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Buy The Case: Azureau Wines and Spirits

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

Buy the CaseIn this regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report. Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines. 

For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here

November – Azureau Wines & Spirits

Where are some of the world’s great new white wines lurking? That would be Spain, from grape varieties like grenache blanc, viura, godello and albarino being grown (often organically) on old vines ekeing out their existence in very rocky granitic and slate soils. Very few of this new breed of well made, minerality-studded whites are finding their way to the LCBO, but a couple of gems lurk right under our noses in the portfolio of Azureau Wines & Spirits. There are two huge Spanish white bargains among a diverse collection that also includes an affordable, cellarable Napa cabernet and other new world reds.

Below our critics have assembled their picks submitted for tasting in October, and they suggest reasons why you might consider buying by the case.

Or you can try them for yourself on November 17 at “The Gourmet Games”, a public tasting and food pairing event created by Azureau. The event is typical of CEO Dan Rabinovitch’s role as an importer. “Moving beyond the traditional agency’s role of simply representing a winery to a customer, Azureau also takes on the role of managing the entire brand experience of the winery in Canada. This entails developing engaging experiences–such as winemaker dinners and special events–in this market where consumers can taste the wine and get a taste for the passion that went into its creation”. (Special to WineAlign subscribers, a ticket purchase ($95) includes a $25 gift certificate redeemable towards a wine purchase the evening of the Games.)

The Spanish Collection

Señorio del Bierzo 2012 Godello, Bierzo, Spain ($24.95)

Mas Igneus White 2013 Senorio del Bierzo Godello 2012John Szabo – Excitement has been gathering in this cool northwest corner of Spain for some years now, mostly for the red wines, but indigenous whites are proving to be just as compelling. This is a fine and flavourful, rich and minty example from 100 year-old vines, with evident depth and concentration. Partial barrel ageing contributes more texture than flavor and the aromatic range is impressive. An affordable curio that over-delivers in the premium white wine category.
David Lawrason – This is a very nicely made, smooth yet fresh and almost elegant white from the local godello grape in the Bierzo region of northwest Spain. Quite exotic ripe yellow fruit (melon/pineapple) aromas are gently infused with herbs, wet stone, fennel and lemon meringue. The flavours have good focus and continuity; the length is excellent. A curio to be sure, but also priced for fine meals and gatherings at home.
Sara d’Amato – The modish winery of Senorio del Bierzo aims to promote the indigenous varieties of mencia and godello in the most expressive fashion possible. This clean and tangy example is pleasantly smoky with a mineral and saline component that adds freshness as well as a food-friendly character. The wine from these 100-year old vines is aged on the lees contributing additional body and complexity. A lovely “anything but chardonnay” house wine to have on hand for unexpected guests or for personal nighttime drinking pleasure.
Michael Godel – The rise of the Galician white grape Godello is happening, in part because it’s new and exciting to those who don’t know about it. But it’s also vindication for those who do. This example is both enervating and profoundly complex. It has the kind of white to make it a real autumn white wine. Fine as a restaurant pour as well.

Mas Igneus 2013 White, Priorat, Spain ($39.95)

David Lawrason – Whites are rare in Priorat, but perhaps should be more prevalent. When I visited the region in May I was taken again, and again, by the whites. I love the tension here from the slate soils, the sense of balance and finesse. It’s aromatically generous with oak spice, stone and vague green melon/pear fruit. It’s medium-full bodied with a sense of power yet restraint. I was reminded flavour-wise of a fine white Bordeaux.
Sara d’Amato – White Priorat is a rare treat to find in Ontario but this 100% white garnacha happily fills the gap. Brimming with nervy zest and energy and showing delicious purity of fruit, this is a sophisticated find that will have you mourning its quick departure from your glass. Sharing a case is the way to go with this premium priced curio selection.
Rioja Vega 2013 Paco & Lola Prime Albarino Lias 2011John Szabo – Split a case of this with a like-minded friend who finds occasions from time to time at the table for a heady and sumptuous white, like, say, with that roast lobster or wild mushroom risotto. Priorat may be far better known for its reds, but this organically-grown white is outstanding, very ripe and intense, wood-tinged, and amazingly complex. It’s is the sort of wine you can spend a lot of time tasting and unraveling, and enjoying its savoury, succulent saltiness.
Michael Godel – Garnatxa Blanca (Grenache Blanc) is one of northern Spain’s best kept secrets and one of the world’s wondrous whites. Whether from Aragon or here in Priorat, when it refreshes while walking the oxidative wire with intensity and complexity, it is a real treat.

Paco & Lola 2011 Prime Albarino Lias, Rias Baixas, Spain ($29.95)

Sara d’Amato – The Adega of Paco & Lola is one of the largest in the DO whose distinctive polka dot bottles have taken the export market by storm.  The Lias is a step-up from their entry albarino. This version is made from the free run juice winery’s oldest vineyards is aged on fine lees for 6 months. Although it sees no oak, it is lightly creamy, round and fleshy.  Due to its attractive packaging and price point, it makes an excellent gifting selection.

Rioja Vega 2013 Rioja, Spain ($15.95)

John Szabo – A great little house red or by the glass pour here, not your grandfather’s Rioja but rather a fresh and fruity, young and vibrant red for immediate enjoyment. A touch of CO2 prickle boosts the impression of liveliness.
David Lawrason – This is a fresh, young Rioja with minimal barrel ageing if any, letting the lift floral, raspberry/strawberry fruit of tempranillo shine through. It is light to medium weight, with some sense of fruit density and smooth texture, but it is the liveliness and evenness that is most memorable. Not much tannin here, but there is fresh acidity and lovely berry fruit jam on the finish. Ideal house red for casual meals and restaurant pours.

New World Reds

Girard 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa County, California ($44.95)

Salentein Numina Spirit Vineyard Gran Corte 2012 Girard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012David Lawrason – In the over-hyped world of Napa cabernet, it’s pretty rare to find authenticity at a decent price. I am finding many 2012 Napa cabs a bit shut down and blocky at the moment, but this has all the right cabernet blackberry/currant fruit, sage, oak spice and vanillin. A touch earthy as well. It’s full bodied, fairly dense, warm and a touch sweet, with considerable tannin. A wine to cellar for sure; best 2018 to 20122.
Michael Godel – This is the kind of Napa Cabernet that offers a generous amount of wine for the money. Really stylish Napa Cabernet at a very affordable price. The kind of recognizable wine to split a case with friends.

Salentein 2012 Numina Spirit Vineyard Gran Corte, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($34.95)

Sara d’Amato – A favourite at the Argentina Wine Awards early this year, Salentein winery is located high up in the Uco Valley and focuses on premium, sustainably produced wine along with fostering an economically stable community by creating fair wage jobs. This high elevation blend of five Bordeaux varieties is a unique style which is most expressively found in Argentina’s wine regions of Mendoza and Salta. Peppery and floral with an abundance of blue and black fruit, the tannins are ripe and silky but there is a fresh backbone which gives the wine lift and elegance.

Alpha Crucis 2012 Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($74.95)

David Lawrason – Named for the brightest star in the Southern Cross, this  is from a single limestone based vineyard in central McLaren Vale. It was made by Rebecca Willson, who also makes the wine at Bremerton, and she has gone the unusual and effective route of ageing in Hungarian oak barrels. This is certainly a big, rich and complex shiraz but within its weight class I still found considerable elegance and great fruit depth that manages to hide its 15% alcohol. Very impressive concentration and excellent length. I would age it another year or three. Given the price, split a case with like-minded fans of premium Aussie shiraz.

