Three-chord wines, hold the rants

Wine on the rocks

Here are six rock ‘n’ roll wines, in four-four time, ready and willing to ease your mind.
Photo: Pavel Drozda/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The world’s most famous wine critic is not happy. His claim of “wannabe” scribes hell-bent to focus on obscure wines most consumers can never find has raised a maelstrom of retort. Robert Parker published a diatribe last month about “a vociferous minority” of “euro-elitists” vying for journalistic market share “perpetrating nothing short of absolute sham on wine consumers.”

Them’s fightin’ words. No, not that rant by Robert Parker about Robert Griffin III. Wine critic Robert Parker Jr. railed against a bevy of unnamed bloggers on the natural, honest and low-alcohol wine supporting bandwagon. His claim? Natural wines will be exposed as fraud. Parker’s would-be assailants are an outspoken generation who would seek to bring down those classic grapes capable of ripe extraction and elevated levels of sugar and alcohol, namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The intensity-loving reviewer has positioned himself as the establishment, a victim agonizing over the sanctification of “godforsaken grapes,” like Blaufränkisch and Trousseau.

Alder Yarrow of Vinography took exception and proposed a cage match. His column: Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation. Rebecca Gibb’s take: Should Robert Parker Have Listened to Disraeli? Jamie Goode put in his ever-wry two cents: Novelty at the expense of quality? This after Jancis Robinson chimed in with Bottle fight: Novelty v classic wines. Talia Baiocchi had this to say: The Robert Parker Tirade, Continued. Eric Asimov brought it down to a New York state of mind with Why Can’t You Find That Wine? Meanwhile, Steve Heimoff took the other side: There are some kinds of blogs we just don’t need.

There isn’t a writer in the bunch I wouldn’t read, can’t learn from or don’t find funny, but the need to chime in on what is obvious and already understood leaves me dumbfounded. In wine, as in life, there are some things that just are what they are, like them or not. Mr. Parker, you carved your niche. Those who lay with you ate cake. The model worked. It held water and was extremely successful for a long time. You are this week’s Napa Wine Writers Symposium keynote speaker, where you will feel the love. No one will ask, what have you done for me lately? You created the establishment and are of course trying to protect the status quo. You’ve been ridiculously prolific. Integral to the high-frequency, high-end wine buyer. And you are just a writer. Really. So what if the dogs are seeing signs of Queegish dotage. You named no names in your rant, so who exactly did you mean to insult? The world is your oyster. What’s with the bitching?

Perhaps Parker touched an insecure spot, the one where self-doubt creeps in. The one that drives writers to defend themselves, even if the attack is not a personal one. The need to tear him down is strange at best. It smells of poli-campaign slander. If he’s no longer relevant, as a vehement bunch seem to scream and shout, why bother? Why is the wine writing community one where sides desperately need to be taken? To both sides I caution the high road. Let writers write and if you think they are wrong or have nothing to say, ignore them. Like a tree falling in the forest, is an unread writer ever really heard?

It’s understood that controversy sells and lively discourse is healthy. In this case it has produced more than a novella of interesting reads. The current generation of critics, bloggers and reviewers is replete with some stupidly smart writers who have chosen wine as their raison d’écrire. That they chime in and offer their take on everything from varietal obsessions to tasting bans and producer/journalist relationships is certainly fascinating. Arguing the merits of varietal worthiness is fine. Discussing the pros and cons of esoteric versus classic wines on restaurant cards is relevant. Throwing sticks onto the ice, choosing teams and starting fights simultaneous to the debate loses sight of the original topic. I am not suggesting a wine writer’s love in but would more levity and space not foster an environment where the wines themselves matter more than the people who talk about them?

Tasting, talking about and writing up wines seems the course to stay, whether it be reviews on varieties never heard of or an obnoxiously fat glass of buttery Chardonnay. Richard Auffrey fights the good fight but still takes a stab at the beast. The always dry W. Blake Gray floats on in his singular, ethereal way, and by doing so, gets it right. He wants you to know I’ll have some Roussillon, hold the Rivesaltes. With Tuba and Alto Sax. Perhaps Gray would agree with me. If I need a dose of scathing criticism or irony I’ll turn on Bill Maher, or put on a Bill Hicks Rant in E-Minor.

Music and wine can work magic when paired together. Jamie Goode has been exploring the possibilities. Sometimes it’s just a matter of breaking wine down to the base, choosing grapes from places where they are made in straightforward and simply powerful ways. Likewise, clicking an uncomplicated, three-chord arrangement on YouTube or the I-pod can really change the outlook of a day. Here are six rock ‘n’ roll wines, in four-four time, ready and willing to ease your mind.

Clockwise from left: Alamos Torrontés 2013, Lar De Paula Crianza Tempranillo 2008, Sophora Sparkling Cuvée, Grant Burge 5th Generation Shiraz 2012, Thorn Clarke William Randell Shiraz 2010, and Poderi Colla Dardi Le Rose Bussia Barolo 2008

Clockwise from left: Alamos Torrontés 2013, Lar De Paula Crianza Tempranillo 2008, Sophora Sparkling Cuvée, Grant Burge 5th Generation Shiraz 2012, Thorn Clarke William Randell Shiraz 2010, and Poderi Colla Dardi Le Rose Bussia Barolo 2008

Alamos Torrontés 2013, Salta, Argentina (81539, $13.95, WineAlign)

From Salta in north west Argentina, what is so appealing about this well-priced bottling is the salinity and outright humidity it always displays. Torrontés gives so much away aromatically, by way of flowers and the verdigris of mountain ferns. This Catena entry-level wine achieves all of the above and for a song. This Alamos is medicinal, reeks of orchids sweating in a greenhouse and teases with white pepper. It’s short and quick but efficient. Excellent value.  88  Tasted January 2014  @CatenaMalbec  @MalbecLife

Lar De Paula Crianza Tempranillo 2008, Rioja, Spain (358770, $16.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Entry-level Rioja was nothing but a house party. Was surely rocking a year ago but now a fading, dry cake of rusticity, with the slightest hydration of charred sour cherry. Solid Crianza, though short-lived, with some bitter notes and good acidity in tight corners. Where once it “said move it, groove it,” now it laments “baby, don’t you lose it.”  87  Tasted February 2014  @HHDImports_Wine

Sophora Sparkling Cuvée, New Zealand (353656, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Frothy, gregarious sparkler from New Zealand with extraordinarily large bubbles, a soft downy texture and a cottony nose. Gentle spice, sweet easy bake brioche and juicy grapefruit is inviting, if advanced by mechanical means. Mellow, smooth, pure and clean with no obvious toast, soap or bitters. Well-priced, drink now fizz.  89  Tasted February 2014  @Select_Wines

Grant Burge 5th Generation Shiraz 2012, Barossa, South Australia, Australia (Agent, $20.00, WineAlign)

High powered, ocean size aromas here, expressing the power and pomp inflection of the Barossan attitude. Very berry and not alcohol shy though it’s a gathered heat and nothing shocking. Swirl this wave of big juice for long enough and though it will feel “like a tooth aching a jawbone,” it’s fleeting and releases to a softer finish. Still, a Shiraz more John than Jane.  88  Tasted January 2014  @GrantBurgeWines  @TrialtoON

Thorn Clarke William Randell Shiraz 2010, Barossa, South Australia, Australia (922773, $43.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Surreal, impossibly dense and terrifically complex Barossa Shiraz, full of dark fruit blues and hard-rocking rhythms. Metallic zinc tincture, causing heavy breathing, steaming like a locomotive with “no way to slow down.” Steals words and all sensitivity from teeth and gums. Such a big expression but certainly not one of the all-time one-dimensional losers. So much more than jammy fruit. To put aside and revisit in 20 years.  91  Tasted February 2014  @pontewine

Poderi Colla Dardi Le Rose Bussia Barolo 2008, Piedmont, Italy (596890, $49.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Pure Nebbiolo currency, bankable Barolo. This ’08 confirms the old-school austerity of the Colla caste and genre. Parlous handsome perfume, stark, raving Barolo, exact and definitive in angular tannin. Racy, deep and unctuous, nowhere even close to settled or responsive.  There is a lurking depth of flavour not yet willing to cooperate. My kingdom for your Bussia graces.  92  Tasted February 2014  @glencairnwines

Good to go!

Big houses, bigger wines, big-ish prices

Canadian money

The earnest call across the country to free my grapes continues though regrettably, stiff resistance stifles the cause.
Photo: ulga/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

If you live in Canada, purchasing wine ties you directly to a monopoly. There are exceptions, though still imperfect ones, like the free market culture of Alberta and the developing tiered system in British Columbia. The earnest call across the country to free my grapes continues though regrettably, stiff resistance stifles the cause.

Manitoba and BC allow direct to consumer inter-provincial wine imports. Consumers can order from out of province and receive direct shipments so long as the wine  is 100 per cent Canadian. Nova Scotia has passed enabling legislation that will follow a similar path. If you reside in Quebec or a fortiori, in Ontario, having wine shipped to you remains taboo. The alternate recourse of consignment wines available for purchase through local importers is an irregular option and having to buy by the case designs no compass of mass appeal.

