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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – May 28, 2016

Veneto, German Royalty and Smart Buys
Text and photos by John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week I’ll have a look at the Veneto feature of the May 28th VINTAGES release, with some thoughts on the region and a quartet of top picks that cover some of the essential styles. A selection of miscellaneous smart buys follows, and includes a pair each of superb whites from the Niagara Escarpment and Stellenbosch, and a duo of old world reds straight from the textbook.

The annual German Wine Fair featured last week in Toronto, a country going from strength to strength and generating plenty of excitement, at least among the trade judging by the enthusiasm in the room. I’ve posted a separate Germany report including an interview with Josefine Schlumberger, current German Wine Queen, as well as top drops currently available, and ones I hope will soon be (calling all importers!!!).

Italian Giant: The Veneto

The Veneto in northeastern Italy is one of the country’s most prolific wine-producing regions. With large and famous appellations like Prosecco, Soave and Valpolicella, not to mention an ocean of pinot grigio “Delle Venezie IGT”, the quantity of wine produced, and exported, is staggering. Soave, for example, is the area with the most intense concentration of viticulture in all of Italy. The principal communes of Monteforte d’Alpone and Soave itself devote more than 90% of their agricultural area to vineyards.

Misty autumn morning, Valpolicella-3697

Misty autumn morning, Valpolicella

With some notable exceptions, the selection made available to us on LCBO shelves is underwhelming to be sure, favouring the largest mass-market brands with advertising dollars to spare. The region of course has much more to offer in the quality spectrum. See my January report from Verona listing the top releases from the 2016 edition of the Anteprima Amarone with bonus picks from the Valpolicella and Ripasso categories.

Vineyards of Filippi in Castelcerino, Soave-5231

Vineyards of Filippi in Castelcerino, Soave

The offerings debuting on May 28th are mixed, though I’ve found four wines that nicely represent their respective regions.

Pieropan 2014 Soave Classico DOC, Veneto, Italy ($17.95): The dual geological nature of the Soave zone, from black and red soils of volcanic origin to white or yellow terrain of calcareous (limestone) origins, is a hot current topic of discussion between producers. This arch-classic Soave is blended from both soil types but, like the region itself, is dominated by its volcanic side, yielding a lovely, floral-flinty, classically structured wine, with ample depth and smoky complexity, and I love the crackling acids of the 2014s in general. It’s terrific to see this come in at such an attractive price ($2 less than the 2013). I’d give it another year or two in bottle to reveal its more mineral side, but the range of flavours is already impressive. Best 2016-2024.

Monte del Frá 2014 Bardolino DOC, Veneto, Italy ($14.95): Here’s a totally delightful, fresh strawberry-raspberry-cherry scented red from the eastern shores of Lake Garda, the kind that just begs to be chilled and cracked, like the best wines of Valpolicella next door. I love the lack of pretension and the confidence to make an honest, simple but dangerously drinkable red without recourse to artificial wood flavouring or exaggerated ripeness. This is just fun.

Pieropan Soave Classico 2014Monte Del Frá Bardolino 2014 Masi Serego Alighieri 650 Anniversario Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2011 Giuseppe Campagnola Ripasso Della Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2014

Masi 2011 Serego Alighieri 650 Anniversario Monte Piazzo, Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC, Veneto, Italy ($21.95): If you are in the mood for a more serious red, this Masi wine from the historic estate that still belongs to the descendants of the poet Dante Alighieri is a fine option. It’s an ambitious, mature, very savoury example of Valpolicella, with notable wood influence but an equally abundant measure of dried porcini/leather/barley risotto-type flavours to balance. There’s definite old world styling here, complete with firm-dusty tannins. Best 2016-2021.

Traditional grape drying room at the Serego Alighieri Estate-9965

Traditional grape drying room at the Serego Alighieri Estate

Giuseppe Campagnola 2014 Ripasso della Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC Veneto, Italy ($19.95): I find ripasso style Valpolicella a hard wine to get right – it’s neither pure and fruity-vibrant like straight up Valpolicella, nor rich, dense and heady like Amarone, but rather lost in between with varying degrees of unbalanced and overly raisined fruit flavour, or worse, excessive wood flavour, to which the delicate grapes of the region – mainly corvina/corvinone and rondinella – seem particularly susceptible. Campagnola dials it down nicely here, evidently a more serious, polished wine, heavier and more concentrated than the mean while retaining balance, with ripe, soft tannins and plush texture. Fruit remains faithful to the red berry spectrum, and the length is very good, and wood influence is marked but not exaggerated. Best 2016-2022.

Szabo’s Smart Buys

Escarpment Whites

Flat Rock Unplugged Chardonnay 2014 Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2013Supporters of local riesling, and indeed lovers of riesling from anywhere will want to tuck a few bottles of the Cave Spring 2013 CSV Riesling, VQA Beamsville Bench ($29.95) into the cellar. 2013 is a fine vintage for this Niagara classic, from some of the oldest riesling vines in the province. Balance is impeccable, with taught, quivering acids taming a light pinch of residual sugar. Length and depth impress, as does the range of spicy citrus, ginger and floral flavours. Drink or hold a decade – there’s a big window of enjoyment, judging by past great vintages.

And some insider information: the 2015 CSV riesling, made with wild ferment for the first time, is reportedly the estate’s best yet. But we’ll have to wait another couple of years to see it.

Flat Rock takes a page from the Chablis playbook in the 2014 Unplugged Chardonnay VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($16.95), a clean, lively, vibrant and very fresh unoaked chardonnay. I like the crunchy acids, lightly tacky texture, moderate alcohol, and vaguely lactic (yoghurt, fresh cheese) flavours that will remind you of northern France, in a very good way.

Stellenbosch Whites

With the already weak Rand in further free fall of late, we can only expect more great values from South Africa.

For the moment, Rustenberg delivers another overachieving value with their 2014 Chardonnay ($19.95). It’s a nicely pitched, gently oaked, well-structured and complex chardonnay that could hold its own in a much higher price category. Length and depth, as well as complexity are impressive. Best 2016-2022.

South African chenin blanc is likewise one of the best values on planet wine, that is if you like assertive, characterful whites with occasional brute smoky-mineral force. Oldenburg Vineyards 2014 Chenin Blanc ($20.95) is such a wine, melding ripe sautéed pineapple and candied tangerine fruit flavours on a full-bodied, concentrated frame, with the merest hint of wood influence. I like the expansive, wide-ranging palate, and the lingering finish – this is a substantial white wine, ready for full-on BBQed chicken or veal, or similar high-intensity foods.

Rustenberg Chardonnay 2014Oldenburg Chenin Blanc 2014Château Pegau Cuvée Maclura Côtes Du Rhône 2013Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2010

Textbook Euro Reds

I’ve been following the wines of Laurence Ferraud for a decade and a half, and watched her expand from her original family Domaine du Pégau in Châteauneuf and purchase Château Pegau just a few kilometers south of the appellation, with similar terroir including mounds of stones, next to the Rhône.

The 2013 Cuvée Maclura Côtes du Rhône ($19.95) is a fine, savoury-spicy, floral and cinnamon-tinged, quite well structured grenache-led GSM. This may run a little to the dry and dusty side for some, but I love the range of flavours on offer, covering all of the spectrums from dusty red fruit to lavender to black liquorice-pepper spice. Best 2016-2023.

Fans of classic sangiovese (with 10% canaiolo) will love the Carpineto 2010 Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva DOCG Tuscany, Italy ($29.95). 2010 was one of those perfect vintages, and this is showing beautifully now, a lovely floral, black pepper, pot pourri-savoury expression. The palate is expansive and terrifically complex, polished and softened by two years in wood, and having reached a silky, refined texture with excellent length and depth overall. Drink or hold mid-term (2016-2025). 

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


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES May 28, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All May 28 Reviews

Buyers’ Guide to May 28th – Judgment of Paris Edition

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

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – May 14, 2016

New Zealand Sauvignon, A Volcanic Duo & More
Text and photos by John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

David led last week with the team’s Buyers Guide to Customer Favourites, which was the main feature of the May 14th release. So I’ll get straight to my top picks. The selection is laudable, featuring a smart range of “next generation” Marlborough sauvignon blanc, which is to say distinctive, characterful, and original wines that step outside of the standard industrial mould.

The rest of the release also has some hidden gems, including a pair of terrific value volcanic wines from Italy, an outstanding Croatian white, classic Saar Riesling and a local pinot that’s currently singing.

May is New Zealand wine fair month and our WineAlign coverage reflects it – see Treve Ring and Steve Thurlow’s thorough report from their recent travels and read the bonus feature from Sara d’Amato on her speed dating experience at the NZ trade event.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

If you were under the impression that all Marlborough sauvignon comes out of the same massive vat, then try these three distinctive examples.

The Auntsfield Single Vineyard 2015 Sauvignon Blanc from the unofficial Southern Valleys sub-region of Marlborough ($22.95), is a perfect bridge between past and future, still recognizably Marlborough in style though far riper, denser and better composed than the mean. David Herd planted the region’s first grapes here in 1873 – Marlborough’s pioneer winemaker – and vine material from those original plantings still grows on he same site. The 2015 splits the line nicely between tight citrus, riper tropical and lightly pungent-vegetal notes, with superior flavour depth and length.

The founders of Dog Point Vineyards clearly get it: Ivan Sutherland and James Healy were behind the wine – Cloudy Bay – that put Marlborough sauvignon on the map in the 1990s. Dog Point takes a more radical tack however, and I happen to love their distinctive, flinty style born from wild ferments and no nonsense winemaking. The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($24.95) is perhaps little less edgy than previous vintages, and with more fruit than usual (I suppose that’s not a bad thing), but it’s is nonetheless still an original expression with terrific length and depth and quivering acids.

Auntsfield Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Villa Maria Southern Clays Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014

It’s heartening to see one of the region’s largest and oldest players, Villa Maria (est. 1961) pushing the quality envelope in their top tier. The 2014 Southern Clays Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($29.95), from the Maxwell Vineyard nestled in the gentle north facing foothills of the Ben Morven Valley, plays on this slightly warmer and more clay rich corner of Marlborough, also associated with the region’s most serious pinot noirs. This wine shows that a bit of bottle age can bring out an entirely new dimension in the genre, here delivering intriguing honeyed/bees wax aromatics, subdued relative to the typical Marlborough style, but all the more interesting and subtly complex for it. And I really love the texture: taught and tightly spun but smooth and seamless, with exceptional depth and length. It’s well worth the premium price, and is also capable of ageing another half dozen years no doubt.

