Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – March 4th, 2017

Wine in the Sky, Edgy Finds and New World Gems
by Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason & Michael Godel

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

The beginning of 2017 has not only be a busy one for wine in Canada, as was mentioned by John Szabo and David Lawrason, in their most recent articles, but for our WineAlign team as well. The announcement of the launch of our revolutionary WineAlign Exchange, the continuation of our 6th season of “So, You Think You Know Wine?” as well as our upcoming, exclusive Heartland Wines dinner has us busy as ever. A flurry of travel among critics has had us separated by distance with Michael Godel recently home from Tuscany, John Szabo from the Vancouver Wine Festival, David Lawrason from Uruguay and me from New Zealand. Thus a flurry of wine news is coming your way very soon. With travel and the discovery of new wines our collective central focus of late, I thought it would be fitting to share some insight into the status of wine featured on our journeys as opposed to our destinations.

Wine in the Sky

Long flights are tedious and uncomfortable but it is hard to complain for long if your destination brings you to a new and exciting land. It was therefore an absolute delight to fly Air New Zealand for the first time this past month. Seated in Premium Economy does have its perks, extra leg room is essential on 14-hour flight, but it wasn’t Business or First Class where the selection of wines is traditionally more varied and intriguing.

The small selection of wines on offer was thoughtfully chosen and entirely local. Flight attendants of the airline are trained to offer recommendations and insight as well as proper service techniques. The assistance of an on-board sommelier is available on  long haul flights in higher class seating where the breadth of wine selection is impressive.  The wines featured are chosen by the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. The results of these national awards organized by New Zealand Winegrowers and long sponsored by the airline are based on close to 1,500 wine entries. Local experts, MWs and MSs and international judges are responsible for the winners, many of which are featured on the airline. Our own Bill Zacharkiw of Montreal and principal critic for Chacun son Vin was one of those international judges in 2012.

Wine in the Sky - Marlborough

I was intrigued by a comment made by New Zealand Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas on one of the many wine videos available in-flight, who mentioned that the selection process for the on-board wine involved taking into account altitude variance and humidity levels when flying. Both the air pressure and humidity seem to have a distinct effect on our taste perception. If you have ever wondered why tomato juice tends to taste so good at 30,000 feet, you’re not alone. The change of air pressure in a cabin seems to decrease our perception of saltiness and sweetness making those foods and drink with an excess of these characteristics taste better in comparison.

It is not just air pressure but also lack of moisture in the air that affects our sense of smell and taste. Most airplanes keep cabins at less than 10% humidity which is why dehydration is a common problem for folks travelling great distances. In an article for the BBC, Katia Moskvitch mentions that although our perception of “salty and sweet are lessened, sour, bitter and spicy flavours are almost unaffected.” This information is based on a 2010 study commissioned by Lufthansa that simulated the reduction of air pressure, noise variance and low humidity experienced in flight. Another result of the experiment found that the absence of nasal mucus in dry conditions affected our ability to smell. The effect is similar to losing your sense of smell when congested. This lack of taste perception must be compensated for by those that design airline menus but also when selecting wine served on-board.

Further to the aforementioned environmental conditions experienced at tens of thousands of feet in the air, noise and vibration also play a factor. At Pinot 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand, sonic artist and wine writer Jo Burzynska delivered a lecture on “Pinosthesia” which involved appreciating pinot in a multisensory environment. The experience involved tasting the same wine multiple times while listening to many different types of music. The Baroque music of Vivaldi dialed up the acidity in the pinot noir while the hard rook by Tool resulted in a loss of complexity in the wine. The heavy bass of the Dubstep music, which is similar to that of the low, loud noises of the airplane engines, enhanced the body of the wine and our perception of umami. This may also explain our collective love of tomato juice when flying.

