John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for July 9th 2011: 90+ Point Wines; Sparkling Wines and the upcoming International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, or ‘i4c’

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The July 9th release brings about the annual 90+ point wine release, with a range of good if not extraordinary wines. As a WineAlign subscriber, you’re probably wondering exactly who did the scoring for these wines, since by now you know the importance of knowing the critic. This week’s Vintages catalogue in fact reads like a WineAlign manifesto: “The key to making those scores meaningful for you, the wine lover, is to learn which expert palates align most closely with your own and look to those as starting points for your discovery”. I couldn’t have said it any better.

For the LCBO, however, the “world’s top critics” turn out to be all American in this case, and principally from two sources, The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. Both of these publications have a largely similar scope and style preference, so it’s not exactly a representative international panel of experts with varied views (with a couple of exceptions). I’m saddened to report that there is not a single Canadian voice quoted in the catalogue despite the considerable talent in this country; makes one wonder with whom Ontarians are supposed to be aligning. I presume this is because there were no published scores from Canadian critics for these wines at the time of purchase or publication, a gap that WineAlign plans to address in the near future with even greater coverage of the world of wine. Stay tuned.

In any case, I found it enlightening to measure my interpretations against these well-known American critics. All the wines of course were tasted and scored before seeing the catalogue, and it was instructive for my own aligning to compare notes afterwards. It’s pretty clear that I’m misaligned with many, which is not surprising, given my different background and the unique context of this tasting (in a laboratory rather than with the producer in many cases). I’m rather more looking forward to comparing notes with David Lawrason when his report comes out next week.

Dominique Piron Les Pierres Morgon 2009On one wine, however, I am certainly aligned with the published critic (David Schildknecht, for whom I have much respect), the 2009 DOMINIQUE PIRON LES PIERRES MORGON CÔTE DU PY AC $22.95. This is a gorgeous wine, fresh, juicy and ripe, like a bowl of fresh red berries with a lovely floral lift, in other words serious Beaujolais. The Côte du Py is a small subzone (a climat, in Burgundian terms) of the Morgon appellation, known to produce some of the more sturdy and age worthy Beaujolais from its crumbly schist-granite soils. Though drinking beautifully now, I recommend keeping a few bottles in the cellar for a half-dozen years or so and then pour them blind to your friends. They’ll think that they’re drinking very fine Burgundian pinot noir at three times the price. Top Beaujolais has a tendency to “pinoter”, that is, to develop pinot noir-like character with age.

Domaine Des Malandes Vieilles Vignes Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2008Another accurate alignment occurred with the 2008 DOMAINE DES MALANDES VIEILLES VIGNES MONTMAINS CHABLIS 1ER CRU AC $29.95. This is a wine of classic proportions for fans of archetypical Chablis. Don’t go searching for mango and pineapple here, this is pure mineral, very restrained, beautifully poised and taught, with riveting acidity yet deceptively dense and fleshy fruit/mineral flavours to balance. It’s a classic example of minimal intervention in the winery, where the region speaks more loudly than the grape or the winemaker, which is after all the stated aim of Domain des Malandes’ winemaker Jean-Bernard Marchive.

And while we’re dealing with French archetypes, I’d like to make mention of a deliciously sub-90 point wine, a wine that was never intended to impress the “world renown critics” (though I was later alarmed to learn that it did earn a 90 point score in the Wine Spectator). It’s the 2009 JEAN-MAURICE RAFFAULT LES GALUCHES CHINON AC $16.95 . This is uncommonly ripe and fleshy cabernet franc from the Loire that clearly benefited from the generous warmth of the 2009 vintage, while still walking the fine line of freshness and vibrancy. The flavours are all red berry-raspberry-strawberry, while acids remain sharp and tannins light but firm. In essence, it’s a classic picnic wine, to be served with a slight chill, and un-sullied by big scores (or prices).

Jean Maurice Raffault Les Galuches Chinon 2009

Saltram Mamre Brook Shiraz 2008At the other end of the spectrum, for those seeking a more bold and robust experience, my pick of the big boys this week goes hands down to the 2008 SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK SHIRAZ Barossa Valley, South Australia $24.95. Though Saltram is in the so-called ‘New World”, this is a winery with history. Founder William Salter arrived in South Australia from Exeter, England aboard the Caroline in December 1839 and in 1844 he was one of the first people to purchase land in the newly opened land survey known as the Barossa Valley. Mamre Brook is named after the biblical home of Abraham, and fruit is sourced principally from the northeastern section of the Barossa Valley.

The 2008 is a lovely, savoury, well-proportioned example of Barossa shiraz that, despite it’s 15% alcohol, actually seems balanced and well assembled. There’s a fine mix of ripe fruit and spice, integrated but not excessive wood, and impressive density and concentration of fruit flavours that can only come from low yields in a balanced, mature vineyard. It’s a model to follow for the region, including the price. I’ve had the privilege of tasting some fine older vintages of this wine, and the age potential is impressive indeed.

The mini-feature of the July 9th release is sparkling wines; subscribers can view my top three picks here, including an impressive grand cru champagne at an attractive price, and a pair of beautiful rosé sparklers from South Africa and Burgundy, both under $20. And check out the full top ten smart buys here.

International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

I know we’ve already made mention of this event, but here’s a reminder to get your tickets to one of Canada’s first big international coming out parties, to be held across Niagara from Friday July 22nd through Sunday July 24th. The ‘i4c’ will feature 9 events at wineries throughout the region, and 100 wines from 56 international winemakers from Italy, France, Austria, Germany, Canada, the US, South Africa, Chile, New Zealand and Australia.

Tickets start at $35; guests select the events they want to attend. A highlight will certainly be the keynote addresses by the insightful and entertaining Matt Kramer, acclaimed Wine Spectator columnist on Friday and Saturday night.  Kramer will also lead a panel at “The Many Faces of Chardonnay” lunch at 13th Street Winery on Saturday. Details and tickets at and at the host wineries. David Lawrason and I will be there all weekend, so stop by and say hello.

Happy Canada Day!

From the July 9th Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Sparklers
All Reviews


John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier