March 13, 2009




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Michael Vaughan's Liquid Assets
Best Buys in the Vintages March 14th Release

Tomorrow's Vintages March 14th release features 105 selections. It has a focus on twelve Ontario "winning whites". In general, these whites are superior to previous Vintages selections. Unfortunately one sample presented was corked, while another was one the disappointing side of the equation. I ended up with three best buys, two tied for first place.

Let me start with Colio Estate's 2006 CEV Sauvignon Blanc (500462) at $15.95 is a VQA Lake Erie North Shore, which rated **. Very light yellow colour. Slightly toasty, buttery, grassy, ripe melon-gooseberry nose. Solid, dry, medium bodied, very slightly toasty, grassy, gooseberry flavours with a lingering, yellow grapefruit-tinged finish. Great for seafood.

Another head turner and best Chard of the release is Daniel Lenko 2006 Unoaked Chardonnay (91173) at $19.95. It rated **+. Light straw colour. Fairly intense, spicy, attractive, ripe lemon-melon-grapefruit nose. Dry, bright, medium bodied, harmonious, spicy, ripe lemon-melon flavours with a tangy, ruby grapefruit-tinged finish.

I am pleased to see that winemaker Darryl Brooker's Hillebrand Estates 2007 Trius White (54957) at $18.95 - is better than ever. It rated a terrific **+. Pale straw colour. Slightly honeyed, floral nose with honeyed, ripe melon-apricot notes. Dry, medium bodied, spicy, bright, slightly honeyed, ripe melon-lemon-apricot flavours with a lingering, fairly well structured finish. The best yet and a Gold Medal winner at the recent Cuvée competition.

Truly great 2007 Ontario Rieslings are pretty hard to find. However, I have no problem recommending Cave Spring 2007 Estate Riesling (286377) at $17.95. It rated **. Extremely pale straw colour. Lively, very faintly honeyed, ripe lemon and fresh red apple nose. Dry, medium-light bodied, fresh, lemon-melon-tangerine flavours with a zesty finish.

Seasoned fans of mature Riesling should enjoy this 14-year old estate bottled Riesling from Germany’s Rheingau Balthasar Ress 1995 Riesling Kabinett Hallgartener (90670) at $19.00. It rated **+. Fairly deep yellow colour. Intense, spicy, complex, candied lemon, orange marmalade nose. Sweet, very bright, intense, medium bodied, spicy, orange marmalade flavours with a long , lingering finish. Try with lobster in black bean sauce.

Moving on to the reds, from southwestern France comes an attractive accessible blend of 75% Malbec and 25% Merlot, which spent 18 months in new oak. Franck & Jacques Rigal 2005 Château St Didier Parnac Prestige (303529) at $16.95. It rated *+/**. Very deep intense purple colour. Spicy, plummy dried red cherry nose with some sandalwood notes. Very dry, medium to medium-light bodied, tangy, plummy, dried red cherry flavours with a lingering, bright, ripe red apple finish.

The best buy Kosher comes from the Margaret River in Western Australia. Beckett's Flat 2007 Five Stones Cabernet/Shiraz (58693) at $19.95. It rated **/**+. This blend of 70% Cabernet and 30% Shiraz has an extremely deep intense purple colour. Lively, spicy, black cherry nose with plum and cedar notes. Dry, juicy, well balanced, medium bodied, ripe plum and juicy cherry flavours with a mocha-chocolate-vanilla finish. Screwcap closure.

My personal highlight is the delicious Valentin Bianchi 2006 Famiglia Bianchi Malbec (677559) at $16.95. It rated **+. Extremely deep intense purple colour. Juicy, ripe plum and baked black cherry nose with some mocha-vanilla notes. Dry, quite well structured, medium-full bodied, extracty, baked plum and dried red and black cherry flavours with a lingering , vanilla finish with just enough acidity.

To finish things off G.H. Martel Prestige Brut Champagne (97485) at $47.95. It rated **+. Very light yellow colour. Intense, slightly honeyed, attractive, ripe lemon purée nose. Dry, harmonious, well structured, smooth, flavourful, ripe lemon flavours with a lingering, very slightly toasty finish.


Michael Vaughan's
March 2nd Liquid Assets
Truth in labeling
Uncovering the best values available!

Welcome to an extremely cold launch of March 2009. While the bright sunshine looks deceptively inviting, Toronto temperatures have been dipping to -17 or even lower. Just a reminder that another Vintages March 2nd sale (43 items) commences today. Our summary sheet provides full scores on every wine and convenient links to my tasting note database (available exclusively to FBTI supporters). Here is my top buy from today's sale. It's a real shame if you haven't tasted this amazing bargain – unless you happen to hate sweet wines. The great news is that it's only $14.10 now.