Casa Viva 2013 Carmenere, Rapel Valley, Chile ($15.95)

David Lawrason – Excellent value here in a fairly smooth yet vibrant young carmenere, but you need to enjoy the grape’s greener side. It offers up typical black and red currant fruit, vanillin, the fresh green herbs/juniper for which carmenere is known, and Chile’s familiar meaty note. It’s mid-weight, even and fairly soft, with easy tannin, making it easy going for immediate enjoyment. By the glass.
Sara d’Amato – A juicy, very pleasant carmenere showing some distinct varietal character such as dried herbs, soy and spice. Rather plush with velvety tannins and good colour. Nicely concentrated, open and generous. Ready-to-drink.

Alpha Crucis Titan Shiraz 2012 Casa Viva Carmenere Reserva 2013 Cocchi Vermouth di TorinoVarnelli Sibilla Amaro

And the Grand Finale

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Italy $29.95

John Szabo – Artisanal vermouths are making a big comeback in the cocktail world, with bartenders ditching the industrial stuff for fortified/aromatized wines with genuine complexity, made from a quality base. Cocchi’s vermouth should be on hand in every liquor cabinet for those more sultry cocktails, like a smoky Manhattan, or in fact anything with bourbon or rye, with its intensely medicinal, beeswax and honey, burnt orange peel and caramel flavours. But it’s also interesting and bold enough to be the main show itself, served over ice.

Varnelli Sibilla Amaro, Marche, Italy

Margaret Swaine – Made since 1868, the first product of founder Girolamo Varnelli, from herbs, roots and barks (including quinine from the cinchona tree) and local honey, this is medium brown in hue. Intense aromas of coffee, vanilla, black walnuts and herbs overlaid with honey carry through on the palate. Coffee and honey linger on the finish. An elegant amaro with lots of personality and complexity; long aging and decanting help to give it smoothness with just the right touch of bitterness. This is great as a digestive after a hearty winter meal or on the rocks with lemonade in summer.

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



This report was sponsored by Azureau Wines & Spirits. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Azureau Wines & Spirits has provided the following agency profile.

About Azureau Wines & Spirits

Azureau Wines & SpiritsAzureau Wines & Spirits was founded on a basic principle: Inspire Loyalty. From the quality of products to their price to the sales person who represents them, a standard must be upheld that keeps clients coming back for more. Company founder, Dan Rabinovitch, learned the value of this credo from his years as a marketing manager at Vincor where he managed the Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin brands. “I learned this business at the feet of giants in Canadian wine sales. Pioneers like Don Triggs, Allan Jackson, and Donald Ziraldo understood how competitive this business is and how we have to over-deliver every day to keep our clients happy,” explains Rabinovitch.

Azureau began in 2007 with a handful of boutique wineries from the Mediterranean. Hence the name: Azure for blue and Eau for water. “I have found the wines of Southern France, Spain, and Italy to be some of the most exciting and best values out there today,” says Rabinovitch whose portfolio covers every notable region in Spain including the Iconic Bodegas Roda, Rioja Vega, and Enrique Mendoza.

The agency’s focus has broadened over recent years with the addition of several best-in-class wineries like Casas del Bosque (Chile), Clos Pegase (Napa), Giullio Cocchi  (Piedmont), and Bodegas Salentein (Argentina). “We don’t feel our portfolio needs to be everywhere; just excellent wherever we are,” Rabinovitch says with pride. The agency has a comprehensive process for vetting new suppliers which includes pre-tasting any wines with its network of leading Toronto sommelier-buyers. The agency turns away many more wineries and distilleries than it eventually works with in this process to ensure every product that comes to market is outstanding. “Our products have become an important component of some of Ontario’s leading restaurants; places like Bar Raval, Patria, and the Distillery Group of Restaurants. I don’t think you can achieve that without hard work and eye for quality,” concludes Rabinovitch.

Azureau Wines & Spirits has six sales representatives covering the province of Ontario.

How to order:

Order by E-mail: or Phone: 416.940.1641



Gourmet Games - Nov 17th

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Buy The Case: Noble Estates Wine and Spirits

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

BuyTheCaseLOGOimageAs a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report.

Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines.

For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here

October – Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Noble Estates is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, an accomplishment in itself in this tough, government-constrained market, but there are plenty of more recent developments to toast. The company profile has risen substantially in the short time since Craig de Blois purchased Noble Estates in December of 2013; prior to this the focus was almost exclusively on sales via the LCBO’s retail network. De Blois, a respected wine industry veteran with over a decade’s experience with Lifford Wine Agency, a company he helped build into the one of the most successful agents in the province, has rebalanced Noble’s strategy to include a substantial consignment portfolio as well as continuing to source products for the government monopoly. The rapid increase in sales directly to licensees and private clients has allowed Noble to grow their allocated consignment space, while also expanding into the high volume consignment (HVC) and LCBO Licensee only programs. All of this is welcome news for both restaurateurs and private buyers.

Multiple high-profile wineries have been added to the portfolio in the meantime, such as Far Niente, Sonoma Cutrer, Torbreck, Kanonkop, Ken Forrester, Hundred Acre, and Malivoire, adding to an already solid core of well-respected brands. There are now nearly 60 suppliers on the Noble books, and the company is also the largest supplier of classified Bordeaux to the province via negociant Nathaniel Johnston. Ten new employees were hired in the first year, including two certified sommeliers, a marketing manager with a wine MBA from Bordeaux, and a former LCBO buyer. If this all sounds very ambitious, that’s because it is. “We inherited a great company, and our goal from the start was to be the best wine agency”, says De Blois.

The WineAlign team sat down to taste nearly two-dozen Noble Estates selections in late September, finding plenty to recommend, filling most of our “reasons to buy” categories.

Restaurant Pours by the Glass

Harlow Ridge 2012 Zinfandel, California ($18.99)Fontanafredda Eremo Langhe Rosso 2012 Harlow Ridge Zinfandel 2012

David Lawrason – This is a nicely bright, lifted zinfandel that delivers fresh cran-raspberry fruit, green tea, even peppermint aromas and flavours, and thankfully avoids oak confection. Very approachable and quite delicious, exactly the kind of wine that restaurants can pour by the glass as a sipper or with casual pub fare.

Fontanafredda 2012 Eremo Langhe Rosso, Piedmont, Italy ($22.99)

David Lawrason – This is an ideal, good value red either as a house pour in an Italian restaurant, or to have stocked at home for get togethers involving Italian cuisine – i.e. pizza and game night. This mid-weight, lively and juicy nebbiolo. Not as refined and deep as neighbouring Barolo, but it gives a great sense of what nebbiolo is all about at half the price.

Cellaring Wine

Hedges Cuvee Marcel Dupont Syrah Red Mountain Les Gosses Vineyard 2012, Washington, USA ($49.99)

David Lawrason – A central tenet of collecting is to stock a great, age-worthy wine that will not often come your way. Washington syrah is so much under the radar, but this is one to shout from the rooftops. Not only is it wild and edgy, it has some cool textural elegance and minerality on the palate. And great depth, internal combustion, density and outstanding length. Best 2017 to mid-2020s.
Sara d’Amato – Admittedly, I have a weakness for syrah, for expressive cooler climate styles that rock you with spicy pepper, earth and an undercurrent of vibrancy. I find all of this in this complex, swoon-worthy example from Washington’s Hedges Cuvée Marcel Dupont. Sensual, musky and oh-so memorable.
Michael Godel – This has the je ne sais quoi of Syrah meets Red Mountain AVA, in fact it has the JNSQ of anywhere in the Syrah diaspora. A 10 year cellar-worthy syrah.

