Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – June 24, 2017

Made by Canadians
By David Lawrason, with notes from Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

As I write this edition of our weekly VINTAGES release preview, the entire WineAlign team is in Wolfville, Nova Scotia for the judging of the National Wine Awards of Canada. There are 24 judges from seven provinces tasting through about 1700 wines – another record crop. It is a highlight of our year, and for me personally, an important moment of analysis of what Canadian wine is doing, coast to coast. Watch for a Canadian Wine Report by the end of this month for some observations.

Meanwhile folks back in Ontario are left to contemplate the fact that Canadian winemakers/personalities are out in the world, plying their craft in several countries. VINTAGES creative theme “Those Cosmopolitan Canucks” follows ten Canadian men and women who are making wine outside our country. The list, by the way, does not include WineAlign’s own John Szabo who is partner in a small Hungarian winery – J & J Eger.

I won’t re-tell the stories of all ten. Pick up a VINTAGES catalogue for the June 24th release to get the details. But I do want to point out from a critic’s perspective that this crew is also at the forefront of wine quality in Canada. Winemakers Peter Gamble, Ann Sperling, Moray Tawse, Thomas Bachelder and Tony Stewart in particular are behind some of Canada’s best wines. Restaurateurs Franco Prevedello and the Amaro brothers (Tony and Mario) have been quality pioneers in the Toronto culinary scene. And all remain rooted in Canada.

The exporting of their talent is, to me, a very natural extension of their quality oriented ambitions. And anyone who might feel that they are somehow slighting Canada by going farther afield needs a patriotic adjustment. Most I hope will be proud that they are doing so.

Perhaps because I am now sitting in Wolfville among a forest of bottles from across Canada I would like to focus on Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling, a Niagara-based couple who have had a huge impact on Canadian wine from coast to coast. Let me list the ways.

Peter was the first executive director and founder of VQA in the late 80s. He made wine at Hillebrand (now Trius) and has been a consultant in the creation of Stratus, Ravine and Icellars in Ontario. He was the inspiration behind Benjamin Bridge in Nova Scotia, which has become a sparkling wine beacon of Canada. He also consulted on the creation of nearby Lightfoot & Wolfville. And he is considered the architect of Nova Scotia’s Tidal Bay wines, a brilliant ‘style-based appellation” concept for NS whites made with a maximum of 11% alcohol.

Ann’s contributions have been no less important. A native of Kelowna, she has, naturally, been responsible for the rise of Sperling Vineyards based on her family’s old vines on the benches of East Kelowna. But she really made her mark in Niagara making organic wines for Malivoire, then Southbrook which she helped convert to biodynamic production. She has also made one of the first commercial “orange” wines in Canada.

Together they have taken their talents to Argentina to make a wine called Versado in Mendoza. It seems somewhat incongruous to transport Canadian experience to Argentina, but this pair takes to challenges like ducks take to water. And lest you think this is some sort of vanity project, their interview with VINTAGES magazine is laser focused on viticulture and winemaking issues. They live and breathe their craft, and have shared it so freely with so many.

I could go on, from a personal perspective, on Thomas Bachelder, and on Moray Tawse, in particular, and their immense contributions to Canadian wine, but let’s see what the National Wine Awards bring. Will Tawse Winery capture the Winery of the Year title for a 5th time?

Meanwhile, here some of our picks from the June 24th release. VINTAGES could have been more generous with their selections from the “Cosmopolitan Canucks”. Why not a bundle of Bachelder’s Niagara, Oregon and Burgundy chardonnays? And they could easily have presented a far wider range from Tawse’s Ontario and Burgundy portfolio’s, and from the Gamble/Sperling offerings.

What makes the sparsity even more disappointing is that over 30 of the wines on this release are re-issues. It’s hard to know whether they are re-orders, or re-marketing of slow moving wines, but I sense some of the latter, at least with a pair of ageing Ontario gamay’s that were reviewed highly months, indeed years ago, but have lost some lustre. My rating of 90 on the Tawse 2014 Gamay no longer applies.

In any event, given the competition for shelf space at VINTAGES it seems counter-productive and somewhat lazy to be repeating so many wines in one release.

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES June 24th:

Made by Canadians

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 Sparkling 2016, Nova Scotia ($24.95)

David Lawrason – This distinctive, indeed idiosyncratic sparkler based on white hybrids has become one of the hottest selling wines of Nova Scotia. A citrus salad with a dash of ginger. Chill very well.
Michael Godel – Nova 7 in 2016 carries more vibrancy, energy, acidity and general pulse on its semi-sweet Nova Scotia sparkling wine frame than it had in the past few vintages. A similar viscosity and range of tropical flavours keep things consistent though it is the higher ranging acids and also grape tannin that elevate this 2016 game. The slightly less commercial gain and a bit more of the true Benjamin Bridge style comes clean from 2016. A Nova 7 to please all camps and win more hearts.

Prevedello Asolo Superiore Extra Dry Prosecco, Veneto, Italy ($16.95)
David Lawrason – Pretty, clean, fresh and understated. Very classy prosecco from a very classy guy.
Sara d’Amato – The newest vintage of this beloved Prosecco is back on the shelves and is as juicy, perky and satisfying as ever. A product of Franco Prevedello, owner of some of the most historically significant restaurants in Toronto (having birthed Centro and many others) and called “the godfather of Toronto fine dining” by Toronto Life.

Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 Sparkling 2016Prevedello Asolo Superiore Extra Dry Prosecco 2016Cave Spring Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer 2013

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer 2013, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – Could very well be an Alasatian gewürztraminer. White tea dominates this elegant but lush profile. Rich but sophisticated, the dichotomy here is memorable.

Featherstone Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula,  Ontario, Canada ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – A rich, viscous chardonnay with notes of toasted nuts and butter tarts that pops on the palate. A comforting style that showcases good quality Canadian oak. Concentrated and offering considerable length and a memorable finish.

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($25.25)
Michael Godel – The Niagara chardonnay is the bridge betwixt two focused Bachelders, Wismer and Mineralite. This rolls out as a viaduct between bottling times, release necessity and stylistic explication. More than just a case of ripe acidity and carefully measured wood tones, the fruit in 2013 is now shining special and shows how the package is as fine as any in the Bachelder non-specific vineyard portfolio.

David Lawrason – This VINTAGES Essentials is always on shelf, indeed I spied the 2014 on shelf just before leaving for Nova Scotia this week. The 2013 scores on complexity and length, a full on oaked, lees stirred textured chardonnay.

Featherstone Canadian Oak Chardonnay 2015Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2013Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2015

Cave Spring Estate Bottled 2015 Chardonnay Musqué, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($16.95)
David Lawrason – A particularly fine vintage of musque, a chardonnay clone with some floral lift. Cave Spring was the first to launch it is a separate varietal wine.

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($21.95) 
Sara d’Amato – A dense and zesty cabernet franc from iconic Niagara and BC winemaker Ann Sperling. Red and black fruit are concentrated on the broody palate while cherry tartness adds pep and intrigue. Tannins are firm but not unyielding in this food friendly cabernet franc, a hallmark of Ontario.
Michael Godel – Triomphe for cabernet franc in 2015 comes by way of 100 per cent Saunders Vineyard fruit, 15 per cent of it merlot. That vineyard is most famous for its old-vine chardonnay on the gentle slope of the Beamsville Bench, just off Mountainview road. Older vines deliver the richness of dried fruit and meaty addendum which manifests in this incredible tang, depth and length of inflection. It’s floral fresh but there will always be a dark red currant underlay and smouldering tone.

La Crema 2014 Monterey Pinot Noir, Monterey, California, $26.95
David Lawrason – A grad of Brock’s CCOVI program Elizabeth Grant-Douglas worked at Inniskillin before taking her cool climate experience to California. This tasty, smooth yet vibrant is chock full of red fruits.

Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc 2015La Crema Monterey Pinot Noir 2014Versado Reserva Ancient Malbec 2012

Versado Reserva Ancient Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($59.95)
Michael Godel – Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling’s Reserva is also known as the “Ancient” malbec with thanks to vines twice their age planted high in the foothills of the Andes. These are not just any vineyards but dry, stony ones begging for droplets of mountain run-off. The glacial cool savour injects vitality into a thick and juicy malbec that wants not for attention. The palate is quite woody, the fruit concentration sheathed and encompassed to see it well into a second decade of life. Healthy berries, impressive extraction, high level acidity and ripe, agile tannins will all work towards a common goal. As good as the first few Versado malbecs were, this is the bomb.

Marchand-Tawse Nuits-Saint-Georges, Ac Burgundy, France ($64.95)
Michael Godel – Pascal Marchand’s Nuits-Saint-Georges 2012 has drifted and settled into a fine, calm, deep-fruited pocket at the five-year mark. There is a wide and ripe range of fruit happening in the aromatics, part raspberry, part plum and part red apple. It’s a curious and deliciously perfumed mix, a fruit potpourri if you will and then it turns to tannin and stone.

Marchand Tawse Nuits Saint Georges 2012Lake Sonoma Winery Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2013Quadrus Red 2012

Lake Sonoma 2013 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County ($28.95)
Lake Sonoma is the Quails’ Gate Stewart family’s new California venture. This is a quite rich and balanced zinfandel that avoids the confection of so many peers.

Quadrus 2012 Red, Douro, Portugal ($19.95)
From Portuguese restaurateurs Tony and Mario Amaro whose Yorkville restaurant Opus has been a Toronto wine temple for years, this pretty Douro red has typical energy and tension with spiced plum, floral and well handled wood.

David Lawrason

David immersed in a sea of wine behind the scenes at the National Wine Awards

And that’s it for this week. The team will be home next week to offer their June 24 recommendations on Part Two. We hope by then that the LCBO and the OPSEU union will have settled their differences.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Sommelier Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


Stags' Leap Winery Chardonnay 2015