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VQA Wines to be sold at Farmer’s Markets

A small step towards loosening the tight regulatory environment…

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Ontario Government announced this week that it will begin to allow sales of VQA Ontario wines at farmers’ markets across the province. Kathleen Wynne, Ontario Premier and Minister of Agriculture and Food, has been the impetus behind the move. “I’m committed to supporting this innovative industry and I encourage consumers to choose Ontario wines first. They’re local, they’re good for our economy, and they support good jobs”, says Wynne.

While the details of when and exactly how wine sales will be integrated into markets have yet to be determined, “anything that expands distribution is good” says Wine Council of Ontario president Hilary Dawson in a phone interview. “We don’t know the details yet”, said Dawson, “but this is happening. The Wine Council has received an official letter from the government to attend a meeting in January with responsibility stakeholders like the Attorney General’s Office and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario”.

Essentially, what is being proposed is an add-on endorsement to an existing winery license. Wineries are permitted to sell their wines from their own premises, and in some cases from satellite outlets. The endorsement would simply expand a winery’s retail channels to include farmers’ markets. Any concerns that this move may lead to illegal trading are thus largely unfounded. As Dawson points out, “I think most wineries will be diligent in following the rules since their full winery license is at stake.”

Most local wineries have welcomed the news. “We’re farmers after all”, says winemaker Norman Hardie. “Having local wines sold alongside local foods will only serve to reinforce the connection to our land. Besides, it makes perfect economic sense. The sale of local wines puts many times more money back into the local economy relative to the sale of imports”.

Michele Bosc, Director of Marketing for Château des Charmes agrees: “Any opportunity to have our wines more readily available to consumers is a good thing. We are especially keen on linking local food to local wine and farmers’ markets are an ideal setting to do so. The local food movement has become mainstream so now we have to work to have VQA wines also to be mainstream in the minds of Ontario consumers.”

Doug Whitty, owner of both a private farm market and 13th Street winery, has some experience in the matter and has likewise greeted the news positively. “At our own winery and farm market, we experience many more customers, especially young people, who seek to make this connection as they include Ontario VQA wines and local food as part of a lifestyle that is fun, healthy, educational and promotes sustainability”, says Whitty.

Other local wineries are more skeptical, however. “In my humble opinion this is a bone being thrown to small wineries who are having difficulty getting shelf space in the LCBO/Vintages stores and to appease the LCBO privatization lobby”, writes Harald Thiel, owner of Hidden Bench, via email.

Thiel would like to see a more significant change to the VQA retailing landscape, suggesting instead to reserve shelf space in the LCBO for “100% Ontario wines”, and restricting the sales of all non-VQA Cellared in Canada wines (or “CICs”, wines made from a blend of local and imported wines), “to only the dedicated channels of those wineries that benefit from that license [to produce import blends]”, a reference to winery-owned stores such as The Wine Rack, owned by Constellation Brands. “That was the original plan under the 1993 free trade agreement. 2003 was to be last year when both channels were to be available to CIC wineries”, reminds Thiel.

Even those who support the Wynne government’s announcement question the viability of selling their wines at farmers’ markets. “It’s hard to say if this is a good opportunity or not as there is so much regulatory work that needs to be worked out by the government. And we are such a highly regulated industry it is never a straight line,” says Paul Speck, President of Henry of Pelham Winery.

Doug Whitty agrees that it will be logistically challenging and echoes Thiel’s concerns: “there are significant costs to selling at farmers markets and these costs, coupled with limited days and hours available for retail operations within them, may limit participation. This announcement is welcome but it certainly does not address the continuing need for increased retail market access for Ontario VQA producers in the province.”

Among the many questions to be answered include which farmers’ markets will be eligible. “Obviously the government wants to avoid someone throwing up a fruit stand at the end of their driveway in order to sell wine”, Dawson tells me. There’s also the question of how space will be allocated at highly coveted markets like St. Lawrence, the Brickworks, or St Jacobs, which are already at capacity in any case.

Another hurdle is the fact that most markets open long before alcohol can legally be sold or sampled in Ontario. Will wine sales be prohibited until after 10am, and sampling until after 11am?

And even if sampling is permitted, Thiel for one doubts that farmers’ markets provide any real opportunity for premium wines, considering the sampling costs in relation to projected sales. There’s also a high risk of “depremiumization” of a brand. Most winery principals agree that offering samples of premium Ontario wine in plastic or other disposable cup on a hot, busy summer outdoor market day, for example, is far from ideal. And serving in proper glassware brings a new range of logistical challenges such as transporting, storing, and washing the glasses. “Can you imagine premium brands like Roumier, Pierre Yves Colin, Ponzi or Anthill selling at a farmers markets?” questions Thiel.

Additional considerations include whether a winery stall will be required to have hard walls, or other restrictions on the physical space imposed in order to control access to alcohol, whether wineries will be permitted to group together save on costs or gain access to markets, how wine will be shipped and warehoused, and whether a winery principal will be required to be on hand to sell (as opposed to a winery representative or hired worker), as some markets demand from their food farmers.

But, “let’s not make this too complicated,” urges Dawson. “Too many conditions will limit participation”.

Although this is viewed as a minor victory for VQA Ontario wine, it can be also viewed as a small step towards loosening the tight regulatory environment surrounding the sale of alcohol in the province. As Dawson points out: “if the government can feel comfortable doing this, than other changes are possible”.

Stay tuned for more details on this story in January 2014.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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My Dinner with Jancis, by Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

So if one the world’s most respected wine writers invites you for dinner, what do you bring? That’s the situation in which I found myself recently when I was invited to spend the evening with Jancis Robinson at her summer home in the south of France.

Seeing as I’d been living and tele-working in Germany prior to my vacation in France and dinner with Jancis, and knowing that she, like many in the wine trade, is an ardent Riesling lover, I took along a bottle of Bopparder Hamm Ohlenberg Edition MM Riesling Trocken from Matthius Muller, one of the MittleRhein bright lights and one of my favorites from this lesser known region in Germany. Jancis seemed to like the wine well enough since she rated it 16.5 on her site.

For those who’ve been living under a rock for the last several decades, Jancis Robinson is a Master of Wine, one of the world’s most well-known and prolific wine critics, as well as the Eminence Grise of wine writing. She has been been responsible for many of the go-to wine reference books for students of wine such as the Oxford Companion to Wine, the World Atlas of Wine (7th edition available in October), the massive tome Wine Grapes, which she co-authored with Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz, American Wine (co-authored with Linda Murphy) and many others throughout the past several decades.

Jancis is also the publisher and principal writer for, her long running website which she updates  immoderately and provides complete access to the online version of the Oxford Companion to paid subscribers.

I first met Jancis in 2006 when I, along with Toronto sommelier Zoltan Szabo, organized a tasting of Canadian wines during her book tour stop in Toronto. We’ve kept in touch since, with a subsequent shipment of Canadian wines sent over earlier this year for the 7th edition of the World Atlas of Wine, for which I was also asked to serve as the independent consultant for the Canadian section.

Jancis, Max and JR shorts July 2013

Jancis, Max and the shorts!

By chance, I happened to be on holiday in the Languedoc during Jancis’ annual visit to her summer home and was pleased to accept her invite to dinner. While the weather had been hot and sunny for my entire vacation, my son Max and I were caught in one of the region’s well-known torrential summer rainstorms during our drive over for dinner. Luckily the rain let up shortly after we arrived so that Max was able to enjoy a swim before our lovely al fresco dinner with Jancis and her spouse Nick Lander, author, Manchester United fan and restaurant critic for the Financial Times.

While Max swam, and subsequently jumped in the pool with his regular shorts (and ended up wearing and “borrowing” an old pair of Jancis’ jogging shorts, which I jokingly said I’d sell on Ebay), Jancis and I sat down over a glass of Clos Perdus, a local white from Muscat and Grenache Blanche, for a chat on wine criticism, the global wine industry and her desert island wine.

Janet Dorozynski: You’ve been involved in writing about wine for several decades, what are the major changes you have witnessed in terms of wine criticism?

Jancis Robinson: There is now much more reviewing of individual wines which is a relatively new thing. I remember when I was just starting out, in my first journalist post as the wine correspondent for the Sunday Times in about 1980, doing a blind tasting of various Riojas and feeling I was really breaking new ground because people back then weren’t generally comparing like with like, rather what you would see would be an article about how La Rioja Alta is a jolly good company, here’s why and these are their best wines.  So I would say that comparison of wine is a relatively new thing.

Another change is that there are far more wine lovers around the world and there have been periods where they are fighting for allocations and want instant advice and opinions on primeur releases, which is ridiculous because they are half formed liquids.

I suppose that actual criticism itself has evolved, which is a good thing, as opposed to just saying that everything is marvelous. There is also much, much more technical stuff information in the public domain now than there used to be. When I started in 1975, a lot of people didn’t know grape variety names, but would have known Chablis, Puligny and things like that, but not Chardonnay. It’s been so long that I’ve been doing this, 38 years, so it’s quite difficult to sum up the many changes that have taken place. Of  course there is the whole change in media, which used to be just the written and published word, whereas  now  you’re expected to be tweeting from a wine tasting, as soon as you’ve spat out a mouthful.

JD: When you started writing and critiquing wine, did you use scores?

JR: Yes, you’re right, scoring is also a new thing. What did I do when I first started writing? When I first start writing I was definitively evaluating wines next to one another, so I must have had some system but it‘s so long ago that I can’t even remember the exact methodology.