Collectible WineEn Route Les Pommiers Pinot Noir 2013Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle Grand Cuvée Hedges Cuvee Marcel Dupont Syrah Red Mountain Les Gosses Vineyard 2012

Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Grand Cuvée, Champagne, France ($199.00)

John Szabo – This is expensive like all premium champagnes, but the emphasis here is on premium. This is a terrifically elegant, vivacious, very refined and beautifully detailed Grand Siècle, the very essence of delicacy, up there alongside the greatest and worthy of a splurge. I’d leave this in the cellar for another 2-3 years to develop a little more toasty complexity.
David Lawrason – It would great to have a bottle or two in your cellar, but this is too good to be poured only in celebration (where the celebration is centre stage). This Grand Siecle is gorgeous! So rich yet refined with subtle, layered aromas of fresh peach, lemon poppyseed loaf, a hint of vanillin and slivered almond. Such great weave!
Sara d’Amato – Hands-down, a Champagne worth the investment. The Grand Siècle Cuvée is blended from various vintages of Grand Cru wines and offers, sophistication and complexity. Impressive – fresh and lifted with exceptional length.

En Route 2013 Les Pommiers Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California, USA ($99.99)

Sara d’Amato – My husband couldn’t stop sipping on this when I brought it home after review – it is an addictive pinot noir with all that is glorious and catchy about the new world style. Beautifully executed with flavours of wild flower, smoke, plum and dark cherry fruit.  Organically farmed to boot!

Seasonal Wines

Umani Ronchi 2012 San Lorenzo Rosso Conero, Le Marche, Italy ($19.99)

John Szabo – This Montepulciano-based red from Le Marche is compellingly dark and savoury, woodsy, resinous, and swarthy, delivering great character for the money. It’s a perfect autumn wine, when game and wild mushrooms hit the table.

Personal House Wines

Domaine Pfister 2013 Pinot Blanc, Alsace, France ($22.99)

John Szabo – I often find myself short on reasonably priced, versatile white wines in the cellar (because I always drink them), and this Alsatian pinot blanc, fresh and delicate, full of white flowers and white-fleshed fruit, fits the bill nicely. Gentle acids and balanced palate make this suitable for just about any occasion, and it’s fully ready to enjoy now, or hold for another year or two without concern.
Michael Godel – I have tasted this 2013 more than 15 times and it always come up the same; clean, polished and lithe. Sips alone and swallows alongside much varied gastronomy.
David Lawrason – This a nifty wine priced well enough to be your house white, or served at a somewhat upscale function. Perhaps even a restaurant pour buy the glass, if you think your clientele will venture into Alsace. It is a classic pinot blanc with a compelling combination of breadth and richness yet focus and minerality for good measure.

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)

Michael Godel – Unique, as always and very gamay. Will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight. Might best be typecast as a M-T-W-T-F-S-S wine.

Umani Ronchi San Lorenzo Rosso Conero 2012 Domaine Pfister Pinot Blanc 2013 13th Street Gamay Noir 2013Fontanafredda La Rosa Barolo 2008 Xavier Cuvée Anonyme Châteauneuf Du Pape 2011

Wine Pooling

Fontanafredda 2008 Barolo La Rosa, Piedmont, Italy ($64.95)

John Szabo – This is precisely the type of wine I love to have around for occasions when something above the mean is needed, though a full case will make a dent. Solution: share the case with 2-3 friends and keep a small cache. It’s drinking beautifully at the moment – sleek and sensual, with a terrific range of savoury, resinous, floral and earthy notes in the classic nebbiolo register – though will also sail gracefully for a few more years.
David Lawrason – This is a real find in the sense that it is an excellent Barolo that is now moving into prime, at a reasonable price in the Barolo-sphere. Love the lifted nose with roasted chestnuts, leather, chinotto, caraway, dried roses and warmed cherry jam fruit. So yes you might want to share a case and cellar a bottle or three at home – it will hold for five years. But it really deserves to reside on fine Italian wine list.

Xavier 2011 Cuvée Anonyme Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France ($62.95)

David Lawrason – Chateauneuf is certainly a cellarable wine but Xavier is making a smooth, elegant, silky style that is approachable now as well. And it is delicious. I would love a handful of bottles in my cellar but not a full case at the price. It is a case I would split with two or three friends.
Sara d’Amato – A gutsy and traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape with great body and concentration. The blends builds nicely to an epic climax that will have you quaking. Age-worthy and quite special.

Curio Selections

Planeta 2014 Etna Bianco, Sicily, Italy ($29.99)Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2014 Planeta Etna Bianco 2014

John Szabo – Regular readers are familiar with my fascination for wines grown on volcanoes, but this wine goes beyond the merely volcanic curio into fine white wine territory. 2014 was a terrific vintage for Planeta’s Etna Bianco, the finest yet in my experience. I love the crisp, tense structure, the evident salinity-minerality – a rare unoaked white with genuine drive and power. Drink now, or even better, hold for another 2-3 years to allow the more visceral, salty-stony character of the volcano to emerge.
Michael Godel – This is a near perfect vintage for such a wine, made from carricante, one of the most ancient of Sicilian grape varieties. Ideal for splitting a case with one or two friends.
Sara d’Amato – Made from the carricante varietal, a staple of the wines of the volcanic soils of Mount Etna. Vivacious by nature, it is often tamed by malolactic fermentation, lees ageing and some oak. This example was picked at the peak of ripeness and needs little intervention save some partial fermentation in oak. Nervy with great minerality, perky lemon and saline featured on the palate. A wine sure to whisk you off to a beautiful realm. Good news, it is available now, by consignment.

Planeta 2014 Cerasuolo, Sicily, Italy ($28.99)

David Lawrason – It is perhaps pricy as an everyday, personal house wine, but it is a curio that will appeal to wine explorers, so I would buy a case to share/gift to those who you think might be interested. It is delicious and charming. A fresh, grapey, soft yet poised red that blends nero d’avola and frappato, the former a much more well-known Sicilian variety than the latter. I thought of Spanish garnacha but it is livelier.
Sara d’Amato – A wine that will shortly be available by consignment and worth the wait so it is recommended to order soon. This reminded me of a really good Cru Beaujolais aped up with saline, dried mint and a deliciously smoky character.
John Szabo – Like my chronic shortage of versatile whites, light and spicy, crunchy reds also disappear with alarming speed from my cellar. If only I had more cases of wines like this nero d’avola-frappato blend, a lovely, fresh, floral, finely detailed, seamless, and silky red, I’d have fewer moments of disappointment. But this is not just simple and easy-drinking; it also has exceptional depth and length.

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

This report was sponsored by Noble Estates Wine & Spirits. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Noble Estates has provided the following agency profile. 

About Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Noble Estates Wine & Spirits is an independently owned company that has been serving the Ontario market for 25 years. Our team is made up of passionate and knowledgeable wine lovers who proudly represent a unique portfolio of hand-selected wines and spirits. Our range includes many of the top producers from around the world. We pride ourselves on building and maintaining strong, long-term relationships with all of our suppliers and our valued customers.

For more information, please visit our website at

How to order:

If you have any questions, or would like to place an order, please contact Ian at Delivery options vary depending on your location.

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Buy The Case: Da Capo Wines

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
Written by WineAlign

BuyTheCaseLOGOimageAs a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report.

Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines.

For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here

September – Da Capo Wines

Looking for a couple of great unsung Barbarescos to fill out the Piedmont section of your cellar? How about a classic Napa chardonnay and cabernet that rarely show up at the LCBO – ideal for holiday season gifts? Or a dandy young Roussillon red to pour by-the-glass or keep on hand as a fall house wine? The WineAlign Toronto team recently unearthed the following gems during a Buy the Case tasting of wines offered by Da Capo Wines.


Albino Rocca Ronchi Barbaresco 2011

Albino Rocca Duemilaundici Barbaresco 2011Albino Rocca 2011 Duemilaundici Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy $65.76  (six bottle case)
All five tasters aligned on the impressive Barbareco as the hit of the show.

