Five talented and dedicated wine enthusiasts and I were treated with dinner, compliments of Bryan McCaw, and tutored wine tasting given by David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato – I felt like being back at the university, sitting in a small classroom clinging onto every word from a looked-up-to professor – a cherished moment in my life.
“No cameras, no glimmer, just good old-school quality time”
September 2012 was a great month for GrapeSelections and one to remember for sure. Filled with events like Finca El Origen luncheon and tasting presented by the winemaker Gonzalo Bertelsen (read here); tasting and dinner with Wolf Blass and Peter Hatcher (read here); Penfold’s – luxury-line wine tasting with Peter Gago (read here); and finally an event that I describe here – one-on-one tasting and a lesson from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato.
Before I tell you about how the evening proceeded, I need to introduce the hosts of the Wednesday September 17th evening to emphasize the magnitude of the evening.
Briefly, David Lawrason started writing about wine around the age of 26. As David described it; he quit his job in public relations, moved into his parent’s RV and drove to California where he visited all the wineries and got his inspiration from. Trained as a journalist, he was able to become professional wine writer around 1986 and contributed to publications such as the Globe and Mail, Wine Access, Toronto Life, Ottawa magazine and Grapevine (I’m sure the list goes on). David frequently judges at Canadian wine competitions and is currently the VP of wine at WineAlign where has nearly 10,000 wine reviews posted.
“I never imagined that my reviews would be read the day I wrote them….then WineAlign came along” – David Lawrason.
Sara d’Amato graduated from the University of Toronto and Niagara College’s winery and viticulture technician program; she then obtained her sommelier certificate and is a member of the Wine Writer’s Circle of Canada. Sara judges at wine competitions across the country and writes for Vines magazine and WineAlign, where she has over 2,500 wine reviews.
Bryan McCaw is relatively new to the world of wine; professionally he is a software developer, currently working on his third project – WineAlign, which he founded and is the brains behind its platform. New to this business, he came in without prejudices and brought together ‘used-to-be-competitors’ that now form a team of 14 professional WineAlign critics + Wine Current + Wine Spectator + Vintages – all contributing reviews. His platform, that is connected to the LCBO inventory database allows up-to-date wine searches and also allows users like myself to add my reviews for anyone to see and make their purchase choices upon – collectively this being the essence of WineAlign.
“The idea that my wine reviews would be seen together with others was totally foreign to me” – David Lawrason.
This gathering at the Miller Tavern was specifically organized by WineAlign for six of us contributors as a show of appreciation and to teach us what reviewing wines entails. The idea was to have distinct pairs of wines side by side with David Lawrason highlighting the differences and pointing out what he looks for and what he notices – essentially educating us on how he reviews wine.
We started with a pair of equally priced Chardonnays – one from cool France, the other from warm Sonoma. We were given a minute to assess them in our own way and to make up our own conclusions, before discussing the intensity of aromas, presence of oak, noting the minerality, structure, finish, etc and how we would rate them and why. We then moved on to Pinot Noir followed by Shiraz and repeated the notion. I took notes, I learned and I incorporated few of his teachings into my ‘Reviewing Strategy’ summary.
In David’s view a review must consider and describe ‘the true and generous expression of the wine and the region‘ and ‘Price should never influence the score‘.
After this tutored tasting flight, we ordered dinner and proceeded to taste the other wines reviewed below in a less formal fashion and were getting to know each-other more intimately. As everyone was enjoying themselves and no-one had any other plans, the evening was quite relaxed and fun, though packed with wisdom.
You may be wondering how I am connected to WineAlign. The story begins in mid 2009, at a time when I was considering changing my career and was pondering where in the wine business I may fit in. I have already been recommending wines to my family and friends and was thinking about setting up a website, where I could do just that and make living from. Naturally, I searched the web and found WineAlign, I thought to myself: ‘damn, someone has beat me to it’. As I explored the site, I found it to be vast with functionalities that were definitely better than anything I could ever come up with. I started posting reviews and as the site was at its beginnings, any small glitches I came across, I would email the site administrator with, who turned out to be Bryan. I met Bryan at the first WineAlign event – Wolf Blass tasting with the winemaker Chris Hatcher held at the Canoe. On my profile, I used a picture that was quite dated and small, so Bryan didn’t know what I look like, but since my friend and I were the only visibly young people at the event, Bryan came and asked if one of us was me. The way WineAlign affected me is not limited to drinking better wines, its platform has given me the ability evolve my passion and allowed me to grow.
These are the wine enthusiasts that were present that evening:
Tyler Philp; Monica Janek; Jason Solanki; Ryan Hindmarsh and Jennifer Hart
I must take the opportunity to thank Bryan McCaw for making this evening happen, plus more; to David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato for sharing their knowledge with us; and I have to give a shout out to the other participants, whom I am proud to call friends.
