More red less green

Italian sausage and dumplings

Italian sausage and dumplings

What matters most when choosing a bottle of wine? Is the top spot on the criteria scale occupied by a need for value, to spend as little as possible and get the most for the dollar? Are ripeness, extraction and full-bodied the distractions necessary to gain pleasure from bottle? Are location, plot and soil a part of the equation? When the question is posed, “do you believe in terroir?” the answers come from both sides. Cathy Corison wrote this on Saturday.

With yet another stretch of inclement and less than soul-warming weather upon us, red wine is back in fashion (does it ever fall from?) and thus the opportunity is afforded to throw a few more bottles into the “ever on the mind” search. More real possibilities offering up increased positives on the probability factor scale. Wines just released on Saturday via the perpetual wheel that is the VINTAGES program.

Italian wines at VINTAGES April 18th, 2015

Italian wines at VINTAGES April 18th, 2015

Wine buying can be as much about humouring the exercitation of the intellect as it can be about the derivation of simple pleasure. With today already having caused a reflection on how rain and water went dripping down the back of the neck on a long promenade from A to B, a craving for deep red has begun. Wines that cause an opine in spiritual meets historical allegory ideation, reds to yearn for in desperate immediacy. Spain and Italy occupy this narcissistic niche, what with their attention to mid-palate, to filling voids, holes, vacuums and structural chasms. On Saturday the following six reds were made available. They are all highly recommended.

From left to right: Brigaldara Valpolicella 2013, Torres Celeste Crianza 2011, Carpineto Chianti Classico 2012, Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2009 and Alión 2011

From left to right: Brigaldara Valpolicella 2013, Torres Celeste Crianza 2011, Carpineto Chianti Classico 2012, Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2009 and Alión 2011

Brigaldara Valpolicella 2013, Doc, Veneto, Italy (917864, $14.95, WineAlign)

Fresh, juicy, ripe, succulent and straightforward Valpolicella. Like Chianti to Classico, this is the star of the less heralded appellative group. Unencumbered fruit prosperity with just a touch of tension on the finish in the forms of earth and citrus. What more could you want and why pay more than this $15 from the Veneto? Elegance, diplomacy, delicatesse and time-honoured elucidation. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015  @Brigaldarawines  @rogcowines  @TurismoVeneto  @RegioneVeneto

Torres Celeste Crianza 2011, Do Ribera Del Duero, Spain (210872, $20.95, WineAlign)

Tempranillo modernity arrives with 2011 in as much as Celeste has ever shown. Drunken fruit, big bones and high tones lay lashings on the olfactory senses. Full on drupe, tightly turned wires and sparking electrical tacks with a rhythm “that makes your fingers snap crackle pop pop fizz fizz.” Like a jayou, “to knock someone out, or render them unconscious or senseless.” Jurassic Tempranillo with retro hip hop chalky oak overlapping plum, strawberry and cherry. A super fruit group that strikes it rich and raps long. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @TorresWines  @FwmWine  @DORibera

Carpineto Chianti Classico 2012, Tuscany, Italy (356048, $21.95, WineAlign)

For Chianti Classico, 2012 was a good year, not too warm yet ripening occurred early, with the quality set to high, but the quantities were low. A winemaker’s vintage. Carpineto’s CC comes from the northern aspect of the appellation, from a conca (amphitheater) seven km’s east of Greve, by the piccolo hamlet of Dudda. It’s cooler in this part of Chianti, with more rock imparting flavour and textured sensations into the reds. The ’12 is essentially 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 per cent Canaiolo, give or take 10 per cent. Aromas of roses and wet rocks, fresh ripe plums mashed into tomatoes, herbs and a spicy side note. Old school and precisely what CC should be, minus the funk (which it does not have or need). Ultimate pasta wine right here. Traditional style in an up to date way with temperature control and all the tools of a modern facility. No VA, no barnyard, but really natural. This explains the axiom of maintaining tradition. With so many story lines already spoken for in sectarian Chianti, maybe that is the only thing Carpineto has left to hang their Zuccotto on. David Lawrason hits the nail head on. A Chianti that “resets the compass.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2014 and April 2015.  @CarpinetoWines  @chianticlassico  @TandemSelection



Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011, Docg Tuscany, Italy (988055, $29.95, WineAlign)

Consistently the most accessible and moreover well structured Vino Nobile in this market, never wavering or straying from its style. The 2011 perpetuates the credibility card, in avoidance of trends or fashion. The vintage offers the ever-present multitude of red and black fruits, baking spices and percolating, though never drenching, of wood. The fruit seeps, steeps and the familiarity breeds weeps, with bittersweet thanks to a wine that tastes like home.The 11’s warmth means less tension than some other, grittier years but as always, this is a stellar take on the local strain of Sangiovese known as Prugnolo Gentile. Still, this needs three to four years to come to the right place. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @PolizianoAzAgr  @Noble_Estates  @consorzionobile

Fattoria Dei Barbi Brunello Di Montalcino 2009, Docg Tuscany, Italy (928028, $49.95, WineAlign)

As Fattoria dei Barbi continues to evolve and esteem its rustic self within the context of modern Brunello, the quality increases with each vintage, regardless it seems, of the weather. If 2008 was the true turning point, 2009 cements the current inclination, in that Barbi combines antique with state-of-the-art as well as any Montalcino house. This ’09 is as accessible as the classic norm of firm, sylvan Barbi can be. More so than even the forward ’07 and yet in many respects unlike any that have come before. Has savoury syrup and earthy concentration, seeped tea and a hint of sweet-scented game. Strawberry in the heat of an early July morning ripening on dewy wet pine straw. The evergreen notes are strong, like a vapour rub and the direct, tart, firm finish brings the wine back to the barometer’s median point. Really fine Brunello offering the best of two worlds. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted April 2015  @FATTORIABARBI  @Noble_Estates  @ConsBrunello

Alión 2011, Do Ribera Del Duero, Spain (199331, $89.95, WineAlign)

Here in 2011, Ribera all in, with it all going on. The smoky, rich hue, replayed in aroma, with full-on red berries, massively extracted, warm, lush and luscious. Rhubarb, yet picked ripe and sunlit initiates the savoury intent, followed by spice arbor, in vanilla and lavender, clean, brackish, creamy, dense and of a pure sweetness. Acidity, power and tannin beset the back palate environs, laying dominion to a permanent 20-year placard. How can such a wine have it all? Should it be all of these things? How can such a sexy beast exist, strutting, sultry and yet so demanding and occupied with tension? The 2011 Alión is more than impressive, it’s a wine deserving to endure for a very long time. Drink 2018-2031.  Tasted April 2015  @DORibera  @HalpernWine

Good to go!

