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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 27 – Part Two

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

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canadian Wines

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

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

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

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

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

Sperling 2013 Gewurztraminer, Okanagan Valley ($28.95)

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

Malivoire 2014 Musqué Spritz Beamsville Bench, ($19.95)

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

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

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

Culmina 2012 Hypothesis, Okanagan Valley ($39.95)

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

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

Malivoire 2012 Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

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

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

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

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

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

International Reds

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

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

Château Pey De Pont 2010, Médoc, Bordeaux $21.95

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From VINTAGES June 27th, 2015

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

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


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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 27 – Part One

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buyers’ Guide to Pan-American Wines

Montes Alpha 2012 Carmenère Colchagua Valley Chile ($19.95)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Favourites of Your Favourites Part One: White Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Future Favourites” Part One: White Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Château Saint Genès 2013, Bordeaux Blanc, France

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

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

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

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

From VINTAGES June 27th, 2015

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

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


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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011


International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 13 – Part Two

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

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

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

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

FATHER’S DAY PICKS

Whites and Sweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosé

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cin, Cin!

 

Sara d’Amato

From VINTAGES June 13th, 2015

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 13 – Part One

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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

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

Same Old Same Old

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

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

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

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

So much for choice…

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

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

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

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

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

On the Bright Side…

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

Buyers Guide for Italian Whites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masera 2013 Gavi, Piedmont, Italy ($18.95)

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

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

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

Buyers Guide for Italian Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buyers Guide for Sparkling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wines of Portugal, A World of Difference.

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

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES June 13th, 2015

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 30 – Part Two

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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

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

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

Buyers Guide: Southern Rhône Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ortas 2010 Prestige Rasteau, Rhone Valley ($19.95)

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

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

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

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

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

Buyers Guide: Smart Red Wine Buys

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

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

2014 Harvest in the Quinta das Carvalhas-3483

2014 Harvest in the Quinta das Carvalhas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wines of Portugal, A World of Difference.

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

 

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

From VINTAGES May 30, 2015

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

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


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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011


Wines of Portugal, A World of Difference.

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 30 – Part One

Pinot Noir’s New World and Ontario Whites
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Nowadays I am having a barrel of fun tasting and tracking pinot noir’s global gallop. The selection coming May 30 to VINTAGES in Ontario is a clinic on the state of affairs.

When I starting following pinot noir in the mid 80s it was an almost monastic, local grape variety turning out occasionally brilliant wines on a slope called the Côte d’Or in Burgundy, France. With over 400 years of experience they had pretty much figured out that this thin-skinned, nervous and unpredictable grape variety had a knack for showing its place or origin. To taste a line-up of pinots from Burgundy from the same vintage and same producer but different appellations – a horizontal tasting – is still the most important thing an inquisitive wine fan can do for him or herself. It is an indelible lesson on terroir.

For most of the past 30 years the wine world has tended to believe that Burgundy – because it was the first and sometimes brilliant – was the only place where pinot noir could possibly be interesting and of high quality. But of course that is not true. A grape that can show terroir in one place can show terroir anywhere. And what we are now enjoying is the rooting of pinot noir in distinctive terroirs around the world.

The only unifier is a certain preferred climate where it is fairly cool through latitude, altitude or proximity to maritime influence to preserve essential acid tension and fruit purity. The pinot vine can actually grow in different soil types, where it will render different textural nuances, and although styles may vary, quality need not. That is in the hands of the winemakers, and pinot winemakers are among the most serious in the world.

I have been paying a lot of attention to New World pinot through my career – it being a focus of my first extended wine travel in 1984, in California. Yes California, where it was supposed to be too hot for pinot. But go tell that to Josh Jensen who had established Calera, Dick Graff at Chalone, the Carneros pioneers at Acacia and Saintsbury, Jim Clendenen at Sanford in Santa Barbara, or Santa Cruz Mountains men like Martin Ray who planted pinot in the sixties. Even Tim Mondavi, back in his exuberant youth was enthralled by California pinot, and we opened a few together in 1984. My personal taste affair with good California pinot has continued ever since, as long as sweetness and confection do not interfere.

Most recently my attention has shifted to New Zealand, which I have visited three times in two years. I think it is the most exciting pinot region outside of Burgundy. Pinot noir is the country’s most important red variety and it grows very well in the cooler southern half of the country. There are many terroirs here, and I have gone over-length in a recent article published here to outline what I think are 24 pinot noir appellations. But I am equally intrigued by pinots in other southern hemisphere locales in the past five years, and how they show their origin. And of course I have written a lot about pinot in Canada. Even Germany, the world’s third largest producer of pinot noir (Spatburgunder) could be considered a “newish world” for pinot.

Beyond the terroir hunting, what I like most about New World pinot is a certain fruit lift, exuberance and drinkability. Great Burgundy can be ethereal, and I have had some NW pinots that get close to that as well. But what I enjoy just as much is simply drinking a fresh, yet complex and generous pinot noir. And that is what this VINTAGES collection offers. They are interesting enough to be discussed, yet generous enough to be enjoyed, ideally with a light chill, from a large, fine rimmed glass, on the deck before, during and after dinner.

Here are our picks, and interestingly almost every pinot in the release has been “picked” by one or more of us. Such is the individuality of pinot, and in a weird way, its greatest strength.

The Pinots

Auntsfield 2012 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, Southern Valleys, Marlborough, New Zealand ($29.95)

Rosehall Run Hungry Point Pinot Noir 2013 Auntsfield Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012David Lawrason – I am delighted to see Southern Valleys on the label! This is a large “unofficial” but increasingly obvious sub-district of Marlborough where pinots are growing on gravel/clay soils. There are very exciting terroir-driven pinots in the five southern valleys that each might one day have their own appellation – Fairhall, Ben Morven, Omaka, Brancott, Waihopi. This is lovely, very expressive pinot from a cooler year, although still showing considerable ripeness.
Sara d’Amato – David Herd, one of New Zealand’s forefather’s of wine, was responsible for planting the first of Auntsfield’s grapes in 1873. Needless to say, Auntsfield is one of New Zealand’s oldest wineries and produces a masterful pinot noir.
John Szabo – The Cowley family now runs Auntsfield, an established regional leader in the Southern Valleys sub-region widely acknowledge as the best spot for pinot noir in Marlborough. This is a wine of pure pleasure, not massive structure, well balanced, juicy and succulent. I love the immediate drinkability; serve with a light chill. Best 2015-2020.

Rosehall Run 2013 Hungry Point Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($24.95)

David Lawrason – Being a County pinot this is a light weight among others in this release, but it does have great aromatic lift and cool climate pinot cranberry-sour cherry fruit. It is not as deep as Dan Sullivan’s more expensive JCR pinot, but there is great piquancy and charm here. County to its roots.
Sara d’Amato – Every time I taste this pinot noir (now for the third time) that is quickly coming into its own, it becomes more and more enjoyable. It is produced on the legendary “Hungry Point” site which surrounds Rosehall Run and is formerly known for its inability to produce sustenance. It is now a premium, nutrient-poor growing site for coaxing out only the most concentrated flavours from the berries.