Vintage Assessments Exclusive
Vaughan on Vintages

Monday, March 2, 2009 Sale (42 items)
click here

It seems that many newspapers are abandoning their readership. Newspaper/magazine wine and spirits reviews are diving to new lows. The National Post now features a paltry three reviews weekly, while Now magazine has only two and Eye none. Meanwhile on, Sunday, March 1st, my website received 25,592 hits in a single day (up 20% from 21,274 hits on March 1, 2008).  Yesterday, it was even stronger – a remarkable 40,853 hits (vs. 10,689 for last year). Why? Obviously our website isn't eye candy. It's the comprehensive, reliable, and perhaps most important, consistent content that isn't found anywhere else that drives our readership. Our free, fully-linked 20,000+ Vintages database, our exclusive listings of "hidden" LCBO sales, our free posting of previous issues of Vintage Assessments, bring in discerning buyers.  

It terms of what's happening out there, I have received a number of grumbling emails about the unreliable nature of some recommendations appearing in the National Post, Globe & Mail, etc. Of course, readers should be familiar with the ability and preferences of wine writers they are reading. While there are huge differences in terms of natural ability to taste, let me be the first to defend the right of a wine columnist to recommend whatever wines they like.

My personal mission is to educate and share with others my passion for good wines. It has it's rewards, as one recent email put it: "Thankfully you and I have the same taste. I was amazed to discover that some writers recommend wines that you truly dislike. An example is the seriously disappointing 2007 El Hugo, which you awarded a – (out of three stars) in your January 31st edition of Vintage Assessments. It was recommended in the Post and just to check, I bought a bottle. You're right, it is awful. Obviously, there's no accounting for taste."

For me, the most important thing is producing a consistent review. For this reason, I usually taste twice and only use a professional ISO glass. It is used in the LCBO lab to assess all Vintages wines and is what I try to use for everything I taste. I even take my own boxes of six with me when I travel. Last year, this ISO glass came to my lips more that 40,000 times. Why? Because if you change the glass, you can change the score!

I occasionally taste the same wine out of two sets of different glasses. In most instances, the ISO glass does not come out first! In other words, a more appropriate glass will make the wine taste even better. That's why I am always a bit suspect of numeric scores, especially by some critics who consistently score everything tasted on the high side of the equation.

The are many questions. What glass was used? When was it tasted? Was it tasted twice? What is the lot number? The latter has been a problem with some of Robert Parker Jr. Wine Advocate reviews (although he now puts a disclaimer on all ratings resulting from changes in bottling of what should be the same wine). An example of this is Bodegas Castaño 2000 Hecula, which was specially-blended for its American distributor – 70% Monastrell, 20% Tempranillo and 10% Merlot.  In fact, this was a special blend specifically made for the US importer. The regular wine available in Spain and other countries bearing the identical label has always been 100% Monastrell.

In fact, with this exception, Hecula has always been been 100% Monastrell (the Spanish name for Mourvèdre). It was this 100% Monastrell from the 2000 vintage that both Robert Parker (who also happens to be a friend of the US importer) and I previewed with affable owner Daniel Castaño. It was great! Unfortunately, the US importer knowingly used Robert Parker's excessively high scoring, and glowing review to market their altered, inferior 2000 Hecula blend. Click here to see my widely publicized January 25, 2003 National Post feature. For more information on lot numbers see my follow-up piece from the February 11, 2006 edition of the National Post.

I should mention that I recently had an opportunity to assess some upcoming releases with Daniel Castaño at a tasting organized by the new importer John Hanna & Sons at the Fine Wine Reserve, which is owned and operated by Marc Russell (gentlemen to the left in the photo).

The three top wines presented were ready to enjoy *** (90 points) Bodegas Castaño 2005 Castaño Coleccion ($24.95 and scheduled for August 2009 Vintages release). It's big, rich and mouthfilling with plummy, mocha-chocolate flavours and a long, cedary finish. Even better is the tasty ***/***+ Bodegas Sierra Salinas 2005 Mira ($54 Vintages Online Exclusives #105718), which is relatively new Castano in property in DO Alicante.  This blend of 65% Monastrell, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Garnacha shows rich, juicy, plummy, ripe cherry flavours with an extracty, intense, long, lingering finish. The top ***+ red, a blend of 50% Garnacha Tintorera and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon was aged in new French oak. Bodegas Sierra Salinas 2005 1237 is available from the agent at $125 - there is only a 60 bottle allocation for Canada. It was initially a bit subdued - the nose showed slightly spicy, dried ripe red and black cherry notes. It was very harmonious on the palate with a long, lingering, elegant finish. It's showing lots of finesse and is starting to open in the glass – I gave it a top ***+ rating.