Telmo’s Spanish dream

An afternoon with winemaker Telmo Rodríguez and Lifford Wines

\'Pasero\' detail, Competa, Malaga, September 2007

“Pasero” detail, Competa, Malaga, September 2007; “In Canada you have been drinking the worst Riojas, the undrinkable Riojas.”
Photo: Telmo Rodríguez

as seen on

Telmo Rodríguez the company is a small wine producer fashioning meager quantities from more DOs (and DOCAs) than can fit into a 620 x 400 jpeg. Telmo Rodríguez the man finds himself at the 20th anniversary year crossroads in celebrating the outgrowth of his dream. This critical juncture requires travel, evangelism and conceit, qualities the laser-focused, frank and facund winemaker possesses in spades.

Telmo Rodríguez tasting at Archive Wine Bar

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Telmo Rodríguez tasting at Archive Wine Bar

“We created a (not mass market) Spanish category of wines available at a good price,” says Rodríguez, “a human type of category.” Spain, according to the flying oenologist, is a passionate country with gastronomic clubs, where people cook and eat, to foster a crazy love of local ingredients. Within a 100 km radius around Basque country, “you have the best available products anywhere in Europe,” he boasts. But, he complains, wine has gone in the other direction. He laments the overuse of international grapes, monosyllabic styling and a disappearance of regional character. Wine as fast food.

Telmo Rodríguez sites

Telmo Rodríguez sites

Rodríguez did not want to make wine from international varieties or from recipes. He wanted to make wine from places and their landscapes. After studying in France (Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley) he returned, not wanting to make wine in France, not wanting to emulate France. So began the terroir journey, from Rioja to Galicia, from Ribera to Rueda.

“In Canada you have been drinking the worst Riojas, the undrinkable Riojas.” So he makes wines without the suffocating slings and arrows of outrageous, appellative fortune; no Crianza, no Reserva, no Gran Reserva. “No designations to help the bad producer,” he quips. Tell us how you really feel Telmo.

All the Rodríguez vineyards are organic, but this is something matter of fact, not a literature littered calling card. “We prefer to be known as a good producer. We don’t give too much importance on the winemaker, but more on the place, with respect and with respect for the land. We don’t move grapes from one place to the other.” This is the import of the most parochial of winemakers. Here are tasting notes on a selection of eight wines chosen from across the vast Spanish Telmo Rodríguez portfolio.

From left: Basa Blanco 2012, Gaba Do Xil Godello 2012, and Gaba Do Xil Mencia 2011

From left: Basa Blanco 2012, Gaba Do Xil Godello 2012, and Gaba Do Xil Mencia 2011

Basa Blanco 2012, Rueda, Spain (SAQ, 10264018, $15.95, B.C. 586016, $18.99, WineAlign)

Verdejo so often reached by walking the flat earth is here circumnavigating a more complex world. Smells a bit like Sauvignon Blanc and Telmo Rodríguez admits “it’s the only mistake I made in my life.” Commercial confessional though it leads the way around a round earth. Cool and full of tang with a heavy emphasis on herbiage and metallurgy. Enticing example full of instant gratification.  88  Tasted February 2014

Gaba Do Xil Godello 2012, Do Valdeorras, Spain (SAQ, 11896113, $17.85, WineAlign)

From Valdeorras, “gold country,” here Godello exhales its perfume in waves of gaseous fumes, rushes, meadow wildflowers, lemon thyme and balm. Viscous and nearly chewy, with a slight oxidative note breathing over dry patina hard candy. Stainless steel imagining itself as green oak and Mediterranean salinity combine to give an aura of Galician warmth. Sea, sun, wood and mineral.  88  Tasted February 2014

Mountain Blanco 2012, Málaga, Spain ($25.95)

“I didn’t want to produce this wine because Malaga was all about sweet, related to the past, to the ancestors, to something very deep. It took 10 years to decide to make this wine.” Sun-baked, trenchant, scorched Muscat. Liquid adobe cake from the brown slate soils, between 600 and 900 metres. Antique of a dry white, tinny, sharp, caramelizing, like the crust on a pork loin. Lengthy mountain jam makes you want to eat a peach. Reminiscent of Auxerrois, though certainly more southerly, Moorish even. Pure sec, 100 per cent Muscatel.  87  Tasted February 2014

Gaba Do Xil Mencia 2011, Do Valdeorras, Spain (SAQ, 11861771, $18.00, WineAlign)

The most Atlantic-influenced wine of the tasting, this fluid, medium-rare red. Rodriguez’ base and necessary expression for the “the freshness of Galicia.” Shares an aromatic commonality with Cabernet Franc though its gait is more Northern Rhône Syrah. Anti-serious, easy wine, existing as “a link to the past.” Like going back in time to Valdeorras’ past, into a beautiful home with all its contents having sat untouched and unharmed for 100 years. Fermented in tank so though it may be unprocessed it has that underlay of mineral and grit. Nothing oxy, flashy or large-scale about it. To have wide but not mass appeal. Beneficial length. Increases in approachability as it lays in glass. A taste of chewing crushed granite and plump plum. Honest and humble Mencía.  89  Tasted February 2014

From left: M2 Matallana 2010, Lanzaga 2008, and Altos de Lanzaga 2004

From left: M2 Matallana 2010, Lanzaga 2008, and Altos de Lanzaga 2004

M2 Matallana 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($42.95, WineAlign)

