($11.00)
Yours for $9.50 until Sept 11th, this certainly offers piles of flavour for the money. There is trace sweetness start to finish despite its dry designation. Look for generous aromas and flavours of banana, elderflower, lemon and gentle nutmeg-like spice. It’s quite full bodied, soft yet has just enough acidity and alcohol to balance.

Nederburg 2015 Winemakers Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Coastal Region ($12.95)
This is mid-weight, fresh and lively sauvignon with pleasant cool climate aromas of fresh dill, snow pea, diced green pepper and a touch of guava. It does have refreshing acidity but alcohol heat rises on the finish.

Bellingham 2015 Homestead Sauvignon Blanc, Tygerberg ($16.95)
Sauvignon Blanc is a strong suit in coastal regions. Coming to the Pickering store, this grassy, peppery sauvignon hails from small appellation near Cape Town. The nose is loaded with fresh dill, some green melon/guava and mustard flower. It’s medium weight, fleshy yet enlivened with just enough acidity.

Reds

Porcupine Ridge 2015 Syrah, Swartland ($14.95)
In the 2015 vintage this great value VINTAGES EssentialS becomes a Swartland DO wine, sourced from the warmer inland region that produces such great old vine syrah. This is terrific for $15 – a dark, smoky, very peppery, smoked meat syrah with background violets and dark spiced cherry jam fruit. Fine depth and class for the money.

Spier 2014 Signature Merlot, Western Cape ($12.95)
From an historic Stellenbosch winery just arriving in Ontario, this is very good value, especially while discounted to $10.95 until September 11. It’s a quite fine, complex merlot that crosses Euro and New World lines and delivers some elegance. There is certainly ripe fruit with baked plum, chocolate, leather and herbs on the nose.

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2015 Spier Signature Merlot 2014Man Family Wines Bosstok Pinotage 2014

MAN Family 2013 Bosstock Pinotage, Coastal Region ($13.95)
This is a modern Stellenbosch winery making nicely pure, gentle and juicy wines. This very well priced pinotage catches the essential strawberry, earthy and slightly meaty character of South Africa’s heritage grape. Not highly structured but it offers good intensity and amiable drinkability. At Vintages while it lasts.

Kloof Street 2014 Red, Western Cape ($19.95)
From leading new wave winery called Mullineux, this syrah-led Rhonish blend is not showy but it is nicely balanced with well integrated but not very intense plum, earth, pepper aromas and flavours, with some licorice and vague Cape tar. I like the palate tension. At Vintages until stocks deplete.

The Wolftrap 2015 Syrah Mouvedre Viognier, Western Cape ($13.95)
One of the great values in modern South African winemaking, Wolftrap is a bargain brand from the Boekenhoutskloof winery that has specialized in and elevated Rhone wines in South Africa. This rings with great syrah authenticity for under $15 – steeped in smoky oak, cured meat, olive brine, dark cherry and almost soya sauce like notes.

Kloof Street Red 2014The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2015 Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 K W V Roodeberg 2014

Boschendal 2014 The Pavillon Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon, Western Cape ($12.05)
From one of the largest and best estates of the Cape, this is very good value in a shiraz cabernet blend that nicely positions both varieties. Not hugely aromatic but the shiraz pepper and subtle meatiness works nicely with cabernet’s currants, plus a well placed touch of oak spice.

KWV 2014 Roodeberg, Western Cape ($12.95)
The first vintage of Roodeberg – one of South Africa’s most well known reds – was made in 1969. Today it is a cabernet based (43%) blend of seven varieties, that spends 12 months in French and American oak. It is a fairly complex, quite meaty, spicy, peppery red. It is full bodied, a bit hard and hot with some cab greenness on the finish. But there is bang for the buck, especially at $10.60 until Sept 11.

Good luck and keep searching.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Sign in to WineAlign and use this link to find Wines of South Africa in stock at your favourite store: Discover South African Wine

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium 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 – August 20, 2016

The Next Big Thing, Again? Let’s Focus Instead on Real Big Things.
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The main theme for the August 20th release is ‘the next big thing’. It’s a common vinous leitmotif that I’m sure must drive winemakers and winery owners wild. Countless articles are dedicated to reporting on the hottest, latest, trendiest things in the world of wine: new grapes, emerging regions, cutting edge or re-discovered ancient techniques, and anything else that might be deemed the next big thing. Journalists by nature, and necessity, are desperate for news, which consumers are eager to lap up to stay ‘in the know’. Many sommeliers have built careers and reputations by listing only new, fashionable, invariably obscure wines. I am guilty on several counts. But, for a change this week, let’s focus instead on genuine big things. Here’s why.

The trouble with chasing the next big thing in the world of wine is that making the stuff – and here I mean the kind of wine that causes pause for intellectual or artistic reflection – is a pursuit of incredible patience and unswerving dedication to an ideal, not a trend. The reality is that, cosmetic changes aside, the wine industry is as nimble as an aircraft carrier. It’s impossible to re-tool your operation overnight to produce the latest shiny object for people to chase. It takes at least 4-5 years to establish a vineyard, and another decade or so before its full potential begins to reveal itself. Establishing the sort of cultural framework that gives rise to a distinctive and identifiable regional style – the old world appellation model – takes much longer still, generations in fact of doing the same thing over and over. Overnight success, as they say, is a lifetime in the making.

Sure, you can graft new varieties onto the roots of existing vineyards and change your production from one year to the next. It’s frequently done. But that’s the game of corporate wine factories, chasing trends like a dog chases its tail, seeking quarterly profits, not meaningful cultural patrimony. Step one: plant the darling grape of the day, say, chardonnay. When consumer preferences shift to red, graft the vineyard over to cabernet. Then a movie comes out and everyone wants pinot noir. Then pinot grigio is all the rage. Or is it moscato, or fiano, or trousseau? Vineyard managers and nurserymen are ever grateful for the next big thing. They’ll never be out of work. But the results of flip-flopping your vineyard or planting what’s trendy, not necessarily suitable, are predictably poor – basic commercial wine at the lowest level.

On the contrary, memorable, distinctive wine is by definition the antithesis of trendy, born of a long, well-crafted story arc, not a loose reality TV script. It takes years to create, fine-tune, and perfect. And when you start, predicting trends at least 15 years into the future is both impossible and foolish, doomed to fail. You’re far better off focusing on what your patch of dirt will likely do best, and dedicating all efforts to maximize that potential, not guessing at what hipsters will be drinking in 2030. There’s always a market for quality, timeless fashion.

That’s why slavish devotion in the media and sales to celebrating the newest and shiniest, at the expense of the established and reliable, must really cause winemakers deep exasperation. It can jeopardize a decade’s, or several generations, worth of effort, as consumers are encouraged to forget the old and embrace the new, until something newer comes along.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t experiment, explore and discover. That’s what keeps us – writers and sommeliers, passionate wine drinkers and yes, even winemakers – permanently engaged, and keeps the industry evolving positively. But it shouldn’t be your exclusive MO. Save some liver function for those old-time, non-trendy classics. They deserve the lion’s share of the spotlight. So let’s forget the ‘next big thing’ this week, and focus instead on the wines that have earned the right to call themselves a genuinely big thing.

Our Top Picks from the August 20th VINTAGES release:

Big Thing Sparkling & Whites

The region of Champagne has been producing wine since Paris was a swampy village, even if champagne as we know it today, sparkling, is only about three centuries old. But hell, let’s call it established anyway. I was floored by the Guy Charlemagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Réserve Brut Champagne, France ($61.95), an archetype in every way from a family-grower operation founded in 1892. From all grand cru-rated chardonnay vineyards in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, next door to Champagne Salon’s vineyards, it offers classic blanc de blancs finesse and precision, balanced on razor-sharp acids, and blends a just measure of white chocolate/blanched almond-brioche character from reserve wines and sur lie ageing, with zesty-bright green apple and citrus fruit showing no signs of tiring yet. It’s for fans of refined and sophisticated champagne with no small measure of depth and power in reserve.