John Szabo – This is just the kind of premium, but not untouchable, wine that you’d like to have at least a few bottles of on hand for that special (wintry) occasion. Albino Rocca crafts nebbiolo in a tender, fruity and polished modern style, without sacrificing any of the variety’s beguiling perfume to overripeness or wood influence.
Steve Thurlow – Very classy classic Barbaresco with elegance. It is a pale garnet red with fine seamless aromas of red cherry and plum fruit with a dried herbal tone, leather, dark chocolate and pine cone.
Michael Godel – Rocca’s Ronchi (below) leaves a distinct, single-focused impression but the “normale” vineyard blend is even that much more remarkable. It is a best of all worlds Barbaresco, from vineyard fruit in the eponymous town, along with Neive and Alba’s San Rocca Seno D’elvio. A Nebbiolo to drink for upwards of two decades.
David Lawrason – This nervy young Barbaresco shows impressive flavour intensity and length!
Sara d’Amato – This profound Barbaresco was housed in large, non-traditional oak barrels for 20 months to round out some austerity, which it still exhibits, and integrate its complex array of flavours. Notes of violets, pomegranate and leather spike the elegant nose creating a captivating first impression.

Albino Rocca 2011 Ronchi Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy ($75.75) (six bottle case)

John Szabo – Unlike Rocca’s immediately engaging “Duemilaundici” vineyard blend above, the single vineyard 2011 Ronchi, from old vines (50-70 years old), is deep, dark and sinewy, with youthfully firm, unyielding palate, miles from prime enjoyment. I’d tuck this in the cellar for at least another 2-4 years before revisiting, yet already the balance between fruit intensity, savoury-floral nebbiolo perfume, densely-knit tannins and seamless acids augurs well.
David Lawrason –  It’s rather constricted and tannic now but I expect impressive results when you crack a bottle somewhere after the turn of the decade.


Rombauer Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Rombauer Chardonnay 2013Rombauer Chardonnay 2013, Carneros, California  ($65.75)

David Lawrason –  Rombauer is an iconic Napa label that first shot to stardom in the 1980s, but rarely shows up in Ontario. This is a very typical, full on California style chardonnay. It’s medium-full bodied, elegant, refined and quite juicy. There is some sweetness but the acid leverage is just right, leaving a tight, slightly mineral finish.
Sara d’Amato – From the cooler, southern reaches of Napa Valley, this elegant yet fleshy chardonnay straddles an old and new world style. There is great definition on the palate and a mineral/saline component that is more reminiscent of Burgundy. However, the buttery component and ample viscosity is uniquely Californian. This best of both worlds find is widely appealing.
Michael Godel – Not everyone wants a big red and sometimes it’s hard to pick out a high end white when that is what the gift requires. This Chardonnay does not re-invent the wheel but move over Napa Valley, Carneros can do classic, sun-shining Chardonnay too. More interesting than many Napa counterparts as well.
Steve Thurlow – If you love California chardonnay then this classic is for you with its unmistakable style. It has a complex nose of baked apple and pineapple fruit with toffee, cream corn, baked lemon and oak spice. It is a little sweet but that goes with the style and there is ample acidity for balance; medium to full bodied, elegant, and very classy.

Rombauer Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California, $95.75

David Lawrason – It’s pricy but it nicely captures the essential richness and ripeness of Napa cabernet, although youthfully oaky and tannic at this point. Lifted cabernet aromatics include blackcurrant, peppermint, menthol, violets plus oak vanillin and toast. It’s full bodied, dense, juicy and warm, with considerable tannin. It needs some age. Best 2017 to 2025.


Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, Carneros, California $42.75

David Lawrason – The Frank Family owns a whopping 450 acres in various sub-regions of Napa. The cool Carneros site produces this generous, smooth and slightly soft pinot. There is a certain rusticity to the Frank Family line-up and real generosity and complexity with almost autumnal flavours. Steve Thurlow – The nose is quite complex with cherry and raspberry fruit with ripe beets plus baked bell pepper. It is very smooth and quite soft with lots of ripe but not overripe fruit. Very good length. Chill a bit and enjoy on its own or with mildly flavoured cheese dishes.

Frank Family Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley, California, USA $42.75

David Lawrason –  This is a fairly rustic zin, if a bit sweet and hot and earthy but it is certainly generous, with ripe plummy/raisiny fruit, spicy, cedary oak and some pencil eraser. It’s full bodied, loosely knit, hottish and a bit rugged, but it thankfully does not resort to the sweetness and mochafication that is endemic to California zin nowadays.
Michael Godel – It’s important to house a few high-end seasonal wines for specific times, like when you plan to grill a Tomahawk Chop or a few racks of the best ribs you’ve ever purchased. This Zinfandel has so many barbecue forms and fetishes written into its DNA. It is just the right kind of red to pull out with a special autumn meal.
Sara d’Amato – High priced zinfandel from Napa can often blow you over with blockbuster flavours that make the varietal character indistinct. What is so lovely about this zinfandel is that it is juicy, aromatic and refreshingly transparent. Very expressive of the cheerful and approachable nature of the varietal while respecting its mid-weight character.

Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 Frank Family Zinfandel 2012 Mas Las Cabes Côtes Du Roussillon 2012


Mas Las Cabes Côtes Du Roussillon 2012, Ac Côtes Du Roussillon, Languedoc-Roussillon, France $19.75 

Michael Godel – A treat for the senses, not unlike the rugged beauty of Roussillon, in the Pyrenees-Orientales area, one of the sunniest wine regions in southwest France. Solid protein red for any day of the week and a candidate for restaurant list partner.
Sara d’Amato – A very funky but traditional blend that is immensely compelling with its minty edge, notes of pine resin and fresh fig. There is wildness about this organic blend of syrah, grenache, carignan and mourvèdre that begs for another sip. Aged more in concrete than oak, it also pleasantly expressive of its terroir.
Steve Thurlow – This is all about the south of France and I love its rustic charm. It is not pure and clean but it is very authentic. It is lively on the palate with vibrant acidity making it feel lighter than it is. Try with liver and onions. Best 2015 to 2019.
David Lawrason – This is savoury, generous, smooth and engaging red with lifted aromas of basil, evergreen, pomegranate/currant fruit, syrah pepper and some meaty character. It is medium-full bodied, juicy, vibrant fruit and appealing for drinking now. Delish!


For more reviews, visit the agent’s profile page on WineAlign: Da Capo Wines. Because these wines are not all in stores, remember to click “All sources” and “show wines with zero inventory” to see all of the reviews.

Da Capo Wines

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

This report was sponsored by the Da Capo Wines. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Da Capo has provided the following agency profile with more details on their consignment program and delivery options.


Da Capo Wines

Da Capo WinesDa Capo Wines is a boutique wine agency based in Toronto, Ontario. We proudly represent premium and luxury consignment brands for the Ontario market. From prestige single vineyards in Napa, to small, family-owned estates in Piedmont our wines represent passion, terroir, and quality. Our clients range from private collectors, fine restaurants, as well as private clubs across the province. We focus on delivering the best products and support for our customers large, and small. At Da Capo we are proud of the strong relationships we have fostered with our producers across the world and work towards finely tuning our brands year-over-year. We are passionate about wine and consummate professionals to better serve our discerning clientele.

General Inquiries and Orders:

Order Minimums are 1 case (12 bottles) per product. Wines over $50 per bottle are sometimes available in cases of six. Delivery within 3-4 business days. Delivery charges may apply.

For inquiries about wines available, upcoming arrivals, and prices, please contact:

Sales Director
Maryanne Terzis

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , , , , , , , , ,

Buy The Case: Cavinona Wine Agency

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario


Each month we will taste wines submitted by one importing agent. WineAlign core critics will independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews will be posted to WineAlign. We will then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report. Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines.

These recommended wines can only be purchased by the case from importers registered in the LCBO’s Consignment Program. They are ‘already landed and stocked’ wines that can be delivered directly to your restaurant, home or office. For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here.

July – Cavinona Wine Agency

Cavinona was launched close to a decade ago as an independent business mainly to supply the Terroni Group of restaurants with unique Italian wines. The original company remit was to fill the gaps in selection of Italian wines then available through the consignment program in Ontario, which at the time was heavily skewed towards the usual name brand appellations. Traditional producers in under-represented regions were the focus, especially from the south. Such was the success that the portfolio was expanded significantly, and now covers a broad swath of the Peninsula (still exclusively Italian). Demand has also led to direct-to-consumers sales. But Cavinona’s emphasis on small-scale, regionally authentic producers, with few exceptions, remains largely intact. The wines provided to WineAlign for review represent just a fraction of the portfolio; the full selection can be sampled at any of the Terroni locations in Toronto, with many available by the glass. – JS   [Disclosure: John Szabo used to consult for the Terroni Restaurant Group]

Click on the wine name or bottle image to see full reviews by the WineAlign team. Prices shown below are retail and do not include taxes (licensee prices may be less). Cavinona has submitted their agency profile with more details below.

Cellaring Wine

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano Montefalco Sagrantino 2011

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano Montefalco Sagrantino 2011John Szabo – Sagrantino is a burly wine at the best of times, but in the hands of ultra-traditionalist Francesco Antano, following in his father Milziade’s footsteps, this example is a massive grizzly bear of a wine, with Amarone-like dried fruit extract. And at 15.5% alcohol there’s a significant dried grape component to be sure. This is how I imagine wine might have been made in Umbria in the 16th century (although probably sweeter). Tannins are thick and chewy – you’ll need a chain saw to carve a path to the finish if you open it now. It’s not to be touched without a giant roast of beef or lamb on the table, or hard cheese, or anything with salt and protein to soften the impact. Better yet, tuck this away for a decade; it will reward patience. For the Cellar.

David Lawrason – This is pricey, but not out of the realm at $50. This traditionally rendered example is 100% sagrantino aged over three years in large oak, and several months in bottle before release. It pours deep ruby black. The nose is chock full of blueberry/prunish and black olive fruit well framed by spicy, woodsy oak and licorice. It’s full bodied, dense and firmly tannic and drying yet surprisingly, not too austere. The length is excellent. Ready to drink now despite the tannins suggesting otherwise. They will melt into a hearty stew or lasagna.

Steve Thurlow – Though this is fine to drink now it will surely improve in the cellar over the next decade if one can resist. It is a deep almost opaque ruby red made from the sagrantino grape with an appealing elegant nose of black cherry fruit with a floral tone plus licorice, black olive, prune and tar. The fullbodied palate is well balanced by soft acidity making it feel lighter and adding to the elegance. The finish is dry with the fruit persisting well. Excellent length. It is fine now but will reward from some time in the cellar.

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano 2011 Montefalco Rosso Riserva

Fattoria Di Milziade Antano Montefalco Rosso Riserva 2011David Lawrason – Proprietor and winemaker Francisco Antano is making quite traditional, concrete fermented, long aged reds in Montefalco. The ‘Riserva’ is based on 65% sangiovese with sagrantino, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, aged 36 months in large barrels. This is a very seductive, rich but old-styled, slightly oxidative and volatile red. The bouquet nicely weaves complex leather, dusty wood, forest notes and curranty fruit, with a touch of acetone. It’s full bodied, dense and smooth with impressive texture. The acetic notes creeps on the finish. The length is excellent. Needs a rich meat dish.

Michael Godel – The WineAlign team tasted three wines by Milziade side by side by side. This was a great learning experience and a portal into their style. It also allowed us to imagine the aging potential of these monster reds from Umbria. This is Italian wine to define the meaning of provinciale, deeply ingrained for place, history and tradition. This Riserva is a perfect candidate for up to 10 years in the cellar.

Function Wines

Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé, Lombardy

Steve Thurlow – This is a very classy rose bubbly that would be a sure hit at an upmarket reception if those attending are Champagne lovers. It is a pale caramel in colour but there is little sign of worrisome oxidation to its complex nose of white cherry fruit with mineral and brioche aromas plus some floral and mild toffee notes, which could easily be mistaken for real Champagne. The palate is lightweight with a touch of sweetness and lively vibrant acidity. Finely balanced with very good to excellent length.

David Lawrason – This very pale, almost pearl pink traditional method rose is made from 60% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir, part of which was aged in barrel as a first wine. Together they were aged 24 months on the lees. It has a fairly generous, vaguely sour cherryish fruit, bready and mineral nose that could easily be mistaken for Champagne. It’s light-bodied, slim and quite elegant with a touch of sweetness. Really very tender, but not soft. The length is very good to excellent. Good value in elegant rose bubbly.

Micheal Godel – Franciacorta is not the most well-known or understood bubbles but it can be fascinating stuff. This is a total, classical, storied package of gastronomy in a bottle. Not so much Rosé as much as bubbles with a fostered history of age.

La Cavalchina 2014 Bardolino Chiaretto, Veneto

La Cavalchina Bardolino Chiaretto 2014 Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta RoséMichael Godel – It’s summer and with outdoor functions in full swing, every host needs to have a Rosé on hand. Bardolino from Verona in the Italian Veneto does blush in a beautifully subtle way. This Chiaretto is a true food Rosé. It has everything you might want or need to pair with a feast of cuisine.

David Lawrason – This pale coppery, onion-skin shaded rose is from the shores of Lago di Garda in northeast Italy. Chiaretto is the local name for the rose genre in this area. It has mild and subtle nose of dried strawberry and herbs. It’s light to medium bodied with firm but not tart acidity, a hint of background sweetness yet a dry, slightly mineral and earthy finish. Nice sense of poise and polish, with very good length.

Personal House Wines

Terre Di Giurfo 2013 Kudyah Nero d’Avola, Sicily

John Szabo – This is a pretty, floral, rather elegant version of Sicily’s flagship red variety, with fine-grained, dusty tannins and lively acids. I love the freshness and balance here, often missing in many over-wrought versions of nero d’avola. It’s the sort of versatile, easy-drinking, but authentic and characterful wine you want to have around at all times. Drink with a light chill.

Michael Godel – Kudyah is the arabic name for the Sicilian town of Licodea Eubea nearest to the producer Terre di Giurfo’s vineyards. Nero d’Avola not shrouded in oak, full of red fruit and all about simple, direct pleasure. A stress reliever. What else can you ask to get out of a house wine?

Contadi Franciacorta N/V Brut, Lombardia

John Szabo – No house should be without a stock of bubbly on hand, and this Franciacorta plays double duty: classy (and expensive) enough to impress on special occasions, yet not so far out of reach that grabbing a bottle on Tuesday night will end in financial ruin. Contadi (est. 1987) is a quality spin-off operation from the excellent Bellavista winery in the same region (under the Terra Moretti umbrella), a lovely fullish and fleshy Franciacorta, on the richer side of brut to be sure, ample, mouthfilling and satisfying.

David Lawrason – Franciacorta is considered the finest classic method sparkler of Italy. It’s a nicely slim, fairly intensely flavoured bubbly with a hint of sweetness cushioning the tart acidity. Expect complex aromas of dried pear/apple fruit, almond, light toast and an undercurrent of mushroomy earthiness. Lively, light and pleasant on the palate, with serious flavour depth. Excellent length; very good value.

Terre di Giurfo Kudyah Nero d'Avola 2013Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta BrutCarvinea Frauma 2008

Gifting Wines

Carvinea 2008 Frauma, IGT Salento Rosso, Puglia

John Szabo – Although this is a thoroughly modern wine made by consulting oenologist Riccardo Cotarella in his unabashedly international style, and has little to do with Pugliese traditions, it’s nonetheless a bottle with massive appeal that will impress widely. The blend of 60% Aglianico, and 40% Petit Verdot yields plenty of dark, ultra ripe fruit, very dense, battling with generous lashings of coffee-flavoured oak for domination on the palate. This could handily compete with many in the super Tuscan genre; be sure to share with your naysaying friends who believe that Italy begins and ends in Florence.