M2 is 100 per cent Tinto Fino 14 months, aged half in new, half in second use barrels. A Tempranillo of dialect specific to place, just as Pinot would be in Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée or Volnay. Telmo not necessarily making Tempranillo, but rather Rodriguez making Ribera, or more specifically, a Tinto Fino gathering from Los Guijarros, Los Hundidos, Carrahoyales, Los Apriscales and La Pirileja. Blatant are the chalk and mineral intertwines, in marbled goodness. Makes quicker work than the Riojas, sheds its skin, peels away its oak and lets the fruit, soil and rock come forth.  92  Tasted February 2014

Lanzaga 2008, Rioja, Spain (SAQ, 11157151, $28.50, WineAlign)

Tempranillo with Graciano and Garnacha. From Rioja Alavesa, vines water-stressed to survive on shallow soil, digging in to Miocene sandstone strata. Begs for protein and development from an unforgiving, stony, calcareous and silty textured land. Fermented in large cement casks, allowing the fruit, which is nearly unparalleled for Rioja, to shine in all its ripe glory. A wind of perfume, a mistral espléndido. Finishes with chalk and ropy grain. Immense length.  92  Tasted February 2014

Altos de Lanzaga 2010, Rioja, Spain ($103.95, WineAlign)

Composed of Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha, 3,000 bottles are made of this ‘Grand Cru’ of Lanzaga. Rodríguez here wants to “try to go as far as possible in the quality of the wine,” a notion that begins and ends with place. “There has to be a rare, exceptional vineyard or it does not make sense to produce a wine like this.” Fermented and aged in the old cellar, in large Foudres, for two years, “to bring back what once was, a long time ago,” with indigenous (wild) yeasts found in that cellar. Here Telmo reinventing the past, the old Rioja, hinting at something exceptional. There is an elevated sweetness that fades into flowers. Rodríguez feels that Rioja must have been a wine made with many different varieties, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Thus the use of the three grapes. Layer upon layer, thin transparent sheets that become one.  93  Tasted February 2014

Altos de Lanzaga 2004, Rioja, Spain ($103.95, WineAlign)

From 65-80 year old vines, 10 years on showing barely discernible age. This wine was an early step in developing the “field blend” dream, of combining several Riojan varieties, “to present the taste, idea and feel of what Rioja used to be.” This wine chases down Telmo’s dream of being a present day, sophisticated winemaker set in an 18th century vintners mind. Altos sets the bar high, in trying to make an exceptional wine, which they would not have been doing then. First and foremost, does this prove or disprove his theory that wine should never be masked by oak?  94  Tasted February 2014

Good to go!

Gripping wines from Spain and Italy


How can winemaking trump terroir?
Photo: 1xpert/

as seen on

Winemakers in the most famous regions of Spain and Italy have gone pro in the practicum of wine that speaks loud and clear. If there is a downside it is the blurring of lines and overlapping of circles, where regions set far apart show similar, if near identical characteristics in their wines. How does this happen? How can winemaking trump terroir?

The simple answer is wood. Barrel usage is a global affair, with wineries scouring oak forests the world over to age their wine. French oak is most used and whether you make wine in central Italy or northern Spain, the oak you employ may result in more than just the commonality of wood. If your processes are tied by similar or even identical ties, your wines may taste eerily like one another, if not outright like kissing cousins.

Despite the oligopoly of technique and the lack of winemaking individuality gone viral in this generation, there are three things that continue to work in favour of regional character. The first is obvious. Soil. Or, more importantly, the components, the rocks and minerals that fleck the earth. Secondly, attitude. Call it conceit if you like but when a winemaker has the guts to make wines we like to call grippy, you can’t help but stand up and take notice. Third and so important to the consumer, is price. Spending $15-30 on wines from the most historic locales such as Burgundy and Bordeaux is almost always nonsensical and a waste. No where else in the world offers grip, pomp and pride like Spain and Italy and in that go to mid-price range.

A pentavalent and benevolent group fits this requiem for commercial gain. Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat from Spain. Chianti and Abruzzo in Italy. A Venn diagram of commonality can be agglomerated from their proclivities. It is in these fab five Old World wine regions where a twain of ancient and state of the art collide. Here are seven gripping wines from Spain and Italy.



Ribera Del Duero

The history: Located in north-central Spain, on a plateau, 90 minutes from Madrid. Ribera, or “river bank,” extends from both sides of the Duero. The Denominación de Origen (D.O.) of Ribera del Duero dates back to 1982.

The lowdown: Highest average elevation in Europe for growing red wine grapes. Summers are hot, winters are cold, rainfall is minimal. Lower vineyards are alluvial with sand and reddish clay. Higher ones built of limestone, marl and chalk. Tempranillo in the main grape. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

CEPA 21 HITO 2010, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (360503, $17.95, WineAlign)

Oh the shaken, modern humanity. Nothing shocking here, this 100 per cent Tempranillo parfait of silky chocolate, mixed berries, vanilla and wood chips. Finds parity in biting red cherry flavour. Though it may as well be any ambiguous, heterogeneous or hermaphroditic $30 IGT, its price puts it at the front of the line. Fun to drink, high-toned, textured and structured, though its origins are not at once obvious. Will evolve felicitously for five to seven years.  89  Tasted December 2013  @DrinkRibera

ÉBANO CRIANZA 2008, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (355099, $21.95, WineAlign)

Amid a sea of Spanish reds, this Ribera stands alone as the most modern on the table. Dusty, trenchant dark chocolate, mocha crema, thick, syrupy, rehydrated plum fruit. Accented by both white and black pepper, anise and a late lash of astringent tannin. Abrasive as a pleading Waits croon, this Crianza is “better than a cup of gold. See only a chocolate Jesus can satisfy my soul.” Another Ribera with qualities akin to present day, Sangiovese dominated Chianti Classico. Immaculate confection.  89  Tasted December 2013  @EuroVinatage

RESALTE DE PEÑAFIEL PEÑA ROBLE RESERVA 2004, Ribera Del Duero, Spain  (355107, $31.95, WineAlign)

Typically modern version with just the right amount of age. Interesting to see nearly 10 year-old Ribera, with so much obvious oak and modernity retain its fruit lushness and presence after such a chunk of time could have stripped away its freshness. Candied violets and pansy, peppery nasturtium and marble slab, rocky road ice cream. Oak nearly integrated but persistent in chalky texture. Confounding bareback ride on a wild 100 per cent Tempranillo horse that bucks as if Bordeaux or Rhône varieties would seem to bolster the whole.  90  Tasted December 2013




The history: Central Italy, stretching from the heart of the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea.

The lowdown: Mostly mountainous and wild terrain. The four DOC produced in Abruzzo are the Contro Guerra, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. Montepulciano is the most planted red variety. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2009 and 2010.

CIRELLI MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 2012, Abruzzo, Italy (663939, $17.95, WineAlign)

Winemaker superstar to be Francesco Cirelli does what more should do. Age organic grapes of purity and pristine quality in clay Amphore. The natural empathy and wisdom of crop rotation (for more than just grapevines) drives the logic and proportion of Cirelli’s wines. This Md’A smirks and balks at thoughts of it as entry-level, though it concedes to the moniker ’poster child’. From 15 year-old vines set in sandy clay soils near Atri in the Colline Teramane zone. The fruit is like raspberry felt, lifted, spritely, gregarious and inviting. The wine never plunges into bitterness, nor does it depend on any crutch to remain upright and weightless.  90  Tasted September 2013 and January 2014  @TheLivingVine


The history: In central Tuscany. The two Chianti zones, Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), produce the largest volume of DOC/G wines in Italy.

The lowdown: Chainti Classico must have a minimum 80 per cent Sangiovese, the main variety of the region. Other indigenous grapes include Canaiolo and Colorino, bur Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also used. Soils vary from marl of layered sandstone, to chalk and clay, blue-grey sandstone and clay-limestone. Finest recent vintages include 2006, 2007 and 2011.

CASTELLO DI QUERCETO CHIANTI CLASSICO 2011, Tuscany, Italy  (680496, $22.95, WineAlign)

Heather meadow Sangiovese, emotive of old school Chianti Classico aromas, notably tea, new leather and sour cherry. Texturally succulent and lush, like mini-modern Sangiovese Grosso. Nearly syrupy and 90′s-styled by a heavy-handed, wood-soaked guilty conscience. The kind of CC to “waste away the weekend with perfect regard for how cavalier we used to be.”  89  Tasted December 2013  @ChiantiClassico  @ProfileWineGrp


The history: In Catalunya, northeast Spain. The most recent regulations of the DOQ were defined in 2006.

The lowdown: Dominated by hillside vineyards with poor soils, the dark slate called Licorella and low-fielding old vines. Garnacha and Carinena are the most planted, but also international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Finest recent vintages include 2004, 2009 and 2012.

PLANETS DE PRIOR PONS 2009, Priorat, Spain, (314559, $24.95, WineAlign)

Clearly contemporary, voluptuous Garnacha blend, in symmetry with foil Carinena, In support are small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon (10 per cent), Merlot (five) and Syrah (five). Chalk, grain and chocolate intensity, scents of dusty mulberry, menthol tobacco, eucalyptus and licorice. Works its international styling to great effect, if a bit heavy, woody and hollow up the middle. Lags just behind the stellar 2008 and yet this ’09 will have many a follower. Just a bit more structure would make it a prize.  89  Tasted December 2013


The history: In northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The oldest Designation of Origin in Spain (DOCA), established in 1926.

The lowdown: Confluence of Atlantic and Mediterranean climates, with soils ranging from chalky-clay, to ferrous-clay and alluvial. Tempranillo is the most planted (red) grape. Finest recent vintages include 2005, 2005, 2010 and 2011.

ONTAÑÓN RESERVA 2004, Rioja, Spain (725895, $25.95, WineAlign)

The animal that is an ’04 Rioja Reserva is a VINTAGES darling. Here is yet another example in a long line-up spread out over several months of releases. 2004 palate fatigue should certainly have set in but for this youthful yet learned Ontañón. The dichotomy is not lost with much wood to be nosed though it’s neither abstruse nor resinous. More like a smoking cedar plank beneath the rendering weight of a slow-roasting porcine slab. Tangy cherry, sour plum and really stretched length. Mineral finish. Brillo Tempranillo with a touch of Graciano.  91  Tasted December 2013  @TandemSelection

Good to go!

A resolution to drink honest wine

Heart wine

What is honest wine? Above all else it is made by the grower who sleeps with the grapes.
Photo: Aleksandr Volkov/

as seen on

When the book closed on the Gregorian calendar year for 2012, I made the most basic of wine resolutions for 2013. Drink better wine. That I did. A year on, with thousands more wines tasted and contemplated under my belt, an unconquerable will to seek acts of volition compels me to declare this. Let 2014 be the year to drink honest wine.

If wine were considered as a Roman anagram, the Latin quid est veritas, translated as “what is truth,” should prompt the response, “why, this honest wine.” Try this instead, Est vir qui adest, in other words, “it is this man here.” The winemaker, the vintner, the cooperative, the winery working for the man. It matters not who you are. To be successful in 2014 you must make honest wine.

What is honest wine? Above all else it is made by the grower who sleeps with the grapes. Not literally and not with the fishes, but greatness comes from the farmer who spend more hours walking the rows then the halls of the home. Soul love. By extension or shoulder to shoulder the high-minded winemaker knows “all I have is my love of love and love is not loving.”

Honest wine is juice that conveys the salient facts of a grape’s life. Aromas and flavours emotive of the stages of the fruit’s history, its components; seed, pulp, skin and stem. The greatest wines, judged to make use of the entire fruit for best results, consider the parts as members of the whole.