Spend even a fraction of the time I do in trying to seek out the best values, at the best prices and in the categories that cater specifically to personal tastes and you will understand how difficult it is to be satiated in such a constricting climate. I am not the only one seeking out red wines made in the vineyard, through minimalist oak intervention, unhindered by residual sugar, produced by passionate and honest winemakers who are vigilant with the softest of hands.

Who does not want their wine to have mass in it, as in life? Who would reject an elixir drawn from iron-rich earth, boiled through limestone and warmed to a rosy madder? Who can deny the pure joy culled from a wine that might steal the words from the mouths of poets?

In Canada, unearthing such gems requires intestinal fortitude, especially considering the search is mapped out in government-controlled stores. Stock norms do not include wines made from lesser-known grapes, from regions and appellations less frequented. It takes time, effort and most of all, patience. Life can get in the way of the endless and unavailing chase; work that pays, kids, weather, fatigue. Sometimes it just makes sense to abide and even embrace the easier, well-worn path. This is where the bigger wineries step in, toting larger case loads and a middle-of-the-road, radio bathos experience.

There are varietal vicissitudes to ferret out from varieties you might have chosen to avoid. New World Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Zinfandel. Rhône blends. Sangiovese blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. Tempranillo. All these grapes are often mistreated, modernized, smothered in oak and homogenized so that their indigenous origins are blurred into a bar of mass-produced chocolate. Occasionally they are done right by their makers.

In what has been such relentless cold, snow and ice, now into the oppressive dog days of winter, don’t think of drinking commercial wine as copping out. The big houses can be your friend, so loosen up and trust me when I tell you I’ve worked very hard to weed out the chaff and promise only to recommend the whole wheat. Here are seven current releases that made the pecuniary cut.

From left: Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Clos Du Val Zinfandel 2011, and Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2011

From left: Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Clos Du Val Zinfandel 2011, and Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2011

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley British Columbia (545012, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Here’s a juicy plum wine with noticeable warm alcohol that goes subterranean and won’t make you homesick for alien Pinot Noir. Athletic red with a quick first step and nerve, running a west coast offence, scoring points.  Char in licorice and a grid-iron, “uptight, uptight” bitter tendency but is a most saucy rendition. Extra point from clean, easy sweet tannins. Good length. Pinot on the radio. Really attractive price puts it at the head of its class.  90  Tasted February 2014  @MissionHillWine

Clos Du Val Zinfandel 2011, Napa Valley California, USA (590216, $24.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Every so often a grape variety confounds and astounds, like this pretty in zinc Zinfandel. Almost mute as far as Zin goes, this CdV ”set out on the heels of the unknown.” Times like these normally produce lumbering, high-octane interpretations but this radical face is the Simon and Garfunkel of the variety. Singing with soft harmonies and composed as if by a deft balladeer. Flair comes from Spanish-like modernity – a good thing for Zin. Less bramble, more Ribera. Less reduction, more Montsant. Smooth as silk, reeking in vanilla, raspberry and symptomatic by a kiss of mineral. If but for one hollow mid-verse this would truly sing but that really is no big thing.  90  Tasted February 2014  @ClosDuValNapa

Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley, California, USA (310409, $25.95, WineAlign)

One of the more quintessential, mid-range, rich and opulent Napa Chardonnays that steps out of the lobster butter dish in 2011. Apple-tinged terpenes show their presence, along with tarragon and a bag of just opened good and plenty. Piquant, poignant vintage, peppery and acting cooler than I ever remember it to be. Whether by chance or by choice, this is a welcome direction though I doubt its kind will soon be seen again.  89  Tasted January 2014  @RobertMondavi

From left: Umberto Cesari Liano Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Wairau River Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvédre 2011, and Beronia Viñas Viejas 2010

From left: Umberto Cesari Liano Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Wairau River Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvédre 2011, and Beronia Viñas Viejas 2010

Umberto Cesari Liano Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Igt Rubicone Emilia-Romagna, Italy (225086, $29.95)

Decidedly modern in many ways; oak impart, varietal alliance and braggadocio. The nose speaks highly of unsettled alcohol and alchemy. Big on black cherry and earthy with a welcoming and necessary roasted rare and still kicking game component. The mellow support of Cabernet Sauvignon is kicked upside the head by full throttle, oak-laden Sangiovese. Though hot and bothered, there is a keen sense of acumen on display by the Emilia-Romagna team at Umberto Cesari.  89   Tasted January 2014  @UmbertoCesari

Wairau River Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand (361253, $29.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES Feb. 15, 2014 Release

Wonderful value in premium Marlborough Pinot Noir. Alluring sylvan aromatics, in a potpourri of violet, rose, plum and strawberry. Sharp, cranberry-pomegranate-cherry fruit flavours, the grain of red fife, and eye-popping acidity. An earthy terroirist, layered and delicious. Warm but not alcohol driven, touched by oak but not shaken and with just one coat of paint.  91  Tasted February 2014  @wairauriver

Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvédre 2011, Barossa, South Australia (Agent, 236257, $29.95, WineAlign)

The right Rhône immediacy of the 2011 Barossa vintage gets its hooks right in. Snapping with a direct blow uppercut to the jaw, this Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvédre blend goes right for the jugular with passion, not sugar. It’s a tricky mix, angular yet smooth, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. Terrific charred, meaty flavours mixed with juniper and black raspberry, savoury spice and a chain of tannic length. Will age with metronome precision over a period of 10-15 years.  91  Tasted January 2014  @GrantBurgeWines

Beronia Viñas Viejas 2010, Rioja, Spain  (Agent, $30.00, WineAlign)

This 100% Tempranillo is Beronia’s enigma. Sourced from 40-plus year-old vines and housed for 14 months in new French oak. The Van Morrison bottling, if you will. Forget thoughts of a gnarly, tar and brambly red. This one is compliant and inviting. Cherry cheesecake gives it a dessert-like funk, with a baking spice and savoury plum pudding chaser. Vanilla is the unifying factor, the glaze, the icing on the cake, thanks to those new barrels. “You say “France” and I’ll whistle.” This is a pleasure to taste and ready for consumption.  90  Tasted January 2014  @BodegasBeronia

Good to go!

Nine big November best buy wines

The Canadian wine harvest is essentially done. The vines have turned, in cycle as per their natural perforce and in colour.Photo: Phil_Good/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.comLike it or not, the first week of November demands that we begin planning for the holiday season. The wine industry’s senses in Canada are highly acute to the preparations, as witnessed by the unparalleled number of tastings, travel, discussions, wine competitions and awards.

Our provincial liquor boards are especially proactive, wasting no expense to roll out glossy magazines and the proverbial red carpet for a host of high-end, super rich and ripe wines. When the clock strikes Christmas, anything that presents to the consumer that necessary combination of excellence and value will have long been sold through.

The Canadian wine harvest is essentially done. The vines have turned, in cycle as per their natural perforce and in colour. Another signal to seek advice from the wine retinue and to stock up for winter.

To get you headed down the white, yellow, red and black brick road to wine Oz, here are nine serious wines being released this coming weekend, to cellar and to share in these last frantic weeks of 2013.

From left: BELLINGHAM THE BERNARD SERIES OLD VINE CHENIN BLANC 2012, PRINZ VON HESSEN ROYAL RIESLING KABINETT 2011, and HIDDEN BENCH CHARDONNAY 2011

BELLINGHAM THE BERNARD SERIES OLD VINE CHENIN BLANC 2012 (12724, $22.95, SAQ 11154911, $24.75)

Though I was as first confused by the metal guts and bolts of this supertramp of a Chenin Blanc, in a short time I came to understand the greatness of its seasoned ways. From Niël Groenewald’s altitudinous bush vines, I put away the question, “who put Chardonnay in my Chenin Blanc” and replaced it with “don’t criticize, they’re old and wise.” His vines and their wisdom. Lemon drop, candied flower, buttered breakfast apples and apple pie. Can look into the pensieve and smell it in the morning from when I went to school.  91  Tasted October 4, 2013  @BellinghamWines

PRINZ VON HESSEN ROYAL RIESLING KABINETT 2011 (345769, $26.95)

An atomized and candied Kabinett brought into balance by zippy, ranging aromatic peaks. Porcupine tree of atmospheric disturbance, proving yet again that with German Riesling, “the more I get to know the less I find that I understand.” Royal flushed sweet entry, mid-palate plunging cliff jump and in the end a rising launch into the stratosphere of mouth watering acidity.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013

HIDDEN BENCH CHARDONNAY 2011 (68817, $28.95)A study in Beamsville Bench equitable tension, from its wagered ripe fruit in optimum extraction, to a responsible and fundamental barrel absorption. Woody but not wooden, woolly yet not woolen, would be greatness and not what would’ve been. Fine lines, linen and lace. A wine that echoes, acts and appears as an honest product of its makers. Further definitive stuff from Marlize Beyers, Harald Thiel and Hidden Bench.  91  Tasted July 20 and October 4, 2013   @HiddenBench  @BenchVigneron

From left: PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011, NORMAN HARDIE UNFILTERED NIAGARA PINOT NOIR 2010, and BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010

PEARL MORISSETTE CUVÉE DIX-NEUVIEME CHARDONNAY 2011 303602, $40.00)

A child of a hot and dry summer, a stress-free winter slumber and a non-invasive spring awakening.  Sets out lean, tight and mean, but the dry extract invites spicy, stone fruit and an emergence of tropical lushness. Can there be another specimen that so rightfully defines Pearl Morissette, the top of the Bench or Niagara as a whole in 2011?  93  Tasted July 19, 2013  @PearlMorissette

NORMAN HARDIE UNFILTERED NIAGARA PINOT NOIR 2010 (208702, $39.00, SAQ 11638481, $38.75)

That Norman Hardie can make Pinot Noir in Prince Edward County that could never be confused with any other makes it that much more incredulous to nose this Niagara cousin and know it can only be his. A barb on the very verge of ripe, tart cranberry and as smoky a nose as Hardie’s Pinot wants to be. Strawberry and raspberry red beret. Ashes to ashes but not funk to funky, we know Hardie is a Pinot junkie. Still, this is a warm and melodious Pinot with only one coat of primer. Impressive.  91  Tasted October 4, 2013  @normhardie

BURROWING OWL SYRAH 2010 (73072, $41.95, B.C. $39.99, Alberta $44.99)

This Syrah will cure so many ails. Vouchsafe for a pepper-laced, plasmic mouthfeel, a maroon liquid pewter party of rocks and stones in the mouth. Playful and childlike, digs a pony, playing and offering really good fun. Does its own Okanagan thing becuase “ev’rything has got to be just like you want it to.”  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

From left: CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007, CHÂTEAU LE CAILLOU 2006, and JIM BARRY THE MCRAE WOOD SHIRAZ 2008

CLOSA BATLLET GRATALLOPS 2007 (156398, $49.95)

Stupid gorgeous Priorat and though inaccessible to most of us mere mortals, if you were to shell out $50 in November for one wine, this has to be considered. A blend of 65 per cent Cariñena, 22 per cent Garnacha, with a smattering of Syrah and Merlot. Pure purple pitch, an early summer Catalonian garden in bloom, air warm, breeze light. Wow. Blows high priced Napa and over the top Châteauneuf-du-Pape out of the water. The oak is so beautifully integrated.  94  Tasted October 4, 2013

CHÂTEAU LE CAILLOU 2006 (45682, $49.95)

She’s so very pretty, this righteous and bankable “girl with the right allocations.” She’s a lovely slice of layer cake, alternating in coffee, toffee, vanilla cream and mineral rime. Though her tannins are still grainy, her fruit lingers on. She’s “a girl with a smooth liquidation…a short skirt and a lonnnnng…. lonnng jacket.” Le Caillou continues to bite but she’s not huge, and that’s just right.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @VinsdePomerol

JIM BARRY THE MCRAE WOOD SHIRAZ 2008 (737817, $59.95)

So, this 17th vintage tips the brix/alcohol scale in dangerous liaisons but it’s really quite a scorching, gorgeous number. A bomb to be sure, with layers and layers of the most savvy and sygian fruit. A realm of balance is achieved by way of a probing groove. Baking spice, blueberry pie, very peppery, tight, intense, tense, cohesive and righteous.  92  Tasted October 4, 2013  @Jimbarrywines

Good to go!

Free my Canadian grapes and other love songs

People are not just talking about wine law, they’re joining the band.
PHOTO: JARP/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

The discussion is no longer reserved for wine geeks and industry professionals. People are not just talking about wine law, they’re joining the band. The waves of interest may oscillate in the chatter of the public sector and the media, but the time gaps between are narrowing. Talk is no longer cheap. Canadians are speaking up. Restaurant owners are crying out. Farmers are the lead vocalists. Politicians are listening. The cause and the demand is agreed upon. The song remains the same. Free my grapes.

To the uninitiated, the ignorant and the critic, the love-in happening for Canadian wine right now seems slightly counter-culture. The songs may sound a bit Kumbaya-ish or like covers of Lennon and Harrison chants. Make no mistake about it, this is about the business of selling wine and Canadian wineries want a fair deal.

Grape growers and vintners in Canada have a really good thing going save for one small obstacle. Most provinces won’t allow wine lovers to have out of province wine shipped to them. Ontario is not only the largest producer and consumer of wine in Canada, their government is also the most powerful roadblock to free grapes. Will this ever change? I’ve touched on the subject before.

Related – Wine begins to flow across Canadian provinces and Free grapes of colour

The short answer is yes, if the current level of lobbying is any indication. Last night’s Ontario and B.C. Wine chats, the weekly Twitter/Internet discussion boards created and mediated by Shawn McCormick (Ont.) and Sandra Oldfield (B.C.) took the discourse to an entirely new level. There were many new voices on board. The debates centred on Bill 98, the movement of Free My Grapes and liquor review policy, from one government to the next. Bill 98 is a Private Members (MPP Rob Milligan) Bill that could this make it legal for Ontarians to order and have shipped out of province wines. The opposition members bill has PC support and the promising potential for the NDP to follow suit. Bill 98 entitled “An Act Respecting the Importation of Wine, Beer and Spirits from other Provinces” amends the Liquor Control Act to add a provision that permits individuals of legal age to import wine into Ontario from another province as long as it is for personal consumption only.” The bill has passed second reading, following on the heels of MP Dan Albas’ gains in British Columbia.

Last month Sandra Oldfield posted this essential list on her blog. Top 10 reasons to free my grapes. From a local perspective, allowing grapes to flow across the country increases support for farmers, promotes a Canadian wine culture and increases local tourism. Looking at it globally, changing liquor laws and knocking down pre-prohibition provincial walls would drag Canada out of the laughing-stock category in the world of wine-producing countries. There’s the rub. Critics agree that the deregulation of provincial monopolies and the addition of private liquor stores will not cause tax loss suffering. Oldfield goes so far as to suggest the idea of a flat tax should be investigated. She’s not wrong.

What is the truth of the matter? Does the Ontario government lack the courage to effect change over the LCBO? Is tax collection and the billions of dollars annually endowed from the LCBO to the Ontario government coffers the real issue? Are inflated, algorithmic wine and spirits mark-ups at the heart of the matter?

Regardless of the answer, ears are burning, e-mail is buzzing, letters to MPP’s are increasing and petitions are being signed. Kathleen Wynne is at the centre of the storm and her party can no longer avoid the rising tide of change. It’s simply time to get this done and move on to the matter of making and selling great wine. It’s time to focus on terroir, on soil, on somewhereness.

Just yesterday Ontario wine folks tasted through single vineyard blocks of Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir and celebrated the 25th anniversary of winemaking at Henry of Pelham. Why must Canadians continue to waste their time pleading for Canada’s provincial governments to free the grapes?

So, while everyone waits for the inevitable here at home, wine remains a global concern. The greatest redeeming quality of the all-powerful LCBO is in the VINTAGES releases. The coming weekend features some other love songs, six terrific buys highlighted here. There is one lonely, singular offer from British Columbia, the terrific Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2011. Try it and spread the word. Free my grapes.

From left: Fielding Estate Winery Riesling 2012, Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2011, Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot 2010, Caves Saint Desirat Saint Joseph 2010, Journey’s End Shiraz 2007, and Yabby Lake Vineyard Mornington Peninsula SV Pinot Noir 2010

Fielding Estate Winery Riesling 2012 (251439, $18.95) as per the warm vintage humidifies in increased tropical soupçon. There is a feeling of creamy pineapple and mangosteen, nearly sherbet like, with an expedient and harmonizing lemon/granite boost.  Frothy too and coconut feathery. Finishes pithy but not overly so. Complex Beamsville Riesling.  89  @FieldingWines  @RichieWine

Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2011 (13150, $19.95) is a carnival of red fruit, sans mask. Raspberry, plum and strawberry, pressed, flattened and rolled.  Blueberry too – it’s a freakin’ berry party. Plum and red licorice sneak in for good measure. That said, why wouldn’t you want your Niagara Peninsula Merlot to smell like this? Very approachable, friendly, with tart acidity to wrap it up in a winning package.  Do not look for anything serious here.  88  @featherstonewne

Henry of Pelham Cabernet-Merlot 2010 (395855, $24.95) is dug in deep, in pedigree, track record and potential. Mysterious, haunting, cave dwelling fruit. Burrows even deeper, with obvious espresso timber assistance. Balanced, structured and long. A classic H of P CM in the making, throwing muses like the ’98, that will show well to 2022. It’s true, it told me. “It tastes like water, but I’m drunk.”  90  @HenryofPelham

Caves Saint Desirat Saint Joseph 2010 (342980, $23.95) in her elegance and grace from the Northern Rhône is the Syrah to quench even the most desperate anadispic thirst. So lithe, so pretty strawberry, so effortless, so drinkable, so food-friendly. Nothing dramatic or overly exceptional here save for a singer-songwriter, Adamsian, heartfelt angst, but this Syrah is crushed with old school desire without being rustic or misunderstood. “With no secrets, no obsession.” Metal felt but not metallic. Just sit back and enjoy.  90

Journey’s End Shiraz 2007 (337642, $19.95) initiates serious sanguine Stellenbosch intimacy with dusty black cherry and black pepper. Hard to break, like the Northern Rhône, or even Syrah-heavy Châteauneuf-du-Pape but swirl and she will open up. Meaty, gamey, anise, metal-mineral fruit. Hedonistic and certainly clothed in heavy coat but there is an underlying velvet dignity here, though it has not yet shed its bacon baby fat. I would follow this highly complex and intriguing South African for five to 10 years. Already a few years in and not nearly at its peak.  Has ancient experience in its blood.  92  @JourneysEndWine

Yabby Lake Vineyard Mornington Peninsula SV Pinot Noir 2010 (262402, $49.95) is imbued with alluring candied morning glory and ginger aromas. Tight, upright and above sweet suspicion. A front-runner for the genre, faintly painted in dawn pastels and flavoured by a puncheon of strawberry and rhubarb. “Tomorrow never knows what it doesn’t know too soon.” Statis Pinot Noir that is the oasis from the peninsula.  93  @YabbyLake

Good to go!

He spits, he scores: World Wine Awards of Canada results

Fresh off the presses, here are the results from World Wine Awards of Canada 2013, presented by WineAlign
Photo: kotoyamagami/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Drinking, by definition, includes consuming and that would obviously be counterproductive to the wine evaluation process. So, wine writers and critics spit for their living. Why would anyone buy a wine on the recommendation from someone who spit it into a bucket? Good question.

Consider another question. How many wine critics does it take to change a light bulb? If the answer were 10, that would be because it would take one to hold the bulb and nine to spin the room. Or the answer might be three. One to decant, taste and spit, and two to take him to the hospital before he bleeds to death. Is the joke and are these responses indicative of how the general public feels about wine criticism? If yes, then the wine consumer’s attitude towards the relevance of wine competitions and the doling out of awards may not exactly be positive and indiscriminate.

A bit of insight for you into the modus vivendi of those who judge wine. Chew over this. A wine is submitted to a concours, tasted several times by a minimum of three critics, all of whom are kept blind as to the clues regarding producer, appellation, region and country. These wine professionals are chosen by and with their peers to judge, sniff, sip, spit and repeat. They consider, contemplate and formulate on the spot tasting notes and then discuss the attributes with a panel before passing final judgement. Seems like a perfectly and indisputably sound and reasonable approach, don’t you think? But what about the spitting part?

Whatever you might think about the use of such an exercise to determine the merit of a bottle of wine, competitions, when run and operated with unbiased integrity, do in fact empower justice to the entrants. Poke fun at the wine critic if you must, felicity knows they can take it, but know their modus operandi is just the same as yours. To seek out the most worthy and best value wines available in their market. The wine critic is self-taught, to internalize the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of a wine without swallowing it. It takes focus and years of practice to figure it out.

WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013

PHOTO: WineAlign.com
WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada 2013

The WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada (WWAC) held in September featured a week-long evaluation process for nearly 1,000 wines (996 to be exact) from around the world. Assembled and organized by an army of volunteers, the Herculean task was orchestrated by one of North America’s most respected wine critics and WineAlign Partner Anthony Gismondi, aka The Spitter. The Vancouver Sun columnist was also responsible for the immeasurable and exacting task of overseeing the pouring and the critical timing of delivery to the judges. Not to mention piles upon piles of tasting notes and scores.

WineAlign WWAC13 Wine Room

WineAlign WWAC13 Wine Room

The WWAC is open to both imported and domestic wines for sale in Canada, provided the wine sells for less than $50 somewhere in the country.  This affords an unparalleled opportunity for all wines sold in Canada to show that they can compete in quality and value with wines from anywhere in the world.  Wines are tasted in three price categories based on the lowest selling price in Canada. Less than $15, from $15 to $25 and from $25 to $50. As a consequence WWAC is really three competitions in one with wines being tasted alongside their peers by price and with awards given by price category.

I was invited to join the other 17 judges for the preliminary rounds. If I were to measure my prosperity by the company I keep, I would indeed be a pecunious wine scribe. I was joined in Mississauga, Ontario by David Lawrason, John Szabo, MS, Steve Thurlow, Sara d’Amato, Bill Zacharkiw, Janet Dorozynski, Rémy Charest, Marc Chapleau, Rhys Pender, MW, Ben Macphee-Sigurdson, DJ Kearney, Treve Ring, Brad RoyaleJulian Hitner, Evan Saviolidis, Anne Martin and Zinta Steprans.

WineAlign WWAC13 judges John Szabo, Julian Hitner and Sara d'Amato

WineAlign WWAC13 judges John Szabo, Julian Hitner and Sara d’Amato

Judges sit three or four together at a table, taste solo through flights of like varieties, procure notes and assign individual scores. Each flight of (three to 12) wines is then discussed, argued, debated and an ultimate meeting of the vinous minds either pushes a wine through to the next round or relegates it to the discard heap. This method of awarding by committee ensures that good wines receive their due blessings and flawed specimens are put in their rightful place.Here’s the kicker. Aside from knowing the price range and specific variety or varieties in a blend, the judges taste all the wines blind. Continent, country, region, appellation and vineyard are not part of the equation. This ensures the most equitable results.

So, fresh off today’s presses, here are the results from WWAC13, presented by WineAlign. Special thanks go out to Head Wineaux, Bryan McCaw, along with Steve Thurlow, Carol Ann Jessiman and Sarah Goddard.

2013 World Wine Awards of Canada Results

Each judge was asked to write reviews on a specific cross-section of wines they were a part of assessing during the competition. Here are my notes on my 28 of them, across a wide range of categories.

From left: Gustave Lorentz Cuvee Amethyste Riesling 2011, Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012, and De Vine Vineyards Vrm 2011

Riesling $0-15

Gustave Lorentz Cuvee Amethyste Riesling 2011, Alsace, France $14.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice WWAC 2013 Best of Variety Under $15

Peppery, perspiring, basal, nasal fruit. Propellant driven with a bite of crisp golden delicious apple and green goddess acidity. At under $15 this achieves Trocken success. Unshakable, abecedarian if not the most formidable Riesling.  88  @AmethystWineInc  @drinkAlsace

Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling 2012, Qualitätswein Mosel, Germany $13.95

Pressed and packed with tropical fruit, as if a roll-up, in liquid form. Thoughts head east and south but the textural, angular and vertical intensity peels back that inclination. The extended play and fruit replay is a study in delineated Riesling depth. There must be some history behind the bottle.  87  @drloosenwines  @Select_Wines

Jackson Triggs Reserve Riesling 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, $13.99

Drawn to the off-dry resonance which is both tropical and florid in citrus maxima. That pomello repeats to taste but it falls under a balmy and herbal spell, in a relaxed way. A valley’s elongated attitude, at the foot of a mountain and architecturally sound. Re-mastered, utilitarian Riesling.  85  @Jackson_Triggs

Chardonnay Oaked $15-25

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2012, California, USA $16.95

Deft, lissome touch of oak. Subtle, determined orchard fruit, namely pear, barely kissed by a rose and the barrel. Exiguous yet meaningful and pragmatic aromatics. Bright Chardonnay so “a light hits the gloom on the grey.” Seals the deal astir with tang on the snappy finish.  88

PHOTO: Michael Godel White wine flight at the WineAlign WWAC13

Sauvignon Blanc $15-25

Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile $9.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Great show savvy, really great show. Outright fast flint, white pepper, citrus and fresh herbs. Luscious texture, convincing up the middle and goes deeper than many. Grapey and succulent. Clean, concise winemaking.  90  @Caliterra  @imbibersreport

Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand $15.95

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Equatorial and profuse but not over the top. Quick, painless slice of jalapeno, a sweet heat capsicum moment. Sauvignon Blanc with a drop of Sriracha, spritz of lime and pinch of salt on ripe tree fruit, like papaya and mango. Add in golden pineapple and kumquat for good salad measure. Nearly great value, if only it were graced with a bit more finesse.  88  @yealands  @TrialtoON

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand $15.99

Stoic initially, with acute notes of gooseberry, grass and blanched legume. Turns tropical and balmy with a sense of orange marmalade. Confounding in that it could be South Island or Sancerre, but being subjected to such toe tipping is this Sauvignon Blanc’s calling card.  88  @MariscoWine

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand $18.95

Commodious Sauvignon Blanc, candid, candied and calcified. Tropical from what must be an intense vintage, whiffing dewy teak gold plum and prickly pear. Full-bodied and blessed with a long aftertaste. A slice of southern hemisphere confiture on toast.  88  @kimcrawfordwine

White Blends $15-25

De Vine Vineyards Vrm 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $23.00

WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice WWAC 2013 Best of Variety $15 – $25

A Rhône-ish boy with a tithe of Marsanne in support of equal 45′s of Roussane and Viognier. Mutters in rhyme, beating the drum slowly, in a subtle white flower, pretty print dress. Nothing muddy about the waters this graceful swimmer treads. Sidled by just enough rigor to replay in refrain, “I’m a natural born lovers” wine. Egalitarian revolutions per minute.  90  @deVineVineyards

Road 13 Honest John’s White 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $25.95

A group of seven grapes, riding on a carousel. A who’s who of white varieties going “round and round and round and round with you. Up, down, up, down, up, down, too.” Elegant and in control, like the stationary horses, this endearing and human blend. Nectarine and longan make appearances in the by committee, ensemble performance.  88  @Road13Vineyards