JD: There was some heated debate recently about wine criticism or tasting as “junk science”, or the futility of wine critics. Your thoughts?

JR: The original piece and article about the man who researched the accuracy and reliability of judges at American state or local wine shows was actually quite good and looked at a very specific situation, though it certainly wasn’t a recent article. However, the media somehow resuscitated the article and leaped on the chance to say that all wine writers are fakes, as they love to do whenever they can. In my mind however, it didn’t seem that anyone has really proven that respected wine figures were pulling the wool over the eyes of the public.

JD: What’s the most important asset or credential for those wanting to become a wine writer or critic, since everyone wants to do that now?

JR: (Chuckles) Honesty and independence. Try not to listen to what everyone else is saying and take notice of what your palate is saying instead. Be true to your own taste and partialities. Be honest and if you come across a wine that isn’t to your taste, but you can see is well made, express that and try to describe the style of it, so that people who do like that style will be directed towards it. I think personally you also need to entertain a bit, as it’s very boring to simply have a whole load of tasting notes. So I suppose ideally, the most important assets are to be literate, entertaining, dependable and independent.

JD: What role and importance do you see wine bloggers playing in wine criticism and reviewing?

JR: Well, they’re a very heterogeneous group and very, very varied. Some are great and some aren’t so great. I think there was a time when established wine voices, some at least, were rather cross that bloggers were read at all and felt rather negatively and antagonistically towards bloggers. But you can’t actually say that bloggers are one group, as there are some great new voices who’ve come to be heard because of the new media.

I think the healthy thing about, not just bloggers but the whole social media phenomenon, is that we’re no longer sitting on our top of our mountains, throwing bits of knowledge to the grateful public at our feet, but that we too are criticized and up for grabs. We’re all fair game now and only as good as our last articles and this keeps us on our toes. Overall, I think the new media and bloggers is pretty healthy and has democratized wine criticism.

JD: Is there a difference between American/North American and European wine criticism and tastes, and if so, why? Are we witnessing the globalization of wine criticism and opinions on wine?

Jancis in Marseillete

Jancis in Marseillete

JR: I’d say the difference is actually less in terms of how we write, although there are perhaps a few little differences. I would say, and I’m saying this as someone who has just finished updating the World Atlas of Wine, 7th edition and getting feedback from all around the world of wine, that in every single other part of the world, other than North America, and particularly the United States, everyone is saying that we’re moving back at great speed from great big alcoholic obvious wines to wines that are much more subtle, to wines that express vineyard rather than cellar. There is a certain segment of American wine lovers who don’t share that sentiment and who still love the really big wines. Even in Argentina, which because of  its natural characteristics, say Mendoza anyway, has tended to make pretty big, full on wines, has witnessed a perceptible movement towards making slightly more elegant Malbecs.

But with a few exceptions, I’m still not really seeing that in California, certainly not in northern California. Yes, you have the Kathy Corisons and a few others, but not really the majority of producers, and the mass market or majority of wine buyers, still seem to be happy with power rather than finesse in wines. Perhaps it’s because the US is such a big market, that it has the mass to stick its heels in and say that they are resisting a trend that is obvious everywhere else, which I find quite interesting to see. Even in Europe, and certainly in Britain, there is sentiment against the big, powerful wines, as there has been in Australia, where we’re witnessing a complete U-turn in terms of  big wines.

JD: Twitter or Facebook? And why?

JR: I suppose I feel that have time for only one and I understand Twitter a lot better. In my television career, I’ve always loved writing scripts and the puzzle of having 13 seconds for an intro and on the 7th second you have to mention the guys name as he’s coming into the shot. So Twitter suits me very well with its 140 characters and trying to get a literate sentiment into that.

I started on Twitter thinking it was a nice complement to the website and to use it for the various bits of information or opinion, which were too slight to make an article but worked rather well on Twitter. My children think that Facebook is their territory and tell me not to go on it (laughs) though I do have a small presence but don’t do it myself or have time to keep up with it.  I think that if you’ve got a product, or if my business was selling a wine, I’d probably work quite hard at Facebook.

JD: What are the major issues facing the wine industry today?

JR: There are two issues that face all of us and are inter-related, climate change and sustainability. Just as a small example, it does seem crazy to me the proportion of wine sold in glass and transported long distances in glass, and I think surely that’s got to change. Technology is developing and getting better all the time so that pouches are better and don’t taint the wine. And anyway, so much wine is drunk young and not intended for aging. I think that the means and way wine in which wine is transported is a major change that needs to happen and I understand why so much wine is now transported in bulk, especially since the technology has improved enormously.  In terms of climate change, just keeping pace with the weird weather events is a major, major challenge, which with I’m sure most growers would agree.

JD: If you could give one piece of advice to those making and marketing wine in the competitive global wine market, what would it be?

JR: Try and have a story to make yourself stand out and also never forget that labels are your chief means of communication with consumers. It just amazes me how many uncommunicative and uninformative labels are out there, both front and even back labels. The front label can be your statement, but for heaven’s sake, let the consumer know and make clear what your wine is. You’ve got to put yourself in the shoes of the consumer and realize they’re trying to work out why they should buy your bottle rather than thousands of other ones. Also, the back label is where you can really tell people about what’s in the bottle so don’t just say the same old stuff,  like drink this white with fish. You’ve got to tell them a story, tell them what’s in the wine and tell them why your wine is different from other wines. One tiny but obvious thing, which not everyone does, is that if you’ve spent money on a website, make sure that you have the website address on the label!

JD: You taste a lot of wine. Which countries or regions hold promise right now?

JR: I certainly think that some of the best value is in the Languedoc, because it’s full of hand-crafted wines with real personality, for both whites and reds. Unfortunately everyone puts most of their efforts into making the wine, rather than selling it, which is true for so many regions. Similarly in Portugal, there are some great, great wines, full of personality with really interesting grape varieties.

The fact is that with every vintage in every wine region I can think of, quality goes up. You can only stay in the game if quality goes up, which is great for us consumers and rather scary for producers.

For completely new regions, I’ve had some quite nice wine from Mexico suddenly and Cyprus is also suddenly making some decent wine, which hasn’t been the case for ages. Oh and Croatia is also making some interesting wines to keep an eye out for.

JD: If I recall the very first tasting you ever attended was at Canada House in 1976. Canadian wines have changed a great deal since then and you’ve had the opportunity to taste a fair bit of Canadian wine over the past year. What grapes/regions/styles stood out for you?

JR: I tasted nearly 50 wines at Canada House in May, though unfortunately due to time constraints, edited out the fizz and Icewines. For the others, the wines were very mixed actually and it was obvious that this tasting was much stronger for Ontario relatively speaking, than for BC, as the BC wines seemed stuck on at the end and because there weren’t as many.

I found some really nice Pinot Noir, some really nice Chardonnay and the odd very nice Bordeaux blend as well as some very good Riesling. In the end, it seemed to come down to producer and who was most skilled, so I’d say that generalization is difficult for the moment, or probably too early. I did also find some of the wines, particularly the Chardonnays and Bordeaux blends, to be a little like something you had tasted from elsewhere two years earlier, that is to say still obviously too oaky and leesy, though that’s certainly not the case with all of the wines that I tasted at Canada House.

JD: Desert Island Wine?

JR: My desert island wine, which I’ve been asked about many times, is Madeira, because you don’t know for sure if your island is hot or cold and here are three great things about Madeira. One is that an open bottle lasts forever, so if you’ve only got one bottle you can eek it out over a nice long time. Also, if it’s really hot, Madeira has that lovely acidity, so it’s very refreshing. But if your island is cold, Madeira also has that warming alcohol and richness so it will warm you up. Madeira is a wonderfully versatile desert island wine and such a great wine that is dramatically under-appreciated.

- – – – 

With visions of desert islands and madeira still echoing, we adjourned into the garden for a lovely dinner of stuffed peppers, cod and “patates” by Chef Nick, accompanied by a delicious bottle of San Leonardo 2000 (Bordeaux blend from Trentino) and discussions on less weighty topics such as wine world personalities and Premier League soccer. All in all a most fulfilling mid-summer evening.

Janet Dorozynski
Principal critic and Partner, WineAlign

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John Szabo shares some Research from Italy

Latest Research Promises Lower Alcohol Wines and Elimination of Sulphites

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The Sicilian Regional Institute of Oil and Wine (IRVOS) released the results of recent experiments to a group of professionals at the 9th Vino Vip conference, held from July the 13 -15, 2013 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, northern Italy. In response to increasing market demands for softer, lower alcohol wines, the Institute has identified and isolated a native strain of yeast, Candida zemplinina, that has been shown to yield wines that are lower in alcohol, with higher glycerol, than control samples. IRVOS also revealed protocols for the production of wines without added sulphites to address the growing percentage of the population that is sensitive or allergic to the natural preservative.

New Yeast Strain Produces Less Alcohol, Softer Texture in Wines

It’s widely agreed that global warming and the expansion of vineyards into warm regions, in addition to more efficient viticulture and the widespread cultural preference for ripe flavours in wine has led to an overall increase of average alcohol levels worldwide. Yet at the same time, growing consumer backlash against high alcohol wines has left many producers wondering how to manage their vineyards and winemaking techniques to satisfy world markets.

IRVOS panel

IRVOS panel

Daniele Oliva, head of the technical and scientific department of IRVOS began a research project with the 2005 and 2006 harvests in Sicily with the aim of identifying consistent and controllable ways to increase wine complexity using multiple strains of yeast for alcoholic fermentation, as happens during wild or indigenous fermentations, but without the associated risks of such uncontrolled fermentations. Research has shown that mixed yeast fermentations can produce more complex wines than those conducted by a single strain of inoculated yeast.

Oliva and his team set about studying the biodiversity of native Sicilian yeast populations, focusing in particular on non-Saccharomyces strains (the dominant yeast in most fermentations). Among the species identified, Candida zemplinina was one of the most abundant. IRVOS’s consulting enologist, Graziana Grassini, then conducted micro-vinifications of musts inoculated with zemplinina to assess the technological and quality characters of the strain. The researchers discovered that the Candida strain produces wine with half a percent lower alcohol and 50% more glycerol on average than the control samples fermented with Saccharomyces cerevisiae alone.

Glycerol contributes to the body and mouthfeel of wine, with increased levels associated with a fuller body and softer texture overall.

It was also determined that the inoculation of Candida zemplinina produced a fermentation in two stages; zemplinina alone couldn’t finish the fermentations, and that mixed Candida-Saccharomyces fermentations were necessary to produce fully dry wines.

Tasting experimental wines

Tasting experimental wines

From tastings conducted at Vino Vip comparing two pairs of the native Sicilian varieties frappato and nero d’Avola, one made using a mixed zemplinina-cerevisiae fermentation and the other from pure cerevisiae-inoculated must, I observed a significant difference between the frappato samples, and somewhat less pronounced differences in the nero d’Avola pair. In both cases, the zemplinina samples showed less pronounced fruit aroma/flavour, and more spice, earth character. The texture of the zemplinina frappato was markedly softer and rounder, with slightly less alcoholic warmth. The differences on the palate of the nero d’Avola samples were less obvious, findings that are consistent with the results of earlier triangle taste tests conducted by IRVOS, leading to the conclusion that the taste effects could be variety dependent. The measurable differences of alcohol and glycerol, outside of organoleptic differences, appear so far to be consistent.

Similar results have been obtained using genetically modified yeasts, but since GMOs are not permitted in the European Union, Oliva is excited to have identified a naturally occurring species with these characteristics. He cautions that it is still early days, however: “Here we are really at a completely experimental stage, because this yeast has never been produced. We are talking about experimental wines, a kind of prototype”.

Oliva knows of only two other institutes currently researching Candida zemplinina. He predicts that the yeast will be ready for sale to winemakers within three years. The commercial implications are huge; I would expect demand for non-GMO yeasts capable of producing less alcoholic, softer wines with good complexity to be extremely high. “Some Sicilian wineries are already interested in producing them, as long as the production costs are on par with those for wines made with Saccharomyces yeasts”, says Oliva. An un-named large-scale producer will begin experimenting with this yeast this year.

Protocols for Producing Suphur-Free Wines

Virtually all consumable products contain sulphites as a preservative, and wine is no exception. Sulphur is added to wine in varying amounts to protect it from oxidation and unwanted microbial activity. Even wines to which no sulphur has been added usually contain sulphites, which are naturally produced during alcoholic fermentation. Although the amount used in wine is generally below threshold, a growing number of people appear to be allergic to sulphites. Zero added sulphur wines are not new; many small producers around the world who adhere to the “natural” wine movement eschew the use of sulphur, while other large companies such as Boutari in Greece have conducted small experiments on single lots of wine made without any added SO2.

Graziana Grassini

Graziana Grassini, consulting enologist

But the Sicilian Regional Institute of Wine and Oil (IRVOS) decided to experiment with and design winemaking protocols for the production of added sulphur-free wines on a large commercial scale, and more importantly, to share those protocols with winemakers in Sicily with the aim of improving the quality and image of the large island’s wines. IRVOS is the first research institute to my knowledge that has undertaken such a project for the benefit of many rather than a single commercial enterprise.

The experiments were carried out during the 2012 harvest by consulting enologist Graziana Grassini under the guidance of Daniele Oliva. Organically grown grillo and nero d’Avola were fermented at IRVOS’s Winery in Marsala in duplicate batches to compare conventional methods using sulphur to those employing no sulphur.

Subsequent sensory analysis by 30 trained tasters was repeated several times comparing samples using duo-trio tests (two wines with added sulphites and one without) and preference tests. “During the first sensory analysis some slight differences were found, but not a preference for one or the other. From recent tastings we are convinced that these differences are decreasing”, explains Oliva. Grassini adds that “In any case, we can claim that with the use of our vinification procedure, without the use of sulphites, it has been possible to obtain wines that are just as enjoyable as those made with sulphites”.

The full details of the sulphur-free protocols have not yet been released, but according to Grassini, there are a few basic points:

1)      Grapes must be hand harvested

2)      The winery must be scrupulously clean; a quasi sterile environment is needed

3)      Grapes/grape must/wine must be protected at all times from oxidation from vineyard to bottling through the use of inert gases: argon, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Argon and CO2 are heavy gases, heavier than air, nitrogen is lighter but useful in some cases.

It’s acknowledged that red wines are easier to make without added sulphur than white wines thanks to their generally higher level of tannins, which are natural anti-oxidants.

At Vino Vip, a pair of whites made from grillo and reds from nero d’Avola were compared, one of each made without any added sulphites. In both cases I preferred the zero sulphur sample, although the white grillo evolved much more quickly in the glass and lost aromatic quality over time. The differences between red samples were less obvious, and the unsulphured red held up well in the glass.

An analogy came to mind, perhaps a little extreme, but the aromatic differences observed were like the difference in the scent of essential oils versus synthesized aromas. While synthesized aromas can be quite pretty (most perfumes and eau-de-toilet are made from manufactured aromatic compounds), there’s a purity to essential oils that can’t easily be reproduced. The unsulphured wines had a higher degree of purity, like the fruit itself rather than something that reminds you of the fruit.

The results were by no means unanimous, however. Most tasters at the conference, which included winemakers as well as importers, distributors and journalists, preferred the conventionally-made grillo, while there was more of an even split of preference for the red samples. It was acknowledged during the discussion after the tasting that both consumer and trade education is needed when approaching sulphite-free wines. It will take some learning and exposure, especially for the trade used to squeaky-clean wines, to introduce sulphur-free wines into their lexicon. Tolerance for low degrees of oxidation would have to increase.

A potential side benefit of introducing such protocols is that it might lead to better winemaking overall, given the extra attention to detail needed to succeed in making sulphur-free wines, starting in the vineyard and finishing with bottling.

But there are several other issues to consider. For one, consumers can expect to pay a premium for sulphur-free wines, as there are additional production costs involved: the use of relatively expensive materials like dry ice and inert gases like argon, the gas of choice, which costs 30% more than more commonly used nitrogen, for example, not to mention the higher labour costs that come with more attentive vineyard management, hand harvesting, and cellar micro-management to name but a few factors.

The question remains: will the value added by producing sulphite-free wines offset these extra costs? In other words, will consumers be willing to pay more? There is also the challenge of communicating the differences between un-sulphured and conventional wines without casting a negative shadow on the latter, which still represents the overwhelming majority of wines produced today.

And while I support the move towards low/no-sulphur wines, I also question the adaptability of the protocols for large-scale production: the larger the volume, the bigger the risks. Will large producers be willing to take such risks? I think it’s unlikely, unless consumer demand really grows exponentially. Also, many existing wineries, particularly old, traditional cellars constructed from materials difficult to keep scrupulously hygienic like wood, and cellars carved from natural rock may not be able create a suitably safe environment for the production of sulphur-free wines. And are corks a suitable closure for such wines? Or would the relatively greater security afforded by screwcaps or glass stoppers be preferable? And would wineries willing to make the switch?

Most agree that sulphur-free wines age more rapidly and thus have a shorter shelf life than sulphured wines, another point that needs to be delicately communicated to consumers. And importantly, there are potential issues with transportation, considering that sulphur-free wines are less stable and more susceptible to spoilage from temperature variation.

Considering these and other issues, one has to wonder if sulphur-free wines won’t remain the domain of small artisanal producers selling most of their production from the cellar door. I, for one, hope they do gain wider acceptance and distribution, as I do love the pure scent of essential oils.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

About Vino Vip

Vino Vip is a biennial conference that takes place in Cortina d’Ampezzo, northern Italy, and is organized by the Italian wine Publication Civiltà del Bere under the direction of Alessandro Torcoli. The event gathers a selection of Italy’s top producers, industry stakeholders and journalist to discuss important issues in the world of wine and examine future trends, in addition to comprehensive tastings of top Italian wines. 


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Languedoc: Long on history, long on value

Rod Phillips

Rod Phillips

Languedoc is a broad region of southwestern France that runs back from the Mediterranean coast to the foothills of the Massif Central. It was here that vines for wine were first planted in France, more than 2,000 years ago, and over time Languedoc became one of France’s most important wine-producing regions. After the railroad linked the south of France to Paris in the mid-nineteenth century, wine from Languedoc fuelled the workers of France’s northern industrial cities. Wine from Languedoc accounted for most of the tens of millions of hectolitres of wine the French government provided as soldiers’ rations in the First World War.

For much of its wine history, Languedoc has been about volume. But now, as inexpensive, value-driven wine can be sourced from many parts of the world, Languedoc is re-imagining and re-inventing itself at all levels.

The region encompasses many well-known Appellations Contrôlées (sometimes now shown as Appellations Protégées), such as Minervois, Limoux, Corbières and Saint-Chinian, all of which have established themselves as regions producing many quality wines. The other major classification comprises wines that are produced in the broader Languedoc region, and now called IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) Pays d’Oc. (Pays d’Oc refers to the ancient region of Oc, with its Occitan language.)

The administrators of IGP Pays d’Oc are striving to ensure that wines bearing the name represent quality and value. It’s an immense challenge, as the organization represents 2,000 independent producers and 300 cooperatives that cultivate more than 90,000 hectares of vines. The equivalent of more than 700 million bottles of IGP Pays d’Oc wines is produced each year, and Languedoc ranks as the fifth largest wine exporter in the world.

Vineyards outside the walls of Carcassonne

Vineyards outside the walls of Carcassonne

The popular image of Languedoc is conditioned by its proximity to the Mediterranean. It seems like a warm, sun-soaked region where the wines are likely to be full-flavoured and rich. True enough, to a point, but Languedoc’s growing regions are a lot more varied than often thought. Some sub-regions are as much or more influenced by the cool Atlantic as by the Mediterranean, and others by the winds that sweep down from the Pyrenees. Throughout Languedoc, many vineyards are located in meso-climates, some at high altitudes. We’re not talking the thousands of metres of the foothills of the Andes here, but in Languedoc, significant variations in growing conditions can be measured in hundreds of metres above sea level.

Keeping track of quality falls to the technicians and staff at the IGP’s headquarters at Lattes, near Montpellier, where thousands of wine samples are analyzed and tasted each year. They are collected from producers, then tested and tasted blind in a state-of-the-art laboratory and sensory evaluation facility.

Four or five producers provide an idea of the range of properties and wines that IGP Pays d’Oc represents. First there’s Anne de Joyeuse, a cooperative in Limoux that was established in 1929 and currently has 600 grower-members. Among the wines are some new products that are low in alcohol and calories, responding to some current concerns about wine, but most of the wines are conventional. Among the most impressive are the reds (Anne de Joyeuse produces more red than white), notably pinot noir, syrah, merlot and cinsault.

They’re marketed under a number of brands, representing different quality tiers, but most are very good value. For example, Camas Pinot Noir 2011, made in stainless steel, is a no-nonsense, easy-drinking pinot that’s readily identifiable as a pinot. But Gargantuavis Pinot Noir from the same vintage (and named for a prehistoric creature whose bones were discovered near the vineyard) was aged in big oak barrels and delivers a lot more depth and complexity.

Tasting at Domaine Gayda

Tasting at Domaine Gayda

Domaine Gayda is a very different proposition. It was established from scratch in 2003 on the site of a farm that dates back to 1749. Compared to Anne de Joyeuse, which produces tens of millions of bottles of wine a year, Gayda turns out a mere 700,000, many under the Figure Libre brand, with its distinctive label that shows a flying man.

Gayda wines are impressive across the board. Highlights include Figure Libre Macabeo 2012, a white that’s plush and luscious, with a hint of viscosity in the texture, and Gayda Grenache 2011 (the only one exported to Ontario, and which will sell under the Figure Libre name in the LCBO). It’s a rich and dense red that’s focused and characterized by excellent fruit-acid balance.  A third stand-out is Chemin de Moscou 2010, a blend of syrah (63%), grenache and cinsault that’s plush, opulent and richly textured.

Domaine Paul Mas, another IGP Pays d’Oc producer, draws on grapes from its seven properties throughout Languedoc. It markets wines under a number of brands, including the entry-level Arrogant Frog. Others include Mas des Tannes, Mas des Mas, Domaine Martinolles and simply Paul Mas. Paul Mas Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2011 is in the LCBO, and Paul Mas has also supplied wine to Air Canada. There’s quality across the board here, from entry-level to top-tier. Domaine Martinolles Pinot Noir 2012 is a solid, savoury pinot in a style reminiscent of many from New Zealand. Paul Mas ‘Vigne de Nicole’ 2012, a blend of chardonnay and viognier, shows a fairly opulent texture, but is crisp and clean.

Paul Mas shows a modern face, with a new restaurant and facilties, but at Domaine Raissac there’s a stark contrast between an old, partly renovated winery that dates to 1830, and smart, classy wines. Domaine Raissac ‘Les Crès’ Viognier 2012 shows lovely sweet fruit and a crisp, lively texture. While Domain Raissac ‘Le Puech’ 2012 (a blend of chardonnay, muscat and viognier) delivers complexity and concentration, with subtlety and style. Château Raissac, where the owners live, is an elegant country home of the 18th and 19th centuries, so filled with ceramic and others art that you have to navigate the rooms and corridors with care. They offer comfortable and modern accommodation, which you can check at

Chateau de Raissac, 17th-century cellar

Chateau de Raissac, 17th-century cellar

A final face of IGP Pays d’Oc is Gérard Bertrand, a large producer with vineyards in many parts of Languedoc. Art de Vivre Cabernet Sauvignon is in the LCBO, while other Gérard Bertrand wines are released by Vintages from time to time. The winery has developed a range of wines under the ‘Natural’ brand, which is a bit problematic now that so-called “natural” wines have caught on among some producers and consumers. These wines have no added sulfites, and are far more conventional in flavour and texture (and are therefore much more drinkable) than many “natural” wines.

Gérard Bertrand’s Domaine de l’Aigle Pinot Noir 2012 is notable for its good acidity that lifts the bright but serious savoury flavours. Gérard Bertrand de l’Hospitalet Syrah-Cabernet-Merlot 2011 is big and plush, with dense fruit and gripping tannins.

The producers of IGP Pays d’Oc are as varied as Languedoc’s sub-regions themselves. Unlike many French appellations, this is a sprawling region that permits a wide range of grape varieties: wines here are made from 56 varieties as diverse as macabeo and merlot, pinot noir and portan, cabernet sauvignon and chenanson. The grapes and the styles make it a sort of miniature of France as a whole, an idea that other French regions might find offensive, but that should be attractive to consumers looking for quality, diversity and value.


Rod Phillips

For more reviews visit our Critics profile page: Rod Phillips

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Canadian Wines Rediscovered in London

The wines did Canada proud

Janet Dorozynski WineAlign Feature Critic and ReviewerOn May 16, over one hundred wines from several dozen Canadian wineries were on display in London at a trade and media tasting at Canada House, Canada’s High Commission on Trafalgar Square. The wines did Canada proud. The world, or at least some of the top palates of London, got to know more about what Canada is doing and most were enthusiastic and excited by the developments, progress and most importantly the quality of the wines we are making.

The guest list for the Rediscover Canadian Wine event included sommeliers from high profile London restaurants such as River Café, China Tang, The Cinnamon Club, Hakkasan and Manoir aux Quatre Saisons, buyers from The Wine Society, Marks and Spencer, Berry Brothers and Rudd, Harrods and Harvey Nichols, wine trade writers from business publications such as Drinks Business and Just Drinks, along with well-known wine writers such as Jancis Robinson, Steven Spurrier and Oz Clarke.

Canada House - photo by Janet Dorozynski

Canada House – photo by Janet Dorozynski

The last time Canadian wines were featured in London was in 2010, when a group of Ontario wineries came to show off their “Cool Chardonnay” to rave reviews. This time around the varietal focus was expanded to include Chardonnay and Riesling, reds such as Pinot Noir, Bordeaux varieties or blends, Syrah and Gamay Noir, as well as traditional method sparkling wine from across Canada. And yes there was a smattering of Icewine.

In other words, the main tasting which featured 18 wines from nine British Columbia wineries along with 71 wines from 28 Ontario wineries, sought to showcase the grape varieties and wine styles that many in the Canadian trade and media often put forward as what we do best in Canada. Apart from Icewine, Canada is little known abroad for any of our still or sparkling wines.

To put our best foot forward, wineries from across Canada were invited to participate and submit their wines for a blind screening by a panel of wine judges, who taste both Canadian and foreign wine extensively. The screening took place at, and was supported by, the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University.

The Canadian judges were asked to assess the wines and only put forward wines to which they would award a high silver or gold medal in a competition and which were suitable to pour for international trade and media. They were asked “is this wine representative of the best of what we do in Canada and will it make us proud?

The Event & Reaction

The day began with an export seminar for Canadian wineries by Gerard Basset MW MS and Jo Ahearne MW, about how to sell and price wine for the UK market, what our competitive advantage or unique selling proposition might be, as well as how to get inside the mind of the sommelier, who are often among the key influencers and gatekeepers in the competitive London wine market.

The calm before the storm - by Janet Dorozynski

The calm before the storm – by Janet Dorozynski

Gerard Basset commented that after his recent visit to Ontario and British Columbia this winter, he is certain that Canadian wines have “the quality and are different”. While Jo Ahearne told the group that because Canada is already known for Icewine and has a positive country image in the UK, many trade and media are curious to learn more about the other wines they hear we are producing.

Then came a sparkling wine master class for members of the wine trade that featured ten traditional method sparkling wines from across Canada and included well-known Canadian bubbly from Benjamin Bridge and L’Acadie Vineyards from Nova Scotia, Cave Spring Cellars, Henry of Pelham, 13th Street and  Hinterland from Ontario along with Blue Mountain, Tantalus, Sperling and Summerhill from British Columbia. The main tasting event included a sparkling wine table which included the above along with 10 other sparkling wines from across Canada.

As the main walk around tasting unfolded we began to hear reaction from the guests that continued after on Twitter.

Writer Oz Clarke was very enthusiastic. He felt that Canadian wines had shown a massive improvement from the last tasting three years ago and the fizz was a “revelation” with real stylistic differences between the regions. I overheard him say several times that the sparkling wines, in particular those from Nova Scotia, were very classy and nothing at like what he tasted when he was last in Canada years ago.

Clarke was also impressed with the Chardonnays and Rieslings from Ontario’s Prince Edward County and sang the praises of Ontario and British Columbia Syrah (in particular Church & State and Moon Curser from the Okanagan and Lailey and Stratus from Niagara), saying that “Canada could be the next truly cool climate Syrah sensation – if it believes in perfume and beauty, not over-oaking, over-extraction & over-alcohol”.

Master of Wine Patricia Stefanowicz remarked that the Cabernet Francs, from both BC and Ontario were surprising and very well done, and that not many countries in the world can make very good Cabernet Franc. She said it could be Canada’s competitive advantage for reds.

Head buyer for the Wine Society, Pierre Mansour, also stated that he had his “expectations exceeded” and that he “will definitely be doing something as long as price and allocations work out”.

Janet Dorozynski and UK wine writer Jancis Robinson

Janet Dorozynski and UK wine writer
Jancis Robinson

When asked for her impressions, writer Jancis Robinson said she was “impressed by both the turnout (especially of trade buyers) and by the overall quality of the wines, especially the Syrahs and some Chardonnays.

Steven Spurrier, who will be a keynote speaker at this summer’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (I4C) in Niagara in July, spent the good part of the day tasting what was on offer, and was also impressed.

I also repeatedly heard comments that Canada excels with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and that the best can and should be compared to some of the upper end cru burgundies and have nothing to do with the rest of the New World in general.

Finally, one of the participants commented that perhaps the name Rediscover Canadian Wine was a misnomer, since many in the UK wine trade and media have yet to even discover Canadian wines, let alone know much about any of the wines we make with the exception of Icewine.

Where it Goes From Here

The Rediscover Canadian Wine tasting was the culmination of many months of organization and collaboration by the Wine Council of Ontario, the Canadian High Commission in London, Westbury Communications –a London PR firm, and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada in Ottawa.

I, and many others there, was pleased with the way it all unfolded. The Canadian wine industry has shown that it is able to come together to fly the flag, and it let London know that our wine industry is maturing and our wines just keep getting better and better each year.

Most of the wineries who came to London to pour their wines also seemed satisfied with the turnout and caliber of the trade and media in attendance, with several having leads to follow up from interested buyers and importers.

Canadian Sparkling Masterclass - photo Magdalena Kaiser-Smit

Canadian Sparkling Masterclass – photo Magdalena Kaiser-Smit

Harald Thiel, owner of Hidden Bench Winery, Allison Slute, Export Director for Pillitteri Family Estate and Bill Milliken, International Director at Closson Chase Winery, all agreed that tastings of this type and magnitude are essential for the branding and promotion of Canadian wine and need to be carried out regularly in key markets like London, New York and Hong Kong.

Similarly, Jak Meyer, of Meyer Family Vineyards and the sole producer from British Columbia in attendance, echoed that it is important to be able to spend time to pour and sample his wines with key media, sommeliers and buyers, so as to be able to tell them the stories about his wines and winery, and so that the wine world knows what we are doing, as not everyone will be able to come to us.

However, events like this cannot be one-offs or happen in isolation from a long term game plan to promote and raise awareness about Canadian wines to trade, media and educators. Although the capacity of the Canadian wine industry is small in comparison to many other New World (and Old World producers), now more than ever, there appears to be a growing desire among producers and Canadians wine drinkers themselves to tell the wine world more about our wines and to enable them to try and buy them, even if they are not able to visit Canada. Rediscovering Canadian wine in London was just one small part of this longer term effort, with hopefully more to come.

For a complete list of the wines from British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia that were featured at the Rediscover Canadian Wines tasting, as well as further background on the London tasting and events, link to Wine Country Ontario’s backgrounder piece here.


Janet Dorozynski

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Janet’s Wine Reviews

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Mother’s Day: Give the gift of rest, appreciation – and wine, of course!

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Recently I became a mother for the third time with the birth of little Jasper a mere eight weeks ago. Despite the haze of newborn-dom I am back to tasting wine. The most valuable asset a mother has is the ability to multitask. In fact, while I write this I am also playing Lego and making blueberry pancakes. With renewed sympathy and appreciation for mothers everywhere, and especially my own, I would like to offer a few suggestions to all of you wracking your brains to come up with the perfect mother’s day solution. And although I realize that writing this piece may be somewhat (hopefully) self-serving (hint hint), I can assure you from ample personal experience that these suggestions will not go unappreciated.

The theme of these wine recommendations is relaxation, something that might come naturally to most people, but that many mothers learn to live without, at least as long as they have children under their roofs. What we mothers want from Mother’s Day is simple: rest and appreciation. No need for expensive gifts or elaborate surprises. And if your mom is anything like me, a nice round glass of aptly-chosen wine is the very symbol of relaxation. Whether you are planning a home-cooked brunch or allowing mom some free time at home alone, a bottle of wine will never be unwelcome.

Brunch Worthy:

Treating mom to a home cooked meal is a tried and true practice on Mother’s Day. But to go the extra mile and pair brunch with a memorable bottle of wine will win yourself a multitude of points. To whet your palate, here are a few praiseworthy suggestions:

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc 2007
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, ON $44.95

Not only will this newly redesigned, gorgeous bottle dress up your table, it will add class to your affair. A mistake would be attempting to make this into a mimosa, however, so stay away from the OJ and let the wine alone impress. Pair with blini, crème fraiche and caviar for a decadent match.

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Blanc De Blanc

Tilia Torrontes 2010
Salta, Argentina, ON $12.95

Fun, fresh, floral and unique, this affordable selection is also sure to receive thumbs up from moms everywhere. Skip the bouquet and reach for the Torrontes for a fresh alternative to her usual faves. Try with Thai inspired cold spring rolls.

Tilia Torrontes 2010

Ca’Dei Mandorli Dei Giari Moscato D’asti 2011
Piedmont, Italy, ON $15.95

Here’s a wine that will have mom asking for a second glass and with half the alcohol as in a standard glass of wine, there is no reason not to indulge (an apt selection for nursing mothers). Pair with a lemon panna cotta or mixed greens with strawberries and almonds.

Ca' Dei Mandorli Dei Giari Moscato d'Asti 2011

Château St. Roch Syrah/Grenache Rosé 2011
Languedoc Roussillon, France Vintages, ON $14.95

Both the ladies and the men of the house will appreciate this swoon-worthy rosé from southern France. Dry with notes of lavender and pink grapefruit, this will prove a delightful pairing for smoked salmon eggs benedict.

Château St. Roch Syrah Grenache Rosé 2011

Contemplative Whites

Taking the kids out for ice cream and allowing mom some peaceful time alone to rest and relax is just the thing to recharge the overworked lady of the house. Leaving her a bottle of wine and a charming note will have her smiling in no time. Here are a few restorative suggestions:

Norman Hardie Chardonnay 2009
Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, ON $35.00

An intuitive, generous and thoughtful family man himself, Norman Hardie also produces world-class chardonnays rich with terroir-inspired complexity, subtlety and elegance. A great wine to help mom contemplate and appreciate her generous and thoughtful family.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay 2009

Santo Santorini Assyrtiko 2011
Santorini, Greece, ON $16.95

Whisk mom away to one of the most beautiful spots in the world for some restorative daydreaming. The island of Santorini is perhaps the planet’s most picturesque locale with a dramatic coastline dotted by whitewashed dwellings that contrast the deep blue sea. As a result of its volcanic formation, the beaches feature jet-black sand and contribute to the complex terroir of these racy and verve-filled wines such as this scintillating assyrtiko.

Santorini Assyrtiko 2011

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2011
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, ON $19.95, BC $16.99

An undeniably inviting wine that will both challenge and seduce, this delectable pinot is made in the heavier, more complex ‘gris’ style as opposed to the often lighter, brighter, more simple ‘grigio’ style. The west coast produces some of the most exquisite examples of this varietal and this bottle is a case in point. Utterly enjoyable on its own but also makes a great pairing for soft and semi-soft cheeses.

Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2011

Melt-Away Reds:

Pampering goes hand and hand with Mother’s Day so spoil her with an indulgent, enveloping, plush, velvety wine that will prove more satisfying than the spa. Sure to keep her off her feet for the afternoon while you finish the clean up (hint, hint).

Château Pech Redon L’épervier 2010
Côteaux Du Languedoc, France, ON $19.95

A strikingly soulful and compelling find at less than the price of a manicure (and much more rewarding). This spicy, wildly flavoured southern blend of syrah and grenache will prove both stimulating and indulgent.

Château Pech Redon L'épervier 2010

Langa Centenaria Garnacha 2008
Calatayud, Spain, ON $13.95

A massage and a bottle of grenache would do the trick for me on Mother’s Day and here’s a great value that is sure to knock her socks off. A decadent, almost guilty pleasure, this grenache is a perfect pairing for a little dark, spiced chocolate.

Langa Centenaria Garnacha 2008

Monte Del Frá Lena Di Mezzo Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2007
Veneto, Italy, ON $48.95, BC $79.99

This wine is certainly a splurge, but this is mom we’re talking about. Amarone is often thought of as a ‘masculine’ wine but in reality, women appreciate the lush, velvety texture and opulent fruit just as much as men and with reportedly more sensitive noses, we can certainly derive greater enjoyment from such a generously flavoured wine.

Monte Del Frá Lena Di Mezzo Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2007

Here’s to all mothers out there who could really use a break! Wishing you a peaceful and indulgent day.

Sara d’Amato

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German Wine Fair – Welcomes Trade and Consumers – May 28

Riesling & Co. World Tour stops in Toronto on May 28th at the Arcadian Loft

German Wine Fair - Toronto May 28To highlight their wines’ surprising flavours and top level food friendly versatility, the Riesling & Co. 2013 German wine fair returns to Toronto this spring.

On May 28 over 25 celebrated German winemakers and winery principals, offering 100+ wines, will assemble at the Arcadian Loft to offer guests the most extensive German wine tasting in Canada.

The “walk about” trade fair is open for attendance by professionals from the retail, media, and hospitality sectors during the day and by consumer wine enthusiasts during the evening. (See special offer for Wine Align subscribers below)

“What better way to discover the versatility of German Riesling and Pinots, than when matched with the passion of the visiting winemakers,” notes Ulrike Lenhardt of the German Wine Institute, who will be in Toronto for the event.

German Wine Queen and winemaker Julia Bertram

Julia Bertram

Winemaker Julia Bertram German Wine Queen

Guests will also have an opportunity to meet a real live QUEEN – German Wine Queen and winemaker Julia Bertram who will be attending to educate visitors on German wines!

German wines are generally heralded as great food friendly wines. This is a very bold statement, but most sommeliers and other food and wine professionals will agree.

Germany’s wines, while following strict wine laws, offer among the most variety, and one can find a wine for any occasion, matching any food and satisfying almost anyone.

The not-really secret here is the variety in styles (dry to sweet, sparkling or still), grape varieties (Riesling and Pinot Noir, to name the top ones of either white or red) and the distinct levels of richness (light to full, to honey-like) plus, based on the cooler climate, the wines generally have a good amount of acidity (considered vital for a great food wine) and lower levels of alcohol than warmer climate peers.

Another great thing about German wines with the higher acidity levels is that the wines last better than any other wines after they are opened. Hence don’t hesitate to open more than one bottle, taste and decide what will be the best for the occasion and return the other opened bottles to the refrigerator for later enjoyment.

Ours Sponsors“If you don’t love German wines, you just have not yet found the right one for you.”

Much has been written about food and wine pairing suggesting what goes and what does not go together. In the belief that enjoyment of food and wine is a very personal experience, we encourage everyone to experiment -and what better place than at the German Wine Fair!

To add to the fair, food pairings will be catered by Oliver and Bonacini and live music will be styled by BELLOSOUND.

And as an added incentive to join us, all trade and consumer registrants are eligible to win Rimowa Luggage valued $595.

Date and Location:

Tuesday, May 28th  – Arcadian Loft, 8Th Floor, 401 Bay Street, Toronto

Trade Tasting

2:00PM to 5:00 PM

Media and Trade professionals interested in attending the walk-about are encouraged to register at:

NEW: Consumer Tasting

Calling all wine lovers! Meet over 25 winemakers and winery principals  and taste over 100 wines with food pairings by Oliver & Bonacini

7:00PM to 9:30 PM

Tickets $65 — all food and wine samples included

Wine Align subscribers receive $10.00 off the regular ticket price of $65.00.
Enter promo code: winealign

Order Tickets Here

Wine lovers are encouraged to visit: for more information.

German Wine Fair - Toronto, May 28

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Malbec World Day by David Lawrason

Promoting the malbec grape of Argentina

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Every grape, it seems, has its day. Malbec World Day on April 17 is a recent phenomenon to promote the malbec grape of Argentina. This late ripening variety is actually from southwest France (Cahors) but the hot, even climate on the high steppes of Mendoza has given it a perfect home, and malbec is now a household name in North America and South.

Indeed it has achieved a formidable presence in the Canadian market; fulfilling predictions that it would be “the next big thing” – like Australian shiraz. But as shiraz has gone through a downturn in mass market affection, might malbec be experiencing the same thing? Or, put another way, has malbec already had its day?

I was in my local store in Toronto on the weekend checking out how much malbec is available. There is a ton. When you go to WineAlign and search Malbec-Argentina-All Prices you will find a whopping 64 brands in current inventory at the LCBO. Similarly there are 65 showing in British Columbia. But a look at the small print on the price tags showed that many of the brands in the LCBO’s Vintages stores are showing release dates of weeks or months ago, especially if they are more expensive.

And I noted something else – many of the labels were unfamiliar, even to one who follows such things more closely than the average punter. It’s as if, at one point, Vintages just threw out a net and imported any malbec that wanted to be exported – whether good or not. So without my WineAlign iPhone app allowing me to check out my own reviews I wouldn’t know what to buy either.

I do enjoy malbec when I want a big, swarthy red. Barbecue season is such a time, and it’s no co-incidence that most Argentines drink malbec with their ubiquitous slabs of grilled and heavily smoked beef. And I like it a lot when it shows off its lovely floral, blackberry fruit unencumbered by too much oak, alcohol, meatiness or stemminess.

But I do find lower priced malbec rather homogenous, and many are heavy, coarse and unbalanced. This is partially because many are released too soon. Australia seemed able to get away with releasing very young shiraz that was more or less in balance – the syrah grape is inherently softer – but young, inexpensive malbec is not quite as affable or quaffable.

On the other hand, more expensive malbecs, although showing better complexity and depth of flavour, often don’t seem all that different in flavour profile or balance. And high alcohol can continue to be a problem.

So how to spot the good ones? I am looking at two things.

First, I am finding more elegance and floral lift in malbecs from higher altitude Uco Valley at (900 to 1200 metres). The recently developed region is a sea of vines up against the Andes, with one flashy new winery after another that makes it feel like Napa, at least in terms of its energy. In particular I am looking at the labels for mentions of some of the best sub-regions like La Consulta, Altamira, Vista Flores and Tunuyan and especially the highest region called Gualtallary near Tupungato. These ‘appelations’ are no yet official but they are beginning to appear on labels.

Second, I am looking for certain producers that I have come to know and respect. With so many producers (Argentina has over 2000 wineries) this is a slow process; but having visited there late in 2011 and paying attention since then, my go to list is developing. And I share it with you for Malbec World Day, with links to some of my favourite wines still on the shelf.

Altocedro Reserva Malbec 2009Altamira De Los Andes Reserve Malbec 2009Altamira De Los Andes Reserve Malbec 2009

This is made entirely from grapes grown in La Consulta and Vista Flores, two sub-regions of higher altitude in the Uco Valley. And it catches the floral charm I have come to expect of these regions. Lavish blackberry, violet fruit is nicely couched in moderated oak, vanillin and black licorice. It’s thick. elegant, sweetish and young with some alcohol kick, but essentially well composed, and excellent quality. Tasted February 2013.

Altocedro Reserva Malbec 2009

From the southern and higher reaches of the Uco Valley in La Consulta, this dark malbec has a lovely nose of mulberry, violets, chocolate and a hint of meatiness. It’s full bodied, smooth and very rich, with fine-grained tannin and considerable alcohol heat. Quite luscious with smoked meat finish. Excellent length. Best now to 2016. Tasted July 2012.

Versado Malbec 2010Cicchitti Edición Limitada Malbec 2008Angulo Innocenti Malbec 2010Versado Malbec 2010

Versado is small, new Canadian-owned winery in Argentina, with Niagara’s Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble at the winemaking helm. They have wrought some complexity here that’s often missing in malbecs at this price – combining woodsy, leathery notes amid the ripe berry-dried fig fruit. It’s medium-full bodied, fairly dense and refined, with some drying tannin. The length is very good. Tasted March 2013.

Cicchitti Edición Limitada Malbec 2008

This is very deep ruby-purple-black. The nose is generous, sweet and very ripe with mulberry, vanilla, coffee/chocolate and pepper. It’s full bodied, sweet, creamy and thick, with a tarry, smoky finish. Excellent length. It has great curb appeal, but Euro fans will find it too sweet. Tasted November 2012.

Angulo Innocenti Malbec 2010

La Consulta is a higher altitude sub-region at the upper end of the Uco Valley, expressing a somewhat more floral aroma and more delicate feel in this example. It is still very deep black-purple colour. It has a lovely floral fragrance with blackberry and gentle wood spice. It’s quite thick but not heavy with some woodsy tannin and pepper on the finish. Very good to excellent length. Fine now or over the next three years while the fruit is in bloom. Tasted March 2013.

Benmarco Malbec 2009Bodega Séptima Séptimo Día Malbec 2011Bodega Séptima Séptimo Día Malbec 2011

Septimo is owned by Spain’s famed cava producer Codorníu. It’s 135 hectares of vineyards are located in the Agrelo and Uco Valley.Young winemaker Paula Borgo has the reins at a state of the art winery. The result here is a rather vivacious, intense and almost racy malbec, whereas many are heavy and plodding. But that is not to say it is light because there is good weight and density and excellent length. The flavours are intense with very ripe currant-cherry fruit, very generous tarry, smoky oak and some of malbec’s florality. The length is excellent, the finish warm and a touch youthfully gritty. Lots here for $16; but I would give it a year for tannin to soften and oak to integrate. Tasted April 2013

Benmarco Malbec 2009

This has a very good stuffing, colour and fruit density – easily worth the money. It’s only lacking a bit of tension to put it over 90 – slightly low acidity with a touch of over-ripeness. Otherwise, enjoy the generous plummy, violet and chocolate aromas and flavours. It’s medium-full bodied, supple and rich with fine tannin. Very good to excellent length. Best 2012 to 2015. Tasted November 2011.

For more information on Malbec World Day you can visit the official Website, follow the activities on #MalbecWorldDay on Twitter, or see if there are still tickets to the VINTAGES event tomorrow night in Toronto.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , ,

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages April 13 Release

The County is Back, Bargain Burgundy, California’s L’Aventure & Cade and Lifford’s New Zealand Offerings

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Popular brands from New Zealand and a handful of decent value Portuguese reds get the limelight on this release but as colleague John Szabo amply covered them last week, I veer off in other directions. Due to a whopping head cold on one of my tasting days I was not able to cover the entire release, but I did catch the Prince Edward County wines, some terrific In Store Discoveries and other sundry delights. I also had a chance to taste the growing portfolio of New Zealand pinots being offered for direct purchase by Lifford Wine & Spirits, so I offer links to some favourites reviewed here on WineAlign.

But first I want to dedicate this edition to two friends in wine who passed away last week. Barbara Ritchie was a colleague on the tasting/writing circuit for many years, a gentle, intelligent and diligent taster and writer who beyond all expectation long survived the death of her twin sister Ann in 1996. They were founding members of the Wine Writers Circle of Canada, and both will be remembered in a service at The Toronto Hunt on Sunday, April 21.

I also sadly salute the passing of David Churchill, a film critic and novelist who indulged his passion for wine by researching and writing for the LCBO’s VINTAGES magazines that we have all relied on for years. He was a creative, quick-witted, generous and gregarious lad who lived life with gusto, and he was an immeasurable help to me in accommodating my deadlines and writings about VINTAGES offerings. He is missed.

County Wines Re-Visited

Since moving back to Toronto from the Prince Edward County region in 2010, I have done my best to keep on top of new wines and wineries. This spring sees the opening of Hubbs Creek Vineyard on Danforth Road in Hillier where John Battista Calivieri and partners have been growing pinot noir and white grapes since 2001. The 2010 pinot is a very fine, very Burgundian addition to the County lexicon. And ThreeDog Vineyards has its official opening in June, as yet an “un-tasted” property growing pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris and hybrids in the north end of the County off Highway 49.

You can personally check out all the latest offerings at “County in the City” on Thursday, April 25 at the Berkeley Church in Toronto. The evolving line-up includes newer wineries like Lighthall, Exultet, Stanners and Devil’s Wishbone. Meanwhile, County standards like Norman Hardie, Rosehall Run and Huff Estate are also featured on this month’s release.

Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2010Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay 2009Norman Hardie County Unfiltered Pinot Noir 2011Rosehall Run 2010 Cuvée County Chardonnay ($21.95) is a benchmark County chardonnay from a winery that has focused on the County’s best grape from Day One. This is sourced from the winery’s own site on Greer Road as well as nearby Hillier region vineyards. It’s typically light and lively with nicely ripe fruit flavours thanks to the warmer 2010 vintage – if not quite as deep as its JCR Rosehall Vineyard portfolio mate.

Huff Estates 2009 South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay ($29.95) shows some real class and depth at the hands of winemaker Frederic Picard. It’s a maturing, quite buttery style from a lighter vintage. The South Bay Vineyard lies very near a bay of the same name near the County’s south shore – not at the winery itself which last year added a restaurant to its excellent inn, and the terrific Oeno Gallery.

Norman Hardie 2011 County Pinot Noir ($35.00) follows evenly in the footsteps of previous vintages even though 2011 was a “lighter” vintage. The only place this evident is in the very pale ruby colour. This will cause some to pause, but the aromatics are convincingly ripe, clean and complex. Pinot fans will be pleased, right through to the typical County minerality on the finish.

Fine, Affordable Burgundy & Beaujolais

If Prince Edward County pinot noir deserves comparison to any place in the world it is Burgundy. The County has not yet developed the vine age, nor perhaps does it have the sites, to be compared to top 1er Cru and Grand Cru Burgundy, but I have tasted some basic Bourgogne that are akin to County pinots.

Domaine Des Marrans Fleurie 2011Domaine Parent Pinot Noir Bourgogne 2011Domaine Parent 2011 Pinot Noir Bourgogne ($21.95) is a case in point, with a juicy tartness and cranberry scented fruit that is very reminiscent of some County pinots. And this wine rises well above its station at the bottom of the Burgundy pecking order. Anne and Catherine Parent hand harvest and sort the best fruit from flatter sites near their home base in Pommard and Volnay to create this wine. The 2011 vintage in Burgundy is being called very good, with a somewhat larger crop and lighter structure than the age-worthy 2010s or the very ripe 2009s.

Domaine Des Marrans 2011 Fleurie ($19.95) continues the string of delicious “Cru” Beaujolais from the south of Burgundy. They are based on gamay, not pinot noir. When I was in Burgundy last spring one sommelier sniffed that Beaujolais was a great “luncheon wine”. Indeed it is. But regular readers will know I have taken a shine to the “crus” ever since a new generation of elegant, floral and ripe wines began to appear with the 2009 vintage. I have been drinking them for dinner quite regularly, indeed just last week I BYO’d a bottle of 2010 Cote de Brouilly to an excellent French dinner at Celestin on Mt Pleasant (free corkage on Tuesday nights).

Huge Mosel Value

Dr. Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2007I continue to be amazed by the nose-diving prices of fine German wines. It’s almost inconceivable that a maturing beauty like Dr. Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten 2007 Riesling Spätlese could be offered here for a mere $16.95. Everything about this wine is classic. The family has been in the Mosel wine business for centuries, although the current generations only created this winery in 1967. This riesling is harvested from impossibly steep vineyards on the home property above the village of Urzig, one of a handful of vineyards the family owns, totalling no more than 7.5 ha in the middle of Mosel. What a great opportunity to explore Mosel riesling’s charm and ageworthiness. Try it to celebrate the first truly lovely evening of spring – whenever that arrives.

California’s L’Aventure & Cade

About two years ago I was on a crash, seven-day group tour of several California wine regions. On day one in Paso Robles, admittedly bleary-eyed after the travel and a late first night, we visited L’Aventure, one of the most memorable tastings of any that would follow. But first we had to make it through a very long introduction by winemaker Stephen Asseo. Thank goodness his tale was interesting – a French winemaker bored by the strictures of AOC regulation at home and setting off in 1996 to find great terroir elsewhere in the world. He arrived in the Pacific cooled western hills of Paso Robles with their calcareous-based soils and shouted Eureka! He densely planted over 100 acres of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and mourvedre, and undertook a laborious, organic growing regimen that yields a paltry two tons per acre. He kept repeating that above all he wanted balanced wines, and when we crowded into his tasting room and he began to pour his inky reds I was still a doubter. By the end of the tasting I was hooked, and I am delighted to report that I remain a convert after a more leisurely and studied tasting of the pair being released now as In Store Discoveries.

Cade Napa Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2009L'Aventure Côte à Côte 2010L'Aventure Estate Cuvée 2010L’Aventure 2010 Estate Cuvée is a profound, complex, structured and nuanced blend of almost equal parts cabernet and syrah with some petit verdot. L’Aventure 2010 Côte-À-Côte is an equally massive if softer blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre. Both hit well over 15% alcohol, with barely a warm buzz. Both are $95.  Both are worth a look by collectors of California wine. Both are better than Opus One, also being released April 13, at just over twice the price.

But if it must be Napa cabernet and Opus is too rich for your blood, do try Cade Napa Cuvée 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, which is equally as good but much less than half the price at $78.95. This is a new, organically farmed Howell Mountain winery complete with LEED certified environics (the walls are insulated with blue jean rags). It is owned by the Plumpjack group – most well-known to wine collectors for cultish Plumpjack Cabernet. But the partners, including Gavin Newson, a former mayor of San Francisco, and Gordon Getty, an L.A composer and Shakespearean, also own three wine shops and now have interest in three hotel properties. In any event, this a classic, sculpted Napa cabernet with some mountain minerality on the finish.

More Great White Bordeaux

Château Haut Bergey Blanc 2009I jumped the gun on the last newsletter extolling the virtues of white Bordeaux. Three more have turned up as In Store Discoveries this time. All are over $50, but fans of the genre won’t complain. I especially draw your attention to the magnificent Château Haut-Bergey 2009 Blanc from Pessac-Léognan at $57.85. This is one of the great whites of the year to date, with wonderful vitality and richness. The small, ancient property was purchased by Sylvaine Garcin-Cathiard, wife of a Bordeaux wine merchant, in 1991. The white wine vineyard is a paltry 2ha of gravelly soil planted to 82% sauvignon blanc and 12% semillon. The wine was barrel fermented and aged 12 months in new French oak but you barely recognize the oak effect amid the exotic fruit and richness.

Lifford’s New Zealand Offerings

As mentioned, four important New Zealand wineries are featured with multiple listings on this release – Oyster Bay, Coopers Creek, Cloudy Bay and Dog Point (don’t miss Dog Point). Multiple listings seems to be a new strategy by VINTAGES, and the fact that three of the four are top-selling brands, suggests some deal-making at play. Which is all fine until you consider the hundreds of other worthy NZ wineries that would have loved to have been a part of this feature.

While VINTAGES does its thing, wine importers are busy doing theirs, and Lifford Wine & Spirits in particular has taken a shine to NZ wine and is busy building a market. Owner Steven Campbell recently took some of his staff, plus key sommeliers from across Canada, to the Pinot Noir NZ 2013 conference in Wellington. “I have been to every conference from day one” he says, “always looking for great new producers”. He was not alone this year as representatives from Ontario’s B & W Wines and Connexion Oenophelia were also on scouting missions.

Lifford's New Zealand Portfolio Tasting

Lifford’s New Zealand Portfolio Tasting

Lifford presented its beefed up NZ portfolio to buyers in Toronto earlier this month – with a fine range of wines by Ata Rangi of Martinborugh, Carrick and Felton Road of Central Otago, Craggy Range of Hawkes Bay, Staete Landt of Marlborough, and two new houses: Mountford of Waipara Valley and Neudorf of Nelson. Over 30 wines were poured. I focused on the many pinot noirs in the line-up, partially in preparation of a planned article on NZ pinot noir that will pinpoint over 20 sub-regions where this grape is showing its diversity.

Meantime, here are links to some of my favorites. Some of the wines are currently on consignment, others available by private order through Lifford until April 19.

Ata Rangi 2011 Pinot Noir, Martinborough $79.95
Ata Rangi 2011 Crimson Pinot Noir, Martinborough $36.95
Carrick 2010 Bannockburn Pinot Noir, Central Otago $44.95
Craggy Range 2011 Pinot Noir Te Muna Road, Martinborough $49.95
Craggy Range 2010 Calvert  Pinot Noir Calvert, Central Otago, $67.95
Felton Road 2011 Bannockburn Pinot Noir, Central Otago $71.50
Felton Road 2011 Calvert Pinot Noir, Central Otago $84.95
Mountford 2009 Village Pinot Noir,  Waipara Valley $46.95
Mountford 2009 Pinot Noir Estate, Waipara Valley $89.95
Neudorf 2011 Moutere Pinot Noir, Nelson $69.95
Staete Landt 2009 Paladin Pinot Noir, Marlborough $39.95

And that’s a wrap for this edition. In the days ahead I hope to see you at Malbec World Day on April 16 (which includes many other Argentina varieties) and at County in the City on April 25 (where the winemakers bring Prince Edward County to you).


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From the April 13, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews

County in the City

Malbec World Day

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , ,

Ten wines join Steve’s Top 50 at LCBO

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

The Top 50 list changes all the time. Prices go up and down, new vintages of current listings arrive, over 200 new products are launched each year and as a consequence around the same number of wines are discontinued. All of these factors cause changes to the Value list.

This month there are ten wines that are new to the list. So let’s look at the arrivals in detail, but please also check out all the rest of the wines on my Top 50 Value Wines list, since all offer great value. So read beyond the new entrants to find more values, and to discover how the Top 50 is systematically selected.

New to the Top 50

Ten wines arrived on the Top 50 this month. I’ve highlighted them below in various price categories.

Less than $17

Cousiño Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Masi Serego Alighieri Possessioni Rosso 2010Cousiño Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Maipo Valley, Chile, ON $16.05

Cousino Macul has been making Antiguas Reservas for decades and it keeps getting better. Still very youthful, this is a cellar candidate that’s fine now but even better if you decant for an hour or so before serving. It is very classy with a degree of elegance rarely found in such an inexpensive wine. The nose is youthful with the cassis fruit aromas complicated by tobacco, dark chocolate, menthol and herb notes. It is medium to full-bodied and very smooth with the ripe fruit balanced by soft acidity with a little dry tannin giving some grip to the finish. Very good length. Will develop more complexity with a few years in the cellar. For now, decant for an hour and enjoy with a steak. Best 2014 to 2020.

Masi Serego Alighieri Possessioni Rosso 2010
Veneto, Italy, ON $15.00

This is a very classy elegant Italian red for a great price. It comes from the hills that rise behind Verona and is made from corvina and sangiovese grapes matured in large cherry wood barrels. Expect fragrant aromas of blackberry fruit with tobacco, vanilla and jammy notes. It is ripe, full-bodied with just enough tannin and acidity in support. Very good length. Best 2013 to 2018. Try with roast duck or hard mature cheeses.

Less than $13

Argento Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2010Paul Mas Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2010Paul Mas Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2010 Nicole Vineyard
Pezenas, France $12.95 on sale until April 28 was ON $14.95

This is great value for a Bordeaux blend from the south of France. There is a lot of complexity on nose and palate with aromas of earthy baked cassis fruit with dark chocolate. It is well-balanced with the juicy fruit supported by vibrant acidity and soft tannin. Focus is well maintained onto the finish with a nice dry cranberry jelly flavour persisting well. Try with a beef casserole or rack of lamb. Very good length. Best 2013 to 2017.

Argento Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2010
Mendoza, Argentina, ON $12.95

An elegant approachable fruity cabernet that’s available for an amazing price. The nose shows lifted aromas of black cherry and blueberry fruit with fragrant oak spice, vanilla, tobacco and leather. It full-bodied and finely balanced with a long lingering finish, on which the fruit persists well. Excellent length. Try with roast game or a grilled steak. Best 2013 to 2016.

Trapiche Reserve Syrah 2011Bodegas Castaño Hécula Monastrell 2009Castello Del Poggio MoscatoTrapiche Reserve Syrah 2011
Mendoza, Argentina, ON $11.95

This is a very well made wine at a great price. It’s a juicy syrah with aromas of blueberry and blackberry fruit plus oak spice with cocoa and vanilla notes. It is midweight and creamy smooth with the fruit flavours balanced by soft acidity and soft tannin. Good to very good length. Try with bbq meats or mature cheddar. Best 2013 to 2016.

Bodegas Castaño Hécula Monastrell 2009
Yecla, Spain, ON $11.80

The monastrell grape in southern Spain makes many delicious juicy dark, full-bodied reds like this wine. It is wonderfully smooth with vibrant acidity that gives it a degree of elegance that will cost you over $20 normally. Expect aromas of blackberry with fragrant lavender, vanilla and cocoa plus some raspberry jam notes. The palate is rich yet not heavy and it finishes dry with some meaty notes and fine tannin for grip. Very good length. Try with roast meats. Best 2013 to 2017.

Castello Del Poggio Moscato
Asti, Piedmont, Italy, ON $11.10

A delicate well priced Moscato with lively acidity to balance the fruit and the sweetness. Expect lifted floral lemon, melon and honey aromas. The palate is fresh and pure with very good length. Enjoy on its own or with delicate pastries. I have found that this is a wine that almost everyone will like, even if they say don’t like wine!

Less than $9

Puglia, also known as Apulia, is at the southeastern foot of Italy forming the “heel” on the map. Negroamaro, a local grape, is ideally suited to its hot dry climate. Try these two sun-drenched value wines to warm up your winter. I know it’s spring, but it still feels like winter to me!

Mezzomondo Negroamaro 2011
Salento, Puglia, Italy, ON $9.00

This has been one of the best value reds at the LCBO for years; you always get a lot for the money. I don’t know how they can make such a bright, tasty wine for this price. The nose is black cherry fruit with some earthy spicy tones and a hint of pine. It is medium bodied, juicy and well-balanced with good to very good length and enough tannin for balance. Chill slightly and enjoy with strongly flavoured cheese, pizza or bbq meats. Best 2013 to 2015.

Eclipse Montepulciano D' Abruzzo 2011Farnese Negroamaro 2011Mezzomondo Negroamaro 2011Farnese Negroamaro 2011
Puglia, Italy, ON $8.25

A new classier label has arrived mid-vintage on the 2011 bottles of this generous southern Italian red. It’s full-bodied and ripe with the fruit well-balanced by lemony acidity. Expect aromas of prune and blackberry fruit to lead to a soft juicy palate. Good to very good length. Try slightly chilled with ribs or enjoy on its own. Best 2013 to 2015.

Abruzzo, a wine region known for its reds from local grape montepulciano, is on the eastern Adriatic coast of Italy just across the Apennine mountains from Rome. This red is one of the best values in structured Italian wine at the LCBO.

Eclipse Montepulciano D’ Abruzzo 2011
Abruzzo, Italy, ON $7.60

Lovers of Italian wine should be buying this by the armful. It is such an amazing price for a well-balanced structured red; don’t pass it by because you think it’s too cheap. However it’s not for sipping on its own; with some red meat or hard mature cheese it’s quite delicious. It is medium cherry red in colour with a fairly complex nose of raspberry and cherry fruit plus some earthy notes and a hint of forest floor. The palate is midweight with the fruit supported by good gentle acidity and modest tannin. The flavours linger for a long time on the finish. Best 2013 to 2016.

Top 50 Value Wines at LCBO

There are about 1,500 wines listed at the LCBO that are always available, plus another 100 or so VINTAGES Essentials. At WineAlign I maintain a list of the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines selected by price and value – in other words, the best least expensive wines. The selection process is explained in more detail below, but I review the list every month to include newly listed wines and monitor the value of those put on sale for a limited time. 

How I Choose the Top 50

Steve's Top Value WinesI constantly taste the wines at the LCBO to keep the Top 50 list up to date. You can easily find all of my all Top 50 Value Wines from the WineAlign main menu. Click on Wine =>Top 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database. Every wine is linked to WineAlign where you can read more, discover pricing discounts, check out inventory and compile lists for shopping at your favourite store. Never again should you be faced with a store full of wine with little idea of what to pick for best value.

Once you have tried a wine, you can use the ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ to agree or disagree with our reviews. Or better yet, you can add your own review and join our growing community of user reviewers. If you find that there is a new wine on the shelf, or a new vintage that we have not reviewed, let us know. It is very easy to do this. Click on Suggestions & Feedback or send an email to We look forward to hearing from you.

The Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.


Steve Thurlow

Top 50 LCBO and Vintages Essentials Wines

Villa Sandi Pinot Grigio 2010

New Zealand Wine Fair

Filed under: News, Wine, , , ,


WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008