Lawrason’s Take on Vintages June 8 Release

Alt-Argentina, The Pink Divide, Mmm…Merlot & Other Wines of Interest

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

This week’s release features vinous gifts for Father’s Day, a cross-section of non-malbecs from Argentina, as well as some very fine merlots (surprise, surprise), a slew of pink wines, and several other interesting, high quality not necessarily expensive bottlings.

Hard-to-Get Wines for Father’s Day

Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvgnon Merlot 2009Ridge Monte Bello 2010What do father’s most appreciate in their offspring? I would suspect “effort”. So if you are going to buy Dad a bottle of wine you might want to get beyond the list of suggestions that Vintages has cobbled together, and make that effort to acquire something special. If for example you were to sleuth out and beat all those collectors to the stupendous Ridge 2010 Montebello, Dad would surely by dazzled. It is being released in five different bottle formats, from a half bottle at $79.95 to an eight-bottle/6000mL Methuselah at $1,295.00, (one for every income level). Even the less prized, more widely available, delicious Ridge 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($52.95) would do, although I suspect it will require getting up early on Saturday as well.

Or you could make the effort to find rare bottles at VINTAGES Shop Online web portal at The problem in terms of gifting VSOs, as they are called within the LCBO, is that you won’t know exactly when the wine will get shipped to your local store for pick-up. But that may or may not be problem, depending on whether Dad is a stickler for instant gratification. I get to taste a smattering of VSOs and there are some occasional gems. Staying with a California theme I recommend a fine pair of delicious, hard to get pinot noirs: Patz & Hall Pinot Noir 2010 and De Loach Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009.

Rosé’s Cultural Divide

On another seasonal note, let’s take rosé. The June 8 selection includes five from Ontario and five from Europe. Eight of the ten are good or better (above 85 points), but there is a stylistic/cultural divide. That is perhaps an overly serious take on pink wine, but it is true. The Ontario versions are pretty to look at – very obviously pink and bright, very fruity, a bit sweet. They are designed for immediate impact, and generally meant to be sipped on a patio or dock – that’s how the winemakers perceive that their market wants the wines to be. But somehow within this “vision” there seems to be less concern about quality (depth, complexity, balance). Only one Ontario example is compelling and complex enough to rate high into very good territory at 89 points, and that is Château Des Charmes 2012 Cuvée D’andrée Rosé $14.95, a wine made from a French sensibility by the Bosc family.

Château Des Charmes Cuvée d'Andrée Rosé 2012Domaine De Rimauresq Rosé 2012Gassier Sables D'azur Rosé 2012The European rosés are dry, subtle, more complex and much more likely to be enjoyed with food, as historically that is how they have been consumed. The Côtes de Provence rosés in particular with their pale, subtle pearl/salmon colour are the most compelling, as if their strength of character is intentionally camouflaged by their coyness. They’ve got it without flaunting it.

Rimauresq 2012 Cru Classé Rosé ($18.95) is indeed classy – long on flavour and complexity. Gassier 2012 Sables d’Azur Rosé is very similarly styled if a bit less gripping on the palate, but still a very good buy at $13.95.


Not long ago I wrote about Argentine malbec; today we look beyond Argentina’s signature grape and find some good buys in alternative red blends and cabernets. And this is good for Argentina, which needs to be more than a one-trick pony, and has the climate and terroir(s) to do more. In travels to Argentina 18 months ago I was often very impressed by syrah and cabernet, especially wines made from older vineyards that have endured through the long dry, hot summers. Old vines is a theme running through the selection that follows, which I only discovered in researching the wines after tasting them.

Urraca Cabernet Sauvignon 2008ALTAMIRA DE LOS ANDES NAVIGATO FAMILY SELECTIONFamilia Mayol Cuatro Primos 2008Familia Mayol 2008 Cuatro Primos ($22.95) is an excellent buy in a four grape blend (Cuatro) dominated by malbec (planted 1989) and syrah (planted 1973) with smaller portions of cabernet and bonarda. The vineyards are in transition to organic viticulture, the harvesting is done by hand, and the fermentation is with natural yeasts. It adds up to a complex, quite rich and well-structured red at a very good price.

Altamira De Los Andes 2008 Navigato Family Selection Grand Reserve is a blend of Tupungato merlot from 60 year old vines, cabernet from 19 year vines, and La Consulta malbec, also from 60 year old vines. It is unfiltered and was aged 24 months. It has wonderful texture and depth, and is not to be missed, even if seemingly expensive for Argentine red at $46.95. It would be over $100 if it was from California.

Urraca 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is a single vineyard wine from the Agrelo sub-district of Mendoza. It is traditionally made and aged in American and French oak that delivers a bit more resinous character than some may like, but there is a traditional honesty and richness that I like, especially for $19.95.

Very Fine Merlots

Middle of the road merlot is not so much maligned, as it is simply forgotten. It just seems to cruise along under the radar, quietly soothing with its gentleness, but rarely exciting the senses. On this release I stumbled across three merlot based reds that turned my head.

Château Des Moines 2010Clos Du Bois Sonoma Reserve Merlot 2008Sito Dell'ulmo Planeta Merlot 2008Château Des Moines 2010 Lalande De Pomerol is from the merlot heartland in Bordeaux. Lalande is the back door neighbour to Pomerol itself, with its slew of famous merlot-based wines, including top-dog Petrus. The 12 ha clay-silt vineyard of Des Moines has some of the same iron minerality that Pomerol trumpets. I have often been drawn to the fragrance and genteel charms of Lalande, and here yet again. It is 72% merlot with cab sauv, cab franc and a touch of malbec. Yours for $21.95.

Clos Du Bois Sonoma 2008 Reserve Merlot is the second straight arrival from Clos du Bois to impress. Is there new fire in the belly of one of Sonoma’s 80s pioneers? This was sourced entirely from Alexander Valley sites with a small percentage of cabernet sauvignon and malbec in the blend. Ageing was in French, American and Hungarian oak. Perhaps all this layering of the grapes and oaks is the key to the charm this expresses. It hits merlot right on the money for a very fair price of $24.95.

Planeta 2008 Sito Dell’ulmo Merlot is one of the great surprises of the release. Who knew merlot could be so fine in Sicily? But then if any winery was going to succeed with this grape it would be Planeta, from its cooler, almost maritime site near Menfi. Planeta is one of the largest, most modern and successful wineries of Sicily. It’s not inexpensive at $39.95 but this is textbook 100% merlot aged 12 months in French oak.

Five More Wines of Interest

Astrolabe 2012 Province Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region turned my head at the recent New Zealand Wine Fair in Toronto, then again on the bench at Vintages lab. It’s an intense, vibrant but contained sauvignon that really delivers at $21.95. Astrolabe is a relatively new label founded by Simon Waghorn, who sources from growers in several sites in the Wairu Valley, Awatere Valley and the new Kekerengu Coast sub-region.

Domaine Raoul Gautherin & Fils Vaillons ChablisAstrolabe Province Sauvignon Blanc 2012Domaine Raoul Gautherin & Fils 2010 Vaillons Chablis 1er Cru is a classic at a very fair $28.95. Chablis is really hit and miss these days; this one is bang on from a family that’s been in the business for seven generations. They own about 16 hectares in all four appellation tiers from Grand Cru to Petit-Chablis; the production is traditional, and apparently very effective – although once again I suspect that the excellent 2010 vintage has upped the game.

Gibbston Highgate Estate 2011 Soultaker Pinot Noir is from the unofficial Gibbston Valley sub-appellation of Central Otago. Gibbston is a geographically distinct, cooler, higher region that imbues its pinots with a certain herbal almost grassy and peppery note as well as effortless elegance and tension. Of all five Otago sub-regions its pinots remind me most of Prince Edward County in Ontario – although weightier. At $28.95, pinot explorers cannot afford to miss this glimpse.

Gibbston Highgate Estate Soultaker Pinot NoirFalernia Reserva Carmenère 2010Bodegas Altanza Lealtanza Crianza 2009Falernia 2010 Reserva Carmenère is a huge bargain, yet again, from Chile’s Elqui Valley. I have written often about this remote region on the northern frontier of Chilean winemaking. The Elqui soils are strewn with stones, either on the steep lower mountainsides or on the narrow valley floor. Falenria is the largest producer here, and every wine they make captures depth, richness and varietal verity well beyond their price. This is terrific carmenère for $16.95.

Lealtanza 2009 Crianza is a dandy, refined and fragrant young Rioja (another appellation that can be hit and miss). Bodegas Altanza is a modern enterprise dedicated to making elegant, lively tempranillo-based reds aged in French oak (much Rioja is aged in American oak). This is not profound but it is very well made, joining the ever-growing legion of delicious, inexpensive lighter reds from Spain. Great value at $16.95.

And that’s a wrap for this release. Here at WineAlign we are gearing up for the judging of the National Wine Awards of Canada in Niagara-on-the-Lake from June 17-21. The entries from B.C. are on their way east; Ontario wineries still have a narrow window to enter (click here). Watch for our upcoming profile of the judges who are assembling from across the country. And I look forward to seeing readers at the sold out South Africa Triple Play event at the Soho Club on Monday.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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From the June 8, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
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Matua Valley Estate Series Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake

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