Veronique Rivest, proprietor of Gatineau wine bar “Soif”

A piece of good news worth sharing is that we will soon have such thoughtfully chosen wines to look forward to closer to home on Air Canada flights, at least in Business Class. Air Canada announced recently that sommelier Veronique Rivest, proprietor of Gatineau wine bar “Soif”, will lead the charge of selecting wines for the airline. Globally respected, Rivest has been a generous mentor to many wine professionals across the country and has twice represented Canada at the World’s Best Sommelier Competition three times, having placed 2nd in the world in Tokyo in 2013. Thus there is reason to be optimistic about this new wine program which will feature a carefully considered selection of local and international wines with an appreciation for on-board environmental conditions.

Living on the Edge 

From jet setting to living on the edge, we offer this week several recommendations in this rather intriguing and provocative VINTAGES thematic. It is evident that the wines were thoughtfully chosen offering many polarizing, offbeat and innovative choices which is both a-typical and welcome.

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES for Match 4th:

Dosnon Recolte Noire Brut Champagne, Champagne, France ($49.95)
Sara d’Amato – Pleased to see this small, artisanal Champagne producer from the southern Côte des Bar region featured in the mix. This edgy, well-priced sparkler made entirely from pinot noir is quite polarizing.  It offers great depth of flavour but with a level of volatility (acetic acid) that teeters on the threshold of acceptability for most. Regardless, it is a compelling find, expressive and with minimal intervention on the winemaking front.

Dosnon Recolte Noire Brut Champagne Pietro Marini Torrontés 2015 Bel Echo Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Pietro Marini 2015 Torrontés, Salta, Argentina ($13.95)
Sara d’Amato – The most interesting torrontés is not overwrought with candied fruit and perfumed aromatics but rather shows some restraint and greater depth of flavour than we more commonly experience. Sourced from the Cafayate region of northern Argentina at elevations of over 6,000 feet, this torrontés exemplifies the freshness, purity of fruit and delicate minerality that is most charming about this varietal.

Bel Echo 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – Bel Echo is Clos Henri’s less conventional wine grown on clay soils and offers a unique expression of sauvignon blanc that seems to echo Loire style examples of this grape variety. Restrained and mineral focused as opposed to offering the more lifted, tropical fruit commonly associated with Marlborough.

Château Musar 2009, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon ($61.95)
Sara d’Amato – The Bordelaise inspired cult wines of Lebanese Château Musar have long been on the radar of collectors and critics due to their exceptional agebility and natural style. Both the white and the red versions age tremendously well and are best kept cellared for 6-10 years before optimum expression. This 2009 is tasting at its peak, gracefully matured with a complex and exotic character.

Michael Godel – The vintage takes some responsibility but one has to wonder how much Musar’s ’09 bares such coincidental personality to a Quintarelli Valpolicella in its raw, impossibly curative and unchained way. Dried fruit in the exotically accented realm of fig, date and prune are collectively suspended in an animated state of grace. It’s either magic or else a great conspiracy but does it really matter?

Chateau Musar 2009 Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2014

Keint He Voyageur Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario($19.00)
Michael Godel – From the increasingly forthright and developing 2014 vintage for Niagara pinot noir, Keint He’s traveller picks up where 2013 left off. Always lithe and pure, the sweetness of fruit and extract in this Keint-He just begs for more stems and astringent balance. What great phenols are here on display, what terrific balance and energy, though not enough crisis. Still great value to be sure.

Maison Chanzy 2014 Santenay Rouge, Burgundy, France ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – The idiosyncratic nature of this red Santenay is intriguing and deserving of attention whether it floats your boat or not. Chanzy designs wines that are best drunk in a more youthful state and thus this 2014 is drinking very well at present. The Château is currently under the direction of celebrated winemaker Jean-Baptiste Jessiaume who is known for very light use of oak and minimal intervention. His wines are delicate but individualistic and engaging.

Maison Chanzy Santenay Rouge 2014 Mayu 2014 Reserva Carmenère/Syrah

Mayu 2014 Reserva Carmenère/Syrah, Elquí Valley, Chile ($15.95)
Michael Godel –  The modernity of the Elqui Valley for carmenère is on full display, ultra-ripe, juicy, berry oozing and full of life. The alcohol should knock you over but it doesn’t because of such expressive phenols and syrupy melts. Tobacco notes are so very faint, as are peppery grinds and wooden splinters. This amalgamates its brooding, heavy and potentially over-bearing parts with remarkable ease and efficiency. Will offer great consumer appeal.
David Lawrason – Mayu is a line of wines made at Falernia in the far northern Elqui Valley, a region making some spectacular wines. The aromatics are phenomenal, so lifted, complex and intriguing, bring together unique elements from the carmenere and syrah.  Then there is that creamy texture. Huge value!

New World Gems

Finally, our top picks from the New World which dominated our collective travel focus as of late.

Rockway Glen 2104 Fergie Jenkins Limited Edition Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Since well travelled winemaker David Stasiuk took over in 2010 the previously sub-par wines at Ontario’s only winery/golf course have steadily improved. This bright and shiny, off-dry Niagara riesling shows classic, racy grapefruit, minerality and a touch of petrol. Great value here.

Rodney Strong 2014 Chalk Hill Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, USA ($26.95)
Sara d’Amato – The 2014 Chalk Hill exemplifies the changing style of premium California chardonnays towards leaner, more elegant wines with better integration of oak and a great percentage of older barrel use. This example is eloquent but evocative of Sonoma’s coastal terroir.

Fergie Jenkins Limited Edition Riesling 2014 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2014Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Red Label Zinfandel 2014

Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Red Label Zinfandel 2014, California ($19.95)
Michael Godel – This is quite the correct, copacetic and maybe even considered “old-school” zinfandel for the California oeuvre. Acidity and red fruit meets red soil in all facets of personality. I wouldn’t count on or demand extraordinary complexity or bulky structure from this Coppola but you can drink it before supper and then pair it alongside a mess of smoked back ribs. Zinfandel from the director for the people.

Diamandes 2014 Perlita Malbec/Syrah, Uco Valley, Argentina ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Diamandes is one of the French-owned properties in the Clos de los Siete compound in the southern Uco Valley. Diamandes, owned by the Bonnie family of Château Malartic-Lagravière, is making some fine affordable and delicious wines that combine ripeness and elegance.

Diamandes Perlita Malbec Syrah 2014 Undurraga Sibaris Carmenere Reserva 2014Flametree Embers Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Salentein Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Undurraga 2014 Sibaris Carmenère, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($16.95)
David Lawrason – Carmenere, with its green streak, is such a polarizing wine. Those who don’t like it miss all kinds of complexity, depth and energy, at very low cost. This is a classic, that comes together very well. Think rack of lamb or other savoury red meat accompaniments.

Flametree 2012 Embers Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Western Australia ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This not dramatic or particularly deep, but this is a stylish, bright cabernet with a certain sense of composure and mid-palate finesse that should make it enjoyable over a bottle or two. Expect typical Margaret River cassis, mint/eucalyptus, fine oak and spice on the nose.

Salentein 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)
Michael Godel –  Quite ripe and amenable with a touch of savour and a hit of sweetness brings easy going varietal success to the Salentein Reserve. Classic dark cherry and Cassis take on altitude and day-night temperature fluctuations to lock in freshness and plenty of flavour. It’s like the cabernet sauvignon version of a reverse seared medium-rare steak, juicy and so very appealing.

CAPS Presents the Best Ontario Sommelier Competition 

Do you have your tickets for this year’s most talked about wine event? Open to both wine enthusiasts and trade, Ontario’s Sommelier champion will be celebrated on March 5th at George Brown College. If you loved the movie “Somm”, come out to see a live performance when our top three finalists battle it out for a prestigious title. Both John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato will be among the judges of the competition. For information and to purchase tickets: An Epic Wine Challenge – Best Ontario Sommelier Competition


Sara d’Amato

Use these quick links for immediate access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release.

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s Smart Buys
All March 4th Reviews

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay