Looking for Wines that Deliver Value for Less Money

October 18, 2013 12:32 pm

As we get closer to Christmas, it seems the wines at Vintages get pricier… if you’re not fully invested in the stock market, perhaps you believe you can’t afford to drink at this time of year. Fear not, fellow oenophiles, I am here to save the day… every second week between now and our march towards the big day, I’ll point out a few value-priced wines that’ll help make your holiday a joyous one – or at least one you’ll be able to get through with a good glass of wine in your hand.

We’ll start with something interesting and white… Domaine Lafage Cuvée Centenaire 2011 ($17.95 – #343491). This one’s for the white wine lover who doesn’t think Chardonnay will cut it this time; from France, this rare grape blend of Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris with a little Rousanne thrown in for good measure, makes for a stunning little sipper full of floral and grapefruit cocktail notes: soft, supple and easy sipping. The acidity and citrus on the finish are a welcome addition.  (*** ½+)

Moving onto the reds. we’ll kick off with something from Ontario… Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2011 ($16.95 – #064618). I can think of only a couple of other Ontario Franc that deliver consistent quality at such a value price. The Featherstone is always up there.  Its delicacy shows the more feminine side of Franc, but there’s still plenty to get excited about here. Think raspberry, strawberry and cherry all done up in a smoker, plus there’s a nice juicy finish. (****)

Tessellae Carignan Old Vines Côtes Du Roussillon 2011 ($18.95 – #343517) – another French gem… this one is loaded with dark raspberry and cherry along with hints of violet and plum. Old vines wines are some of the most interesting you’ll ever taste and this is no exception. (****)

2011 Monteabellon Roble 5 Meses en Barrica ($19.95 – #338871): Spain is offering up some wicked values these days, and while this one is priced at $20, it drinks like a wine double the price: vanilla oak rides a wave of black fruit à la blackberry, black raspberry and black cherry fruit. Cocoa appears on the finish along with a nice backbone of tannins and spice. (****+)

This week’s videos are all about Pinot Noir… and yes I did say videos, with an ‘s’ … as we celebrate Pinot Week in honor of Thanksgiving and the Pinot Affair going on down in Niagara.  Once it’s all over, I’ll post all five on the Ottawa Life website – so keep your eyes open for that.

Pinot Paradise

October 9, 2013 11:52 am

October seems to be a Pinot month here in Ontario, for a number of reasons… First, Thanksgiving offers up a golden opportunity to pull out Pinto because it’s a perfect accompaniment with turkey and other Thanksgiving fare. Secondly, the Pinot Affair (weekend of October 19-20), an annual celebration of Pinot Noir hosted by 10 Niagara-based wineries like Malivoire, Lailey, Inniskillin and Coyote’s Run … check out the details of the event at www.thepinotaffair.com.  And finally, it’s just such a fall type of wine – a wine you can drink with a hint of a chill or at room temperature – each way provides its own enjoyment.

To honor the Pinot grape, I’ll also have five wine videos of some of my favorite Ontario Pinots currently available – they’ll run leading up to the weekend of the Pinot Affair, October 14-18.  For now, since Pinot is a worldly grape with roots in many countries, I’ll give you some suggestions of wonderful domestic and imported Pinots you should have on hand to adorn your table this Thanksgiving.


Coyote’s Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 ($22.95 – #79228)… I’ve always liked this juicy Red Paw Pinot. This one of the famous pair (with its Black Paw brother) has always been big on cherry – yet delicate and elegant; the 2011 is no different. The nose is floral with violet notes along with a big whack of cherry. The palate brings cran-cherry to the fore and backs it with violets and a good amount of acid. This one is your quaffable, chill-’em-down Pinot. (****)

Lailey Vineyard Pinot 3.7 2011 ($30 – Winery Only)… A wine with an interesting story to tell is worth its weight in gold. This wine is made up from grapes of three vineyards (hence the three in the name): old vines, brickyard and the bench – separately, they were okay but together they showed something that wowed the winemaking team… funny thing is it was never meant to happen. They were pouring the wine into one glass to dispose of the tasting samples and someone decided to give it a go… a happy accident, as it turns out. The final wine was made using seven barrels (hence the 7 in the name), four new and three used, with a total of 16 months of aging. The nose is strawberry, cherry and vanilla, which then follows on the palate, minus the vanilla but adds spice and cinnamon notes. The acidity helps bring this one together. (***½+)

Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir 2011 – unfiltered ($35 – #125310)… This is quite possibly the best County Pinot Noir that Norman Hardie has produced to date – and that’s saying a lot. There is so much going on in this bottle that it’s hard to get it all into one single review – but I’m gonna try: the nose has floral (violet) notes, raspberry, cherry, rhubarb and cranberry… on the palate, you’ll find elements of the above plus a strawberry-rhubarb pie note, but without the sugar and the crust. The fruit really sings on this one, juicy with a perfect balancing act of acidity, spice and tannins to keep it all in check. (**** ½)

Imported …

Momo Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 ($19.95 – #163972)… for those who aren’t fond of the earthiness found in Pinot, you’ll like the juicy cherry and plumminess of this New Zealand number, nice floral notes with a peppery finish – but it’s the fruit that really stands out. (*** ½+)

La Crema Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2011 ($31.95 – #719435)… La Crema, out of California, is one of those producers that consistently makes really good Pinot Noir. This Sonoma Coast version is a full-on California Pinot, complete with plenty of that juicy red fruit the Golden State is known for. (****)

2010 Maison Roche de Bellene Savigny-Les-Beaune Vieilles Vignes ($22.95 – #344283)… just in case your French is a little rusty, “Vieilles Vignes” means old vines and they do make a difference. While you’ll find a nice cherry and strawberry note in this wine, there’s also a great seam of mineral and earthiness as backdrop which helps add complexity and length to the finish. (*** ½+)

And If you’re looking to taste some of the best Ontario has to offer, there’s only a few days left  to get your tickets for the Taste Ontario event – https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk/15297

Finally, while this week’s wine video has nothing to do with Pinot Noir, you still might want to check it out – especially if you are a Syrah fan:


Ontario Wine Month: The Reds

September 27, 2013 4:19 pm

Last week, I lamented the fact that your Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) only seems to devote September to Ontario wines; the rest of the year is for the rest of the world.

Those who do any travelling outside Canadian borders should stop and look around, especially if you find yourself in a wine-making country. You’d be hard-pressed (pun intended) in a country like Italy or France to find wines from, say, Chile or Australia, but you’d also rarely see those wines advertised so prominently over the local stuff… yet here we seem to prize the foreign over the domestic. How terribly Canadian.

But since it is “Ontario Month” at the LCBO – which for Vintages really only means two weeks – let’s look back at some of the red wines of note that were released September 14:

Coyote’s Run Red Paw Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 ($22.95 – #079228) – I’ve always liked the juicy Red Paw Pinot version of the Pinot-pair from the Coyote: it has always been big on cherry, yet delicate and elegant; the 2011 vintage is no different. The nose is floral with violet notes, along with a big whack of cherry. The palate brings cran-cherry to the fore and backs it with violets and a good amount of acid as backdrop. This one is your quaffable, chill-’em-down Pinot. (****)

The Foreign Affair The Conspiracy 2011 ($19.95 – #149237) – “The Conspiracy” here is the method the wine is made in… Cabernet Sauvignon conspires with dried grapes in the Italian ripasso method to create a wine of richer, fuller flavor… and in a mediocre vintage like 2011 it makes some sense: lots of cherry, plum and white pepper on the nose that’ll grab and lure you in. Palate is juicy with cherry and strawberry; pepper certainly appears and all is balanced by good acidity. The finish starts off smoky, then turns sweet-fruited, seasoned with white pepper. (****+)

The Organized Crime Pipe Down 2011 ($22.20 – #356865) – There is so much complexity in the glass that it is hard to fathom everything is actually what you are smelling and tasting – but let’s give it a shot: the nose is mocha, spice and dark berries; the palate has a nice smokiness followed by cranberry-raspberry notes and plenty of spice; there’s also good length with mocha and vanilla lingering about. (****)

Cooper’s Hawk Cabernet Franc Reserve 2010 ($39.95 – #335729) – This young winery has now released its very first “Reserve” wine – and what a vintage to inaugurate your reserves: 24 months in oak have given the wine a vanilla-cinnamon warmth in the olfactories paired with smoke and cassis notes. The palate is smooth with blackberry, smoky-vanilla, toasty notes, along with black cherry and white pepper edging its way to black. (****+)

If you’re looking to taste some of the best Ontario has to offer, now’s the time to get your tickets for the Taste Ontario event happening October 7 in Ottawa and October 10 in Toronto. Buy your tickets here:  https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk/15297

And be sure to check out this week’s Ontario Wine Review Video:


Ontario Wine Month: The Whites

September 19, 2013 11:21 am

According to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, it’s time to celebrate Ontario wine – you would think that message would be out every month, but nope, September is the annual push for Ontario wine by the LCBO… go figure. Our thoughtful and caring LCBO also picks this time because it messes with the wineries a little – we’re in the middle of harvest, a time when the wineries can feel short-staffed as it is and then they want winery principals to head out to local LCBO stores to flog their wines… very thoughtful.


Speaking of thoughtful, the LCBO opened three new Ontario Boutiques in September… special “boutique” areas within stores where Ontario wines are highlighted. Now you would think one of these three new Boutiques would be in a big hub like Ottawa, which is far away from wine country (the closest region would be Prince Edward County), Toronto, London, Kingston, maybe somewhere up north, so that the LCBO could bring wine country closer to your door. But where do you think the brain trust of the LCBO put these three brand new beautiful, well-stocked, full-of-Ontario-wine Boutiques? If you guessed Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Windsor (right in the heart of wine country), you’d be correct… now why do you think that is? I’d be interested to receive your feedback.