Pfaffenheim Tete A Tete Pinot Gris Riesling 2012, Alsace, France $15.49

A 50/50 split of Riesling and Pinot Gris, please do not adjust your set, go head to head, mano a mano to duke it out, agree to disagree and ultimately settle to blend and accept the results. Together they procure Époisses and worn socks. On the bright side there is orange zest and fresh squeezed grapefruit. “So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.” Tangy and pithy finish. Abbreviated and horizontal.  85  @AlsaceWines

From left: Jackson Triggs Merlot Gold Series 2008, Road 13 Syrah Malbec 2011, Creation Syrah Grenache 2011, and Cassiano Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008

Syrah $0-15

Fifth Leg Old Dog New Tricks Shiraz 2011, Western Australia, Australia, $15.95

Less calamitous fruit compression in relation to the rest of the flight. Blueberry pie and a concord of baking spices predominate, along with unsettling though bracketing elevated levels of tannin and acidity. Wild and whacking lack of overall integration but possessive of many positive moving parts.  87

Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2011, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $19.60

A convection of raspberry jam and forest floor verdant wildness. Notable in not being nearly as wood-driven in relation to peers in adjacent stemware. An inelasticity and diaphanous texture suggests Syrah. Simpatico Shiraz.  87  @MissionHillWine

Red Blends $0-15

Hardys Stamp Series Shiraz/Cabernet 2012, South Eastern Australia, Australia $10.05

Initial thoughts lean towards flattery, in finesse and generosity. Rhône-like rocks and stones trot out the red fruit, spiked by citrus (ripe orange, juiced and reduced). Structured in oxymoronic astringent elegance. Decent to medium length.  87

Sumac Ridge Cabernet Merlot Private Reserve 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $14.99

Stands apart from the under $15 Red Blend flight as an axiomatic, soft conifer in a forest of hardwoods. I was admittedly fooled into thinking Niagara when it really calls the Okanagan Valley home. Semi-hemi-ripe, red stone fruit soused in halogen, spiced by Ween’s seventh album and Korean red pepper. “Even If you don’t” like the alternative character you will be charmed by its friendly production and likable wine/musicianship.  87  @SumacRidgeWine

Louis Bernard Côtes Du Rhône Rouge 2012, Rhone, France $13.00

A copacetic Grenache and Syrah Côtes du Rhône blend that just seems to exist in an Iberian state of mind. It’s the modernity speaking, in deep mauve, lilaceous essence and a palate clotted with poached tomato. Stops adroitly short of cooked or stewed fruit character. Juicy fruit from presumably young vines. Quick yet resplendent.  87  @LouisBernard84  @AuthenticWine

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2011, Mendoza, Argentina $13.95

Malbec and Venetian Corvina in Ripasso’s Argentinian hands. Raising, hair-triggering, eye-opening aromas in acerbic Daikon intensity. Black bean paste and cedar, earth and char. The flavours echo and further Ripasso’s absorptive ability. Tack on a  snippet of sour mix and an elevated, grizzly bear, altitudinous attitude. This one leaves me “frozen in my tracks.” Certainly not gun-shy85 

Merlot $15-25

Jackson Triggs Merlot Gold Series 2008, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $23.99 WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice

Like a wine lover’s dessert, this JT Merlot spoons gobs of sun-dried fruit, anise and dried raisin over a compressed and chalky cake of balmy green tea. Youth purloined by developed character, marked by the sauce, not unlike some manic red advance cassettes from Italy’s Mezzogiorno. Now long in the tooth, “how you wound me so tight,” with your unique style, so “don’t say that I’ve lost you.” Its heft will carry it through.  88  @JacksonTriggsBC

Michael Godel, Zinta Steprans and David Lawrason at the WineAlign WWAC13

Red Blends $15-25

Musella Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2009, Verona, Veneto, Italy, $15.95

Soaked and sappy, with braised tree fruit flavours, concentrated and passed over upon itself. Certainly trying very hard to entice and invite hedonistic pleasure. Like an upside down plum and fig cake, dripping in macerated syrup but with enough mineral tension to prorogue another day. Good rehydrated example.  88  @3050Imports

La Fiole Cotes Du Rhone 2010, Rhone, France $15.05

Simultaneously juicy and brooding. Tension from the get go. A depth of dried, fruit leathery plum, soaking in spiked Kefir grain. Bound tight but aching to race free. In Rhône ranger territory, or a Rhône acting on a Hollywood set. Tannic, oaky, manly yes, but I like it too. Admirable length.  88

California Square Paso Robles Red Bland 2012, California, USA $18.95

Downy soft, delicate, cheerful red blend. Pastel watercolour, flower-patterned print as perfume. Warm climate red licorice, plum permeate and cherry saturate, well-integrated acidity and some iron astriction. Would gain weight alongside rich foods.  86  @TrialtoBC

Vignoble Rancourt Meritage 2007, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada $19.80

Chalk dust followed by quality, perceptive, frank and just red fruit. Understated, not overly expressive and walking softly down the road.  85

The Cloof Cellar Blend 2009, Wo Darling, South Africa $20.00

Leaps from the glass with earth expanding aromas. Strapping Pinotage java component shows accommodating restraint in advance of a Turkish viscidity. Red fruit is bright, adhesive and enervetic. Overall a bouncy, tannic and splintered affair.  85  @Cloofwines_ZA

Red Blends $25-50

Road 13 Syrah Malbec 2011, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, $25.00

A count five psychedelic strawberry and savoury rhubarb aromatic behemoth. Crazy cherries too. Then, a mind-altering, animal hide moment, not exactly gamey, but something other, enough to cause a psychotic reaction. “(Shouted) And it feels like this!”  90  @Road13Vineyards

Creation Syrah Grenache 2011, Walker Bay, South Africa $32.50

A requiem for an exaggerated swirl, or at least the respect of a decant. Quite a head-smacking whack of mineral-iron-metal, with the tempering lift of a citrus-scented candle. Kirsch, vanillin oak “and my time is a piece of wax fallin’ on a termite, who’s chokin’ on the splinters.” I am the loser, the wine is the winner. Very berry, big and beautiful.  90  @gradwellwines

Cassiano Amarone Della Valpolicella 2008, DocVeneto, Italy $35.25

Quite the animal, this plum juicy and high-octane alcohol, cloying acetone and chocolate-dipped red licorice Venetian red blend. Sounds ridiculously Ripasso and near-Amarone delicious and were it endowed with the balance and structure to walk with the giants I’d sing its praises. Even so, I really believe it’s a “soul who’s intentions are good” so please don’t let it be misunderstood.  87

Masi Costasera Amarone 2008, Veneto, Italy $39.95

A stew of red fruit, prune and fig. Cauterized, steroidal, excessive, welling sensory overload. Leaking car fluids. Certainly a problematic, off-bottle from a reliable, age worthy brand.  80

Pinot Noir $25-50

Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile $45.00

Beaucoup de terre, or more likely, mucho suelo. An extreme example of Pinot Noir, a flamboyant king, ostentatious, peacockish and wired by a constriction of spices. There is perhaps too much earthly, saftig body. Though my first impression was admittedly old world, there is no way that theory will hold. A glass in and the thrill is gone, “And now that it’s over, all I can do is wish you well.”  87  @BadDogWine  @WinesofChile

Good to go!

Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay

Malivoire Wine Company
PHOTO: STEVE ELPHICK, MALIVOIRE.COM

as seen on canada.com

My skies of late have espied no dark clouds and no rain. While torrential storms and unprecedented flooding hit Toronto last week I was fortunate to be basking in six days of Vancouver sun. I returned home to those same kind of skies, only now the mercury has climbed north of 30 degrees Celsius and the humidity well beyond the perspiration line.

There are two things you need to beat this kind of summer heat. Wine and wine. Start with Rosés and crisp, refreshing, aromatic whites. My current release recommendations also include a few reds (for the grill) and most are so hot that you’d better act fast because blink and they will be gone.

The second is to seek out Chardonnay. Cool, cool Chardonnay. This weekend I will be gathering with wine lovers making a pilgrimage to Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula to celebrate Cool Chardonnay, three vinifera and exceptional cuisine packed days (July 19-21, 2013) in my backyard’s great wine region. The international cool climate celebration is known as #i4c2013, an unprecedented gathering “spent exploring seductive shades of the most planted grape on earth.” The event’s mantra is simple. “40,000 acres can’t be wrong.” Cool Chardonnay will be three days of wine tasting and food pairing bent on altering and furthering the perception of the grape and just how incredible it can be in the hands of the cool climate winemaker. More than 120 wines from 60-plus wineries worldwide will be represented, including the greats from Niagara, Prince Edward County and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

To celebrate the re-birth of cool, seek out any of these suggested wines and raise a toast to the cool climate winemaker, the gift of their land and the fine Chardonnay made by their hands.

Clockwise from left: Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010, Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2011, Flat Rock Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Domaine Corne-Loup Tavel Rosé 2012, Chateau D’Angles Le Clape Rosé 2012, Rolly Gassmann Auxerrois Rotleibel de Rorschwihr 2007, Stratus Tollgate Fumé Blanc 2009, and Sister’s Run Shiraz Epiphany 2011

The Chardonnays

Château Des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (318303, $16.95, B.C. 230961, $18.99) intensifies in juicy, bright, nearly candied fruit cut by sour patch and blanched nut. Clean, cool Chardonnay and right on. My earlier note, from ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine) is the unoaked result of aromatic Clone 809 combed from the heavier clay-based soils from the St. David’s Bench Vineyard and the silty, mineral rich soils from Seven and Seven Vineyard. Tropical, strutting stunner with “a thousand lips I would love to taste.” Tell Ms. Musqué if you can’t rock me, nothing can.  90  @MBosc

Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2011 (338434, $27.95, B.C. 732958, $21.90) sees minimal (15 percent new French) oak influence and while there is a ripe coconut tang, a sense of creamy butter and a spike of citrus, there really isn’t too much of anything at all. Tasted this fresh Okanagan a second time in Vancouver, alongside Another Side of Bob Dylan at Salt Tasting Room, I decided I could drink a barge full of the stuff. “All I really want to do, is, baby, be friends with you.”  90  @poplargrovewine

Bachelder Wismer Chardonnay 2010 (345819, $44.95,) is so sumptuous, presumptuous and precocious. Ahead of the curve, effortless and full of 20 mile mineral length. The ripe green apple never quits. My earlier note from Top juice flows at Cuvée 25th anniversary from the Twenty Mile (Vineland) Bench is the most righteous, understated charred butterscotch remoulade sauce of dreams. Richly textured and built upon a sneaky, slow and stretched breath of wild yeasts. A creeper, gatherer and traveler of both knowledge and persistence. The journey with Thomas Bachelder as related by partner Mary Delaney, from out of Quebec, by way of Ponzi and Lemelson in Oregon and to Niagara is the stuff of dreams. Tasted twice same night and hypnotized both times.  94  @Bachelder_wines

The Rosés

Flat Rock Pinot Noir Rosé 2012 (39974, $16.95) achieves pink Pinot nirvana by way of foxy strawberry, vanilla crème, and orange rind. Peppery red currants bring balance, some sizzle and spice.  88  @Winemakersboots

Domaine Corne-Loup Tavel Rosé 2012 (71209, $17.95) is the hot weather cold maker, big in ripe, strawberry fruit, citrus and red apple. Imagine a glass’ glistening condensation by the seawall on a hot afternoon, the wine deliquescing like dew, Hemingway open at page one.  89

Chateau D’Angles Le Clape Rosé 2012 (323386, $15.95) goes classic holy trinity Midi in Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. Creamy, frosty and savoury in strawberry, rhubarb, balmy tarragon and shrubbery. Finishes with salinity pressed like a salt herring.  91  @chateaudangles

The Aromatic Whites

Rolly Gassmann Auxerrois Rotleibel de Rorschwihr 2007 (328872, $19.95) elevates the grape to great heights. Gold carat, rich golden marmalade and aromatics simulating Sauternes. Pencil leads apricot and clementine in this life-sustaining sap. Has lived well and will live long.  90

Stratus Tollgate Fumé Blanc 2009 (335711, $24.95) gives a goblet of lavish, good pleasure in honey and near Gewürztraminer, lychee-ish tropical fruit. Not so smoky but pulchritudinous in yellow candy apple and its fumé comes from a scotch oak flavour. Replicates upon itself in rich and viscous waves. Total and utter unique Ontario white.   89  @Stratuswines            

Charles Baker Riesling Picone Vineyard 2010 (241182, $35.20) from the Vinemount Ridge appellation can’t help but froth forth in soda and A16 out of such a warm vintage but still, only CB perfumes like this. Ahhh, that Baker perfume. No level of encomium can express the intoxicating effect of Picone, vintage in, vintage out. So much apple, great acidity but more nut warmth than ’09. Shuns lassitude and shines bright.  90  @cbriesling

The Reds

Sister’s Run Shiraz Epiphany 2011 (269464, $16.95) is mineral prone like the northern Rhône in iron and bloody intense in sanguine rush. Not sure I could drink too much but it’s a study for sure.  Long on blueberry, pencil and though McLaren Vale issue, it seems reminiscent of older, Great Western Seppelt Shiraz, circa 2000.  89

Malivoire Cabernet Franc 2011 (310383, $24.95) reaches deep into the well to draw up an elixir of incredible luxuriance bolstered by a tart and tight, ripe red currant depth. Layered by Christmas and Black Forest cake with a sour black cherry glaze and a garth of earth and bushes.  91  @MalivoireWine

Good to go!

Money back guarantee wines

Here are five wines that will present no reason to be looking for a refund or an exchange. PHOTO: ARCADY/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Ever opened a bottle of wine, had a sip or two and decided you just didn’t like it? Happens all the time, right? The thing is, in most cases you can return that wine, especially if it was purchased at one of the many provincial monopolies in Canada. Here’s a short primer on refund, return and exchange policies across Canada.

Related – more current releases

“The SAQ exchanges or refunds any product purchased in an SAQ outlet less than a year before. You must present the sales receipt when requesting a refund. For exchanges, the sales receipt is optional.” The LCBO used to offer their customers that same level of respect to offset the negative impact a monopoly’s policies can effect upon a helpless consumer (monochromatic and or lack of quality choice, lottery selections for small lot and hard to acquire selections, indifferent deference to local product, hyperbolic inflation on comparable US supermarket wines, archaic laws towards inter-provincial shipping, import agent strong arming, to name a few). As of April of 2012, you now have only 30 days to return a bad bottle and unlike the SAQ, you need the receipt for a direct exchange. For LCBO returns, wines “must be in ‘saleable condition’ and accompanied by the original receipt. Saleable means that the product must be unopened and have the label intact, for example.  Defective product is treated differently.” Manitoba follows suit. Who brought these guys to the party?

The same applies to defective products; wines with perceptible flaws, such as TCA (cork taint) or VA (volatile acidity). The 30-day LCBO rule is a sham, I mean shame. The open-ended return policy made up for so much of the monopoly’s shortcomings. Alas, no more.

British Columbia’s Liquor board is no piece of cake either. You can only “return a product in B.C for a full refund, provided the product is unopened, in saleable condition an official BC Liquor Stores receipt for the product is presented.” At least they’ve thrown a bone to caterers who can now return unopened liquor products. Nova Scotia follows Quebec’s policy. “Defective or broken product may be returned to any NSLC store for full exchange or refund and does not require a receipt. All customers returning defective or broken product must be willing to provide name, address and telephone number to the NSLC store representative.”

In Saskatchewan it appears that only “permittees can return any unopened spirit and wine bottles and sealed, full beer cases that were purchased for the event provided they provide the original sales receipt.” Remind me not to purchase defective wine in that province. As far as New Brunswick is concerned “at the discretion of the Liquor Store Manager, Alcool NB Liquor will accept product returns for full refund. The sales slip should accompany the returned item.”

Newfoundland’s system, at least on paper, is very fair and civilized, though all returns seem to be in the powerful hands of a store manager. “NLC will accept product returns, at the discretion of the Liquor Store Manager. In the case of defective merchandise, NLC will permit product returns or exchange, at the discretion of the Liquor Store Manager for a full refund where the product is no more than half empty and he product was listed by NLC within the last 12 months. Better than the LCBO. Best of all may me Prince Edward Island. “At the discretion of the Liquor Store Manager, the PEILCC will accept product returns for full refund. The sales slip should accompany the returned item. All returns will be on a “bottle-for-bottle” basis.” Civilized.

Alberta’s Gaming and Liquor Board only accepts “refunds for the following types of faulty products; returned due to customer complaint; a sealed bottle(s) which: is partially filled; has a damaged cap or cork; or is contaminated with a foreign material. A claim for a refund for a faulty product must be received by the AGLC Product and Pricing Department within 30 days of receipt of product by the claimant.” Quality retailers in provinces with a private system (like Alberta) will also take back an unwanted bottle, though they might not be so lenient when you try to bring back that bottle of First Growth Bordeaux. Some wines are sold with an unwritten rule. You lay down your money and you takes your chances.

Everybody’s got a hungry heart. “Lay down your money and you play your part.” So, to avoid disappointment and disappointing your local monopoly or retailer, here are five bargain wines, one for each day of the week beginning today, Monday June 10th. Five wines that will present no reason to be looking for a refund or an exchange.

