May 15 , 2009




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

Michael Vaughan’s May 15 Update
A Survivor’s Guide to the 2009 New Zealand Wine Fair

There are 198 New Zealand wines in the upcoming Thursday, May 21st event at Toronto’s Design Exchange. I am pleased to see that the 56-page 2009 NZ catalogue can now be downloaded from the New Zealand winegrowers website to see click here.

The afternoon trade tasting session takes place from 2:30 to 5:30 pm (to register click here). The evening public fair costs $60 and runs from 7 to 9:30 pm. Click here to reserve your ticket.

The big problem for professional wine buyers is that there are no comprehensive listings of wines by varietal. This is a major obstacle for many tasters who are looking to compare various Sauvignon Blanc (55 in total), Pinot Noir (58 in total), etc. To make life more livable, I have created a set of concise tasting sheets by varietal, sorted by producer (A to Z). I have also left ample room to make comparative notes.

Here are my key NZ varietal tasting sheets:
Pinot Noir (58 items) – 5 pages
Sauvignon Blanc (55 items) – 5 pages
Pinot Gris (21 items) – 2 pages
Chardonnay (21 items) – 2 pages
Riesling (9 items) – 1 page
Merlot (8 items) – 1 page
Syrah (5 items) – 1 page

May 23rd Vintages Release

 Next Saturday’s Vintages May 23rd release will likely be hitting the shelves this Friday, May 22.  Here are some advance reviews of my recommendations. The release features 112 selections the key thematic being “Red Alert: New Zealand’s Crimson Revolution”. With 10 only releases, this may well be the smallest Vintages thematic on record. Thankfully there are an additional three New Zealand whites available.  Of the latter, my sole recommended best buy is xSpy Valley 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (686675) at only $14.95. It rated ** (out of ***+). My tasting note for this tasty Marlborough white reads: Pale straw colour. Fragrant, ripe lemon nose with some pleasant grassy-apple notes. Dry, medium-light bodied, yellow grapefruit, tangy, ripe lemon-rhubarb flavours with a grassy finish. Screwcap closure. It is better than the 2006 (*+), which was released on May 26, 2007 at $17.95. Happily, there are an ample 400 cases available and it is at the New Zealand Wine Fair.

Another recommended white still available on the shelves is the March 28th release of Millton Vineyard 2007 Riverpoint Vineyard Chardonnay (92846) at  $19.95. It is made from bio-dynamically grown grapes in Gisborne, North Island. Here is my tasting note: Very light yellow colour. Slightly spicy, honeyed, ripe lemon-melon-pear nose. Dry, slightly spicy, medium to medium-light bodied, bright, ripe lemon-pear flavours with a lingering, crisp finish. Screwcap closure. This organic wine contains 23 mg/L of free sulphur. It is very well priced and received a recommended ** rating. There are still a significant number of cases available. You can taste the next vintage (2008) at the New Zealand Wine Fair.  

A best buy white from the LCBO general list isVilla Maria 2008 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (426601) at $15.95. This wonderful ** refresher has crisp, bright, ripe yellow grapefruit flavours with gentle grassy, ripe melon notes on the lingering finish. Starting Monday, May 24th (until June 20th) you will receive 5 Bonus Air Miles.

I wish I could say that all ten reds on show were worthy of a detour. Sadly, they are not. Of four Pinot Noir, only two received a thumbs up. There is the crowd-pleasing Palliser Estate 2006 Pinot Noir (120766) at $28.95, which comesrom the prestigious North Island Martinborough vineyards. It has a perfectly balanced14% alcohol and a **+ rating. Very spicy,slightly cedary, baked red cherry purée nose with some sandalwood notes. Dry, lively, bright, medium to medium-light bodied, gently juicy, dried ripe black cherry flavours with good length. An accessible and ready-to-drink style with a screwcap closure.  Not at the New Zealand Wine Fair.

My personal favourite the South Island’s beautiful Nelson region Neudorf 2007 Tom’s Block Pinot Noir (120790) at $26.95. It has a surprisingly deep intense purple colour and a complex, intense, spicy, bright, black cherry puréenose with some vanilla stick notes. On the palate, it is dry, gently complex and quite smooth with medium-full bodied, nicely structured, refined, ripe black cherry purée flavours with a long, lingering finish. Aged 11 months in French oak, only 1170 cases produced. It received a *** rating and some 200 cases are available. Not at the New Zealand Wine Fair.

From the April 11th release is Montana Wines(93708) at $29.95 is definitely worth trying Montana Wines 2006 Brancott Reserve Pinot Noir Central Otago. Here is my **/**+ tasting note: Very deep intense purple colour. Rather spicy, stewed cherry nose with lots of vanilla-cedar notes. Dry, medium bodied, very spicy, plummy, intense, dried ripe red cherry and raspberry flavours with a lingering, tangy finish. Screwcap closure. It is at the New Zealand Wine Fair.

Here is my current Vintage Destinations feature on New Zealand appearing in the May-June issue of Dreamscapes Magazine.

My next update will be this Saturday, May 23rd.


Michael Vaughan’s May 1st Update
May 2nd Vintages Release
Outstanding PEC Chardonnay

One Monday, April 27th a total of 34 items were put on sale by Vintages. These is yet another one of those one secret sales. There is no list, nor any indication of a price reduction on the LCBO website. In fact, our website is the only place that you can get the scoop on such sale information.  And it isn’t as if these are inferior products that have been kicking around for ages. They were all released in the December 6th Vintages release.

The reason they go on sale is simply that they have not achieved the LCBO’s required 75% sell-through within three months. While some consumers may rejoice about such discounts, fact is, the LCBO is the only place in the world where producers are subjected to such draconian monopolistic regulations.

These discounts, which is a condition of sale to the LCBO, have to be paid for by the suppliers (not the LCBO). You may ask why do producers put up with it? This is usually because the producers want to maintain “visibility” in the Ontario market. There are no other shelves in Ontario on which these wines can be displayed. Of course, some better producers have decided to abandon selling wines to Vintages.

To see the full April 27th Vintages Sale list click here

Take one of the better Burgundies on the list - Jean-Claude Boisset 2005 Beaune Les Bressandes (84483)at  $47.90 (reduced by $11.05 from $58.95). Of the 70 cases of 6 (420 bottles), when I checked yesterday, there were still 140 bottles remaining. It’s a very good wine (**+/*** out of ***+) and well priced. My note reads:  Fairly deep red purple colour. Slightly spicy, plummy, elegant, ripe red cherry nose with some sandalwood notes. Dry, quite well structured, medium to medium-full bodied, fairly extracty, plummy, ripe red cherry flavours with a lingering finish. The struggling economy and invisibility of the Ontario agent has not helped matters.  Too bad my friend Charles Boisset doesn’t visit more often, because if he did his wines would fly. However, now that word is out, I am sure that this tasty Beaune will rapidly disappear.

Charles Boisset with a bevy of local fans at the
Vintages-organized Burgundy event March 2009

May 2nd Vintages Release

Moving on to tomorrow’s Vintages release, which is actually on the shelves today, there are 108 items on show. This includes a red Tuscany thematic with 18 selections, a Quintessential California thematic with 19 selections and Southbrook’s Ontario tour with 3 items. Here is the full release

To be honest, the best thing about this release is the spirits. I can’t remember being so excited about a dynamic rum-gin duo. rumFirst from Guyana comes one of the best white rums in memory, the silky smooth El Dorado Cask Aged 3-Year-Old Demerara White Rum (112961) at  $29.95.  I gave it my very top rating:  ***+ out of ***+. Clear and colourless, it has a faintly sweet, fresh coconut milk nose. On the palate, just lovely, harmonious and yet mouthfilling with fresh coconut milk flavours and a smooth, yet gently tangy, lingering finish. An exceptional, first-class white rum, which will disappear quickly (only 107 cases have been ordered). Buy a case today and you will thank me all summer.

Also not to be missed is a phenomenal best buy gin. Finsbury Platinum 47% Finest Distilled London Dry Gin (118141) at $27.95 (700 ml) is a ***+ miracle.   It’s clear and colourless with subtle, spicy, tangerine and clementine on the nose along with some floral notes. Dry, harmonious and flavourful with a focus on ripe clementine and hints juniper, cardamom and even perhaps lavender on the lingering citrus finish. This was my first taste of Finsbury; it will not be my last! There’s something magical about the balance, texture and flavour of this superb 6-times distilled. The recipe for this “Single Batch Distillation from Copper Pot Stills” dry gin dates back to 1740. Run, rabbit run - there are only 876 bottles for all of Ontario!

The best value red of the release is a spanking new Zenato 2006 Cormi Merlot/Corvina (108282) at $19.95, an Italian IGT from Veneto. With 13,5% alcohol, it shows wonderful, harmonious, ripe fruit. At the lab review I rated it **/**+ and then subsequently  **+ at a tasting at Toronto’s Biagio Ristorante. For those who don’t know, the Corvina grape is the traditional ingredient in classic Valpolicella. It was married with earlier ripening Merlot and the result is splendid. Very deep intense purple colour, the nose is slightly spicy with plummy, ripe cherries. It’s dry, well structured and medium-to-medium full bodied with plummy, ripe cherry flavours and a lingering, slightly spicy, licorice-sandalwood finish. This internationally-crafted effort that has wide appeal, fine versatility and great accessibility. No need to run, there are 2,441 cases of 6 at Vintages.

Rosehall Run
Outstanding PEC Chardonnay

Finally, here is an excerpt from my current May 2nd issue of Vintage Assessments. I just discovered Rosehall Run 2006 Chardonnay Estate Rosehall Vineyard a winery only selection at $29.95 made exclusively from grapes on grown on the vineyards owned by Rosehall Run. I gave it my top rating  ***+ (out of ***+) and was almost knocked out after tasting it.

A sparse 185 cases of this wonderful classic Burgundian-inspired Chardonnay were produced from Rosehall Run’s ownROSEHALLvineyard. It has a lovely, ripe, Anjou pear purée nose with some lemon meringue and subtle mineral-tinged lime notes. It’s solid and very well textured with ripe pear flavours and hints of spice and butterscotch. It grows in the glass and has wonderful, lingering acidity. It may well be the best value Canadian Chardonnay I have tasted under $30! Only two-dozen cases remain, so move quickly.

Congrats to owner/winemaker Dan Sullivan. I also had the pleasure of tasting the riper *** Rosehall Run 2007 Chardonnay Estate Rosehall Vineyard (same price) with its rather toasty, juicy, ripe lemon-melon-pear flavours along with some tropical hints. While some tasters may prefer the 2007 this to the 2006, it is the latter (2006) which will age better and is definitely my favourite. A great ** buy is their just released Rosehall Run 2007 Cuvée Country Chardonnay at only $17.95 with its juicy, ripe, lemon-melon flavours. For information visit

Winemaker Dan Sullivan

Kir-Yianni 2007 Petra White
Why you can't find those recent Vintages "Best Buys"
Once it's off the shelf, it's gone forever!

Wine importers inform me that Vintages is failing, now more than ever, to deliver the goods to Ontario consumers. It happened at this week's LCBO Trade Day. It seems that up until fairly recently, any sizable Vintages release would automatically go to almost all Vintages stores. Now the new releases are only being sent to a small proportion of Vintages stores. Wine importers have now been told to start soliciting these other LCBO store managers/consultants to order to get them to buy their upcoming Vintages releases. All of this, despite an enormous current excess inventory at Vintages rumored to total over $50 million.

Sadly, one of the Vintages January 31st highlights still languishes on the few shelves, at least on those few shelves where it is still available. Like Austria, Greek wines have never been an easy sell, often because too many inferior selections are stocked by the LCBO. And despite being a winner, once Vintages stores sell their stock, they rarely reorder. Why?  Because shelf space is at such a premium and has to be cleared out for the next wave of releases.  This means that even if a wine sells out immediately, it's off to the next release.

This has definitely impacted on the boys over at Kolonaki Group, who are stuggling to raise the bar when it comes to great Greek wines. Unfortunately, lighter bodied, floral, Greek whites aren't the easiest thing to sell when it's minus-20-degrees outside. Of the 200 cases initial order, there's still an additional backlog of 59 cases still sitting in the LCBO warehouse. 

Given the frigid climate, I don't think that anybody wrote about this wine at the time it was released. Now that it's warmer, you should go down to your local store and ask them to order Kir-Yianni 2007 Petra (63552) a real deal at only $14.95. Please let me know if they don't oblige your request. This delicious 100% Roditis is one of the oldest-known, continuously cultivated, indigenous varieties in Greece. It has a light straw colour and very attractive, slightly spicy, honeyed, ripe pear aromas. On the palate, it's fairly dry, harmonious and ready to drink with slightly spicy, pear purée flavours along with a lingering, tangy, Sauvignon Blanc tinged finish. A perfect springtime selection, try it with poultry or seafood.