Argyle 2012 Artisan Series Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($44.95)

John Szabo – Although Argyle started off in the late 1980s as a dedicated sparkling wine producer (launched by Brian Croser of Petaluma fame and Bollinger champagne, among others), it was quickly realized that fine table pinot noir could also be produced in the region. This Reserve is made from Argyle’s top lots in the Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity Hills AVAs and their predominantly volcanic-Jory soils, yielding a perfumed, lightly floral, silky-textured pinot, well-tuned to this ripe vintage. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – This nicely defines Oregon’s pinot place, a cross-hatching of ripeness and tension. Look for pretty aromas of fresh red cherry jam, spice, herbs and light toast. There is elevated youthful tannin, so I would give it a year or two – and it should last admirably for five.

Argyle Artisan Series Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir 2012 Saint Clair Premium Pinot Noir 2013 O'Leary Walker Pinot Noir 2012

Montes 2012 Limited Selection Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($14.95)

David Lawrason – Pinot Noir in Chile is a relatively recent endeavour, and not yet considered a whole-hearted success. But Chilean pinot is developing a signature that echoes its cabernets and carmeneres reds, showing lifted blackcurrant, fragrant rosemary like herbaceousness derived from its local “garrigue” called boldos. This is ultra-fresh, juicy and lively. And very well priced.

Saint Clair 2013 Premium Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – I was instantly enamored by this juicy and succulent Marlborough pinot noir offering plenty of verve and a very pleasant note of red currant jelly. This consistently good value producer is most known in Ontario for their sauvignon blanc and it is no surprise that their pinot noir is of equal and perhaps better quality.

O’Leary Walker 2012 Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The western edge of the forest clad hills above the city of Adelaide offer the best pinot noir conditions in all of South Australia. O’Leary Walker is based in the Clare Valley two hours away but the family has Adelaide Hills holdings with vines planted in the 90s. Very lifted aromatics here and it is fresh and juicy with considerable tannin.

Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Jekel Pinot Noir 2012 Migration Pinot Noir 2013

Frei Brothers 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, USA ($27.95)

John Szabo – This nicely captures the approachable nature of RRV pinot without slipping into excesses of fruit, oak or ripeness. I like the punchy and edgy nature, with balanced fruit and alcohol, herbal and earthy character playing nicely to all preference camps. Best 2015-2020.

Jekel 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California  ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – Bill Jekel is well regarded as an influential and boundary-pushing producer who was instrumental in the creation of a Monterey AVA. If you enjoy this both substantial and elegant pinot, the Jekel riesling is also one to watch for.

Migration 2013 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, USA ($44.95)

David Lawrason – Migration is the Sonoma wing of the Duckhorn flock. And it has the lovely raspberry and florality that I love in Russian River pinot, with just a touch of evergreen foresty character. It’s delicate, fruity and well balanced.

Ontario Whites

Hidden Bench 2013 Estate Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($23.95)

Lailey Unoaked Chardonnay 2013 Redstone Limestone Vineyard South Riesling 2012 Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2013John Szabo – One of the province’s top riesling producers, Hidden Bench regularly delivers quality far above the average, proving there’s no substitute for meticulous farming. The 2013 estate bottling is clean, pure, crisp, dry and firmly structured, and even though this is the “mere” estate blend, it could easily sit among the top single vineyard bottlings in the region.
David Lawrason – This is a very complete and complex riesling; a dandy statement to riesling’s prowess on the Beamsville Bench.

Redstone 2012 Limestone Vineyard South Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($18.95)

David Lawrason – Redstone is a Tawse owned property that will begin to make its mark in the summer of 2015 when it opens, complete with a restaurant. This riesling comes from the Limestone Vineyard over near Flat Rock on Twenty Mile Bench. The ripe 2012 vintage has provided generous peach, honey and petrol character.

Lailey 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula Canada, Ontario ($14.95)

John Szabo – Unoaked chardonnay is rarely a category that excites, but Derek Barnett has managed to coax an unusual amount of flavour out of this 2013. It’s vaguely nutty and creamy, but still lively and crisp and genuinely dry, and altogether more “serious” than the price would imply. In other words, it’s a great buy for serious Tuesday night sipping.

Other Whites and Rosé

Château De Sancerre 2013 Sancerre, Loire Valley, France ($24.95)

David Lawrason – The only ‘chateau’ in Sancerre is owned by Marnier-Lapostolle, the company that produces Grand Marnier liqueur, and also owns Casa Lapostolle in Chile. This is a beautifully refined, delicate and fresh sauvignon to reserve for delicate seafood occasions.

Maison Roche De Bellene 2012 Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay, Burgundy, France ($20.95)

Sara d’Amato – Tremendous value alert! This entry level Burgundy is anything but simple exhibiting a leesy texture, fresh acids and delicately integrated oak. Although this chardonnay would certainly prove versatile with food, I recommend sipping on its own, barely below room temperature.

Château De Sancerre 2013 Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay 2012 Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Gewurztraminer 2010 Castello Di Ama Rosato 2014

Domaines Schlumberger 2010 Kessler Gewurztraminer, Alsace Grand Cru, France ($33.95)

John Szabo – Gewurztraminer is the most planted grape in this 28ha grand cru in the village of Guebwiller, and Schlumberger its most emblematic producer. The pink sandstone seems tailor-made to produce a terrifically rich, exotically ripe and plush, opulent style, such as this. The 2010 vintage also yielded wines with brilliant acids, which in this case beautifully balance the considerable residual sugar. A textbook lesson in Alsatian GW. Best 2015-2022.

Castello Di Ama 2014 Rosato, Tuscany, Italy ($21.95)

Sara d’Amato – Lending some credibility to the rosé category, the famed Chianti Classico producer, Castello di Ama, has put forth an undeniably sophisticated blend of merlot and sangiovese. Sourced from high-quality, low-yielding old vines, this rosé was certainly not a mere afterthought, as are many commercial pink wines.

~

That is enough for this week, and what a busy week it has been at WineAlign. We have published an Ontario Wine Report update on Prince Edward County, and have released our 7th instalment of “So, You Think You Know Wine?”. (We get better folks!). We are also ramping up for the National Wine Awards of Canada that are just a month away in Niagara Falls. We are pleased to announce that Jamie Goode will be joining us again from the UK. British Columbia wineries are rapidly reaching their shipping deadline and the response has been excellent, so now it’s time for Ontario wineries to ante-up and register their wines. In recent years the medal performance of B.C. and Ontario has nicely evened out.

John will be here next week covering the substantial southern Rhône Valley collection on the May 30 release.

Until then.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 30, 2015

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

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


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Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 16 – Part Two

Fresh and Fruity Whites and the Best of the Rest
By Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo MS

Sara d’Amato

Sara d’Amato

Wines for spring cleaning, wines for sunshine or wines for being social on the porch again, this week’s VINTAGES release theme of “Fresh and Fruity Whites” is a sure sign that the warm weather is upon us. As John Szabo completes his tour of the world’s most spectacular volcanic peaks (somebody’s got to do it) I sit grounded in Toronto, for at least the time being, choosing from among our top picks of this most anticipated change of the season.

In addition to these ephemeral selections, we bring you what impressed us most from this release, wines with both staying power and those we think you shouldn’t overlook. Unlike the whites, the reds available have not yet caught up with trend of warmer weather and I both hope and expect to see lighter, fresher reds in the next release. We will certainly see more gamay, primitivo/zinfandel and sangiovese on the shelves that are ready-to-drink and do best with a slight chill.

Fresh and Fruity Whites

Stoneleigh 2014 Latitude Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, ($21.95)

David Lawrason – The 2014 vintage was considered excellent in Marlborough with a bumper crop that ripened in “near perfect’ conditions – until the tail end of a cyclone came through late in the harvest. It’s hard to say which wines were picked soon enough of course. I have found many of the 2014 sauvignons a bit leaner, cooler and more compact – of which this an example. And that’s not a bad thing.
Sara d’Amato – A classic, elegant sauvignon blanc that rivals the best of Marlborough at a fraction of the price. Bring on the seafood kabobs!

Tiefenbrunner 2014 Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – It wouldn’t be a “fresh and fruity” release without a solid pinot grigio. Tiefenbrunner is located in a picturesque spot fixed in the Italian Alps and is known for its meticulous winemaking and control from grape to bottle. Because of its reliable quality and its price point, it has frequently been a staple for me when creating wine lists.

Finca El Origin 2014 Reserva Torrontés, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – Although there are many obstacles to the further development of this remote wine-growing region, the wines, short in supply, are as uniquely arresting as the landscape. This is the home of the exotic torrontés, light, fresh and fragrant. The best examples, such as this, show some restraint and mystique.
David Lawrason – If you have not yet put Argentine torrontés in your summer patio repertoire don’t hesitate with this classic example from the Cafayate Valley in northern Argentina. A citrus explosion! Bring on the ceviche.

Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2014 Finca El Origin Reserva Torrontés 2014 Matetic Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Matetic 2014 Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc, San Antonio Valley, Chile ($13.95)

John Szabo – Tough to beat this crunchy, green apple and green pepper-flavoured sauvignon for sheer value, another welcome release from biodynamic producer Matetic in the cool, coastal San Antonio Valley. This tops many wines asking $5 more.
David Lawrason – A great buy here in a brilliant, juicy sauvignon that bristles with intense grapefruit/lime, nettles and passion fruit. It’s from an excellent, biodynamic producer that is the sole owner of the isolated Rosario Valley right on the edge of the San Antonio and Casablanca Valley appellations. It is a cool coastal site that has infused great energy.

Creekside 2013 Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula Canada ($17.95)

John Szabo – Creekside has made sauvignon a specialty, but there appears to have been a slight style shift in 2013 – this is less effusively aromatic and tropical than previous vintages, and I must say I like the more subtle and crisp profile. A mix of citrus and green apple, and gentle green herbs makes this a lively and pleasant wine, a little more “grown up” in my view.

Best of the Rest

Simonsig 2012 Kaapse Vonkel Brut Cap Classique, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($19.95)

John Szabo – From the house that first made traditional method sparkling wine in South Africa, this pinot-chardonnay blend with a splash of pinot meunier offers considerable toasty richness in a broad and mouth-filling style, notably dry despite the richness.

Vinum 2012 Africa Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – Incorrectly slotted into the VINTAGES “fresh and fruity” feature, this rich and savory chenin blanc still deserves recognition. Body, texture, viscosity – all of these are impressively featured at such an unassuming price.
John Szabo – Fans of complex, wood aged whites will rejoice at the quality/price of this chenin. Made in a “natural” (nothing added or subtracted) and idiosyncratic style, it’s a wine of texture more than immediate fruitiness, balancing ripeness with both acids and salinity. There’s loads of character for $16 in any case.

Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Cap Classique 2012 Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2012 Hillebrand Showcase Series Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011

Hillebrand 2011 Showcase Wild Ferment Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($36.20)

John Szabo – As far as premium chardonnay goes, I’d say that winemaker Craig MacDonald has nailed this beautifully, and kept the price fair. As with most great chardonnay, this is a wine of mainly textural interest, offering a rich and complete mouth full of just-ripe orchard fruit, balanced with high quality wood. I like the succulent acids that prop up this flavour-heavy ensemble, and the excellent length. A very serious, accomplished cuvée all in all. Unfortunately the fruit source is not revealed – it’s labeled only as “Niagara Peninsula Vineyards” – but I’d be curious to know from where this hails exactly. Best 2015-2020.

Tawse 2011 Growers Blend Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato  – A wine that has experienced impressive evolution – with a cohesive palate of wood, fruit and acids and much smoother tannins than its jerky beginning. A gem of a pinot that still has years to come.

Corvidae 2013 Lenore Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA ($19.95)

David Lawrason – Here’s a rarely seen (at the LCBO) great buy in Washington syrah – which in my mind is the premier red grape of eastern Washington and the southern Okanagan in BC. It’s a medium to full bodied, classic cool climate syrah with deep colour, considerable density and ripeness, yet just enough cool climate black pepper, licorice and smoked meat to please northern Rhone syrah fans.

Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir 2011 Corvidae Lenore Syrah 2013 Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Château Haut Peyraud 2010

Lapostolle 2012 Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon, Apalta Vineyard, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($24.95).

David Lawrason –  Yet another biodynamically-grown Chilean wine shines on this release – from a great estate occupying one of the great vineyard sites in the country. The depth, harmony and complexity here are remarkable for a $25 wine.

Château Haut Peyraud 2010, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, France ($16.95)

David Lawrason – I love the sense of poise and subtlety in this ‘petit’ 2010. What a wonderful vintage. This is a Bordeaux bargain, a lightweight, fairly supple merlot that is moving into prime.

Château De Gourgazaud 2013 Cuvée Mathilde Minervois, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – A spicy, peppery, musky and sweaty blend from southern France – unpretentious, raw and rustic. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Château De Gourgazaud Cuvée Mathilde Minervois 2013 Meandro Do Vale Meão 2012 Coppi Peucetico Primitivo 2008

Meandro 2012 Do Vale Meão, Douro, Portugal ($24.95)

David Lawrason – This is a very high energy red, bristling with wild berry and woodsy aromas, and all kinds of zesty acid and tannin. So you may want to age it, but I really feel that this vibrancy is key to its enjoyment. Chill just a bit and pair it with savoury seasoned red meats.
John Szabo – Even more impressive than the excellent 2011, this is another top value, complex, concentrated and structured Douro red blend from Vale Meão. Although considered the “second label”, this is better than most from the valley, especially at the price. Best 2015-2022.

Coppi Peucetico 2008 Primitivo, Gioia Del Colle, Puglia, Italy ($13.95)

Sara d’Amato – Vibrant and peppery, this mid-weight primitivo exhibits lovely, lingering floral and cherry notes. Savory, fun and summery – a wine that can take a slight chill for added refreshment.

That’s all folks! David Lawrason will highlight the best of the May 30th release and features next week along with an Ontario Wine Report with news on new wineries and trends in Prince Edward County.

From VINTAGES May 16, 2015

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Buyers’ Guide Part One: Australia First Families
All Reviews

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 16 – Part One

Australia First Families & Sara in the Pink Once Again
By David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato, with notes from John Szabo MS

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Last month the LCBO’s VINTAGES hosted Europe’s first families of wine (Premium Familiae Vini); this month it’s Australia’s First Families, a relatively new organization that formed in 2009. Families are a good idea – we all belong to one – although they can be trying at times. But I am not sure we need every wine region in the world to put together roving bands of families. There is just something a bit clubby about the idea. And can you imagine how it must feel if you are an upstanding family that is left out of the group?

The real question is whether families make better wine, and my short answer would be yes – because they tend to be driven by some sort of code of honour, pride and legacy, not just pleasing the shareholders. Their wines may or may not have a particular family personality but they are usually quite high quality, which shone through in many of the reviews of the May 16th batch that VINTAGES has put forward. Just about every wine got a kudo from John, Sara or I.

My only disappointment was not seeing a much broader, and higher range of wines in this release – we the large Ontario family of wine enthusiasts are tending to get their lower tier offerings. To get into the upper tier you have to attend the Australia’s First Families of Wine Event on May 26, where dozens of others will be available. See the list at http://www.vintages.com/events/australia_event.shtml but watch for those pesky little asterisks that indicate which wines are for tasting only (not purchase). Only in Ontario do we get to pay to taste wines that we can’t buy.

One last comment before trotting out our favourites. As I tasted through the reds I kept saying to myself – these are actually a pretty, fresh and bright bunch. More lifted on the nose, with cranberry, crushed berries and florals and less overripe jamminess and oaky. And less alcohol heat. For months now our WineAlign critics who have visited Australia have been reporting back that Oz is in transition to less heavy, fresher wines. And it struck me as I tasted along that they are now arriving on our shelves, and that this new mood is now showing up at lower price points.

The Whites

Tyrrell’s 2013 Brookdale Semillon, Hunter Valley, New South Wales ($24.95)

John Szabo – It is all too easy to overlook a wine such as this: bone dry, tart, lean and seemingly short on flavour. But give this 5+ years and it undergoes a full metamorphosis. If you enjoy flint and smoke, and smoldering, discreet fruit flavours, tuck away a few bottles of this arch-typical semillon in the unique Hunter Valley Style, part of Tyrell’s “Hunter Heroes” range. Best 2020-2030.
Sara d’Amato – A Hunter Valley semillon on the shelves of the LCBO is cause for celebration as it has been so long! Semillon reaches the peak of its expression in the warmer grounds of Hunter Valley. Tyrell’s semillons are legendary so stock up now! If your haul takes awhile to get though – that’s okay. Wait another 5 years on this semillon for optimum drink-ability.
David Lawrason – My colleagues have covered a lot of ground already. Let me just add that I loved the linearity and focus of this wine. It’s not Tyrrell’s top Hunter semillon, but it is bang on style-wise and affordable to those who might want to take it for a first-time spin.

Tyrrell's Brookdale Semillon 2013 Yalumba Viognier 2013 Henschke Tilly's Vineyard 2013

Yalumba 2013 Viognier, Eden Valley, South Australia ($24.95)

David Lawrason – I like viognier but often find them either overblown and cloying, or among cheaper versions, under-blown and kind of boring. This comes right up the middle, with quite precise, complex aromatics and a fine sense of weight and even-handedness.
John Szabo – Yalumba is a specialist in viognier, and has the oldest vines in Australia planted in 1980, so the high quality of this wine comes as no surprise. A little more than half is barrel fermented and treated to a little lees stirring, yielding a beautifully perfumed, arch-typical viognier, with marvellous silky-soft textured. If this had Condrieu on the label, no one would blink an eye at the price, indeed folks would be gushing all over it.
Sara d’Amato – The cooler, higher elevations of Eden Valley are a haven for vibrant whites. This sustainably produced viognier can be considered Yalumba’s signature grape varietal – they do it well and devote a great deal of the energy on this Rhone varietal. Terrific body, length, weight and presence.

Henschke 2013 Tilly’s Vineyard, Adelaide Hills/Eden Valley, South Australia ($26.95)

David Lawrason – This multi-grape blend is a bit of an odd duck – with a classic candle wax smokiness that I often find in Aussie whites – particularly in semillon (which is one of the grapes here). Some like this note, others not, so test drive a bottle if you are unfamiliar. It is the most “aussie” white of the bunch, substantial, complex yet fresh at the same time.

The Reds

Yalumba 2012 The Strapper GSM, Barossa, South Australia ($19.95)

John Szabo – Another fine buy in this release from Yalumba, the oldest family-owned winery in Australia (since 1849). The Strapper is a nicely measured GSM blend, incorporating all of the best elements of the grapes: the strawberry pie flavors of grenache, the black pepper and violets of syrah, and the earthy-meaty architecture of mourvèdre. It’s the wine that “the winemakers drink, when they’re not having a riesling or an ale”. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – I was struck by a certain unexpected freshness and even tenderness here. The GSM’s of Australia can be big, rich and gooey, but this wine is more refined. That certain elegance I find in the best Chateauneuf-du-Pape crossed my mind as this crossed my palate. Absolutely delish and ready to drink.

Jim Barry 2013 The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, Australia, (26.95) (677476)

Sara d’Amato – Coonawara is a very special place for cabernet sauvignon in the world where the varietal expresses itself in a uniquely elegant way, rooted in the region’s iron rich, premium terra rossa soils. This distinctively polished example is rife with floral, mineral, herbal and peppery notes that are sure to woo.
David Lawrason – This is one of the reds that struck me as having a new sense of aromatic freshness and brightness, and a palate that is both spry and elegant at the same time. So well balanced that it is actually quite drinkable now, just a touch green on the finish. Fine Coonawarra cab.

Yalumba The Strapper Gsm 2012 Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Tyrrell's Rufus Stone Shiraz 2012 De Bortoli Villages Pinot Noir 2012

Tyrrell’s 2012 Rufus Stone Shiraz, Heathcote, Victoria, Australia, ($22.95) (91488)

David Lawrason – Here’s another bright, wonderfully lifted shiraz but it also shows a deeper side thanks to its origins in Heathcote, an increasingly important shiraz region in hills north of Melbourne in Victoria. Love the aromatics here – floral lift all kinds of blackcurrant/cherry fruit, menthol, pepper and slightly mineral/ferrous/iron-like notes that strike me as solid Heathcote.
Sara d’Amato – It wouldn’t be a proper Australian release without some serious shiraz and I was very pleased to find this reasonably priced example from the famed shiraz producing region of Heathcote in Victoria. Notes of cassis, licorice and cool herbs are seamlessly integrated and make for silky and approachable sips.

De Bortoli 2012 Villages Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia ($23.95)

John Szabo – A keenly priced and representative wine from the Yarra, which highlights Steve Webber’s minimalist style. This is a fine buy for fans of old school, not to say Burgundian, pinot noir, lean and savoury, in a distinctively cool climate idiom. Best 2015-2020.

d’Arenberg 2010 The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($49.95)

David Lawrason – This is about the only red of the bunch that I would describe as more traditional. It is a rich, full-on, maturing Aussie red with a complex, very ripe nose. Heavier for sure, but when you get up into this quality level that can work well. It was not wines like this that gave Australia problems. It was packing too much alcohol, jammy fruit and oak into cheaper wines that didn’t have the bones to carry the load.

Tahbilk Estate 2010 Shiraz, Nagambie Lakes, Central Victoria, Australia ($22.95)
John Szabo
– A shiraz that hits a comfortable juste milieu between ripeness and restraint, fruit and wood, plushness and firmness. Tahbilk has been at it since 1860, so there has been ample time to perfect and draw the maximum from the moderate Nagambie Lakes region. Best 2015-2020.

D'arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Tahbilk Shiraz 2010 Henschke Henry's Seven 2013 Howard Park Miamup Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Henschke 2013 Henry’s Seven, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($42.95)

David Lawrason – This is named for Henry Evans who planted the Keyneton area in 1853, and it’s very interesting that when visiting Henschke you get this amazing sense of historical depth, in a region that seems so remote that you can almost not imagine some farming there over 150 years ago. Anyway, this Rhone-inspired blend is yet another example of the wonderful freshness now appearing more routinely in Oz reds.

Howard Park 2012 Miamup Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This gets the nod on value, a very fine, classic Margaret River cabernet for $20. This maritime region is known for making leaner, very aromatic cabs, and this one is spot-on with lifted blackcurrant fruit, fresh green eucalyptus, finely woven tobacco and earthy notes.

Real Men (and women) Drink Rosé
by Sara d’Amato

Sara d’Amato

Sara d’Amato

‘Tis the season for rosé and I admit, I can’t get enough. And although I may be a woman and one who doesn’t shy away from pink, that is certainly not the reason I love this style of wine in which red wine meets white in a refreshing package. Sure, I take big reds seriously but it is one of the last things I want to imbibe in a hot summer’s day unless I’m in an air-conditioned basement.

And, I’m not the only one. North American men are a growing segment in the market of rosé but most I know still need some encouragement. If my repeated Buyers’ Guide segments on rosé aren’t enough to make you give it a try, then maybe some of these reasons will make you take the plunge:

1. Oh So Dry – Rosés need not be sweet and in fact, most of the classic rosés, especially those of Southern France, are and always have been dry. The most refreshing ones, whether simple or complex, have no sweetness. On that note, there is no evidence to suggest that women like sweeter wine than men, we are just marketed to that way.

2. Brad Pitt– yes, iconic manly role model Brad and equally influential Angelina Jolie have become pushers of the pink stuff with the purchase of Chateau Miraval in Provence. Maybe some of their success will rub off on you? Their excellent rosé graced the shelves of the LCBO last summer and I hope it does again.

3. The Men’s Movement – “Real Men Drink Pink” – it’s a thing, really, I kid you not. There are t-shirts galore to be found online and an empowering yet humorous commercial by WineAwesomness.com. Be a part of the movement to change pre-conceived and bigoted notions!

4. Barbeque – There is very little that goes better with a smorgasbord of backyard bbq than a ballsy but refreshing glass of rosé. With the mild tannins and weight of a red plus the versatile freshness of a white, you can pair rosé with almost anything.

Without further ado, my top three pink picks from the May 16 release:

Delas Frères Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône Rosé 2014 Somontes Rosado 2014 Megalomaniac Pink Slip Pinot Noir Rosé 2014

Delas Frères 2014 Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône, France ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – This Côtes du Rhône blend made up largely of the sun-loving grenache which gives it a pale but vibrant pink hue, lightness of flavour and great approachability. Delas has been taken over by the Champagne house of Louis Roederer, makers of the famed Cristal but remains a consistent producer with a large offering of often well-priced and impactful wines from the northern Rhône to the southern tip.

Somontes 2104 Rosado, Serra Da Estrela, Dão, Portugal ($12.95)

Sara d’Amato – By far, the best deal in the rosé category. Dão is known for its sensual wines with spice and elegance and this example captures that character so beautifully.

Megalomaniac 2014 Pink Slip Pinot Noir Rosé, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – One of the more potent styles of rosé with just a hint of sweetness and a fresh new label. Punchy with crunchy acids and loaded with summer berry fruit. Chill well and pair with mid-day sunshine.

~

And that is all for this edition. John (the Crater Man) Szabo returns to lead off next week’s ramblings with a slew of interesting picks from the Cool Summer Whites selection just ahead of the Victoria Day (May 2-4) long weekend.

Cheers.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 16, 2015

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

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 2 – Part Two

New Zealand On Our Minds and The First Big Pink Release
By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and John Szabo MS

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Early May in Canada has become synonymous with New Zealand wine. The marketing folks from the tiny, perfect, green isles have owned this calendar moment for years, with wine fairs in four cities this month (Montreal May 5, Toronto May 7, Halifax May 12 and Vancouver May 14). And to no one’s surprise, NZ is the feature on VINTAGES May 2 release – along with some German delights which John covered last week. There is also the season’s first platoon of 2014 pinkies, on which Sara reports below.

New Zealand is on my mind a lot these days, having visited three times within the last two years, most recently in March. I am particularly interested in NZ pinot noir (no other country boasts pinot as its lead red wine) and next week I will publish an overly long and long overdue WineAlign exclusive identifying over 20 pinot noir appellations in the country. NZ has come up the middle between Burgundy and warmer New World regions to establish a very appealing pinot comfort zone that slices off pieces of both old and new worlds.

For now however we focus on the VINTAGES selection, featuring new wines sourced by LCBO buyers, who have also visited NZ recently. There will be those who question government officials jetting off on wine buying trips, but I would rather have informed and engaged buyers than uninformed buyers. That said, I also know they are buying to a quality/price formula that will “work” on VINTAGES shelves in Ontario. There are some new brands, which is always great to see, but they fall within a predictable price/quality spectrum – late teens pricing, 87-90 range scoring. Perfectly fine, but they have not really unearthed what’s new and exciting in NZ.

What is happening is real terroir-based winemaking by some very accomplished, inquiring and impatient winemakers. And the Kiwi terroir is a complex, diverse, regional and interesting as any place on Earth. NZ has been reticent to trumpet this. Remember that it is a tiny global player and they are still more concerned about entrenching brand New Zealand than promoting terroir-driven wines. I would argue that they (and the LCBO) need to get beyond this mindset very quickly or they will lose engaged wine lovers willing to pay the $30, $40, $50 that shows what they can really do.

This is especially urgent with Marlborough sauvignon blanc, a wine in danger of flame-out if more terroir-based diversity and nuance is not pushed forward PDQ (pretty damn quick). And then there are the increasingly fascinating universes of pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling and even pinot gris – all being terroir wines that wine enthusiasts love to drink and discuss, and will happily pay a premium to acquire, when quality is there. And the quality is there.

The New Zealand picks

Te Whare Ra 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, South Island ($24.95)

Dog Point Pinot Noir 2012 Te Whare Ra Sauvignon Blanc 2014David Lawrason – Te Whare Ra is a member of a small but formidable Marlborough association of organic wine producers. Located near Renwick its biodynamic vineyards are on a terrace above the Wairu River valley floor (almost neighbours of Seresin). This is a cool, compact style that I really like, and is increasingly common (thank goodness).
John Szabo – Say what? That’s Tee-Far-ee-Rah, or “the house in the sun” for you non-Maori speakers, or simply TWR to friends. Anna and Jason Flowerday’s organically certified, biodynamically dabbling family estate has some of the oldest vines in Marlborough, closing in on four decades. And their wines, like this pure citrus and chive-scented, green apple and herbal sauvignon, are superior. There are no concessions to base commercial appeal made here, just authentic and honest stuff.

Dog Point 2012 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, South Island ($49.95)

John Szabo – I can’t remember a Dog Point wine that hasn’t been a leader in its category, and the 2012 pinot is no exception. If your impression of Marlborough pinot is a wine of light, simple, tart red fruit flavours (like many), this will change it. It’s rather dark and savoury, considerably more concentrated and deep than the average, with excellent intensity, length and complexity. Cellar for another 2-3 years for maximum enjoyment, or hold into the ’20s without a stretch. Best 2017-2024.
David Lawrason – So if you want to experience the kind of quality and excitement I am referring to above, this is your chance.  From one of the great estates of Marlborough, this is a lovely lifted, rich, vibrant and delicious pinot with compelling freshness amid a riot of flavours.

Elephant Hill 2013 Syrah, Hawke’s Bay, North Island ($22.95)

David Lawrason – The 2013 vintage is one of the best yet for NZ reds, including Hawke’s Bay. The region’s syrahs are on fire in NZ, but just beginning to appear here. If you are at all a fan of Rhone wines you need to give this a try – but age a few bottles as well. Very good value.  The Elephant Hill 2013 Pinot Noir is also a good buy.
Sara d’Amato – Elephant Hill’s syrah never disappoints with its immensely satisfying profile that has the peppery character of the Northern Rhone but the density of fruit of the new world.

Elephant Hill Hawke's Bay Syrah 2013  Opawa Pinot Gris 2014 Waimea Classic Riesling 2014Sugar Loaf Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Opawa 2014 Pinot Gris, Marlborough, South Island ($16.95)

David Lawrason – As anywhere NZ has some wineries trying to cash in on the fresh, simple pinot grigio global phenom. But they also have an increasing number of pinot gris aiming at Alsatian opulence and complexity. Some use some residual sugar cosmetics, but many others – like this – do not.  This is a great buy from stony soils in the Wairau.

Waimea 2014 Classic Riesling, Nelson, South Island New Zealand ($18.95)

John Szabo – As if to underscore the region’s rapidly growing reputation for fragrant wines, every three years Nelson hosts the “International Aromatics Symposium” (next on is in 2017) to dig deeply into what it takes to grow aromatic varieties like riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, grüner veltliner, and the like. Waimea seems to have it dialled already, as the winery’s two offerings (also check out the Pinot Gris) in this release are terrific. Perhaps it’s the slightly cooler, cloudier, moister conditions here relative to Marlborough across the hills to the south. Maybe it’s acquired knowledge. Whatever it is, keep it up, please.

Sugar Loaf 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, ($20.95)
Sara d’Amato – A classic Marlborough sauvignon blanc at a very reasonable price. White pepper, lemon, cucumber and grapefruit don the palate of this complex and elegant find.

The Rosés are Flowing
by Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

The rosés are out in full force and I can’t help but delight in this time of year. The romantic in me feels spring is truly upon us but the pragmatist sees that rosés are sorely under-used and under-appreciated. Rosés have both the refreshing nature of a white but the substance of a mild red which makes them incredibly versatile with summer food from barbeques to Souvlaki to fish and seafood.

In our annual round up, as often they do, the French lead the charge with the driest, most authentic and appealing wines. Unfortunately our selection is extremely limited when it comes to rosés and thus we have many styles and regions completely absent from our pool.

However, if our small assortment is any indication, the style of rosé is changing as a reflection of changing consumer preferences. I would like to say that the sweet candied rosés are a thing of the past but they do still creep in, providing the same type of satisfaction as a snow cone on a sunny day. But it is the less simplistic styles that are making the biggest splashes.

More and more, wineries are beginning to produce increasingly serious rosés in the fashion of Tavel in the southern Rhône. It makes a world of difference, in terms of quality when the rosés were intentionally made pink as opposed to being bled out to further concentrate red wines or are a result of a melting pot of underripe grapes unacceptable for reds. Usually darker in colour and with a more significant tannic presence, these styles can even undergo a small degree of ageing.

But rosés need not be too serious and often a simple dry style, refreshing and easy to drink on a hot summer day is the most satisfying of them all. Classically, you can find these wines from the pink capital that is the Côtes de Provence but the grenache-based reds of Spain can provide equally undemanding pleasure. These inexpensive, terrifically popular styles from across the globe are thankfully in good supply in this spring VINTAGES rosé feature.

Mas Des Bressades 2014 Cuvée Tradition Rosé, Costières de Nîmes, Rhône Valley, France ($15.95)

Sara d’Amato – A perennial favourite, the Mas des Bressades combines the dry, authentic, seriousness of the southern Rhône with the charm and easy-drinking appeal of the Languedoc. Excellent value.
David Lawrason – Made from the classic Rhône varieties – grenache, syrah and cinsault – this perennial fave  shows fairly generous floral, red currant, strawberry aromas with vague peppery spice. A rose for the table.

Bisquertt 2014 Kissing Rosé, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($13.95)

John Szabo – Forget the kitschy packaging and silly name; this wine is really much better than the label would indicate. I suggest soaking it off so you can properly enjoy this tidy rosé from the newly-admired país grape, a perfectly light, lively and serviceable, dry and fruity wine, best with a firm chill. I like the wild strawberry flavours and savoury herbal notes.
David Lawrason – The pais, or mission grape, was first brought to the western hemisphere by Spanish missionaries. By-passed for generations as a serious table wine grape it is finding resurgence in South America as a rose/fruity wine variety. This is very pleasant indeed.

Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2014 Bisquertt Kissing Rosé 2014 Brotte Les Eglantiers Tavel 2014 Carpineto Rosato 2014 Torres Sangre De Toro Rose 2014

Brotte 2014 Les Eglantiers Tavel, Rhône Valley, France ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – Tavel is a mecca for rosé lovers. This appellation produces only rosés and locals prefer to distinguish these high-class beauties by calling them only Tavel and never cheapening them with the term “rosé”. Here is a classic, timeless style and one of the very few wines in this release that can do with short to mid-term ageing.

Carpineto 2014 Rosato, Tuscany, Italy, ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – A more subtle offering than the norm from Carpineto but very appealing in its delicacy and ethereal lightness. Notes of tomato leaf compliment the salinity and dried strawberry fruit.

Torres 2014 Sangre De Toro Rosé, Catalunya Spain ($13.95)
John Szabo –
Another reliable wine from Don Miguel Torres, well-priced, admirably dry, juicy and crispy. This is easy and accessible, but also better than the mean.

Château De Beaucastel Coudoulet De Beaucastel Blanc 2013A Parting Thought

Château De Beaucastel 2013 Coudoulet De Beaucastel Blanc, Côtes du Rhône ($33.95)

David Lawrason – In recent years I have been mesmerized by the white wines of Beaucastel. Is anyone doing better whites in the south of France?  This is a bright, gently nuanced, very elegant and reserved white from local Rhone varieties like grenache blanc, roussanne and viognier.  This is an In Store Discovery.

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And that’s a wrap for this edition. We are already hard at work on the May 16 release, and we have some other things up our sleeve in May, including a new feature called Buy the Case that will highlight best buys from the consignment stocklists of Ontario’s importers. And I am particularly looking forward to the great WineAlign Rolling Limestone bus excursion to Terroir in Prince Edward County. Until then, enjoy a great week of weather ahead and hope to see you at the New Zealand Wine Fair.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 2, 2015

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Part 1
All Reviews

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


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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 2nd – Part One

Ontario Shakes Up Retail Alcohol Sales; Next Generation Germany; Smart Reds
By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Before we get to our picks this week, a word on some other important recommendations announced late last week. The big news in the Ontario beverage alcohol industry was of course the government’s announcement to shake up The Beer Store, the foreign-owned monopoly that accounts for 80% of beer sales in Ontario, forcing it to give local brewers better access to market. The government is also moving forward on the recommendation to allow the retail sale of beer in up to 450 grocery stores across the province. The move stems from a report commissioned by the government to find ways to generate more revenue from provincial assets.

On the surface it looks like a big change (and Wynne touts it as the biggest change to alcohol retailing since the 1920s when the LCBO was created), and it’s been a long time coming, but underneath the recommendations are a typically Canadian assemblage of compromise and concession and a game of shells. And consumers appear to be far down the list of interests to please. But it’s better than nothing.

It’s staggering to think that successive Ontario governments over nearly 90 years could have allowed The Beer Store (TBS), which is owned by Molson-Coors, Labatt (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev) and Sleeman (owned by Japan’s Sapporo), all with head offices outside of Canada, to exist at the expense of local enterprise. For the small boys, access to market has always been the number one concern.

Now the government intends to require TBS to allow local brewers to buy shares in the distribution monopoly, which might suit the not-so-micro breweries like Mill Street or Steam Whistle just fine, but just how many truly micro-brewers will be able to play in the game remains to be seen, and many remain skeptical. In any case, apparently no more than 20% of shares will be offered, keeping the foreign ownership intact.

The government is also insisting that TBS invest $100m over four years to modernize what is surely one of the most drab retail environments in the developed world. But I’d wager that consumers are more interested in convenience and selection than fancy beer shops. How about allowing the Ontario Craft Brewers Association to open up their own shops? That would be true and fair access. “This would immediately increase distribution, visibility and availability of local craft beers as well as putting the profits back into the brewers to foster their growth and economic development”, says Dave Reed of the Forked River Brewing Co. in London, a recent micro start-up.

The plan to sell beer in grocery stores is also promising, but not as revolutionary as it seems, nor as helpful to small brewing businesses as other changes might have been. The Advisory Council has recommended that the LCBO be the sole beer wholesaler to grocery stores, which suggests that breweries will still need to churn through the administrative mire of the LCBO, as they already do for the privilege of selling through their retail network, before they can access grocery stores. Essentially, its looks like a monopoly expansion via the franchising of LCBO beer sales, rather than a true opening of the marketplace.

TheBeerStore

And there are still a lot of unanswered questions on how it will happen. “Will we run into Listing Fees? Shelf Fees? What products will they want to carry? They mention that 20% of shelf space will be reserved for Ontario craft beer, but how much of that will be for smaller brewers who perhaps cannot supply all their stores in Ontario?”, Reed asks.

There is also the risk that the move will only create a collection of smaller regional monopolies, as the equitable distribution of such precious retail beer licenses will be fraught with challenges. For this reason, don’t expect to see much beer in grocery stores anytime soon. “This new channel should be phased in over time with up to 150 outlets in operation by May 1, 2017”, says the Advisory report. Things move slowly in Ontario.

I’m reporting this not only because I drink beer, but also because the same discussion is playing out over changes to wine retailing, of keen interest no doubt to readers. The same Advisory Council is still currently reviewing options for wine distribution, and further recommendations for changes to the LCBO are forthcoming.

The Ontario wine industry is naturally observing the situation with great interest. Most local “craft” wineries complain about the access to market, which, outside of the winery itself, a handful of farmer’s markets, the lottery of an LCBO listing or costly hand-to-hand guerilla sales to restaurants, doesn’t exist.

Richard Linley, President of the Wine Council of Ontario, is “encouraged by the recent report on improving retail conditions for Ontario craft beer”, and trusts that “similar changes will be made for wine retailing in Ontario”. Ontario VQA wineries, he states, want an opportunity to compete, “but in a growing market that gives wine consumers new choice and increased convenience”.

Veiled in under these hopes is the reality that NAFTA and other international trade agreements make it illegal for Ontario to favour the sale of local wines at the expense of foreign products. (Since beer distribution is already controlled by the biggest multinationals, they’d never complain, while other craft local breweries around the world are, by most definitions, for locals and won’t likely be interested in taking on the Canadian government for trade violations.)

But wine is a different matter, with countless large, well-funded foreign companies, not to mention regional and country associations, chomping at the bit for access to a piece of our pocketbooks. So don’t expect an all-VQA wine shop or wine section in a grocery store anytime soon.

Allowing grocery stores to sell wine will raise all of the questions that beer retailing has raised, and many more. Franchising LCBO selections to grocery stores may improve convenience, a welcome change, but it would obviously not improve selection, either for Ontario or out of province/country wineries.

Striking the Right Balance - Report

Ed Clark, principal author of the report, stated on the CBC that the pre-NAFTA, grandfathered wine retailing licences enjoyed by a very few large Ontario wineries, the ones that bring you the Wine Rack and The Wine Shop kiosks and stores, need to be protected in any future changes to wine retailing. Anything that favours the sales of Canadian products is highly valuable, he said with patriotic grandeur. I wonder if Mr. Clark has any idea that the majority of the non-VQA wine sold in those shops is actually imported foreign bulk wine, blended and bottled in Canada. Are those licences really worth protecting? How about converting them to real private wine shop licences, with a requirement for minimum Can-con? I’m sure Harper can finesse that agreement with his delicate diplomacy.

“Allowing for beer and wine in grocery stores doesn’t go far enough toward allowing for true, independent retail which would offer consumers the best selection of wine, beer and spirits”, writes Heather MacGregor, Executive Director of Drinks Ontario, the association representing the majority of beverage alcohol agents and suppliers in Ontario. And I agree.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: private, independently run wine shops in Ontario (with the parallel existence of the LCBO) would increase consumer selection, provide access to market for local, out of province and foreign wineries hitherto excluded, create jobs, generate revenue for the province, download some of the retailing costs to private business instead of taxpayers, and well, make people happy. The model exists. No need to write yet another report. Your comments?

For details on how it can work, visit the Wine Council of Ontario-run website www.pairsperfectly.com

Note: the opinions of the author don’t necessarily represent the views of WineAlign nor any of its contributors.

~

Next Generation Germany 

If you’re still with me, let’s get on to this week’s recommendations. The May 2nd VINTAGES release sees a terrifically well-chosen selection of German wines arrive just ahead of the “Next Generation Germany” taste event in Toronto on May 21st. David Lawrason will be leading a trade tasting in the afternoon along with German Wine Queen Janina Hahn, exploring new developments and celebrating the latest generation of German vintners to crush the grape.

Vineyards in the Kaiserstuhl, Baden-9872

Vineyards in the Kaiserstuhl, Baden

I had the pleasure of the queen’s company for a couple of days this past March as I toured from Mainz down to Baden in search of volcanic terroirs and fine wine. But aside from the queen’s beauty, I was most struck by the change in attitude that has occurred over the last few years in Germany. Not so long ago, German vintners (like many Canadians), were almost apologetic about their cool climate and their “struggle” to ripen grapes, especially red grapes. That was during the bigger-is-better era of wine production.

But as the whimsical tide of fashion invariably changes, cool climates have become all the rage. Now, warm regions bend over backwards to be cool, going ever higher up mountain peaks or further out to the coast, stopping only short of floating vineyards on barges in cold seas. German vintners are now delighted to trumpet their natural coolness, and are enjoying a return to mainstream fashion.

Truthfully, German wines haven’t changed radically. They didn’t need to. The wine was always good, and many estates have multigenerational track records to prove it. So it’s not you, Germany, it’s us who have changed, and we’re glad to have you back.

The renewed self-confidence has had an impact however on the next generation. According to German Wine Institute chief Stefan Schindler, enrolment in viticulture studies is exploding. And it’s not just the sons and daughters of winemakers, but also many students from non-traditional wine families. A third winemaking school has opened in Neustadt, and all the courses are fully subscribed. Winemaking, too, has become cool. The future of more unapologetically cool climate, great German wine seems assured.

The selection offered on May 2nd includes some new and welcome names to the market, with most worth checking out. There’s also plenty of Alignment amongst the crü, so if you’re not afraid of being cool, there are several low-risk, high-pleasure options, and not just Riesling (though there’s brilliant riesling, too). My only regret is the absence of any German red wines, especially pinot noir, which is rapidly gaining prominence in Germany and abroad for good reason.

We’ve also included a handful of smart, miscellaneous red suggestions in this report, since not all wine can be white.

David follows up next week with an equally exciting range from New Zealand and the customary spring rosé collection.

Buyers’ Guide to Germany

Markus Molitor 2013 Haus Klosterberg Riesling, Mosel Valley, Germany ($20.95)

John Szabo – Triple alignment on this terrific riesling from Molitor, unsurprisingly, one of the Mosel’s leading producers. It’s at the drier end of the spectrum, and reverberates on and on with terrific energy and vibrancy. Best 2015-2023.
David Lawrason  – Young riesling is aromatically challenging off the top. Then add in Molitor’s aromatically reserved style. The result is a slow starter on the nose. But this is a very compact, well balanced and in the end riveting riesling, that just shouts Mosel in its own stern way.
Sara d’Amato – A serious riesling of tremendous value. The rather heavy stony soils of Klosterberg with high iron content produce mineral-driven and earthy wines with delicate fruit and great syle.

Konrad Salwey in the Kaiserstuhl-9903

Konrad Salwey in the Kaiserstuhl

Salwey 2013 Pinot Gris, Baden, Germany ($21.95)

John Szabo – Like David, I spent an afternoon with young Konrad Salwey last month and believe him to be making some of the Kaiserstuhl’s, and all of Baden’s, best wines. This pinot gris represents the (excellent) entry level, focused on refinement thanks in part to a change in philosophy as of 2011. “I was caught in the German quality system. Very often we left the grapes out too long. We could have gotten much more elegance if we had harvested earlier. This is the result of the shift. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – In 2014 I spent a fascinating afternoon tasting is the cellars of the inquiring, intense Konrad Salwey. It started as a gentle fencing match as we felt each other out, but after a couple of pinot gris (before the pinot noirs) I knew I was in the company of a winemaker extraordinaire, and by the end of the day he was opening some great aged pinot noirs. This is lower tier in his range but very nicely done.

Sander 2013 Pinot Blanc Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany ($15.95)

John Szabo – Pinot blanc (aka weissburgunder), may get little airtime, but it was the variety that most captivated me by its unexpected beauty while in southern Germany. This is a fine example of its delicate floral aromatics and neither austere nor overly soft texture. It would make a superb sipping wine for spring and early summer dining al fresco.
David Lawrason – I have been quietly intrigued by pinot blanc (weissburgunder) since first visiting Germany’s Baden years ago.  The interest re-kindled at a tasting of German pinot varieties in Mainz in 2014. The biodynamically produced Sander encapsulates everything I love about this grape, about which I plan to write more soon enough. Don’t miss this bargain opportunity to get to know it for yourself.

Ruppertsberger 2014 Linsenbusch Gewürztraminer Spätlese Prädikatswein, Pfalz Germany ($17.95)

John Szabo – A medium-dry version that delivers all of the perfumed richness and flavour intensity one would hope for from the grape and the price category. This is tailor-made for afternoon sipping, or with richer pâtés, foie gras, spicy Asian-inspired fare or softer cheeses.

Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling 2013 Salwey Pinot Gris 2013 Sander Pinot Blanc Trocken 2013 Ruppertsberger Linsenbusch Gewürztraminer Spätlese 2014 Klumpp Riesling 2013 C.H. Berres Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2012

Klumpp 2013 Riesling Qualitätswein, Baden, Germany ($19.95)

John Szabo – Klumpp is a rapidly emerging star from southern Germany that I’m happy to see in Ontario after tasting some superb wines in Deutschland. This vineyard blend offers both fleshy orchard and ripe citrus fruit along with the merest hint of sweetness. Fine value in a well measured style. Best 2015-2023.

C.H. Berres 2012 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany ($24.95)

David Lawrason – This shows surprising ripeness for a kabinett (almost spätlese level), with classic peach, honey and stony aromas and flavours. Really quite delicious. Markus Berres is only the 21st generation to run this family winery in Mosel, and he has gone to screwcap. Good move.
Sara d’Amato – Consistently a top scoring wine, this Kabinett once again proves generous, rich and zesty with a great deal of character. So pleasurable now but hold onto it for another 5-6 years to experience the lovely honeyed, nutty and petrol flavours that come with evolution.

Buyers’ Guide to Miscellaneous Smart Red Wine Buys 

Marqués De Cáceres 2005 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($29.95)

John Szabo – While tasting wines like this I’m constantly reminded of the value that Spain offers, and it’s so very kind of them to cover the expense of storing wine for many years on top of it all for us. The reliable Marqués de Cáceres offers us a ready to drink gran reserva of tremendous complexity and superb balance, not to mention length, for a modest sum. Best 2015-2025.

D’angelo 2010 Aglianico Del Vulture, Basilicata, Italy ($17.95)

John Szabo – Tired of tutti frutti wines? This is for you. I love the absolutely fruitless, savoury, pot pourri-scented character of this wine, crafted in the very old school one from of Italy’s most swarthy red grapes and traditional producers on the slopes of the extinct Vulture volcano. It’s like wet, hot gravel and rusted iron. Sounds delicious, no? Best 2015-2020.

Terra Noble 2011 Gran Reserva Carmenère, Maule Valley, Chile ($18.95)

John Szabo – A tidy little value offering a wallop of sweet herbs and black fruit, and excellent depth and concentration for the money. Best 2015-2019.

Marqués De Cáceres Gran Reserva 2005 D'Angelo Aglianico Del Vulture 2010 Terranoble Gran Reserva Carmenère 2011 Château Tour Saint Vincent 2010

Château Tour Saint-Vincent 2010 Médoc, Bordeaux  ($23.95)

David Lawrason – The 2010 vintage continues to impress, a vintage where lower priced, unsung chateau rise up with structure and depth beyond their station in life. This is an 11-hectare cru bourgeois estate with thirty year old vines – 60% cabernet sauvignon and 40% merlot. It has power, depth and tension. Try one now and cellar a few.

G.D. Vajra 2011 Barbera d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy ($21.95)

David Lawrason – This is one of my personal favourites on this release, from a smallish, very enthused and engaged family winery. Barbera is never easy, but this fine somewhat juicy example builds in just the right fruit depth and complexity.

Somontes 2009 Reserva, Dão, Portugal ($18.95)

David Lawrason – Once or twice a year in comes a really fine Dao.  Long time readers might recognize my enthusiasm for this hilly, mineral rich region in the heartland of Portugal. This is one I would not hesitate to buy if you like nervy, wild berry-scented yet delicious reds.

G.D. Vajra Barbera d'Alba 2011 Somontes Reserva 2009 Cathedral Cellar Triptych 2012 Lanciola Le Masse Di Greve Chianti Classico 2010

Cathedral Cellar 2012 Triptych, Western Cape, South Africa ($16.95)

Sara d’Amato – High quality parcels of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot and tannat are blended to form Cathedral Cellars excellent value Triptych. Revealing, honest and ready-to-drink with compelling notes of smoke, pepper and plump, plummy fruit.

Lanciola 2010 Le Masse Di Greve Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($23.95)

Sara d’Amato – Almost entirely sangiovese, this traditional Chianti Classico is made up from Lanciola’s premium vineyard sites in Greve. A discreet and elegant wine but with a great deal of charm. Drinking optimally right now.

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

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES May 2nd, 2015:

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

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


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