December 12, 2014

Rob's Picks for the Season

Crowd pleasers for your party.

Some favourite Tuscan gems.

Class Acts.

Collectibles for the cellar. 



Plenty available of these ‘Cheap and Cheerful’ wines (ok, maybe not too cheap – you want to make a good impression on your guests…) Here are some of my favourites for entertaining:

Cave Spring 2012 Riesling 'Estate', Beamsville Bench, Niagara
Retail: $17.75 / btl (12 btls/cs)

Cave Spring is one of the few Canadian wineries with a (well-deserved) international reputation. This classic ‘Bench’ Riesling was awarded 90 points or more by Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator and Wine & Spirits magazines.

Also one of Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Wines of 2014.

McManis 2012 Viognier, California
Retail: $19.95 / btl (12 btls/cs)

A perennial favourite, this unoaked white is full-bodied and fleshy in texture.  It tastes of juicy peaches & pears with notes of honey & spice.  Floral in the nose, it has a balancing acidity that keeps it fresh through the finish.

Bastianich 2013 Rosato di Refosco, Friuli
Retail: $18.95 / btl (12 btls/cs) 

Talk about festive!  From Lidia (Lidia’s Italy) & Joe (Masterchef) Bastianich – these people are as passionate about their wine estates as they are about their restaurants. This is an intensely coloured Rosé, filled with aromas of rose petals, fresh strawberries, violets and orange peel. Medium weight on the palate with fresh, clean, mouthwatering acidity. Actually closer to a light red wine than most other rosé wines.

Tin Roof 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, California
Retail: $15.95 / btl (12 btls/cs)

This wine definitely over-delivers at this price.  Quite elegant, richly fruity, with lush ripe cherry and dark berry flavours, smooth tannins, and a judicious dash of toasty oak. 

Cave Spring 2012 Pinot Noir, Niagara Escarpment
Retail: $17.75 / btl (12 btls/cs)

Wall Street Journal, Lettie Teague (15 Nov, 2014) Although Cave Spring is best known for their Rieslings (they make quite a few) their Pinot Noirs impressed me, too. Their “Dolomite” Pinot is not currently available in the U.S., but this lively red is. Marked by notes of red fruit and spice, this is an excellent example of a cool-climate Pinot at a very good price.

Valdibella 2013 'Kerasos' Nero d'Avola, Sicily
Retail: $18.95 / btl (12 btls/cs)

This is vibrant, with loads of ripe (not overripe) berries, currants and black cherry, a spicy undertone and refreshing acidity.  Certified organic, from an innovative Co-operative winery in Camporeale – Valdibella grows grapes, almonds & olives in a project that supports at-risk youth in their community.

McManis 2013 Merlot, California   
Retail: $19.95 / btl (12 btls/cs)

Full, juicy, very satisfying. This Merlot is a little lighter than the Cab or Petite Sirah, making it a perfect pour for parties. It has all the classic McManis touches — succulent texture, ripe fruit, and a toasty vanilla finish. 


TUSCAN GEMS: Sangiovese at its finest

Tuscany is one of my favourite places. And Tuscan wines — especially Sangiovese — are my go-to for their tremendous versatility. 

La Mozza 2012 'i Perazzi' Morellino di Scansano
Retail: $22.95 / btl (12 btls/cs)

From the Bastianich winery on the Tuscan coast.  The best Morellino are medium-bodied examples of Sangiovese - fresh, fruit-forward with great acidity (I dismiss ‘big’ Morellino as too commercial).  More like good Chianti than Chianti Classico, it’s perfect for aperitif as well as with salmon, chicken and lighter pasta dishes.

Le Fonti 2012 Chianti Classico (available 17 December)
Retail: $25.95 / btl (6 btls/cs) 

From an idyllic, organically farmed 15 ha estate on the outskirts of the village of Panzano, this is ‘classic’ Chianti Classico.  A beautiful example of Sangiovese, showing savoury fruit & spice, and a medium-full body kept in check with balanced acidity.  A splash of Cabernet & Merlot in the blend, and aging in older barriques bring lovely texture without making it too ‘modern’.