Now, here are the wines that we tasted:
Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne 2010
The 2010 Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne is a medium bodied, fruity wine with appealing aromas of ripening apple and subtle oak. It has a nice acidity and a slightly sweet finish of medium length. Drink this food friendlywine for the next 2-4 years. My impression: NICE, 88 pts. Tasted Sept/12.
Score 88 pts. France $17.95 ($1 off). 933077 WineAlign availability
Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay 2010
The 2010 Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay is a medium bodied, fruity wine with intense aromas of green apple, slight vanilla and oak. It has nice structure and a long, supple vanilla finish. This food friendly wine will reward for the next 3-5 years. My impression: NICE to BEAUTIFUL, 89 pts. Tasted Sept/12.
Score 89 pts. California $18.95. 269738 WineAlign availability
Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir 2009
The 2009 Tawse Growers Blend Pinot Noir is a light to medium bodied, integrated wine, with appealing aromas of black currant, rosehip, slight band aid notes and smoke. It is slightly acidic, has tannins that are refined to tannic (decant for 30 min +) and a long finish. Cellar this food friendly wine for up to 5 years. My impression: NICE – 88-89 pts. Tasted Sept/12.
Score 88-89 pts. Ontario $31.95. 130989 WineAlign availability
Gloria Ferrer Carneros Pinot Noir 2008
The 2008 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Pinot Noir is a medium bodied, integrated wine with appealing aromas of red currant, blackberry, oak and vanilla. It has a nice minerality, refined tannins and a long finish. Drink this sipping wine now and for the next 5+ years. My impression: NICE to BEAUTIFUL, 89-90 pts. Score 89-90 pts. Tasted Sept/12.
California $25.95. 925925 WineAlign availability
Penfolds Thomas Hyland Shiraz 2010
The 2010 Penfolds Thomas Hyland Shiraz is a medium bodied, fruity wine, with intense aromas of blackberry, black cherry and strawberry. It is acid forward; has refined, silky tannins (decant for 15-30 min) and a medium, bit alcoholic finish. This is a food friendly wine that can be cellared for another 5 years. My impression: NICE, 88-89 pts. Tasted Sept/12.
Score 88-89 pts. Australia $21.95. 611210 WineAlign availability
D’arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz 2008
The 2008 D’arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz is a medium to full bodied, integrated wine, with intense aromas of bilberry, black currant, subtle strawberry, oak and vanilla on the nose and chocolate, oak, coconut and vanilla on the palate. It has a good structure, refined tannins (decant for 30+ min) and a long finish. Doesn`t seem to be alcoholic though at 15%. This sipper can be aged for another 5-10 years standing up (screw cap). My impression: BEAUTIFUL, 91-92 pts.
Score 91-92 pts. Australia $45.95. 981183 WineAlign availability
Huber Grüner Veltliner Berg 2010
The 2010 Huber Grüner Veltliner Berg is a medium bodied wine with intense aromas of lemon, honey, honeydew melon and green apple. It has a nice acidity and a long, mineral finish. My impression: BEAUTIFUL, 90 pts. Tasted Sept/12.
Score 90 pts. Austria $39.00. 110791 Not available at the LCBO
Exultet Estates ‘The Blessed’ Chardonnay 2010
The 2010 Exultet Estates ‘The Blessed’ Chardonnay is a medium bodied, fruity wine with intense aromas of apple, supple oak and sweet vanilla. It has some limestone minerality, focused structure with good acidity and a long, clean finish. It is food friendly as well as an excellent standalone sipper; drink it now or hold for few years. My impression: BEAUTIFUL, 90-91 pts. Tasted Sept/12.
Score 90-91 pts. Ontario $35. Not available at the LCBO
Montes Purple Angel 2007
The 2007 Montes Purple Angel, composed of 92% Carmenere and 8 % Petit Verdot that was aged in new French Oak barrels for 18 months, is a medium to full bodied, integrated wine, with intense aromas of blackberry, blueberry, cedar, oak and green pepper on the nose and blackberry, oak, vanilla and coconut on the palate. It has refined tannins (decant for 30 min +) and a long to extra long finish. Drink with a meal if desired, but this wine is meant to be enjoyed by itself. My impression: BEAUTIFUL, 92-93 pts. Tasted Sept/12.
Score 92-93 pts. Chile $56.95. 62364 WineAlign availability
Two Hands Bella’s Garden Shiraz 2009
The 2009 Two Hands Bella’s Garden Shiraz, aged in French Oak for 18 months, was ranked #35 on the 2011 Wine Spectator Top 100 wines. It is a medium bodied, integrated to aged wine, with intense aromas of black currant, blackberry, bilberry, smoke, violets, clove and pronounced black pepper. It has a focused structure with refined tannins (decant for 30-60 min) and a long finish. This wine should be enjoyed by itself in a special company; drink now or hold for another 10 years. My impression: DIVINE, 93 pts – definitely a recommended buy. Tasted Sept/12.
Score 93 pts. Australia $64.95. 636407 WineAlign availability