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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 8th, Part One

Loire Valley and Smart White Buys
By John Szabo MS with wine notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Loire Valley is one of my favourite regions. Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé remain world sauvignon benchmarks. Cabernet franc from the appellations around Tours and Saumur define the perfumy cool climate style. Chenin reigns supreme east of Tours and south of Angers, challenged only perhaps by South Africa for its most singular expression, though the Loire wins hands-down on diversity. And Muscadet remains, dollar for dollar, the best value white wine on the planet (if you define best as dry, stony, lean and taut, as I do). The moments when my home Muscadet supplies run dry are very dark indeed.

The August 8th VINTAGES release features a competent but limited selection from the banks of France’s longest, languidly lumbering river, enough to get you started. We reveal our top in this report, along with a miscellaneous assortment of attention-grabbing whites. Next week David leads off on the larger Pacific Northwest thematic and other memorable reds. I won’t keep you any longer; there’s mid-summer sipping to be done.

Buyers’ Guide for August 8th 2015: Loire Valley

Domaine Bonnard Sancerre Rouge 2013

Domaine des Côtes Blanches Sancerre 2013Domaine des Côtes Blanches 2013 Sancerre, Loire, France ($24.95)
John Szabo – An arch-classic, old school, very chalky-flinty example of Sancerre, with fine depth and length. Textbook. Love the dusty texture and ripe-creamy-taut texture, as well as the length.

Domaine Bonnard 2013 Sancerre Rouge, Loire, France ($23.95)
John Szabo – Pinot noir was more widely planted in Sancerre before phylloxera, and is slowly making a bit of a comeback. Attentive viticulture is key, but even still these are light, transparent, fragrant versions without the meat and fat of even lighter-style Burgundy. But that’s their charm: all lace and grace, pinots to drink with a chill. Bonnard’s fits perfectly within the regional idiom, crunchy and leafy.
Sara d’Amato – This light bodied, fragrant pinot noir is an absolutely delightful sipper. Cherry, thyme and dried rose add elegance and intrigue to the palate. Chill slightly for ultimate refreshment.

Bouvet Nv Brut Excellence Crémant de Loire, Loire, France ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Good Loire chenin sparklers can be great value when they deliver – and this delivers. It is brightly fruity – loaded with chenin’s pear/quince waxy fruit, lemon and a touch of biscuit. It’s light, slender, a touch off-dry with brilliant acidity and fruit on the palate. Quite delicious, penetrating and very good value.

Clos Les Montys 2013 Vieilles Vignes Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie, Loire, France ($13.95)
John Szabo – Lean, crisp, bright, totally transparent and bone dry, in other words, textbook Muscadet. Complexity and length are ultimately modest, but at the price, this delivers everything it needs to and more.
David Lawrason – It is simplistic, but a light, polished, super fresh young Muscadet with green apple fruit, lime/grapefruit and vague stoniness. It’s quite juicy and tart with some bitterness on the finish. Wanted a bit more complexity for a higher rating (87) but at $13.95 who’s complaining.

Bouvet Brut Excellence Crémant De LoireClos Les Montys Vieilles Vignes MuscadetChâteau Favray Pouilly Fumé 2011

Château Favray 2014 Pouilly Fumé, Loire, France ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – Upon the pebbly Villiers limestone soils, sauvignon blanc flourishes in Pouilly-Fumé. This dynamite offering from Château Favray exemplifies the region’s characteristic flinty, mineral character, with racy acids that are refreshing as opposed to austere.
David Lawrason – This is from a 15 hectare estate on pebbly limestone soils, owned by a gent named Quentin David who revived an ancient property in 1980 that had been laid low by phylloxera in the 19thC. It’s an excellent buy in a solid, firm and nicely complex sauvignon with grapefruit, green pear, spice and dried herbs. It’s medium weight with taut acidity, some warmth and very good to excellent length. The herbal elements carry well on the finish, to excellent length.

Buyers Guide for August 8th 2015: Smart Whites

Wegeler Sweet Riesling 2012

Rieflé Steinert Pinot Gris 2010Rieflé 2010 Steinert Pinot Gris AC Alsace Grand Cru, Alsace, France ($24.95)
John Szabo – A pinot gris in the opulent, late harvest, distinctively Alsatian style, dense and robust, from the calcareous Steinert grand cru. Fans of exotic, flirtatious fruit underpinned by residual sugar and acid take note. Would be a treat with roasted pork or chicken, or soft cheeses.

Wegeler 2012 Sweet Riesling, VDP Gutswein, Mosel, Germany ($19.95)
David Lawrason – I looked up Gutswein (good wine) and found the following definition: “VDP GUTSWEIN, or regional wines, originates from an estate’s holdings within a region. They are entry-level house wines that meet the general standards prescribed by the VDP and provide a good introduction to the VDP’s hierarchy that inherently links wine quality with origin”. Well this certainly out-performs that definition. It is a lovely, pristine, off-dry riesling with classic Mosel charm, delicacy yet authority. Expect lifted floral, honeyed, peachy fruit with some lemon. Great fruit here; real precision that only the Mosel can really deliver.

Contrade Di Taurasi 2012 Grecomusc’, IGT Campania Bianco, Italy ($32.95)
John Szabo – An utterly arresting wine made from the unique and rare Rovello grape, formerly known as Grecomuscio (no relation to Greco), this has substantial complexity in a decidedly non-fruity style. It’s focused entirely on stony-flinty-chalky flavours on a lean, almost austere, taut frame, not a crowd pleaser by any means. But I love the tension and the quivering acids, and the green herbs and sea salt wash on the long finish. Very original.
Sara d’Amato – This Campanese rovello is a stunner with the potential for interesting evolution. The broad and complex palate is dizzying and offers compelling notes of honey, stinging nettle, parsnip, lime and white tea. Collectors take note!

Domaine Lafage 2013 Côté Est, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is an exotic, bloomy and spicy young white that combines Mediterranean varieties grenache blanc and vermentino. I would have bet on some muscat as well, but apparently it is the vermentino providing all the lemongrass and floral lift. It is very crisp, tidy and well-balanced, with a tart, stony finish. The catalogue says it is “new at VINTAGES” but it was actually on the General List some years ago and was just as good then.
Sara d’Amato – A grenache blanc and vermentino blend perfect for summer sipping. A sure-fire crowd pleaser, this dry, punchy, flavourful white is well-priced enough for everyday drinking.

Contrade Di Taurasi Grecomusc 2012Domaine Lafage Côté Est 2013Vicente Gandía Nebla Verdejo 2014Santa Tresa Rina Lanca Grillo Viognier 2013

Vicente Gandía 2014 Nebla Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – Attractive tropical notes have been coaxed out of this fleshy verdejo whose bright acidity provides freshness and focus. To boot, you can put your conscience at ease as this 125-year old, highly-awarded Valencian winery is well-known for its sustainable winemaking and social responsibility practices.

Santa Tresa Rina Lanca 2013 Grillo Viognier, Terre Siciliane, Italy ($13.95)
David Lawrason – Located on 50 hectares with a surface layer of light red sandy loam over well-drained limestone base in the vicinity of Mt. Etna, this is great value at $13.95. It’s a sub-tropical, semi-exotic white that combines perfumed spicy viognier with Sicily’s grillo grape of similar aspect. Look for fairly ripe star anise, pineapple, licorice and spicy aromas and flavours.

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

From VINTAGES August 8th, 2015
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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Squealing Pig Sauvignon Blanc 2014


Southbrook Vineyards

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 25th, Part Two

Argentina: Not Just a One Hit Wonder
By David Lawrason with wine notes from John Szabo MS

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Argentina is featured on this release, and I am newly enthused by goings-on after two visits there within the last year. In fact five WineAlign writers have been there in recent months, and we have published the first article of a comprehensive two-part national series that delves deep into the current state of that nation (read part one here). If Argentina wasn’t confident about what’s going on they wouldn’t be inviting the world to have a look. The nub of the story is that Argentina is evolving into something more than a one-hit malbec wonder.

You have an opportunity to explore this in more detail as 20 producers arrive in Toronto next week (July 29) at Wines of Argentina’s Wine Jam and BBQ at the St. James Cathedral. (Find out more and get your promo code here.)

Before continuing I refer you to a ‘letter to the editor’ by Christopher Freeland of the LCBO in response to my June 27 release commentary on VINTAGES handling of the pre-Canada Day selection of Ontario wines. Please go to Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 27 – Part Two and scroll down to the comments section. And yes there is a connection to Argentina.

Mr. Freeland delivers an impassioned and detailed defence of the LCBO’s treatment of Ontario wine, and chastises me for not recognizing everything the LCBO is doing around homegrown wines. Fair enough, but I was not discussing the LCBO’s overall program, only VINTAGES lack of ability to create a meaningful focus on Ontario wine on that pre-Canada Day release.

I repeated the complaint two weeks later around VINTAGES’ Spanish feature, and I will say it again this time, with VINTAGES slender selection of six Argentine wines. Yes, there are already other Argentine wines on the General List and VINTAGES shelves. But why not really make this a feature and give 25 new Argentine reds a shot at a spot? Or 50? The reasons VINTAGES cannot do this are in my original discussion around Ontario wine.

VINTAGES is not being ‘unfair’ to Argentina, Spain or Ontario. They are actually being overly fair to all wines around the world (which makes Ontario wineries crazy). They are limited in what they do because they are in the end the one and only retailer and unable to provide the depth of selection one can find in other major North American markets. If it ain’t at the LCBO it ain’t on shelves anywhere in Ontario – which has underpinned my criticism of the LCBO from the start.

Back to what Argentina is doing now, and how that is reflected on this release. The selection only has one malbec, which indeed recognizes Argentina’s growing diversity. There are two cabernet sauvignons, which is a nod to the importance of this underrated grape, but neither are truly memorable cabernets. There is a Patagonian cabernet franc that is very much worth a look, and it is a variety on the up-tick throughout Argentina. But why no Patagonian pinots, and cab franc from Mendoza? There is a terrific torrontés value, but why not three for the dog days of August?

And none of the wines mentioned so far are above $20, which dismisses legions of premium wines that are available. In limited distribution as an In Store Discovery there is Catena’s excellent icon red named for founder Nicolas Catena. But where are the bonardas, many more great red blends, the biodynamic wines, the unoaked amphora wines from Sebastian Zuccardi, the brilliant French influenced reds from Monteviejo and the other member wineries of Clos de Los Siete, the great cabs and tannats from Cafayate, the syrahs of San Juan, the new lovely roses made from the pais grape.  We just have to wait and hope I guess.

With Sara d’Amato still on vacation John Szabo and I present our value picks from Argentina, as well as other New World and Europe.

Argentina:

Nicolás Catena Zapata 2010

Desierto 25 Cabernet Franc 2012

Pietro Marini 2013 TorrontésPietro Marini Torrontés 2013, Salta ($12.95)
David Lawrason – Torrontés is found in most regions but hits its freshest and most exotic heights in the northern province of Salta. Grown at 1750 metres in the Calchaqui Valley this is huge value! It has a billowing aroma of lemongrass, tangerine, spearmint and licorice – very exotic. It’s mid-weight, nicely smooth and a touch sweet, with great acidity and some warmth. Deep chill for garden sipping.

Desierto 25 Cabernet Franc 2012, Patagonia ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This hails from a remote, parched landscape (see label) in southern, cooler Patagonia. But cab franc is on the rise farther north in Mendoza as well, both as a blender and stand alone varietal. This is nicely done and every Canadian interested in one of our country’s better red varietals should be having at peek at this Patagonian.

Nicolás Catena 2010 Zapata, Mendoza ($110.00)
John Szabo – Yes this is certainly expensive, but if you’re a serious collector, it’s worth your attention. In the context of impressive, age-worthy wines, it’s comfortably in the upper echelon, made since 1997 from Catena Zapata’s top lots of cabernet and malbec. Indeed, I’d say it has better structure and balance than many similarly-priced wines from the new world, and would give plenty of pause to the classics from the old as well. Tuck this in the cellar for another 5-10 years minimum and then stage your own “judgement”-style comparative blind tasting. It’s rare to say, but I’d prefer a single bottle of this to a half dozen commercial, typically, sweet, over-oaked Argentine malbecs. David Lawrason – Ditto :)

Euro Reds:

San Fabiano Calcinaia Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Maçanita 2012 RedMaçanita Red 2012, Douro, Portugal ($18.95)
John Szabo – From the dynamic team of Joana and brother António Maçanita (the latter of Fita Preta in Alentejo and the Azores Wine Company), this is a cleverly made wine with wide appeal. 60% Touriga nacional and 40% tinta roriz combine to make a generous, ripe, fruity and floral blend from the Douro, well within the typical flavour wheelhouse, with added polish and well-managed, succulent, rounded texture. Best 2015-2022.
David Lawrason – Very nicely made modern Douro lacking just a bit of depth for 90 points, but close and still good value.

Carpineto 2010 Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon, IGT Toscana Italy ($27.95)
John Szabo – Tuscan cabernet is rarely a detour for me, but I was stopped in my tracks by this concentrated and structured wine from Carpineto. The website provides no real insight (“grown in vineyards considered particularly suited for the production of great wines”, and, “scrupulously field selected”), but marketing fluff aside, I’d speculate that the vineyards are indeed special, as this delivers the type of depth, complexity, structure and length that can’t be manufactured in the winery. Genuinely great wine at a great price. Best 2015-2025.

San Fabiano Calcinaia 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, IGT Toscana Italy ($24.95)
John Szabo – Like the Farnito above, and against all odds, this second Tuscan cabernet in the same release also caused the world to stop spinning for a moment. It’s a hell of a mouthful for $25, full, firm, highly extracted, with immense tannic structure and abundant wood influence. Don’t touch it for at least another 3-5 years, but it’ll never be soft and polished so plan ahead with some salty protein and a decanter at the ready. Best 2018-2028.

López De Haro Crianza 2008

Tessellae Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2013

Prunotto 2012 MompertonPrunotto Mompertone 2012, Monferrato, Italy ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Monferrato is an underrated  DOC region sandwiched between the powerhouse regions of Piedmont and Tuscany in NW Italy. From a leading peimontese producer this is a refined, well balanced if not showy young red with classic, perfectly ripened blackberry, floral and herbal nuances.

Tessellae 2013 Vieilles Vignes Carignan, IGP Côtes Catalanes, Southwest France ($17.95)
John Szabo – Another terrific value from the Roussillon, showing the wild and savage depths of which old vine carignan is capable. I love the scorched earth, the wild, resinous herbs, the dark fruit, the spice notes, not to mention the superior depth and structure at the price. Best 2015-2023.

López De Haro 2008 Crianza, Spain ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is a good buy at $15, if you like lighter reds, and Spain’s Rioja reds in particular. Lopez de Heridia is one of the great classic, traditional wineries of Spain, indeed of Europe. That they have delivered a minor classic at this price is a very pleasant surprise. It’s lighter, tight and elegant – quite tender in fact.

New World Reds:

Melville Verna's Estate Syrah 2012

Blue Pyrenees Shiraz 2012

Paxton AAA 2012 Shiraz GrenachePaxton AAA Shiraz Grenache 2012, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Paxton is a leading biodynamic producer in McLaren Vale, with their minimal intervention mantra stated on the back label. This is big and edgy but like so many BioD wines it delivers consistent, complex, profound flavours of excellent to outstanding length. Compelling if not soothing. Should age well for five years.

Blue Pyrenees 2012 Shiraz, Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Festooned with award competition medallions, this bottle hails from the remote, arid and intriguing Pyrenees region 200kms NW of Melbourne. It’s medium-full bodied with great granitic acidity/minerality, fine tannin and juicy, savoury flavours. Excellent length. The medals are deserved.

Melville 2012 Verna’s Estate Syrah, Santa Barbara County, California ($37.95)
David Lawrason – Santa Barbara, with coastal influence at a warm latitude, is one of the great sources of syrah in California. And I find most examples echo the cooler northern Rhone more so than Aussie shiraz styling. This is a classic – full bodied, fairly dense, racy and refined. The focus and length here are excellent.

And that is a wrap for this edition. Next week John and I will return to lead off commentary on VINTAGES, August 8 release, which features the Pacific Northwest and Loire Valley. (I promise not to gripe about lack of selection).  And next week also stay tuned for the results of the National Wine Awards of Canada.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES July 25th, 2015
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Part 1: Wine to Chill

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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Squealing Pig Sauvignon Blanc 2014


Pacific Northwest Tasting - Aug 17th

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 25th, Part One: Wine to Chill

By John Szabo MS with wine notes from David Lawrason

Don’t Forget to Chill Those Reds

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

A water-and-ice-filled bucket might just be the greatest wine gadget ever invented. Just a few minutes in one of these simple but magical devices can turn your red wine from a flabby, alcoholic and soupy drinking chore, into a crisp, fresh and fruity thirst-quenching delight. Not only in summer, but throughout the year, red wines are almost always served too warm; anything above 20ºC is a service faux-pas akin to aerating in a blender. For many reds, 12º-14ºC is far better. Most restaurants are guilty of this disservice. All of those open reds sitting out on the back bar in July? Forget them. That goes for January too. Don’t be afraid to ask for the ice bucket when dining out. At home, you’re in full control, so use the fridge, or your own ice bucket, to bring those reds into the best temperature zone to maximize enjoyment.

This report focuses on and handful of reds (and whites), which are particularly sensitive to temperature. The LCBO calls them “Wines to Chill” – the main theme for the July 25th VINTAGES release. David and I have included our top picks that are best with a chill, including whites. Read on to find out why temperature matters, or just skip to the recommendations.

Why Temperature Matters

When it comes to eating and drinking, temperature matters. Cold cheese straight from the fridge, for example, offers only a shadow of its aroma and flavor potential. Warm soft drinks are mostly sugary, aggressively carbonated, and hard to swallow. Chefs also know that any dish served cold, such as terrines, patés, or soups, need to be slightly more salted than the same dish served hot, because your perception of salt decreases at lower temperatures; that’s to say things taste less salty. The interplay between temperature and sensory perception likely occurs by many mechanisms, including the direct action of temperature on sensory receptors, but in any case, it’s clear that people’s taste receptors are modulated by temperature change. Basically, the same foods and wines taste different at different temperatures, so when you’re serving wine, consider the effects, both positive and negative, of the wine’s temperature.

Aromatics

Temperature dramatically affects aromatics. At a chemical level, when a substance is warm, its molecules vibrate fast. When cold, they slow down. In other words, the colder a wine is, the slower and less volatile its aromatic compounds are, and thus the less aromatic a wine will be. At the other end, when a wine is too warm, many of the enjoyable aromatic molecules are so active they’re gone before you can smell them, leaving little but the light burn of alcohol vapors. It’s always smarter to err on the side of too chilled than too warm – cold wine will warm up. The only solution for a glass of hot red wine is an ice-cube, which is not ideal.

Taste and Texture

Beyond aromatics, temperature also affects wine texture and taste. Wine served cold seems more acidic (which makes it more refreshing), fruitier, and more tannic (which makes it more astringent and bitter). This is why red wines are generally served warmer than whites: they contain tannin (the substance in wine that causes the astringent, drying, mouth-puckering sensation), while whites and rosés rarely have any tannin at all. The curious thing about tannin is that you perceive its drying effect more at lower temperatures. That means if you take the same tannic wine and serve it at both 10ºC and 18ºC, the cooler sample will appear more astringent and more bitter, perhaps unpleasantly so. At 18ºC the wine will still be tannic, but much more tolerable. Then when decanted and served with a little salty protein, the tannins may no longer be a significant factor at all.

But many reds grapes have naturally low tannin levels such as Gamay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Tempranillo, and Barbera. These wines are more enjoyable when served with a chill, as are most unoaked reds of any variety. You can increase the fresh, fruity aspect without danger of making them too astringent. Creeping alcohol levels across the world is yet another reasons to serve reds chilled to knock down the burn of alcohol. And because the majority of red wines produced today are intended for immediate consumption, that is, with little tannin, you can serve just about every thing in your cellar at least slightly chilled, especially in the summer and with spicy foods. Even your most prized bottle of massive, concentrated red wine is best below room temperature, which for most folks is above 20ºC.

Bottom line: serving wines cooler increases their crispness, fruitiness, and astringency, and decreases aromatic intensity. Serving wines warmer makes them seem more sweet, flabby and alcoholic, less fruity and less astringent.

Buyers’ Guide: Reds To Chill

Remelluri Lindes De Remelluri 2010 Viñedos De Labastida, Rioja, Spain ($22.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a classy, polished, well composed and elegant “second” wine from the respected Rioja house of Remelluri. Made from vineyards in the village of Labastida, adjacent to the historic Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri estate, it’s neither ultra modern nor traditional in style, finding it’s own just balance. I appreciate the finesse and elegance; a very classy wine over delivering by a wide margin. Best at 16ºC, from 2015-2022.

The Good Earth 2012 Gamay Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.95)
John Szabo – Gamay is a classic candidate for chilling, capitalizing on the variety’s mists of strawberry, raspberry and red currants, and increasing the cut of its juicy acids. The Good Earth’s wines have improved notably since bringing on winemaker Ross Wise (also at Keint-He), and this 2012 is delightful, especially alongside a plate of charcuterie or grilled sausages.

Remuelluri Lindes de Remelluri Viñedos de Labastida 2010 The Good Earth Gamay Noir 2012 Seven Terraces Pinot Noir 2013 Lailey Merlot 2013

Seven Terraces 2013 Pinot Noir, Canterbury, New Zealand ($19.95)
John Szabo – Lighter style pinot, like this crunchy, leafy, cool climate example from Canterbury on New Zealand’s south island, needs a light chill to deliver its full message of refreshment.

Lailey 2013 Merlot, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($24.95)
John Szabo –  Merlot swings both ways, from delicate and elegant to dense and extracted. Derek Barnet’s version leans to the former style, an open, honest, no-nonsense wine with lovely fresh herbal notes, lively red and black fruit, minimal oak and maximum floral-violet character. It’s reminiscent of cool climate malbec, a positive association.

Buyers Guide: Whites (To Chill)

Dog Point Vineyard 2012 Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand ($42.95)
John Szabo – This is a chardonnay of terrific intensity, so be sure not to serve ice cold (10-12ºC would be about right). Though the lovely, edgy, reductive-flintiness character will shine through at any temperature. A classy example from one of New Zealand’s most reliable and accomplished producers, and fine value in the worldwide context of premium chardonnay. Best 2017-2026.

Jean-Max Roger 2013 Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre, Loire, France ($26.95)
John Szabo – Here’s another terrific Sancerre from the ultra-reliable Jean-Max Roger, this one very floral and mineral, like an essence of chalk dust and sweet green herbs. Best 2015-2020.

Dog Point Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 Jean Max Roger Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre 2013 Momo Pinot Gris 2014 Bailly Lapierre Réserve Brut Crémant De Bourgogne

Momo 2014 Pinot Gris Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
John Szabo – Tone down the impression of sweetness in this rich, Alsatian-style gris with a proper chill. It’s quite unctuous and indeed off-dry with overripe orchard fruit, yet balanced by more than sufficient acids. Length and depth are excellent for the money – a terrific option with spiced-up dishes.
David Lawrason Momo is a second label of Seresin, a prominent organic producer. NZ tends to like its ‘gris’ on the lush side. This has generous ripe peach cobbler, bready, honey and floral notes. It’s quite full bodied, fleshy and warm with some firm acidity. I wouldn’t open it for refreshment in the hot sun, but over an evening meal of chicken, pork – with Asian accents – it could perform very nicely.

Bailly Lapierre Réserve Brut Crémant De Bourgogne, Burgundy, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – Bubbles last longer in chilled wine, and are perceived as less aggressive. Low temp also hides the pinch of sugar added to virtually all sparkling wines to balance their ripping acids. This is a beautifully balanced crémant, elegant and fresh, with a fine streak of stony flavour, hazelnuts and marzipan, and fresh brioche. And half bottles ($11.95) are perfect for two.

Tenute Messieri 2012 Visioni Offida Pecorino, Marche, Italy ($16.95)
John Szabo – I love the unusual herbal and resinous, licorice, tarragon and citrus zest notes in this pecorino, a wine to take you out of the rut of standardized fruity white wines. Perfect for fresh herb-inflected salads and fish dishes on the terrace, chilled, of course.

d’Arenberg 2014 The Stump Jump White, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is a creative blend from one of the iconic producers of McLaren Vale, nicely combining riesling, sauvignon with Rhone white varieties like roussanne and marsanne. It is mid-weight and quite fresh without distinct characteristics, as often is the case with blends. Nicely bridges refreshment and richness, and it has the weight to stand up to grilled foods.

