July 1 , 2010




All recommendations are linked to the LCBO database enabling you to do an instant store search for current inventory.

Michael Vaughan’s July 1st Update
Happy Canada Day
Canada's Liquid Gold

It's Canada Day and I am trying to figure out what to drink. Obviously, it would be unpatriotic to drink something foreign, even if it was Cellared in Canada. Ironically, this is the most profitable segment of the Canadian wine business. Only a handful of wineries are entitled to bring off-shore bulk wine and sell it. This gives these larger wineries a huge advantage when it comes to “making ends meet” since CIC wines are considered to be a very profitable segment of the wine business.

It certainly drives some wine writers nuts. For example, my friend Michael Pinkus (publisher of Ontario Wine Review) is undoubtedly Canada’s leading crusader against CIC wines. This especially true when they are masquerading as “genuine” Canadian wine, which is made exclusively from Canadian grapes and usually appears with a VQA designation. While I agree with his stance against such misrepresentation, I seriously doubt that most consumers are aware, or even care about this issue. And as much as I hate to admit it, there have been cheaper CIC wines, which have occasionally outperformed their higher-priced VQA cousins.

For many years, Inniskillin, the stalwart of Ontario wines, has been selling such international wines at surprisingly elevated prices. Better or worse, isn’t so much the issue. What is at stake is the discriminatory nature of Canadian legislation, which permits a foreign- owned “Canadian” winery to buy, import, bottle and sell in their own stores finished foreign wine that costs 50-cents-a-bottle. Meanwhile the vast majority of Canadian-owned wineries are prevented from doing the same thing. In fact, even if you decided to buy that same 50-cent-a-bottle wine, the LCBO’s ultra-protective, minimum floor price system hrevents it from coming in at a low price

Normal taxes and mark-ups would mean that the CIC wine could sell for say $4 a bottle. The LCBO’s minimum floor price, however, drives the price much higher. This basically eliminates competition and greatly increases potential CIC wine profits. The floor price has been around so long that nobody bothers to talk about it anymore. As Fats Domino would say, ain’t that a shame. It discrimates against importers and majority of Canadian wine producers.

Meanwhile, starting this month the CIC designation has been replaced by something called International Canadian Blends. Unfortunately, this does not address the minimun floor price trade restraint. Indeed, some stand-alone Ontario wine stores are now advertising that they are now selling imported wines. Of course, not all eligible CIC-ICB wine producers are taking advantage of this window to import low-cost off-shore wine to make their 70-30 blends. Chateau des Charmes, for instance, uses only Ontario grapes in all their wines.

At Last - Something to Drink

All this CIC-ICB talk made me reach for a good Canadian whisky. One of my favourites is the10 year old Centennial Limited Edition Canadian Rye Whisky at $24.80 available in most LCBO stores (cspc 387209), which gets a rating of 90/100.  Here’s an abbreviated review by Chip Dykstra (aka Arctic Wolf):

Centennial 10 year old rye is a blend of disstilled and aged Canadian Rye whiskey.  All of the whisky in the blend is aged for a minimum of 10 years.  Founded in 1974, Highwood Distillers, which are in my home province of Alberta, uses soft winter wheat and rye grains instead of corn…  when making their rye whisky.  The wheat provides a smoother more subtle spirit and the rye more flavour, which is evident in the tasting of this Canadian Rye.

In the Bottle 4/5
The Centennial comes in an elegant tall slender bottle…  To crown the
presentation the sleek bottle is capped by a straight sided high density cork. The only drawback is that
the bottle is too tall for my liquor cabinet. A very minor quibble.

In the Glass 9/10
The rye is pale brown with amber tones, with honeyed caramel aromas which rises
from the glass. The liquid displays very little oil in the glass and the rye notes are somewhat mellowed when
compared to a normal Canadian Rye. Highwood’s master blender use of wheat and rye combination in
the distilled mash which provides a more mellow and polished nose than a straight rye would have.

In the Mouth 54/60
A clean crisp rye, which oozes honey and spice. This is polished and subdued. The spices are light and enjoyable
and I find the balance to be superb. A purist ofCanadian rye some may complain that the rye sits too far backward
in the taste profile, but I disagree. Theentire presentation issmoothness and mellowness.
 No awkward heavy notes spoil the parade and the
Character remains true irregardless of previous taste experiences on my palate indicating a
very robust flavour profile even though it is mellow.

In the Throat 14/15
Smooth and clean right through to the finish. The faintest touch of bourbon appears on exit and the
experience is well worth enjoying again and again.

The Afterburn 9/10
Highwood Distillers are truly one of the best-kept secrets of the whisky world. The entire experience of
this rye was completely enjoyable… I would consider the rye to be a mood
whisky. The mood is mellow and smooth almost to the point of suave. It is possible that the consumer
may occasionally want alittle harder kick in the throat when he chooses rye to drink. But for a more
sublime rye experience, this is one of the best.

The Centennial Splash
2 oz of Centennial Rye
Crushed Ice
Splash of Ginger Ale
Garnish with a lime wedge

Nothing fancy here, a nice glass of rye in crushed ice. Splash in a little ginger ale to taste, and garnish
with a slice of lime inside the glass

If you are looking for something with even better, try Century Reserve Custom Blend Lot 1525 Canadian Rye Whisky at $30.05 available in most LCBO stores (cspc 105858). I rate it at 92/100.  Slightly lighter in colour, this has an average age in excess of 15 years and shows even more finesse on the nose with a touch less caramel. A real sipping Rye Whisky, it shows perfect harmony without too much vanilla. Extremely well balanced with elegant, gently spicy, buttered toast flavours that go on and on.

At Great Ontario Sweetie!

While talking about Canada’s liquid gold, I am just tasting the recently-released Reif Estate Winery 2006 Select Late Harvest Vidal which was released last month in Vintages without ever appearing in the Vintages release catalogue. Worse yet, it was not presented to either the wine writers or the LCBO consultants meaning that they can’t recommend it nor has anyone reviewed it. Well I have and I must say that it is quite delicious and amazing value at only $14.95 per 375 ml bottle (cspc 282855 available in some 70+ Vintages outlets). Of course, that isn’t the regular price. It should sell for $19.95, but the folks at the LCBO asked the winery to help sell the product by reducing the price to $14.95!

Now that takes a lot of nerve. First the LCBO excludes it from the Vintages release catalogue and then doesn’t present it to their own staff (nor to the wine writers).  Instead of fighting this injustice, Reif gave in and dropped the price. So here it is a *** (90-point) mini-icewine at a steal. Oh yes, my tasting note: Sweet, pungent, tropical fruit cocktail nose. Smooth, rich, very sweet, spicy, honeyed, pineapple-pear flavours with a lingering, tropical fruit cocktail finish. Terrific value - perfectly affordable for home consumption or as a gift. Every restaurant should pour this by the glass on the dessert wine list at a reasonable price. Make it a real Canada Day!

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Michael Vaughan’s June 25th Update

Great Vintages Buys

Some of the best buys in Vintages are things that go "flop"in terms of initially selling through the LCBO system. These sales are hidden from the public and the discounts are not listed anywhere, except on this website! FBTI Supporters get the first notice from me personally by email, usually before the sale date.

Non-FBTI supporting visitors to my website get the list after the fact - giving my supporters the first opportunity to take advantage of whatever bargains are out there. Keep in mind that some of the wines flounder because they are crappy and/or overpriced.

On June 6th there was another of these Vintages sales - items that did not sell through Vintages (usually within the LCBO-imposed requisite 90-day period). The suppliers-producers are penalized by the LCBO having the entire discount - usually 25% - automatically deducted by the LCBO from their invoice. In other words, the sale doesn't cost the LCBO a cent - in fact, they probably make extra profits!

In any case, here are my deatiled notes on the 13 items on sale, which were released on January 23rd. There are some terrific buys and still lots of availability. Note that all the items are linked to show current LCBO store availability (as of close on the previous day).

June 6th Vintages Sale

Let me catch up with some great Father’s Day buys in the last June 12 Vintages Release, which featured 110 items plus 8 untasted In-Store Discoveries (designated as ISD). It has a 2010 FIFA World Cup inspired South African thematic with 9 reds and 7 whites. It’s a very mixed bag - but thankfully - there are a few

First, let me mention my single best buy Release Highlight for Father’s Day. If you missed buying a bottle this year, buy one for next year - it will still be perfect!