From left: Place In The Sun Shiraz 2012, Fielding Estate Gewürztraminer 2010, Lealtanza Crianza 2009, Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2012, and A & G Papaioannou Estate Agiorgitiko SV Nemea 2007

The Grape: Shiraz

The history: New range of fair trade and sustainable wines from 321 year-old Stellenbosch winery Zonnenbloem

The lowdown: This is not a cheap bottle of fermented sugar. A breath of restrained, balanced and fresh grapes awaits

The food match: Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks and Local Asparagus

Place In The Sun Shiraz 2012 (286088, $13.10) is a balanced effort “at half the price” of many similar South African wines, here crafted by the Cape’s Zonnenbloem Winery from vineyards cooled by False Bay. Campfire smoke, grilled meat, spice and antipasti char attribute this chewy, biltong red. Characterized by a musical, magical, folk spirituality. A Hoodoo Guru88  @APlaceintheSunSA

The Grape: Gewürztraminer

The history: Grape King Curtis Fielding and winemaker Richie Roberts are swiftly crafting a mid-range, diverse portfolio into the Ontario wine industry, unparalleled in execution and success

The lowdown: This Gewürz leans Alsace in a sweet sense but not in heft or a serious, contemplative way

The food match: Grilled Cumin Salmon

Fielding Estate Gewürztraminer 2010 (146753, $15.95) acts likes lees dessert as almond vanilla pudding with a side of lychee preserve. While I heart more the Riesling and Pinot Gris from winemaker Richie Roberts, this sugarplum Gewürztraminer has earned a rightful place at the table.  88  @FieldingWinery  @RichieWine

The Grape: Tempranillo

The history: Tempranillo specialist from Spain, located in Fuenmayor, in the heart of Rioja

The lowdown: Consistent value Tempranillo from a modern facility crafting wine with a foot in the austerity of the past

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Brisket

Lealtanza Crianza 2009 (114835, $16.95) exhibits more heat and caramelization than previous vintages. Vivid Sangria, pumped up by cherries in simple syrup and fleshy plum fruit. Accented by fennel and basil. Good length and even better value.  89  @bodegasaltanza  @ProfileWineGrp

The Grape: Riesling

The history: Founded in 1999 on the Jordan Bench and operated today by Ed Madronich and his father Ed Madronich Sr. Winemaker is Jay Johnston

The lowdown: This just might be the most trocken Ontario Riesling on the market today

The food match: Grilled Veal Chops and Wild Leeks

Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2012 (43281, $16.95) is a single varietal conundrum, intensely dry, dusty yet dripping in grape concentration. Huge soda nose, I mean a crazy proboscis. Love the dry entry and off-dry tangent. Twenty Mile Bench issue reminiscent of Rheinhessen. Admirable length and trebled finish.  90  @Winemakersboots @UnfilteredEd

The Grape: Agiorgitiko

The history: Main cultivar from a modern winery of the Ancient Nemea, located in the district of Corinth

The lowdown: A 100% indigenous Greek varietal, aged for one year in oak barrel and further matured in the bottle for six months

The food match: Halloumi

A & G Papaioannou Estate Agiorgitiko SV Nemea 2007 (47977, $19.95) has reached a ripe oxy age but this weathered and sensuous, sun-kissed by gods Greek red is still a classic beauty. Quintarelli-like toffee, tobacco acetic reduction and spiced plum seem like high praise I know but the acidity renders it a wash. Look out, buckets of cherries, tart currants and tar join the fun in this very interesting and intriguing Nemean single vineyard stunner.  89  @KolonakiGroup

Good to Go!

Part Two: A 30 march of value reds

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Today’s date may read April 5th, 2013 but as far as I’m concerned, it’s still March. Winter chill hovers like a suffocating raft over a simmering cauldron of consommé. We are the suds, the weather our nimbus and we can’t wait to rent our effervescent clothes, break free from the mackerel sky and walk into spring.

Related – More March wine reviews

The coming weeks worth of frosty nights and their refusal to hightail on out of here must then be quelled by belly warming, hearty meals shared in kind with big, bold red wines. Here is a 15-strong list available now and in a store near you.

From left: Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2010, Calmel + J Joseph Faugères 2009, Château Gadet Terrefort 2010, Herdade Penedo Gordo Vinho Tinto 2010, and Otazu Premium Cuvée 2007

The French

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2010 (177584, $13.95) is a remarkable price for a Vin Pays d’Oc acting as a ringer for a Mark Kent (Boekenhoutskloof) Franschhoek meets the Northern Rhône. A dish of roasted pork belly, boar musk, lacquer, black olive and sun-baked earth would work. Good follow-up to the 2009 Septaguanarian of pork perambulations. Impossible balance for a pittance.  87

Château Agnel Cuvée Phillipe Minervois 2009 (309195, $15.95) is no pretender, this disciplined study in equilibrium. Blessed with a freestyle swimmer’s ability to master strokes in one varietal medley. More Grenache than Syrah, more Yannick than Michael. Exercises a learned rusticity, acts “old enough to face the dawn.” An angel of the morning bursting forth in floral scents and reaching out with a graceful length. Languedoc red as microcosmic study in an Olympian, southern French pool.  88  @FrontierWine

Calmel + J Joseph Faugères 2009 (310193, $16.95) conjures up full-on hedonism in roasted mutton, garrigue, black raspberry jus and a shot ‘o java. Full-bodied, mochafied richesse, juicy, easy to consume if  never to be seen again. All for $17.  89  @LanguedocWines

Château Gadet Terrefort 2010 (307231, $20.95) waltzes out in empeltre olive, plum sangria and creamy chocolate. Turns roast meaty in gritty tannin, struts great intensity for Médoc, like a “black-haired flamenco dancer,” de color rojo oscuro, not unlike modern Montsant. “Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones.”  90  @ProfileWineGrp 

Château Senejac 2009 (193037, $28.85, 11350145, SAQ, $26.85) walks a rustic, oxygenated Bordeaux tightrope threatening to fray but an earth, tar tincture and Mediterranean sense of longevity keeps this Haut-Médoc wound tightly together. Olive, licorice and Sambucan spice infuse in smokey tones.  91

The Portuguese

Herdade Penedo Gordo Vinho Tinto 2010 (218339, $13.95) from Alentejo, Portugal is very modern, full of lush, dusty berry fruit and void of hard lines. Licorice tang, suet roasted meat built on local grapes (Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional, Aragonez and Trincadeira). Refines the nature of its origins.  87  @winesportugalCA

Quinta Do Penedo 2009 (313676, $18.95) of Syrah-like sheen jonesing to purple sets out muted but after a swirl opens to black cherry bubble gum. Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional work effortlessly together to fashion a Dão whose “white clouds have turned it black.”  This one can come away with me anytime.  88  

The Spanish

Otazu Premium Cuvée 2007 (313809, $16.95, SAQ 11387298, $18.70) plays an intense, gritty Navarran riff full of earthy expletives. Addictive, salty, marinated olive, black cherry plethoric red that stops you in your tracks. Makes use of Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Reminds me of the Hecula or the Manga del Brujo but is so much edgier, crazed, frantic. Wild stuff.  88  @bodegaotazu

Beronia Gran Reserva 2005 (940965, $32.95) has smoothed its cigar smoked extremities with vanilla cream. The sour cherry tang is a necessary advocate for balance and structure. This classic and classy Riojan is ready and willing to sit at the dinner table along side Chorizo, Jabali and stuffed Piquillos.  89  @WoodmanWines

The Argentines

La Puerta Reserva Bonarda 2009 (67801, $18.95) is a serious, brooding, dark and mysterious gem from  Famatina Valley in the north-west of the Province of La Rioja. Red stone fruit, vanilla bean and an Andean rock face of tannin. Once you go cool-climate, altitudinous Argentinian Bonarda, you may never go back to Malbec.  88  @LaPuertaWines

Versado Malbec 2010 (317008, $24.95) takes on Argentina by way of Southbrook (Ontario) and Sperling Family Vineyards (British Columbia) in the estimable hands of winemaker Ann Sperling. Husband and oeno-guru Peter Gamble joins forces to beeline straight for Luján de Cuyo typicity in deep cherry, pitching to black, solder spice and herbs smoldering in oak.  Cool and minting in its alveolate void. Interesting to say the least.  88  @VersadoWine

Versado Reserva Malbec 2009 (316984, $59.95) seems to travel a Hobbsian path laid out like Cobos cobblestone. At nearly two and a half times the cost of the Versado normale you might expect a revelation and you get one or two, if you allow your senses to drift out-of-body, into a lead crystal, Malbec state of consciousness. Tons of charcoal clouding the infundibular annals of the wine. Emerges as a scherzo in velvety tones, texture and structure.  90  @ArgentinaWineCA

The Californians

Langtry Guenoc Petite Sirah 2011 (19935, $17.95) is a more than commendable example out of the less than glamorous Lake County. At only 13% abv, the Langtry is modest and shy by PS standards, heavenly scented by blueberry, white chocolate and eucalyptus. California PS can be formidable stuff but here “I got a California rainbow to come give them thunder clouds a rest.”  87  @LangtryGuenoc

Highway 12 Highwayman 2010 (319186, $27.95) is a proprietary blend of Cabernet Franc (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Merlot (20%) from Sonoman Michael Sebastiani. Present but not overbearing 14.3% alcohol, decadent despite its roots but tempered by good chocolate, olives and herbs. The kind of brambly, inky blend you might swear had some Zinfandel or Syrah in the mix but straight Bordeaux it is. A whack of wine for $28 originally released down south at $42.  90  @highway12winery

The Australian

Dandelion Vineyards Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale Shiraz/Riesling 2010 (311233, $19.95) is not a typo or a joke. Riesling does round out this McLaren Vale Shiraz, not Viognier. Only an Aussie would take this risk and help me Rhonda if it doesn’t work. “I can give you lots a reasons why” this works and number one is balance. The dash of white kicks the red into gear – it may be a strange sensation for which there is no prior frame of reference, but boy if it don’t put me on a beach.  88  @mrkcstr

Good to go!

New wave under $20 wines go kosher for Passover

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Kosher wine for Passover
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There is life beyond Manischewitz. Not all kosher wines are made from cloying, insipid and super-sweet Concord grapes. Conversely, a Jew’s worst,  ’11th plague’ wine nightmare, the nights of suffering through cooked and stewed dry table wines, is (mostly) a thing of the past. I’m not suggesting that the golden age is upon us, but you may want to don the shades. The future is bright for Passover kosher wine.