For a bottle of wine to be on the up and up it must not be disguised by the unnatural ways of artificial intervention nor should it make itself so available as to be obvious. Fruit should reside in the realm of the sequestered and the sacred. The emotional response to sipping on fermented grapes can only be true if the juice offers no precise parameters. A fear of knowing and not knowing is key. Forbidden aromas and flavours are emotive because they are forbidden and they are forbidden because they are emotive.

Real wine elicits all of this and more. I am not alone in hoping for table wines to be stirring, gripping, unsweetened and unencumbered by an excessive coat of oak. My hard-earned dollars should earn the right to be stimulated and provoked to think in ways verging on stream of consciousness.

So welcome to 2014. The year of drinking honest wine. The more you seek it out, the more it will be made. Here are 10 current releases to get you going in the right direction.



DE SOUSA SEASONS RESERVE MERITAGE 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario  (315911, $14.95, WineAlign)

Aromatically drippy, reductive and heavy-handed in its oak soak but the concentration is really well-judged. Remains loyal and close to its Escarpment origins and walks the ridge point on a plane. Spice cupboard of scents dominate the basic, easy-going fruit. Proper and realistic use of its Bordeaux-derived, Cartesian coordinates. Worth a stroll through its Euclidean space.  87  Tasted December 2013  @DiamondEstates

QUINTA DAS CAMÉLIAS RESERVA 2010, Doc  Dão, Portugal (305334, $14.95, WineAlign)

Here comes another sure thing, best buy Portuguese red, this time from the rising star that is the Dão. Paradigmatic local combination of Touriga Nacional, Jaen and Alfrocheiro. Modern but tight, brooding and juicy, approachable yet nearly, severely tannic. A Dão pulled in two directions by monster trucks, holding ground in bonded, erudite fashion, firmly in the middle. All thanks to a terrific combination of dark fruit and gritty, chunky grain. To this Dão I say, “I hope you appreciate the magnitude of your impending good fortune.”  88  Tasted December 2013  @NokhrinWines

13TH STREET MERLOT 2010, VQA Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, (270504, $17.95, WineAlign)

I’m just going to say three words to you baby.” Statu-tory buy. Can’t recommend it enough. What we have here is a really fine vintage for a Creek Shores appellation’s unique bottling. Merlot of shining bifid complexity, despite being a product of deep clay it’s dusty but not kicking up dust. There is palpable fruit but fruit does not lead the way. More so licorice and a lush crush of vinous allotropy. Solid wall of tannin will stand for 5-7 years and then crumble effortlessly, willingly, submissively. Add another notch on the Creek Shores chart for Merlot alongside fellow obvious variety, Cabernet Franc.  89  Tasted December 2013  @13thStreetWines

MAISON ROCHE DE BELLENE CUVÉE RÉSERVE BOURGOGNE 2011, Ac Burgundy, France (299859, $17.95, WineAlign)

In light of its entry-level Bourgogne nature, this boasts a notable if unconventional, charming, candied nose. Pronounced dried cherries and currants are emphatic, categorically atypical of this Pinot Noir. More like Oregon, or even Prince Edward County, in pomegranate and earth. That said, this RDB is not overtly or overly earthy. Sharp yet piercing though only just beneath the surface. A late injection of astringency is expected and keeps this Pinot grounded. Really quite exceptional at $18 by (Canadian) winemaker Matt Chittick. Could this be an indicator of brilliance to come for the ’11s? Looks to be.  89  Tasted December 2013  @RochedeBellene

SEVEN FALLS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Wahluke Slope, Washington, U.S.A.  (360222, $18.95, WineAlign)

A friable feeling from this Chateau Ste. Michelle proposal submits to ripe plum and sourish pomegranate falling effortlessly from their trees. Affable, convenient, well-made Giling Basah, not overly extracted or justified. Mulberry kicked-up Arabica, wet-hulled, reminding of Merlot, or at least as stiff support to a Cabernet blend. Gotta be. Warming, gentle tannins, like Oz, without the jam.  88  Tasted December 2013  @SteMichelle



MALIVOIRE GUILTY MEN CABERNET/MERLOT 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (186247, $19.95, WineAlign)

A gritty, layered effort, carried forth by transcendental blues. Offers up the strange sensation of a P, B and J sandwich with kudos to (winemaker) Shiraz Mottiar for nut putting chocolate in the peanut butter. “Careful what you ask for, you don’t know ’til you try.” Roasted, semi-confected and counterintuitive in circulatory acidity and juicy madness. Might be Bordeaux blend-inspired but this leans Loire-ish because “back roads never carry you where you want ‘em to.” Speaks loud and clear with a practiced oration of place, in rocks, stones, clay and the aggregate of it all.  88  Tasted December 2013  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar

CUSUMANO NOÀ 2010, Sicily, Italy (109512, $19.95, WineAlign)

A bodacious, Jethro, flaunting display is shown by this Sicilian blend of 40 per cent Nero D’Avola, 30 Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 Merlot. Fig cake, thick as a brick, drizzled over by good quality aged balsamic. Fruit from young-ish (12 year-old) vines coached by the barrel states flatly, “I may make you feel but I can’t make you think.” Splinters the tongue, coats the insides and raises the roof. Leaves the vines behind, soothes the beast by flute and focuses on what comes later, of course. “The elastic retreat rings the close of play as the last wave uncovers the newfangled way.”  88  Tasted December 2013  @SpeckBros

PIERRE AMADIEU LA GRANGELIÈRE VACQUEYRAS 2011, AC, Rhône, France (76398, $19.95, WineAlign)

Merde, if only a whiff, just a whiff, bumps into lush, red berry fruit and is then carried away with the mistral. Really fine cherry and tangy raspberry, bit by the subterranean soil mineral I must have in my Rhône. Oak spoken in Franco-Provençal, Occitan not as profound, intrusive or demanding. Delish Vaq, with a good middle palate and solid grasp on the dry finish, not long, but there in spirit.  90  Tasted December 2013

ADARO 2009, Ribera Del Duero, Spain (345686, $29.95, WineAlign)