Chablis has rightfully established itself as one of the most original places on earth to grow chardonnay. It was trendy perhaps half a century ago, now a genuine and lasting big thing. Why would anyone want to make anything other than classic Chablis in Chablis? Tinkering with it would be like trying to perfect the wheel. For example, try the Jean Collet & Fils 2014 Montée de Tonnerre Chablis 1er Cru, France ($37.95). It’s a lovely, balanced, convincingly concentrated Montée de Tonnerre with exceptional length, while flavours are absolutely textbook, all quivering stones, fresh cream and lively green apple and citrus – a superb value in the realm of fine white wine. It’ll be better in 2-3 years, or hold into the mid-’20s.

Guy Charlemagne Blanc De Blancs Grand Cru Réserve Brut Champagne Jean Collet & Fils Montée De Tonnerre Chablis 1er Cru 2014 Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo 2014 La Cappuccina Soave 2014

At the risk of appearing trendy, I’m including Mastroberardino’s 2014 Greco di Tufo, Campania, Italy ($19.95) in this list. But while greco may not be a household name, the grape has been planted in Campania for at least two thousand years, and Mastroberardino is the grand old company that brought it back to prominence starting in the early 20th century. The current generation, Don Piero Mastroberardino, is most decidedly not chasing trends. This latest release is sharp and phenolically rich, putting the variety’s almost extreme minerality on display. A lively streak of acids pins down the ensemble – a crackling backbone of energy, while fruit is very much a secondary feature. There’s plenty of wine here for the money, but it needs at least another 2-3 years to really start showing its best.

Once ultra-trendy Soave is thankfully past that awkward era in the ‘70s when practically anything wet and white would sell under the regional name. Now it’s so untrendy in fact that winemakers can (have to) again focus on quality, which has risen astonishingly since the turn of the millennium, with prices yet to follow suit. La Cappuccina 2014 Soave, Veneto, Italy ($15.95) is a fine example of the value to be found, a gentle but fresh and nectarine-flavoured wine with appreciable character and evident depth and concentration, not to mention an extra dimension of stony-minerality on the long finish.

Big Thing Reds

Montalcino came perilously close to collapsing under the sinister pressure of international trends last decade when the excessive use of new barriques and illegal grapes conspired to thicken, darken and denature the gorgeous perfume and delicacy of many of the region’s Brunelli in an effort to make everything taste like then-fashionable cabernet. Many wineries were accused, and some convicted, of blending grapes other than sangiovese in the ‘Brunellogate’ scandal, since Brunello must be 100% sangiovese by law. The region subsequently voted narrowly in favour of keeping the appellation pure, a clear victory for the anti-trend faction.

For a taste of what Brunello should be, cursed trends aside, try the Caparzo 2010 La Casa Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($73.95). This is Caparzo’s single vineyard expression from the premium north side of Montalcino in an excellent vintage, a wine of exceptional structure, depth and character. Don’t expect it to bowl you over with masses of fruit; it’s a toned and firm expression, lithe and sinewy, energetic and tightly wound the way we like it, still a couple of years away from prime drinking. Length is terrific and complexity will only continue to build from an excellent, savoury, umami-laden base in classic sangiovese style. Best 2018-2028.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley has arguably done a better job than any other new world region in forging an identity within a single generation based on regional vocation, not pie-in-the-sky trend chasing (only Marlborough Sauvignon comes close). Pinot noir was among the first grapes planted in 1966 and today still accounts for the overwhelming majority of production. And remember, that pre-dates the big trend for pinot by over three decades – no one succumbed to the temptation to plant cabernet in the interim (which would never have ripened anyhow).

