Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 16 – Part One

Australia First Families & Sara in the Pink Once Again
By David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato, with notes from John Szabo MS

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Last month the LCBO’s VINTAGES hosted Europe’s first families of wine (Premium Familiae Vini); this month it’s Australia’s First Families, a relatively new organization that formed in 2009. Families are a good idea – we all belong to one – although they can be trying at times. But I am not sure we need every wine region in the world to put together roving bands of families. There is just something a bit clubby about the idea. And can you imagine how it must feel if you are an upstanding family that is left out of the group?

The real question is whether families make better wine, and my short answer would be yes – because they tend to be driven by some sort of code of honour, pride and legacy, not just pleasing the shareholders. Their wines may or may not have a particular family personality but they are usually quite high quality, which shone through in many of the reviews of the May 16th batch that VINTAGES has put forward. Just about every wine got a kudo from John, Sara or I.

My only disappointment was not seeing a much broader, and higher range of wines in this release – we the large Ontario family of wine enthusiasts are tending to get their lower tier offerings. To get into the upper tier you have to attend the Australia’s First Families of Wine Event on May 26, where dozens of others will be available. See the list at but watch for those pesky little asterisks that indicate which wines are for tasting only (not purchase). Only in Ontario do we get to pay to taste wines that we can’t buy.

One last comment before trotting out our favourites. As I tasted through the reds I kept saying to myself – these are actually a pretty, fresh and bright bunch. More lifted on the nose, with cranberry, crushed berries and florals and less overripe jamminess and oaky. And less alcohol heat. For months now our WineAlign critics who have visited Australia have been reporting back that Oz is in transition to less heavy, fresher wines. And it struck me as I tasted along that they are now arriving on our shelves, and that this new mood is now showing up at lower price points.

The Whites

Tyrrell’s 2013 Brookdale Semillon, Hunter Valley, New South Wales ($24.95)

John Szabo – It is all too easy to overlook a wine such as this: bone dry, tart, lean and seemingly short on flavour. But give this 5+ years and it undergoes a full metamorphosis. If you enjoy flint and smoke, and smoldering, discreet fruit flavours, tuck away a few bottles of this arch-typical semillon in the unique Hunter Valley Style, part of Tyrell’s “Hunter Heroes” range. Best 2020-2030.
Sara d’Amato – A Hunter Valley semillon on the shelves of the LCBO is cause for celebration as it has been so long! Semillon reaches the peak of its expression in the warmer grounds of Hunter Valley. Tyrell’s semillons are legendary so stock up now! If your haul takes awhile to get though – that’s okay. Wait another 5 years on this semillon for optimum drink-ability.
David Lawrason – My colleagues have covered a lot of ground already. Let me just add that I loved the linearity and focus of this wine. It’s not Tyrrell’s top Hunter semillon, but it is bang on style-wise and affordable to those who might want to take it for a first-time spin.

Tyrrell's Brookdale Semillon 2013 Yalumba Viognier 2013 Henschke Tilly's Vineyard 2013

Yalumba 2013 Viognier, Eden Valley, South Australia ($24.95)

David Lawrason – I like viognier but often find them either overblown and cloying, or among cheaper versions, under-blown and kind of boring. This comes right up the middle, with quite precise, complex aromatics and a fine sense of weight and even-handedness.
John Szabo – Yalumba is a specialist in viognier, and has the oldest vines in Australia planted in 1980, so the high quality of this wine comes as no surprise. A little more than half is barrel fermented and treated to a little lees stirring, yielding a beautifully perfumed, arch-typical viognier, with marvellous silky-soft textured. If this had Condrieu on the label, no one would blink an eye at the price, indeed folks would be gushing all over it.
Sara d’Amato – The cooler, higher elevations of Eden Valley are a haven for vibrant whites. This sustainably produced viognier can be considered Yalumba’s signature grape varietal – they do it well and devote a great deal of the energy on this Rhone varietal. Terrific body, length, weight and presence.

Henschke 2013 Tilly’s Vineyard, Adelaide Hills/Eden Valley, South Australia ($26.95)

David Lawrason – This multi-grape blend is a bit of an odd duck – with a classic candle wax smokiness that I often find in Aussie whites – particularly in semillon (which is one of the grapes here). Some like this note, others not, so test drive a bottle if you are unfamiliar. It is the most “aussie” white of the bunch, substantial, complex yet fresh at the same time.

The Reds

Yalumba 2012 The Strapper GSM, Barossa, South Australia ($19.95)

John Szabo – Another fine buy in this release from Yalumba, the oldest family-owned winery in Australia (since 1849). The Strapper is a nicely measured GSM blend, incorporating all of the best elements of the grapes: the strawberry pie flavors of grenache, the black pepper and violets of syrah, and the earthy-meaty architecture of mourvèdre. It’s the wine that “the winemakers drink, when they’re not having a riesling or an ale”. Best 2015-2020.
David Lawrason – I was struck by a certain unexpected freshness and even tenderness here. The GSM’s of Australia can be big, rich and gooey, but this wine is more refined. That certain elegance I find in the best Chateauneuf-du-Pape crossed my mind as this crossed my palate. Absolutely delish and ready to drink.

Jim Barry 2013 The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, Australia, (26.95) (677476)

Sara d’Amato – Coonawara is a very special place for cabernet sauvignon in the world where the varietal expresses itself in a uniquely elegant way, rooted in the region’s iron rich, premium terra rossa soils. This distinctively polished example is rife with floral, mineral, herbal and peppery notes that are sure to woo.
David Lawrason – This is one of the reds that struck me as having a new sense of aromatic freshness and brightness, and a palate that is both spry and elegant at the same time. So well balanced that it is actually quite drinkable now, just a touch green on the finish. Fine Coonawarra cab.

Yalumba The Strapper Gsm 2012 Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Tyrrell's Rufus Stone Shiraz 2012 De Bortoli Villages Pinot Noir 2012

Tyrrell’s 2012 Rufus Stone Shiraz, Heathcote, Victoria, Australia, ($22.95) (91488)

David Lawrason – Here’s another bright, wonderfully lifted shiraz but it also shows a deeper side thanks to its origins in Heathcote, an increasingly important shiraz region in hills north of Melbourne in Victoria. Love the aromatics here – floral lift all kinds of blackcurrant/cherry fruit, menthol, pepper and slightly mineral/ferrous/iron-like notes that strike me as solid Heathcote.
Sara d’Amato – It wouldn’t be a proper Australian release without some serious shiraz and I was very pleased to find this reasonably priced example from the famed shiraz producing region of Heathcote in Victoria. Notes of cassis, licorice and cool herbs are seamlessly integrated and make for silky and approachable sips.

De Bortoli 2012 Villages Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia ($23.95)

John Szabo – A keenly priced and representative wine from the Yarra, which highlights Steve Webber’s minimalist style. This is a fine buy for fans of old school, not to say Burgundian, pinot noir, lean and savoury, in a distinctively cool climate idiom. Best 2015-2020.

d’Arenberg 2010 The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($49.95)

David Lawrason – This is about the only red of the bunch that I would describe as more traditional. It is a rich, full-on, maturing Aussie red with a complex, very ripe nose. Heavier for sure, but when you get up into this quality level that can work well. It was not wines like this that gave Australia problems. It was packing too much alcohol, jammy fruit and oak into cheaper wines that didn’t have the bones to carry the load.

Tahbilk Estate 2010 Shiraz, Nagambie Lakes, Central Victoria, Australia ($22.95)
John Szabo
– A shiraz that hits a comfortable juste milieu between ripeness and restraint, fruit and wood, plushness and firmness. Tahbilk has been at it since 1860, so there has been ample time to perfect and draw the maximum from the moderate Nagambie Lakes region. Best 2015-2020.

D'arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Tahbilk Shiraz 2010 Henschke Henry's Seven 2013 Howard Park Miamup Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Henschke 2013 Henry’s Seven, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($42.95)

David Lawrason – This is named for Henry Evans who planted the Keyneton area in 1853, and it’s very interesting that when visiting Henschke you get this amazing sense of historical depth, in a region that seems so remote that you can almost not imagine some farming there over 150 years ago. Anyway, this Rhone-inspired blend is yet another example of the wonderful freshness now appearing more routinely in Oz reds.

Howard Park 2012 Miamup Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This gets the nod on value, a very fine, classic Margaret River cabernet for $20. This maritime region is known for making leaner, very aromatic cabs, and this one is spot-on with lifted blackcurrant fruit, fresh green eucalyptus, finely woven tobacco and earthy notes.

Real Men (and women) Drink Rosé
by Sara d’Amato

Sara d’Amato

Sara d’Amato

‘Tis the season for rosé and I admit, I can’t get enough. And although I may be a woman and one who doesn’t shy away from pink, that is certainly not the reason I love this style of wine in which red wine meets white in a refreshing package. Sure, I take big reds seriously but it is one of the last things I want to imbibe in a hot summer’s day unless I’m in an air-conditioned basement.

And, I’m not the only one. North American men are a growing segment in the market of rosé but most I know still need some encouragement. If my repeated Buyers’ Guide segments on rosé aren’t enough to make you give it a try, then maybe some of these reasons will make you take the plunge:

1. Oh So Dry – Rosés need not be sweet and in fact, most of the classic rosés, especially those of Southern France, are and always have been dry. The most refreshing ones, whether simple or complex, have no sweetness. On that note, there is no evidence to suggest that women like sweeter wine than men, we are just marketed to that way.

2. Brad Pitt– yes, iconic manly role model Brad and equally influential Angelina Jolie have become pushers of the pink stuff with the purchase of Chateau Miraval in Provence. Maybe some of their success will rub off on you? Their excellent rosé graced the shelves of the LCBO last summer and I hope it does again.

3. The Men’s Movement – “Real Men Drink Pink” – it’s a thing, really, I kid you not. There are t-shirts galore to be found online and an empowering yet humorous commercial by Be a part of the movement to change pre-conceived and bigoted notions!

4. Barbeque – There is very little that goes better with a smorgasbord of backyard bbq than a ballsy but refreshing glass of rosé. With the mild tannins and weight of a red plus the versatile freshness of a white, you can pair rosé with almost anything.

Without further ado, my top three pink picks from the May 16 release:

Delas Frères Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône Rosé 2014 Somontes Rosado 2014 Megalomaniac Pink Slip Pinot Noir Rosé 2014

Delas Frères 2014 Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône, France ($14.95)

Sara d’Amato – This Côtes du Rhône blend made up largely of the sun-loving grenache which gives it a pale but vibrant pink hue, lightness of flavour and great approachability. Delas has been taken over by the Champagne house of Louis Roederer, makers of the famed Cristal but remains a consistent producer with a large offering of often well-priced and impactful wines from the northern Rhône to the southern tip.

Somontes 2104 Rosado, Serra Da Estrela, Dão, Portugal ($12.95)

Sara d’Amato – By far, the best deal in the rosé category. Dão is known for its sensual wines with spice and elegance and this example captures that character so beautifully.

Megalomaniac 2014 Pink Slip Pinot Noir Rosé, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($17.95)

Sara d’Amato – One of the more potent styles of rosé with just a hint of sweetness and a fresh new label. Punchy with crunchy acids and loaded with summer berry fruit. Chill well and pair with mid-day sunshine.


And that is all for this edition. John (the Crater Man) Szabo returns to lead off next week’s ramblings with a slew of interesting picks from the Cool Summer Whites selection just ahead of the Victoria Day (May 2-4) long weekend.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES May 16, 2015

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All Reviews

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Beringer Knights Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Australia's First Families of Wine

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