Aromatic Whites

Fans of Mosel riesling will find extreme happiness in the arch-classic Bischofliche Weingüter Trier 2013 Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett, Mosel ($23.95). It’s an exceptional example from one of the Saar’s top vineyards that hits all of the right notes. I love the impossible balance of fully ripe stone fruit framed by electric acids, the perfectly pitched pinch of balancing residual sugar and the excellent length. Drink or hold a decade+.

Further afield in less trodden territory, I’d urge you to take a punt on the Ilocki Podrumi 2013 Traminac, Croatia ($14.95). Ilocki Podrumi has one of Croatia’s oldest cellars next to one of the most modern in the northeastern corner of the country. Traminac (aka gewürztraminer) is rendered here with a distinctively green-gold colour and an amazing perfume of marmalade and rosewater, delivering superb complexity at the price. The rich and creamy palate offers more honey and ripe/dried stone fruit flavours inflected with ginger and star anise – a terrific tour de force of flavour all in all. Try with lightly spiced south East Asian foods.

Bischofliche Weingüter Trier Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett 2013 Ilocki Podrumi Traminac 2013 D'angelo Sacravite 2013 Antichi Vinai Il Mascalese Nerello Mascalese 2013 Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2012

Duo of Italian Volcanic Reds

Is there something distinctive about volcanic wines? You bet. They can best be summed up by the word savoury – don’t come to the volcano looking for plush fruit. You can read all the details in my book publishing this September, but in the meantime enjoy these two superb value entry points into volcanic reds from two of Italy’s most celebrated volcanoes: d’Angelo’s 2013 Sacravite, IGT Basilicata, Italy ($15.95) is a pure aglianico from the slopes of the extinct Vulture volcano in Basilicata, made from younger vines and aged for a shorter period than the estate’s DOCG version. It’s crafted nonetheless in the traditional style, which is to say marvellously floral and full of pot pourri and dried fruit, succulent and firm with bright acids and fine, dusty-grippy tannins. Oh, and you could forget this is in the cellar for a half dozen years and fear little.

Volcanic Wines - by John Szabo MSMonte Vulture-2111

Sicily’s alarmingly active Mount Etna is the origin of Antichi Vinai’s 2013 ‘Il Mascalese’ Nerello Mascalese, IGT Terre Siciliane ($16.95). Etna has written one of Italy’s runaway success wine stories over the last decade, captivating drinkers with the wild strawberry, smoke and porcini dust flavours of indigenous nerello mascalese. Antichi Vinai, founded in 1877, preserves the variety’s character with just a short ageing period in stainless steel. Tannins are relatively soft and yielding, while acids remain bright and fresh. This is the sort of wine I’d love to sip with a nice chill alongside strips of simply grilled beef or lamb skewers with a generous squeeze of lime and dusting of resinous herbs.

Mount EtnaAlberello Etneo, Fessina-7710

Primed Pinot

And lastly, much is made of the right ‘drinking window’ for wines. Woe unto him who cracks a bottle too early or too late, and misses out on its maximum expression. The trouble is there’s no formula for figuring it out, aside from experience and a little guessing mixed with luck. I was delighted thus to find Thomas Bachelder’s Domaine Queylus 2012 Tradition Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95) singing this week, clearly in a happy place. It has reached a fine stage of evolution with its silky texture, taught and fine-grained tannins, and expansive range of flavours in the delicately spicy, red fruit and earth spectrum. So grab it while it’s on; next week it may stop singing.

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


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES May 14, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All May 14 Reviews

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Their Favourites, Our Favourites

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

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – April 30, 2016

Buyers’ Guides for the Pacific Northwest & Rosé, The State of Pinot Noir (and other varieties), and Prince Edward County
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report is overflowing with recommendations and reviews, a reflection of a busy past couple of weeks of tastings and trade seminars. The VINTAGES April 30th release features a lopsided Pacific Northwest selection with some excellent Oregon pinot noir. California is also heavily featured in this report, following on the heels of the hugely successful annual wine fair, that is, if the number of attendees is correlated to success.

Over 1,000 industry insiders not only showed up, but even lined up, to squeeze their way into to the Canadian Room at the Fairmont Royal York to revel and taste in its carnival-like atmosphere. The Wine Bible (revised edition 2015) author Karen MacNeil, also keynote speaker at the luncheon, launched the day with an excellent overview and memorable tasting of pinot noir representing over 800 kilometers of coastal Californian vineyards from the Anderson Valley to Santa Ynez. Click for this week’s feature article on the State of California pinot and reviews of some of the state’s top bottlings. Although the specific wines reviewed are as widely available as white unicorns, all of the producers on the list and their other cuvees are worth tracking down.

For more immediate gratification, see my full list of 18 recommended California wines – the state does more than just pinot noir, you know. These were whittled down from over 60 samples of currently available or incoming wines sent to the Media Room, where I hid for most of the day to avoid the California trade crush.

Small but mighty Austria likewise held a trade fair last week, with a trade seminar focused on the country’s vastly improved red wines, now serious contenders. The addition of local varieties such as Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent to the worldwide roster of worthwhile reds is like discovering a new exotic spice to add to your culinary repertoire. Also on display were the first releases of fresh whites from the superlative 2015 vintage, destined to become a classic. I’ll be highlighting some of the best in a mini Austrian Wine Buyer’s Guide to be posted at a later date.


County in the City – The calm before the evening storm

The annual County in the City tasting brought the best of Prince Edward County to Toronto on the same day, featuring mostly a mix of the very promising 2015s, and the few drops of the 2014s that survived the yield-crippling (but paradoxically quality-improving) May frost. I was pleased to see that the established names continue to deliver exceptional wines, spurred on in part by increasing competition; a clutch of relative newcomers is knocking at the door. And while chardonnay and pinot noir are still the flagships, pinot gris is clearly another grape to watch in the County. See my mini PEC Buyers’ Guide for some of the best.


And read on for highlights of the VINTAGES April 30th release, which features a lopsided Pacific Northwest selection, with some excellent Oregon pinot noir, and a largely disappointing, commercial range from Washington State. British Columbia was inexplicably officially left out of the thematic (“Though no agreed boundary exists, a common conception [of the PNW] includes the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia”, according to Wikipedia), though there are two BC wines worth your attention, which I’ve added to my recommendations.

Mount Hood from the Dundee Hills-8781

Mount Hood from the Dundee Hills, Oregon

A range of rosés representing all major wine producing continents is timed perfectly for the long-awaited arrival of spring in Ontario. It’s a perfect illustration of why southern France remains the world hotspot for pink, that is, if you’re after premium dry, delicate but flavourful, purpose-made rosés. I’ve listed three excellent examples.

And since that’s more than enough for one report, I’ll throw the rest of my miscellaneous top picks, including a couple from the “Aussie Whites” mini-feature, into next week’s general Buyers’ Guide along with the rest of the WineAlign crü.

Buyers’ Guide to Pacific Northwest: Oregon

Willakenzie Estate Gisèle Pinot Noir 2013 Soléna Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir 2012Pinot Noir has been planted in Oregon’s Willamette Valley since 1966, and has been the focus of the rapidly expanding industry ever since. Being at the edge of viable ripening is where pinot likes to be, and the grape’s propensity to magnify even small variations in micro climate and soil chemistry and structure make it perfectly suited to the Willamette’s cool climate and varied soils. Two fine value variations on the marine sedimentary soils known as “Willakenzie” found in the Yamhill-Carlton sub-AVA are on offer April 30th, both unusually refined for the often firmly tannic, black fruit flavoured wines most typical of these soils.

The Soléna 2012 Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir ($35.95) is a particularly classy wine. Very fragrant, pretty, concentrated, delivering verve, depth and fine-grained structure. Soléna is run by Laurent and Danielle Montalieu, who purchased the 80-acre Domaine Danielle Laurent in May of 2000 as their wedding gift to each other, planting six clones of pinot noir shortly after (also wedding gifts to one-another, offering another dimension to the vow ‘till death do us part’). Best 2016-2022.

Even lighter, more fragrant and delicate is the Willakenzie Estate 2013 Gisèle Pinot Noir ($36.95), also from Yamhill-Carlton, the entry-level blend from various estate parcels designed for early enjoyment. It’s crafted in the pale, oxidative style, filled with tart red fruit and beetroot, earth, and pot pourri flavours, while tannins are very light. You might call it a fragile pinot noir, though not in a negative sense, ready to drink now or hold short term at best. I do appreciate the delicate nature of this wine – not all reds need be dark and burly.

Buyers’ Guide to Pacific Northwest: British Columbia

The Naramata Bench on the east side of Lake Okanagan, north of Penticton, is increasingly recognized as a sweet spot in the valley, improbably capable of delivering everything from fresh whites to serious reds, like the Laughing Stock 2013 Portfolio, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($54.95). Have to say, I love their tag line: “We wake up every day with the constant motivation of not living up to our name”. You surely won’t be laughing while chewing on this intense, ripe, regionally accurate flagship Bordeaux blend (the full portfolio), complete with sage brush and ripe black fruit, measured but noted oak, and a wide range of spicy aromatics. Ambition is evident. Best 2016-2023.

Osoyoos in the southern Okanagan is the source of the Nk’mip 2013 Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($24.95). Pronounced kw-em kw-empt in the Osoyoos First Nation’s language (meaning ‘achieving excellence’), Qwam Qwmt is the top range from Nk’Mip. In this case a ripe, rich, resinous and wood-inflected chardonnay, with lots of polish and concentration in a classic west coast style – the kind that often sells for much more a few hundred miles further south.

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2013 Nk'mip Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2013Hogue Genesis Meritage 2012 Joel Gott Riesling 2012

Buyers’ Guide to Pacific Northwest: Washington State

As mentioned in the intro, the selection of Washington wines generally fails to excite, especially considering some of the terrific wines made now by over 800 wineries in the United State’s second largest wine producing state. For an example of the widely appealing, easy-drinking commercial style, try the Hogue 2012 Genesis Meritage, Columbia Valley ($18.95). It’s a modern and ripe, oak-inflected Bordeaux blend, medium-full bodied. It won’t change your life, but nobody will get hurt, either.