Le Boncie 2012 '5', IGT Toscana
Retail: $32.95 / btl (12 btls/cs) 

Giovanna Morganti and her husband Giorgio Corti farm this 5 ha estate organically, also following many Biodynamic practices. Five varieties (Sangiovese, Mammolo, Colorino, Fogliatonda & Ciliegolo) are planted and trained according to the diverse soil types among 2 vineyard locations.  Natural fermentation in small, open-top, wooden vats uses only indigenous yeast, and leads to remarkably complex wines, even at this ‘entry-level’.  Fresh on the nose with cherry, orange peel, vanilla and a nice funky note, it has medium tannin and a refreshing line of acidity that gives it lovely texture.  Hint – 5 grapes – might have something to do with the unusual name of the wine…  say ‘Cinque’ to sound Italian.

Castello di Potentino 2009 Sacromonte, IGT Toscana
Retail: $36.95 / btl (6 btls/cs) 

After the Greene family sold Castello di Montepó to Jacopo Biondi Santi, it seems they needed another castle to restore.  So in 2000 they began working on the dilapidated 11th century Castello di Potentino, set in the shadow of Monte Amiata – Tuscany’s ‘Sacred Mountain’.  The soils here are a mosaic of exotic minerals (cinnabar, quartz, farina fossile, mercury…), and the cold air shed by the mountain, in combination with these complex soils, brings vibrancy and complexity to this beautiful expression of Sangiovese.  4 ha of vineyards, tended by hand, farmed organically, and naturally made (without commercial yeast or additives) – captured in bottle by Charlotte Horton.  Absolutely inspiring.



My personal taste (perhaps as indicated by my love of Italian wines) is for balance and texture, rather than sheer power.  As a result, I’m loving many of the 2011 California Cabs that the power-press (ie. Wine Spectator & Wine Advocate) are less enthusiastic about.  I love the return to the 1980s & ‘90s style of savoury, high-toned wines that the cooler vintage brought.

Here are some truly wonderful wines that reflect my taste for elegant, highly drinkable, age-worthy wines:

Groth 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa
Retail: $32.95 / btl (12 btls/cs) 

My ‘birthday wine’ — a personal favourite for over 20 years (really). Classic, aromatic Napa Sauvignon.

Mayacamas 2012 Chardonnay, Mount Veeder, Napa
Retail: $81.95 / btl (12 btls/cs) 

Pure & full of tension – qualities so typical of Mayacamas whites. The wine is rich but focused, packed with flavours of white peach, orange blossom & almond. 18 months of elevage in neutral oak vessels allows the edges of the wine to round without sacrificing the clear, expressive Chardonnay character.  The estate’s volcanic soil and 40 year-old vines contribute to incredible complexity and ageability.  Minerality? Oh yeah!

De Conciliis 2012 'Donnaluna' Aglianico, Campania
Retail: $35.95 / btl (6 btls/cs) 

This wine is so cool.  Winemaker Bruno De Conciliis could be mistaken for a poet...

Our pride and joy, this is a strong-headed, energetic, and bold wine
Like the Aglianico vineyards where it has come from, since 2005.
This wine is like an overindulgent adolescent
Who, when older, reveals an unexpected sweetness.
It is both warm and cool, a little clumsy at first but never wild
A great and ever evolving wine to accompany a meal.

Chateau de Saint Cosme 2012 Gigondas, Rhone Valley
Retail: $55.95 / btl (6 btls/cs) 

93 Points — Wine Spectator Lovely bay leaf, pepper, lavender and tobacco notes impart texture and range as they wrap around a core of solid black currant and fig fruit. Shows a grippy charcoal feel through the finish. Very solid. Best from 2015 through 2024.

Groth 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa
Retail: $92.95 / btl (6 btls/cs) 

Groth has always walked a fine line between lush California and balanced Bordeaux style; and while recent vintages have been a bit more ‘California’, this 2011 is a return to the savoury, aromatic style of the late 1990s.  I love it.  Very Bordeaux and highly drinkable.

Cade 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa
Retail: $119.95 / btl (12 btls/cs) 

PlumpJack’s stunning, LEED Gold certified, sister winery on Howell Mountain. 

92 Points — Antonio Galloni  Dark red cherries, wild flowers, mint, savory herbs, mocha and licorice all flesh out in the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain. Deep and beautifully layered, the 2011 stands out for its delineation, energy and pure vibrancy. I very much like the sense of energy here. This is a relatively gentle, suave style for Howell Mountain, but at the same time, there is plenty of early accessibility. The 2011 is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Merlot.



Splurge on your clients or yourself, invest in your cellar, drink these slowly and appreciate the pedigree of some classics.  In case you’re wondering, these are what I’m giving Anne for Christmas…

Dutton-Goldfield 2012 Pinot Noir ‘Fox Den Vineyard’, RRV 
Retail: $87.95 / btl (6 btls/cs)          

Steve Dutton’s family is one of the most important winegrowers in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley – you’ll see the name Dutton Ranch on many prestigious bottlings from well-regarded wineries (Kistler, Hartford Court, Patz & Hall…).  Dan Goldfield is an accomplished winemaker with a taste for Burgundian wines.  Together, they craft stunning Chardonnay & Pinot Noir from cool (and cold) vineyards on the Sonoma Coast.  Fox Den is an 8-acre site overlooking Occidental, that delivers low-vigour vines, slow-ripening fruit, and a floral & fruit-driven wine with sweet, lush cherry/strawberry fruit and great natural acidity.  Stunning.

Orlando Abrigo 2009 Barbaresco ‘Vigna Montersino', Piedmont
Retail: $79.95 / btl (6 btls/cs) 

A prestigious ‘cru’ Barbaresco – from one of the most revered sites in the region.

92 Points — Parker The 2009 Barbaresco Montersino is beautifully dark, rich & inviting. Layers of deep, baritone fruit fill out a broad-shouldered frame as this expansive wine shows off its considerable personality. The tannins are very nicely balanced in this vintage. Hints of tobacco, licorice and spices add complexity as the wine continues to open up in the glass. This is an impressive showing from Abrigo.

Contino 2009 Graciano, Rioja
Retail: $128.95 / btl (6 btls/cs) 

A rare single-varietal bottling, considered a benchmark expression of Graciano.

94 Points — Parker The sumptuous 2009 Graciano was raised entirely in new French oak (with 10% Hungarian) for 15 to 16 months. It has a very intense, creme de cassis, blueberry and dark plum-tinged bouquet with a hint of baked cherries. The palate is medium-bodied with a rounded, sensual entry. It is very supple and caressing in the mouth, with beautifully interwoven new oak towards the finish. It is a lush young Graciano that will need 5-6 years aging. Drink 2017-2027

Mayacamas 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa
Retail: $146.95 / btl (12 btls/cs)  

This is THE benchmark for traditional, savoury, insanely complex Cabernet with the tannic structure to age for decades. The cooler climate on Mount Veeder keeps the wine fresh and fragrant, with bold acidity.  Uncompromising adherence to the way he made wine in the 1960s - Bob Travers was owner-winemaker for over 40 years.

Groth 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa
Retail: $162.95 / btl (6 btls/cs) 

Notable as Robert Parker’s first 100 point American wine (the 1985), this has always been one of my personal collectibles. The Reserve Block of Groth’s estate vineyard is one of the premier sites in the Oakville appellation (also home to PlumpJack, Screaming Eagle, Silver Oak, Harlan, Opus One, Rudd and Heitz ‘Martha’s Vineyard’).

92 Points — Tanzer Bright medium ruby. Tight, high-pitched aromas of blackberry, black cherry, licorice, minerals and musky tobacco. Densely packed and deep, offering compelling creamy sweetness to its flavors of black fruits, licorice and cocoa powder. This tactile, seriously concentrated wine really saturates the mouth on the back end, finishing with broad tannins, plenty of sweet oak and excellent persistence. Carries its 14.9% alcohol gracefully.

Philip Togni 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Spring Mountain, Napa
Retail: $164.95 / btl (12 btls/cs) 

Perhaps the greatest winery in our portfolio.  Philip Togni has been making great wine in California since 1959. Lisa now works beside her dad, continuing the tradition of uncompromising dedication to their craft on this 10 ha mountain estate.

94 Points — Antonio Galloni  Pine, menthol, savory herbs, licorice, dark cherry and plum notes emerge from the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. With time in the glass, the 2011 fleshed out beautifully while retaining a classic, mid-weight profile. My sense is that the 2011 will develop along the lines of the 1994, a wine that remains distinctly floral, savory and medium in body, with less of the explosiveness of years such as 1985 or 1997, but with tons of class and style. It is going to be interesting to find out. The 2011 was bottled just a few months ago, so I will not be surprised if it shows even better than this note suggests with time. In 2011, the fruit came in a whole month later than normal.