Portugal - Fortified Dessert Wine:
90 POINTS - Sweet Plummy Cherries  *** (out of ***)
638924 VINTAGE PORT 2003 $19.95
(180 Cases) (20%) [PHI DAN]
Not presented in the press preview, I purchased a bottle two days before the Saturday release date. It has a very deep intense purple colour. Attractive, sweet, plummy, baked cherry nose with spicy, raisin-mocha notes. On the palate it is sweet, dense and yet harmonious with spicy, intense, ripe, black cherry and baked plum flavours and a lingering, fruitcake finish. It is showing very nicely and is accessible now! The recommended 2000 (**/**+) was released on September 6, 2003 at $54.95 and the 2002 at $52.40 (cspc 87585) on November 22, 2008. A steal at $19.95! Drinkability: { N S SM M ML L xl } June 12th Release

Here is a Vintage Port at an incredible price. In fact, I haven’t seen a Vintage Port in Ontario - or anywhere - for under $20 in over 20 years! I though that the LCBO price was wrong (it should be at least $60) only to discover from the local agent that the producer let the last remaining 180 cases go at an unbelievablylow one-time price. Keep in mind that only 800 cases were made. Why? Perhaps it was the silly rock bottom rating it got in the Wine Spectator. Or maybe it was the fact the collaboration between Cristiano Van Zeller and Fonseca has apparently been ended. In any case, I was the only wine critic to buy, review and recommend this phenomenal value. Run to get a remaining bottle or two!

There are two fine whites, both from Morgenhof Estate a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chenin Blanc:

South Africa - White: An fine Sauvignon Blanc - don't miss it::
88 POINTS - Tangy Grapefrui  **/**+ (out of ***)
18507 SAUVIGNON BLANC 2008 $13.95
WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch Tangy Grapefruit **/**+
(Morgenhof Estate) (399 Cases of 6) (13.5%) [Vin Vin]
Pale straw colour. Fairly intense, quite lovely, slightly grassy, ripe lemon-melon-pear nose with some hints of tangy grapefruit. Slightly dry, crisp, medium-light bodied, well balance gently grassy, harmonious, ripe melon-lemon flavours with a lingering, lifted, crisp finish. Screwcap closure. Drinkability: { N S SM } June 12th Release

South Africa - White: An extremely good Chenin Blanc.
88 POINTS - Bright  **/**+ (out of ***)
978544 CHENIN BLANC 2008 $14.95
(Morgenhof Estate) (399 Cases of 6) (13.5%) [VIN VIN]
Bright light straw colour. Fairly complex, gently nutty, ripe lemon nose. Attractive, honeyed, well structured, medium bodied, slightly sweet but harmonious, ripe lemon-melon flavours with a lingering slightly toasty finish. The recommended 2004 (**+) was released on April 15, 2006 at $13.95. DRINKABILITY: { N S SM } June 12th Release

Portugal - White: A unoaked tasty Arinto – perfect with seafood:
89 POINTS - Spicy Ripe Melon-Pear  **/**+ (out of ***)
166587 ARINTO 2008 $14.95
DOC Bucelas
(PROVA RÉGIA) (349 Cases of 6) (12.5%) [FWP Tra]
Medium straw colour. Very pleasant, slightly spicy, faintly honeyed, ripe melon nose. Dry, refined, medium bodied, fairly well structured, ripe melon-pear flavours with a lingering, unoaked, fairly crisp finish. Ready-to-drink and terrific value. Drinkability: { N S SM } June 26th Release

USA - California - RED: Classy & well priced:
88.5 POINTS - Smooth Toasty Ripe Juicy Merlot  **/**+ (out of ***)
658534 RESERVE MERLOT 2005 $24.95
Napa Valley
(ARTESA) (199 Cases) (14.6%) [Rus Woo]
Very deep intense dark red colour. Very spicy, cedary, plummy, vanilla-coconut-tinged nose. Spicy, medium-full bodied, fairly well structured, very slightly peppery, dried black cherry flavours with a cedary, sandalwood, mocha-chocolate finish. Ready-to-drink. The 2000 (**/**+) with 13.3% alcohol was released on July 9, 2005 at $31.95. Drinkability: { N S SM m ml } June 26th Release

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Michael Vaughan’s June 1st Update

Six Buys - Vintages May 29 Release

Let me catch up with the May 29 Vintages Release which features 104 items plus 14 untasted In-Store Discoveries (designated as ISD). It has a Argentine “Mighty Mendoza” thematic with 11 reds and 4 whites featuring a few best buys.  Then there are 14 items in the “French Loire” thematic - 10 whites, 3 reds & 1 sparkling. There 4 whites from Ontario - only one in the press preview. To get the full scoop on each of the wines, become an FBTI Supporter today with a $20 discount!

Here are six recommended best buys:

South Africa - White: An extremely good Sauvignon Blanc - don't miss it::
88 POINTS - Crisp & Spicy  **/**+ (out of ***)
714212 SAUVIGNON BLANC 2008 $16.95
WO Walker Bay & Elgin
(NEWTON JOHNSON) (200 Cases) (13%) [MCO]
Very light straw colour. Very pleasant, bright, lively, grassy, ripe melon-rhubarb aromas. Dry, medium-light bodied, bright, ripe melon flavours with just a touch of grassiness on the lingering crisp finish. Screwcap closure. Ready-to-drink. Better than the recommended 2006 (*+/**) released on April 14, 2007 at $16.95. Drinkability: { N S SM }

France - Loire - White: Another very good Sauvignon Blanc:
87 POINTS - Tangy Yellow Grapefruit *+/** (out of ***)
168914 TOURAINE 2008 $13.95
(DOMAINE DE LA GITONNIÈREE) (599 Cs of 6) (12.5%) [Ola Spe]
Bright very pale straw colour. This 100% Sauvignon Blanc has attractive, slightly spicy, honeyed, ripe, grassy-grapefruit aromas. Dry, slightly spicy, medium to medium-light bodied, faintly honeyed, ripe lemon-melon-grapefruit flavours with a lingering, very crisp, unoaked finish. Quite charming and ready-to-drink. Drinkability: { N S SM }

Germany - White: Delicious, low alcohol, slightly sweet Riesling:
87.5 POINTS - Rich Sweet & Very Zesty   ** (out of ***)
721928 RIESLING KABINETT Munsterer Kapellenberg 2008 $18.95
(KRUGER-RUMPF) (140 Cases) (8%) [Chu Cel]
Very pale straw colour. Spicy, tangy, slightly honeyed, ripe lemon nose. Slightly sweet, zesty, medium to medium-light bodied, attractive, very spicy, ripe lemon-melon-apple-grapefruit flavours with a lingering, crisp, unoaked finish. A great summer sipper which has some refreshing hints of CO2. Better than the recommended 2004 (*+/**) released on October 28, 2006 at $17.95. Drinkability: { N S SM m }

Argentina RED: Amazing value:
91 POINTS - Complex *** (out of ***)
79293 RESERVA MALBEC 2007 $17.95
Luján de Cuyo
(LUIGI BOSCA) (1520 Cs) (14%) [FamWin]
Extremely deep intense purple colour. Complex, fairly earthy, slightly spicy, smoke-tinged, ripe plum and dried cherry nose. Dry, medium to medium-full bodied, fairly extracty, plummy, ripe cherry purée flavours with a lingering, slightly cedary, mocha-tinged finish that sports just a touch of cassis. Superb value and even better than the recommended 2006 (**/**+) released on September 26, 2009 at $16.95. Drinkability: { N S SM M ml }

France - Bordeaux - RED: A consistent winner - don’t miss it:
89.5 POINTS - Complex & Well Structured  **+/*** (out of ***)
562975 CHÂTEAU BEAUMONT 2006 $21.00
AC Haut-Médoc
(Ulysse Cazabonne) (114 Cases) (12.5%) [Tas Sel]
Extremely deep purple red colour. Quite lovely, intense, medium-full bodied, refined, gently spicy, plummy, black cherry nose with some lime purée and cedar notes. Intense, medium bodied, well balanced, slightly spicy, smoke-tinged, ripe plum and vanilla flavours with a lingering, mocha-chocolate finish. While the vineyard plantings are 35% Merlot, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, in 2006 the actual blend was 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon! This 2006 is showing better and is even cheaper than the recommended 2005 (**+) which had 51% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot - released on June 20, 2009 at $25.00. Drinkability: { N S SM m ml l }

Italy - Tuscany - RED: Very classy & well priced:
89.5 POINTS - Flavourful & Well Structured  **+/*** (out of ***)
145920 TENUTA DI CASTIGLIONI 2007 $21.95
IGT Toscana
(MARCHESI DE' FRESCOBALDI) (1350 Cases) (13.5%)
Extremely deep intense purple colour. Slightly spicy, licorice-tinged, baked ripe plum and vanilla stick nose with some faintly herbal, dried cherry notes. Dry, slightly spicy, medium to medium-full bodied, very well structured, plummy, sandalwood, cedar-licorice flavours with a long, lingering finish. For my taste, this revitalized blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Sangiovese and for the first ti

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Michael Vaughan’s May 23rd Update

Having a great Vicoria Day

vI have just returned from Queen Victoria’s home land after attending the 20th London International Wine Fair, the 50th anniversary dinner of the UK Circle of Wine Writers led by my friend Steven Spurrier and the “serious cool” Ontario Chardonnay tasting at Canada House. I have a lot to say about each of these events, but given the great holiday weekend weather, I will save it for my next column.

While most Canadians will be celebrating this weekend behind their barbie, one might pause to salute the woman who made it all possible. Yes, Queen Victoria would be celebrating her 191st birthday. Trying to find the appropriate salutatory tipple turned out to be a bit of a chore, although bubbly was high on my list.

vAfter all, no matter how you spell it, the Victorians were never prudish about Sekt (German sparkling wine)! Indeed, it has been erroneously suggested that Sekt was the favourite tipple of German Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg who was born at Schloss Rosenau in 1819. He married Alexandrina Victoria after visiting London in 1839 and during their 18-year marriage (thanks to Sekt?) managed to sire nine children. Certainly a significant toast is in order when one considers that Queen Victoria ruled from 1837 to 1901 and survived at least eight known assassination attempts.

Anyone tempted to try a bit of Sekt over the weekend might try the ever-popular Henkell Trocken (122689) at $13.65 with 5 bonus Air Miles until June 19th. It’s perhaps a tad more sweet than dry with crowd-pleasing, easy-to-quaff, honeyed citrus flavours. For my taste, I prefer something drier. A favourite being the reliable Spanish Codorníu and, in particular, the wonderful Codorníu Pinot Noir Rosé Brut Cava (665372) a steal at $16.95. This 100% Pinot Noir has a bright very light reddish pink colour. Gently spicy, honeyed, plummy, ripe red apple nose. Fairly dry, medium to medium-light bodied, bright, fresh, plummy, ripe strawberry flavours with a crisp, refreshing, effervescent finish. A terrific, extremely well-priced, rather classy pink sparkler made in the traditional Champagne method. For Ontario wine fans, Jackson-Triggs Proprietors' Grand Reserve Methode Classique Brut 2004 (Vintages 587691 at $22.95) is still available for celebrating.

Before moving on, let me inform you that there are now some remarkable classic sparkling wines coming out of English vineyards that will even put some Champagnes to shame.

Let me catch up with the May 15sth Vintages Release which features 115 items. It has a Burgundy thematic with 7 reds, 6 whites and one Cremant. A couple are definitely worth trying, unfortunately some are so-so. Then there is also a mini California Chardonnay thematic - the best buy appears below. The Rose thematic features 13 wines, again with a couple of winners. Then add 21 untasted In-Store Discoveries (designated as ISD) from various sources and you have 136 items hitting the shelves. To get the full scoop on all the wines, become an FBTI Supporter today with a $20 discount!

Here are some of recommended best buys:

California - White: An extremely good Chardonnay that shouldn’t be missed:
89.5 POINTS - Lemon Meringue  **+/*** (out of ***)
275552 CHALK HILL CHARDONNAY 2007 $19.95
Sonoma County
(Rodney Strong) (499 Cases) (14.3%) [Mar Ant]
Light yellow colour. Intense, faintly spicy, ripe lemon nose with fine buttered toast notes. Dry, medium to medium-full bodied, spicy, fairly tangy, ripe lemon-meringue flavours with a complex, lingering, vanilla-tinged, fairly crisp finish. Try with poultry, not seafood. Outstanding value. Drinkability: { N S SM m } Lot: 09020807142

Australia - White:An amazing Eden Valley Chardonnay that must be tried
92 POINTS - Rich, Complex & Toasty  *** (out of ***)
903559 CHARDONNAY 2008 $23.95
Eden Valley, South Australia
(Heggies Vineyard) (200 Cases of 6) (13.5%) [Cha Hob]
Light straw colour. Very intense, distinctive, spicy, beeswax-driven, toasty lemon meringue nose with some lime notes. Dry, very spicy, medium to medium-full bodied, very toasty, intense, dried ripe lemon flavours with a lingering, key lime pie finish. Barrel fermented using wild vineyard yeast, which accounts for some of the distinctive flavours in French oak (33% new) for 11 months. Screwcap closure. Remarkable value and ready to enjoy with a tender char grilled lamb chop. Drinkability: { N S SM m ml }

France - White Burgundy: A Classic
91 POINTS - Toasty Ripe Lemon  *** (out of ***)
(ROUX PÈRE & FILS) (150 Cases) (13.5%) [Vin Glo]
Bright straw colour. Fairly intense, slightly spicy, lemon meringue and key lime pie nose with some vanilla notes. Dry, harmonious, medium to medium-full bodied, quite well structured, slightly spicy, baked ripe lemon flavours with a lingering, crisp, toasty, lime-tinged finish. Drinkability: { N S SM M ml }

British Colombia - Red: An excellent Canadian Pinot Noir
88.5 POINTS - Very Well Made  **/**+ (out of ***)
585760 PINOT NOIR 2007 $24.95
VQA Okanagan Valley
(Quail’s Gate) (220 Cs) (14%) [Hob Com]
Fairly deep intense purple colour. Complex, slightly spicy, ripe plummy-cherry nose with some vanilla and ruby grapefruit notes. Dry, fairly well structured but only medium bodied, slightly spicy, ripe, plummy-cherry flavours with a lingering, crisp, vanilla-ruby-grapefruit finish. Screwcap closure. Drinkability: { N S SM }

Argentina - Red: Tasty & Ready
88 POINTS - Juicy & Smooth  ** (out of ***)
(Dominio del Plata) (999 Cases) (14%) [Bar Win]
Very deep intense purple colour. Complex, juicy, ripe, plummy-cherry nose. Fairly dry, harmonious, quite extracty, medium bodied, fairly juicy, plummy-cherry flavours with a lingering, slightly cedary finish. Perfect for BBQ ribs. Contrary to the info appearing in the Vintages Catalogue (attributed to Jay Miller), this is a blend of 85% Malbec and 15% Bonarda, which spent 9 months in 50% French and 50% American oak. It’s very tasty and is ready-to-drink. Drinkability: { N S SM } Lot: L09A29 D070110

France - Burgundy - Red
91 POINTS - Classy  *** (out of ***)
(BOUCHARD PÈRE & FILS) (119 Cases) (13%) [Rus Woo]
Fairly deep red colour. Ripe baked plum nose with some faintly sweet ripe cherry notes and just a touch of barnyard. Dry, bright, medium bodied, fairly well structured, elegant, ripe plummy-cherry flavours with a lingering, fairly crisp, vanilla-tinged finish that has that hint of barnyard that many Burgundy fans relish. Overall, it is quite accessible now and offers elegant sound ripe fruit flavours. Drinkability: { N S SM M ml l }

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Michael Vaughan’s April 30th Update

Upcoming Event & Release Best Buys

vPLANNING AHEAD: Sunday, May 9th - Mother's Day
A Trip to Statford: One of my favourite destinations is Stratford - great food and theatre! Make sure you don't miss the Real Deal: Seven plays launch the 2010 season this spring with song, wit, exuberance and lyricism for which the Stratford Shakespeare Festival company of artists is renowned. Discover lovers of all ages, and of the ages, as they bicker and swoon in Kiss Me Kate, As You Like It, The Winter’s Tale and Evita. Visit worlds of the magical and fantastical with the young at heart and the aged and experienced in Peter Pan and The Tempest. Take a journey through the passionate ups and downs of existence brought to life by the troubadour in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Go online at www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com and enter promotion code 32253 to purchase two tickets for $99 Monday to Thursdays, $149 for 2 seats Fridays to Sundays for all plays, subject to availability until June 30. This special offer is only available online and applies to new bookings only.

The May 1st Vintages Release features 115 items.  It has a Zinfandel-Primitivo thematic with 12 reds - 8 from California and 4 from Italy.  It’s all a very mixed bag so you will have to choose carefully.  Cool Fusion features 10 wines from New Zealand. Throw in 4 from Prince Edward County, 4 spirits plus 4 rosé and there you have it.  Plus there’s an additional 5 untasted In-Store Discoveries (designated as ISD).

Here are some of recommended best buys:

Ontario - White:
92 POINTS - Intense, Spicy, Lime Purée  *** (out of ***)
148866 CHARDONNAY Closen Chase Vineyard 2007           $29.95
VQA Prince Edward County         
(CLOSSON CHASE) (112 Cases) (12.8%)  [Clo Cha]
Forward medium-light yellow colour.  Intense, spicy, vanilla-tinged, lime purée nose.  Intense, well structured, medium-full bodied, fairly extracty, lemon-lime purée flavours with a lingering, cedary finish.  Best with poultry and white meats - not seafood. Unfiltered. Drinkability: { N S SM M ml }

New Zealand - White: Best Buy
87.5 POINTS - Tangy Grapefruit **
163576 KAPUKA SAUVIGNON BLANC 2009         $14.95
Marlborough, South Island
(Shepherds Ridge) (496 Cases) (12.5%)  [Sel Win]
Extremely pale straw colour.  Attractive, spicy, ripe lemon-grapefruit aromas with some gassy notes.  Dry, very tangy, medium-light to light bodied, spicy, ripe lemon-grapefruit flavours with a slightly grassy, very crisp, unoaked finish.  Ready-to-drink.

Austria - White: Best Buy A great wine list choice
86.5 POINTS - Tangy, Bright & Light *+
(SALOMON UNDHOF) (300 Cases) (12.5%) 
Extremely pale straw colour. Slightly spicy, honeyed, ripe, apple nose.  Dry, crisp, medium to medium-light bodied, slightly spicy, ripe apple flavours with a lingering, lifted, unoaked finish.  Better and riper than the 2008 (*+) released on August 15, 2009 at $12.95.  Screwcap closure. Try with seafood.

France - Loire - White: Best Buy:
88 POINTS -Peach-Lemon-Grapefruit **/**+-------------------------------------only $14.95
107128 DOMAINE DU PRÉ BARON SAUVIGNON TOURAINE 2009 (Guy Mardon, Prop.-Récolt.) (399 Cs) (13%)  [Chu Cel]This estate grown 100% Sauvignon Blanc has a pale straw colour. Very pleasant, spicy, gently zesty, ripe peach-lemon-grapefruit aromas with a hint of grassiness. Very dry, medium-light to light bodied, tangy, ripe peach-lemon-yellow grapefruit flavours with a very crisp, unoaked finish. Very nice, racy, gently grassy, Sauvignon Blanc flavours, which would go well with oysters.  Screwcap closure. Much better than the 2007 (*+/**) released on April 11, 2009 at $15.95. Terrific ready-to-drink value.

Greece - White: Best Buy
91 POINTS - Ripe Yellow Grapefruit ***
74781 SANTORINI 2008       $21.95
(SIGALAS) (149 Cases) (14.2%)  [Kol Gro]
From the beautiful island of Santorini, this 100% Assyrtiko from the respected house of Sigalis has a somewhat forward light yellow colour. Rather intense, gently complex, slightly spicy, ripe yellow grapefruit, lemon-melon nose with some mineral notes. Dry, well structured, medium to medium-full bodied, harmonious, ripe lemon-melon-cantalope flavours with a lingering, slightly schisty, fairly crisp finish. It has great acidity, texture and flavour. It's taken much too long for this top Greek white to resurface at the LCBO. Try with seafood or even poultry. The recommended 2006 (**+/***) with 13.5% alcohol was released on October 11, 2008 at $21.95.  Drinkability: { N S SM M ml }

Spain - White: Best Buy
88 POINTS - Spicy Ripe Lemon-Melon  **/**+
167999 SERRA DE ESTRELA ALBARIÑHO 2008                $17.95
DO Rias Baixas 
(Bodegas Couto) (179 Cs) (12.5%)  [Eur Int]
Forward light yellow colour.  Spicy, attractive, ripe lemon-melon nose.  Dry, medium-light bodied, attractive, spicy, ripe, melon-lemon flavours with a lingering, crisp, unoaked finish. Screwcap closure. Fine value, versatile, ready-to-drink & great with seafood. Drinkability: { N S SM }

Australia - Red: Best Buy
89 POINTS - Harmonious & Ready-to-Drink **+
660043 GNARLY DUDES SHIRAZ 2008   $24.95
Barossa Valley, Sa            
(TWO HANDS) (399 Cases) (14.9%)  [B&W Win]
Extremely deep intense purple colour. Intense, spicy, sandalwood, ripe plum and baked cherry nose. Dry, bright, medium bodied, fairly well structured, juicy, plummy, slightly sweetish, ripe  cherry flavours with a lingering sandalwood finish. Try with BBQ ribs. At peak.  Screwcap closure.  The recommended 2007 (**+) was released on May 23, 2009 at $27.95. Drinkability: { N S SM m }

Argentina - Red: Release Best Buy
88.5 POINTS - Slightly Smoky **/**+
81125 LAS MORAS BLACK LABEL SHIRAZ 2006         $15.95
(LAS MORAS) 499 Cases) (14.5%)  [Bra New]
Extremely deep intense purple colour. Spicy, slightly smoky, baked, ripe black cherry purée nose with some vanilla notes.  Dry, medium to medium-full bodied, quite well structured, slightly smoky, baked ripe plummy-cherry flavours with a lingering, spicy, crisp mocha-chocolate finish. Ready-to-drink and excellent value. Better than the recommended 2005 (**) released on January 17, 2009 at $15.95. Drinkability: { N S SM m } Lot: L9355

France: Rhone
- Red: Best Buy
90 POINTS - Complex & Smoky ***
127712  LA MATINIÈRE CROZES-HERMITAGE 2007       $21.95 
(FERRATON PÈRE & FILS) (149 Cases) (13%)  [Exc Win]
Very deep purple red colour.  Slightly spicy, earthy, ripe, plummy-cherry nose with lots of vanilla notes.  Dry, spicy, harmonious, medium bodied, ripe, cherry-plum flavours with a crisp lingering, complex, faintly smoky, mocha-chocolate finish. Better than the 2006 (**) released on August 29, 2009 at $21.95. Should work well with roast beef, steak and lamb. Drinkability: { N S SM M ml }

Portugal - Red: Best Buy
89 POINTS - Mouthfilling **+
165159 MONTEFINO  2005            $17.95
Vinho Regional Alentejano            
(MONTE DA PENHA) (219 Cases) (14%)  [Tra Cor]
Extremely deep intense purple colour. Complex, intense, slightly spicy, ripe red and black cherry purée nose with some vanilla notes.  Dry, medium to medium-full bodied, ripe plummy-cherry flavours with a lingering, mocha-chocolate finish with great texture. This blend of 25% Trincadeira, 25% Aragones (a.k.a. Tempranillo), 25% Alicante Bouschet and 25% Touriga Nacional was aged for 12 months in French Allier.  Drinkability: { N S SM M } Lot: L-10

trade notice
** Upcoming: May 18-20 **
London International Wine Fair

click here

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Michael Vaughan’s April 24 Update

Upcoming Events

vSaturday & Sunday - April 24-25 - Green Living Show
Discover the latest new green products and services from hundreds of exhibitors. Gain earth-friendly advice and useful information for your daily life. Check out the BioVino eco-firendly wine tasting experience.

ALSO: Eat Green all next week at Crush Wine Bar!
Starting every evening from April 21st – 24th — Crush invites you every night after the show to enjoy a different $35 Prefixed Green Menu featuring all natural and local ingredients — Plus 50% off bar menu food items. Crush will also be showcasing selections at the Green Living Show's newest event BioVino eco-firendly wine tasting.

Saturday, April 24 - Spirit of Toronto
This annual event features many single malt whiskies and blends, along with food, master class options, live jazz and a cigar lounge. Tickets are $120 in advance, $135 the day of the show. Unfortunately, once again there is no list of spirits available for tasting. Toronto’s 6th Annual Whisky Gala is an evening-only event - see www.spiritoftoronto.ca for information.

Monday, April 26 – Exposé
Vincor Canada will be showcasing more than 100 wines and spirits with over 30 brands. At the Art Gallery of Ontario (Baille Court) from 6 - 9 pm at only $30 pp. If you have any questions, contact Cathy MacLean at cathy.maclean@vincor.ca  or call 905.564.3003 ex 5721. For details visit www.exposetasting.com

Tuesday, April 27 - Austrian-Ontario Wine Experience
The Ontario Wine Society, in cooperation with the Austrian Trade Commission (Toronto) and Inniskillin/Jackson-Triggs invites you to taste and compare similar wine varietals from Austria and Ontario, featuring Weingut Rabl and Inniskillin, Jackson-Triggs, facilitated by Rudolf Rabl and Karl Kaiser. Held at University of Toronto – Faculty Club - Reception 6:00pm - Tasting 6:30pm -  OWS Members & Austrian Trade Commission Guests - $42: Non-Members - $52. Visit the OWS website.

Wednesday, April 28 - Austrian Wine Trade Fair
Featuring 34 Austrian wineries. At  Rosehill Venue lounge (1365 Yonge Street, Toronto) from noon to 4 p.m. For information contact Birgitta Samavarchian at 416-967-3348 or email toronto@advantageaustria.org You can also go to the website.

Thursday, April 29 - New Zealand Wine Fair
The Trade Fair takes place from 2:30 - 5:30 p.m. and the Public Fair from 7:00 - 9:30 p.m at $60 per person. Held at the Design Exchange (234 Bay Street, Toronto). Contact Robert Ketchin, New Zealand Winegrowers at 705-444- 0195 or email rketchin@ketchin.com. You can register at www.nzwine-events.ca

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Michael Vaughan’s April 17 Update

Upcoming Events
Vintages April 17th Release

vMonday, May 19th California Wine Fair:
First on the horizon is the Monday, April 19th California Wine Fair at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel (100 Front Street West) in theCanadian Room where some425 wines from over 145 wineries will be available for tasting.  The by-invitation-only Trade Fair Tasting takes place from 2:30 to 5.00 pm. The evening Consumer Tasting event takes place from 7 to 9:30 pm and costs $65. 

In some instances, winery representatives from California will be in attendance in order to discuss their wines and the latest industry developments. If you can’t make the Toronto event, it moves to Ottawa on Tuesday, April 20th. For information visit www.calwine.ca, call 1-800-558-CORK (2675) or email at calwine@sympatico.ca

At a preview tasting of some 50 wines, I was most impressed with the progress made with Chardonnay (there are some 85 to be tasted). It seem that producers have finally got rid the excessive oakiness and high alcohol levels that afflicted many previous releases. They are fresher and better balanced than ever before, and thankfully, prices have started to recede. Here is a compendium of recent Vintages releases – click here

A big plus is being able to see the catalogue ahead of time. I have put all the information in this 50-page document into a convenient  12-page summary click here to download. With so many wines to taste, you will easily get lost in this huge space. As there is no a-z layout, here is your one-page survivor’s guide FLOOR PLAN - click here

HIGHLIGHT: One of my recent highlights is Artesa 2007 Carneros Chardonnay, which will be poured at booth #25. Winemake David vDobson has done a great job integrating excellent structure, fine acidity and flavourful toasty lime notes from the classy French barrels. The grapes were hand harvested and whole cluster pressed using only the gentlest of sparkling wine methods. This step is critical to give us all of the great fruit flavor developed in the vineyard without any of the harshness that comes from rough handling. This wine was 50% barrel fermented with sur lees stirring and aging and partially stainless steel fermented (also with lees stirring) to achieve a nuanced balance of fruit, lees and barrel character. Half of this wine has undergone a secondary malolactic fermentation to enhance its buttery creaminess. Don't miss tasting this one! It's a shame that Vintages has not brought this 2007 back into the fold. The terrific 2006 was a best buy and the 2007 only made a peek-a-boo appearance earlier this year with too few cases appearing in the Vintages Shop Online Exclusives venue. Despite being worth more, this wine should be priced at $20. It's a terrific licenseee white but if premium California wines are to regain popularity, it shouldn't be overpriced.

On Tuesday, April 20 is the Argentina Trade Fair tasting being held at the Inter-Continental Hotel – Toronto Centre (225 Front St. West) in the Oakville & Caledon Rooms from 1:00 to 5:30 p.m. Some 19 wineries will be showcasing their wines. Register at www.winespeak.ca/rsvp.argentina

Recommedationas from April 17th Vintages Release

Here is the April 17th Vintages Release synopsis, which featuresv103 items.  It has a Veneto thematic with 3 whites, 15 reds, 1 rose, and 2 sparklers.  There are a number of duds so you will have to choose carefully.  The Green Teams features 15 items, 10 being organic. Plus there are 7 untasted In-Store Discoveries.

Here are some of my RECOMMENDED suggestions . In terms of whites, there are two choices from California:

496125 CHARDONNAY 2007       $24.95
Napa Valley         Cedary Baked Lemon-Pear **/**+
(FRANCISCAN) (300 Cases) (13.5%)  [Vin Int]
Very light yellow colour. Complex, very toasty, ripe baked lemon nose. Intense, complex, medium to medium-full bodied, quite creamy, slightly tropical, ripe lemon-pear-melon flavours with a lingering, caramel-driven finish. Ready-to-drink.

136382 CHARDONNAY 2008       $18.95
Napa Valley         Spicy Ripe Pear **
(RUTHERFORD RANCH) (499 Cases) (13.5%)  [Maj Win]
Medium light yellow colour. Slightly spicy, honeyed, ripe melon-lemon nose with some cedary, ripe apple notes. Dry, medium bodied, fairly intense, spicy, ripe pear flavours with a lingering, slightly honeyed, cedary, ripe melon, tropical fruit cocktail-tinged finish. Ready-to-drink.

A sweet tasty springtime effort from Germany will hit the spot:

160556 RIESLING KABINETT Erdener Treppchen 2007     $15.95
QmP       Spicy Honeyed Ripe Apples **
(RICHTER) (199 Cases) (9%)  [HHD Imp]
Medium straw colour.  Spicy, very pleasant, honeyed, ripe apple purée nose.  Just off dry, slightly honeyed, medium-light bodied, very spicy, ripe apple-melon flavours with a lingering, crisp finish.  A well balanced, versatile, ready-to-drink, Springtime quaffer. Drinkability: { N S SM } Lot: APN 25930493509

Greece has a fine white that’s worthy of a detour if seafood is on the menu:

724583 MOSCHOFILERO 2009   $18.95
AOQS Mantinia, Peloponnese        Spicy Ripe Melon **
(TSELEPOS)  (120 Cases) (12%)  [Kol Gro]
Medium straw colour.  Slightly spicy, honeyed, very bright, ripe melon-lemon nose.  Dry, quite harmonious, medium-light to light bodied, slightly spicy, ripe melon-lemon flavours with a lingering, crisp unoaked, refreshing finish. This ready-to-drink, 100% Moschofilero - an indigenous aromatic variety - has just a faint hint of spritz.

A not-to be missed highlight from Spain:

680678 NEROLA  2008   Organic  $16.95
DO Catalunya     Spicy Bright & Toasty **/**+
(MIGUEL TORRES) (350 Cases of 6) (13%)  [Fam Win]
This 80% Xarello and 20% Garnacha blend has a medium straw colour. Gently honeyed, fresh melon nose with some toasty notes.  Bright, crisp, medium bodied, gently honeyed, attractive, slightly spicy, ripe melon-lemon-apple flavours with a long, vanilla-tinged, Anjou pear finish. This organic wine contains 22 mg/L of free sulphur.

In terms of red, my old favourite is back:

72710 CAFÉ CULTURE PINOTAGE 2009               $13.95
WO Western Cape             Smoky Black Cherry **/**+
(KWV) (499 Cases) (14.5%)  [Dia Can]
Very deep intense purple colour. Intense, slightly smoky, complex maple syrup, black cherry, mocha nose.  Fairly dry, medium bodied, juicy, slightly smoky, plummy, black cherry flavours with a long, very slightly sweet, lingering, caramel-mocha finish. The creator of this style, winemaker Bertus Fourie hasn't been at KWV for years. Similar to the recommended 2009 (**+) released on October 24, 2009 at $13.95. While I really enjoy this Starbucks coffee styled red, especially with bbq ribs, some will not. Ready to drink. 

The best buy organic red:

155523 ROCHE BASTIDE CÔTES DU RHÔNE 2007  $12.95
AC          Spicy Mocha Chocolate *+/**
(Celliers du Languedoc Vins) (599 Cases) (14%)  [Sel Win]
This blend of Grenache and Syrah has a very deep purple colour.  Spicy, juicy, plummy-cherry nose with some mocha-chocolate notes.  Dry, fairly crisp, medium to medium-light bodied, slightly spicy, juicy, plummy-cherry flavours with a lingering, mocha-chocolate finish. Ready-to-drink. This organic wine contains 17 mg/L of free sulphur.

A tasty crowd-pleaser from Portugal:

165175 COLHEITA SELECCIONADA TINTO 2008              $13.95
Vinho Regional Alentejano             Juicy Cherries **
(LUSITANO) (298 Cases) (13%)  [Vin Dan]
Very deep intense purple colour. Slightly spicy, ripe, plummy-cherry nose with some mocha-chocolate notes. Dry, medium bodied, harmonious, slightly spicy, plummy-cherry flavours with a lingering, crisp, slightly toasty finish. Ready-to-drink. 

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Michael Vaughan’s April 1st Update

Vintages April 3rd Release

vRelease Synopsis: The April 3rd Release features 103 items. It has a Spanish thematic with 22 items: 4 whites, 13 reds, 1 rose, 1 sparkler and 2 fortified wines. It also has a Bordeaux Calling featuring 5 under $20 items.  Ontario’s Eco Producers features 3 items.  Plus there are 8 untasted In-Store Discoveries (designated ISD in our April 3rd Vintage Assessments newsletter).

I have Spain on the brain because there are a number of excellent, very well priced buys that would be perfect for Easter. Because they hit the shelves today (April 1st), my first and most important suggestion is that you make a beeline to the LCBO and pick up a couple of bottles of my sparkling recommended/best buy:

(398 Cases) (12%) [RUS WOO]
vThis 100% Pinot Noir has a bright very light reddish pink colour. Gently spicy, honeyed, plummy, ripe red apple nose. Fairly dry, medium to medium-light bodied, bright, fresh, plummy, ripe strawberry flavours with a crisp, refreshing, effervescent finish. Very good mousse. A terrific, extremely well-priced, rather classy sparkler made in the traditional Champagne method.

Codornui Pinot Noir Rose Cava has been an extremely consistent best buy at Vintages. It’s much better than many of the pricier rose bubblies from elsewhere, I even include some dastardly expensive Champagne in that group of ‘what-not-to-drink’ sparklers.

Fortunately, Spanish wines are not all that difficult to understand. What is a bit challenging is dealing with the variety of styles now coming from each region. I am sure that many senior Spanish wine aficionados remember those traditional, over-oaked, baked plum Riojas of the past, which were often quite dusty and occasionally with dried out flavours. If you relish that style, they still can be found. Great with roast lamb and grilled meats, they do not work as well with lighter flavoured dishes, poultry and vegetarian items.

However, I have to sing halleluiah for new juicier style that is bound to appeal to the next generation. A classic example of that is the transformation achieved by Alvaro Palacios who embodies the promise and spirit of "The New Spain". After training in Bordeaux under Jean-Pierre Moueix at the renowned Chateau Petrus, Alvaro returned to Spain where he has helped revolutionize Spanish wine. His wines have won him cult status and are highly respected by the wine press. The Wine Spectator has called Alvaro “Spain’s Most Exciting Winemaker”, in 2003 Wine & Spirits Magazine named him their “Winemaker-of-the-Year” and his L'Ermita is widely considered to be the most important Spanish wine in a generation.

A fine example that hit the Vintages shelves last December (still available) is Palacios Remondo 2006 La Montessa Rioja (674572 - $19.95). This recommended **+ blend of 55% Garnacha, 40% Tempranillo and 5% Mazuelo was aged for 12 months in a mix of new and used French and American oak. The vineyards at Palacios Remondo are all organically farmed and the wines produced are bottled unfiltered and unfined.

In the April 3rd release, there are three fine recommended Rioja selections – two red and one must not be missed white:

146209 VIÑA ZACO TEMPRANILLO 2006             $14.95
DOCa Rioja     Cedary Baked Plums *+/**
(BODEGAS BILBAINAS) (799 Cases) (14%)  [Rus Woo]
Deep intense purple colour.  Slightly spicy, plummy, cedary, baked cherry nose with some vanilla notes.  Dry, slightly spicy, medium bodied, fairly well structured, plummy-cherry-blackberry flavours with a cedary-sandalwood finish. Drinkability: { N S SM m }

42929 RESERVA 2004    $19.95
DOCa Rioja    
(BODEGAS LAN) (1498 Cases) (13.5%)  [Vin Vin]
A repeat of the recommended 2004 (**) released on July 4, 2009 at $20.95. Here is my note: Deep intense purple colour. Plummy, spicy, dried red cherry nose with some cedary notes. Dry, medium bodied, very spicy, bright, rather cedary, stewed cherry flavours with a lingering, mocha-chocolate  finish. Drinkability: { N S SM M ml }

Here is an outstanding white Rioja:

66951 MONOPOLE 2008                                $13.95
DOCa Rioja     Ripe Melon **     HIGHLIGHT
(CVNE) (159 Cases) (13%)  [Dia Est]
vThis hand-picked Viura with a touch of Malvasia and Garnacha has a light straw colour. Fairly intense, lightly spicy, honeyed, ripe lemon-melon nose with hints of macaroon. Dry, medium to medium-light bodied, slightly spicy, honeyed, ripe lemon-pear flavours with a crisp, unoaked finish. Terrific value and even better than the Explorer's Selection 2006 (*+) released on March 1, 2008 at $13.95. Drinkability: { N S SM } Lot: L-0716116

Another terrific value white comes from the Rias Baixas region in the northwest corner of Spain:

115816 LEIRA ALBARIÑO 2008 $16.95
DO RIAS BAIXAS Refreshingly Spicy **+ HIGHLIGHT
(PAZO PONDAL LEIRA) (199 Cases) (12.1%) [CAR TRA]
Pale straw colour. Very pleasant, fairly intense, spicy, honeyed, ripe melon-apple nose. Dry, bright, spicy, medium to medium-light bodied, ripe melon-lemon-apple flavours with a lingering, crisp, unoaked finish. This surprisingly tasty/classy 100% Albarino would be perfect with fresh fish.

If steak is on your menu try this versatile red:

172932 SABOR REAL TORO 2006             $13.95
DO Toro           Spicy & Complex **
(CAMPINA DE TORO) (1000 Cs) (14.5%) 
This 100% Tempranillo has a very deep intense purple colour.  Spicy, juicy, plummy, tropical fruit cocktail nose with some mocha-chocolate notes.  Dry, medium bodied, quite well structured, plummy, ripe cherry flavours with a lingering, mocha-chocolate finish. Try with a steak.  Drinkability: { N S SM m }  [Cas Win]

Finally, my best buy red of the release comes from the Montsant region:

155424 LATRIA VINO TINTO 2006            $18.95
DOC Montsant    Flavourful & Ready-to-Drink **/**+ HIGHLIGHT
(Celler Malondro) (299 Cases) (13.5%)  [Cas Win]
vDeep intense purple colour. This blend of 50% Garnacha and 50% Cariñena (aka Carignan) spent 8 months In French and American oak and has a spy, juicy, ripe plummy-cherry nose with some vanilla notes. Fairly dry, harmonious, medium bodied, quite well structured, perhaps a tad forward, ripe plummy-cherry flavours with a lingering, crisp, vanilla-tinged finish. Excellent value and ready to enjoy.  Drinkability:
{ N S SM m }

If you want something really sweet, here is a Sherry that will knock your socks off:

47944 PEDRO XIMENEZ 1827 SWEET SHERRY                 $17.95
vDO Jerez    Sweet Raisin Pie **+/*** HIGHLIGHT
(OSBORNE) (150 Cases of 6) (17%)  [PMA Can]
Deep ambering brown with a golden yellow edge. Lovely, sweet, honeyed, raisin pie nose. Delicious, spicy, extremely sweet, fleshy, rich, raisin pie flavours with a long, lingering, coffee-caramel finish.

Back in stock:

DO Jerez Sherry             Very Dry, Crisp & Lemony **/**+ (out of 3 stars)
(GONZALEZ BYASS) (250 Cs) (15.5%)  [Rus Woo]
Very light yellow colour. Slightly spicy, intense, peppery, bright, dried ripe lemon peel nose. Very dry, slightly spicy, medium to medium-light bodied, dried ripe lemon peel flavours with a bracingly crisp finish. A bit of an acquired taste. Serve chilled by itself or with appetizers and soups. Keep chilled once you open the bottle. Last appeared in Vintages (**) on December 05, 2009 at $16.95.

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ViniPortugal Annual Grand Trade Tasting
Not to be Missed!

Posted March 27, 2010

vThis Tuesday’s ViniPortugal Annual Grand Trade Tasting starting at 2 pm at the Toronto’s AGO is a landmark event. Considering price-quality ratios, this is easily the most important tasting event of the year. Surely the time has come for any self-respecting wine list to include these new value-driven wines from Portugal, be they entry-level or high-end.

These sentiments were reinforced by this week’s April 30, 2010 Wine Spectator article by Kim Marcus. Never have more Portuguese wines scored so highly. There were 15 “Top Wines” all scoring from 93 to 96 points. Nor has there ever been more super value. For instance, you will be hard pressed to find better value than Carm 2007 Douro Reserve (TABLE 16) with 94 points at only $27! Note that there are an additional 14 “Top Values” with scores up to 91 points at $10 pricing!

This ViniPortugal event highlights some 400 wines from more than four-dozen wineries. Despite the absence of a few notable producers who really should be in attendance, there’s a treasure trove of great wines from the terrific 2007 vintage to be assessed. Trying to figure out what to taste in just a few hours isn’t easy.

There are 46 tables with 55 wineries laid out in a rather user-unfriendly fashion. Looking at the brochure, you will see that the Index (page 1) lists the producer and importer click here. Unfortunately, the tables are not sorted alphabetically by producer, nor by region. Of course, the latter would be challenging as many major producers have wines originating in different regions, often with distinct vineyard names. If anything, there’s an attempt to group them by agent, but even this breaks down. Warning: trying to find the wine you want to taste may be difficult.

On the positive side, the tasting book is nicely laid out with perhaps just enough room to make a brief note on the wine being presented.

However, what makes things even more difficult is that some producers represent an array of wineries and/or labels. For instance, at Real Companhia Velha (TABLE 3), there are 10 wines presented with four different “wineries” labels:Porca de Murca (3), Evel (2), Quinta dos Aciprestes (2) and Royal Oporto (3). Real Companhia Velha also owns three more, albeit unfeatured, labels: Quinta de Cidro, Grandjo and Grantom. As there is no alphabetically sorted label index, it’s impossible to find out who has which wine and/or the table to go to.

I had hoped that the 392 listings in Tasting Buddy, which at least can be sorted alphabetically and also show the table numbers, might solve this problem. Unfortunately, no luck. You can only search by the producer name. For instance, all Real Companhia Velha wines start with the name of the “producer” and appear under the company name Real Companhia Velha. Warning: Tasting Buddy does not let you search out the individual wine.

Having said that, I have checked marked some of our Sommelier Selects recommendations on our “Sommelier Selects ViniPortugal  List”, which is adapted from Tasting Buddy. Suggestion: download our 12-page pdf it and take with you to the event click here

I have just returned from a five-day taste trip to the Bairrada, Dao and Biera Interior regions (going west-to-east from the Atlantic to the mountainous Spanish border half-way between Lisbon and Porto). I was most impressed with what I saw and tasted. While I have visited Portugal’s wine regions many times (starting in 1970’s), I have never seen as much progress. Rather than take up a lot of time now with details, let me just suggest some highlights.