Washington does riesling quite well, arguably the state’s most successful white variety. The Joel Gott 2012 Riesling Columbia Valley ($19.95) is a perfectly serviceable example, crunchy and just off-dry, fresh and fragrant in a typical lime zest-inflected varietal idiom. Ready to enjoy.

Buyers’ Guide to Rosé

Côteaux Varois en Provence

Côteaux Varois en Provence – credit to: CIVP F.Millo

Rosé is a challenging category to understand. Different varieties, wildly varying climates and especially winemaking techniques conspire to broaden the stylistic field. You’ll find everything from deeply coloured, sweetened versions to pale and bone dry, all labeled simply as rosé. How are you to know what you’ll get without tasting? Sadly, you can’t. That is, unless you’re seeking the bone dry, serious, pale versions, which I admittedly do. By legal definition, the rosés of Provence (and its various appellations, mainly Côtes de Provence, Côteaux d’Aix en Provence Côteaux Varois) are pale and dry, and as reliable as they come.

Gabriel Meffre Saint Ferréol Tavel Rosé 2015 Château la Tour de L'évêque Rosé 2015 Saint Aix Rosé 2015There are two fine examples arriving on shelves on April 30th: Saint Aix 2015 Rosé, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France ($22.95) is the finest. A serious, fragrant, flavourful, balanced and bone dry, fresh rosé here that’s dangerously drinkable but also offers a more sophisticated flare, and great length, too. Also excellent is the ever-reliable Château la Tour de l’Évêque 2015 Rosé, Côtes de Provence France ($19.95), a regular fixture on LCBO shelves. The 2015 is another classic Provençal example, though a touch riper and softer than the previous vintage, more advanced and ready to go with heaps of red fruit and herbs. Alcohol is a heady 13.5%, so while it’s infinitely drinkable, it’s no light, afternoon sipper to be sure.

A little further north, the southern Rhône appellation of Tavel is unique in being the only AOC in the Rhône Valley dedicated purely to rosé, also invariably dry. Tavel is famous for it’s powerful style, as evinced in the Gabriel Meffre 2015 Saint Ferréol Tavel Rosé, Rhône Valley ($19.95), replete with inviting liquorice-fennel seed and white pepper to spice up succulent red fruit.

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


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 30, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All April 30th 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!

Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Chardonnay 2012

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – April 16, 2016

Signature Europe Feature
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s preview focuses on ‘signature’ European wines, the feature of the VINTAGES April 16th release. I’ve selected half a dozen classic wines – useful textbook expressions for anyone studying wine, which can be held up as regional models (helpful for benchmarking in blind tastings). I’ve also unearthed a half-dozen, under $20 wines covering a range of novel European regions (well, ancient regions less traveled, but worth re-discovering), and paradigm-shifting wines from established areas that offer an appealing new direction. France, Italy, Spain and Greece are represented, as well as an Istrian red, a fine entry point into the increasingly exciting world of Croatian wine.

Buyers’ Guide: Regional Classics

Fans of classic Loire Valley sauvignon will be comfortably familiar with the F. Tinel-Blondelet 2014 L’Arrêt Buffatte Pouilly-Fumé ($24.95). L’Arrêt Buffatte is one of the estate’s single vineyard bottlings, an amphitheatre exposed to the southwest with nearly 50 year-old-vines on Kimmeridgian marls. The name is a reference to the past, when Roman legionnaires used to stop at the site for rest and repast – did they set up a buffet? This offers plenty of quivering, stony minerals and acids on the palate, and long, reverberating finish; tart green apple flavours lead over lime and lemon notes. Best 2016-2022.

Old vines at Argyros Estate, Santorini-0184

Old vines at Argyros Estate, Santorini

I hesitated whether to include the Argyros 2015 Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece ($22.95) in the classic or novelty section; wine has been made on Santorini since pre-eruption times (3700+ years), though the style offered here is closer to just a quarter century old, coinciding with the arrival of the Boutari company on the island in 1989. The introduction of stainless steel and cool ferments made possible the rivetingly fresh, dry, stony wines we know today. Call it a modern classic. This is another excellent Santorini from Argyros, and a terrific bargain, worthy of up to a decade in the cellar – indeed it’s still a year or two from prime drinking – rich with extract and even palpably tannic. Best 2018-2025.

F. Tinel Blondelet L'arrêt Buffatte Pouilly Fumé 2014 Argyros Santorini Assyrtiko 2015 Santa Duc Roaix Les Crottes 2010 Cune Reserva 2011

The southern Rhône is faithfully represented by Gigondas-based Santa Duc and their 2010 Roaix Les Crottes , Côtes du Rhône-Villages, France ($19.95). It’s nicely mature now, with a high degree of complexity, in the realm of Châteauneuf for a fraction of the price. Organically-farmed old grenache vines (80%) meet young vines syrah in large ancient foudres, wild fermented, bottled unfiltered. Best 2016-2020.

Rioja is a region in full ferment, offering a huge range of styles ranging from slick, modern, French wood-inflected ‘vinos de autor’ (winemaker’s wines) to the ultra-traditional, American oak-infused styles that would have been familiar to late 19th century drinkers. CVNE sits closer the latter end, and their Cune 2011 Rioja Reserva, Spain ($24.95) is a classy and stylish, succulent and flavourful wine, with noted but integrated wood component and vibrant, fresh dark fruit character. I love the juicy acids and the fine-grained tannins, and the perfumed, lingering finish. Best 2016-2026.

San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 Il Grigio Da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2011 La Lecciaia Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

Signature Tuscan-style sangiovese is delivered by a couple of producers in this release: for pure value seek out the San Felice 2011 Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva, Italy ($27.95), an authentically savoury and dusty, crunchy red fruit flavoured wine from the heart of the Classico zone near Castelnuovo Berardenga, which is only a small step down from the outstanding but pricier 2011 Il Grigio da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico, Italy ($46.95). The top Tuscan expression comes from a little further south in the form of La Lecciaia’s superb 2010 Brunello Di Montalcino ($57.95). This is a delicious baroque symphony of spice and earth, with cascades of herbal-tinged red fruit on a dense, ripe and powerful frame, product of the great 2010 vintage. It also helps that La Lecciaia’s vineyards lie just south of town, in prime Brunello territory. Best 2016-2025.

Buyers’ Guide: Novelties, Paradigm Shifters and Future Classics

In the oft-polarized world of sauvignon blanc, pegged as either Loire or New Zealand style, there’s a third, very attractive, lesser-known expression: southern Austria/northern Italy. I find that Sauvignons from Styria, Alto Adige and Friuli find a comfortable middle ground between the laser-sharp stoniness of the Loire and the effusive and pungently green flavours of New Zealand. The Cantina Andriano 2014 Floreado Sauvignon Blanc, Südtirol/Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95) is a terrific example and fine value, too, offering an intriguing mix of citrus fruit, herb, and spice, liquorice and tarragon, wet stone and honey – in other words complexity in spades.

The majority of the tiny wine production from alpine France slakes the thirst of visiting skiers and hikers, but a few cases of Jean Perrier & Fils’ 2014 Apremont Cuvée Gastronomie, Savoie, France ($18.95) have found their way to VINTAGES, as I wish more would do. This is as fresh and breezy as a spring day, with a brisk dose of apply acids and engaging cherry blossom perfume that involuntarily conjure up an Alpine vista. Perhaps a bottle of this will actually conjure up a real Toronto spring. It’s a fine sipping wine, or as the label implies, accompaniment at the table when salads, fish terrines, shellfish or seafood are the order of the day.

Cantina Andriano Floreado Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Jean Perrier & Fils Cuvée Gastronomie 2014 Clos Troteligotte K Or Malbec 2014Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo 2013

The historically hard and impenetrable wines of Cahors in southwest France have sadly kept many consumers away from one of the world’s finest terroirs for malbec. But the Clos Troteligotte 2014 K-Or Malbec, Cahors ($18.95) is just the ticket to shift your paradigm of the area. It checks all of the right boxes: vineyards on the prized upper, iron-rich limestone terraces of the region favouring finesse over mammoth tannic structure, organic viticulture (converting to Biodynamics), simple winemaking, and ageing in cement vats to preserve the lovely leafy, floral, liquorice seed flavours inherent in the grape. I love the honest, succulent palate, the saliva-inducing acids, the pure drinkability of this wine.

I often find primitivo from Puglia to be overly raisined, sweet and soupy, like a poor country cousin of Amarone, but Antinori’s Apulian outpost Tormaresca reinvents the model; try the 2013 Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo, Salento, Italy ($20.95) for proof. Old bush vine primitivo from the Masseria Maime in upper Salento yield a big, meaty, solidly structured wine to be sure, but rendered in a modern style, clean, plush, generously proportioned but genuinely dry, with excellent length and depth, and measured barrel influence – an excellent expression. Best 2016-2023.

The smoking volcanic craters of Salinas. Photo courtesy of Hauner Wines.-4

The smoking volcanic craters of Salinas. Photo courtesy of Hauner Wines


I’m willing to bet you haven’t had too many wines from the Aeolian Islands, a highly active volcanic island arc in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily, which includes the island of Vulcano itself, the origin of the word volcano.

Vina Laguna Terra Rossa 2013 Hauner Salina Rosso 2013

Lovers of easy-drinking, soft and fruity wines need not apply here, however. The Hauner 2013 Salina Rosso, Sicily ($19.95) is a decidedly smoky, earthy, slightly tarry red from local grapes nero d’Avola and nerello mascalese, with crunchy-fresh acids and notable salinity, scoring high in the distinctive category, an essence of volcanic soils. This would be best served with a light chill, for BBQs of fatty cuts of meat, sausages, lamb and the like. Go on, don’t be afraid and give it a try. It’s far less dangerous than tasting it in situ.

Croatian wines have slowly been edging their way into the consciousness of sommeliers south of the border, approaching the sort of hip and cool status that Greek wines had a decade ago. You can get ahead of the curve with a bottle of the Vina Laguna 2013 Terra Rossa Istria, Croatia ($15.95). The cooler, red-soiled coastal vineyards of the Istrian Peninsula, opposite Venice at the northern end of the Adriatic, are the source of this unusual blend of local teran, with merlot and ‘Burgundy’ [sic] (pinot noir presumably). It’s the entry range from Vina Laguna, designed for immediate appeal, which it has, in a fruity, relatively soft, lightly wood-flavoured style. At the price, this more than delivers pleasure for drinkers seeking new horizons.

