Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – April 15th, 2017

Best of the Rest & Prince Edward County Picks
By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

In last week’s preview John Szabo tagged some of the best buys among the Mediterranean and Australian Whites features – so circle back for a look if you didn’t catch them. I am aligned. This week Sara, Michael and I comb through other wines in the release, and we also present our picks from the annual Prince Edward County in the City tasting that took place earlier this month.

VINTAGES Mediterranean thematic was smart, and one of the more engaging collections in quite some time. There is so much value pulsing from southern Europe nowadays, and the riper style of these warmer climate wines is synched to New World-attuned palates. And Australia continues to show its winemaking prowess when it comes to white wines, sourcing from cooler regions like Great Southern in the far southwest corner of the continent, and using techniques to keep those whites vibrant, fresh and varietally pure.

But there are several other wines from New World and Old worth your attention.

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 15th Release:


Sacred Hill 2016 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($21.95)
David Lawrason – There is such similarity and aggressiveness among NZ sauvignons that one can be numbed to actual quality. This has typically intense aromatics of green pepper, grapefruit and fresh herbs with guava/passion fruit notes. But I liked the firm, compact structural presentation.
Sara d’Amato – This night harvested sauvignon blanc is sourced from vineyards located throughout the Lower Wairau to the upper Awatere Valleys in Malborough resulting in a complex and balanced profile. A typically lifted, zesty Marlborough sauvignon blanc with classic structure and a mouthwatering palate. Despite its expressive nature, the wine offers the refinement and the sophistication that will intrigue lovers of Sancerre just as much as fans of this highly successful modern style.

Bernard Chéreau La Griffe 2015 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine, Loire Valley, France ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This wine has been coming through VINTAGES for years, but either the vintage or a new winemaker has elevated the quality. It is very good value and a very pretty, fairly simple, summery white. Spry and almost elegant young Muscadet with a bit more ripeness and weight than expected. A subtle shift for bored pinot grigio fans?

Sacred Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2016La Griffe Bernard Chéreau Muscadet Sèvre & Maine 2015Domaine De Riaux Pouilly Fumé 2015Cockfighter's Ghost Semillon 2014

Domaine de Riaux 2015 Pouilly Fumé, Loire Valley, France ($25.95)
Michael Godel – Quite fruity, peachy and getable for the oft-smoky pouilly fumé, so much more mineral driven, taut and lean than it is usually found to be. This may be too lean for some but the beauty lies in the simplicity and the length, not to mention the complicit loyalty to Sancerre-led Loire.

Cockfighter’s Ghost 2014 Semillon, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia ($23.95)
Sara d’Amato – Although John Szabo covered the Australian white feature quite thoroughly in his last report, I wanted to highlight this well-priced semillon worthy of your attention. Fruit was sourced from the Broke Fordwich sub-appellation of Hunter Valley, the region’s first GI, and is known for its dramatic diurnal shift, red volcanic soils and arid conditions. After three years in bottle, this semillon is just beginning to shed its youthful shroud and evolve into a more textural state with a pleasant oiliness and offering a wealth of flavour from flinty mineral to honey, almond and white flower.

Euro Reds

Château des Landes 2012 Cuvée Prestige, Lussac-Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Bordeaux is awash in over-achieving, under-valued chateaux from fringe appellations. Even in a weaker vintage this shouts quality from 50-year old merlot vines on a property northeast of St. Emilion. Classic right bank, for drinking over the next two years.

Chateau d’Aigueville 2015 Côte du Rhône Villages, Rhône Valley ($14.95)
Michael Godel – From the pebbled plateau between Uchaux and Sérignan this tidy little Villages is filled with the smells of garrigue, graphite and pencil lead. Despite the warmth and the ambition it is just the spiced little ticket for a braised veal shoulder, cèpes and jus. Lots of personality here for very little.

Château Des Landes Cuvée Tradition 2012Chateau D'aigueville Côte Du Rhône Villages 2015

Le Plan des Moines 2013 Les Vendangeuses Gigondas, Rhône, France ($31.95) (481606)
Sara d’Amato – An elegant and authentic expression of Gigondas blended from old bush vine grenache and syrah rooted in limestone on high elevation sites. Long, low temperature fermentation has preserved a wealth of aromatic character resulting in a sensual and arresting southern blend. Supple tannins make the wine immediately accessible.

Lorca 2008 Selección Monastrell, Bullas, Spain ($15.95)
Michael Godel – A rare (and to my world new) sighting for a monastrell from the Bullas DO in the southeast Spanish monastrell belt. This is a serious mouthful of fruit, wood and rocks for $16 and while it may not be every geek’s cup of mourvèdre tea it is welling with personality and as yet fully realized potential.

Le Plan Des Moines Les Vendangeuses Gigondas 2013Lorca Selección Monastrell 2008Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2009

Muga 2009 Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2009, Rioja, Spain ($57.95)
Michael Godel – Such a beautiful Rioja, classically styled, full of curative and dusty red fruit, still fresh but with a hint of dried. The balance is just impeccable. Best Muga, Prado Enea and Rioja tasted in quite some time.
Sara d’Amato – An absolute treat, this Gran Reserva is just beginning to come into its own showing a remarkable array of flavours and a velvety texture. Only made in exceptional vintages, Prado Enea is produced primarily from late ripened tempranillo grapes that have been fermented with wild yeast and spend a minimum of 3 years in oak. I was particularly impressed by the length and impact of the finish. Highly memorable. Drink now or cellar for 3-5 years.

New World Reds

Ravenswood 2014 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel, California ($21.95)
David Lawrason – Long time readers will know I am a heartbroken zinfandel fan. A great California heritage wine is now commonly reduced to soda-pop sweetness and soap opera tackiness. This bottle stands against the trend, delivering honest Lodi zin character – dark fruits and black tea – without sweetness. At a fair price (which California rarely does nowadays).

Sequoia Grove 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($64.95)
David Lawrason – This was one of the great surprises of this release, and at the recent California Wine Fair in Toronto where it was one of the best of show in my books. Sequoia Grove is a mid-pack Napa staple in my books, but somehow elevated in this great vintage. Intensely aromatic, complex and engaging for fans of Bordeaux-esque cabs. Tasted twice.

Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2014Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Woods Crampton Barossa Shiraz 2015

Woods Crampton 2015 Barossa Shiraz, South Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – There is appeal in the retro label but it also speaks to the solid style on the wine. Here’s a full-on Barossa experience offered at a very good price. It is not as thick and long as top wines but it packs a lot of complexity and structure, and very ripe black fruit and Barossa-mossa herbal notes into a $20 bottle.

Prince Edward County Pours in the City

Earlier this month 17 Prince Edward County wineries made the annual sojourn to Toronto to present County in the City at the Berkeley Church on Queen Street East. This day it was under drenching circumstances, but this is a dreary venue even on sunny days. I get the County rusticity, but I wish they could find a more uplifting spot (and better glassware) in which to showcase PECs light and bright winemaking style.

Inside, it was obvious that The County had suffered setbacks in homegrown quantity after that oh-so cruel, so late May 23 frost in 2015. Many wines presented were from Niagara fruit, or blended with Niagara fruit. I completely understand the financial imperative of actually having wine to sell, but the primary interest and focus of PEC fans is PEC sourced wines, even when they may be from less popular, more hardy hybrids.

So good for Mike Traynor who is doing some interesting work with hybrids like marquette and baco noir, and making his Pet-Nat Orange wine, and his intriguing Madonna Vermouth. Are they great wines yet – no. Are they intriguing, yes – especially that vermouth. Marquette, by the way, is one of the fastest-growing varietals in eastern Canada. But it and other new varieties recently developed at the University of Minnesota, are not on VQAs authorized varieties list, meaning the wines could not be sold at the LCBO. The VQA list created in 1989 needs updating.

Meanwhile, among more traditional, vinifera-based County wines, I think we have highlighted the best individual efforts below. Some of the 2015s that were eked out are quite good, as are 2016 whites. But the County is such a difficult task-master that success must be measured one bottling, vintage or varietal at a time. Certainly more experienced wineries like Norman Hardie, Rosehall Run, Closson Chase, Huff and more recently Keint-he, have an established track record. But not every offering is a shoe-in. Patchy quality is the County’s real cross to bear. It is the reason consumers need to pay extra attention and make the effort to taste for themselves at County in the City, or by wheeling down the 401 for a closer look.

PEC Whites

Huff Estates 2016 Off Dry Riesling, Ontario ($20.00)
David Lawrason – From Niagara and PEC fruit, this perfectly balanced, garden variety riesling has a lovely, lifted nose of peach, lemon and florals. It’s light to medium bodied, tart and mouth-watering with just a hint of sweetness.
Michael Godel – This Huff Estates is a great County riesling of magic to make you talk dry but feel ripe, sweet, savoury and umami all in one fell tasting swoop. Will age into secondary wonder as well. Really reminds me of riesling from Nierstein in the Rheinhessen.
Sara d’Amato – This off-dry riesling is a winner at $20. A blend of Niagara and Prince Edward County fruit resulting in bold flavour and racy freshness. Long and elegant but not lean and offering near perfect balance concluding on a finish that feels crisp and dry.

Keint He Greer Road Chardonnay 2014, VQA Prince Edward County ($35.00)

Sara d’Amato – Greer Road is a major viticultural thoroughfare in Prince Edward County along which are located top estates and coveted vineyard sites. The gracefully maturing nature of this chardonnay is testament to its character and structure. A touch leesy with very elegant, quality oak spice and impressive depth of flavour. Particularly appreciated is the authenticity and sense of place that this appealing incarnation of Greer Road chardonnay expresses.
Michael Godel – The premium player in Keint-He’s chardonnay stable comes off of the estate vineyard on the Greer Road, a prized and sought after strip of County defining fruit. A revelation for the County is spoken through one of its great chardonnay speeches. Possessive of a richness shown by few other PEC Chardonnay, there counteracts and stabilizes a cool climate snap, crackle and green apple pop.

Huff Estates Winery Off Dry Riesling 2016Keint He Greer Road Chardonnay 2014Rosehall Run Hungry Point Unoaked Chardonnay 2016Closson Chase K J Watson Vineyard Pinot Gris 2016

Rosehall Run 2016 Hungry Point Chardonnay (Unoaked), Prince Edward County, ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This light unoaked chardonnay is nicely bright with green apple, lemon and stony notes. It’s nicely balanced and very easy drinking, much like Petit Chablis.

Closson Chase 2016 K J Watson Vineyard Pinot Gris, VQA Four Mile Creek ($21.95)
Michael Godel – The vintage directs winemaker Keith Tyers to fashion pinot gris in the driest and high acidity kind of style with very fleshy orchard fruit, more pear than apple and the weight of some tang by clay and alcohol co-habitating on the palate. A solid pinot gris of weight and balance for just about any gastronomy, company and spirit.
Sara d’Amato – A dead ringer for high quality Alsatian pinot gris, this Niagara version by accomplished winemaker and PEC ambassador Keith Tyers offers immediate appeal and a lush, aromatic character. A fine balance between substance and tension has been achieved and the progressive layering of flavours is seemingly interminable. Excellent value.

PEC Reds

Stanners 2014 Pinot Noir, VQA Prince Edward County ($30.00)
Michael Godel – In 2014 Stanners takes 85 per cent Estate grown plus 15 per cent from Huyck’s Point Road to make one of Prince Edward County’s most important pinot noir to date. It’s a bit warmer but at 12.5 per cent alcohol still well within the threshold of local magic and clearly spoken vernacular. Some dusty, soaked cherry and cherry pit angst enters at the end in an old world, Bourgogne rouge way. More than a solid wine from Colin Stanners, in fact it’s exactly what PEC pinot noir is and from this new launch point can only get better.

Closson Chase 2015 Churchside Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County ($39.95)
David Lawrason – From somewhat younger vines atop a south tilting slope this pretty pinot shows fetching strawberry/sour cherry fruit, fine herbs, seedy nuttiness, and fine oak. It’s light bodied, sour edged, with fine tannin – so typical of the County.

Stanners 2014 Pinot NoirClosson Chase Churchside Pinot Noir 2015Karlo Estates Pinot Noir 2015

Karlo Estates 2015 Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County, Ontario ($35.00)
$35.00 Sara d’Amato – This is the first vintage for Karlo Estates by veteran winemaker Derek Barnett formerly of Southbrook and Lailey Vineyards in Niagara. The low yielding vintage of 2015 was a challenging one to be sure but produced some superb results. Surely in short supply, this wild ferment pinot noir puts fruit first and is enhanced by very delicate oak ageing. Representative of the nervy and dynamic Prince Edward County style of pinot that is highly drinkable and deceptively complex.

Norman Hardie 2015 Cabernet Franc, Prince Edward County ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Only 150 cases were salvaged from the 2015 frost mayhem.  It has a fine nose of raspberry, spice, toast and vague woodsy character. It is light to medium bodied franc – fairly tart and nervy on the palate with some sourness and tannin as well. Give it a year or two.

Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc 2015Lacey Estates Pinot Noir 2015

Lacey Estate 2015 Pinot Noir, Prince Edward County ($25.00)
David Lawrason – Once again, the late frost reduced quantity significantly. This is a light quite delicate pinot. It’s sweetish and savoury, with no trace of the acetone often lurking in County pinots. Ready to enjoy and affordable. Tasted April 2017

And that is wrap for mid-April. Bring on the blooms and hold that frost! It’s also a busy time for wine events. Check out our home page for all of the WineAlign presentations coming in the next weeks!

David Lawrason
VP of WineUse 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.

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

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


Squealing Pig Pinot Noir 2014