Tenute Messieri Visioni Offida Pecorino 2012 d'Arenberg The Stump Jump White 2014 Crossbarn Chardonnay 2013 Wolfberger Signature Muscat 2013 Miraval Rosé 2014

Crossbarn 2013 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($29.95)
David Lawrason – This is from Paul Hobbs, a very successful international winemaker born and raised in a vineyard in upper New York State, and currently consulting at Stratus in Niagara.  The oak is very nicely played here – supportive of the peach fruit with leesy/vaguely toasty complexity. It’s mid-weight, serious yet fresh. A style to which more California wineries should aspire.

Wolfberger 2103 Signature Muscat, Alsace, France ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This is a dry muscat, a style that Alsace is doing better than any other region. I love the soaring aromas of lavender, spice, shaved ginger, orange marmalade and persimmon. Exotic indeed. Chill well and serve with Asian inspired salads, pad thai. I was reminded of Argentine torrontes.

Miraval 2014 Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This is perhaps the best ‘Brangelina’ rose yet (by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). It’s more restrained and lower alcohol than previous years. Very pale pearl pink colour typical of Provence. Lovely soft and pure aromas of red plum, watermelon with vague herbs. It’s mid-weight, very smooth, dry and elegant. A fine afternoon sipper but do not overchill.

Ktima Gerovassiliou 2014 White, Epanomi, Greece ($18.95)
David Lawrason – No austerity measures here. This is a lively, firm blend of malagousia and assyrtiko – two principal indigenous grapes of Greece. It has a quite lifted, exotic nose of lychee, pineapple, fennel and clover honey, with some white pepper. It’s mid-weight, fresh, lively and quite spicy on the palate and finish. Very good value.

Ktima Gerovassiliou White 2014 Jermann Pinot Grigio 2014 Dal Cero Pinot Grigio 2013 Louis Jadot Clos de Malte Santenay Blanc 2011

Jermann 2014 Pinot Grigio, Venezia-Giulia, Italy ($31.95)
David Lawrason – I am dead certain most would never venture $30 on an Italian pinot grigio, but this does not mean the category can’t attain these heights. For a generation Jermann has been a leading producer of Italian white wines. And if you prize, elegance, purity, subtlety and finesse you will love this understated wine.

Dal Cero 2013 Pinot Grigio, Veneto, Italy ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This was not highlighted in VINTAGES Chillable feature but add it to the list.  It is a quite lovely, light, fresh and pure pinot grigio with apple, florals and lemon. Straightforward, zesty and pure with very good length. Ideal for an Ontario summer.

Louis Jadot 2011 Clos De Malte Santenay, Burgundy, France ($39.95)
David Lawrason – A good buy in serious white Burgundy – and underpriced because Santenay doesn’t have the cachet of neighbouring Chassagne-Montrachet.  It is quite powerful, well-structured and complex with lifted notes of barrel toast, lemon curd, pear puree, candle wax and toasted almond. It is mid-weight, firm and quite dry. Excellent length. Drink over the next three years (maybe longer).

 

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

From VINTAGES July 25th, 2015
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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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 11 – Part Two

Cool Chard and Hot Reds
By John Szabo MS with wine notes from David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The annual three-day homage called the i4c – International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration – is almost upon us, this July 17th-19th at various venues across the Niagara Peninsula. The 5th edition of the i4c features some 60 wineries, about half from Canada and the other half representing cool pockets of chardonnay from every continent. And Ontario is poised to show very well in the international context. The VINTAGES July 11th release supports the event with a feature selection of wines that will be poured over the weekend; David and I have previewed our favourites in this report, along with our top red picks.

If you plan on attending this excellent affair but haven’t made your plans yet, consider joining the WineAlign luxury bus trip to the signature event of the i4c weekend on Saturday night, the World Tour Grand Tasting & Dinner (details below). The really keen can taste all 121 chardonnays – the only event where every wine in attendance will be cracked – while chatting directly with winery principals and jostling for position with respected writers and sommeliers from home and abroad, including keynote speaker Matt Kramer from the Wine Spectator.

I’ll be waist-deep in chardonnay all weekend, starting first thing on Friday morning over three fascinating panel discussions for the “School of Cool” at the White Oaks Resort. I’m tasked with prodding panelists, keeping passions under control, and discourses on track for topics as potentially explosive as “Does Minerality Exist?”, or as much discussed as “The Taste/Aroma of Cool [chardonnay]”, and as misunderstood as “All That Sparkles”, a discussion on the effects of lees ageing, longevity of bubbles, oxidative vs. reductive handling and much more. It will be as serious as it sounds, with panels loaded with perspectives based on hard science and deep experience, from researchers, professors, winemakers and journalists. Too geeky, you say? Apparently not. The 350 tickets available tickets are already virtually sold out, so act fast if you want in.

Will Ontario Chardonnay Perform?

The i4c was born from the belief that chardonnay in Ontario performs consistently, and well, and from the desire to share that news with the rest of the world. But boldly, the group who dreamed up the idea wanted to show their wines alongside the best from every other cool(ish) place on the planet, not in isolation, confident that the home team would not be routed. Although it’s a celebration not a competition, such events inevitably invite comparisons. In light of the impressive chardonnay flights the WineAlign cru experienced in June at the National Wine Awards – for me among the most convincing flights in the entire competition – and many more recent tastings of local wines, I’m confident that Ontario chardonnay will impress in this international context. Most of the wines at the i4c are from two strong but very different vintages, the giving and voluptuous 2012s, and the tighter and more finely tuned 2013s. Price and value are relative equations, but again I say with confidence that if regions like Burgundy and California were producing wines of the same quality and price as is Ontario, in the $20 to $40 range, there would be worldwide street parties. As it stands, I suggest you come and party in Ontario. And note that this is pure pragmatism, not flag-waving.

Buyers’ Guide to Cool Chard

Flat Rock The Rusty Shed

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Dix Neuvieme Chardonnay 2012Pearl Morissette 2012 Cuvée Dix-Neuvième Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($35.20)
John Szabo – Those familiar with the wines of François Morissette already know the idiosyncracies of his range, crafted with minimal intervention and very low sulphur. No effort is made to mask the ripeness of 2012, and this is as texturally rich, full-bodied and creamy as it gets in Ontario, appealing on its depth of flavour, the sheer weight imparted by both full ripeness, and the exceptional length. It’s a different paradigm for Ontario chardonnay, but one that works, and which should be part of the panoply adding depth to the region. Despite the oxidative feel, the wine is stable and should continue to age, and move though several phases of evolution.

Flat Rock 2012 The Rusty Shed Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)
John Szabo – Just starting to open nicely, Flatrock’s Rusty Shed 2012 is a lovely, elegant, seamlessly integrated chardonnay, deftly oak-influenced and texturally very attractive. Best-2015-2020.
David Lawrason –If you like your Ontario chardonnay with more opulence and generosity then look to the 2012 vintage, and Flat Rock’s easy going style. This is a rolling and ready to drink chardonnay with complex slightly reductive/flinty notes, lemon, toasted almond and generous green pineapple/pear fruit.

Le Clos Jordanne 2012 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($40.00 Winery)
John Szabo – Winemaker Sebastien Jacquey crafted a beautiful 2012 Claystone, managing the warm season by picking at precisely the right moment, not too late, retaining crucial vibrant acids, and then adding back flesh and weight with long ageing on the lees (at least that’s how I see it). This has a lovely, slightly nutty profile, terrific, lemony acids and a pleasantly yeasty-toasty finish. New barrels, it seems, were in the small minority. With Jacquey now gone from Le Clos, all eyes are on the winery’s future.

Henry Of Pelham 2013 Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95 Winery)
John Szabo – It’s delightful to see this top tier wine crafted with such restraint and delicacy – I suppose it’s the confidence that comes with 30 years in the business that allows you to let the vines and vineyard speak most loudly. Wood is indeed a minor, integrated component in the overall flavour profile, which is focused more on ripe pear and orange-citrus fruit, spiked with sea salt and gentle old wood spice. The length is excellent – there’s genuine presence and depth here.

Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2012Henry of Pelham Speck Family ChardonnayCave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2013 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013 Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay 2012

Cave Spring 2013 Estate Bottled Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Cave Spring has been making good whites for so long it’s easy to take them for granted. Angelo Pavan’s slim, taut style is right in the wheelhouse of the 2013 vintage, which may be the best of the decade for whites so far. Add in maturing vines and the brand is only getting even better. Great value in Chablis-esque chardonnay.

Hamilton Russell 2013 Chardonnay, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa ($37.95)
David Lawrason – From a classicist and pioneer of South Africa’s most exciting chardonnay region, this is full bodied, quite powerful and complex. It’s a riveting chardonnay that holds your attention from start to finish, sip to sip, glass to glass. Although you may want to serve it with grilled seafood or poultry rather than pour it as a summer sipper.

Bachelder 2012 Oregon Chardonnay Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($29.95)
John Szabo – Thomas Bachelder’s 2012 Oregon chardonnay is showing very well at the moment, representing the Willamette with style. What really beguiles is the sensation of sapidity and salinity, not to mention the great length. At the price, it is an excellent value, although it might be a touch soft to go long distance – ’12 was very warm – so enjoy over the next 3-5 years. Best 2015-2020.

Buyers’ Guide to July 11 Reds

Uccelliera 2012 Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Tuscany, Italy ($31.95)
Omaggio A Gino Friedmann Lambrusco Di Sorbara 2013 Uccelliera Rosso Di Montalcino 2012John Szabo – A full, ripe, ambitious Rosso with evident depth, density and pleasant salinity, from one of Montalcino’s best. Drink 2015-2022.

Omaggio a Gino Friedmann 2013 Lambrusco Di Sorbara, DOC, Emilia-Romagna, Italy ($14.95)
John Szabo – Pale pink in the Lambrusco di Sorbara style (Sorbara is the sub-biotype of the large Lambrusco family of grapes), this is all strawberry shortcake and red currant jam on the nose, but just when you were expecting a sweet palate, this enters bone dry and sharp, like a welcome session of electric shock therapy. Tart red fruit/cranberry flavours linger. Hardly a monument of complexity, but a great charcuterie wine to be sure, and the classy package looks far more expensive than the $15 price tag.

Beyra Vinhos De Altitude 2012 Red, DOC Beira Interior, Portugal  ($12.95)
John Szabo – A thoroughly satisfying wine for $13, from the granite inland mountains of central Portugal, zesty, fresh, fruity, with enough roundness to please widely, and enough cut to please the punters. Serve with a light chill.

Tawse 2013 Gamay Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Gamay is maturing into a bona fide variety in Canada, with the recent National Wine Awards highlighting the strength of this variety in our coolish regions (results coming soon). This is a lovely light yet serious gamay with classy, pure aromas of strawberry/cherry compote, fresh herbs, pepper and a touch of salami\like meatiness.

Buena Vista 2011 Pinot Noir, Carneros, California ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This intense and surprisingly complex pinot once resided on the LCBO’s general list (sorry to see it moved off to more sporadic distribution). But it is here for now, and worth grabbing a handful as a current grilling season pinot, as its now showing just a touch of maturity. It’s a California pinot with French leanings. The winery was purchased fairly recently by Boisset of Burgundy.

Beyra Vinhos De Altitude Red 2012Tawse 2013 Gamay NoirBuena Vista Pinot Noir 2011 Valentin Bianchi Malbec 2013 Dominio Del Plata Crios Limited Edition Red Blend 2013

Famiglia Bianchi 2013 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($17.95)
David Lawrason. I am increasingly impressed by Bianchi’s reds – there is a just a touch of more restrained Euro classicism in era where many peers are going for fruit opulence and generosity at every turn. This is a dense, spicy, concentrated young malbec that could age nicely for five years.

Dominio Del Plata 2013 Crios Limited Edition Red Blend, Mendoza, Argentina ($14.95)
David Lawrason. They would do better to state that this a tannat on the label (90% tannat and 10% syrah). This variety is showing fine potential in Argentina, bringing structure that malbec often lacks. The colour is deep, the nose is brooding with some iron and dried ripe berry fruit.  It’s full bodied, dense and balanced, and great value at $14.95.

WineAlign i4c Bus Tour Details

i4c Bus TourYour evening begins with the Grand Tasting – the only public tasting event that showcases all of the wines of the i4c. Taste your way through the realm of Cool Climate Chardonnays, self-explore at the ‘What Kind of Cool Are You?’ station – an interactive palate profiler, and sip bubbly and slurp oysters at the pre-dinner reception. Then, join Chef Paul Harber of Ravine Vineyard Restaurant and Chef Craig Youdale of the Canadian Food & Wine Institute and their dream team of vineyard chefs for a family-style feast Ontario-style. After dinner, enjoy the “Après Chardonnay” bar featuring the Ontario winemakers’ favourite RED wines, the popular Craft Brewery bar, and dance under the stars.