“Wine does not become kosher by being blessed. It is kosher (Hebrew: pure, proper) when complying with strict rabbinic criteria that render it acceptable for Orthodox Jews.” This statement from the NY Times is unifying and true for Jews worldwide who choose to abide by the traditions of the Passover Seder table ritual. I would highly recommend reading the articles of Eric Azimov to really get a grip on the kosher for Passover wine thing. Also check into Kosher Wine Musings Blog. For a comprehensive guide to Israeli wine, look to the work of the late, great critic, Daniel Rogov. The production of kosher wine is a costly endeavor and not surprisingly, the best products are those in the (upwards of $25) premium category. Two currently available examples are Shiloh Shor Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (182947, $32.95) from the Judean Hills, Israel and Bravado Chardonnay 2011 (305102, $31.95) by Karmei Yosef Winery, Israel.  We ran a story about premium wines last week.

From left: Banero Extra Dry Prosecco KPM, Borgo Reale Sangiovese KPM 2011, Five Stones Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon KPM 2010, and Galil Mountain Shiraz KPM 2010.

All wines labelled “Kosher for Passover” are kosher, but not all kosher wines are kosher for Passover.

All wines labelled “Kosher for Passover” are kosher, but not all kosher wines are kosher for Passover. Kosher for Passover wine must be handled by Sabbath-observant Orthodox Jews and the wine can never come into contact with any leavening (grain, dough, bread) products, including yeast. Chemical additives like Potassium Sorbate and Citric Acid are also no-no’s. Clarifying agents such as Isinglass (gelatin) is forbidden as it comes from non-kosher (no scales) fish. For the most part, Jews purchase only Meshuval wines for PassoverThe Meshuval (cooked or, flash pasteurized) practice is used so that opened kosher wine can be handled by non-Orthodox and non-Jews and then poured to the observant. Many Jews in the diaspora have chosen to abandon the concept. The destructive consequences of “cooking” grape juice somehow continues to remain up for debate. Most Jews who appreciate a glass of good wine with dinner, and especially those who double as wine geeks avoid Meshuval wine at all costs, thought being, consuming heat-damaged wine is no way to go through life. That said, a good deal of the Kosher for Passover wines in our market are Meshuval (KPM) and some are really quite agreeable.

The most interesting practice is that of established vineyards allowing kosher winemakers to use their grapes to make kosher wine. Several Bordeaux châteaux allow for this, including Château Malartic-Lagravière and Château Pontet-Canet and the wine is labelled under the name of the participating Château. Next Monday, Jews around the world will gather at their respective Seder tables. Here are five under $20 current Kosher for Passover releases.

Banero Extra Dry Prosecco KPM (298489, $13.95) hits classic Venetian fizz notes, of peach, orange rind, nougat and baked apple. Quite juicy despite the ED designation. Like a Tora, Tora instrumental, “played with a wind sound effect fading in, followed by a dive bomb on the open E string.” I would consider foregoing the Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay and go two, maybe three cups with this one.  86  @azureau

Borgo Reale Sangiovese KPM 2011 (637793, $13.95) may come off boxy, as if housed in cheap wood but for $14 this is really about the best you will ever hope to find. Seems to be in a bit of a rush, in the spirit of radio, built upon a synthesizer, Sangiovese sound. Still, “all this machinery making modern music can still be open-hearted.” Red, raspberry fruit is not so Sangio but leather and smoke is. A bit contrived but trendy and copacetic.  87  @ALLIEDIMPORTERS

Five Stones Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon KPM 2010 (108001, $19.95) from Margaret River, Western Australia like many Kosher efforts starts out one way then diverts another. Aromas of dry grass, yellow skin and white fleshed apple give way to a sweet and refreshing zip. A racy, Benzedrine touch of char gets on top of the pastry in “a shirt of violent green.” Strange frequency Kenneth.  87

Galil Mountain Shiraz KP 2010 (141580, $17.95) wears an oak monster’s mask and is Malbec-esque in blueberry pie and vanilla ice cream. Depeche Mode kosher red crying “Tora, Tora, Tora.” I ask the question, “is this a love in disguise or just a form of modern art.” Simple, juicy, slightly confected fruit.
More than acceptable for Seder table brisket and roast lamb.  87

Segal’s Fusion Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon KPM 2011 (157206, $18.95) though muted is quite pleasant, aromatically speaking. Baking spice, woodsmoke, cherry and plum, like satellite St. Emilion. Scarlet colour, as if derived from Tola’At Shani. Dusty and down-grain, no cooked sensation, well-structured.  88

Good to go!

Curl up with a good red

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Canadians were warned that we would see some “harsh bites” this winter and while the attack has thus far been quite benign, there are signs that the worst is yet to come. The predictions were kind to Western Canada but not so for the east. The Atlantic provinces have already been subject to some harsh conditions and Ontario, well, no big deal thus far.

Earlier this week my lighthearted attempt to cheer up a few million cold and flu stricken Canadians certainly struck a chord. Thank you all for sharing. For those of you that prefer red wine to cozy up to on these bone-chilling nights, this one’s for you.

Here are six warm-bodied reds to look for this coming weekend.

Six warm-bodied red wines

The grape: Dolcetto

The history: The Gamay of Italy, from Piedmont in the Northwest

The lowdown: Boasso turns out a Dolcetto serious to its appellation not unlike how great examples from Morgon or Côte De Puy are to Beaujolais

The food match: Mexican beef brisket and winter squash chili

Boasso Meriame Dolcetto D’Alba 2011 (303461, $15.95) also reminds me of young Tempranillo from Montsant. This one acts like jam-dusty confiture, not sweet but fruit forward. Not typically plum and sour cherry searing and even a touch funky.  Like Cru Beaujolais there is further extraction and earth-resonant, secondary characteristics.  88

The grape: Malbec

The history: Cahors in the south of France makes the most pitchy Malbec on the planet

The lowdown: New world Malbec from an old world setting

The food match: Roast Sirloin Tip Roast Sliders, ciabatta roll, horseradish mustard

Clos Troteligotte Kor Malbec (299982, $16.95) is indeed a troglodyte, at least in colour and its’ caveman, musty odour, in an alpha male kind of way. Smoking cedar boughs, mint splinters, sweet, CDP Kirsch and blackberry smells lead to a very ripe, then dusty and chalky totality. Good bones, fine lines, great label.  89

The grape: Shiraz

The history: From the winery of founders Allan Jackson and Don Triggs, who established the winery in 1993

The lowdown: Winemaker Marco Piccoli embraces the generous ’10 vintage to craft a serious Shiraz

The food match: Smoked Lamb Sausages, roast garlic smashed potatoes

Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Grand Reserve Shiraz 2010 (317941, $19.95) impresses in pitch, kick and fleetness of foot. A middle of a moonless night depth allows for a keen sense of smell, of charred and roasted meat. Plays as much by Aussie rules as by a Canadian 110 yard thing and is very much Shiraz, as opposed to Syrah. Runs deep routes into red zones down under.  89

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: From the “House of Momi,” legend Momi dea Bionda and the three Italians, including winemaker Dario de Conti, who is also in-house chef

The lowdown: Who isn’t weary of inexpensive Napa Cabernet? This one avoids cliché; the winemaking is honest, unencumbered and not masked by heavy oak

The food match: Grilled Beef Tenderloin Medallions, caramelized onion, brussels sprouts leaves

Ca’Momi Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (315002, $22.95)  over does nothing, accomplishes everything. Napa berries lean blue out of a dry and dusty entry. The film is vanilla, not chocolate, the middle earth a bit rusty and rustic. At 13.9% abv the heat is so acceptable, the edges rounded and soft. The length lingers on. Perhaps you’re on one of those no-Cab diets? If you have balance in your life, why wouldn’t you buy this?  90

The grape: Tempranillo

The history: A re-release of a wine I referred to last April as “Titanic Rioja

The lowdown: A blend of 80% Tempranillo, 16% Grenache, 2% Mazuelo and 2% Graciano. Aged in American oak for 36 months. 13.5% abv.

The food match: Chicken Hashweh with Vegetable Stuffing

Bodegas Franco-Españolas Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva 2004 (114454, $22.95) is still classic Rioja. Smouldering cherry smoke now, deft wood touch. handled with care. Old school but user-friendly. My previous note: “Whiffs salve-scented snuff, “gets you hooked and trifles with your mind.” The spicy cereza blossoms and heads straight south to the heart, followed by a sexy, brown sugar, saxy, Bobby Keyes note. “I’m no schoolboy but I know what I like.” I wouldn’t hesitate to visit this every couple of years up to the age of 15.”  $22.75 at the SAQ.  90

The Splurge

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot

The history: Marc Pages and son control this estate that dates back to the 16th Century

The lowdown: This is as good a “tier-two” level Left Banker as you are likely to find to peek into the mysterious world of top-vintage, look 10 years into the future Bordeaux

The food match: Butternut Squash Agnolotti w/ Brown Butter, Sage & Pecorino

Château La Tour De By 2009 (189233, $28.85) is firm, taut and gripped by grainy, chalky tannin. Quite pitchy and stormy for Médoc. Not offering much at this stage but it is structured from top to bottom and shows tons of potential. Awaiting the emergence of the fruit will require patience, but I think it’s there.  90

Good to go!