That’s all for this week. If you are in Toronto on April 14th, the Austrian Wine Fair is hosting a great tasting evening from 4:30 to 6:30 at the St. James Cathedral Centre. I’ve often said that Austria has a terrific wine culture. Now here’s your chance to taste over 160 wines from 30 prominent winemakers, without having to pay the airfare. See you over the next bottle of Grüner?


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 16, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All April 16th 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!

Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Chardonnay 2012

Austrian Wine Fair

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – April 2, 2016

2012 Anteprima Amarone and 2014 Valpolicella, and Top Smart Buys at VINTAGES
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report offers the fourth and final look at new releases from Italy, the 2016 edition of Anteprima Amarone focusing on the excellent 2012 vintage, which produced wines of great power, balance and longevity. I sifted through close to 80 wines to find a top dozen worth tracking down. I’m also hugely enthusiastic about straight-up Valpolicella, which is for me (and many producers) the most authentic expression of wine from the slender hills north of Verona (heresy!). I list my top picks from the 2014 vintage, which put terroir and production skills under a magnifying glass. (We’ve posted the Italy feature on its own page for easier reference)

David and I also collaborate on the April 2nd VINTAGES release, picking our top smart buys, following on last week’s Buyers’ Guide compiled by Sara and Michael. We’ve aligned on a terrific Left Bank Bordeaux and an excellent Niagara Riesling, before going down our own wine paths, as you are encouraged to do.

Buyers’ Guide: Smart Buys in White

Duquesa de Valladolid 2014 Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($13.95)
John Szabo – Consider this your perfect summer house wine, unoaked, versatile, widely appealing, and attractively priced. Fresh tropical fruit flavours lead the way in sauvignon-esque style; enjoy nicely chilled.

Henry Of Pelham 2012 Estate Riesling, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($17.95)
John Szabo – Even in so-called warm vintages like 2012, riesling shines in Ontario (perhaps, counter-intuitively, even better than classic ‘cool’ vintages). Henry of Pelham’s estate riesling has hit a lovely drinking window, developing some fine, limey and petrol-like notes. The palate is just off-dry but balanced by bright acids, and the finish lingers impressively.
David Lawrason – We have been oft told that riesling is a great grape in Niagara, but as vines mature it is becoming more than just hear-say, as more very fine rieslings are emerging. This is bold, complex and structured with classic petrol, pear, and citrus aromas that stay nicely focused. And huge value!

Duquesa De Valladolid Verdejo 2014 Henry Of Pelham Estate Riesling 2012 Dr. Hermann From The Slate Riesling 2013 D'arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2014

Dr. Hermann 2013 From The Slate Riesling, Mosel, Germany ($17.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a wine to have on hand for all types of summer gatherings, for morning, afternoon or late night sipping. It’s clean, bright, sharp, fragrant and just off-dry, the sort of riesling you never tire of, lifted by a light CO2 prickle.

d’Arenberg 2014 The Hermit Crab Viognier/Marsanne, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($17.95)
John Szabo – An aromatically intense white blend, ideal for outdoor enjoyment. Oak-free ageing allows the attractively fragrant, floral-fruity character, full of violets, ripe nectarine and peach fruit, to take the fore, while hay and herbal notes add interest.

Loimer 2014 Langenlois Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria ($21.95)
John Szabo – Bright, clean, open and complex, this is a fine and energetic grüner from biodynamic producer Fred Loimer. I love the mid-palate richness framed by sharp acids, and the layers of citrus, white-fleshed orchard fruit and honeyed-waxy, earthy flavours. Best 2016-2020.

Momo 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
John Szabo – The immediately recognizable (and memorable) house style of Seresin is present in spades in the 2014 Momo, the estate’s ‘second’ wine, full of attractively flinty-reductive character, sharp but ripe acids, and palpably salty palate. This causes salivation in the most positive way. Fine length, too.

Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2014 Momo Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Roland Tissier & Fils Sancerre 2014 Clos Du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay 2013

Roland Tissier & Fils 2014 Sancerre, Loire Valley, France ($27.95)
David Lawrason – After sifting through several sauvignons on this release, out popped the winner, with all its fragrant finery and spry, compact palate. Unless you are regular buyer of Sancerre you might feel that it’s too expensive for sauvignon, but this style is an easy transition from New Zealand and worth every penny. It’s light bodied, super fresh and delicious with firm, mouth-watering acidity.

Clos du Bois 2013 Calcaire Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County ($29.95)
David Lawrason – It’s fashionable to dismiss opulently fruity California chardonnays in favour of leaner mineral driven Burgundy inspired models, but this quintessential Sonoma chardonnay should not be missed. It has plush vanilla cream, brulee, peach pie, hazelnut aromas and flavours. I expected it to be richer and heavier, but it actually sits on the palate with considerable poise and tenderness.

Buyers’ Guide: Smart Buys in Red

Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2013

Château Beau-Site 2009Château Beau Site 2009, Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux ($47.95)
David Lawrason – Well here’s a grand surprise! From a hot vintage in Bordeaux this packs in all kinds of fruit and class! It has very lifted cedary, roasted, savoury and meaty nose with underlying currants and herbs. This is a significant wine, rich, dense, balanced and showing excellent length. Dare I say even excellent value at almost $50. Collectors alert!
John Szabo – Ditto what David said: this is a classic, albeit very ripe, left Bank Bordeaux showing really well at the moment, fullish, firm, succulent, savoury, really well balanced and slightly forward, given the nature of the vintage. Although it’s drinking well now, it will easily hold into the mid-twenties and beyond. Best 2016-2029.

Jim Barry 2013 The Lodge Hill Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia ($24.95)
John Szabo – Barry has crafted a fine 2013 Lodge Hill Shiraz, pleasantly high-toned, floral and fruity, blue and black fruit scented without excessive oak influence. Acids are a bit hard for the moment, but another 2-3 years should see this through to attractive balance. Best 2017-2023.

Château Lamartine 2011 Cuvée Particulière, Cahors, France ($26.95)
John Szabo – Made from over 50 year old vines, aged in 2nd and 3rd fill barrels, I’ve been a fan of this wine for many years. It’s a malbec of class and character, depth and substance, that manages to seamlessly blend the old world rusticity of Cahors with the new world fruitiness of Argentinian versions for a compelling and complex expression overall. Tannins are abundant but polished, but it’s the extra dimension of the palate that sets this apart. Many Bordeaux would kill for the depth and complexity at the price. Best 2016-2026.

The Chocolate Block 2013, Western Cape, South Africa ($39.95)
David Lawrason – Created by Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof, this is a hugely successful ‘modern’ South African red. Despite the name, the syrah-based Chocolate Block is not sweet. It is heavily toasted and smoky yes, with all kinds of cedar/pine, coffee, cured meats and peppery/clove spice. It is lush, rich and dense, with considerable power.

Château Lamartine Cuvée Particulière 2011 The Chocolate Block 2013 Dauvergne Ranvier Grand Vin Cotes Du Rhône Villages 2013 Torres Salmos 2012

Dauvergne Ranvier 2013 Grand Vin Cotes du Rhône-Villages, France ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This is a nicely ripe, balanced and juicy young Rhone with typical plummy fruit, licorice, meaty and peppery character. The kind of red you will enjoy immensely with casual mid-week meals, or with a charcuterie board.

Torres 2012 Salmos, Priorat, Spain ($30.95)
David Lawrason – Within the realm of powerful Priorats, Torres Salmos is among the prettiest and lightest examples. I love the nose – very lifted with new oak, vanilla finery, ripe blackcurrant/blackberry fruit, and some sense of Priorat tar and stoniness. It has firm acidity, energy and minerality, but nothing too intense or brawny or hot. A good intro to the genre, and affordable.

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

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 2, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
All April 2nd Reviews

Italy Report: 2012 Anteprima Amarone & 2014 Valpolicella

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!

Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Chardonnay 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – April 2, 2016

Old World Meets New and Cosmopolitan Syrah
By Sara d’Amato with notes from Michael Godel

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

The upcoming spring release offers more than a few head-turners. Those most memorable are the wines that defy the stereotypes of their origins. Many of these wines are featured in the carefully curated thematic of “New World vs. Old”, the spotlight in this April 2nd release. This grouping presents mirrored pairs of wines from the new world and old with a grape varietal or blend as their common ground. What you may expect are a collection of wines that are very modern representations from the new world and exaggeratedly traditional examples from the old world. Instead, these attentively chosen wines show a stylistic “rapprochement” in these often polarizing worlds. Thankfully and interestingly, we are afforded a selection of high quality new world wines with a focus on purity of fruit and structure while the old world selections offer cleanliness and approachability without the loss of a sense of place. In summary, the wines in this feature are worth discovering in pairs. Even better, have some fun blind tasting and put your pre-conceived notions to the test!

Also worth exploring are a selection of top quality syrahs from across the globe. From the changing style of Australian shiraz to the savoury, and compelling Rhône examples, to local gems, there is something for everyone in this collection. Put together a flight of these largely affordable syrahs to find out what makes each of these regions unique (and keep your friends guessing past April 1st). While doing so, be sure to scope out our double-alignment syrah from Burrowing Owl grown in the desert of the southern Okanagan Valley.

Next week, David and John will have returned from their global travels to offer their thoughts on this release and highlights of their wine expeditions. A couple of weeks later, we hope to see you when Prince Edward Country comes to town for the County in the City Buy and Taste Event as well as the Austrian Wine Fair on April 14th. There is a great deal to discover in April! 


Deu la Deu 2014 Alvarinho, Monção E Melgaço, Vinho Verde, Portugal ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A pure alvarinho Vinho Verde from northern Minho where some of the purest expressions of this varietal can be found. Don’t expect a simple, light, spritzy white as this version not only offers a great deal of fruit but also viscosity and structure. Sure to put a spring in your step.
Michael Godel – Vinho Verde with a twist, like a Pasteis de Nata swimming in a pool of moscatel liqueur. A far cry from the commercial Vinho Verde found on most LCBO shelves.

Sylvain Mosnier 2013 Côte De Lechet Chablis 1er Cru, Burgundy, France
Michael Godel – Classic Chablis from a very old vineyard (belonged to the Pontigny’s monk) with southeast exposure west of the town of Chablis and just above the small village of Milly. What more could be asked of for this next to nothing 1er Cru Chablis price?

