March 6 Roundup: Crazy About California, Spain Dominates Global Wine Sales, and the Other Grüner

Each week I review a wine with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
Sip It!

Stags’ Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

LCBO #: 996405 | 750 mL bottle | $49.95
Alcohol: 13.9%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red

Stags’ Leap comes with a price tag. To drink the iconic California wine that kicked some serious French derrière in ’76, you can’t help but wonder: Is this really better than Bordeaux? Deep red-garnet, semi-opaque, and slightly purple around the edges, this dry, dense Cab is quite full-bodied, youthful, and just a tad too tannic. Black cherry, black current, vanilla, and jammy notes are off-set by pronounced tobacco, and earthy flavours. Pleasantly herbaceous, this wine was solid, not out-of-this-world, but also a classic expression of an Old World Cab. It would do well with a bit of aging, perhaps, and a nice hunk of grass-fed steak.

About the Wine: Stags’ Leap is one of California’s earliest wine estates. Founded in 1970, and achieving international recognition at the 1976 Judgment of Paris, this Napa Valley first-growth has a signature style that, according to the winery, has often been described as “‘an iron fist in a velvet glove,’ a reference to the artful balance between ripeness and restraint, softness and structure, that yields wines of exceptional beauty and long life.”

Skip It!

Penfold’s Bin 2 Shiraz-Mataro 2013

LCBO #: 468629 | 750 mL bottle | $24.75
Alcohol: 14.0%
Sweetness: Dry
Wine Type: Red

Fans of Australian wine will no doubt be outraged by my assessment of this Penfolds Shiraz blend. Mataro is another name for Mourvèdre, and, according to some sources, this wine is “a brilliant example of Australia’s proficiency with Rhône varieties.” It wasn’t bad, but it was just OK, and those are always the hardest wines to score. What makes it two corks versus three? Generally, for me, is whether I’d drink it again, and sadly, this one’s a no. It reminds me of those young, assertive, and slightly too nippy Côtes du Rhônes. Although chock full of sweet black cherry, cloves, vanilla, cocoa, and jammy notes, the slightly bitter finish is what did this wine in. Where the Stags’ Leap earned four corks (I’d drink it again, it was rich, and flavourful), the finish was the spoiler here. If you do happen across a bottle, or are gifted one, I imagine this would pair well with flavourful lamb stews or with herby beef tenderloin dishes.

About the Wine: Established in 1844, Penfolds has a reputation for quality in many circles (though some vociferous critics claim that it’s overpriced). The vineyards are located primarily in Southern Australia–Adelaide, the Barossa Valley, the Clare Valley, Coonawarra, Limestone Cost, and McLaren Vale. Penfolds owns and leases its vineyards, in addition to sourcing grapes from over 220 vineyards and independent grape growers.

Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.

United States


A monthly focus on a wine grape variety.


When I hear the word “Grüner,” I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking “Veltliner”–the peculiarly spicy, and excitingly flavorful variety grown predominantly in Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. But, did you know that that Sylvaner (alternatively spelled Silvaner) is often known as “Grüner Silvaner,” which I suspect, in both instances, references the grape’s rich green colour.

I haven’t drunk any Sylvaner, but then I haven’t really looked for it in the wine store. From what I can tell, it’s a boring sort of grape, not predisposed to any exciting aromatic surprizes, like Gewürtztraminer, or any palate-tickling excitement, like a Syrah that exudes the terroir in which it was grown. According to Jancis Robinson, dismissing Silvaner, like I just did, would be evidence of a “very superificial acquaintance with this historic grape variety,” and though it has its enthusiasts, they appear to be far and few between, and limited to the most sophisticated of wine-drinkers and regional growers who praise its versatility.

Though Silvaner is grown in varying quantities in several pockets of Central Europe, its home is really Germany, despite a recent resurgence in Alsace. In total, Silvaner covers just over 12,000 acres, making it the third most-grown white wine grape variety after Riesling and Müller-Thurgau; it’s predominantly grown in Rheinhessen and in Franken, where Robinson points out that Silvaner can produce some of the region’s finest wines.

Although the cultivation of Sylvaner became widespread in the 19th century, it is thought that the variety first came to Germany after the Thirty Years War as there is recorded evidence of it being planted in Franconia in 1659. By the middle of the 20th century, it became the most important grape variety planted in Germany, but, since then, has declined significantly, now standing at around five per cent of overall land under vine. Sylvaner was also planted in Alsace in large quantities after the Second World War, and, more recently, the variety has seen a revival. In 2006, Zotzenburg Sylvaner became the first to be designated Alsace Grand Cru.

For those curious to try this variety out, pickings may be slim. Ontario residents appear to be restricted to two choices: the Alsatian Pierre Sparr Reserve 2013 ($13.95) and the Dopff & Irion Crystal d’Alsace Sylvaner ($13.95, with five bonus AirMiles until March 26…obviously, I’ve made a note). The tasting notes for both wines seem subtle, delicate, and restrained, with light fruit and floral notes–the ideal pairing for seafood dishes that shouldn’t be overpowered–I’m thinking oysters (which I don’t really like), clams (which I’m also not crazy about), and scallops (which I tend to stay away from).


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