Caparzo La Casa Brunello di Montalcino 2010 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2013 Viña Olabarri Crianza 2011

Domaine Drouhin’s excellent 2013 Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills sub-AVA ($52.95) is a classic of the genre: light, fresh, balanced, firm but not hard, with a scratchy bit of minerality on the palate, generous tart red berry flavours and impressively long finish. It’s fitting, too, that Drouhin was the first major foreign investor in the valley in 1987, and from Burgundy no less. Was Véronique Drouhin chasing a lucrative trend? Hardly. Most Americans at the time didn’t know pinot from peanuts. She simply understood that the Dundee Hills would make an excellent place to grow pinot, now robustly proved.

Rioja, and indeed all of Spain, is living on the edge of a dangerously trendy abyss, emerging as the nation is from its 20th century isolated slumber. So many wineries/regions/wines are seeking a foothold in the 21st century, tempted by various fashionable styles. Viña Olabarri’s 2011 Rioja Crianza ($14.95), however, stands steadfast in traditional garb. It delivers the classic resinous/balsam/sandalwood flavours of abundant American oak, in use since the 16th century, (albeit in rustic form), with a nice dose of tart red and black berry fruit. Tannins are a little rough-and-tumble, but nothing that some grilled, salty, fatty protein couldn’t soften at the table. It’s a decent little value for fans of traditional style Rioja.

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

johnszabosignature

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES August 20th, 2016

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – August Whites

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium 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!


For Premium Members, use these quick links for easy access to all the Premium Picks:

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
All August 20th Reviews 


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Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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If I could buy only one – Aug 6th, 2016 VINTAGES Release

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

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

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

John Szabo – This is for all of you who believe that a wine’s first duty is to be red. For many reasons, some of which I don’t understand, white wine has developed a reputation of being lighter, simpler and more easy-drinking than red wine, a more “serious” expression of fermented grapes. Here’s a wine that belies that nonsense. Fiano has been prized since at least the first century (it was widely planted in Pompeii, for example), and this example from Romano Clelia, one of the finest vignerons in the region, is extraordinary. It’s from the small village of Lapio in Avellino where the grape is believed to originate and where the best and most ageworthy wines from volcanic ash-sprinkled soils are produced. It’s very ripe and smoky, dense and concentrated, lightly salty. I’d buy a few bottles to watch it evolve over the next decade; I suspect this will be at it’s finest sometime around 2020, with lots of pleasure on either side. In any case, it has every bit the depth and complexity of any fine, serious red wine. I’d even serve this with steak.

Colli Di Lapio Fiano Di Avellino 2014

David Lawrason – They say that wine is like music, with one sip able to transport you to a time and place. This very good cabernet franc did just that. It beamed me right back into the vineyards of Bourgueil in 1984, on a cloudy September day, when the ripe grapes were heavy on the wine. There was a heady earthy scent in the air. It was the first time I had set foot in a French vineyard. I tasted the ripe grapes. And this wine tastes exactly as I remember. It has a very lifted, woodsy/leafy nose with juicy blackcurrant, red peppers and evergreen notes. Very countryside fresh. It’s quite tart-edged and dry but that same juicy generosity floods onto the palate. The Vignoble des Robinières l’Alouette Bourgueil is charming and authentic, and under $20 I may buy more than one, just for memory’s sake.

Vignoble Des Robinières L'alouette Bourgueil 2014

Michael Godel – Whilst we find ourselves suspended in the throes of a scorching Ontario summer there can never be such a thing as too many thirst quenching white wines. Greece is the word and in terms of go to Greek whites moschofilero may play second violi to assyrtiko but Mantinia is a special place for the aromatic Peloponnese variety. This ripping example from Troupis should not be missed. At this price ($17) the value quotient is simply crazy good, bordering on ridiculous. Assyrtiko by the sea? Sure. Moschofilero by the lake or the pool? Bring it on.

Troupis Mantinia Moschofilero 2015

 

From VINTAGES August 6th, 2016

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium 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!


For Premium Members, use these quick links for easy access to all the top picks in our New Releases:

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
All August 6th Reviews


 

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – August 6, 2016

While We Summer Snooze Ontario’s Wine World is A-Changing
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

It’s August. The wine industry in the Northern Hemisphere goes into summer slumber, awaiting the harvest in September. (Maybe even before Labour Day in Niagara if this heat keeps up). But this is the most active, change-filled summer I can remember, especially right here in Ontario. And it’s all being generated by the LCBO, or at least within the LCBO as it pushes forward to expand selection and shopping convenience – en route to the arrival of wine in the first 70 supermarkets by the end of October.

I will get to our dozen picks from the August 6 release in just a moment, but first an update for those of you who might have missed current events while jumping off of docks or paddling in Algonquin Park.

For starters, the LCBO has soft launched a game-changing on-line ordering and direct delivery e-commerce site at LCBO.com. You can now go on line and punch up an order ($50 minimum) to be delivered via Canada Post to your address ($12 fee), or to the LCBO store of your choosing (no fee). Delivery times vary depending on what you order and where you direct it to be shipped (within Ontario only).

There are 5,000 brands listed now, including most on-shelf general list and VINTAGES items, plus several hundred not in stores that can unfortunately only be purchased by the case (with much longer delivery times). Into 2017 the LCBO is promising, projecting and/or presuming 16,000 brands, which is more like the selection in any major private market in the world.

This will include an open selection of BC, Quebec and Ontario wines, thanks to an agreement signed by Ontario, BC and Quebec in Yellowknife in July, to allow shipping of each others wines between the provinces. Details are scarce, and those BC wines are not yet listed on the site.

I also draw your attention to the fact that the LCBO continues its vastly under-promoted program of creating ‘destination stores’ for wines of various countries. These locations carry all General List and VINTAGES listings from the ‘destination’ country, plus selections from the Consignment Warehouse, from which importing agents supply restaurants. These extra wines now also appear on LCBO.com

Last weekend the Australian store opened in the Leaside neighbourhood of Toronto (Laird and Eglinton East). To recap other openings: Greece on the Danforth, Spain at Bloor and Royal York, Portugal at Keele and St. Clair, New Zealand on Avenue Rd north of Lawrence, Argentina in Aurora and Chile on Erin Mills Parkway in Mississauga. And South Africa comes to Pickering in September.

This is a great idea – fostered by the LCBOs George Soleas before he became CEO – that moves us ever closer to a private model, where specialization is key. The lack of promotional enthusiasm from the LCBO and countries involved so far is mind-boggling. It’s like no one knows what to do with it, somehow paralyzed by lack of precedent.

Anyway, here are some picks from John, Michael and I from the August 6th release. John also picked some of his favourites in a preview last week.

Whites

Colli di Lapio 2014 Fiano di Avellino, Campania, Italy ($30.95)
John Szabo – Here’s an exceptional example of Fiano from the small village in Avellino – Lapio – where the grape is believed to originate, and in any case the origin of some of the appellation’s best and most age worthy wines, from volcanic ash-sprinkled soils. I’d rate Romano Clelia as one of the finest vignerons in the region, and this is clearly made with care and ambition, very ripe and smoky, dense and concentrated, with a fine amalgam of orchard and tropical fruit, lightly salty. Length and depth are exceptional. Drink, or better yet hold another 2-3 years to experience the full development of minerality.
Michael Godel – Pitch near-perfect seafood companion from Campania, briny, stony, rock crag-crunchy and oyster shell myopic. Fiano that gets to the crux of its own austerity is a beautiful thing as witnessed in the pure open vitality of this Colli di Lapio.

Thorn Clarke 2015 Eden Trail Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia ($16.95)
Michael Godel – Represents arid riesling from Eden for all the right reasons and succeeds without compromise. Tremendous entry-level value offering a similar level of quality as do the single-vineyard and special selection courtesan kind from the Eden Valley.

Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino 2014 Thorn Clarke Eden Trail Riesling 2015 Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Domaine Lafage Cadireta Blanc 2014

Wither Hills 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Consistently one of my favourite NZSB styles – this slender, crisp but intensely flavoured sauvignon does a nice job of balancing passion fruit ripeness with flecks of fresh dill, asparagus tip and green pepper. It has a leaner, more compact feel than many. Great summer quencher.

Domaine Lafage 2014 Cadireta Blanc, Côtes Catalanes, France ($16.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a tidy little value from this perennial good value operation in southern France. Predominantly chardonnay, it’s is a lovely, floral, sweet lemon-citrus scented white blend, remarkably fresh and refined, with no wood influence.

La Cadierenne Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé 2015 Château Gassier Le Pas Du Moine Rosé 2015Rosé

Château Gassier 2015 Le Pas Du Moine Rosé, Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire, France ($21.95)
David Lawrason – One of the finest roses of the summer in my books.  It is a very pale silver-pink, dry Provencal style with a subtle, lovely nose of saffron, pink grapefruit, crab-apple jam and faded roses. It has more weight and viscosity than the colour suggests. Classy stuff.

La Cadierenne 2015 Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé, Provence, France ($20.95)
Michael Godel – Boozy (listed at 14 per cent) and beautifully balanced Bandol with terrific mouthfeel and elongation. Built on a slow developed variegation of flavour in a pink tonic that is perfect for your summer health.

Reds

Moraine 2014 Cliffhanger Red, Okanagan Valley. B.C. ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This silver medalist from the National Wine Awards of Canada is a malbec/merlot blend from a single vineyard on the Naramata Bench. I have tasted several Moraine wines this summer and like their energy. It has quite lifted floral, almost geranium like nose thanks to the malbec with lilac/violet, some oak spice, chocolate and herbs. Quite delicious and not heavy.

Mullineux Wines 2014 Kloof Street Red, South Africa ($19.95)
Michael Godel – A six varietal blend  led by shiraz, with bits of grenache, mourvedre, tinto barocca and cinsault. Chris and Andrea Mullineux are here represented at modern South Africa, Swartland Revolution, ground level with pure, unadulterated red wine joy. Everyone must spend $20 over and over to enjoy what this will offer.

Moraine Estate Winery Cliffhanger Red 2014 Kloof Street Red 2014 Vignoble Des Robinières l'Alouette Bourgueil 2014 Monte Del Frá Lena Di Mezzo Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2013

Vignoble Des Robinières 2012 l’Alouette Bourgueil, Loire Valley ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This mid-weight cabernet franc has a very lifted, woodsy/leafy nose with juicy blackcurrant, red peppers and evergreen notes. Very countryside fresh and authentic. It’s quite tart-edged and dry but juicy generosity floods the palate.

Monte Del Frá 2013 Lena di Mezzo Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($20.95)
John Szabo
– Monte del Frà makes an exemplary version of ripasso, not exaggeratedly raisined, but rather focused on the vibrant fruit that Valpolicella does as well as any in Italy. This is bright, spicy, balanced and still very fresh, and silky smooth – a really pleasant, succulent wine.

Damilano 2011 Le Cinque Vigne, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($46.95)
David Lawrason – This a compelling, engaging Barolo combining elegance, charm (not often said of Barolo) and structure. It’s mid-weight, even and quite fine, with excellent length. It should live a decade with ease, and you don’t have to wait all that long to enjoy it. Start in 2018.

Damilano Lecinquevigne Barolo 2011 Ardal Reserva 2006 Torres Perpetual 2013

Bodegas Balbas 2006 Ardal Reserva,  Ribera del Duero, Spain ($21.95)
David Lawrason – This mature blend of tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon shows a quite fragrant rich nose of black cherry nicely fitted with damp wood, coconut, vanillin, licorice and herbs. There is life and energy here, especially for its age and price. Ready to roll.

Torres 2013 Cos Perpetual, Priorat, Spain ($49.95)
John Szabo
– I think the (regular) Torres Salmos Priorat is exceptional, but this recent flagship bottling, made “in homage to the old ‘vinos de guarda’, wines capable of defeating time” is in another league. A blend of old vines cariñena and garnacha from both terraced vineyards on slate soils and more coastal-influenced sites, it’s exceptionally dense, rich and ripe in the regional idiom. Yet it retains a sense of balance and even elegance, if such a thing can be said of such a powerful wine, and 15%+ alcohol is worn surprisingly well, buoyed by genuine acids and firm, honest and grippy tannins. Hold for another 2-4 years at least for a more mature expression, or leave in the cellar until the late-twenties, as was the intention.

And on that uplifting note we leave you for another week. I will be authoring the first report on the August 23 release next Friday. Enjoy the dead of summer.

Cheers

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES August 6th, 2016

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium 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!


For Premium Members, use these quick links for easy access to all the top picks in our New Releases:

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
All August 6th Reviews 


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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – August 6, 2016

Value in the Southern Hemisphere
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week I’ve highlighted some especially good southern hemisphere wines from the August 6th VINTAGES release. Australia is the main thematic, but I was so enthused by wines from New Zealand and especially South Africa that I had to include them in this report. The wines of the Cape are particularly attractive these days with the free fall of the South African Rand vis-à-vis international currencies, Canadian dollar included, over the last few years. The top bottles from the Cape’s winelands are ferociously competitive against their strong Euro and USD equivalents in particular. It’s a great time to explore.

Fans of Australian wine in Ontario are also rejoicing this week, thanks to the launch last Friday of the LCBO’s newest “Products of the World” specialty boutique featuring Australia. “The destination store at 65 Wicksteed Avenue in Leaside [Toronto] will offer around 200 Australian wines, which is believed to be the best single-store assortment available outside of Australia”, says LCBO media relations coordinator Christina Bujold.

About 40 of the listings are from LCBO’s Consignment Program, now available to customers by the single bottle, rather than full case lots, for the first time outside of bars and restaurants. Theoretically, customers should be able to order any of these selections for no-charge delivery to their local store, anywhere in Ontario.

And to get you in the mood, grab a glass and read the recent WineAlign three-part series covering the Australian wine scene’s history, evolution, and revolution.

Destination Australia: LCBO opens new “Products of the World” store

And finally, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m happy to report that the first release from a small vineyard project in Hungary I’ve been involved in since 2003 is hitting shelves on August 6th. J&J Eger is a joint venture with my parter János Stumpf, and the wine, the Eged-Hegy Vineyard Kékfrankos, reflects the old-vine spiciness of this central European variety, the hillside’s limestone, and the region’s cool climate, no more, no less. For obvious reasons, I have not written a full review, but I do hope you’ll check it out!

Next week the WineAlign crü will be back with all of the top picks from the August 6th release.

Buyers’ Guide: Southern Hemisphere Whites

I must doff my cap to the KWV, formally the Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Suid-Afrika in Afrikaans (or “Co-operative Winemakers’ Society of South Africa”) the former government-supported, nationwide cooperative that for years churned out forgettable plonk. Since evolving into a private corporate structure in 1997, quality has risen substantially, especially in the premium (but still inexpensive) range. For a sample, try the Cathedral Cellar 2010 Blanc De Blanc Brut, Méthode Cap Classique, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($16.95). You’d be hard pressed to find a better traditional method sparkling wine at the price, attractively open and fragrant, mixing lively citrus with fresh brioche on a mid-weight frame, framed by sharp acids.

I was prompted to double check the price on the Thelema Mountain Vineyards 2012 Sutherland Chardonnay, WO Elgin, South Africa ($15.95), convinced there was a pricing error. Sutherland is Stellenbosch-based Thelema Mountain Vineyards’ cool Elgin property in the southern Cape, and this chardonnay is stunning value. It’s crafted in the smoky, flinty/sulphide-driven style, that’s so very post-modern and popular in sommelier circles. There’s a lot going on here for the money, to say the least, and it easily competes with similar style wines at significantly higher prices.

Cathedral Cellar Blanc De Blanc Brut 2010Thelema Sutherland Chardonnay 2012 Hill Smith Estate Chardonnay 2014

For a fine example of the balance and finesse achievable in the cool Eden Valley of South Australia, try the Hill-Smith Estate 2014 Chardonnay ($19.95). It’s a very classy, nicely measured, silky-smooth textured chardonnay, with gentle wood toast and spice, and terrific length in the price category. Drink or hold short term.

Buyers’ Guide: Southern Hemisphere Reds

South Africa is also the origin of two excellent reds in this release, albeit in two radically different styles. Drinkers of bold and spicy wines will enjoy the Fairview 2014 Shiraz, WO Coastal Region, South Africa ($17.95), a dark and dense, plush, wood-inflected shiraz with juicy acids and appealing medicinal complexity. It’s an ideal smoky BBQ wine, best 2016-2020.

Fans of contemporary, lighter style reds should opt instead for the Kloof Street 2014 Red, WO Swartland, South Africa ($19.95), the second tier range from the talented duo of Chris and Andrea Mullineux. It too is a shiraz-led blend (86%, with splashes of grenache, carignan, mourvèdre, tinta barocca and cinsault), from the very hip Swartland region and its wealth of old, often abandoned vineyards, now being rediscovered. This beauty is dressed in an attractively smoky-savoury guise, very floral and pot pourri-scented, with a light volatile lift. The palate is well structured with lively, vibrant acids, very food friendly and balanced, with great complexity for the money. Best with a light chill, 2016-2020.

Fairview Shiraz 2014 Kloof Street Red 2014 Kilikanoon Killerman's Run Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013 Momo Pinot Noir 2013

There were three Rhône-style blends from Australia in the release, a growing category, of which my preferred was the Kilikanoon 2013 Killerman’s Run Grenache/Shiraz/Mataro from the Clare Valley, South Australia ($19.95). It has the edge in balance and drinkability, offering vibrant, nicely pitched fresh dark fruit flavours and just the right amount of peppery spice, without sacrificing the generosity one hopes for in Australian reds. Best 2016-2019.

And representing New Zealand is a fine value pinot for fans of the classy, cool climate, old school style from biodynamic producer Seresin. The Momo 2013 Pinot Noir from Marlborough under the estate’s second label is a lovely, light, leafy, dusty, tart red berry-flavoured example, open and honest. I like the gently high-toned floral notes, the fine-grained, dusty-light tannins, and the pleasant, lingering finish. Best 2016-2020.

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

johnszabosignature

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES August 6th, 2016

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium 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!


For Premium Members, use these quick links for easy access to all the top picks:

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
All August 6th Reviews 


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Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

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

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

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

Flowers Chardonnay 2014

 

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

Hecht & Bannier Bandol Rosé 2015

 

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

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

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

William Fèvre Champs Royaux Chablis 2014

From VINTAGES July 23rd, 2016

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

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

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – July 23, 2016

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

David Lawrason

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

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

Chilean Wine Map

Click for larger image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buyers’ Guide to July 23rd release:

White Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES July 23rd, 2016

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

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


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Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – July 23, 2016

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

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

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

Buyer’s Guide: Spanish Cante Jondo

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

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

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

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

Cosecha Imports – Some Producers to Track Down

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

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

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

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

On the Curious Relationship between Sauvignon Blanc and Price

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

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

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

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

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

Buyers’ Guide: Sauvignon Blanc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All July 9th Reviews

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


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Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

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

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

 

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

Hubert Brochard Les Carisannes Pinot Noir 2014

 

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

Charles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2015

 

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

Abbazia di Novacella Müller Thurgau 2014

 

From VINTAGES July 9th, 2016

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

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


 

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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008