This 100% Tempranillo from the Real Sitio de la Ventosilla Estate has that something other. The no sé lo que of Ribera, a liqueur nose that won’t overwhelm the liquor of pressed, squeezed and juiced flowers. Compact in luxurious flavours, like Napa Cabernet Cassis or Kirsch in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. For the price this is so much more interesting than the comparative mythologies of those other terroirs. Beware the wood shavings soaked to the bone. Adult red licorice.  92  Tasted December 2013  @Noble_Estates

KISTLER PINOT NOIR 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (330274, $79.00, WineAlign)

Such a musical display in assemblage, this soundtrack of aptitude and wisdom, bringing together a selection of barrels that form an attitude to tell a Russian River Valley Pinot story. Though Chardonnay is Kistler’s claim to fame, this Pinot rises above so many others. It could be told “you’ll meet them all again on the long journey to the middle.” Nary a barrel intrusion, smokeless and without char, though there is a leathery component. Viscous but not jammy, sharp but not pointed, sweet but never cloying. Absolutely California with warm bands of black cherry, almost plum famous but all in balance. ”It’s all happening.”  93  Tasted December 2013  @TheVine_RobGroh

Good to go!

All I want for Christmas is a big red wine

Red wine

If you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you.
Photo: 7artman/

as seen on

The three of you who read my bi/tri-weekly column must have noticed by now that I am diplomatic, almost to a fault, to be as inclusive as possible. I certainly make a point to unearth and make public the best Canadian wines that I can find, especially when they originate so close to home.

Old world, new world, rosé, Sparkling, red wine, and an increasing focus on white wine may have some of you running for the hills but spreading the wealth is the name of the game. Diversity is my keeper but there comes a time when logic and proportion need a break. All I want for Christmas, and for those of you who know me that’s a ridiculous thing to say, is a great big ole’ bottle of red wine.

Who doesn’t? If you have missed the last 25 or so recommendations I’ve laid at your gift giving feet, if you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you. Or, you can buy them all, seven reds for $250 and change. Not too shabby.



BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, North Coast, California (356113, $19.95, WineAlign)

This 2010 is a new let’s groove label from the somewhat ambiguously defined North Coast appellation of California. An area of three million acres that includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, and portions of Marin and Solano counties. Dusty entry, peppery finish. In between there is distilled cooler red fruit which sweet-heat spikes if only temporarily and ultimately settles into a fine balance of earth, wind and fire. Gifts an admirable sense of wood restraint. Simply “let this groove, set in your shoes” and enjoy its simple pleasures. Available in small quantities for a limited time.  87  Tasted December 2013  @hk_Canada

BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain (350215, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Iberian cousin to the North Coast Cabernet an ocean away likewise enters the fray dusty and flecked by white pepper. What gives it immediate density identity is the juicy, just picked cherry flesh and pencil lead minerality. A sweet blueberry flavour gets lift from edgy tannins so as you ponder this Tempranillo you will note that ”it’s gonna take you years to find out” what it’s all about. But there’s hope, however presently buried, in the descendent nature of its roots.  88  Tasted November 2013

ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, Docg Tuscany, Italy (930966, $21.95, WineAlign)

One of the most reliable Tuscan houses offers no apology for this CCR’s flamboyance and it works a great vintage for the genre to maximum advantage. There is an intoxicating, exotic soaking of teak, vine stem and bhang counterbalanced by a berry sweetness that cannot be denied. In the end there’s the expected enunciation in modern Italian verse. Like a Tuscan-treated Gaja, gorgeous and tough.  89  Tasted November 2013  @roccadellemacie



SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia (48579, $26.95, WineAlign)

Behold the utter pitchy Barossan, privileged by full-on extraction in as much fruit this amount of money can buy. Tempered by a cool centre, complimented by a tangy finish. The coverall make-up is in high fashion and the big red lives to tell a passionate story after 22 months maturity in oak. Lifted by temperate zest and though it’s more Barossa than Cabernet per se, there is a fortune to be won in the bottle.  89  Tasted November 2013  @SaltramWines

WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, Napa Valley, Califonia (357723, $49.95, WineAlign)

A curious magnum of this highly underrated Napa Cabernet appeared for tasting. Really delicate and already maturing savoury/sweet florals lengthened by a chain of vanilla grain. Fruit looming large, with a Gershwin summertime grace and Holiday ”unique diction, inimitable phrasing and acute dramatic intensity.”  Cool, soulful, jazzy Cabernet, loaded with pepper and phite. Lady Day Easy Living90  Tasted November 2013  @WhiteOakWinery

LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, Rhône, France (700922, $57.95, WineAlign)

Following a string of excellent vintages from 2003 to 2010, this clumsy Donjon could be dismissed as not up to par but I beg to differ. Such distinct aromatics can only come from a Donjon. Redolent red berry musk, exotic spices from islands east and west, metal replicate and a brush of vineyard funk. Though it thistle-stings the palate and is presently held back by a tannic core, this CdP has the track record and muscle memory for moving forward. Gathers anise, more funk and so much fruit as it aerates but clearly so much time is needed to settle it down. Look to patience in the requiem realm of 10+ years.  92  Tasted November 2013

BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010, British Columbia, Canada (343038, $59.95, WineAlign)

A National Wine Awards of Canada Platinum Medal winner. As massive a corporeal attack as can ever be ascertained from a B.C. Bordeaux blend, of the earth, or any other prodigiously structured Canadian red. Uproariously ripe fruit de rigueur and storming tannins. A boast of plum crushed by an intense, dry, rocky intent. To this Okanagan I say, “you’re the book that I have opened and now I’ve got to know much more.” Crazy stuff for sure, full of unfinished sympathy, with enough fruit to push it to 10 years and beyond. Priced at $45 (winery) and at a premium through VINTAGES.  90  Tasted November 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

Good to go!