But since we are on the topic of Ontario wine, let’s have a quick look at some of the best Ontario wines that were released in the last Vintages offering:


Daniel Lenko Gewurztraminer 2009 ($24.95 – #356832)… Aromas of rose petal, grapefruit, honey and clove lead to a similar palate which adds spiced apple and delicate floral notes and good acidity on the long finish. (****+)


Bachelder Wines Chardonnay 2011 ($29.95 – #302083)… Thomas Bachelder makes three Chardonnays from Niagara fruit, two single-vineyard offerings and this blend – declassified fruit from those very same vineyards with additional fruit from some other sources. Hardly noticeable is the 17 months of barrel age as the nose is full of pear, peach and lime while even on the palate, the fruit shines with apple and peach, along with a seam of acidity that runs right down the center side-by-side with a lovely creaminess; green apple and lime meringue make up the finish.  (****)



Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2012 ($16.95 – #043281)… A good hot vintage Riesling here, keeping all the right aromatics and the proper palate-friendly notes too. Hints of sweetness left behind on this one with sweet peach and apple on the finish and always with that good Ontario acidity to keep things fresh. Sweet green apple, floral and white peach also appear on the nose and taste.  (****)



Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2012 ($16.695 – #080234)… Rieslings from hot vintages don’t get much better than this. The nose is apple/lime, while the palate has a lemon-lime grip on the tongue with lots of mineral and green apple tartness and a long stunning finish. (****½)


Next week, we’ll take a look at some of the reds that were released, and if you’re looking to taste some of the best Ontario has to offer, now’s the time to get your tickets for the Taste Ontario event happening October 7 in Ottawa and October 10 in Toronto. Buy your tickets here:  https://kiosk.eztix.co/kiosk/15297



Fall for Vintages

September 13, 2013 12:34 pm

We’re going to look at the September 14 release but first let’s check out a couple of offerings from the August 31, 2013 release.

Sept13_Thirst_325969 Waimea ViognierSept13_Thirst_Villa Mt Eden Antique Vines ZinfandelDuring the annual New Zealand wine fair, I got a chance to sample a wine from a winery that boasts the oldest Viognier vines in the country. It was amazing – simple yet elegant with floral, orange zest, spice and some nice acidity all playing together in this complete package. If you’re not a fan of Chardonnay or just want your whites to have a little more clout and character, then the 2010 Waimea Viognier ($19.95 – #325969) is definitely one you’ll want to try (****+).  Also in the August 31 release was a great example of one of my favourite grapes: Zinfandel. Zin is not some sappy, cheap pink plonk of a wine. It’s a seriously muscular red and the 2008 Villa Mt. Eden Antique Vines Zinfandel ($19.95 – #256719) is definitely that: cherry cola, vanilla, licorice and sandalwood with silky tannins, enticing fruit and a little bit of history in each mouthful (51 per cent of the grapes are 100+ years old) (****+). Finally, I don’t often recommend liqueur but if you have not enjoyed a “Little Beer”, you’re missing out on one of the good things in life. A “Little Beer” is where you top Diego Zemora Licor 43 ($38.95 – #263780). With heavy cream the Licor is yellow but the white cream on top gives the appearance of a beer in a shot glass. On its own, the Licor is hedonistically delicious. Try it. You won’t be disappointed (****½).

Sept13_Thirst_Diego Zamora Licor 43The LCBO has a program called In-Store Discoveries (ISD). These are unadvertised wines that appear on the shelves in Vintages. Quietly hitting shelves mid-September is a 2009 Church and State Meritage (#334466) from British Columbia. It’s a fruity, smoky wine loaded with black fruit and freshness (****+).

I’ll bet you’ve tried Chenin Blanc at some point in your life and just don’t know it. If you’ve had a wine from the Loire, then you’ve most likely enjoyed some Chenin. South Africa has taken this white grape as its own and is doing some pretty amazing things with it. Check out the False Bay Peacock Ridge Chenin Blanc 2012 ($14.95 – #337576). It’s fresh and fruity with lanolin, peach and lemon notes, plus it has a really nice long finish (****).

The Macon-Uchizy (subregion of Burgundy in France) has some great Chardonnays. The 2011 Domaine Raphael Sallet Macon Uchizy ($15.95 – #130450) has hints of buttery goodness wrapped in apple, lemon zest and with a sweet fruit forward finish (*** ½+).

Malbec fans should rejoice with another value wine from Zuccardi (makers of FuZion) with the release of Zuccardi Serie A Malbec 2011 ($15.95 – #167619). Blackberry and mocha take charge along with blueberry – especially near the finish (****).

Many people ignore the next grape variety as something they’ve either tried before or something they just don’t like. I’m not going to ruin this by letting you know the grape variety, but I do ask that you pick up one of the following and let me know your thoughts: Collin Bourisset Douce Folie Saint-Amour 2011 ($19.95 – #330118) has cherry and raspberry with a slight spice backing. This one is full on fruit (****). The Collin Bourisset Les Terres Bleues Brouilly 2001 ($16.95 – #330100) has ripe cherries that demand attention. It’s fresh, lively and absolutely delicious with a slight chill (****+).

Lastly, there is the 2011 Michel Gassier Costières-de-Nîmes Nostre Pais ($19.95 – #295410). Chocolate, cherry, raspberry and vanilla all combine to make this one heck of a pleasant sip (****+). If that doesn’t sound serious enough for you, check out the 2005 Bodegas LAN Rioja Gran Reserva ($27.95 – #928622) – cedary and smoky with layers of dried and fresh red berries (****+).

The September 14 LCBO release marks the annual celebration of Ontario wine. I’ll be recommending Ontario wines weekly at www.ottawalife.com


Where Do We Go from Here, Wine Lovers?

September 11, 2013 11:57 am
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Summer is officially over. At least that’s what Labor Day signified, but according to the calendar, we still have a couple of weeks left till we say goodbye to the nice weather; and while summer seems like it just got here, it will soon be time to bid the shortest, warmest season adieu. The good news, from what I hear, is that the really cold stuff isn’t due till mid-November… for whatever that’s worth.


So when did this wine column turn into your meteorological minute? Since it has become transition time here in the Great White North. You see, we Canadians are seasonal drinkers: whites and rosés in the summer, big heavy reds in the winter. Fall and spring are transitional times and we could go either way depending on… you guessed it, the weather. Below are a few interesting wines to bridge the long gap until spring’s return.


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For those who wish to continue in summer mode, give Bear Flag Smooth White Blend ($12.95 – #280867) a go. This is a Riesling-based blend that has hints of patio-sipper-style sweetness: pear and peach mix and mingle pleasantly on the tongue from start to finish (***½). Another patio sipper is the Barefoot Cellars Pinot Grigio ($9.95 – #53983) with all its grapefruit nuances – this is surprisingly sippable and ultimately tasty – a real value for the price (***½+).


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Those looking to keep the BBQ blazing might want to remember McWilliam’s Hanwood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.95 – #214577). This Australian table wine has plenty of red berry fruit (***½+), while the Shiraz ($14.95 – #610683) is just what the doctor ordered in an Aussie Shiraz: raspberry jam notes along with black cherry and a peppery finish (****) – as luck would have it, the Shiraz is on sale for $2 off till September 15.

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Let’s all hope the weatherman knows of what he speaks – here’s to a nice long warm fall.


Celebrating Six Gamay Wines

September 4, 2013 11:40 am
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Our very own Michael Pinkus decided to celebrate one of the least    celebrated grapes on the planet, at least when it comes to some    seriously good wine. So from August 26-31, Pinkus hosted Gamay Week, a    series of six videos, each telling readers and watchers about the    great Gamay wines being made right here in Ontario. As Michael    said: “We’re gonna celebrate the lowly Gamay grape and the wines it    makes in the hopes of improving its reputation by showing videos of    six great examples of Ontario Gamay.” For your viewing pleasure, we    have amassed the videos together in this one easily accessible place    so that you can begin enjoying and be proud to serve these delicious    Ontario wines.”
OntarioWineReview‘s six wines of Gamay week: videos ran August 26-31:

Enjoy and be proud of these great Ontario wines!

Four Must Buys this Labor Day Holiday Weekend

August 29, 2013 11:30 am

If you’re like me, you look forward to Vintages Saturday with equal parts excitement and dread… excitement, because soon you will be sipping on a new wine… dread because there goes another 100 bucks out the window (granted, it’s on wine but still). This coming weekend is another Vintages release and I’ll whisper sweet somethings in your ear about a few bottles you should pick up that offer great value for what’s in the bottle.

Villa Mt Eden ZinThose of you who follow this column know that I have a love-on for Zinfandel. I try not to wear my heart on my sleeve too much but when it comes to summer and BBQ, there is no better wine to have with your pork products… therefore, don’t even hesitate to pick up a bottle (or three) of Villa Mt. Eden Antique Vines Zinfandel 2008 ($19.95 – #256719). The 2008 is not a typo; it is five years old already, and that has given the wine time to mellow and smooth, but there is still plenty of what makes Zinfandel such a hedonistic wine: cherry-cola, vanilla, licorice and sandalwood… this is intense, mouth-filling satisfaction. (****+)

White fans looking to cool down this weekend should look no further than the 2010 Waimea  Viognier ($19.95 – #325969) – these are the oldest Viognier vines in New Zealand and they make one heck of a delicious wine. In my notes, I put “almost too good for words,” but I’ll give it a try: floral, orange zest, lovely spice and a really nice acidity to balance it all out. This is the one I’ll be kicking back with on Sunday afternoon as the kids lament having to go back to school. (****+)Waimea Viognier

For those of you looking for something even more exotic, check out the 2010 Breca Garnacha Old Vines ($19.95 – #329086). This wine really is a steal and is in the 90-point highlight package that LCBO is plugging, so get to your store early. It’s a stunning display of deliciousness with plum, cherry, cassis, blackberry and chocolate, along with some mineral-chalkiness so the fruit doesn’t get away – plus look for the interesting spice notes that also show up. (****½)

I just want to remind you all that it is, in theory and unofficially, the last weekend of summer, so make the most of it with Little Beers. Buy yourself some heavy cream, then head to the liquor store and grab a bottle of Diego Zamora Licor 43 ($34.95 – #263780). Buy a dollar store shot glass and fill the glass about three-quarters with the Licor 43 (****½), then top with a little bit of the heavy cream… you can thank me later, when your headache dissipates and you start again next weekend.  Cheers.

Licor 43

Three Essentials

August 22, 2013 9:16 am

I recently got a taste of the Vintages Essentials catalogue… these are wines that are “always available” at Vintages outlets. I scratch my head on occasion when I see this list, wondering how certain wines make it while others, much more deserving of a spot on the list, do not. I have stopped trying to explain LCBO rationale, because I don’t think there really is any. It’s on-par with the Caramilk secret.

Anyway, here are three under-$20 reds that you’ll always be able to find… just take note of the vintage date, as these can change without notice.


Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($19.95 – #738823) – it’s the kind of Cab you think about when you think California: strawberries, blackberries and chocolate… a real crowd-pleaser (****).


Catena Malbec 2010 ($19.95 – #478727) – I don’t want to say that Catena has the market cornered on Malbec, but when it comes to value for money, I don’t know of a more consistent producer with this grape. Complexity of dark berries along with mocha, cinnamon, clove and vanilla, all put together with a nice balancing seam of acidity (***+)


Kilikanoon 2011 Killerman’s Run Shiraz ($19.95 – #925453) – a wine with great Aussie intensity: spiced chocolate, black raspberry jam and a great long finish that hangs out with cinnamon, vanilla and spice (****).


This week we also feature a video for a Sauvignon Blanc from Creekside winery:


Going Local, or Is That Just Plain Loco?

August 15, 2013 9:30 am
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I was speaking with a new virtual winery owner this week and he was talking about why people in Ontario don’t get behind the wines that we grow and make right here at home. If you go to France and ask for an Australian wine, they would laugh you out of the room. Same for Spain, Italy, Greece… European countries are fiercely proud of the wines they make. So why aren’t Ontarians?

The winemaker also vocalized his opinion about restaurants. Why do they not stock more Ontario wines?  “As a tourist, when I go to another country and I eat in a restaurant, I want to try local wines with the local food, yet here there are many restaurants that don’t want to serve local wines.”  It’s an interesting and baffling (though typically Canadian) conundrum which we should look at further in future articles… but for now I leave you with these local recommendations from this Saturday’s Vintages release.

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Daniel Lenko Old Vines Chardonnay 2010 ($22.95 – #352328)… it’s nice to see Danny finally playing nice with the LCBO. He has been a maverick for so many years that it seemed destined that he and the liquor board would never see eye-to-eye.  But the people of Ontario are lucky Danny finally made peace because they get to try this lovely Chardonnay made from vines planted in 1959 (quite possibly the oldest planting of the grape in Canada – so how’s that for a piece of history?) Buttery baked apple and toffee greet the nose while on the palate there is plenty of baking spice, apple, vanilla and butterscotch. Lots of new oak was used in the making of this wine (80%) and it shows, but the fruit is rich enough to handle it. This is a real winner.  (****+)

2012 Palatine Hills Neufeld Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($18.00 – #352344)… for those thinking along the lines of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, think again. There’s an interesting sweet melon note on the entry followed by apple and pear… but tropical fruit rules the roost here, and it’s a welcome change from the usual citrus zip and zing you find on Sauv Blancs these days.  (***½+)

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Henry of Pelham Family Tree Red 2010 ($18.95 – #247882)… This primarily Shiraz-based blend (58%) is full of pepper, black raspberry and smoke on the nose. The palate has cassis, cocoa with hints of cigar box, vanilla and smoke all finished off by a wonderful spiced finish.  (****)

Rieslings for the Summer that Never Was

August 6, 2013 10:26 am
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Yesterday my wife asked me what the weather is going to be like for the rest of the week, we have friends stopping by on Saturday and in the summer we like to hang out on the back deck as often as possible, so she has a vested interest in knowing. Now I looked on Sunday and it said rain only on Wednesday. By Monday, the forecast had changed to rain on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday… what happened to my week of sunshine – ah the heck with it.

I had hoped for a full week of hot sunny weather so I could roll out my list of the ultimate summertime wine – Riesling, but since it never seems we’re going to get a sustained summer, I thought it best to drag it out now, before the snow flies – and looking at the weather forecast, I think that could be next week.

Tawse Quarry Road Riesling 2012 ($23.95 – winery only for the moment)… I’ve tasted a number of 2012 Rieslings already and for a hot vintage, they have surprisingly high acidity, which is unusual for hot weather Riesling, but time will tell if they have the longevity to go with it. This offering is from Tawse and is downright mouth-puckering: lemon-lime leads the charge with a peach softness and good minerality. That acidity is spot on with freshness and there’s a beautiful green apple-like tart finish. Put simply, it’s exciting for Riesling fans to see Riesling like this out of such a hot vintage. (****½)

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Cave Spring 2011 Riesling ($14.95 – winery only)… My wife is the Riesling fan of the two of us – sure I like Riesling, but I drink all kinds of wine. My wife is almost exclusively Riesling. This means we’re always on the hunt for her next Riesling-fix… and this 2011 Cave Spring number is it. Nose is apple, pear and tropical fruited while the palate doles out plenty of fruit of its own, with just a touch of sweetness, plus there’s nice acidity and a mild mineral character added into the mix. (****)

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Featherstone 2012 Black Sheep Riesling ($16.95 – #80234)… Riesling’s from hot vintages don’t get much better than this… and there aren’t many Rieslings of this quality at this price point, and incredibly, Featherstone continues to deliver it year after year with its Black Sheep Riesling. According to winemaker/owner David Johnson, he picked the grapes three weeks early to retain the vibrant acidity that you’ll find in the bottle. The nose is apple/lime while the palate has a lemon-lime grip on the tongue with lots of mineral and green apple tartness and a long stunning finish. (****½)

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Coffin Ridge Bone Dry Riesling 2012 ($17.00 – #232744)… A two-vineyard blend of Niagara-based fruit goes into this Meaford winery’s Riesling. Grapes from Ridgepoint and Foxcroft find their way into the bottle and when it says “Bone Dry” on the label, they do mean bone dry: mineral and tropical fruit battle it out on the palate along with some interesting lime on the crisp finish. There’s a nice intensity to the wine that makes it perfect for hot weather enjoyment. (****)

Summertime Wines of All Kinds

August 2, 2013 3:20 pm

Aug13_Wine_642173 Torres Floralis Moscatel OroThere are two wines that were released by the LCBO in June that you’ll need to do a little digging around for but they are well worth the effort. Starting with a sweetie from Spain: Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro ($16.95 / 500ml – #642173). Why this one? Simply put, it’s something you won’t soon forget with candied-spiced and caramelized orange peel that are so silky and smooth and luscious in the mouth. This wine makes its way into Vintages every four to six months or so, keeping your eye out for it. You won’t regret it. It’s underpriced for what you get (****½). It’s a perfect after-dinner indulgence, especially in the fall and winter, so get some to have on hand. My other back-dated selection is a little more season-appropriate. It’s a Chardonnay from Burgundy, Chardonnay’s traditional birthplace.  Now, you usually hear Chardonnay and Burgundy in the same sentence and open your wallet wide. But I have found this exception: Mallory & Benjamin Talmard Mâcon-Uchizy 2011 ($14.95 – #733956). It’s got everything good Chardonnay should have except the high price tag. Search it out. You won’t be disappointed (****+).

Aug13_Wine_183764 Cremant de Bourgogne BrutI like to kick things off with a little bubbly. Always keeping an eye out for a good one under $20. The July 6 release has just the one. A traditional method from Burgundy, known as Crémant or Sparkling. This Crémant de Bourgogne: Cave de Lugny Cuvée Millésime Brut 2010 ($18.95 – #183764) is refreshing, fruity and bubbly with lime and apple as the focus.(****).

White wine fans, and especially Sauvignon Blanc lovers, should fall over backwards for the Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($21.95 – #735043) from New Zealand. Now before you start saying: “I’ve had my share of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc”, let me assure you this is not your typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It mixes grapefruit with some tropical fruit, then adds touches of herbalness. It’s more subtle than what usually comes out of Marlborough (****+).

Aug13_Wine_346742 Chateau des Charmes Gamay Noir Droit Aug13_Wine_222372 Chateau des Charmes Cab MerlotLooking to buy local?  There are two reds from Château des Charmes. Both are worthy of a look and taste and both are from the fabulous 2010 vintage.The Old Vines Cabernet Merlot ($19.95 – #222372) and the Gamay Noir ‘Droit’ ($16.95 – #346742); one is for drinking now (the Gamay), while the other can be held a few years – scoring is (****) and (****+), respectively.

Looking outside our borders? The Two Hands 2010 Yesterday’s Hero Grenache ($29.95 – #009506) is a lush, smooth and supple affair that just sings of juiciness in the glass (****). If you’ve never heard of Grenache, then you’ll want to try something a little more traditional in the Grenache department. Head to the Spanish section where you’ll find it to be a staple grape of the country’s winemaking (either as a blend or stand-alone grape) They refer to it as “Garnacha” and you’ll want pick up the Pinyolet Garnacha 2011 ($17.95 – #271791). This one’s sweet of fruit with strawberry and cherry and even has hints of red licorice. There’s also a mineral component that keeps the fruit very much in check so as not to overwhelm (****+). This one can be enjoyed by those familiar with the grape and by novices.

Moving on to the July 20 release: you’ll want to start your search of the shelves for a Chardonnay out of New Zealand by Nautilus, the 2011 to be exact ($24.95 – #657569). Here you’ll find a real nice caramel apple sweetness in the wine, but it’s balanced with citrus-style acidity leading to a melon-vanilla finish; perfect for cool nights and seafood dinners – lobster with butter sauce or lemon-herb salmon anyone?  (****+)

It has been some time since a really juicy Merlot has crossed my palate but those looking for one may want to pick up the Sebastiani Merlot 2009 ($32.95 – #672659). It features juicy blueberry and blackberry with generous notes of cherry (****). Speaking of juiciness, you’ll want to try Argentina’s second gift to red wine lovers, next to Malbec, Bonarda. When done right, this can be a quaffable BBQ red for not a lot of money. The Las Moras Black Label Bonarda 2010 ($15.95 – #260901) fits the bill nicely with cherries and chocolate, mocha and blackberry, all with hints of vanilla backing it up. This one is “juicy, juicy, juicy” (as Cary Grant would say). You’ll want to pick up a few bottles as it will go fast (****+).

