Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Dec 9th, 2017

Remembering Karl Kaiser, and Dishing Up the Best of the Old World
By John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The last VINTAGES release of the year is always substantial, and December 9th is no exception, with nearly 190 products hitting, or returning to, LCBO shelves. We’ve split up our picks by world, with this week’s report focused on the Old World and nearly two dozen wines that get a nod from David, Michael, Sara or me (and one smoking Portuguese value with triple alignment). Next week David leads us to the New World to be sure you get the best of both. Meanwhile, the wine industry is mourning the recent loss of pioneering Canadian winemaker and Inniskillin co-founder Karl Kaiser, a pivotal figure in this business. Read below about his legacy, and thoughts from local winemakers who were touched in some way by Karl’s large shadow, and who owe at least a dash of their success to his efforts to put Canada on the map. Raise a glass of wine in his honour.

Remembering Karl Kaiser (1941-2017)

Karl Kaiser came to Canada for the potential to make great pinot noir, but ended up putting the country on the map for Icewine. As a Canadian wine industry pioneer, that’s just the tip of the iceberg of his contributions.

Kaiser was born in Austria in 1941, and immigrated to Canada in 1969. After graduating from Brock’s chemistry program in 1974, and while experimenting with winemaking in Niagara, Kaiser was introduced to vine nurseryman Donald Ziraldo. Without much exaggeration, the origins of quality wine in Ontario can be traced back to that meeting.

The two went on to co-found Inniskillin Winery in 1975, obtaining the first winery licence granted in Ontario since 1920. Kaiser and Ziraldo paved the way for the Ontario wine industry, proving once and for all that European grapes (vitis vinifera) could survive and thrive in Canada.

“Karl was a true pioneer with many firsts to his credit for the Ontario and Canadian wine industries, starting of course with the first winery licence in Ontario in many years, and then the international success of being awarded the [Vinexpo] Grand Prix de honour for his 1989 Vidal icewine, and finishing with his unswerving support for the CCOVI at Brock”, writes Don Triggs via email, co-founder of Jackson-Triggs Winery and proprietor of Culmina Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley. “While we will all miss him we will not forget him. And most importantly his legacy will live on forever in our industry.”

In my experience, and that of many others, Kaiser was a reluctant hero, a reserved man, happy to work back stage. But he was much more than a great winemaker; giving back to the industry was important to him.

“Kaiser’s impact on the Niagara and Canadian wine industry is unmatched, and it was through his guidance and drive that Brock created the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) and the Oenology and Viticulture (OEVI) undergraduate program in the 1990s”, writes CCOVI Director Debbie Inglis in a recent press release. “Karl co-wrote a book and was an active researcher, but not many people realize it because he was such a humble individual,” she says.

Inniskillin Winery co-founder and industry pioneer Karl J. Kaiser (Photo: Brock University)

Kaiser developed the OEVI wine chemistry course and was its first instructor in 1998. He became a CCOVI Professional Affiliate and returned on a regular basis to give lectures and seminars, the videos of which are still among the program’s most downloaded.

Others I asked for comments were quick to highlight Kaiser’s giving nature and critical contributions to the industry. “Karl was greatly helpful to me and Henry of Pelham in general, particularly in the early days of the Niagara wine revolution (80’s – 90s), when there were only a very few wineries. Karl was always free flowing with the wealth of experience and knowledge that he had and we did not. He helped us countless times back in the “old days” and his contribution to our wine industry is remarkable. The free flow of wine knowledge continues thanks to him”, reflects Paul Speck of Henry of Pelham.

He also attracted and inspired a generation of winemakers. “Karl has been for me (together with Donald Ziraldo) the reason why I came to Ontario,” Marco Piccoli, Italian-born winemaker at Jackson-Triggs, tells me. “There was not much talk about the Canadian Wine industry back in the early 2000’s in Italy, but we all knew Inniskillin Icewine, the men who created it, and the vision of a pioneer that made such a small industry recognized worldwide. The learning and the experience I could absorb during these years is enormous, and it’s something I will treasure forever. But the biggest honor has been working at his side, being able to call him “friend” and having the responsibility (as an Industry) to build on his legacy. Thank you Karl.”

Montreal-born Thomas Bachelder of Bachelder Wines also credits Kaiser with inspiration: “I idolized the man”, he says. “I would not be sitting in a car in the vines of Niagara right now writing these words to you had he not ever crossed the pond. It is a truly sad time for me. I just lost one of my superheroes that I thought/hoped was invulnerable!”

Highlights of Kaiser’s career include receiving the Order of Ontario in 1993, an honorary doctorate from Brock in 1994, as well as Brock’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2005 and the Faculty of Math and Science Distinguished Alumni Award in 2009. Kaiser was also honoured with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee Award, and the Ontario Wine Society Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

And of course he gave us many great wines, and not just Icewine. His early belief in pinot noir, for one, was not misguided. Almost a half-century after his arrival, and after a few bumps along the road, the variety has amply proved its greatness in Canadian wine regions.

Kaiser passed away on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. Raise a glass to him.

A celebration of Kaiser’ life will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8 at The Hare Wine Co., 769 Niagara Stone Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Written messages of condolence can be left on Kaiser’s memorial website found here.

In lieu of flowers, the family is encouraging donations to the Dr. Karl J. Kaiser Memorial Fund at Brock’s CCOVI. The fund has been launched in honour of Kaiser’s love of learning and sharing his knowledge. Donations can be made at

December 9th VINTAGES Buyers Guide: 

White & Bubbly

Labouré Gontard Brut Crémant de Bourgogne, Traditional Method, AOC Bourgogne ($20.95)
Michael Godel – Hue and pungency deliver complex moments with a plethora of citrus; lemon, lime and grapefruit. A touch of salty preserve with a hint of sweet adds to the charm. Really successful Crémant for those who want to live a little and tell the tale.…

Louis Brochet 2002 HBH 1er Cru Champagne, AC Champagne ($69.95)
Michael Godel – Brochet’s HBH is a vintage-dated gift to the Ontario market, here from a most excellent Champagne vintage and its age could very much come into question. It is remarkably non-evolved and shows few signs of major development. The citrus and fresh herbs are in continual lift with energy provided by great acidity. Beautiful stuff with fine bitters from 2002.

Labouré Gontard Brut Crémant De BourgogneLouis Brochet Hbh 1er Cru Champagne 2002Maison Ambroise Saint Romain 2013

Maison Ambroise 2013 Saint-Romain, Burgundy, France ($44.95)
John Szabo – Wines at this domain have gained in finesse and elegance since sister and brother Ludivine and François took charge from their father, now managing some 21ha of vineyards, most certified organic as of 2013. This Saint Romain is crafted in the attractively flinty-mineral, classic cool climate, reductive style of white Burgundy, with noted but integrated oak. This needs another year or two more in bottle to settle out, and also carafing before serving to introduce oxygen, but it delivers lots of flavour and complexity for the category. Best 2018-2025.

Maison Roche de Bellene 2015 Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay, Burgundy, France ($22.95)
John Szabo – Fans of white Burgundy should snap up this sharp value from Nicola Potel’s negociant side of the business, a lovely, sapid, saline, minimally wooded old vines Bourgogne blanc, delivering all one could hope for at the price. It’s quite open and ready to go, or could be cellared another 2-3 years for more savoury complexity. Best 2017-2023.

Jean-Max Roger 2016 Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre, Loire, France ($27.95)
John Szabo – Roger’s Sancerres are a Vintages fixture and always reliable, but this 2016 Caillottes is especially impressive. From estate vines on very pebbly (“caillottes”) calcareous limestone soils, it’s tightly wound, very sharp and stony, and bone dry, the way it should be. There’s nothing soft or cuddly about this wine; prepare yourself for a citric blast and salty lick, with a measured dose of green herbs. Great length, textbook wine, best 2017-2022.

Maison Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay 2015Jean Max Roger Sancerre Cuvée Les Caillottes 2016Domaine De La Motte Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru 2015

Domaine de la Motte 2015 Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($42.95)
John Szabo – Clean, sharp, precise, chalky-saline, with terrifically vibrant acids, this is superbly crunchy and fresh 1er Cru Chablis, especially for the warm 2015 vintage, finely-tuned and well-chiselled. La Motte ages this cuvée in barrel, but you have to search deep to find any wood influence. Indeed it’s still tightly wound for the moment, a few years off from optimum drinking, but will be a beauty. Textbook citrus-stony flavours lead in a crystalline expression. Best 2019-2027

Valtea 2016 Albariño DO Rías Baixas, Spain ($22.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a properly open and perfumed, very floral and sweet green herb-tinged Rias Baixas from vinyards along the Miño River, like lemon squeezed over granite, and highly inviting all in all. Acids are crunchy and there’s palpable salinity on the palate – really tastes like the maritime wine that it is, like fresh herbs dipped in seawater and dressed in lemon juice. Ready to drink.

Valtea Albariño 2016La Fortessa Taburno Falanghina Del Sannio 2016Cantina Gallura Piras Vermentino Di Gallura 2015

La Fortezza 2016 Taburno Falanghina del Sannio, Campania, Italy ($16.95)
John Szabo – Sannio is the origin for many of the best Falanghinas in Campania (and therefore the world, and La Fortezza does a fine job with it. It’s perfumed and particularly floral and pineapple-tinged, while the palate is vibrant and inviting, mid-weight, notably salty and more savoury than expected, offering plenty of sweet and resinous herbal. Fine length, too – there’s plenty of character for the money – a truly volcanic expression. Decant or cellar for a year or two.

Cantina Gallura Piras 2015 Vermentino di Gallura, Docg Sardinia ($15.95)
Michael Godel – Vermentino goes old school from Tempio Pausana in this Di Gallura rendition. It just feels like it carries some wisdom in age and smells like a combination of salty, sea water and a part sandy, part rocky beach. It’s quite tart with grippy acidity and an herbal finish, without any real bitters. Really marine vermentino in the way of Muscadet so think about the oyster possibilities.
Sara d’Amato – It is hard not to be charmed by the old school nature of this vermentino hailing from the variety’s hotbed in Sardinia. This elevated site at the foot of Limbara mountain can produce fine acidic structure and this version offers crunchy sour apple and sea salt in abundance.


Castello di Ama 2013 San Lorenzo Gran Selezione Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($50.95)
John Szabo – Castello di Ama’s San Lorenzo gran selezione, made, like all wines at Ama from estate vineyards, (in this case old plantings or plots planted over a decade ago, and which show “the most mature, rounded extracts at time of harvest”), offers a terrific nose off the top, complex, evolving, savoury, very classically Chianti. The palate delivers proper firmness, vibrant acids, dusty tannins and excellent length. I applaud the leanness, the uncompromising tacky-freshness – a genuine wine of the territory. Best 2020-2033.

Castello di Ama San Lorenzo Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2013Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf du Pape 2015Feudo Montoni Lagnusa Nero d'Avola 2014

Le Vieux Donjon 2015 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, Rhône, France ($65.95)
John Szabo – A classic, ripe, generous, full-bodied Châteauneuf here from Vieux Donjon, large-scaled, large-boned, with plenty of flesh all around. Excellent length and depth, too. It’s a very bold and complete example, offering loads of pleasure now but also with plenty of life ahead. I love the caramelized orange peel and scorched earth flavours alongside the usual garrigue and dark berry fruit. Great stuff, Best 2017-2030.
Michael Godel – Let me tell you about Le Vieux Donjon. Through it all, with climate change and the hottest Rhône Valley vintages on record having passed through over these past 15 years, the house has found a way to adapt. The farming manages through the droughts and the waves of scorching temperatures so that ripe fruit with realized phenolics remains south of the alcohol line so that elegance is ushered forth. This ’15 does all that and more. It’s also remained affordable to most mere mortals.

Feudo Montoni 2014 Lagnusa Nero d’Avola, DOC Sicilia, Italy ($22.95)
John Szabo – Lagnusa is the name of the cru, which means ‘lazy’ in Sicilian dialect, so named by local farmers for its perennially low yields. It’s planted to 35 year old nero d’Avola vines, themselves massale selections from Montoni’s prephylloxera Vrucara vineyard. The wine is surely exotic, with intriguing orange peel, plum, and date flavours, and with far better freshness, balance and complexity than the mean. I really like the salinity, the savoury herbs, the lavender and thyme, oregano and fennel flavours – a terrific and engaging range. Length and depth are also exceptional at the price, while acids are lean and crisp, alcohol fully in check at 13.5% declared, and tannins fine-grained and well-integrated. This is a wine of impressive character and class, best 2017-2026.
Sara d’Amato – The ethereal nature of this nero d’avola is quite sublime and unexpected. The wine spends 20 months in cement followed by 4 quick months in barrel and hence exhibits very little woody character. Lagnusa is the name of the cru and interestingly translates to “that which is lazy and produces small quantities”. A small price to pay for such a riveting wine.
Michael Godel – In a word this nero d’avola is what the hope for it would be; awesome. It’s an ideal vintage because it just could not have climbed over any semblance of top. It’s ripe but genuinely earthy and with an herbal streak. It’s tart but only lingers as a presence through liquid ruby gold. This is what clean, non or marginally oaked nero d’avola must be to please and do so without any make up or couverture.

Quinta da Pellada 2014 DAC Tinto, DO Dão, Portugal ($16.95)
John Szabo – A terrific red Dão here from Quinta da Pellada, one of celebrated producer Alvaro Castro’s estates, a leader in the region. I love the floral-violet perfume, the fresh black fruit flavours, the lively acids, and the absolute freshness and drinkability. A wine to buy by the case, and/or pour by the glass. Best 2017-2020.
David Lawrason – The three “New” Portuguese reds on this release are all excellent value, but I will focus on this Dao by Alvaro Castro, arguably the leading producer of Dao, and one of the most respected winemakers in Portugal.  His daughter Maria has a hand in this lovely wine as well.  This is such a nicely fragrant, lifted red with classic brambleberry, pepper, smoked meat, floral and evergreen notes mindful northern Rhone syrah. It is full bodied, dense, sweetish yet very firm and lively.
Michael Godel – Really pretty and flora Dāo with violets and lovely spice, freshness and piquancy. Great wine for all involved and representative of terrific value.

Quinta Da Pellada DAC Tinto 2014Teliani Valley Mukuzani 2014Convento San Francisco 2010

Teliani Valley 2014 Mukuzani, Kakheti, Georgia ($16.95)
John Szabo – Step out of your comfort zone to experience this amazingly characterful Georgian red (made from saperavi), sultry, spicy, savoury, free from wood influence though with notable earthy. If I had to compare this with a better-known wine, it most closely resembles, say, a minimally oaked Côtes de Rhone or Douro red with its black pepper and swarthy dark fruit, and floral-violet nuances. There’s still some dissolved CO2 on the palate so give it a vigorous swirl in the glass or decant before serving, with a slight chill. I think you’ll be impressed by the open, natural feel of this wine, the range of flavours, and the high drinkability factor. Bring on the grills and the roasts. Nicely priced to be sure. Best 2017-2024.

Convento San Francisco 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain ($20.95)
David Lawrason – The label is a bit retro/bland – not one that will leap into many shopping carts all by itself. But this is a nicely complex, smooth maturing tempranillo (tinto de pais in Ribera) that captures complex, peak maturity aromas set in a fairly dense and nicely smooth and warming frame. Offers more than expected at $20.

Château La Fleur Pourret 2010, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux ($39.95)
Sara d’Amato – This small, 4-hectare estate sources its merlot from 40-year old vines resulting in a firm, traditional style. Clean and taught but offering generous floral aromas and impressive dimension on the palate. A collector’s find, hold for another 4-5 years for optimal enjoyment.
David Lawrason – Although only classified as Grand Cru, this small property on the plateau has always seemed better than that, especially since the ownership and winemaking was taken over in 2002 by the Manoncourt family of Chateau Figeac.  This is a nicely ripe, maturing, smooth and impressive merlot-based St. Émilion from an excellent vintage. It is medium-full bodied, fairly dense and shows interesting minerality on the finish. I would give this another year or two.

Château La Fleur Pourret 2010Vaucher Père & Fils Fleurie 2014Tardieu Laurent Vieilles Vignes Vacqueyras 2015

Vaucher Père & Fils 2014 Fleurie, Beaujolais, France ($16.95)
David Lawrason – Sometimes I am enchanted by gushing fruit and floral aromatics of Beaujolais. This Fleurie impressed me differently – with more savoury complexity and a certain core elegance. It is light to midweight, smooth with fine tannin. The length is very good, trailing some minerality. I did a double take when I saw the price – expecting it to be closer $25.

Tardieu Laurent 2015 Vieilles Vignes Vacqueyras, Rhone Valley, France ($39.95)
David Lawrason – Unusually, this Rhone-based negociant, founded only 20 years ago, owns no vineyards, and only buys wine, scouring various appellations for typicity. This old vine Vacqueyras is full bodied, powerful and a bit gruff at the moment (as young Vacqueyras should be) but powerful, structured and lavished with great flavour intensity.  All kinds of pepper, garrigue, smoky and meaty Rhone character here. Give it three years.


Royal Tokaji 2015 Late Harvest Tokaji, Hungary ($19.95)
John Szabo – Smelling this blind I’d have guessed a BA or TBA riesling from Germany, such is the unusually floral character, the jasmine, rose, apple and orange blossom, and quince aromatics, very attractive in any case. The palate is sweet but not cloying, with pure, clean botrytis flavours (honey, saffron, wild mint) and the finish tightens up on strong acids, lingering impressively. For $20 this is a sweet wine classic, and tremendous value. And although excellent now, in a couple of years it will be outstanding for the price of entry. Best 2017-2025.

Royal Tokaji Late Harvest Tokaji 2015Warre's Quinta Da Cavadinha Vintage Port 2004

Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha 2004 Vintage Port, Douro Valley, Portugal ($54.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a very fine, affordable single quinta vintage port for the holiday sipping sideboard. It is Just now starting to show some maturing garnet colour this has a lifted, punchy nose of cedar, pepper, stewed black cherry, vanilla and spice. Nice intensity, vibrancy and raciness with still firm tannin. Drink or hold.

That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

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.

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Sommelier Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


13th Street Cuvée Rosé Brut