We feel we’ve put together a fantastic evening. The cost of the i4c tasting and dinner alone is $150 + taxes. Add on the expense of driving from Toronto to Niagara and you’re already well north of $200. By joining WineAlign you’ll not only get round trip luxury transportation, grand tasting & dinner; but you’ll also get reserved seating, a souvenir T-shirt and a Summer of Chardonnay Passport, for $225.00 all in (incl’ taxes, fees and gratuities). And you don’t even have to drive.

PURCHASE TICKETS HERE

All-in Price: $225

Bus Itinerary:
Depart Kipling Subway Station: 3:15pm
Pickup at Burlington Go Station (Fairview & Brant): 3:50pm
Arrive at i4c, Ridley College, St. Catharines: 4:45pm
Depart i4c: 10:30pm
Arrive at Kipling: 11:45pm

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

From VINTAGES July 11th, 2015
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
All Reviews
VINTAGES July 11th Part One – Spain’s Diversity

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 11th – Part One

Spain’s Diversity Uncorked (Sort of)
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo MS

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Spanish wine continues to surprise, challenge and often delight both the palate and the pocket book. In May I spent a week in the Catalonia region, first in Priorat then in Penedès and Barcelona with its umpteen thousand restaurants. I had expected to be wowed by Priorat (about which I will write in depth soon) but I had not expected to be so impressed by the range, diversity and quality of the sparklers, whites (in particular) and reds emerging from other Catalan DOs (appellations) like Conca de Barbera, Costers del Segre and Terra Alta. And to think that such diversity, and such greatly improved winemaking, is being replicated in regions large and small from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, and south into the centre of the country as well.

This VINTAGES release aims to showcase Spain’s regional and varietal diversity, and provides some decent value wines en route, if no stunning “must buy values”. But I would love to see more specialized regional releases from Spain. When was the last time VINTAGES mounted a feature solely on “France”, or “Italy”? Never! Spain’s regions need to be embraced the same way as Tuscany or Bordeaux or the Southern Rhône. And it certainly has enough regional diversity to provide several features over several months.

I have heard from two reputable sources that VINTAGES put out “a call” for Spanish wine submissions and received about 1,400 applications (on paper). Less than 50 were actually sampled, and only 15 were purchased (that’s just over 1%). The first shocker is that so many Spanish wineries want access to the LCBO/Ontario market; the second is just how ridiculously limited VINTAGES offerings are, with no other available retail venues for the wines. (See last month’s rant about Canadian wine for the reason why).

So yes, Spain is a brave new world for wine exploration and if you are curious you should seriously consider travelling there to grasp its vinous depth. Never mind that it is one of the most historically rich countries in the world. And that the food is fantastic as well, reaching far beyond stereotypes of paella, jamon and tapas.

WineAlign Bus to I4CThis week John and I offer our recommendations from the Spanish release, while Sara vacations and tastes in the south of France. We also offer other white wine finds. Next week John leads off with chardonnays coming to VINTAGES and the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration July 17-19. We have a handful of seats remaining on the WineAlign bus to the Grand Tasting & Dinner on July 18. John Szabo will be joining the group for dinner, so you can compare tasting notes at the al fresco feast.

Spanish Cavas and Whites

Juvé & Camps 2011 Cinta Purpura Reserva Brut Cava, Penedès, Spain ($18.95)

David Lawrason – Fine character and complexity here from one of the most highly regarded producers of Penedès. It is aged 24 months on its lees before release. It shows a generous, complex nose of baked peach, hazelnut and dried flowers with a touch of lees. Nicely fresh but has some substance as well.
John Szabo – Another terrific Cava, on the more mature, richer side of the spectrum, for use at the table rather than aperitif hour.

Gramona 2006 Iii Lustros Gran Reserva Brut Nature Cava, Penedès, Spain ($49.95)

John Szabo – This was a brave listing by the LCBO, a $50 wine in a category that rarely exceeds $20. The wine, however, is absolutely superb. This has all of the class and complexity of great traditional method sparkling wine, crafted in artisanal fashion by Jaume and Xavier Gramona, the fifth generation of a family business established in 1881. If you thought Cava was trapped in the cheap and cheerful bubbly category, this will change your mind.

Juvé & Camps Cinta Purpura Reserva Brut Cava 2011 Gramona Iii Lustros Gran Reserva Brut Nature Cava 2006 Finca Las Caraballas Verdejo 2013 Pansa Blanca 2014

Finca Las Caraballas 2013 Verdejo,Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon, Spain ($16.95)

David Lawrason – This is an organically produced, fairly deeply coloured young Verdejo. Not from Rueda but is made in the proximity. It is almost overripe with yellow plum jam/raisiny fruit, fennel, nut shell and waxiness. Quite full bodied, very smooth, with great flavour depth.
John Szabo – This will be a polarizing wine, already golden amber and clearly made in a highly oxidative style. But forget the standard paradigms. Is the wine good? On that score, the wine succeeds. This is like a juicy, overripe mango that has fallen from the tree, sprinkled with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon and tangerine. For the price, it’s worth the punt to expand your horizons.

Alta Alella 2014 Pansa Blanca, Catalunya, Spain ($14.95)

David Lawrason – Pansa Blanca is a local name for the xarel-lo grape, one of three used in Cava. This still wine version is produced by Alta Allela, a leading organic producer. It is very brightly made – no organic funk here. Expect fairly reserved, almost overripe yellow plum, mild fresh mint and spice.

Spanish Reds & Fortified

Cune 2010 Reserva, Rioja ($23.95)

Bodegas Ochoa Reserva 2007 Cune Reserva 2010John Szabo – Traditional Rioja is one of the great wines of the world, and CVNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España), a grand old Bodega in the heart of Haro in the Rioja Alta, is one of the protagonists. Since 1879 they’ve been crafting wines like this Reserva, finely balanced, mid-weight, firm, nicely chiseled. Although drinkable now, this will be much better in 2-4 years, or hold until the mid ’20s without issue.
David Lawrason – This is quite refined, well balanced young Rioja from a classic, traditional producer. The nose shows fairly generous, soft aromas of cherry, vanillin, cedar and burlap/earthiness. It’s mid-weight, fairly tender yet generous.

Bodegas Ochoa 2007 Reserva, Navarra  ($24.95)

David Lawrason – This single vineyard tempranillo-cabernet-merlot blend has an engaging, very lifted nose of rosemary/mint, blackcurrant with meaty notes and some soya character. It’s mid-weight, elegant, dense and lifted with vibrant acidity.

Peña 2010 Roble Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($21.95)

John Szabo – A mid-weight, balanced, lively, saliva-inducing tempranillo, with light, dusty tannins and firm acids. This works nicely on a gastronomic level.

Maetierra Dominum 2007 Quatro Pagos, Rioja ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is a ‘vino do pago’ or estate wine, assembled from four separately vinified sites (quarto pagos) belonging to a winery called Maetierra Dominum. It’s based on tempranillo; a mature Rioja showing lifted meaty, smoky, spicy and dark cherry notes. It’s medium-full bodied and quite dense, with some liveliness and further ageing potential.

Tomàs Cusiné 2013 Llebre, Costers del Segre ($15.95)

David Lawrason – This is a fresh young tempranillo (called llebre in Catalan) from an inland region of Catalonia. It has a lifted, spicy, peppery almost Rhonish nose with violets and generous wood spice. It’s quite soft, a touch sweet with some warmth (14% alc) and generosity.

Peña Roble Crianza 2010 Maetierra Dominum QP 2007 Tomàs Cusiné Llebre 2013 Chapillon Siendra 2011 Gonzalez Byass Del Duque Amontillado Viejo

Chapillon Siendra 2011, Calatayud ($14.95)

David Lawrason – This is from Bodegas Langa, the oldest and largest family winery in the interior, high altitude region of Calatayud. It is 80% old vine garnacha spiced with cabernet, merlot and syrah. The nose is almost sweet with violet/pansy florality, chocolate and ripe plummy/blackberry fruit. It’s open-knit, dense, soft and a bit sweet.

Gonzalez Byass Del Duque Vors Amontillado, Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum, Jerez, ($38.95)

Antonio Flores, Gonzalez-Byass

Antonio Flores, Gonzalez-Byass

John Szabo – Terrific to see this back on our shelves, an outstanding old Amontillado, one of my favourites from the excellent Gonzalez-Byass range. VORS means a minimum of 30 years of age, and the first whiff is “like opening the door of an antique shop” according to capataz Antonio Flores, in a fireworks display of complexity. The palate is explosive, powerful, yet still suave and smooth, with tremendous length. Needless to say, value is off the charts.

Other International Whites

Salomon-Undhof 2013 Kremser Tor Grüner Veltliner, Alte Reben, Kremstal, Austria ($21.95)

David Lawrason – From a classic Kremstal-based producer dating back over 200 years, this is a bright, rich and quite fruity young grüner – a bit softer than some, but it has polish and freshness. Expect gentle aromas of yellow pear/plum fruit. It is great to find this quality at the $20 mark.
John Szabo – If you like wines with a sense of place, you can’t go wrong with this genuine old vine beauty. I love the substance without excessive ripeness, and at 13.5% declared, this hits a fine balance. Give it another year in the bottle to really come together.

Domaine Des Baumard 2011 Clos de Saint Yves Savennières, Loire, France ($34.95)

John Szabo – For some inexplicable reason, the top wines of Savennières have never achieved the prices of other great whites from around the world, but they surely should be counted among them. This is ultra-classic chenin blanc with its honest, wet hay, barley, wheat cracker, and honey flavours, very generous texturally but shapely and firm, but more importantly, chock-full of sapid, salty mineral character. It’s the sort of timeless wine you can enjoy now or in a decade, or more. Best 2015-2026.

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara 2013 Riesling, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)

David Lawrason – For several years now Tawse Sketches Riesling has been punching above its weight. Not in terms of complexity and structure, but in delivering effortless, super bright, balanced, sippable riesling with textbook fruit, florals and just enough minerality. The excellent 2013 white vintage in Niagara adds to its cachet. A great buy under $20.

Salomon Undhof Alte Reben Grüner Veltliner 2013 Domaine Des Baumard Clos Saint Yves Savennières 2011Tawse Sketches Riesling 2013Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagousia Vieilles Vignes 2014 Reinhold Haart To Heart Piesport Riesling 2013

Gerovassiliou 2014 Malagousia Vieilles Vignes, IGP Epanomi, Macedonia, Greece ($23.95)

John Szabo – I reckon you might as well have your introduction to this variety from the man who literally rescued it from near oblivion in the 1970s. Gerovassiliou is still the reference for Malagousia in Greece (and thus the world), and his 2014, a full, rich, fleshy, abundantly fruity wine, drinks like top end viognier.

Reinhold Haart 2013 Haart To Heart Piesport Riesling, Mosel ($19.95)

John Szabo – A terrific Mosel riesling to buy by the case, from one of the great producers in Piesport. I’d swear there is some declassified “GG” (Grosses Gewächs, or grand cru) blended in here.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. WineAlign has set new readership records in recent weeks, during a traditionally slower season. We thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm. We hope you are enjoying some down time during our not-yet-too-hot summer.

Cheers!

From VINTAGES July 11th, 2015

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 27 – Part Two

Canada is Bigger than Canada Day
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

As VINTAGES releases its token selection of new Canadian wines this week ahead of Canada Day – all ten of them among 120 new releases – John, Sara, Michael and I plus other WineAlign critics are in Niagara judging over 1400 Canadian wines at the National Wine Awards of Canada. I have never been one to overplay patriotism as a reason to drink Canadian wine, firmly believing that quality must be the driver of its success. These annual awards are a significant tool to that end, helping winemakers benchmark themselves, and providing consumers with the names of those wines that stand out. We will certainly be displaying the winners in the weeks ahead. Your inbox will be buzzing with the news.

But I am disappointed that VINTAGES, during Canada’s national week, has not greatly bumped up its Canadian representation. Why not devote an entire release to Canadian wine? There are certainly enough very good wines out there from B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

Well here’s why it’s not happening. The LCBO has a template that prescribes how many wines, from which countries/regions, get released every two weeks. And it’s really all about store/shelf management – keeping the same number of SKUs in the same locations within the same stores week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. Arguably it is for the shopping ease and familiarity of consumers, but it’s more for the convenience of unionized staff. Heaven forbid they would have to create a new, enticing display of 100 great new Canadian wines on Canada Day. Much easier to plaster big very expensive posters in the window and call that a promotion.

I am not blaming any individual within the LCBO, except perhaps its leadership. The LCBO’s intrinsic and historic inflexibility is one reason that the Canadian wine industry – and those of all other countries in fact – are crying for some form of privatization. A model that will allow at least a tripling of SKUs sold within a network of stores that includes supermarkets, cold beer and wine stores, fine wine stores and regionally dedicated shops (these all exist elsewhere in Canada). A network that will allow the elasticity required to manage the ebb and flow of a product so wonderfully diverse as wine.

This summer I am more hopeful than ever. We are on the eve of major change in Ontario. By September ex-TD Bank chairman Ed Clark, mandated by Kathleen Wynn’s Liberals, is supposed to propose how wine in supermarkets might work. Which of course will be a welcome start when it finally does come about. But as listed above, supermarkets are only one piece of a much more diverse template that is required.

The Ontario wine industry itself is strongly in favour of independent wine shops selling both Ontario and imported wine. This a bold and crucial stance, because as I said, patriotism should not be the only reason that we buy Canadian wine. It must compete head to head in a fair retail environment, and at least some of Ontario’s winemakers have figured that out – often those that do best in the National Wine Awards.

My greatest hope is that Ed Clark also believes this. That he beats back the howls of the vested interests who seek advantage for themselves over what makes sense for the industry at large and the consumers it serves. Wine in supermarkets is a huge first step, but independent stores must soon follow.

As an interim step the existing private retail licenses granted to the large Ontario wineries before 1988 must be re-distributed among the many interests selling Canadian and imported wines. Ontario’s international trade partners cannot, and will not, disagree. When it is proven to work – which it will – many more licenses need to be made available. As many as the market demands. And Ontario will finally join the rest of the globe in terms of natural wine retailing. We are still, as we speak, an anomaly on this planet. And we are widely ridiculed.

We ask you to celebrate Canada Day with a bottle of Canadian wine, but in the true spirit of Canadian globalism, if you decide that a wine from France, Chile or New Zealand is what you want in the moment then do so without guilt. Canada welcomes all. Canada is bigger than Canada Day. Every person contributing to wine production somewhere in the world matters too.

Here are our picks from the June 27th release, plus a couple of recently tasted Canadian selections from VINTAGES Essentials

Canadian Wines

Vieni Estates 2012 Foch Vintage Reserve Ontario Canada ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Canada’s wine industry began with hybrids like marechal foch, and a few remaining old vine versions garner an almost cult-like following (eight were entered in this year’s wine awards). This deep, gnarly, rustic red explains their curious durability.
John Szabo – This is one of the best hybrid wines I’ve come across in long-term memory, great for the back yard or cottage with is smoky, forest floor, resinous herbs and dried plum flavours.

Calamus 2013 Steely Unoaked Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($14.95)

David Lawrason – Unoaked chardonnay is often boring, giving us no reason not to drink pinot grigio instead (which can also be boring). This is a nicely fresh, quite fulsome unoaked chardonnay with ripe pear, florals and honey. Calamus has re-designed its labels and found some new energy  in its wines of late.

Vieni Foch Vintage Reserve 2012 Calamus Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 Sperling Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2013 Malivoire Musqué Spritz 201413th Street Cabernet Merlot 2012

Sperling 2013 Gewurztraminer, Okanagan Valley ($28.95)

David Lawrason – Born and raised on the family’s vineyard in East Kelowna, Anne Sperling is better known in Ontario as the veteran winemaker at Southbrook and formerly Malivoire. She also commutes home to BC to tend Sperling Vineyards. This is a quite delicate, off-dryish gewurz  from estate vines well positioned on a south-facing hill overlooking west Kelowna and the lake.

Malivoire 2014 Musqué Spritz Beamsville Bench, ($19.95)

John Szabo – Lively, fresh, off-dry, and yes, spritzy, Malivoire’s 2014 Musqué Spritz is an infinitely drinkable, aperitif-friendly white that goes down with alarming ease. A great wine to have around the house for the summer, for those impromptu afternoon occasions.

13th Street 2012 Cabernet Merlot, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

David Lawrason – The 2012 vintage is perhaps the best all ‘round vintage Niagara has seen to date. Having been dealt nicely ripened fruit, JP Colas has delivered a quite lifted complex cab/merlot blend with notes of slightly stewed raspberry currant, herbs, leather, grilled red pepper and fresh herbs.

Culmina 2012 Hypothesis, Okanagan Valley ($39.95)

David Lawason – Since departing Jackson-Triggs when the label was sold to US-based Constellation Brands, Donald Triggs and his family have been carving out an ambitious new vineyard project on the benches of the south Okanagan’s Golden Mile. This is a very serious, sculpted, deep merlot-based red.
Sara d’Amato – From the recently delimited, sub-appellation of Golden Mile Bench, this BC Bordeaux blend has the complexity of left bank Bordeaux but the appealing, generous nature of a new world. Youthful and spicy but with excellent structure for mid to long term cellaring.

Culmina Hypothesis 2012 Malivoire Chardonnay 2012 Cave Spring Estate Riesling 2013 Queylus Reserve Du Domaine Merlot Cabernet Franc 2010

Malivoire 2012 Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

John Szabo – Made from essentially all Beamsville Bench fruit, Malivoire’s 2012 is a typically ripe and flowery, gently oaked, lively and well-balanced chardonnay. Acids are crisp and lively, and fruit is in the ripe orchard spectrum. Lovely wine, well priced.

Cave Spring 2013 Estate Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)

John Szabo – Cave Spring’s 2013 riesling is just off-dry but balanced, lively and vibrant, with arch-typical riesling profile – as reliable as they come.

Queylus 2010 Reserve du Domaine Merlot Cabernet Franc, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($39.95)

Sara d’Amato – A head turning Bordeaux blend from the hands of one of Canada’s most celebrated consultant winemakers, Thomas Bachelder. From rose and violets to blackcurrants and plums, this fleshy but structured palate is swoon-worthy.

International Reds

Finca Sophenia 2013 Reserve Malbec, Tupungato, Mendoza ($17.95)

David Lawrason – This is a very pretty, floral and lifted malbec that doesn’t succumb to oak from the high country at the north end of Mendoza’a Uco Valley.

Château Pey De Pont 2010, Médoc, Bordeaux $21.95

David Lawrason – The 2010 vintage continues to deliver great value among the petits chateaux. With well layered currants, spice, herbs, vanilla and a hint of maturing leather, this is ready to roll and should hold over the next three to five years.

Finca Sophenia Reserve Malbec 2013 Château Pey De Pont 2010 Gran Passione Rosso 2013 Domaine Le Clos Des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas 2012

Gran Passione 2013 Rosso, Veneto, Italy ($15.95)

David Lawrason – Lots here for $16! This is a very smooth, ripe and easy going ripasso with very good density. It has a nicely lifted nose of plum/cherry fruit, chocolate, some underlying meatiness and herbs.

Domaine Le Clos Des Cazaux 2012 La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas, Rhône France ($28.95)

John Szabo – A complete southern Rhône package here, classy and compelling, drinking well now, but should also hold a decade in the cellar quite comfortably. Best 2015-2025.

Il Molino Di Grace 2007 Il Margone Riserva Chianti Classico, Tuscany. Italy ($34.95)

John Szabo – There’s a lot of wine here for the money; this drinks up there with Brunello costing twice as much. I love the fully mature, earthy, mushroom and wet clay/wood- oxidative feel. There’s a touch of funk here to be sure, but it melds seamlessly with the rest of the ensemble. Best 2015-2022.

Domaine Le Clos Des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas 2012 Il Molino Di Grace Il Margone Riserva Chianti Classico 2007 Michel Gassier Les Piliers Syrah 2012 Sileni The Triangle Merlot 2013

2012 Michel Gassier Les Piliers Syrah AC Costières de Nîmes, Rhône, France ($18.95)

John Szabo – Here’s a fine value, lively and authentic syrah, floral and very pretty, with elegant tannins and vibrant acids. Very classy, and really well priced.  Best 2015-2020.
Sara d’Amato – Costieres de Nimes’ milder climate sandwiched between the southern Rhone and the Languedoc provides a haven for finicky syrah, allowing it to express itself in all its peppery and floral glory. An excellent value that has crowd-pleasing appeal.

Sileni 2013 The Triangle Merlot, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – Since the late 90s, Sileni has been producing a wide range of wines in the milder climate of Hawke’s Bay. This standout merlot shows terrific concentration and fruit but with a nervy acidic backbone that makes it versatile with food.

Ermete Medici & Figli Concerto 2013And for Something Special on the Patio This Summer…..

Medici Ermete & Figli 2013 Arte E Concerto Lambrusco, Emilia-Romagna  Italy ($19.95)

John Szabo – A long-time standard-bearer for Lambrusco, Medici Ermete’s Concerto, made from the Salamino member of the vast lambrusco family of grapes, is a deeply-coloured, very fruity and engaging wine, essentially dry (10 grams of residual sugar) and light-mid weight on the palate (11.5% alcohol). I like the dark berry flavours, the floral and peppery notes reminiscent of syrah done in carbonic maceration. Decent length. Perfect for the charcuterie board (is it a coincidence that the grape is named salamino, after the salami-like shape of its bunches?).

From VINTAGES June 27th, 2015

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

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


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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 27 – Part One

Pan-Am Wines; WineAlign’s Favourites of Customer Favourites
By John Szabo MS, with notes from Sara d’Amato and David Lawrason

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

The Pan Am games are virtually upon the Golden Horseshoe. The 1.5 billion-dollar event has impacted the region significantly, motivating many infrastructure improvements like multiple sports venues, a long-overdue rail connection to Pearson, new HOV lanes, and a prettied-up Queen’s Quay. The games have even influenced the wine selections arriving in Ontario on June 27th. But the LCBO’s selection of Pan-AM-themed wines stack the odds in favour of the powerhouse countries and give little hope for the emerging ones.

It’s a shame that the elite competitors from little-known wine producing countries like Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico weren’t invited to compete against perennial favourites from Canada, the US, Chile and Argentina. Instead, those marginalized countries are represented only by their second-string wines, unprepared for international competition. If one of the goals of the thematic, as for the games, is to introduce us to the new stars and to expand Pan-American cultural awareness and respect, I’m afraid spectator-drinkers will go home with prejudices fully intact.

Rather than one of southern Brazil’s very good sparkling wines (Chandon Brazil, Cave Geisse, Vallontano?), we’re offered instead a weak and bony, fleshless, amateur bubbly from the cooperative Aurora Winery, which, according to their website, is “the largest of its kind in Brazil and produces beverages [my emphasis] to suit all tastes and occasions”. Hardly an inspiring training motto for the factory’s winemakers. But for $13.95, all you can expect is the regional high school team, not the world cup squad.

Uruguay with its flag-waving tannat grape has countless potential medal-winning entries, but it didn’t even qualify. Instead we have Del Pedregal’s bench-warming Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly serviceable, worthy perhaps of a participation ribbon, but definitely not starting-team, medal material (Del Pedregal’s tannat wins all the medals). And Mexico, well, Mexico should have stayed home altogether. In a retirement home. Washed-up and oxidized, Freixenet de México’s entry should be watching the games from a reclining armchair. Is this really the best Mexico has to offer?

In the end, none of these countries will walk away with any new fans. And that’s the shame. It’s hardly a fair reflection of their sporting potential.

You could of course argue that no one will pay a high-priced ticket to see an unknown country perform, even if it’s the best in the event-category. And you’d probably be right. Stocking the LCBO shelves with expensive oddities is not smart planning, unless there’s an enthusiastic mascot on hand at every venue who can sell the ticket. But then again, if the proper infrastructure isn’t in place, then maybe the LCBO shouldn’t have been awarded the games at all. The risk of misrepresenting emerging countries is high.

So if you are going to the games on the 27th, preserve your unsullied impression of the mystery entries by keeping them a mystery, and go straight to see the marquee performers. The WineAlign odds-makers have lined up the top contenders from Canada, Chile, the US and Argentina, where medal chances are high.

The other theme of the release is “Customer Favourites”, a straightforward selection based on what has sold well in the past. These are the wines that you’ve voted for. This week’s report covers our favourites out of your favourite white wines (along with a handful of other irresistible wines that we’ll boldly predict as “future customer favourites”), while reds will be covered next week along with David’s lead-off on Canada’s finest for our national day.

Buyers’ Guide to Pan-American Wines

Montes Alpha 2012 Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($19.95)

John Szabo – A big and muscular, Pan Am sumo wrestler of a wine with soft midsection, yet sufficient acids to keep the masses of fruit from falling out of the ring. Best 2015-2020.

Viña San Pedro 2012 1865 Single Vineyard Syrah, Cachapoal Valley, Chile ($19.95)

Sara D’Amato – A syrah that knocks it out of the park with perky peppercorn and notes of juicy black currants on its compelling palate that is sure to prove a backyard barbecue favourite.

Trapiche 2011 Fincas Las Palmas Gran Reserva Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95)

David Lawrason – This is impressively deep, full and flavourful for the money – a hefty Argentine malbec that manages some complexity. As the largest and one of the oldest wineries in Mendoza, some might categorize Trapiche as old school – but I rather like the inbred oak driven complexity. A grilling red.

Montes Alpha Carmenère 2012 Viña San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Syrah 2012 Trapiche Fincas Las Palmas Gran Reserva Malbec 2011 Sperling Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2013 Colomé Torrontés 2013

2013 Sperling Gewurztraminer, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, Canada ($28.95)

John Szabo – A sprightly, energetic, more hundred-meter-dash-than-marathoner of a wine in the gewürztraminer context. It’s marvellously aromatic in the varietal style, but much crisper, drier and firmer than the mean.
Sara D’Amato – A stunningly elegant gewürztraminer which features well-balanced, bright acids to counteract the characteristic fatness common to the varietal.  For a cross-cultural, Pan Am treat, try with a slightly spicy chile relleno.

Colomé 2013 Torrontés, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Salta, Argentina ($13.95)

Sara D’Amato – From the world’s most elevated concentration of vineyards comes a smart and poised but characteristically value-priced torrontés. A restrained floral component and vibrant palate make for a widely appealing, easy summer sipper.
David Lawrason – Gran Altura is harvested at three different altitudes between 1800 and 3100 metres (which is lofty even for Argentina standards). The result is a delicacy and finesse rarely encountered in this show-off, highly aromatic variety. And at this price it’s amazing value. Make sure you chill well for garden sipping. Ideal for ceviche.

Our Favourites of Your Favourites Part One: White Wines

La Crema 2013 Chardonnay Monterey, California, USA ($26.95)

John Szabo – La Crema has slowly but surely been tightening the screws on their chardonnays, and while even the Monterey bottling, typically the tightest of La Crema’s range, wouldn’t have been among my favorites even just a few years ago, the 2013 hits the right balance. It’s still very much California, but happily tweaked for freshness and extended shelf-life. Best now-2023.

Casas Del Bosque Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc 2013 La Crema Monterey Chardonnay 20132013 Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($17.95)

John Szabo – Featherstone, too, steps into my favourites line-up for the first time, with this strong 2013 sauvignon release. I like the mix of guava/passion fruit inflected with subdued herbal-grassy character, and the honest dusty-chalky finish. Just feels right.
Sara D’Amato – Don’t expect a grassy New Zealand style of sauvignon blanc nor a riper California fumé but rather a uniquely Niagara style with great balance and appeal. Sourced from grapes at peak ripeness, this mid-priced sauvignon blanc exhibits surprising viscosity and staying power with the refreshing flavours of cooler tropical fruits such as pineapple and passion fruit.

Casas Del Bosque 2014 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($13.95)

David Lawrason – The world is increasingly dividing into three camps when it comes to sauvignon blanc, and given the time of year let’s call them summer camps – Camp Oh So Green, Camp Cool by the Lake, and Camp Deep in the Woods.  This is a New Zealand-inspired Camp Oh So Green blaster with intense capsicum, celery, dill on the nose and palate. A bit much for some, but a huge flavour hit for $13.95.

“Future Favourites” Part One: White Wines

Ken Forrester 2014 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95)

John Szabo – I’m delighted to see the return of this excellent value from Forrester, my pick for a future Vintages favourite. The 2014 is a particularly steely and mineral version, still at least a year or two away from prime drinking, but this has the depth and stuffing to go the distance. Best 2016-2024.
Sara D’Amato – This exceptional chenin blanc has been a WineAlign favourite since 2009. Each subsequent vintage has been hit after hit – a testament to the consistency of the wines from this internationally acclaimed producer. This substantial and complex example of a variety that has found unique expression in South Africa delivers a great deal of impact for a petite price.

Flor De Vetus 2013 Verdejo, old vines from Segovia, DO Rueda Spain ($15.95)

John Szabo –  Verdejo has the (unfortunate) tendency to turn into a Delmonte tropical fruit cup, but not so this example, from several old parcels all above 850 meters in the western corner of Rueda. It’s unusually subdued, with lovely cut and dense texture on the palate, and the sort of energy and depth that’s uncommon at this price. This is much more about stony-salty-mineral flavours than fruit, yet neither lean nor shrill, which is nice.

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 Flor De Vetus Verdejo 2013 Marrenon Doria Luberon 2012 Château Saint Genès 2013 Monte Del Frá Ca' Del Magro 2012

Marrenon 2012 Doria Luberon, Rhône, France ($17.95)

John Szabo – An excellent wine from the extensive Marrenon coop (1200 members farming over 7,000 hectares!). This is one of their top whites made from selected parcels, a blend of Vermentino (rolle), grenache blanc and a splash of Roussanne, harvested late and vinified together. The result is an engagingly floral wine with fully ripe orchard fruit (peaches, apricots), and gentle but fresh, palpably chalky palate. 20% barrel fermentation goes virtually unnoticed, save for the textural creaminess. I’d love to see more wines like this, especially at the price.
David Lawrason – This is a classy, understated summer white from vineyards on the clay limestone slopes of the Luberon in southern France. The estate was founded in 1966 by Petula Garcia , a wealthy Brazilian who fell in love with the Provence countryside (as wealthy people often do). This is a fresh, slender blend peachy white made from  60% vermentino, 30% grenache blanc and 10% roussanne.

Château Saint Genès 2013, Bordeaux Blanc, France

David Lawrason – This is a fine little value in white Bordeaux, blending semillon and sauvignon blanc. Often white Bordeaux is barrel-aged but if there is oak here it’s very discreet indeed. It’s from a property in the Cotes de Blaye, where vines are grown on gravelled soils with limestone underpinning. Lovely precision!

Monte Del Frá 2012 Ca’ Del Magro, Custoza Superiore, Veneto, Italy   ($17.95)

David Lawrason – Made from local varieties that grow in low-yielding vineyards on the slopes above of Lago do Garda, this a subtle, fresh young white that would work very nicely on the shore of your lake as well. Or by the pool. It reminds of a mid-weight Soave with subtle aromas of peach, yellow flowers and almond. Nicely made by one of my favourite houses of Italy’s northeast.

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

From VINTAGES June 27th, 2015

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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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011


International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 13 – Part Two

Best Bets for Dad and More of the Pink Stuff
By Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo MS

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Although Father’s Day is the official kick-off of barbecue season, if you’re a true Canadian, you never really stopped. But surely the return of heat requires you to kick it up a notch in the refreshment category. As the rosés continue to roll out, (and they will stop, soon) we can’t get enough of their appealing, food friendly nature and their thirst-quenching properties. Once again, the majority of our picks come from the world’s most reputed pink destination, that of the south of France. The region is now producing roughly 8% of the world’s rosés which have become top priority as global demand rapidly increases. I’ll be returning to this southern destination in the next few weeks and look forward to reporting on ever-changing trends, unique finds and new ways to beat the heat.

Our Father’s Day picks encompass our most exciting finds outside of the Italian subset that was covered by John Szabo in last week’s report. A very international selection, there is sure to be something to be found for just about any personality and gifter’s price range. One of the strongest and highest scoring categories this week are the wines from Spain and Portugal so keep an eye out for great value in this growing section. David Lawrason has just returned from both of these sunny destinations and you will surely hear more from him on this subject shortly.

FATHER’S DAY PICKS

Whites and Sweet

Quinta Do Alqueve 2013 Tradicional, Tejo, Portugal ($14.95)

Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier 2013 Quinta Do Alqueve Tradicional White 2013David Lawrason – I have just returned from Portugal where I was very impressed by the quality improvement of white wines. This beauty from a smallish family estate in Tejo (formerly Ribatejo) 40kms northeast of Lisbon explains why things are getting so interesting. It is made from local varieties – 90% fernao pires, 10% arinto grapes that were grown at low yield and hand sorted before fermentation. It reminds a bit of viognier but more compact, subdued and nuanced somehow. Very classy white at a great price.

Laurent Miquel 2013 Nord Sud Viognier, Vin De Pays d’Oc, France ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – A great value summer white that will stand up to at least 3/4 of what you put on the barbeque. Love the ripe, fleshy appeal of this viognier which has a refreshing backbone of vibrant acids.

Loveblock 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)

David Lawrason – It’s priced a bit above the norm for Marlborough sauvignon, but the quality is there. Erica and Kim Crawford’s Loveblock property overlooks the Awatere Valley, and uses some Awatere fruit (along with Waihopai fruit) in this wine, which provides a more compact, firm frame than we often see from Marlborough. There are also intriguing fresh herb/green notes on the nose (dill, green pepper) along with lime and green apple. Its balance is the key to my recommendation.

Max Ferd. Richter 2013 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany ($21.95)

Patricius 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú 2003 Leyda Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2013John Szabo – I suppose I’ll never tire of recommending (and drinking) the gems from the Mosel, especially from these top vineyards that have been celebrated for about 2000 years. For me, wines like these are the white equivalents of classified Médoc or grand cru red Burgundy, only, double check the price. That’s right, only here are legendary vineyards given away for $22. Best 2015-2028.
Sara d’Amato – What a find! Think your dad doesn’t like riesling? Think again – this racy gem is sure to win him over and the price is too good to be true. This centuries’ old top site produces some of the most dynamic and exhilarating rieslings on earth.

Leyda 2014 Garuma Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, Chile ($19.95)

John Szabo – A bright, punchy, crunchy Chilean sauvignon from the genuinely cool but sunny Leyda Valley. There’s plenty of vibrancy and a nice mix of citrus and passion fruit flavours with lingering acidic tang.

Patricius 2003 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú, Hungary ($39.95)

John Szabo – This is the best tokaji to come into VINTAGES for as long as I can remember, and in fact one of the best sweet wines as well, even more astonishing considering the price. It’s a furmint-based, botrytis-affected wine from one of the leading producers in the region, which delivers the complexity that can only come with great wine and a dozen years in the cellar – three in barrel and the rest in bottle (a recent release). This is really pretty, fragrant and delicate, infinitely drinkable, rich but far from heavy or cloying. Try it with duck à l’orange or pork belly, and learn what all the fuss over tokaji in the last 500 years is about. Best 2015-2033.

Reds

Cara Nord 2013 Conca De Barbera, Catalonia, Spain ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Huge value here – an aromatic explosion, followed by a nervy, mouthwatering palate and excellent length. It’s a blend of grenache, syrah and 20% garrut (mourvèdre) the Rhône varieties also widely used throughout Catalonia, culminating as it were in some of the great wines of Priorat. Conca de Barbera neighbours Priorat to the northwest on the other side of the Montsant mountain range, a flatter terrain with limestone based soils instead of Priorat’s unique slate. Winemaker Tomas Cusine – who also makes Montsant DO red – is fashioning a reputation for dynamic, expressive wines, and this certainly explains his success.

Roux Père & Fils 2010 Vougeot Les Petits Vougeots 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($74.95)

Sara d’Amato – A wine with wonderful finesse, elegance and class. Attention fans of classical music – although the wine is much too complex to find an adequate food pairing, it would match wonderfully with the restrained but twinkly and complex nature of a Mozart concerto.

Cara Nord 2013 Roux Père & Fils Vougeot Les Petits Vougeots 1er Cru 2010 Burning Kiln M 1 Merlot 2013 Catapereiro Escolha 2012

Burning Kiln 2013 M 1 Merlot, Kiln Dried, Ontario, Canada ($34.95)

Sara d’Amato – Have a dad who likes big, bold and impactful wines? Surprise him with this tobacco kiln-dried merlot made in a rich appasimento style from the emerging Ontario region of South Coast, Norfolk County. I was impressed with the presence and structure of the wine which is surprisingly not showy or overdone. Excellent with just about anything a barbecue can handle.

Catapereiro 2012 Escolha, Vinho Regional Tejo, Portugal ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – There is such a wealth of extravagant and voluminous Portuguese and Spanish selections in this release that it was hard to find only one to put forth. Due to the excellent price/quality ratio of the Catapereiro, it wins out as the sinful find of the day.

Ninquén 2013 Antu Chilean Mountain Vineyard Syrah, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($17.95)

John Szabo – Ninquén’s Antu, from a rare volcanic mid-valley hillside site in Colchagua offers not just weight and depth, but freshness as well. For the money it’s a substantial wine, and with another 2-3 years in the cellar should evolve into an even more complex and balanced expression. Best 2015-2021.

Montebuena 2012 Cuvée KPF DOCa Rioja, Spain ($14.95)

John Szabo – Just plain tasty and lively little wine from Rioja, with real vibrancy, fresh fruit and integrated herbal spice, offering much more complexity and enjoyment than one usually finds in the price category. Serve lightly chilled and drink it up, with pleasure.

Ninquén Antu Chilean Mountain Vineyard Syrah 2013 Montebuena Cuvée K P F 2012 Two Hands Bella's Garden Shiraz 2012 Wynns Coonawarra Estate John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release 2010

Two Hands 2012 Bella’s Garden Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia ($63.95)

David Lawrason – Come to papa for Father’s Day! This is an extraordinarily delicious red – powerful, seamless and oozing fruit. Yet so nicely nuanced, almost silky and balanced at the same time. There are six wines in Two Hand’s “Garden” series. This is sourced from several Barossa sites, open top fermented, aged 18 months in French oak (many Barossa shiraz are in American) and bottled without fining or filtration.

Wynns 2010 John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, Australia ($99.95)

David Lawrason – This In-Store Discovery will not be in wide distribution but is worth tracking down – a wine I rated outstanding at 95 points. I cannot think of a much more exciting and exacting expression of cabernet sauvignon, let alone Australian cabernet sauvignon. Read my tasting note for all the descriptors, but I will say here that the BLICE quality measurement elements (balance, length, intensity, complexity and expression) line up almost perfectly. Be prepared to cellar it for a while. It really is a bit too firm to fully enjoy now but I am betting it will let go by 2018 and live much longer.

Rosé

Domaine De Triennes 2014 Rosé IGP Méditerranée, Provence, France ($17.95)

John Szabo – Both of my rosé picks from this release are from Provence – there’s simply nowhere else on earth that does it as consistently, and as tastily, as the South of France. This is a confident rosé, not trying too hard to please. Classically pale, essentially dry, herbal and fruity with a generous helping of complexity.

Carte Noire 2014 Rosé Côtes de Provence, France ($17.95)

John Szabo – Another arch-classic Provençal rosé, discreet, dry, light, and flavourful.

Domaine De Triennes Rosé 2014 Carte Noire Rosé 2014 Château D'aquéria Tavel Rosé 2014 Monte Zovo Bardolino Chiaretto 2014

Château D’Aquéria 2014 Tavel Rosé, Rhône, France ($21.95) (319368)

Sara d’Amato – From the world HQ of rosé, Tavel, comes the inevitable return of Château d’Aquéria on the shelves of VINTAGES. Although the quality wavers from vintage to vintage, this incarnation is in top form and well worth the penny for serious fans of the pink.

Monte Zovo 2014 Bardolino Chiaretto, Veneto, Italy ($13.95)

Sara d’Amato – On a much more playful note, this Bardolino Chiaretto, made in northeastern Italy from similar grapes that make up the wines of Valpolicella, is like a bite of cold watermelon on a hot summer’s day. Albeit dry, it provides an abundance of refreshing and inexpensive pleasure that is simply delightful.

John Szabo will be back next week reporting on our top picks from the June 27th release. Until then, stay refreshed.

Cin, Cin!

 

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES June 13th, 2015

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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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 13 – Part One

Repetitive Wine Lists, Italian Whites & Reds, Sparkling
By John Szabo MS, with notes from Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

The mid-June VINTAGES release has mini-features on sparkling wines, Italian whites, rosé and father’s day suggestions. This week Sara and I will cover the first two (and we’ve added our top Italian reds of the release for balance) while David is down in the schist in Priorat and the Douro Valley (he’ll be back next week for part two).

Although the selection of Italian whites is predictably repetitive, rather than a focused effort to showcase Italy’s best, there are at least several commendable wines. Ditto for the sparkling selection, in which wines from outside of Champagne (and France) really shine, showing the breadth of options that the 21st century offers.

Same Old Same Old

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Italian whites offered on June 13th look as though they were selected out of a random (very large) pile of submissions, based on a whole bunch of criteria that supersede any logical reasons for being included in a feature on Italian whites.

You’d be forgiven because that’s essentially how it works. A high score plucked at random from the vast worldwide sea of wine reviews, the reputation of the agent who made the submission to the LCBO, the willingness of the winery or agent to “support” the sale of the wine through LCBO stores, the agreement of the winery to wait many, many months for payment and risk a discount if sales don’t meet quota, and a host of other, often opaque, criteria are used to put these features together.

A wine’s contribution to the breadth and completeness of the LCBO’s offering comes far down the list, if at all. “Theme” is rather a grand word. It seems instead that these themes – and not just Italian whites but so many other of the LCBO thematics – is retrofitted to a group of wines that made it through.

Consider that of the seven wines under this banner, only two are new to the province, all are from the north, all but one are stainless steel fermented, and two are from the same grape and nearly the same price. Italy’s greatest, most distinctive white grapes, like fiano, greco, verdicchio or carricante, to name but a few, are nowhere to be found. Instead, we have more pinot grigio, like we have every release. Ah, it’s because pinot grigio sells, you say. Well of course it does if that’s all that’s offered. Where’s the discovery? Where’s the expertise of the buyers? If a sommelier student were to hand me this list of Italian whites, presented as even a small representative collection of what Italy has to offer, they’d flunk on the spot. In a country that’s positively fermenting with innovation, none of it is even hinted at here.

So much for choice…

I frequently see parallels on restaurant wine lists. It’s very obvious when a sommelier has been “bought” (or is plain lazy or inept). The list will contain a number of wines that have no real business being there. Picture, for instance, a short list with, say, five similarly-styled chardonnays out of fifteen whites. Or a list on which half the wines are from the same country or region (without any obvious ethic or regional theme to the restaurant). Or a half-dozen wines from the same winery, or twelve versions of the same jammy, heavily oaked, or zesty, tart berry fruit-flavoured red. Such overlaps don’t add anything to a wine program, in fact they take away from it. Each repetitive selection takes up dollars and space that could be reserved for a different grape/style/category of wine, broadening the selection without increasing inventory costs, offering more choice to customers, while at the same time lessening the tyranny of having to choose between a bunch of wines that all taste the same.

But such is invariably the list compiled by a sommelier who sits back and waits for wine agents to show up at the door. They’ll just buy what they’re told to, what’s convenient, or rely solely on the supplier who bought the umbrellas on the patio.

The best lists, on the other hand, are assembled by a sommelier who actively pre-determines what the list should contain, establish his/her own selection criteria, and then does the leg work to go out and find the best wines to fill each category.

Now, it’s not a perfect parallel, and I’m not suggesting that the LCBO has been bought, or is even lazy or inept. I know category buyers are hamstrung by a tangle of rules that often precludes them from being the true “architects” of a really useful, representative collection of wines under any theme. I do not envy them. Send each of the category managers on research trips to see what’s really happening on the ground, who’s making the best wines, the best values, what are the classic and innovative styles? No question of it. Instead, they’re treated as little more than administrative clerks passively sending out tenders then shuffling though files and sorting data by “Score: highest to lowest”.

It’s frustrating to know that so much more ground could be covered, literally. Our monopoly system limits Ontarians’ wine choice. Period. It’s like a repetitive restaurant wine list, only it’s the only restaurant in the province. Or rather, chain of restaurants.

On the Bright Side…

On the bright side, at least the wines in the thematic are strong, even within a very narrow band of style. I’m not griping about quality, just selection. So read on below for the best.

Buyers Guide for Italian Whites

Pieropan 2011 La Rocca Soave Classico DOC, Veneto, Italy ($39.95)

Alois Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2013 Zenato Sergio Zenato Lugana Riserva 2012 Pieropan La Rocca Soave Classico 2011John Szabo  This is the single best white in the release, from any country, and a steal in the premium white wine category. La Rocca is Pieropan’s steeply terraced, calcareous-limestone vineyard on Monte Rochetta, within sight of Soave’s medieval castle, one of the oldest “cru” white wines in Italy, first bottled in the 1970s. It has a distinctively chalky smell, not dissimilar to top Chablis, along with substantial depth and complexity, seamless texture and marvellously mineral, non-fruit complexity. It should age beautifully over at least another decade.
Sara d’Amato – Anything but your basic Soave, in case the price wasn’t a giveaway. Complex and quite traditional with a very pleasant evolved character beginning to show.

Sergio Zenato 2012 Riserva Lugana, Veneto, Italy ($30.95)

John Szabo – Zenato’s Lugana Riserva is often one of my favourites from the company’s portfolio, and a fine expression of trebbiano di Lugana. 2012 yielded a particularly generous and mouth-filling wine, with the faintly sweet tinge of wood-derived caramel flavour lingering alongside ripe tropical fruit; in a blind tasting I might be fooled into guessing barrel fermented sauvignon blanc.

Alois Lageder 2013 Pinot Grigio DOC Südtirol – Alto Adige, Italy ($21.95) 

John Szabo – A premium, biodynamically-grown pinot grigio far above the oceans of innocuous PG that flood northern Italy. This is somewhere between the leaner Italian style and richer Alsatian versions. Marked minerality adds interest. Drink or hold short-term.

Le Monde 2013 Pinot Bianco DOC Friuli Grave Italy ($16.95) 

Villanova Traminer Aromatico 2014 Masera Gavi 2013 Le Monde Pinot Bianco 2012John Szabo – Vigneti Le Monde has vineyards in a particularly chalky district of northern Friuli, off of the more common gravelly soils, which accounts perhaps for the finesse and fragrance exhibited here. It’s a gentle and fragrant, spring blossom-scented pinot blanc, light-mid-weight, neither tart nor flabby, just well-balanced.

Masera 2013 Gavi, Piedmont, Italy ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – So many Gavis that make it to the shelves of VINTAGES are unfortunately dilute and very simple, certainly not representative of the elegant but appealing and playful nature of cortese. In this example from Masera, the vibrant acids take center stage along with concentrated citrus and tree fruit.

Villanova 2014 Traminer Aromatico, Friuli, Italy ($13.95)

Sara d’Amato – All that is wonderfully fragrant about spring is captured in the nose of this easy-breezy, elegant, ethereal white. Lovely as an aperitif or for brunch with friends.

Buyers Guide for Italian Reds

Batasiolo 2012 Sabri Barbera d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy  ($15.95) 

John Szabo – For the money, this is a polished and fruity, zesty and juicy barbera that over-delivers. This would make a great restaurant by-the-glass pour, full of joyful fruit and bright acids.
Sara d’Amato – A juicy, fleshy, well-made and easy-drinking barbera under $16 – a great summer house red to pull out for barbeques and unexpected guests.

Castello Di Ama 2009 Riserva Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($34.95) 

John Szabo – Beautifully evolved at this point, yet still bold and full, like a mouthful of warm gravel, neither austere nor hard, this is a fine example of mature Chianti. Best with the tempering of food – roasted or grilled protein ideally.

Batasiolo Sabri Barbera d'Asti 2012 Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 Feudo Arancio Nero d'Avola 2013 Quercia Al Poggio Chianti Classico 2009

Feudo Arancio 2013 Nero d’Avola DOC Sicilia, Italy ($13.95) 

John Szabo – A terrific little wine for casual BBQs and the like, honest, firm and dusty in the Italian style, an essence of the herbally fragrant Sicilian countryside.

Quercia Al Poggio 2009 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($21.95)

Sara d’Amato – An unexpectedly concentrated and age-worthy find at a steal of a price. Produced from organically farmed sangiovese and a small percentage of indigenous varieties fermented in cement, the wine sees very little oak and offers a great deal of pure but balanced fruit.

Buyers Guide for Sparkling

Showcase 5 Blanc De Noirs 2009, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($55.00) 

John Szabo – “This wine is journey into the unknown for me. A rare glimpse into what Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier can evolve to when tiraged for 5 years in the cellar. We just kept pushing it and it just kept getting better and better over time”, says winemaker Craig McDonald of the inaugural release of the Trius “Showcase 5″. I say fantastic. Not a wine for sipping, mind you, this should be a centerpiece at the table; it’s a fine value in the context.
Sara d’Amato – Trius’ handcrafted, small-lot Showcase series allows veteran winemaker Craig McDonald to show his true colours. This succulent and substantial traditional method vintage Blanc de Noirs will make you an instant fan.

Josef Chromy Tasmanian Cuvée Méthode Traditionnelle, Tasmania, Australia ($28.95) 

John Szabo – Chromy is a reliable name in Tassie, and Australian, sparkling wine. The style is quite dry with highly chiseled acids – some might find them jarring, but I appreciate the no-compromise cut and sharpness. The balance of toasty-yeasty character and citrus-green apple fruit is spot on. A perfect aperitif style.
Sara d’Amato – Tasmania’s cool climate is ideal for the high acid grape growing that is needed to produce great sparkling wines. This very appealing traditional method cuvée is a blend of two of the island’s most widely planted varietals: chardonnay and pinot noir.

Showcase 5 Blanc De Noirs 2009 Josef Chromy Tasmanian CuvéeTawse 2013 Spark Limestone Ridge Riesling SparklingBollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne

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

John Szabo – A crisp, off-dry, apple-scented bubbly, indeed very much like riesling with bubbles, which of course it is. This fits nicely into the sipping category.

Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne, Champagne, France ($73.95) (384529)

Sara d’Amato – Bollinger’s Special Cuvée is a premium non-vintage offering resulting from a blend of new wine and reserve wines including some that have been aged in Bollinger’s library cellar for over 15 years in magnum. The outcome is an incredibly complex Champagne with ample body, length and a yeasty, biscuity flavour.

Wines of Portugal, A World of Difference.

Taste the Soul of Portugal - June 9th - TorontoOn Tuesday, June 9th, you’re invited to discover the exceptional diversity of Portuguese wines – with yours truly along as your guide. Here’s your chance to kick the varietal habit and come to terms with regional identity instead. Portugal has 200+ grapes, and all old vineyards (and there are many in Portugal) are field blends, like the wines. It’s the region that makes the style difference. This is the way wine has always been made, and understood. We should get back there. Find out more and save $10 on your ticket with WineAlign’s access code.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES June 13th, 2015

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

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


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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 30 – Part Two

Southern Rhône Reds and the Best of the Rest
By John Szabo MS, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

This week’s report features the top Southern Rhône reds of the May 30th release, along with the best of the rest of the reds. Although prices in the Southern Rhône Valley have been creeping up over the last decade, particularly for the marquee appellations like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, there are still plenty of satisfying wines for the money. In fact, I’d say the region remains one of the top sources for fulsome, impactful reds in a style that appeals almost universally, without the premium commanded by more niche appellations. And in my view, the most costly wines are often the least regionally representative, and thus less interesting. I’ll leave those to the trophy hunters with the corporate boxes.

One of the reasons for the Rhône’s famous value quotient is simple: volume. There are over 71,000 football fields worth of vineyards in the valley, producing enough wine to fill 100 Olympic swimming pools, every year. That’s a lot of wine, second only to Bordeaux AOC in sheer size and production. And considering that there are over 5000 producers of Rhône Valley wine, competition is fierce. In the end, basic supply and demand create a favourable playing field for us, the consumers. So, to carry on the alarming display of mixed metaphors, let’s dive into the WineAlign crü’s top medal-winning performers. It’s telling that there’s such a spread of choices between us (only one double alignment), underscoring again the overall consistency and value offered by the southern Rhône. It comes down to nuances of preference, so align yourself up.

Also in this report you’ll find a fine collection of red wines that cover a wide style and geographic spectrum. Read on to see them, an impressive seventeen recommendations in all.

Buyers Guide: Southern Rhône Reds

Château De Nages 2012 JT Costières De Nîmes, Rhône, France ($24.95)

John Szabo – Nages is the family property of the sizable Michel Gassier wine business, representing the top of the ladder. This bold and ripe but balanced syrah-based cuvée (with 14% mourvèdre) is well worth the detour to this lesser-known southern French AOC, delivering well above the price category. It offers plenty of typical smoky, inky, cold cream and black pepper aromatics, while the palate is firm and lively with lots of tannic grip and floral-violet-inflected flavours. Best 2015-2022.

Pierre Amadieu 2012 Romane-Machotte Gigondas, Rhône, France ($27.95)

John Szabo – One of the first to put the name “Gigondas” on a bottle of wine in 1929, the Amadieu family continues to craft elegant, stylish grenache-based wines from their 7 ha at the foot of the village. This is the original cuvée, offering all of the southern Rhône-grenache suppleness one hopes for, alongside garrigue-licorice complexity and mouth-filling richness. It’s worth the price premium if you’re after something a little classier from the region. Best 2015-2022.
Sara d’Amato – Pierre Amadieu was the first producer to bottle wine with the name Gigondas and was also a principal founder of the region’s AOC. The wines from this estate reflect a traditional, elegant and complex approach. This endearing blend is a prime example of why Gigondas is rightfully emerging from the shadow of the neighboring Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Château De Nages J T Costières De Nîmes 2012 Pierre Amadieu Romane Machotte Gigondas 2012 Domaine Les Aphillanthes Plan De Dieu Cuvée Des Galets Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2011 La Ferme Du Mont Première Côte Côtes Du Rhône 2012

Domaine Les Aphillanthes 2011 Plan De Dieu Cuvée Des Galets, Côtes Du Rhône-Villages, Rhône, France ($23.95)

John Szabo – A biodynamic domaine (certified Biodyvin since 2007) producing terrifically rich and concentrated wines from their 37 hectares of vines between Gigondas and Cairanne. This 2011 CDR is bold, very ripe and boozy in the style of the vintage, with 15% alcohol declared, but, amazingly, it’s not out of whack. Serve with a light chill in any case to increase the freshness. As impressive as many Châteauneuf-du-Pape at twice the price. Best 2015-2020.

La Ferme Du Mont 2012 Première Côte, Côtes Du Rhône, Rhône Valley ($14.95)

David Lawrason – One of my favourite “newish” southern Rhône producers returns with a basic Côtes du Rhône that punches above its weight. It shows more exuberance than many more traditional and pedestrian southern Rhônes at this price.

Domaine De La Vieille Julienne 2012 Les Trois Sources, Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, Rhône Valley ($79.95)

David Lawrason – Well this is no bargain, but it is one of my top scoring wines of the release at 93 points, and there will be CdP fans/collectors who might want a few bottles of this very appealing and well made young Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the cellar. It has some opulence yet structured elegance. Best 2017 to 2025ish.

Domaine De La Vieille Julienne Les Trois Sources Châteauneuf Du Pape 2012 Cave De Rasteau Ortas Prestige Rasteau 2010 Famille Perrin Les Christins Vacqueyras 2012 Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Philippine Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2013

Ortas 2010 Prestige Rasteau, Rhone Valley ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is one of the more adventurous wines on the Rhône release, quite tarry, meaty and leathery as it heads into maturity. It is solid and well structured, yet another decent 2010, and good value.

Famille Perrin 2012 Les Christins Vacqueyras, Rhône, France ($23.95)

Sara d’Amato – A consistently sophisticated, polished find from the reliable house of Perrin. Largely grenache which is nicely complemented by peppery syrah. The appellation of Vacqueyras is quickly becoming the rising star of the southern Rhône with underpriced wines that show restraint, elegance and aromatic complexity.

Domaine Les Grands Bois 2013 Philippine, Côtes Du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($18.95)

Sara d’Amato – I am delighted to see the Domaine Les Grand Bois Villages on the shelves of the LCBO again after such a long absence. The Philippine takes its name from one of the three young daughters of the proprietors of this family-owned winery. Mireille and Marc Besnardeau now own an extensive 46 hectares of vines split over 7 southern Rhône communes. This hand-harvested, field-sorted wine made from vines of up to 70 years old is an excellent value.

Buyers Guide: Smart Red Wine Buys

Quinta Das Carvalhas 2011 Touriga Nacional, Douro, Portugal ($21.95)

John Szabo – The crown jewel of the Real Companhia Velha, Carvalhas is a large and spectacular quinta on the left bank of the Douro almost opposite the town of Pinhão where the company’s top wines have been produced since 1975. The 2011 touriga nacional is a bold, ripe, highly polished red with massive structure and concentration (it was a hot year in the Douro), with the potential to improve with another 2-4 years in the bottle. A superb wine for the price, dense, rich and full. Best 2017-2023.
David Lawrason – Go to school here on touriga nacional – Portugal’s signature grape – with this fine, lifted floral yet mineral example. I was reminded of a pure zinfandel. It’s very smooth, deep and driven by good acidity. It should cellar well for ten years. It was a great vintage in the Douro.

2014 Harvest in the Quinta das Carvalhas-3483

2014 Harvest in the Quinta das Carvalhas

Corino 2013 Dolcetto d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy ($18.95)

John Szabo – Giuliano Corino has nailed this one, a polished and supple, deliciously fruity Dolcetto from hillside vineyards in the town of La Morra, known for its more delicate and seductive wines. Drink or hold short-term; smiles guaranteed.

Rustenberg 2010 Merlot, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95)

John Szabo – An arch-classic wine from one of the Cape’s most storied producers, which will have your friends guessing Pomerol. This is drinking beautifully now, and should continue to hold through the mid-term. A terrific buy for old world style/Bordeaux blend fans. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason This scores big on depth and complexity. The Bordeaux variety reds of Stellenbosch often taste like Bordeaux actually, with more flesh and power. This is a classic example with all kinds of ripe berry fruit, olive, savoury and mineral notes.

Quinta Das Carvalhas Touriga Nacional 2011 Corino Dolcetto d'Alba 2013 Rustenberg Merlot 2010Errazuriz Aconcagua Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Diamandes De Uco Malbec 2011

Errazuriz 2012 Aconcagua Alto Cabernet Sauvignon Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($19.95)

John Szabo – A polished and supple, generous and fruity example of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, from the higher elevation (“Alto”) Andean foothills of the upper Aconcagua Valley. Winemaker Francisco Baettig has dialled the ripeness and freshness, fruit and oak into a highly appealing style. Best 2015-2020.

Diamandes De Uco 2011 Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($24.95)

David Lawrason – Diamandes is one of the French-owned estates within the Clos de los Siete complex in the Vista Flores sub-region of Uco Valley. The compound reminds me of an outpost of the French Foreign legion! But my goodness are the member estates ever making great wine. The top label from Diamandes was the single best red I tasted in Argentina. This junior version still hits 90 – a classy, dense, poised and well structured malbec.

Trivento 2012 Golden Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – A very impressive cabernet with a great deal of structure and density of fruit for under $20. Trivento is Concho Y Toro’s Argentinean project and is a consistent consumer favourite.

Trivento Golden Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Boschendal 1685 S & M Shiraz Badia A Coltibuono Riserva Chianti Classico 2009 Alvaro Castro Red 2011

Boschendal 2013 1685 S & M Shiraz/Mourvèdre, Coastal Region, Western Cape, South Africa ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – A little offbeat but wildly appealing at the same time with a name that is sure to spark conversation. The wine is brimming with a complex array of flavours that include pepper, cool menthol, tilled earth, exotic spice, mineral and an abundance of cassis.

Badia A Coltibuono 2009 Riserva Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($38.95)

Sara d’Amato – Finding a wine such as this makes the hours of tasting largely mediocre quality wine all worthwhile. With a bounty of charm and character, this largely sangiovese based blend made from organic fruit is drinking beautifully now but has many years yet to come.

Álvaro Castro 2011 Red, Dão, Portugal ($17.95)

John Szabo – I don’t believe I’ve ever had a wine from Castro that I haven’t enjoyed, one of the Dão’s most sought-after producers. This is all elegance, class and balance in a mid-weight, infinitely drinkable red blend. Best 2015-2021.

WineAlign's Bill Zacharkiw gives the Thumbs Up to Alvaro Castro in Viseu, Dão-3708

WineAlign’s Bill Zacharkiw gives the Thumbs Up to Alvaro Castro in Viseu, Dão

 

Wines of Portugal, A World of Difference.

Taste the Soul of Portugal - June 9th - TorontoOn Tuesday, June 9th, you’re invited to discover the exceptional diversity of Portuguese wines – with yours truly along as your guide. Here’s your chance to kick the varietal habit and come to terms with regional identity instead. Portugal has 200+ grapes, and all old vineyards (and there are many in Portugal) are field blends, like the wines. It’s the region that makes the style difference. This is the way wine has always been made, and understood. We should get back there. Find out more and save $10 on your ticket with WineAlign’s access code.

 

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES May 30, 2015

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Buyers’ Guide Part One: Pinot Noir’s New World
All Reviews

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


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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011


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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008