Shiraz drinkers need look no further than the Sister’s Run Epiphany 2011, another $15.95 gem,  (#269464). This consistent Shiraz producer never fails to put a little finesse into the bottle.There’s always something intriguing about their wines that you just can’t quite put your finger on but you know good when you taste it. This one really is a tour-de-force of interesting flavours: eucalyptus leads things off, heads into the lots-of-fruit department before taking a hard right into chocolate-town on the finish (****+).

I am a fan of Rhône Valley wines. The price-to-quality ratio is usually outstanding, especially from the good producers. M. Chapoutier is one such producer and the Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2010 ($24.95 – #643239) is one of those wines. It is exquisite and complex with a fruit-to-tannin balance that’s near perfect, this bottle shows real finesse. Pull this one out to impress over the next five to seven years (****½).

Besides the Rhône, regular readers will know my love of Zinfandel and the next best thing to California Zin is its kissing cousin, Primitivo, usually found in Puglia, Italy.Papale Linea Oro Primitivo di Manduria 2010 ($19.95 – #261784) Cherry and chocolate mix with cola and vanilla for a near Zinful experience – break out the BBQ ribs (****+). We’ll end with another Italian specialty wine, a style that’s starting to make an appearance here in Ontario winemaking: “appassimento” (the art of making wine by drying grapes). Farina Parziale 2011 ($15.95 – #326702) offers good value in this cherry-vanilla-chocolate-dominated wine before it finishes with white pepper – all with a fine acidity holding it together.

Enjoy the nice weather. Be sure to look for my weekly recommendations on the Ottawa Life blog site to keep you well hydrated in wine.

Burning Down the Kiln

August 1, 2013 9:53 am
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Usually I tell you about wines you can get at the LCBO… but here I’m going to recommend wines to keep your eyes peeled for because they could be coming to the LCBO (yes, I did say “could”, because they are pending an LCBO decision). Recently, I set foot on the property of a seven-year-old project known as Burning Kiln in Williams, Ontario, for the very first time. I was impressed with the operation, the look and feel of this winery, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by vines, nature trails, zip lines and marshlands, all within spitting distance.  But of course, the wine brought me there. Here are some of the good ones just waiting for the government monopoly’s okay.

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Burning Kiln Harvest Party Red 2012 ($15.95) – the name comes from where they dry the grapes for their wines (in old / reconditioned / repurposed) tobacco kilns, because after all, this is tobacco country, or it was anyway, until growers learned that the same soil that makes tobacco grow so well is also good for grapes. This wine is made up of 100% Cabernet Franc that was kiln dried for 7-14 days; not surprising the aromas are that of smoke and tobacco – but those are typical characteristics of Cabernet Franc anyway; the aromas follow as flavors on the palate, adding spiced-raspberry to the mid-palate (***½+).

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The 2012 Strip Room ($24.95) is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc also dried, but this time it took 8-14 days to achieve the needed dryness in the grapes to create the wine. What drying does is concentrate the flavors and sugars within the grapes, thus creating highly-concentrated and higher alcohol wines that otherwise might not be possible. This one is listed at 14.3%. Strip Room is one of the more fruit-forward and readily approachable of the Burning Kiln wines with little need to age (unless you want to, and it will). Still has the spicy tobacco notes, but they are the backdrop for the red fruit that’s front and center (****).

Every winery has a flagship wine, be it a grape variety they hang their hat on or a style or even a particular blend. Burning Kiln created a wine they call “Kiln Hanger”… and it has come in two incarnations. The first was the 2010 Kiln Hanger released some 14-15 months ago. Now comes Kiln Hanger 2010 – The Sequel ($59.95) lovingly cared for over an extra 13 months in barrel (did you notice that it was the same year as the original?)… some of the wine was kept aside to age longer, adding more complexity, longer possible ageing time for the consumer and added depth to the wine. 100% kiln-dried Cabernet Franc (a staple of the winery) aged a total of 30 months in French oak barrels. This has got some real power of tannins, lots of fruit, mostly red (strawberry and raspberry), with some dark fruit kicking around – plus a lovely cocoa flavor that runs mid-palate all the way to the lingering finish (****+).

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Check out Burning Kiln at www.burningkilnwinery.ca and be sure to look for the wine coming (hopefully) at some point to the LCBO (or purchase directly from the winery online).

    This morning’s Wine Video is for the Coffin Ridge 2011 Marquette:


Joining the Trend for Less

July 25, 2013 11:53 am
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Sitting on the back deck enjoying the spoils of summer: sun, warmth, friends, burgers, roasted tomato dressing on mixed greens – nothing could be more organic than a spontaneous BBQ… but wait, you can add something more to this organic party: organic wine.  Organic is pervasive in the market these days; it’s everywhere, from ketchup to beef, soup to nuts as they used to say in the times when things really were more organic. The word “organic” is everywhere and on everything. Wine has hopped onto the wagon and these days you see bio-dynamic and organic on many bottles. For the most part, organic tends to mean expensive. I read a report the other day that organic products tend to be 292% higher than their genetically modified, mass-produced counterparts… now I’m sure you can find a report that’s lower (or higher), but the truth is organic is harder on the pocketbook (case in point: the organic buns for this BBQ were $4.99 for a pack of four).

But back to the deck… Today, we pulled out a couple of wines from Chile to give them a try and it just so happens that they had the word “organic” on the label: “Made from Organically grown grapes,” to be more specific.

The 2012 Emiliana Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc ($12.95 – #266049) was the first bottle we screwed the top off of and the surprise here was the acidity. The nose has got that typical Sauvignon Blanc scent of summer: grassy and citrus with hints of something tropical, but the palate had some teeth-rattling acidity that screams the need for food. It’s a great reminder of old-time tart lemonade (***½). This seemed to pair well with our greens.

The burgers needed something a little more potent, and so we pulled the second in the Emiliana line: the 2011 Emiliana Adobe Reserva Merlot ($12.95 – #322024 – in stores starting over the summer). Here we found the sunshine of Chile and the Chileans’ penchant for big fruit in the glass with black raspberry and black cherry, along with hints of blueberry and mild tannins… this one could have been served chilled for added fruitiness and is an easy pairing for BBQ meats (***½+).

Well. there you have it. If you’re looking to jump on the trend and impress your friends with your world consciousness without breaking the bank, Emiliana from Chile has you covered.

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A Matched Pair from New Zealand

July 16, 2013 10:15 am

People are always asking me for a pair of wines they can bring to a BBQ, or over to a friend’s house, that won’t embarrass them but make them look like they know something about wine and food matching. I’m always intrigued as to why people think they have to try and match wines to what their host is making for dinner: a good host should already have that picked out and your bottles will either be in addition to or something they deal with at a later date… and unless you specifically say “I brought this to open with dinner,” there should be no obligation on your host’s part to open those bottles. So let’s go with a pair of wines you can give easily as a gift to be savored now or later… this pair from Stoneleigh is now at the LCBO.

IMG_0809Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($21.95 – #324228) is an intense version of Sauvignon Blanc. You have probably had a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc before and this stands out as a perfect example of the kind of Sauv Blanc that put the Kiwis on the map with this grape variety. It has everything you’re looking for in Savvy B like grassiness, gooseberry and plenty of grapefruit… it’s a wine that delivers on all levels (****). Its matched sibling is the Stoneleigh Latitude Pinot Noir 2011 ($24.95 – #325654), a classy Pinot Noir with all the cran-cherry, nice acidity and very pretty violet notes you’ll like and that Pinot from cool regions is known for. It’s easy drinking and well matched to a variety of foods (****+).  This set should put you in the good graces of the host and you can all enjoy them the next time you come over1 They would also be perfect pair for Thanksgiving, so make sure you are invited for that.

Michael Pinkus Launches Youtube Channel

6:38 am

Ottawa Grape Guy Michael Pinkus has his own youtube channel where he provides even more reviews on the best wines he can find. Check out some of his videos below and don’t forget to subscribe for more great reviews. 

















Hot Weather Refreshers

July 10, 2013 6:48 am
Dr L Riesling

This is the time of year when fresh and fruity trump big and heavy… it’s hot and muggy and moving causes you to sweat. That’s why whatever you are lifting to your lips had better be good and quenching. Today, I’m gonna recommend a few quaffers that were recently released into Vintages and are just the ticket for a hot muggy day.

Starting with the Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling 2011 ($13.95 – #599274)… this is a playful old school-style Riesling, with hints of sweetness but also balanced by acidity to keep it from weighing you down. Alcohol is only 8½% so you can finish the whole bottle without fear of a major hangover later in the day or the next morning (***½+).

There’s another Sauvignon Blanc that came onto the shelves. I know, I hear you saying: “I’m sick of Sauvignon Blanc.” Well, this is not that kind of Sauvignon Blanc. Sure, it’s from New Zealand, but instead of being all grassy and grapefruit, this one seems to drop the grass and adds something tropical into the mix; it’s subtle and nice and very refreshing: Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($21.95 – #735043) – (****).

RablINdian WellsBeing a wine writer, I get to taste some pretty amazing stuff, and I know about interesting grapes long before the average Joe (in time you will like Bonarda, trust me). And one of the more interesting grapes that you might never have heard of is Grüner Veltliner… now if you have heard about it – great! But if not, it comes out of Austria and is one of the most refreshing grape varieties out there. The Rabl Käferberg Grüner Veltliner 2011 ($19.95 – #32532) is loaded with mineral and pea pod aromas with grapefruit pulp and pith on the palate, really refreshing and a great finish that’ll keep you coming back for more (***½+).

For you red drinkers, I don’t want you to think I have forsaken you this week (I do some weeks, but today is not one of those)… go put your hands on a bottle of 2010 Chateau Ste. Michelle  Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon ($24.95 – #55764); it won’t change your life but it just might change the way you look at soft, juicy Cab from Washington State: there’s plenty of cherry in here that, with a little chill, makes for a great quaffer (***½)

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