Lawrason’s Take On July 23rd Vintages Release – Chardonnays of the World Unite, Refined Italian Whites, Great Gigondas, New VSO Releases, Video Feedback

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Chardonnays Unite at I4C:  I foresee that Niagara’s long awaited International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration this weekend will be seriously, meltingly warm.  Ontario in July – it must have been expected. Glad we are not tasting cabernets!  For those of you who may have been posted to Siberia for the last three months, the heavily promoted “I4C” is an historic event for Ontario’s wine industry, as the wineries of Niagara host chardonnay producers from around the globe – our first international big deal. And there are still tickets for most events on Saturday (go here for an update) then a Vintages-sponsored taste-around at Roy Thomson Hall on



Sunday afternoon ($95).  I will report after the fact on how all this worked out, but if I can join the promo bandwagon for a moment, this is the moment for reluctant wine lovers to put in a little extra effort – especially boomers with long memories of Ontario wine and enough cash in the bank to get reacquainted with Ontario’s best.  And for those who have already signed up, and know that Ontario has turned the corner, never mind all the chatter about serious coolness, world classiness and such. Keep your nose to the glass; this is about the wine, which I fear may get overlooked in the rush to pronounce judgments on the events themselves.  Having already tasted most Ontario offerings I am going to focus on new wines from the many international wineries who have so eagerly decided to join this shindig, travelling from exotic locales as far away as Tasmania, South Africa and B.C.

For those who will not be in Niagara or at the Roy Thomson Hall tasting this weekend Vintages is releasing seven I4C chardonnays from producers that will be in Niagara. Three are very much worth your attention, and as I look at the selection it clearly shows a bit of a personal stylistic preference when it comes to chardonnay. I am looking for cool, complex, understatement, not bombast on the one hand or simplicity on the other. Chardonnay is a most malleable grape with an ability to absorb and coddle flavours from the soil, from yeasts and from barrels like no other. And the best winemakers always find a way to handle all these elements and hold them in mutual respect.  From Burgundy, don’t miss  JEAN FÉRY & FILS LES NOSROYES 2008 PULIGNY MONTRACHET ($52.95).  From Oregon’s chardonnay specialist try out ARGYLE 2008 RESERVE SERIES NUTHOUSE CHARDONNAY ($39.95).  And Niagara’s ever-improving COYOTE’S RUN 2009 BLACK PAW VINEYARD CHARDONNAY, a bargain at $21.95.

Jean Féry & Fils Les Nosroyes Puligny Montrachet 2008  Argyle Reserve Series Nuthouse Chardonnay 2008  Coyote's Run Black Paw Vineyard Chardonnay 2009

Refined Italian Whites
Terredora Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo 2009The diversity of Italy’s indigenous grapes is the main theme of this release – a noble and ambitious exercise to be sure. But it’s hard to bring this notion together at the popular $15 to $25 price points to which Vintages seems ever more enslaved.  I wasn’t thrilled by this assemblage of wines; it felt like a marketing driven composition of odds and ends that needed a push. That said, there are highlights, especially among the whites.

Marco Felluga Mongris Pinot Grigio 2009I keep coming back to this idea that white winemaking has improved so much that it has given a whole new life to Italy’s indigenous white varieties; and it has given consumers a whole new portfolio of  food friendly white wine flavours and options that travel beyond the ubiquitous profiles of chardonnay, sauvignon and riesling. I personally love to drink the new Italian whites, especially on tepid summer days. Trouble is I still have several purchased last summer that I should be drinking now. Anyway, I draw your attention to TERREDORA LOGGIA DELLA SERRA 2009 GRECO DI TUFO, a steal from Campania at $17.95. I also must point out one of the best pinot grigio’s of the year MARCO FELLUGA 2009 MONGRIS PINOT GRIGIO ($22.95) from one of the best producers of Italy’s most famous unknown white wine appellation called Collio. By the way, we almost never hear about the importers who supply the wines to Vintages – because they are never part of Vintages publications (maybe they should be), but both these whites come from the estimable portfolio of Halpern Enterprises, one of Ontario’s largest and best suppliers of estate wines from Europe and the New World.

Great Gigondas 

Dentelles, Gigondas

Dentelles, Gigondas

In May I spent four days in the southern Rhone Valley, in the shadows of the estimable Mount Ventoux (the pinnacle leg of the Tour de France) as well as the saw-toothed Dentelles – a Jurassic outcropping of stones that have become a signature for the wine villages of the southern Rhone.  The village of Gigondas (pop  800) can claim to be the soul of the Dentelles, as its vineyards run deep into the folds and benches just below the dramatic escarpment (see photo).  The combination of limestone soil content and slightly higher altitude of the best sites impart a bit more acidity and finesse to Gigondas than most of the other villages – although I will also look more closely at directly adjacent Sablet and Seguret which also hug this rock formation.  The problem with Gigondas, from a producers point of view, is that it plays second fiddle to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and is under-appreciated. But in a day and age that is beginning to question the usefulness of hot vintages and hot wines, Gigondas is poised for a breakthrough. Until then, the good new is that it is also underpriced.

To my point, there are three fabulous Gigondas waiting to be discovered at Vintages. DELAS FRÈRES 2007 LES REINAGES GIGONDAS ($29.95) is released July 23, from a northern Rhone-based producer that occasionally delivers brilliant wines.  The other two were released through Vintages ShopOnLine selections. Both these are from Domaine Saint Damien, a small family property with access to sixty year old grenache vines that dominate in these single vineyard cuvees.  I slightly prefer the  more sleek, supple DOMAINE SAINT DAMIEN 2009 LES SOUTEYRADES ($31.95) over the more rustic but powerful La Louisiane. But it is splitting hairs. More important is the huge value they represent when you compare them to basic $35 Chateauneuf.

Delas Frères Les Reinages Gigondas 2007 Domaine Saint Damien Les Souteyrades Gigondas 2009

Vintages Shop on Line
Seventeen new wines were plugged into inventory on July 14, and they were presented the same day for media tasting.  VSO wines are purchased in relatively small quantities that can’t be effectively/fairly shoe-horned into the in-store retail system. How they differ from In-store Discoveries that do get released without pre-tasting by media is another discussion.  The new VSO selections are from the Rhone Valley – including good buys other than those from Gigondas already mentioned above;  from California, including some powerful by maturing chardonnays, from Burgundy and from Tuscany, where I highly recommend the great value, maturingCASALVENTO 2006 CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA, a great value at $28.95. Reviews for all are available here.
Casalvento Chianti Classico Riserva 2006

Feedback on So, You Think you Know Wine
David LawarsonI have been getting some very positive and friendly personal feedback on our new series of WineAlign blind tasting videos’ and with the latest episode released this week I am also seeing an upswing in discussion and comment on Twitter. And some of it is starting to indicate debate and a deeper connection and concern over the process than I foresaw. Fair enough.

Regarding episode 4, where the mystery wine was Louis Jadot 2009 Bourgogne Chardonnay, one viewer gently chided me for not going with my first instinct (which happened to be right) and guessing instead that it was pinot gris from New Zealand. He is correct; first instincts are usually right in blind tasting because the nose (once trained) knows, and the fickle mind is too easily fooled by extraneous influences. In this case I was waylaid by what I thought was a high shoulder Bordeaux bottle shape beneath the wrapping.  Chardonnay is usually bottled in low shoulder Burugndy bottles, which this actually was too. My nose is better than my eyesight.

Twitter CommentsAnother viewer tweeted “Thats pretty funny, 4 points each & not one got France! I think she lowers the bar each episode!”  Well in case you didn’t notice from previous episodes, this is a friendly exercise and no one is actually keeping score.  We are debating whether to put a more formal scoring structure in place when we shoot the next batch in September, but personally I don’t really see the point. This is much less a competition between us as it is a forum for wine education and a bit of entertainment for viewers.

Another viewer tweeted “These make me think of poker games and shady business…”.  Well there certainly is that element of gamesmanship, and the dramatic, dark lighting and in-our-faces camera work does that leave the feeling. But just in case anyone thinks that all this is a set up in terms us knowing the wines in advance; you are wrong. The identity of the wines is very carefully secret prior to the taping.

And by the way, our videos are starting to get some wider notice in TV land. A clip was shown on CHCH in Hamilton prior to a Steve Thurlow interview, and on Monday morning I will be on Canada AM demonstrating blind tasting as well – unless of course we get bumped by some far more serious breaking news. Stay tuned.

Cheers and enjoy, David

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

Click here to see ranked lists and reviews of over 100 wines in this release.