Lawrason’s Take on Vintages October 29th Release: Sonoma’s Patchwork, Spain’s No Bull Toro and Torres, Coudelet de Beaucastel, Bargains Under $20, Ottawa Calling

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Vintages’ treasure laden autumn releases continue on Oct 29th with California’s Sonoma County in the spotlight.  Due to family and travel commitments I was not able to taste all the wines on Vintages tasting dates, but colleagues John Szabo and Sara d’Amato have filled in admirably, and I hope to taste more of the selections after they hit the shelves. Yes I do buy wines to taste as well.

Sonoma’s Patchwork

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Freestone Chardonnay 2008

At first I found the selection of Sonoma wines oddly tilted to big cabs and zins, whereas I have come to think of Sonoma as more of a pinot noir and chardonnay enclave. But this view misses the key point about Sonoma, and its point of comparison to next door Napa. (Sonoma is always compared to Napa – no getting around it).  Sonoma is diverse above all – with at least six distinct sub-regions. Those farther inland – Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and to some extent Sonoma Valley – are bastions for big reds, while those closer to the Pacific Ocean – Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley and Carneros – are better for pinot noir and chardonnay. Within a small selection Vintages magazine has made this point well.

The other important point of comparison with Napa is price. The selection is not cheap, but If any of these big reds had a Napa label the price would be at least double. I draw your attention in particular to KENWOOD JACK LONDON VINEYARD 2007 CABERNET SAUVIGNON at $34.95, a sturdy yet fine cabernet that could age a decade or more, grown on Sonoma Mountain where iconic American novelist Jack London penned his greatest works.  FREESTONE 2008 CHARDONNAY is certainly among Sonoma’s most expensive wines at $69.95, but this offering from the new coastal vineyards of Napa-based Joseph Phelps is one of the best chardonnays I have tasted this year. And in Napa it would be over $100 for this quality.

Spain’s Toro and Torres, No Bull Here

Having spent last week in Spain’s northwest Castilla Y Leon region, I can provide better background on the Toro wine featured on the 29th.  Toro is one of several increasingly important appellations (or DOs, denominacion d;origen) in this massive Castilla region. It is led by well established Ribera del Duero whose top properties like Pesquera, Emilio Moro and Aalto are achieving big prices with lush, often elegant, modern reds. But my trip focused on  Rueda, Toro, Cigales and Bierzo – appellations that are bursting from obscurity onto the international stage. A decade ago each of these appellations had only a dozen or so bodegas and co-operatives, but now each have over 50. Most are sourcing their wines from old bush vines planted 50 to 100 years ago to supply local co-op and family production, a motherlode that has attracted a new generation of internationally trained or travelled Spanish and French winemakers. The result is generally a very high level of wine quality, at relatively low prices.  I was continually shocked at the value I encountered.

Sabor Real Viñas Centenarias Tempranillo 2007 Miguel Torres Mas Borràs Pinot Noir 2008 Westward down the Duoro River, only 100 kms from the Portuguese border and port country – lies Toro.  The ancient capital is dramatically perched on a red clay cliff that overlooks the river and vineyards. This is a hot region producing big reds that routinely break the 15% alcohol mark. And they can be very tannic as the skins of the Tinto do Toro grape (a clone of tempranillo) thicken up to shield the heat. Toro has historically been known as the most “rustic” red of Spain, which is a bit unfair given the fine work now being done by the new generation. I love the beautifully ripe blackberry, floral scents of many Toro wines, and many were packed with so much old vine concentration that the alcohol was held in abeyance. SABOR REAL VIÑAS CENTENNARIAS 2007 TEMPRANILLO, is very good example at a very good price ($15.00), but I look forward to the day when more Toro wines from producers like Numanthia, San Roman, Farina, Bendito and Rejadorada come through Vintages.

Over on the east coast of Spain, high in the Penedes hills overlooking the Mediterranean, Miguel Torres (one of Spain’s most well known modern producers) is making Spain’s best pinot noir. High altitude vineyards are very important and a point of pride in Spain where grapes mature more slowly and evenly, spared some of the sun and heat so common here.  MIGUEL TORRES 2008 MAS BORRAS PINOT NOIR ($29.95) is a single vineyard pinot showing excellent complexity and poise, and although not every vintage is this good, the 2008 (from a cooler season) belongs among the best pinots now being made internationally.

Cuddly Coudelet de Beaucastel

A glass of 2010 Coudelet Blanc was first thrust in my hand at a reception prior to a winemaker’s dinner hosted by Thomas Perrin of Chateau de Beaucastel.  ‘Wow, great start, what is it?” I asked the young woman in the black cocktail dress who was passing the tray. And she pronounced Coudelet without missing a beat. The dinner was held at the new Earl’s restaurant at University and King in downtown Toronto; a massive, boisterous, casual but classy Bay St eatery that must have its high rent neighbours wondering why they ever built their temple cellars. One doesn’t expect a top notch wine program from a chain, but the very successful Vancouver-born Earl’s pays extraordinary attention to wine, offering good quality selections that are well priced with many served by the glass.  A place to drink wine, not worship it.

Château Beaucastel Coudoulet De Beaucastel 2009 Château De Beaucastel Coudoulet De Beaucastel Blanc 2010 Earl’s is a great fit for the wines of the southern Rhone Valley’s Perrin family, owners of the legendary Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. There is a polished, comfy, even cuddly ambiance to the large Perrin range that includes most of the villages in the southern Rhone. Many are currently in Vintages (and easily searchable on WineAlign) with Coudelet Blanc and Rouge being released October 29th.  Coudelet is a vineyard adjacent to the famed Chateau de Beaucastel, but lying just on the other side of the freeway and outside the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation boundary in the Cotes du Rhone AOC.  For about one-third the price of Beaucastel, CHÂTEAU BEAUCASTEL 2009 COUDOULET DE BEAUCASTEL ($29.95) delivers far more than one-third the quality, having only slightly less depth.  CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL 2010 COUDOULET DE BEAUCASTEL BLANC($33.95) is a bit more expensive than the red because production is far smaller. But as mentioned before is a very good wine – bright, complex, refreshing yet sturdy. Serve it is a classy opener for a holiday gathering.

Bargains Under $20

And now some quick hits on three wines that score in the 89+ range for under $20. The kind of wine you just want to rush home and open on a Friday night after a long week.

Tawse Winery of Niagara continues to go from strength to strength, taking Winery of the Year honours at the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards for the second consecutive year. The bright, impeccably balanced TAWSE SKETCHES OF NIAGARA 2010 RIESLING  ($17.95) is a great example of the level of surehandedness at this modern, organic/biodynamically farmed Beamsville property.

I was also very impressed by MAS DES BRESSADES 2009 CUVÉE TRADITION BLANCfrom the Costières de Nîmes appellation in the southern Rhone Valley.  The rather non-descript label offers no hint of the exotic, spicy, semi-tropical white inside. I was immediately thinking of Asian cuisine. The price is a mere $14.95!

And I was charmed by SALCHETO 2008 ROSSO DI MONTEPULCIANO at only $17.95. Modern winemaking is filtering down to Tuscany’s lower price tiers, and this Rosso offers a lot of the complexity if not the structure or depth of big brother Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Tawse Sketches Of Niagara Riesling 2010   Mas Des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Blanc 2010    Salcheto Rosso Di Montepulciano 2008

Ottawa Calling

I am off to Ottawa to spend a few wine soaked days in Canada’s capital. From November 9th to 13th it will be Ontario’s wine capital, as the rejuvenated and expanded Ottawa Wine and Food Festival launches in the spectacular new Ottawa Convention Centre on the banks of the Rideau Canal.  New owner Joan Culliton is out to create the Ontario version of the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival (an ambition unfulfilled in Toronto) with over 40 events spread across five days.

I will be at the WineAlign booth for the duration, so please drop by. I will also be leading three Ontario wine tasting/seminars – Chardonnay on Friday Nov 11th, Pinot Noir on Saturday and Cabernet Franc on Sunday.  And on the evening on Thursday Nov 10th I will join Anthony Gismondi of Wine Access to present the winners of the Canadian Wine Awards, followed by a unique Meet Your Winemaker Match program that will give individuals one on one face time with gold medal winning winemakers.  Go to for schedules and ticket sales.

Then on November 14th I will be on hand for the Ottawa Gold Medal Plates chef completion, one of nine city qualifying rounds for the Canadian Culinary Championships – all raising funds for Canada’s Olympic athletes. See all the details at

Meanwhile, view all my reviews for the October 29th release here, and I’ll be back again for Vintages November 12th release.

Cheers and enjoy, David

– David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign