TASTING NOTES: Summer Sipping Reds & Whites


This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine


Stock up on these fruit-driven, casual yet distinctive, modern white and red bargains for grilling and deck season. South Africa leads the value sweepstakes these days, with Chile, Argentina, Spain, and southern Italy nipping at its heels. Each of these finds will set you back less than $15.


The-Wolftrap-Syrah-Mourvedre-Viognier-2013Cusumano 2013 Syrah
$10.95 / Sicily, Italy / 89 points
One of the great syrah values at the LCBO and a category champ at the World Wine Awards of Canada, this red hails from a surprising source. Lovely lifted spiced plum, pepper, floral, and lightly caramelized aromas follow onto a mid-weight palate that balances richness and freshness. Bring on more Sicilian syrah! LCBO 145490.

The Wolftrap Red 2013 Syrah Mourvèdre Viognier
$13.95 / Western Cape, South Africa / 89 points
This captures the ripe dried cherry, pepper, and smoke of syrah and the violet florality and firmness of mourvèdre, with a touch of easy juiciness thanks to a small portion of viognier (a white Rhone variety). There is tarry, smoky, and chocolaty oak as well. It’s medium-to-full-bodied, loose yet sour-edged, and sinewy. Steak, lamb. LCBO 292557.

Thelema 2012 Mountain Red
$11.95 / South Africa /88 points
The combination of six grape varieties offers up excellent complexity and intrigue, especially at the price. Shiraz leads the way at 37 percent, but spiny petit verdot at 25 percent gives this wine some grip. It is not aromatically strong, but it captures florals, plummy fruit, herbs, tobacco, and some oak sweetness. It is quite smooth and fairly dense and shows firm tannin on the finish. Lamb, game. LCBO 222570.

Porcupine-Ridge---Syrah---2013-1Errazuriz 2013 Estate Pinot Noir
$13.95 / Aconcagua Valley, Chile / 88 points
This is a gentle, fresh, charming pinot noir for current drinking. It registers cran-raspberry nicely inset with leafy, minty notes and gentle spice. It’s light-to-medium-bodied, with faint dusty tannin and pleasant juicy acidity. Grilled salmon or tuna. LCBO 226696.

Porcupine Ridge 2013 Syrah
$14.95 / South Africa / 88 points
Syrah is the new star of South Africa. This perennial favourite offers ripe black cherry fruitiness coiffed by the smoky dark chocolate, pepper, and black licorice that shout syrah. It’s medium-to-full-bodied, quite smooth, elegant, and tasty, with some Cape minerality. Excellent length for the price. Some tannic grit. Vintages Essentials 595280.

Castillo De Monséran 2013 Garnacha
$9.95 / Cariñena, Spain / 88 points
This is a mouthful of juicy bumbleberry-pie fruitiness. It’s a 100 percent grenache grown at higher altitude in the province of Aragon. There’s no discernable oak involved but all kinds of sweet, floral fruit, along with trademark grenache pepper and a vague woodsy note. It’s mid-weight, smooth, perhaps a touch sweet, but not contrived. Chill just a little. Pair with ribs.
LCBO 73395.

Castaño 2012 Monastrell
$12.95 / Hecula, Spain / 87 points
Made from the monastrell (mourvèdre) grape in the warm Mediterranean region of Yecla near Valencia, this quite open-knit, purple red is similar to California zinfandel in its fruity, juicy appeal. Expect generous blackberry jam, floral tones, and the big, rounded, fleshy palate, contained by monastrell’s tannin. There is a touch of oak mocha as well. It’s loose-fitting yet dry in the end. LCBO 300673.


Cono Sur 2014 Viognier
$9.95 / Colchagua Valley, Chile / 89 points
This great little viognier value is lighter-bodied and a far fresher style than most viogniers. Expect lifted aromas of star anise/Japanese pear, lavender, and white pepper. It’s light-to-medium-bodied, with crunchy acidity and grapefruity bitterness. Serve well chilled. Pair with spicy Asian shrimp, spring rolls.
LCBO 64287.

Goats do Roam 2013 White
$11.95 / South Africa / 89 points
Perfumed by spicy viognier, evened out by the elegant roussanne, and bulked up by grenache blanc, this very good value white emulates whites of southern France but with a bit more presence. Star anise, pepper, and spice dominate the nose, with white melon and yellow mango fruit as well. It’s medium-bodied and fairly dense, with a firm beam of lemony acidity. Chill well. Asian cuisine. LCBO 237313.

The Wolftrap 2013 White
$13.95 / South Africa / 88 points
For its price, this South African white offers a ton of flavour, complexity, and structure. It’s a three-grape blend led by perfumy, spicy viognier and in-filled with the ripe, almost tropical pear/quince jam of chenin blanc. It’s quite complex on the nose. Medium-to-full-bodied, with a hint of sweetness — but some sense of minerality so typical of South Africa — that also comes into play on the finish.
LCBO 292532.

SCORES  David Lawrason assigns scores on a 100-point scale. They reflect a wine’s overall quality. A rating of 95 to 100 is outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 86 to 89 very good; 80 to 85 good.

WINE: What the heck is natural wine?


This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine.

illustration by

Illustration by Celia Krampien

 You’ve seen it on toothpaste, peanut butter, and ice cream. Now get ready to see it on wine labels and requested at esteemed wine bars. While the term natural wine has been used in France since the 1970s, Europe is always a decade or two ahead of North America. Savvy shoppers on this side of the pond will begin to notice natural on an increasing number of bottles, but trying to decipher exactly what differentiates natural from conventional wines isn’t easy.

That is because — unlike organic and biodynamic wines — natural wines do not have official certification. As such, some wineries that produce natural wines aren’t marketing their product as natural.

Having no single touchstone can create confusion. What is natural to you might not be considered nat-ural to the person who sold it to you or to the winemaker who crafted it. But there is a shared notion of what natural wines are all about. Put briefly, natural wines are unadulterated and therefore, some argue, expressive in a way that conventional wines are not.

The principles that guide natural winemaking include the use of naturally occurring yeasts (also called wild or indigenous yeasts) to ferment the grapes, avoidance of exposure to new oak barrels, and reduction (or even elimination) of added sulphur.

These principles contrast with conventional winemaking techniques that use industrial aromatic yeasts and new oak to impart qualities that have little to do with the vineyard or the grapes. Plus, conventional wines also might overdo the addition of sulphur in order to extend the shelf life of the wine.

“Few, if any, who get used to natural wines can go back to conventional. Drinkers will progress from c’est naturel, c’est bon
and start being more discerning,” 

~ Alice Feiring, New York-based wine critic and author of
Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally

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TASTING NOTES: Celebrate World Malbec Day with four fine wines

1272062_74634759BY DAVID LAWRASON

This article was originally published in the April 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine

April 17 is World Malbec Day. Just what every grape needs — its own day! Given that there are 10,000 varieties of grapes in the world, I suggest we call a halt to this idea.

Malbec, meanwhile, gets its day in the sun. Indeed, it is the marvellously sunny growing season in the high deserts of eastern Argentina that has brought this grape to prominence. It has become the face of red wine — the brand. It creates an expectation that one will be opening a bottle of full-bodied, fairly soft, rich, and plummy red wine that pairs nicely with beef in all its incarnations.

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WINE PICKS: David Lawrason’s best bargain barbecue reds

This article is part of the Ottawa Magazine 2014 Eating & Drinking Guide, which is on newsstands until Spring 2015.


The quality of less expensive wines continues to climb amid intense global competition. These modern reds are fruit-driven and casual, yet distinctive. Stock up ahead of grilling season.

Click on the thumbnails for a slideshow of affordable wines to serve this barbecue season.

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