Ancient, state of the art Spanish wine

Barrels of wine are pictured in a cellar PHOTO: A.B.G./FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on

Argument suggests that the cradle of wine civilization, borne of Levant and of Mesopotamia should rightfully translate to talk of global influence and relevance as emanating from Greece and the Middle East. Not so much. The epicentre lies further west. A commonality shared by the modern romantic, European wine-producing nations is a mojo modus constructed of the most complex declensions. The language of the big three, France, Italy and Spain, inflects in case and number, the benchmark for fine and designed wine.

Spain’s vinous history stretches about as far back as that of its Western European neighbours and though it so often plays kissing cousin, Spanish winemakers do not pussyfoot in producing superannuated yet contemporary wine. My tastings over the previous two years of western (Latin) Europe’s 2009 and 2010 vintages have somewhat and hopefully only temporarily soured my palate for beloved southern Rhônes, especially from the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Up until a year ago I would have put CdP up against any global comparatives for quality and value in the $30-50 range. So many current examples, especially those 2010′s, are hot, over-extracted and completely out of balance. That feeling is also coming out of Piedmont (in particular from a virus of cheap, under $35, traipsing and awkwardly ambling Barolo), but also newly endemic in a hyperbolic convoy of flamboyant and trashy-sexy Tuscan IGT and Brunello. This, sniff, from my first wine love.

PHOTO: Michael Godel Bodegas Beronia, Patria Restaurant, July 18, 2013

Winemakers in Spain (and zooming in more specifically) from Ribera del DueroRioja and Montsant are more careful not to fall into modish vinification traps like sugar and spice wood splintering (France) or terroir-void, vinous compost (Italy). They are masters of their wine technique domains, in control of reductive aromas and in deft touch with acidification. Don’t misunderstand me. France and Italy are blessed with brilliant wines and winemakers. Conversely, there are plenty of examples out there these days in high-octane, alcohol elevated, barrel age-leveraging in ultra-modern Spanish wine. There are also wine making superstars. Red and white wine heroes. Matias Calleja, Juan Carlos Vizcarra, Maria Barúa, Luisa Freire and Alvaro Palacios all achieve Iberian nirvana by striking a balance between old and new world, antediluvian and 21st century, all the while making large quantities of commercially successful wine.

Bodegas Beronia talks of their “commitment to quality wine that expresses the personality of theterroir.” Their goal? “A philosophy based on respect for the environment and an ability to adapt to new market trends, maintaining the essence of Rioja.” Matías Calleja defines it: ”We combine art technology with traditional methods of production.”

According to their Ontario agent, Woodman Wines and Spirits, “if anyone embodies the promise and spirit of “The New Spain”, it is Alvaro Palacios.” It has not been much more than 20 years since he took control of the esteemed empire built by his father, Jose Palacios Remondo, but Alvaro Palacios has already become one of Spain’s most famous and well-respected winemakers.

Here are 10 perfect Spanish wines to pour, ponder and debate the popularity vs. quality discussion and to open the door to ancient, state of the art Spanish wine.

From left: Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2011, Lan Gran Reserva 2005, Bodegas Vizcarra JC Vizcarra 2010, Beronia Crianza 2009, and Beronia Gran Reserva 2006

Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat 2011 (216291, $22.95) is composed from 50 per cent Samsó (Carinena), 40 per cent Garnacha and a 10 per cent split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. A child of young vines, ready to roll Spanish charmer with a mingling floral nose, in barberry and bursting blueberry. Outlined by notes of pencil and charcoal. Timely acidity helps ease the heavy alcohol with some essential balancing grace. Stealth, arid ride through calcareous rock, deciduous oak and viburnum. There is something historical here, crafted yet serious.  91

Lan Gran Reserva 2005 (928622, $27.95) and its makers may now just be a cog in the Sogrape empire but it continues to do its own thing. Has that evolution I look for in Rioja. The slightest oxidative note, heaps of herbs and the umami of salty clashes with smokey Jamon. Rioja expressive of one love and one heart. Caught bobbing, dancing and wailing right in its wheelhouse, giving everything it’s made of, no holds barred and no questions asked. “Is there a place for the hopeless sinner?” Yes, in a glass of a weathered, leathery and just flat out real as it gets red Rioja.  92  @BodegasLan

Bodegas Vizcarra JC Vizcarra 2010 (214650, $28.95) while 100 per cent Tempranillo could understandably be confused for Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Wood driven to be sure, shrouded in tobacco, vanilla, coconut and the prevailing, hedonistic attributes of the Left Bank or the Rhône. Bounding in berries and liqueur with a hit of phite. JC works because it comes together by adhering to Tempranillo’s early ripening, Cabernet-like, savoury chain of command. Compliments all around to an under $30 powerful yet beauteous Ribera, all out contempo, flaunting and billowing gorgeous. Wow times ten for flavour, if a bit too much of a good thing.  91 @DrinkRibera

Bodegas Beronia, Patria Restaurant, July 18, 2013

presented by Woodman Wines and Spirits, (416) 767-5114, @WoodmanWines @BodegasBeronia

Beronia Viura 2012 (Coming to VINTAGES January 18th, 2014 – 190801, $14.95) exsufflates super ripe, fresh picked pear and emollient herbiage in pure, angled control. One hundred per cent, quick macerated and cold stabilized Viura of aromatics locked in tight. A pour that leads to a starburst of flavour. Complexity reaches the sea in an underlying tide of salinity.  89

Beronia Tempranillo 2010 (LCBO, 243055, $11.65) is a warm, tempered, six months in Sherry cask-driven “one-half Crianza” but not classified as such. Specifically crafted for the North American market, the oak is the protagonist, while the Tempranillo lies in macerated cherry state. At $12 it’s a no-brainer, crafted by a conscientious and forward-thinking vintner.  86

Beronia Crianza 2009 (Consignment, $16.95, Barque Smokehouse) offers more terroir and less barrel interference, in pursuit of a fruit/tension equilibrium. Redolent as if berries, cherries and plums were on the crush pad, with a touch of modernity as a result of both new and used barrels. Classic style (1970′s) Rioja, a five to seven-year wine.  89

Beronia Gran Reserva 1973 is both the dawn of a first vintage pathfinder and fountain of youth. Fast forward from the pre-disco vintage to ubiquitous 90′s soul-searching structure and know it was clearly there with untested confidence back in the beginning. Earth, Spanish bramble and aged expertly in barrel, you can ”tie a yellow ribbon ’round the ole oak tree” with this genesis of Rioja. Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo and five per cent Viura. Twenty minutes in the glass and still so alive. Old school with the proviso to entertain.  93

Beronia Gran Reserva 1982 is highly evolved, gone milky, breaking down as by proteolytic enzyme. A study in caramel, fruit removed, out of tension, past. A second bottle not tasted was purportedly sound, though not corroborated.  NR

Beronia Gran Reserva 1994 spent 34 months in new and used barrels. The bridge from past to future, definitive for Rioja in every pertinent way. Fragrant in licorice, iron and bigarreau cherry. American oak to see a 2020 future in shag, snuff, tea and forest compost.  94

Beronia Gran Reserva 2006 (VINTAGES, Release date TBD – 940965, $34.95) is so youthful it actually gives me bubble gum and dark black cherry from just a swirl. American vanillin oak and terrible tannins in a frightfully tough to assess wine Calleja says “will maintain this intensity for four to six years.” Oh, and then “will continue to evolve for 20-25 more,” slowly modulating as a result of its natural acidity. Judgment currently reserved though the future looks extremely promising.  92

Good to go!

Mother’s Day barbecue wines


as seen on

One year ago to the day, I extolled the virtues of Chardonnay and why it was the wine of choice to drink with mom on Mother’s Day. I would be skirting the channeling of my inner, anti-ABC if that universal variety was left out this coming weekend so click here for an unoaked beauty in stores right now.

Related – more current releases

The sudden dramatic shift in the weather has had an immediate and necessary impact, with all points leading to barbecue. In order to please everyone involved, including mom, dad and carnivorous kin, a range of wines will be needed this coming Sunday afternoon. Being the wine consuming and recommending diplomat that I am, here are four white, rosé and red wines to share time in the proverbial sun and to assist with what comes from the kitchen, off the grill or out of the Mother’s Day smoker.

From left: Muga Rosé 2012, Colaneri Estate Riesling ”Stellucha” 2009, Balbas Reserva 2001, and Domaine Thomas & Fils Cuvée Grand Chaille Sancerre 2011

The grapes: Garnacha, Tempranillo and Viura

The history: Rioja winery so famous for its rich, red wine tradition

The lowdown: Perennial quality in Spanish rosé always priced to please

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Smoked Shrimp, Smoked Salmon, Bacon and Eggs Tapas

Muga Rosé 2012 (603795, $12.95) offers up honest to goodness, straightforward value. Pale pink grapefruit, gentle spice and dried roses marked by juicy acidity. “It can’t be too grand,” just as it shouldn’t be. No dinosaur here, no disguise, no bones, just simple, tasty and amenable. Afternoon sipper.  87  @bodegasmuga

Barque Smokehouse Smoked Shrimp, Smoked Salmon, Bacon and Eggs Tapas (Photo: Jill Chen/

The grape: Riesling

The history: Winemaker Andrzej Lipinski is a Niagara pioneer in Appassimento-styled wines, made by adding modified kiln-dried grapes to the ferment

The lowdown: Was worth the price of admission at $15.95 upon release. Now it’s a steal. This is quite full-bodied for Riesling but low in alcohol (11.3 per cent)

The food match: Scallop Ceviche, grapefruit, orange, pickled wild leek, basil, olive oil

Colaneri Estate Riesling ”Stellucha” 2009 (279778, $13.15) is built on 70% (John Howard) Beamsville Bench and 30% (estate) Niagara-on-the-Lake fruit. Exceeds expectations, acting as bridge from day to night. Works the midnight sky in a passion momento while a “shimmering crescent moon recedes into working dawn.” Faint apple, peach pit, high in citrus and a fulgor accent of lit kiln. Time has been and will continue to be a friend to this lily of the midnight sky.  89 @ColaneriWinery

Scallop Ceviche, grapefruit, orange, pickled wild leek, basil, olive oil (Photos: Michael Godel)

The grapes: Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Founded in 1777, this may be the oldest winery in Ribera Del Duero with the most modern approach to winemaking

The lowdown: A $20 bottle of wine in a $40 suit. This is without a doubt the best deal in Spanish wine since the December 7th, 2001 VINTAGES release of the Montecillo Gran Reserva 1991 at $18.95

The food match: Chicken Breast and Top Sirloin Shish Kebabs, cremini mushroom, wild leek pesto marinade

Balbas Reserva 2001 (85183, $20.95) while mature is so alive and grooved by a Beckian beat you would be hard pressed to blindly consider it 12-years old. Deep purple fruit with a hint of caramel, cedar and cigar. Qué onda Duero? I’ll tell you what’s happening. Aged Ribera, structured, in balance and very much alive for $21. Makes me want to “sing a banda macho chorus.” Screaming value.  91  @DrinkRibera

Chicken Breast and Top Sirloin Shish Kebabs, cremini mushroom, wild leek pesto marinade

The grape: Sauvignon Blanc

The history: True SB from the southern Loire Valley run by a ninth generation husband and wife team, Jean and Ginette Thomas

The lowdown: Limestone, clay and silica form a flint and sand mixture known as silex, making these Loire vineyards one of the premier growing soils in the world

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Dry-Rub Ribs

Domaine Thomas & Fils Cuvée Grand Chaille Sancerre 2011 (320242, $28.95) begs for significance and presents a ritual immersion by virtue of its base representation of ideal Sauvignon Blanc. Walks the flint and rocks of two Loire vineyards, marries them, then talks the caulk and chalk of those sites. If just a touch reserved at the moment, the Grand Chaille will grow out of its acidic twang five years forward to realize itself as excellent Sauvignon Blanc.  92 @LoireValleyWine

Good to go!