Deu La Deu Alvarinho 2014Sylvain Mosnier Côte De Lechet Chablis 1er Cru 2013Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2014 Duquesa de Valladolid Verdejo 2014 Château Haut Philippon 2014

Loimer 2014 Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – A classic grüner veltliner offering peppery spice, zesty lime and green tea. A statement making white that is sure to turn heads.

Duquesa de Valladolid 2014 Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($13.95)
Sara d’Amato – In case the freezing rain has sent you back into hibernation, crack open a bottle of this inexpensive verdejo that has the freshness of spring in a glass with notes crocuses, green apple and zesty lime.

Château Haut Philippon 2014, Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux, France ($14.95)
Michael Godel – It seems that more and more I notice the wines of Entre-Deux-Mers are creeping into the positive vibrations of global sauvignon blanc pleasure. Here semillon and muscadelle lend capable hands to create harmony for a pittance.


Ravenswood 2014 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, California ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Joel Peterson’s 2014 Old Vines Zinfandel reminds at times of schist syrah and alluvial flats grenache. There’s something about zinfandel old vines that educes such a pipe dream. Just imagine the reverie.

Burrowing Owl 2013 Syrah, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($40.95)
Michael Godel – A combination of northern Rhone and B.C. desert character defines this perennial Okanagan This is a big syrah with plenty of time on its side. “Let it ride.”
Sara d’Amato – This southern Okanagan syrah rarely fails to deliver offering a blend of old world and new with firm structure and peppery, earthy flavours along with compact, ripe fruit.

Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2014 Burrowing Owl Syrah 2013 Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2013 Jean Luc Colombo Terres Brûlées Cornas Syrah 2012

Jim Barry 2013 The Lodge Hill Shiraz, Clare Valley, Australia ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – A sophisticated, sultry syrah bursting with peppery, floral aromatics from its cooler climate locale. Powerful but not boastful.

Jean Luc Colombo 2012 Terres Brûlées Cornas Syrah, Rhône, France ($72.95)
Sara d’Amato – Fearless innovator Jean Luc Columbo not surprisingly offers an exquisite syrah from this very special, very rugged northern Rhône terroir with a great deal of natural spice. Gems from Cornas are rarely on the shelves for long especially when part of a small In-Store Discovery release such as this so don’t miss out.

Fabre Montmayou 2013 Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)
Michael Godel – A stylistically firm Mendoza malbec possessive of a backbone to improve with three to five years in the cellar. Though it was a perennial steal at $16, the price increase brings it in line with the level of its quality.

Fabre Montmayou Reserva Malbec 2013 Alois Cunto Pallagrello Nero 2011 Maison Chanzy Rully en Rosey 2013 Château Lamartine Cuvée Particulière 2011

Alois Cunto Pallagrello 2011 Nero, Terre del Volturno, Campania, Italy ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Possibly an ode to the 17th century fairytale “Lo cunto de li cunti,” the tale of tales, or story of stories, now called Pentamerone by seventeenth-century Italian poet and courtier Giambattista Basile. If that collection of tales could influence the form of fairytales in Europe, perhaps the Alois Palagrello Nero can do the same for natural wine.

Maison Chanzy 2013 Rully en Rosey, Burgundy, France ($26.95)
Michael Godel –  Rully is better known for Chardonnay but this is a stellar example of its pinot noir. Blessed with Côte Chalonnaise’s own specific tangy red fruit flavour and really ripe tannins. A poor person’s Burgundy bargoon.

Château Lamartine 2011 Cuvée Particulière, Cahors, Southwest, France ($26.95)
Sara d’Amato – French malbec is often overlooked, often, simply because it doesn’t don the market worthy varietal name on the label and sometimes lacks the overt fruity character more common in its South American home. This example offers the best of both worlds, however, with a great deal of fruit, firm tannins and nicely balanced acidity.


Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES April 2, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix

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!

Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – March 19, 2016

Spring is in the air, and in the glass…
By Sara d’Amato with notes from Michael Godel

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

A strong showing from France and South Africa in this springtime release piqued our attention this week. As the weather warms, our preferences naturally shift to wines that are refreshing, energetic and stripped down. So if that uncontrollable urge to purge, freshen and keep fit has you motivated, we have chosen a selection of nervy, palate cleansing and floral whites that should fit the bill. Rainy times are also ahead and what better remedy is there than to curl up inside, out of the fog, with a spicy glass of heartening red offering comforting appeal. Whatever your mood and whatever the weather, we have you covered with our top picks from both camps.

Although a substantial selection of generic Italian wine was featured in this week’s VINTAGES release, it was largely hit and miss. John highlighted a couple interesting whites in his VINTAGES Preview last week, and I selected a Gavi below. Israel also received a much-anticipated mini-feature that was rather disenchanting with largely problematic and oxidative selections save for a gem or two. Outside of those thematics, we have one double alignment on a mouthwatering, high-end pinot noir from Hamilton Russell, a producer whose infatuation with the expression of terroir rivals most in Burgundy.

If an Easter feast is on the horizon than you will have ample choice given our range of picks from bubbly to fresh, aromatic whites and reds ranging from light and complex to peppery and sensual. If pairing wines over the holidays with dishes that involve sweet, minty sauces or if honey and maple syrup should accompany your mains, choose red wines that are low in tannins and whites that have a rich, fruity base. Without further ado, our top dinner table picks:

Graham Beck Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc de Blancs 2010, Robertson, South Africa ($23.95)
Michael Godel – In which Méthode Cap Classique meets Blanc de Blancs executed to near Cape perfection, especially at this price point by a winemaker (Pieter Ferreira) and a house expertly versed in Sparkling wine production. Robertson Chardonnay with a purpose.

Guasti Clemente 2014 Gavi di Gavi, Piedmont, Italy ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – From the cortese grape, Gavi wines can range from subtle to energetic but the finest are prettily aromatic and elegant in nature. Unfortunately, the selection of Gavi released by VINTAGES of late has been rather hit or miss so I am particularly pleased to have come across this absolutely fetching example – upbeat, widely appealing and brimming with zesty flavour.

Graham Beck Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc De Blancs 2010Guasti Clemente Gavi Di Gavi 2014 Domaine Besson Chablis 2013 Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2012

Domaine Besson 2013 Chablis, Burgundy, France ($28.95)
Sara d’Amato – A pure, full-on, traditional Chablis with welcoming notes of honey and beeswax along with citrus, mineral and a hint of a lactic character that adds dimension and personality. An independent, family owned winery, winemaker Camille and her brother and viticulturalist, Adrien, represent a new generation of producers respecting the traditions of the past.

Charles Baker 2012 Picone Vineyard Riesling, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($35.20)
Sara d’Amato – Not the first opportunity I’ve had to taste this exceptional riesling but the first occasion as it comes out of its shell of austerity. Its stony, mineral character is brought to life by freshness and energy along with notes of saline and juicy citrus.

Hamilton Russell 2014 Pinot Noir, Hemel en Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa, ($57.95)
Sara d’Amato – A lighter but hugely complex pinot noir, brooding and still enigmatic. Smoky, with charred fruit, black licorice and pine needles, cedar and cherry. Firm structure gives the wine opportunity to age. An expensive addiction!
Michael Godel – Having tasted the forward and accessible 2014 at and alongside some old vintages of Bouchard Finlayson in South Africa back in September, perspective is here revealed for this tougher 2014. It must have been a demanding drop in its early youth, as it still is, but the inherent Hemel En Aarde Valley sweetness is guaranteed. The Valley is Grand Cru South African Pinot Noir territory and this HR is no exception.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2014 Château De L'ou Infiniment Syrah 2012 Le Gravillas Séguret Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2014Château Coufran 2005

Château De l’Ou Infiniment Syrah 2012, Igp Côtes Catalanes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($25.95)
Michael Godel – Can a wine be so bloody versed in the ways of modern Syrah architecture and still achieve balance? Within the context of objective assessment the question may not be will it please but rather, will it succeed? Yes to the second and yet subjective experience calls on you to provide the answer to the first.

Le Gravillas Séguret 2014 Côtes du Rhône Villages, Rhône, France ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – An inexpensive treat from the Southern Rhône not to be overlooked. Peppery spice on the palate is softened by fruity grenache of solid typicity. Impressive concentration is noted in this vintage along with notable and winsome “garrigue”.

Château Coufran 2005, Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($56.95)
Michael Godel – Well made and properly preserved Haut-Medoc that while not inexpensive is a must buy for those who can afford and want to drink older Bordeaux. A show piece for the dinner table without having to raid someone else’s cellar.

Austrian Wine Fair California Wine FairSpring is also bringing some great wine fairs to Toronto and Ottawa – for trade and consumers alike. You can find all the details and special offers on our site by following these links: California Wine Fair and the Austrian Wine Fair.

Hope to see you there!

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES March 19, 2016

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael Godel’s Picks
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!


Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , , , ,

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Mar 19, 2016

Highlights from March 19th, Taste Ontario and Cuvée
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report shines a spotlight on local wines in the wake of two big Ontario wine tastings last week. There was palpable energy at the ROM for Taste Ontario, where an impressively large contingent of sommeliers, media and wine buyers had gathered to take the pulse on the latest Ontario vintages releases. I share some of my top new picks here. The 28th edition of Cuvée also rolled out in Niagara Falls last weekend, and Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel each select three of their most memorable wines from the gala tasting.

The March 19th VINTAGES release features yet more Italian wines. And at the risk of over saturating you with vino, I’ve picked out two irresistible bargains, a red and a white both under $20. Also included is a trilogy of smart buys from South Africa that has your dinner covered from bubbles to main course, and a pair of outrageous $13.95 values from the Iberian peninsula.

Taste Ontario Highlights: 2013s and 2014s 

This year’s Taste Ontario event featured mostly wines from the 2014 and 2013 vintages, with the rare early release 2015 thrown in. After the warm 2012 vintage, 2013 saw a return to more ‘normal’ temperatures on average, although with highly variable weather, with occasional disruptions caused by inopportune rains especially towards the end of the growing season.

Earlier ripening varieties fared best, and it has turned out to be an excellent year for the grapes Ontario does well most consistently, namely riesling and chardonnay, as well as other aromatic white varieties. For reds the top pinots are spectacular, refined and fragrant wines, while cabernet franc returned to its appropriate cool climate style, certainly a local strength. The harvest was the largest on record, so there will be plenty of wine to go around.

