Buy The Case: TWC Imports

A Report on Consignment Wines in Ontario
by Michael Godel

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In this regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single importing agent. Our critics independently, as always, review and rate the wines good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in this Buy the Case report. Importers pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to each critic, as it is with our reviews of in-store wines. 

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TWC Imports

TWC Imports is the wine agency extension of The Wine Coaches, two certified sommeliers with extensive wine knowledge, experience, and industry connections. They are Ric Kitowski and Jocelyn Klemm, partners both in business and in life (husband and wife). Their mission is to represent a portfolio of wine producers of special significance, quality, and value from select regions of the world.

That is a modest way of saying they care about representing honest and thoughtful wines because the TWC portfolio is one of the most eclectic and thoughtfully curated selection in Ontario. The managing partners have personally tasted all their wines at or with the source, in the winery, or with the winemaker. In some ways the TWC portfolio might be considered as an adumbrative collection of wines found and collected off the beaten path. In some respects that it quite true and yet when you taste through a cross section of them, you’ll be amazed at how much comfort they deliver.

Of all the idioms that have proliferated in the English language, “off the beaten path” is one of my all-time ironic favourites. Modern definitions and thesaurus entries make straightforward sense; not well-known or popular with many people, offbeat, novel, out of the ordinary, the secret, special or sacred places, the B-sides, the ones that no one else knows about. The term was not always about travelling or looking for something. There was a time when “off the beaten path” was a dis, when it negatively described a person as heterodoxical; as a heteroclite, a dissident, an iconoclast, a heretic.

However, “off the beaten path” could actually be considered a metaphor for “authentic” and this is what winemakers and consumers (even if they need to be enlightened), really want. Perhaps people want experiences with real grapes and away from the “tourists.” This where an agency such as TWC comes in. They champion the grapes you not only know little about, they bring them to you because you need to know them. From places like the Canary Islands where volcanic soils and ancient grapevine growing methods are producing world-class wines.

The idea that something veers away from or afield of the norm is almost always intriguing. Fascinations with antidisestablishmentarianism, marching to the beats of different drummers and walking lonely roads is as essential as breathing. It matters to the curious, the hungry and the alive. Though the concept is a sound one, it need not always be about searching for wisdom and enterprise off the beaten path. There are times when the abstruse may be lying directly underfoot. Wine that is not so much off the beaten path as actually growing on one. So, it is an agency like TWC that also collects the gems you recognize. You see, winemakers don’t always have to champion the obscure, the endangered and the forgotten. There are times when place and plot are good enough to create an aura of obscurity and adventure. The wines in this article are in cahoots to also drive that point.

I asked Ric Kitowski a few questions about the history of TWC Imports, where they are now and where they are heading.

Q – Can you briefly comment on what the goals were when you and Jocelyn first began and how have they changed?

A – Wine for us started as shared passion. From our first course in Wine Appreciation at George Brown College, to earning Sommelier Certification in 2000, we both had backgrounds in education and corporate careers, and always an interest in wine.  First, we started The Wine Coaches Inc. to offer consulting and training services for restaurants, and wine-themed events for corporate and private groups.  This led to a publishing contract in 2003 for our book, Clueless About Wine, which was then released in the U.K. as The Basic Basics Wine Handbook, and also translated for the Polish market.

A visit to Vinitaly in 2001 started us thinking about becoming wine agents, after being introduced to wonderful wines from Italian wineries that weren’t available at the LCBO.  We were fortunate to begin working with a strong initial portfolio of Italian wineries, many of which are still with us over 15 years later.  We’ve since expanded the portfolio to include wineries from key wine regions of Spain.

Our philosophy remains focused on family-owned wineries.  The wineries we represent want their wines to be enjoyed at restaurant tables and in the homes of wine consumers in this important market.  From time to time the wines may be in LCBO Vintages, but for the most part the wines we represent are regularly available to restaurants and private customers, working through the LCBO Specialty Services Consignment program.

Q – How has the climate of the agency business in Ontario changed and where do you think it’s heading?

A – Over the years we’ve seen changes both on the Consumer and Restaurant side, and on the working with the LCBO side.

Let’s start with the people who buy the wines.  Whether in food or drink, we see more and more people seeking to understand the provenance of what they buy and consume.  Where was it grown?  Who made it, and how was it made?  The restaurants and private customers we work with want to know the story behind these wines, from someone who has been to the winery, walked in the vineyards, tasted with the winemaker, and knows how they’re made, from grape to bottle.

There has always been an interest in trying new products from outside the LCBO retail store system.  What has changed is the desire to have a deeper understanding of where these wines are from, and how they are created.  As the voice of the wineries, we make these connections.

The supply side has been less dynamic, but there have been changes for consignment agents working through LCBO Specialty Services.  For example, the introduction of a new on-line interface between Agents and LCBO Specialty Services has helped.  The system allows Agents to spend less time on the ‘logistics’ of this work, and more time connecting wines with potential by-the-case customers.

As for the future, we see everyone’s time becoming an ever more precious commodity.  The role that we play in curating our portfolio with great wines, in understanding what each Restaurant and Consumer wants in wine, and in helping them to receive their orders with ease, we believe will become ever more valuable.

One can only hope the LCBO will continue to use technology to allow its wine suppliers and agency partners to better serve the Ontario market.

Q – Do you see the Ontario consumer increasing their knowledge (and their desire for understanding) of the wines they are purchasing?

A – We feel the Ontario consumer has definitely become more engaged when it comes to imported wine. This is evident in the interest and openness to try new wines in our portfolio. More people travel to wine destinations now, and often come back looking for a wine they discovered on their last trip. We often get asked to arrange for winery visits on their travels, and in particular, access to some of the smaller producers with whom we work.

But the most dramatic change has been in the knowledge level, interest, and enthusiasm of the people selling wine in restaurants, both servers and sommeliers. This is a generation of people who read about wine, travel to wine destinations, and approach tasting professionally, in ways we didn’t really observe when we started. This, in part, encourages us to continue to look for new and interesting wines, knowing they will be supported at the restaurants where they are sold.

TWC’s diverse portfolio seeks an intense focus on Spain and Italy and while they represent some classic stalwart locales like Rioja, Chianti Classico, Montalcino and Valpolicella, they also champion some regions further afield in both countries. It is the wines of places like the Canary Islands, Bierzo, Txakoli and Montecucco that will grab your attention.

While we always enjoy our tasting sessions together, knowing that a TWC Importers set of wines was waiting in the WineAlign tasting room gave reason to really look forward to the day’s work. This portfolio offered up high anticipation for John Szabo, Steve Thurlow, David Lawrason, Sara d’Amato and I. It is hard to remember the last time the five of us aligned on the quality of so many wines in one portfolio as we did this time around.

If you are interested in purchasing a case of any of the wines below, simply click on the wine and you’ll see this button.

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Sparkling

Masottina Extra Dry, Coneglaino Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($26.19)
Steve Thurlow – This is a fine delicately flavoured bubbly with a long persisting mousse of tiny bubbles. Expect aromas of pear and lemon fruit with brioche, vanilla and almond. It is quite rich and off dry with the fruit well balanced by firm acidity. It finishes almost dry with a lingering fruity finish.
David Lawrason – This is a bright, clean, just off-dry prosecco with nicely generous, soft aromas of fresh apple, vanilla and powdered icing sugar, plus an undercut of lime blossom. It’s light bodied, perfectly balanced and fresh with vague almond bitterness.
Sara dAmato – A high quality DOCG Prosecco exhibiting a fresh acidic backbone, a concentrated dose of stone fruit and a lingering floral component. Sweetness is kept to a minimum here and only mildly curbs the liveliness on the palate. A great deal of texture and more viscosity than expected is notable. Very good depth of flavour. Worth the premium price.
Michael Godel – In the zone of Prosecco this does more than most, first with its fine mousse, then with multi-fruit personality and finally by striking acidity. The bubble is a pure one, the notes talk about apple orchards and peach groves while the zip in its step tells me sapidity is a thing. Quite wild and raucous for Prosecco and certainly not what you may be used to drinking.

Masottina Extra Dry

Agusti Torelló Mata Trepat Reserva Rosat Brut Cava 2013, Spain ($31.28)
John Szabo, M.S. – A very impressive Cava. It is an explosively fruity rosé made from the rare trepat grape, macerated for just a few hours. It delivers terrific flavour intensity and depth, balancing fruit and toasty character. Some intriguing earthy, stewed vegetable notes add an extra dimension of flavour without distracting from the fruit and toast. Best served at the table.
Sara dAmato – A bold Cava offering tremendous succulence and impressive depth of flavour. The yeasty, autolytic character is well-balanced with marbled cherry fruit, pink grapefruit and fresh thyme. Quite dry but not tart with a powerful attack. Youthful but harmonious. Should develop in a graceful fashion but will surely retain some of that enticing feistiness.

Whites

Bodegas Valdesil, Montenovo Godello 2015, Valdeorras Do, Spain ($22.80)
Steve Thurlow – This is lovely fresh pure white with a mineral tone to the nose and palate. Expect aromas of melon and lemon fruit with a chalky tone and floral hints. It is midweight with a lively vibrant palate and fine white peach and ripe pear flavours. Try with rich white meats. Excellent length.
John Szabo, M.S. – This is a particularly ripe and appealing wine, sufficiently stony to excite the punters, and replete with delicate white fruit and floral aromatics, apple and pear, cherry blossom. The palate is on the fuller side of medium, attractively fleshy, with a light touch of phenolic grip (gentle astringency), and crisp acids.
Michael Godel – From La Familia Prada Gayoso, 100 plus years of tradition and wisdom goes into this strikingly fresh and mildly reductive Galician godello. There are notes that make you think of pear and peach orchards, just ripe and ready for picking. You can smell the great tang of the soil mixed with these fruit juices and the oak here brings it all together. This is highly flavourful godello with a shot of finishing bitters. Really fine and full of texture.

Farnadas Treixadura Godello Albarino 2015, Ribiero, Spain ($22.80)
David Lawrason – Here’s a fine, unoaked, almost exotic white with nicely lifted lemon blossom, fresh herbs and underlying pineapple fruit. It is medium bodied, with a fresh yet substantial, and somewhat waxy feel. Some lemon peel bitterness on the finish, and wet stone. The length is excellent. Very good value.
Michael Godel – Farnadas is a varietal hodge podge containing a multitude of Iberian grapes, dominated by (80 per cent-ish treixadura), (15) godello plus bits of albariño, loureira and torrontés. It’s quite sun-ripened, sun shining, fresh glade in the morning stuff, unctuous and textured. Farnadas literally means “fertile” when discussing soil, something the 12th century St, Clodio Monastery monks figured a thing or two about. Here nine hundred years later it is Pazo de Vieite fashioning really drinkable white blends like this. Flavours of lemon, lime, curd and bamboo all work their way into this delicious blend.

Reds

Villadoria Bricco Magno Nebbiolo 2013, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy ($21.67)
David Lawrason – This is a very nicely sewn, elegant and complex nebbiolo with an almost creamy nose of redcurrant/strawberry jam, leather, dried herbs and spices. It is medium weight, smooth yet lively with quite fine, drying tannin, which is feat for the tannic nebbiolo grape. Nice alcohol warmth in-fill as well.
Steve Thurlow – This is finely balanced fruity lightweight red with fine aromas of red cherry with raspberry and strawberry fruit plus some mild oak spice and floral hints. The palate is midweight with some fine berry fruit nicely supported by mature tannin and lively acidity. Good focus and excellent length. Try with roast meats.

Villadoria Bricco Magno Nebbiolo 2013

Tajinaste Tradicional 2015, Orotava Valley, Canary Islands ($25.00)
David Lawrason – This is a very pretty, charming gamay-like red, only different in that has more bodied and heft. But there is ripe strawberry/cherry fruit, pepper, graphite-like minerality and barely detectable oak. The acidity and minerality keep it nicely afloat. The length is excellent. Nicely done.
John Szabo – An immediately engaging, fruity and smoky volcanic red made from listán negro, part of which is trained in the utterly unique “trenzado” system involving meters-long, braided vine shoots, many of which are entering their second century. There’s a southern Rhône-like dark, savoury fruity character, spicy and honest, low sulphur. The palate is spot-on medium bodied, with light, grippy tannins and high acids, reminiscent of good cru Beaujolais. Try with charcuterie.
Steve Thurlow – This is an elegant mid-weight red with aromas of red cherry with black cherry and plum fruit. The palate is very concentrated and finely balanced with soft tannins and fine lemony acidity. Excellent length with a long lingering finish with tongue tickling fine tannin. This will gain in complexity as the tannins melt into the wine yielding some savoury notes in a year or so.

Losada Bierzo 2015, Spain ($27.32)
Sara dAmato – A sultry, sophisticated mencía with definite swagger and impressive complexity. Some restraint is notable and the nose shows moderate climate character with notes of blueberry, black pepper and violets. Great regional typicity and an abundance of personality. Well-crafted and structured.
Michael Godel – Here is a ripping 100 per cent Mencia, really floral and welling up from under a powerful source by grippy underlay. This is really quite classic Bierzo with so much baking spice and firm extracted fruit. It does the vernacular proud and with as much modernity that can be stuffed into a 750 mL bottle.

Losada Bierzo 2015

Casa Raia Bevilo 2014, Tuscany, Italy ($48.22)
John Szabo, M.S. – Bevilo, “or “Drink it”, is Casa Raia’s IGT lovely blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot, made in the estate’s customary delicate, open and natural style. I like the silky texture, fine-grained tannins and genuine succulence and concentration without heaviness. Give this wine the time and attention it deserves; while it doesn’t bowl you over at first, there’s a lot going on in the glass in a pretty, elegant style. Wood is not a significant flavour contributor.
Michael Godel – Bevilo’s name is in reference to an old Tuscan drinking song “Bevi lo!….vino fa canta” meaning, drink up…..wine makes you sing!! There is more red fruit, purity and lithe framing in the Bevilo and as a result it more resembles Brunello than many of its peers. The elegance in this wine is notable; it seems rustic but it’s so very pure and focused. This too needs time but sooner rather than later it will make for a fine dinner companion.
Sara d’Amato – An earthy, smoky and broody Tuscan blend with an emphasis on sangiovese. Garnet in hue with a sanguine character and juicy red cherry. Tannins are firm but manageable at this stage in the wine’s evolution. Lovely with filet mignon. Very good length.

Casa Raia Bevilo 2014
Editor’s Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. 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!

This report was sponsored by TWC Imports. WineAlign critics have independently recommended the above wines based on reviews that are posted on WineAlign as part of this sponsored tasting. TWC Imports has provided the following agency profile.

About TWC Imports:

At TWC Imports, our mission is to connect you with great wines at all price points, crafted by talented winemakers from the best regions of Italy and Spain.  We know what goes into every bottle of wine we represent, from the soil in which the grapes are grown, to how the grapes are harvested and made into wine, to the cork that (usually) seals the bottle.  We use our skills and expertise as certified sommeliers to seek out wines worthy of your attention, at the dinner table, for your cellar, or as a gift.  Whether you have discovered one of the wines we represent while travelling, tried it in a restaurant, or during a tasting event, we make it easy for you to source the wines you want.

Wines are available for order from the LCBO Consignment Warehouse in full case quantities only, and can be delivered to your door, either home or office.  Prices quoted are inclusive of our Agency fee, HST, and refundable bottle deposit. Delivery to the GTA is free. For locations beyond the GTA a delivery charge may apply.

Should you wish to know about upcoming events or tastings, or new wines, please contact us at 416 809 9463 or visit www.twcimports.com

TWC Imports