First, a tip of the hat to Arlindo Beca, owner of the Toronto-based company FWP (Food & Wine of Portugal), one of Canada’s most progressive wine importers. FWP has the lion’s share of outstanding Portuguese imports and works incessantly making sure that he has not only the best, but that his special wines get assessed by Canada’s leading wine critics. It is a shame that there are not more companies like his!

One of more famous characters in the FWP portfolio is the ever-rebellious Louis Pato owner of the Bairrada-based Adega Luis Pato (TABLE 10). His new modern compact winery was a joy to visit (March 10th).  He produces some excellent wines from the region’s red Baga grape, which has been compared to Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir in terms of being a temperamental pain-in-the-ass. Baga calls for low yields and is susceptible to rapid harvest-time rot if it rains.

In any case, Mr. “Duck” (Pato means “duck” in Portuguese) produces some great sparkling wines from various indigenous grapes. For my taste, his excellent Louis Pato Sparkling Baga, with its light pinkish hue and delicious, vibrant,  ripe fraise des bois (wild baby strawberry) flavours is a definite winner. Interestingly enough, it is made from early harvested Baga. You should also taste, his new, sweet (icewine-inspired?) 100% Baga dessert wine Louis Pato 2009 Abafado Molecular Rose.

At Carm, mentioned above (TABLE 16), there are some great value wines for discerning palates. I have not visited their vineyards located in the Douro Superior region, but have been impressed with the Carm 2008 Branco wih its harmonious, gently tangy, spicy, honeysuckle, melon-pear flavours and lingering, unoaked, mineral-tinged finish. This delightful blend of Codega do Larinhno, Rabigato and Viosinho is available on consignment at $15 (licensee)

There are many wines that I have not tasted, but should not be missed. Among them is Wine & Soul (TABLE 18).  Many years ago when I first assessed a barrel sample of Sandra Tavares da Silva’s unreleased 2001 Pintas in Porto, I desperately tried to see if I could buy a barrel (26 cases). It was one of the most divine, delicious, Portuguese reds I had ever tasted. At the time, it cost under $20. Only 5,000 bottles were made and, unfortunately, my purchase never happened. Now, if you can find it, it fetches 100 Euros a bottle. I suggest you make a detour to try her Guru white and two Touriga Nacional reds.

While Bairrada is not very well known for its limited number of white wines, I was smitten by the whites I tasted at the ultra-modern gravity-flow Campolargo (TABLE 19). In particular, their Campolargo 2008 Entre II Santos Branco is a delicious blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Bical, while their Campolargo 2008 Arinto was one of the top wines of the trip! It isn’t inexpensive, but must not be missed.

To check out to see what has appeared in Vintages this and last year click here

Here is a short summary of some recommendations from Julian Hitner (JH) and myself (MV):

(TABLE 1) Henriques & Henriques One of our favourite Madeira houses, with some really stellar 10 & 15-year-old wines, of which sommeliers ought to line up in droves to taste. Granted, Madeira carries a limited audience for clients, but the quality alone merits some conspicuous consumption at this particular table. Be sure to make this your last stop. (MV&JH)
Cavima Enterprises – contact Miguel Jardim (416.488-0851)

(TABLE 2) Quinta do Ventozelo Much improved in recent years, and now producing some considerably good wines. Useful for sommeliers are the ports and red table wines, both of which can be easily obtained in the Ontario market. This afternoon, I’d recommend trying the 2007 Reserva, Douro DOC -- great on the budget, as is the non-Reserva (hopefully). (JH)
B & W Wines (416.531.5553)

(TABLE 7) Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal An extraordinary estate to behold, with significant, reliable quality across the board. This afternoon, one of the top wines to watch out for is (probably) the 2007 Tinta da Ânfora,Grande Escolha VR Alentejano. (JH)
Diamond Estates (416.488-6039)

(TABLE 10) Luís Pato Located in the heart of Bairrada, this winery means serious business, especially when it comes to taming the ever-tannic Baga varietal. Not to be missed is the 2008 Quinta de Ribeirinho Pé Franco VR Beiras, crafted from ungrafted Baga vines. (JH) Don’t miss the Sparkling Baga. (MV)
FWP Trading (416.487.6153)

(TABLE 12) João Portugal Ramos A top-quality producer with a solid reputation for good-value table wines (reds in particular). Personally, I would have a go of the 2007 Marquês de Borba, Alentejo DOC, along with the ‘Villa Santa’ labels. (JH) - As for reasonably priced and cheerful, Loios 2008 Blanco hits the spot – an excellent house wine that is currently available at the LCBO for only $9.95. (MV)
FWP Trading (416.487.6153)

(TABLE 13) Quinta do Côtto A winery with a growing reputation for quality, and the flagship 2007 Grande Escolha, Douro DOC is available this afternoon for tasting -- enough said. (JH)
FWP Trading (416.487.6153)

(TABLE 16) Quinta Vale Dona Maria & Van Zeller A real treat that this winery is in town, run by the former own of Quinta da Noval. On this occasion, the best wines to taste are the 2007 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria, Douro DOC and the 2007 Casa de Casal de Loivos, Douro DOC. (JH)
FWP Trading (416.487.6153)

(TABLE 16) Carm As mentioned above, there are some great value wines for discerning palates. From the Douro Superior region, I have been impressed with the Carm 2008 Branco (licensee $15). Don’t miss Carm 2007 Douro Reserve, which is available through consignment for only $29. (MV)
FWP Trading (416.487.6153)

(TABLE 18) Wine & Soul Make a detour to try the 2008 Guru white and two Touriga Nacional reds, including 2007 Pintas Duoro Red. I haven’t tasted these releases but the winemaker Sandra Tavares is one of the best in Portugal. (MV)
FWP Trading (416.487.6153)

(TABLE 19) Campolargo Don’t miss some of the best whites of the show: Campolargo 2008 Entre II Santos Branco is a delicious blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Bical, while Campolargo 2008 Arinto was one of the top wines of my recent trip. (MV)
Groupe Soleil (416.484.0007)

(TABLE 25) José Maria da Fonseca One of the most respected producers in Portugal and an important player in the Ontario market. Aside from the sweet wines (always delicious), you can’t go wrong (at least hopefully) with a sample of the 2007 Domini, Douro DOC, one of the more premium brands of the estate. (JH)
Philippe Dandurand (416.368.3344)

(TABLE 30) Caves Aliança An establishment with an ever-increasing knack for quality wines. I have tasted the 2007 Quinta dos Quatro Ventos, Douro DOC, and it is truly fantastic – the best they have ever made (MV).
PMA Canada (905.257.2116)

(TABLE 32) Herdade do Esporão The most recent 2006 release in Vintages showed very well and the 2007 Reserva, Alentejo DOC should be even better. (MV/JH)
FWP Trading (416.487.6153)

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Vintages March 20th Recommendations
Posted March 20, 2010

vThe March 20th Release features 104 items. It has an Easter Feast thematic with 13 whites, 13 reds, 3 rose and 6 sparklers all priced, with one exception, from $12.95 to $31.95. You will have to buy selectively, it’s a very mixed bag. Ontario’s New Guard features 6 items.  Plus there are 30 untasted In-Store Discoveries (designated ISD), of which 15 are designated as ISD-X meaning they are unsold previously-released Vintages On-Line items. It is a long-standing fact that Vintages steadfastly refuses to let the wine writers taste these items for fear that this might create excessive demand. The result is an ever-increasing number of unsold Vintages On-Line items, which are dumped into the bi-weekly In-Store Discovery releases.

I am not sure weather it’s good or bad, but there’s an ever-growing list of recommended wines to consider from an ever-increasing number of blogging wine pundits. I am always surprised by some of the scores, but that’s taste. I certainly have my own personal take on what’s worth buying, as well as, what not to buy. I try to be consistent from release to release. I offer readers 20 years of continuous, rigorous Vintages reviews – more than any other credible wine critic in Canada.

Here are some of my March 20th recommendations:

Two Top Ontario Sparklers:

CLASSIQUE BRUT 2004       Ripe Lemon & Toast ***  (BEST BUY)  
VQA Niagara Peninsula, Méthode Classique            
(JACKSON-TRIGGS) (121 Cases) (12.1%)  [Vin Int]
This blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir has a very light yellow colour.  Fine, bright, dried ripe lemon nose with hints of toast.  Dry, medium bodied, harmonious, ripe lemon-melon-apple flavours with excellent mousse. Refined, slightly honeyed, lingering, toasty, ripe melon finish.

147504 CUVE 13 ROSÉ 2006                $24.95
VQA Niagara Peninsula                Refreshing Ripe Plums ***
Traditional Method
(13TH STREET) (184 Cs of 6) (12.5%)
Very light orange pink colour.  Very pleasant, faintly sweet, ripe plum nose.  Fine mousse, dry, medium to medium-light bodied, bright, tangy, ripe plummy flavours with a lingering crisp finish.  A fine, well balanced, ready-to-drink refresher. [Sma Win]

Three Top Ontario Whites:

VQA Niagara Peninsula                    Intense Lime Purée  ***
Twenty Mile Bench
(LE CLOS JORDANNE) (224 Cases of 6) (14%)  [Vin Int]
Medium yellow colour.  Intense, very spicy, rather cedary, baked lemon-lime nose with some hints of quince, persimmon and white pepper.  Dry, intense, complex, quite well structured, ripe lemon-lime flavours with a long, slightly cedary, very tangy finish.  Better and less tropical than the 2006 (**+) released on February 14, 2009 at $40.00. Drinkability: { N S SM M ml }

302059 GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2008                $15.95
VQA Beamsville Bench, NP                          Spicy **/**+  (BEST BUY)
(CAVE SPRING ESTATE) (301 Cases) (14%)  [Cav Spr]
Light straw colour.  Fairly intense, baked ripe lemon-melon and lychee nose.  Just off dry, medium bodied, zesty, spicy, lychees and candied lemon on the palate with a lingering crisp finish.  Try with a spicy Thai dish or poultry. Similar to the recommended 2007 (**/**+) released on September 12, 2009 at $15.95. Drinkability: { N S SM m }

68825 ROSOMEL VINEYARD FUMÉ BLANC 2007     $30.20
VQA Beamsville Bench, NP                             Extremely Flavourful ***
(HIDDEN BENCH) (83 Cases of 6) (13.7%)  [Hid Ben]
Light yellow colour.  Intense, spicy, key lime pie nose with some hints of cedary, sweet butter and caramel notes.  Intense, medium-full bodied, very well structured, very flavourful, bright, cedary, key lime pie flavours with an extremely long, lingering, very toasty, crisp finish. A bit bigger than the recommended 2006 (***) released on May 10, 2008 at $28.00. Too big and toasty for seafood, try with a rack of lamb or poultry. Drinkability: { N S SM m }

Two Top California Whites:

Sierra Foothills                  Ripe & Very Cedary **+/***
(IRONSTONE) (399 Cs of 6) (14.5%)  [Lif Age]
Bright medium deep yellow colour. Intense, fairly spicy, baked apple-lemon nose with some spicy, key lime pie notes.  Dry, spicy, medium to medium-full bodied, harmonious, quite well structured, flavourful, ripe lemon-key lime pie flavours with a lingering crisp finish.  Drinkability: { N S SM m }

986778 HESS SELECT CHARDONNAY 2007 $18.95
Monterey County                                  Well Structured **+  (BEST BUY)
(Hess) (999 Cases) (13.5%)  [Pre Mat]
Very light yellow colour. Caramel-tinged, honeyed, ripe lemon-melon nose. Dry, medium bodied, slightly toasty, ripe lemon-melon flavours with vanilla-cedar notes on the lingering, crisp  finish. Better than the recommended 2006 (**/**+) released on January 31, 2009 at $19.95. Ready to drink.  Drinkability: { N S SM M }

From Germany’s Rheinhessen:

89573 BARON HEYL ESTATE RIESLING 2008     $17.95
QbA Rheinhessen                                         Sweet Ripe Melon **
(Heyl Zu Herrnsheim) (130 Cases) (10%)  [Liv Vin]
Light yellow colour.  Sweet, honeyed, ripe, apple-melon nose.  Sweet but balanced, very refreshing, medium to medium-light bodied, honeyed, zesty, ripe melon flavours with good length.  Screwcap closure. Not as good as the recommended 2005 (**/**+) released on February 14, 2009 at $17.95. Note that this is not organic and that Vintages says that product arrival has been delayed. Drinkability: { N S SM m } Lot: APN 438208400209

From Italy’s Puglia:

161653 ALTA FALANGHINA 2008     $15.95
IGT Puglia                              Complex Spicy Pear **/**+  (BEST BUY)
(CANTINE TEANUM)  (199 Cases) (13%)  [Ter Win]
Day-glo medium yellow colour.  Intense, spicy, ripe pear purée nose with some very faintly smoky notes.  Dry, harmonious, very flavourful, medium to medium-full bodied, quite well structured, spicy, baked ripe Anjou pear flavours with a lingering crisp finish.  Drinkability: { N S SM m } Lot: L.217/09

Get the full scoop – what to buy and what to avoid – before they hit the shelves. Become an FBTI Supporter today – click here - and get $20 off!

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Michael Vaughan’s March 6th Best Buys
Irish Whiskey & Newly-Listed Whites

Posted March 13, 2010

The March 6th Vintages Release features 109 items. It has a Chile vthematic with 15 wines all priced from $13.95 to $19.95. There are some truly excellent values.  In addition, there are 4 Irish Whiskeys, the best being the least expensive.  Plus there are 24 untasted In-Store Discoveries (designated ISD), of which 9 are ISD-X unsold previously-released Vintages On-Line items. Finally, there are also 5 organic items.

Take a look at our Scoring System click here
and Drinkability Chart click here

Best value Irish whiskey:
657247 KILBEGGAN FINEST IRISH WHISKEY    700ml   $34.95
Irish Whiskey   Spicy Caramel Wafer **/**+
(John Locke) (112 Cs of 6) (40%)  [Co
n Oen]
Light golden amber colour. Slightly sweet, coconut tinged, vanilla wafer and caramel nose. Dry, spicy, caramel tinged, honeyed, ripe  plum and prune flavours with some honeyed notes on the lingering finish.  Last appeared in Vintages (*+/**) on September 3, 2005 at $32.95.

Best value white - AUSTRALIA:
528216 COONAWARRA ESTATE RIESLING 2008            $16.95
Coonawarra, SA          Lots of Minerals **/**+
(WYNNS) (300 Cases) (13%)  [Fos Win]

Medium straw colour. Intense, fine, mineral tinged, schisty, ripe lemon nose with some very faint key lime notes. Crisp, dry, bright, medium to medium-light bodied, tangy, ripe lemon-lime flavours with very fine length. A very fine Riesling for the price. Screwcap closure. Not quite as great as the  length. A remarkably fine Riesling for the price. Screwcap closure The recommended 2005 (**+) was released on March 29, 2008 at $14.95. Drinkability: { N S SM M ml } Lot: L8182N2

Best Buy Canadian white:
945659 RESERVE CHARDONNAY 2007    $24.95
VQA Niagara Peninsula            Toasty **+
(PENINSULA RIDGE) (224 Cases) (13%)  [Chu Cel]
Medium deep yellow colour.  Very pleasant, rich, bright, toasty, lime-driven, melted butter nose with some hints of honey.  Bright, well structured, slightly spicy, ripe Anjou pear flavours with some toasty notes on the fine lingering finish which shows some lemon peel acidity.  A fine effort - great with white meats and poultry. Ready-to-drink. The recommended 1999 (**/**+) was released on March 10, 2001 at $24.95. Drinkability: { N S SM }

Best Buy Chilean White:
Casablanca Valley        Delicious **+
(ERRÁZURIZ) (200 Cases) (13.5%)  [Phi Dan]
Light straw colour.  Intense, very attractive, ripe yellow grapefruit nose.  Dry, zesty, medium to medium-light bodied, very faintly pettilant spicy, honeyed, ripe yellow grapefruit flavours with a lingering, tangy, unoaked finish.  Delicious and ready-to-drink.  Screwcap closure.  Drinkability: { N S }

Best Buy French White:
AC Alsace       Sweet & Very Spicy **+
(PFAFFENHEIM) (250 Cases) (13.5%)  [Cha Hob]
Bright light yellow colour. Lovely, very intense, sweetish, honeyed, spicy, lychee and rose petal nose. Sweet, medium bodied, fairly rich, mouthfilling, very spicy, lingering, lychee flavours. Great with foie gras or spicy Indian cuisine. Very fine value.  The recommended best buy  2006 (**+) was released on July 19, 2008 at $19.95. Drinkability: { N S SM M }

Best Buy French White:
606350 ANGIMBÉ INSOLIA/CHARDONNAY 2008          $14.95
IGT Sicilia        Pear Puree *+/**
(CUSUMANO) (250 Cases) (13.5%)  [Dia Est]
This blend of the aromatic, indigenous grape Insolia (70%) and Chardonnay (30%) has a medium yellow colour. Fine, fairly juicy, ripe Anjou pear nose with some toasty notes.  Dry, slightly honeyed, gently toasty, medium bodied, slightly lemony, dried pear flavours with some nectarine notes on the lingering crisp finish. Versatile and ready-to-drink. Better than the recommended 2007 (*+/**) released on February 28, 2009 at $14.95. Drinkability: { N S SM }   Comes with a Vino-Seal Glass Stopper.

Get all the details on every wine and spirit in the release – including the ISD items – become an FBTI Supporter today. The March 20th release is being sent on Monday, March 15th – save $20 click here