David Lawrason – Wow – great aromatic fireworks here, with considerable depth and elegance. No wonder it has earned a rare three glasses from Gambero Rosso. The winery is small but consulting winemaker Riccardo Cotarella is a big name in Italian wine. Love the lifted, complex riot of dried currant/pruny fruit, soya, balsamic, olive and smoked herbs. It’s full bodied, intense yet silky on the palate, with excellent to outstanding focus and length. Love the mineral/pencil lead trail petit verdot leaves on the finish.

Steve Thurlow – This is an excellent complex Italian red that would be a good restaurant wine by the glass since it is from a relatively unknown region and is consequently well priced for such a complex wine and would benefit from some promotion (plus any wine remaining in an opened bottle would probably improve over several days). It has a very enticing nose of dried blackcurrant, black cherry and prune fruit with smokey bacon, dried herbs, kelp and tobacco. The palate is midweight and very juicy with fine balancing tannin and vibrant acidity. Excellent length and great focus. Will gain in complexity as the tannins fold into the wine.


For more reviews, visit the agent’s profile page on WineAlign: Cavinona Wine Agency. Because these wines are not in stores, remember to click “All sources” and “show wines with zero inventory” to see all of the reviews.

Cavinona Wine Agency

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

This report was sponsored by the Cavinona Wine Agency. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Cavinona has provided the following agency profile with more details on their consignment program and delivery options.


Cavinona Wine Agency

Cavinona Wine AgencyCavinona is an Ontario-based wine agency that imports Italian wines.

Cavinona has handpicked over fifty wine producers throughout the Italian peninsula and distributes their wines exclusively to the Terroni family of restaurants and to private consumers through our online store at

We seek out small regional producers who are driven by passion for quality and devotion to traditional Italian culture. All our wines come from producers who go against the grain of mass marketing and the homogenization of wine. Rather, they strive to uphold the principles of regional diversity. Our producers create wine that reflects the indigenous grape varieties and the soils and climate of their region.

Our goal is to offer the best expressions of Italy’s enormous range of native grape varieties. From vintners whose winemaking philosophies tend toward tradition and minimal intervention, we invite you to discover wines that are true to the grape, the people and the place.

For consumers living within the Toronto area we offer daytime delivery to your home or office starting at $10.50 for the first case (5 cases or more are free). For clients living outside of the Toronto area we can also ship wines to an LCBO of your choice at no extra cost. The shipment usually takes 2-4 weeks, but may take up to 8 depending on the business of the season and distance the case must travel. Your chosen LCBO store will give you a call to let you know when your order has arrived.

You can subscribe to our Newsletter here. – (416) 203-6108


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Buy The Case: Treasury Wine Estates

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario


Each month we will taste wines submitted by one importing agent. WineAlign core critics will independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews will be posted to WineAlign. We will then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report. Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines.

These recommended wines can only be purchased by the case from importers registered in the LCBO’s Consignment Program. They are ‘already landed and stocked’ wines that can be delivered directly to your restaurant, home or office. For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here.

June – Treasury Wine Estates

Treasury Wine Estates is a global wine company with a large portfolio including some of the world’s most recognised wine brands. Names like Penfolds, Stags’ Leap Winery, Etude, Wynns and Wolf Blass are regularly found in the LCBO and VINTAGES, but in addition many others are available through their consignment program. Four WineAlign critics sat down in late May to taste a dozen Treasury submissions. Here are our recommendations, grouped loosely under reasons why we would buy the wine by the case.

Click on the wine name or bottle image to see full reviews by the WineAlign team. Prices shown below are retail and do not include taxes (licensee prices may be less). Treasury has submitted their agency profile with more details below.

Restaurant Pours by the Glass

Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011, Tuscany, Italy ($22.95)

Etude Pinot Gris 2013 Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2011Steve Thurlow – A very typical Chianti with mild aromas and a soft midweight fruity palate that will work well with a wide variety of meat and cheese dishes. It is supple and smooth on the palate but there is just the right amount of acidity for freshness and some firm tannin for grip. It finishes dry with good to very good length. Best with food.
Michael Godel – This Tuscan offers the best of both worlds, in two ways. First, this is Sangiovese made by an old wine making family steeped in tradition under the conglomerate ownership of a very large wine company that supports with modern infrastructure. Second, the wine is rich, modern and approachable with accents that reek of old world style. Sometimes wine with a foot each in the past and the present is a very good thing. Ideal for the licensee in need of wines with broad, immediate and accessible appeal.

Cellaring Wine or Gifting Wine

Etude 2013 Pinot Gris, Carneros, California ($39.95)

John Szabo – Etude is one of the classier operations in Carneros, always focused on elegance and refinement. This is a wine to buy a case of, keep a few bottles for yourself, and give the rest away to your close, wine-savvy friends with a nudge and a wink (they wouldn’t likely spend $40 on a bottle of California pinot gris, which means they would miss out on this lovely wine, perfect at the table with anything lightly spiced and aromatic herb-infused). You’ll become their go-to wine source, if you weren’t already.
Michael Godel – If not the first to do so, this Carneros offers a rare comparison in the way it intimates with near pitch-perfect exactitude the kind of Pinot Gris experience that comes from a similarly priced, lieu-dit, ‘premier cru’ Alsatian. Etude’s stylish PG should be considered a case buy without hesitation, to enjoy once a year for the next dozen. Or, convince a wine geek friend or two to split the case with you.

Function Wines or Personal House Wines

Chateau St. Jean 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Usa ($19.95)

Colores Del Sol Malbec 2012 Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon 2012John Szabo – This is a smart option when a foolproof, widely appealing wine is required, like those larger functions (with decent budgets) with important but unknown guests that you need to impress. This has the star power of both California and cabernet sauvignon, coupled to name brand recognition amongst those in the know, for a powerful and attractive combination.
Sara d’Amato – A touch pricey for an everyday house wine but one to stock up on for when barbecued steak is on the menu. There is an impressive amount of substance and depth here and without sweetness or the use excessive oak.
Steve Thurlow – This is a pretty cabernet with some nice floral tones to the cassis fruit and oak spice. The midweight palate is soft and juicy and dry with some mild tannin on the finish. Good to very good length. Good value for an appealing Californian cabernet.
Michael Godel – Having first tasted this at dinner with winemaker Margo Van Staaveren, what stood out so profoundly was this simple, ‘entry-level’ California Cabernet Sauvignon’s ability to mimic and transition to Chateau St. Jean’s more expensive and increasingly complex Cabernets. At this price you can pour at will to crowds large and small.

Seasonal Wines

Colores del Sol 2012 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($11.95)

John Szabo – A perfectly serviceable, soft and fruity, easy drinking malbec, which fulfills the party or BBQ wine role nicely. At this price you can serve generously, while your guests will think you spent more on this fashionable bottle, as Argentine Malbec continues to garner recognition and sales.
Steve Thurlow – This is a soft somewhat overripe malbec with some high toned aromas on top of the blueberry fruit with peppermint and honey. The palate is soft and fruity with some tannin showing up on the finish. Good to very good length. Try with burgers or grilled sausage.

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2012 Devil's Lair Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Six Packs Please

Devil’s Lair Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Margaret River, Australia, $49.95

Sara d’Amato – Dry, full-bodied and most importantly balanced, this fleshy cabernet from Devil’s Lair has preserved an impressive amount of acidity contributing to a solid, age-worthy wine. What is most compelling, however, is the wine’s savory, floral nose with notes of mint, black fruit and purple flower. Available in an easy to swallow 6-pack case.

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2012, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia ($29.95)

Sara d’Amato – Beautifully developed, this cool climate pinot noir from select parcels throughout the Yarra Valley delivers a round, appropriately rich and appealing palate with impressive complexity. Offered in a 6-pack case, it will be easy to find friends who are willing to split.

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

This report was sponsored by the Treasury Wine Estates. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Treasury has provided the following agency profile with more details on their consignment program and delivery options.


Consignment at Treasury Wine Estates:

Treasury Wine EstatesWe are passionate about providing our clientele with the very best wines and service in the industry. We provide daytime delivery to your residence or office within the Greater Toronto Area. This service is completely complimentary, regardless of the volume purchased. We strive to ensure that all orders are delivered within five business days.

Our consignment program has been designed to make the procurement of our fine wines simple and bespoke. Wines can also be delivered to an LCBO store of your choice at no additional cost.  This service usually takes two to four weeks however, could take longer based on the geographical location of the clientele’s LCBO of choice. The cases arrive pre-paid and we simply email an invoice or credit card slip in advance. The store will then call to notify you when the requested wine has arrived.

Throughout the process, your personal consignment concierge is only a phone call or email away if there are any questions.

Phone: 905-337-6217  |  Mobile: 416-358-0177  |

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Buy The Case: Trialto Wine Group

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario


Each month we will taste wines submitted by one importing agent. WineAlign core critics will independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews will be posted to WineAlign. We will then independently recommend wines to appear in our Buy The Case report. Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines.

These recommended wines can only be purchased by the case from importers registered in the LCBO’s Consignment Program. They are ‘already landed and stocked’ wines that can be delivered directly to your restaurant, home or office. For an explanation of the program, the process and our 10 Good Reasons to Buy the Case, please click here.

May 2015 – Trialto Wine Group

Trialto is Canada’s largest national purveyor of premium wines. Their Consignment selection in Ontario is quite extensive. Three WineAlign critics sat down in late April to taste 15 Trialto submissions. Italy has shone through in this report. Here are our recommendations, grouped loosely under reasons why we would buy the wine by the case.

Click on the wine name or bottle image to see full reviews by the WineAlign team. Prices shown below are retail and do not include taxes (licensee prices may be less). Trialto has submitted their agency profile with more details below.

Restaurant Pours by the Glass

Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barbera D'alba 2013

Joseph Faiveley 2012 BourgogneJoseph Faiveley Bourgogne 2012, France ($23.95)

Sara d’Amato – A dynamite entry-level Burgundy offered in an easy-to-swallow 6-pack case. If you’re a lover of pinot noir, you’ll know that you can spend a great deal of time and money finding a great example, so take advantage of this pre-screened beauty.
Michael Godel – Crafted as if to the letter of entry-level Bourgogne law. Bright, animated, ripe, affable, under-currant earthy and wholly, purposefully, decidedly approachable.

Borgogno 2013 Barbera D’alba, Piedmont, Italy ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This is a classic barbera; such a great food wine. It’s jammed with berry fruit that assuages the grape’s natural acidity. This a classy yet friendly wine to stock for casual Italian dinners. Should be on any Italian wine list, and even personal house wine for any Italian food lover. It’s available in six-bottle cases, but I would buy 12.
Michael Godel – Popping Barbera full of strapping substantial fruit, mind-meddling acidity and thankfully, playful rhythm and blues chords.

Cellaring Wine

Montresor 2011 Castelliere delle Guaite Primo Ripasso

Neal Cabernet 2009 SauvignonNeal Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, California ($59.00)
Michael Godel – Spirited, elevated tones and full, fleshy fruit endow this Neal with long-term capabilities. Somehow you just yet know it will evolve in this exact state for another 10 years…cellaring or gifting wine.

Montresor 2011 Castelliere delle Guaite Primo Ripasso, Valpolicella Superiore, Italy ($24.95)
Michael Godel – So much flavour and a Quintarelli style, of rust, antiquity and liqueur. Buy a case, wait up to 10 years and drink it over the next 10. You’ll revel in telling everyone how much you paid in back in 2015…curio selections or cellaring wine.

Function Wines

Pares Balta Brut Cava, Spain ($13.95)

David Lawrason – This is a rare organically produced cava, that captures both a light, racy feel and complex flavours. With good stony acidity and only 11.5% alcohol there is a fine sense of tenderness and raciness. Excellent pricing here. Purchase by the case for a larger function where guests will be impressed by something a bit different.

Vietti 2012 Perbaco Nebbiolo Delle Langhe, Piedmont, Italy ($28.95)

David Lawrason – Perbacco is a fine value intro to Piemontese nebbiolo. It could lead off the Piedmont nebbiolo section of an Italian wine list, or in-fill a personal cellar with a shorter term Piemonte red.  It is actually a de-classified Barolo, from 35-year-old vines in the Barolo region. Balanced to drink now with some aeration but this will age nicely through 2020.
Michael Godel – A prevailing and concurrent nebbiolo presence, of tar and roses, is modern, magnified and inextricably tied to its declassified single Barolo vineyard. Makes for great value in young nebbiolo (think classy Italian wedding).
Sara d’Amato – A ready-to-drink nebbiolo with softer than the norm tannins but delivering loads of concentration. Entice your friends to pool funds with the explanation that this is a declassified Barolo offering a great deal of complexity at a much better price.

Parés Baltà Cava Brut Vietti Perbacco Langhe Nebbiolo 2012 Terras Gauda Abadia San Campio Albariño Rias Baixas 2014 Montresor Valpolicella 2012

Seasonal Wines

Terras Gauda Abadia San Campio 2014 Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain ($21.95)

Michael Godel – Highly complex aromatics, as if by blend. Lingers for longer than expected. A bright, spirited, fine example of Albariño and ideal for the warm months.

Personal House Wines

Montresor 2012 Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($12.95)
David Lawrason – If I was running an Italian/Mediterranean restaurant this would be my bargain priced ace-in-the-hole red for those ordering lighter fare. It is classic/traditional Valpolicella, and great value! It’s only mid-weight but carries a sense of compactness and balance. Not a sipping red. 12 bottle case.
Sara d’Amato – Frankly, Valpolicella, from the northeastern region of Veneto, is not often the most exciting of Italian reds nor is it highly coveted. I was thus doubly surprised when I tasted this well-priced and impressive example from Montresor. Punchy, flavourful and easy to drink, keep this around for everyday pasta and pizza nights.

Curio Selections

Montresor Capitel Alto 2013

Giacomo Borgogno & Figli No Name 2011Giacomo Borgogno & Figli 2011 “No Name”, Piedmont, Italy ($39.95)
Sara d’Amato – Purposefully unnamed as to protest Italian wine bureaucracy, here’s a great find for pre-demonstration drinks or election watching. Not only is it a compelling wine made from Northern Italy’s choice grape varietal, nebbiolo, but it is available in a rare 3-bottle case making it a much more affordable prospect.

Montresor 2013 Capitel Alto Soave, Veneto, Italy ($16.95)

David Lawrason – Soave may be known for inexpensive, everyday whites but better examples like this offer weight, substance and complexity. Performs above its price, and should work well with richer white meat and risotto dishes. A hand-sell in restaurants but worth it; home chefs will find it a great addition to the repertoire. Available in a six bottle case.
Sara d’Amato – ‘Tis the season for delectable whites and if the recent heat doesn’t melt you than this doozy of a Soave will certainly do the trick. Despite its refreshing nature, it is certainly not light and trivial – there is real power and character here that will make the most refined palate take note.
Michael Godel – Quite the salubrious Soave, purveyor of good feelings and with the words party pleaser inscribed across its Veronese face.

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

This report was sponsored by the Trialto Wine Group. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. Trialto has provided the following agency profile with more details on their consignment program and delivery options.

Trialto Wine Group

TrialtoTrialto is a team of passionate wine professionals representing the most prestigious premium wines from around the world, and serving the Canadian market by helping liquor boards, retailers and restaurants source, market and sell these wines. We are a small independent company, run by the owners and built to serve the small and medium sized family owned wineries we represent; helping them succeed in a world that is increasingly becoming dominated by vertically integrated, global giant corporations. Trialto works exclusively with premium wines; no beer, no volume spirits, no bulk wines. We have 60 employees in offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal and “feet on the street” in 12 major cities.

Trialto represents “wine of people, place and time”. Our wines tell a story about people; the families who make the wine, their values, history and culture. We connect the people who make the wine to the people who buy, sell, drink and write about the wine; our relationships and networks are our business. Wines that authentically represent a place play an important role in preserving the culture and history of that place. We are all about telling a story through place, and allowing people to experience place through wine.  At Trialto our goal is to spend time with the people behind the wines, learn their stories, and convey their stories through the wines we represent.

Liquid Art Selections is Trialto’s dedicated portfolio of rare, special and allocated wines. A separate portfolio of some of the world’s most sought after wines supported by a team of Canada’s finest wine professionals. Liquid Art began with just a handful of undiscovered producers in 1989 and has since grown to represent some of the world’s most sought-after estates, from the traditional to the cutting edge. Behind the Liquid Art success story is a well-defined goal of providing lovers of fine wines with top quality products that consistently deliver. We are the exclusive representatives for our Partner producer’s wines in our markets and have grown to be one of our market’s most respected wine importers, specializing in sourcing impeccably cellared examples of the world’s greatest and most sought-after wines.

You can subscribe to Trialto’s newsletters and receive exclusive offers here.

How to order wine from Trialto:

For consumers living within the GTA area we offer daytime delivery to your home or office free of charge, regardless of how many cases are purchased. For clients in in the outer GTA/Oakville/Mississauga/Brampton/Burlington/Hamilton we offer delivery for a $15 flat rate (including HST), regardless of case volume. For all other parts of Ontario we offer delivery for a $25 flat rate (including HST) regardless of case volume. Generally orders can be delivered within 5 business days.

For all clients we can also ship wines to an LCBO of your choice at no extra cost. The shipment usually takes 2-4 weeks, but may take up to 8 in peak seasons or based on distance. The cases arrive pre-paid, we e-mail you the invoice and credit card slip and the store should give you a call to let you know they’ve arrived.

If you have any questions, you can direct them to us at Trialto Wine Group at (416)532-8565 or by email at


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Northernlands : The Great Canadian Wine and Craft Beer Adventure

Treve’s Travels
by Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Earlier this spring, all wine, beer and spirit routes led to Edmonton. Yes, Edmonton. Over 60 craft producers from coast to coast headed to our country’s belly to share wares, feast well and collaborate on ideas. The sprouted brainchild of the city’s wine guru, and past WineAlign national judge Gurvinder Bhatia, Northernlands transformed the bustling city into a Canadian food and wine nexus. For a few days, Edmonton was THE place to learn about, taste, drink our boozy bounty and feast on our culinary riches, all the while raising funds for the High School Culinary Challenge and the Edmonton Community Foundation Grateful Palate Fund.

Anyone who knows Gurvinder – and is there anyone in the industry that doesn’t know this popular television / radio / magazine / retail personality and amaro promoter? – knows that his vision is only matched by his commitment. I shouldn’t have been so surprised then, when this inaugural festival was so complete and organized and so well attended by presenters and consumers. I was able to participate both behind the scenes as a wine judge (which I can attest to is an entire event in itself) and a seminar presenter (let’s do some food and wine mythbusting, plus a look at Canadian sparkling coast to coast) as well as a public imbiber at the main Meet Your Makers event (another freestanding, massive event to coordinate and execute, including a kick ass ping pong tournament!)


The fact that Gurvinder organized and orchestrated both of these, as well as wine dinners with guest and local chefs for 800 consumers (!!) around the city of Edmonton, as well as a series of public educational wine and food seminars – over the space of a few short days – still leaves me gobsmacked, and entirely impressed with his vision and his close knit team of family and friends who supported him.

“As a first year festival we were very pleased on a number of levels”, reflects Gurvinder a few days post event. “Only a handful of the 800 seats at 20 producer dinners occurring simultaneously around the city on the Friday night were not filled, over 800 guests (with another 200 on the waitlist) attended the Meet Your Makers event on the Saturday night and the majority of the seminars were either sold out or close to sold out. Most importantly, by the response I’ve received from the participating wine producers, craft breweries, chefs, national and international judges/journalists and guests, we’ve taken significant steps in the right direction to achieve the festival’s mandate which is to raise the profile of the Canadian wine and culinary industries nationally and internationally; celebrate the individuals responsible for the innovation and quality evolution of the Canadian wine, craft beverage and culinary industries; bring producers and chefs together from coast to coast and create opportunities for discussion and collaboration; help to evolve the wine and culinary culture of our community and country; bring attention to Edmonton as a culinary destination; and raise funds for two very important community charitable organizations.”

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Indeed, the sunny spring weekend left attendees and participants on a high – a welcome and encompassing, high quality festival that encourages participation and collaboration and helps to make quality Canadian wines more familiar and accessible to the general population.

Of course, Gurvinder’s vision doesn’t end here. “I am hoping that we can grow the event to encourage even greater participation from producers across the country and encourage attendance from guests across not just western Canada, but the entire country, north-western United States and even beyond. I’d like to get greater involvement from the trade, both locally and across the region. I’d also like to expand the number of international judges/journalists invited to accelerate the global exposure of the Canadian wine, craft beverage and culinary industries. We can be proud of what our country is producing. We need to let the rest of the world know and we also need to have outside eyes helping to let us know where we stand compared to the rest of the world.”

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The plan for the next instalment would be for two years from now, and once all the feedback and financials are tallied, Gurvinder will make the final decision later this year. He notes, “If the initial response is any indication (the producers have to see the value in what we are trying to accomplish with respect to the big picture in order for the festival to continue), we will make every effort to do it again.”

And if Gurvinder envisions Northernlands in 2017, you should clear your calendar now.


The Wine Competition saw just under 200 entries from Vancouver Island to Nova Scotia, and was judged by a panel of Canadian and International judges over a period of two days. The category winners, and my personal tasting notes, are below:


Best Red Wine: Road 13 Jackpot Syrah 2011, Okanagan Valley BC

Best White Wine : Tawse Sketches Riesling 2013, Niagara Peninsula Ontario

Best Sticky : Henry of Pelham Special Select Late Harvest Vidal 2013, Ontario

Runner Up : Tawse Winery Riesling Icewine 2013, Niagara Peninsula

Best Bubbles : Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Sparkling Riesling 2013, Twenty Mile Bench Ontario

Runner Up : Henry of Pelham Family Estate Cuvee Catharine Brut NV, Niagara Peninsula Ontario

Benjamin Bridge Brut 2009, Gaspereau Valley Nova Scotia 


Best Merlot : 8th Generation Vineyard 2012, Okanagan Valley BC

Runner Up : Tinhorn Creek Vineyards Oldfield Series 2011, Okanagan Valley BC

Best Red Blend : Clos du Soleil Celestiale 2012, British Columbia

Runner Up : Road 13 Fifth Element 2011, Okanagan BC

Best Pinot Noir : Meyer Family Vineyards ‘McLean Creek Vineyard’ 2013, Okanagan Valley

Runner Up : JoieFarm Winery 2012, Okanagan BC

Best Cabernet Franc : Burrowing Owl 2011, Okanagan BC

Runner Up : Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery 2012, Okanagan BC

Best Syrah : Road 13 Jackpot 2011, Okanagan BC

Runner Up : Church and State Winery Coyote Bowl 2011, Okanagan BC

Best Pinot Gris : Lake Breeze Vineyards 2014, Okanagan BC

Runner Up : 50th Parallel Estate 2014, Okanagan BC

Best Chardonnay : Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2013, Okanagan BC

Runner Up : JoieFarm Winery Reserve “En Famille” 2012, Okanagan BC

Best Riesling : Tawse Sketches 2013, Niagara Peninsula Ontario

Runner Up : 8th Generation Vineyard Riesling Classic 28 Year Old Vines 2013, Okanagan BC



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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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