Many of you will recall the brutal polar vortexes of winter in 2014 – I recall some 20 days in February with temperatures below -10ºC, and many days well below -20ºC. It seemed like the winter that would never end (how much nicer has this winter been?) Grapes, of course, suffered, and it was a stark reminder to growers that Ontario’s climate is not suitable to the ludicrously wide variety of grapes grown here. Tender grapes like syrah, semillon, sauvignon blanc and merlot were reduced to next to zero crop in many vineyards, if not killed outright by the repeated pummelling of glacial polar air masses. Quantities, needless to say, were down sharply. The positive side is that there’s now a better appreciation of matching site to variety. Vineyards that required re-planting will presumably feature varieties more suitable to the site.

Bizarre, challenging, cool weather continued through the summer and harvest was later than normal, again favouring early ripening grapes – Bordeaux varieties, with perhaps the exception of cabernet franc, were tough to get fully ripe. Yet despite all the cruel inclemency of Mother Nature, many winegrowers managed to pull out some exceptional wines, especially whites (most of the ‘reserve’ reds have yet to be released), and to them, chapeau bas.

One thing was clear from Taste Ontario: the number of wineries producing excellent wines is clearly on the rise. Each time I turn around there’s another player with a great new addition to the Ontario wine scene, while established producers continue to maintain high quality standards.

Below are some 2013-2014 highlights:

Thomas Bachelder/Queylus

Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc Tradition 2013 Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013Thomas Bachelder seems to have gotten it all right in 2013, crafting some of his best wines yet under his own label, as well as Domaine Queylus, the up-and-coming project for which he is régisseur – head winemaker and estate manager. His 2013 Bachelder Lowrey Pinot Noir, St. David’s Bench ($44.95) from a choice parcel of the well-tended and sought-after Lowrey vineyard is a gorgeous wine. After the more burly and structured 2012, 2013 conspired to yield wines of paler colour, silkier texture and more haunting perfume – this is just how I imagine Bachelder would like his pinot noir to be (or at least how I’d like them to be). This is toute en finesse, filigree and lacy, with unexpected but genuine depth and length, for fans of finessed pinot. Bravo. Best 2016-2023.

Over at Domaine Queylus, Bachelder’s Signature Pinot Noir ($29.95) is a similar though slightly more saturated garnet red, with appealing, candied red fruit flavours leading. There’s no wood influence outside of Bachelder’s trademark oxidative styling, and light tannins and moderate acids make this a wine for short to mid term ageing, best 2016-2020. The 2013 Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc ‘Tradition’ ($24.95) is likewise the best yet under this label, a lovely, floral, fragrant, lightly herbal expression well within the classic varietal idiom, attractively priced. Serve this with a light chill. Best 2016-2023.


Still in the pinotsphere, the 2013 Rosewood Estates Winery Select Series Pinot Noir Niagara Escarpment ($21.95) is a rare sub-$25 value in this rarefied category. Varietally authentic pinot at this price is hard to come by, so don’t hesitate to buy several bottles of this high-toned, floral, pot-pourri-inflected example, crafted in an appealing, gently oxidative style for immediate enjoyment. Drink with a light chill over the next 2-3 years.

Rosewood Select Series Pinot Noir 2013 Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2013 Cave Spring Estate Cabernet Franc 2013

Cave Spring

Venerable Cave Spring Cellars quietly continues to make some of Niagara’s most reliable wines, and have been particularly en form in the last few vintages. Long time fans will not be surprised to see the 2014 Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV Beamsville Bench ($29.95) recommended here, the latest release of one of Canada’s most consistent and best, made from the estate’s oldest vines, the oldest of which have already celebrated their 40th birthday. It’s tightly wound and still a long way from prime drinking, but this shows classic styling, more stony than fruity, mid-weight but authoritative and palate gripping, with palpable chalky texture and great length. Revisit in 2-3 years, or leave in the cellar for a decade or more.

Also impressive from Cave Springs is the 2013 Cabernet Franc Estate ($29.95), a fine and floral, ripe and lightly cacao-inflected expression with delicate structure, lively but balanced acids and very pretty styling all around. In 1-2 years this will have fully digested its oak component, leaving a perfumed and silky wine in its place. Best 2017-2023.

2027 Cellars

2013 Wismer Vineyard - Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2027 Cellars Aberdeen Road Vineyard 2013Winemaker Kevin Panagapka has slowly been expanding the range of wines under his virtual 2027 Cellars label (made at Featherstone Winery). Single vineyard chardonnay and riesling are his strongest suits in my view, and 2013 in particular seems to have lent itself to his typically tightly wound, ageworthy style. The first edition that I’ve tasted of the Aberdeen Road Vineyard Chardonnay Beamsville Bench ($30.00), is just such a wine, aromatically reticent despite 18 months in wood, with loads of palpable extract and sheer density evident – a genuine, solid mouthful of wine. It has power and depth in spades, and needs another 2-3 years at least to unfurl. Best 2018-2023. For more instant gratification, track down Panagapka’s 2013 Wismer Vineyard – Fox Croft Block Chardonnay Niagara Escarpment ($22.95), a more open and notably toasty Niagara chardonnay with verve and energy. It’s a terrific value for cool climate, oak-aged chardonnay fans.


I don’t generally consider pinot gris to be a great white hope for Ontario, but the Malivoire Wine Company makes a convincing argument with the barely bottled 2015 Pinot Gris Niagara Escarpment ($19.95). It’s still a touch sulphury at this early stage, but shows excellent promise for near-term development. The palate is lively, vibrant, succulent and appealingly saline, with great acids and excellent drive through the long finish. Let it sit for another few months and crack for mid-end summer enjoyment, or into autumn.

Rosehall Run

Rosehall Run Ceremony Blanc De Blanc Brut Malivoire Pinot Gris 2015And finally, over in Prince Edward County, Rosehall Run enters the increasingly crowded local sparkling wine market with a strong release, CEREMONY Blanc de Blanc Brut ($34.95), made from pure County fruit. It’s a well-balanced, rich and flavourful sparkling chardonnay, made from evidently fully ripe grapes with high flavour intensity, yet vibrant acids and fine tension and energy. Length and depth are superb, and dosage is well measured.

Cuvée Highlights

The 28th edition of Cuvée rolled out in Niagara Falls last weekend, organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI). For the past few editions, the Cuvée gala tasting has featured a ‘winemakers choice’ – a wine from the portfolio of each of 48 participating VQA wineries, deemed special by the winemaker him/herself. Wines were paired with signature dishes from 12 celebrated local chefs at live cooking stations.

It’s more than just a drinking-and-grazing industry party, however. Proceeds from the event go to the Cuvée Legacy Fund, which awards academic scholarships and contributes towards industry-driven research projects. “Not only does Cuvée showcase the finest VQA wines to consumers, it helps the industry continue to grow by funding valuable research and scholarships,” says CCOVI director Debbie Inglis. That’s a reasonably good cause to wine and dine, a sort of virtuous circle of investment.

Beautiful Niagara Falls

Beautiful Niagara Falls

Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel select three of their most memorable wines below.

Cattail Creek 2014 Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($21.95)
Michael Godel – Cattail Creek’s 1976 planted riesling is one of Ontario’s oldest blocks. In 2014 Roselyn Dyck and consulting winemaker Steve Byfield let the vintage and the old vines speak for themselves. The result is nothing short of impossible, or remarkable.
Sara d’Amato – Produced from some of the oldest, if not the oldest riesling vines in Niagara planted in 1975 and ’76. With a steely, mineral character and a subtle and slow build of flavour on the palate, the wine offers exceptional elegance at a steal of a price. Bone dry, tart but not austere, this is classic Niagara riesling.

Fielding Viognier 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($25.95)
Michael Godel – In a Niagara Peninsula discussion of what grape varieties to plant and where, winemaker Richie Roberts has more than a vested interest in viognier. If the 2013 from Fielding Estate helped decipher the code of the how, where and why, this follow up 2014 speaks at the symposium.

Cattail Creek Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling 2014 Fielding Viognier 2014 Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Réserve 2013 Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2013 Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Block 12 140 Syrah 2012

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Réserve 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($44.95)
Michael Godel – It’s a tale of two vineyards, the Grand Cru of Neudorf and the upstart Queylus. Two inexorable blocks, running west to east, spoken through the lens of Pinot Noir. The middle sibling in the three that are made at Queylus is blessed with wisdom and a tale of future memories created in the here and now. So very young, it is the strongest reminder that reconciliation takes time.

Thirty Bench 2013 Small Lot Pinot Noir, Beamsville Bench $35.00 (Winery Only)
Sara d’Amato – Grapes for the Small Lot Pinot Noir were planted in 2000 and have started to produce outstanding wines. Modern, peppery and floral, this is a pinot with a great deal of charm and character. Emma Garner really shows her prowess in this impressive vintage.

Rockway Vineyards 2012 Small Lot Syrah Block 12-140, Twenty Mile Bench, $29.95 (Winery Only)
Sara d’Amato – Of the many skillfully produced syrahs that were showcased at Cuvée, Rockway’s Small Lot Block 12-140 had the perfect blend of cool climate expression and modern, fruity appeal. Sophisticated and beautifully balanced with a punch of acidity brightening the rich, spicy palate.

Buyers’ Guide to March 19th: More Italian Wine and other Smart Buys 

Jerzu Chuèrra Riserva Cannonau Di Sardegna 2011 Terredora Di Paolo Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo 2014Fans of distinctive wines should make a b-line to the ‘Other Italy’ section of VINTAGES and grab a bottle or two of the Terredora di Paolo 2014 Loggia Della Serra Greco di Tufo DOCG, Campania, Italy ($19.95). It’s an intense and characterful white, one of the best in the Terredora portfolio, and consistently one of Campania’s most impressive whites. This is all lemon oil and fresh and dried herbs, wet volcanic rock and fresh earth – distinctive to be sure, perhaps too much so to be truly widely appealing, a wine lover’s wine to be sure.

Sardinia’s version of garnacha finds a fantastic expression in the Antichi Poderi Jerzu 2011 Chuèrra Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna DOC, Sardinia, Italy ($17.95), one of the most characterful reds in the March 19th release. Revel in the spicy-earthy complexity with a whack of ripe, dark berry fruit, laced with Mediterranean scrub. A very tasty wine for the money, over-delivering in the category.

South Africa comes up big in the quality/value category, starting with the refined and toasty traditional method Graham Beck 2010 Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc De Blancs, WO Robertson, South Africa ($23.95), from one of South Africa’s sparkling specialists. It’s on the richer side of the scale, nicely mature now, with excellent length.

With the next course pull out the Vinum Africa 2013 Chenin Blanc, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa ($15.95), a wine made with care but following a more natural, non-interventionalist approach. Wild yeast, and no temperature control during fermentation shift this out of the simple and fruity category (and there’s a touch of acetic acid, but well within bounds) into a wine focused on texture, depth and extract. I’d decant this and serve at cellar temperature in large glasses alongside poultry/veal or pork – something substantial in any case.

Shifting to red, the Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof 2011 Syrah, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa ($24.95) is a classy and quite elegant, mid-weight, succulent and juicy syrah from arch-classicist Rustenberg. Tannins are firm and fine, acids lively, and the overall length and depth, and especially complexity, in the price category are impressive. It’s drinking well now, but will surely be better in 2-3 years.

Graham Beck Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc De Blancs 2010 Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2013 Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2011 Mondeco Red 2010 Olivares Altos De La Hoya Monastrell 2013

And over to the Iberian Peninsula for two outrageous values from opposite ends of the style spectrum. Fans of lighter and zestier reds need look no further that the 2010 Mondeco Red, DO Dão Portugal ($13.95). This is high-pitched and floral, elegantly-styled Dão, with light tannins, designed to be enjoyed now with a light chill. But if you’re searching for a more substantial red, than the Olivares Altos De La Hoya 2013 Monastrell, DO Jumilla Spain ($13.95) is for you. This has all of the masses of bold and dark, jammy fruit and abundant oak spice that are normally found in wines at considerably higher prices. Best 2016-2021.

Attention Trade – Taste Ontario! is coming to Ottawa

For members of the trade in the Ottawa area, you will have your opportunity to explore the latest Ontario vintages releases on Wednesday, March 30th at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Please note that this event is reserved for hospitality trade and media and is not open to the general public. Register or find out more here:

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


John Szabo MS


From VINTAGES March 19, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All March 19th 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!

Pepperjack Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Mar 5, 2016

“TreMonti” Italian Anteprime, 2010 Brunello, and More.
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Each year, wine regions throughout Italy organize tastings to showcase the latest vintage released to market, called anteprime, the Italian equivalent of Bordeaux’s en primeur tasting, with the one difference being that in many, but not all cases, wines are already finished and in bottle. In this week’s report I cover the best new releases from the “TreMonti”, the trilogy of central Italian hill top towns of Montalcino for 2011 Brunello (by law, Brunello must be cellared five years before release), 2013 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and 2012 Sagrantino from Montefalco in Umbria.

The VINTAGES March 5th release features California, already covered last week by David, as well as mini-feature of 2010 Brunello di Montalcino, rated a five star vintage by the Consorzio di Brunello. The collection on offer is modest, though includes one superlative wine. I’ve also picked out five smart buys from the rest of the release, with some great wines on offer from Spain, France, and Oregon. Read on for all of the details.

Benvenuto Brunello 2016

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Brunello do Montalcino DOC in 1966 (DOCG as of 1980), and it would be hard to overstate the meteoric rise of Brunello in the ensuing years. From one of Siena province’s poorest communes at the beginning of the 19th century – a rural backwater of woods, mixed agriculture, honey production and wine sold by the liter in demijohns – Montalcino has become one of the wealthiest. And the success has been built almost entirely on wine and the gastro-tourism it encourages. In 2015, 1.2 million tourists clambered up to the charming hilltop town (population: 5,272) and surrounding hamlets, lured in large measure by the allure of Brunello di Montalcino, now one of Italy’s most famous wines. Read more …

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Like Montalcino, Montepulciano lives on wine. The industry drives 70% of the local economy. Some 2200 hectares under vine are farmed by over 250 growers (1300 registered for Vino Nobile), and bottled by 90 companies. Average production per estate is higher than in Montalcino, with 7 million bottles of Vino Nobile reaching the market in 2015. But exports are higher, representing 80% of turnover, of which a modest 2% is sent to Canada. Vino Nobile also celebrates its 50th year as an appellation in 2016, first official defined as a wine with “ruby red colour, dry, slightly tannic taste, a scent of violets, and alcohol content of not less than 12 degrees” (now 12.5%).

Vino Nobile had the toughest gig among the various anteprime this year, presenting the challenging 2013 vintage. Read more… 

Montefalco Sagrantino

Around the turn of the millenium, Umbria’s flagship native grape variety sagrantino was very likely not on your radar, nor even most Italians’ radar. I know it wasn’t on mine. Despite it’s 500+ year history in the region around the town of Montefalco in the region of Umbria (“The green heart of Italy”), by the 1960s the grape had all but disappeared. But Umbria, and Montefalco, are on the move. Tourism is up significantly. The number of producer-bottlers has risen dramatically in the last couple of decades, now numbering over 60. If a glass of Montefalco Sagrantino has yet to pass your lips, chances are that will change very soon. Read more…

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 5th: Brunello & More Smart Buys

Click on the link above to get the jump on the latest releases of Brunello from the variable 2011 vintage. A handful of 2010s are offered in the March 5th VINTAGES release, of which the Ciacci Piccolomini D’aragona 2010 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($72.95) is easily the finest, and most expensive. It’s a classy and complex Brunello from the southern sector of the appellation near Castelnuovo dell’Abate, aged in large old cask. Despite apparent light and elegant styling up front, this has power in reserve, building layers of complexity on the palate and continually expanding. Tannins are ripe and silky but present in abundance, and the length is terrific. Aromas and flavours are faithful to traditional sangiovese, all bright red fruit and flowers, gentle spice and earth. Very fine wine, best after 2018 or hold until the end of the ’20s.

Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona Brunello di Montalcino 2010 Domaine Lafage Cuvée Centenaire 2014 Descendientes De J. Palacios Pétalos 2013

Among the miscellaneous whites in the March 5th release, the Domaine Lafage 2014 Cuvée Centenaire, Côtes du Roussillon ($19.95) is well worth a look. I rated the 2011 very highly, the last vintage to be released back in 2013, and the vines have only gotten older. As before this is a blend of Lafage’s oldest grenache gris and blanc, and roussanne, including some centenary vines (with an average of 90 years overall). It’s a lovely, perfumed, floral, fresh but fleshy wine, still a year or two away from prime enjoyment. I like the peach and peach blossom florality, the balanced alcohol and acids, and the fine, lingering finish. There’s lots of character here for the money. Best 2017-2022.

Spain delivers two fine values this week, the first, a perennial favourite and consistent value champion, the ever-delicious Descendientes De J. Palacios 2013 Pétalos, Bierzo, Spain ($24.95). 2013 is another fine vintage, and I’m also very happy to see the price holding steady over so many years when the past success of this wine might have demanded an increase. It’s just such a lovely and floral, succulent and appealingly dark fruit flavoured wine that it’s hard to resist. A streak of stoniness will engage the punters, while everyone else simply enjoys this fruity-savoury, saliva-inducing beauty. Best 2016-2023.

The other side of northern Spain is the origin for another old vine value, the Jardín de Lúculo 2012, Navarra Spain ($23.95). The wine may be young, born in 2004, but the vines are old, among the oldest garnacha bush vines in Navarra, pre-soaked and wild fermented, followed by half a year in mostly old barrels. I love the firm but fresh, structured palate and the spicy, liquorice and orang peel-tinged flavours. Tuck this away for another 2-3 years for maximum aromatic development. Best 2017-2025.

Jardín De Lúculo 2012 Faiveley Mercurey 2014 Scott Paul La Paulée Pinot Noir 2011

Pinot noir drinkers have at least a couple of wines to track down, starting with Faiveley’s 2014 Mercurey, Burgundy, France ($29.95), a wine that effortlessly captures the joyful, forward fruit character of the Côte Châlonnaise, offering lots of pleasure at a reasonable (Burgundian) price. It’s perfectly in line with the Burgundian style but with more approachable and up front red berry character. Best 2016-2022.

Scott Paul 2011 La Paulée Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon USA ($50.95) is a gentle transition to the new world, a wine with definite old world sensibilities. La Paulée is a blend of vineyards in the Dundee Hills, Ribbon Ridge and Chehalem Mountains, from three different soil types, made by the delicate hands of winemaker Kelley Fox. It’s a wine of considerable finesse and elegance, balance and restraint. There’s nary an overt sign of oak, while acids and alcohol seamlessly integrate and the finish lingers impressively. A lovely, silky, beguiling Oregon pinot all in all, and considering that Paul has sold the business to long time frined, and Fox is no longer the winemaker, I’d snap this up while it’s still around. Best 2016-2023.

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

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES March 5, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All February 20th 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!

Pepperjack Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – March 5, 2016

The Napa Locomotive
By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Another batch of 20 California wines hits the LCBO’s VINTAGES shelves March 5. This makes 78 California labels released by VINTAGES so far this year, feeding the thirsty beast that makes California wine the number one imported wine in Ontario, and most Canadian provinces for that matter, except Quebec where French wine reigns. One could lament that other regions deserve more play, but VINTAGES is only reacting to what sells. You can skip directly to the California picks by Sara d’Amato, Michael Godel and myself, or read on for my thoughts on California, and Napa in particular.

California Value Proposition

Regular readers may be aware I have issues with the price/quality ratio of California wine – a straight value proposition that has nothing to do with style. Well perhaps just a bit when I detect overt residual sugar and mochafication that distracts from varietal character, and makes the wine a beverage rather than a product of place.

What makes California a tough value proposition is that, without question, it has the highest average price of any region on the shelves, and this will only become more dramatic in the months ahead as stock purchased with our weakened loonie begin to hit the shelves. I suspect we will also see shrinkage of selection as California producers shy away from our market, especially at the higher end. Why struggle with high priced wines here when it’s so much easier elsewhere?

Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon is the engine of California wine pricing. There are many regions in the Golden State where prices aren’t as high, and other varieties are cheaper as well. But “Napa Cab” has swept America and the globe as the New World’s number one prestige wine, creating a pricing up-thrust of San Andreas fault proportions for California wine in general.  Nor does it hurt of course that the California marketplace is one of the wealthiest on the planet.

Last week I returned to Napa Valley after a long hiatus and got right into the boiler room of the locomotive that drives California wine pricing. I attended the annual Premiere Napa Valley auction, at the invitation of Napa Valley Vintners Association. It was a chance to re-calibrate what is happening in California’s flagship region by at least doing some intensive tasting to better judge if all the fuss is warranted by what’s in the glass.

Napa Auction

The annual Auction is a showcase for the winemakers, each selecting a best barrel or three of this and that. Most of the 226 auction lots were barrels sold as futures from the hot, drought-stricken 2014 vintage, and many of the wines were certainly well concentrated and structured. A surprising number were 100% cabernet sauvignons, a statement that in this climate the king of Napa’s grapes can clearly stand on its own sturdy legs, without needing the Bordeaux-esque tweaking and coddling by blending merlot and cab franc. In fact more muscular malbec and petit verdot were just as likely to be the blending widgets.

The buzz in the spacious and hallowed halls of the Culinary Institute of America (one felt like one was in church) was about who bought what for how much. The lots were from five to twenty cases and by my rough math the average case price was about $1500 (probably higher). The auction raised over $5 million dollars in three hours of live bidding, and a new e-bidding program.

For those who might want some sense of who is “hot” in Napa the following fetched the highest prices:  Memento Mori, Nine Suns, Realm Cellars, Rombauer Vineyards, Shafer Vineyards, TOR Kenward Family, Duckhorn Vineyards, Silver Oak Cellars and ZD Wines.

So who is buying these wines? Well doubtless some very wealthy folk, but with multiple case lots at play it was largely an audience of retailers and restaurateurs more so than individuals. There were only two successful Canadian buyers of which I am aware: Willow Park Wines that has several stores in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and Liquor Stores North America that owns the Liquor Depot and Liquor Barn chains in Alberta.

Out beyond the auction hall I got an even better perspective of Napa in 2016. The first shock was the growth of America’s most famous wine region, the wall-to-wall and up-the-wall vineyards that now encompass 43,000 acres on the valley floor and in five mountain appellations on either side of the valley. By comparison, all of Canada has about 30,000 acres.

There are over 500 members of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, with 80% producing fewer than 10,000 cases. And 95% are family owned! Several of the 226 wineries in the auction were producing less than 1,000 cases, some less than 500. I can only assume that with Napa prices so high, many can actually afford to make a go of small volumes – selling direct to mailing lists and key restaurant clients and skipping all the marketing and middleman costs.

Napa’s Recent Vintages

So the critical mass is certainly apparent but what about the actual quality in the bottle? I tasted a number of great wines at the auction but there was so much hubbub it was very hard to focus. I fared much better the previous day at a well-executed blind tasting of the 2013, 2012 and 2011 vintages across 16 Napa wineries. These are the vintages on shelf or soon arriving in Canada, although few of the labels I encountered are available here.

Napa Blind Tasting

Held at the historic Charles Krug Winery on a misty Napa winter morning, I spent three hours cross-checking variation of the three years. And yes vintages do matter in Napa! I was so pleased to see the consistency of the different years vintage to vintage. We also tasted flights of wines from the 2006, 2001 and 1996 vintages and the vast majority were holding and maturing very well, another barometer of quality.

The other overall observation was that the wines had more finesse and structure than I expected – there were very few jammy, soft, sweetish and hottish wines. They were very classy, and the vast majority easily scored over 90 points. So there is qualitative substance, and as for pricing – well that is clearly set by how much and how many people are willing to pay.

I was very taken by the quality of the soon arriving 2013 vintage (one of the first in Ontario being the Frog’s Leap arriving March 5). In most cases I was scoring the 2013s a couple of points higher than 2012 or 2011. Typical of young wines many of the 2013s were aromatically reserved at this point. But they have impressive colour depth, body, concentration and tannin. Indeed it is the tannic structure combined with the fruit depth and purity that portends a long-lived vintage. They do have tension, and brilliance, and fine moderate to warm climate black fruit detailing.

The 2012s tended to be the most plush, fruity and approachable now. There was great hoopla and relief over 2012, the first of three drought year vintages after the greener 2011s. Ripeness had returned. But in tasting through the 2012s last week I kept feeling that they hang a bit heavy, and lack some elan and poise.

The lighter 2011s were engaging on two fronts. First, from a cooler, wetter year several were already starting to show some evolution – good complexity, integration and refinement of the tannin. And second, if you like and are accustomed to some cabernet greenness as I am – from years of tasting Bordeaux and Canadian reds – the 2011s showed more “classic” character. I thoroughly enjoyed many and did not find them “weaker”. They were more linear.

It was out beyond the decanters and tasting halls that the real allure of Napa was to be found, one that has infiltrated me every time I return. The scenery is stunning, from the sweep of the valley floor to the vineyards perched high in the five mountain appellations, which I visited on a gorgeous five hour Sunday drive. If one wants a sense of place in wine, Napa has got it.

Spring Mountain

And the people I met are as pleasant and down to earth as anywhere in the world. Restaurant service is superbly friendly and genuine. And at two Napa restaurants I encountered ‘Bring Your Own’ policies with zero corkage! That alone is testament to the strength of the wine market in the New World’s epicentre. And that alone is enough to endear any Canadian.

Here are some California picks from the March 5 release, which should hold you until the California Wine Fair touches down in Ottawa, Friday April 8 and Toronto, Monday April 11.

Buyers’ Guide to California Whites

Beringer Chardonnay 2014

Macrostie Chardonnay 2013

Kistler Mccrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2013Kistler 2013 McCrea Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Mountain ($120.95)
David Lawrason – Few California chardonnays crack the $100 mark, and when it happens one needs to look deep into the glass. What I found here, within the friendly ambiance, was a very generous, complex nose that weaves yellow fruits and flowers, hazelnut, lemongrass/conifer, gentle peat smoke and wet stone. It’s medium weight, very elegant, just a touch sweet on the palate, with a dry, stony finish. The focus and length are outstanding.
Michael Godel – Considered the most Chablis-like in the Kistler range from the eastern flank of Sonoma Mountain out of a rare mix of Sonoma volcanics and limestone. To my mind the McCrea Vineyard is the coolest climate Kistler, of gemstone and tart orchard fruit personality

Macrostie 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, California ($35.95)
Michael Godel – A true melting pot Chardonnay of Sonoma Coast origins. Vineyards involved include Sangiacomo and Champlin Creek (Carneros), Dutton and Martinelli (Russian River Valley) and Wildcat Mountain Vineyard (Petaluma Gap). Really defines then territory.
Sara d’Amato – A chardonnay that stands out in a release that features mostly creamy, full-bodied and oak-driven styles of times past. Although the palate offers creamy coconut and pineapple, there is a pleasant undercurrent of acidity that adds brightness and balance – a relatively fine value too!

Beringer 2014 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Although a touch sweet and obviously oaked I sensed some purity of fruit and genteel character here. This is generously flavoured yet refined chardonnay at a very acceptable price.

Buyers’ Guide to California Reds

Frog's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Shafer 2013 MerlotShafer Merlot 2013, Napa Valley ($94.95)
David Lawrason – Doug Shafer and his wines hold sway in Napa. Everybody seems to love Shafer, but I think it comes down to a consistent sense of silk and purity in the wines themselves. This is a gorgeous merlot that I would drink nightly if it weren’t almost $100 a bottle. It has a lifted nose of currants, red plums, fresh herbs, lavender and a touch of pepper.
Sara d’Amato – A fine, age-worthy merlot, sleek and sophisticated. Like many of the wines in this feature, the alcohol is high and so it would benefit from a slight chill for best expression of the marvelous fruit and floral aromas.

Joseph Phelps 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($106.95)
David Lawrason – Another legendary Napa house that seems to deliver year and year out. This is beautifully rendered, fruity, elegant and finely-toned cabernet from the ripe 2012 vintage. All the classic cab and Napa elements are nicely layered. So smooth, dense and refined, with youthful tannin.
Sara d’Amato – A lovely vintage of this iconic cabernet sauvignon which is definitively Napa Valley.  Best to wait another 2-3 years for the muscular tannins to mellow and the fruit and oak to coalesce. If you are in no hurry, there is a decade or more of time yet to enjoy this monumental tour de force.

Frog’s Leap 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley ($83.95)
David Lawrason – One of the first 2013 cabs onto the market in Canada shows a deep colour and a fragrant, concentrated nose of red and blackcurrants, among other complexities. It’s medium-full bodied, fairly dense, vibrant, juicy and tannic, with excellent length. Cellar a bit.

Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir 2012

Jonata Todos 2011 RedJonata Todos Red 2011, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County ($79.95)
Sara d’Amato – This small, artisanal winery is the sister property to Napa’s Screaming Eagle and has had no shortage of critical praise. Vineyards are cared for using organic and biodynamic techniques and the resulting wines offer an abundance of character and impressive finesse. The 2011 blend is largely based on syrah with a peppery nose and kirsch-like flavours on the palate.
Michael Godel – Eighty dollars is not exactly pocket change but a scant few California peers compare at the price. Syrah leads a supporting cast of seven total grape varieties for a big, balanced and age-capable wine. Blending never tasted so worthy.

Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County ($26.95)
Michael Godel – Purposefully ripe, dark and warm Pinot Noir from winemaker Scott Kozel who firmly believes in growing the right grapes in the right places and not messing with the purest expression of those grapes. This is Pinot Noir with commercial appeal and the quality to stand behind the product.

Josh Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, California ($17.00)
Sara d’Amato – Certainly the best value in this release, this generic California cabernet sauvignon is well balanced, mid-weight and with alcohol nicely in check. Expressive and aromatic with wide appeal.

Sommelier Fun & Fundraising

CAPS Team Canada FundrasierThe Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) Ontario chapter is hosting a fundraising event on Monday, February 29th to celebrate Canadian wine talent. Join Sara d’Amato, John Szabo, Bruce Wallner and other guest sommeliers at Terroni’s new event space on Adelaide. They have a fun event planned with a blind tasting challenge, raffle prizes, great wine and tasty treats. Tickets are only $40 ($30 for CAPS members) – all to support your Canadian wine community. This event is open to the trade and the public. Hope to see you there. (You can find more info here:

And that’s a wrap for this week. John Szabo returns from Italy next week just in time to discuss the Brunello contingent on this release, along with other picks.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES March 5, 2016

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael Godel’s Picks
All Reviews

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Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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