Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Feb 4th, 2017

Familiar and not so familiar Europe, always cool chardonnay and seeing South African red
by Michael Godel, with notes from David Lawrason and Sara d’Amato

Michael Godel

Michael Godel

These past two weeks have been difficult, bizarre and disturbing to say the least. No one is immune to thinking about the twists, turns and horrors of recent world events. With no disrespect to activism, especially on a personal level, at WineAlign our job as critics is to find ways to keep the machine running, in other words, to focus on wine. In 1975 Saturday Night Live did a skit in which Paul Simon played one-on-one basketball against one-time Harlem Globetrotter and NBA legend Connie Hawkins. Just before the game sports reporter Marv Albert asks Simon about his strategy in going up against The Hawk. “Uh, but I’ll just have to play my game, as I usually play it,” says Simon. “I mean, I’m not gonna change anything, I’ve gotta stay with my strengths… basically, singing and songwriting.” At WineAlign we’ll simply do the same.

Wines across the Mediterranean are a primary focus of the VINTAGES February 4th release. A great number of them will coax a feeling of familiarity and there are others that may not ring a bell. In any particular wine purchasing scheme it is always best to strike a balance between the poles of available options so best approached by looking to one and then the other. While France, Spain and Italy will always deliver the tried and true, a gem of a geeky or otherwise deferential varietal can be unearthed if your mind and your heart are open. Get into the corners and alleys of habituated Europe but also a place like Greece. You will marvel at how it can change your outlook to usher in the most interesting of times, in life and in wine.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to run away and wax rhapsodic about wines found “off the beaten path,” argue on the semantics of what exactly that means or how it should be defined. But I will tell you a little story. In July of 2016 I visited one of Europe’s most extraordinary vineyards, found in Achaia, located in the northern Peloponnese. At the top of this incredible canyon you stand at the foot of another even more imposing and massive rock face that is home to the 11th century Mega Spileo monastery. Gazing north through the cracks in the mountain cragges you can see the azure blue waters of the Gulf of Corinth. Looking straight down you see the greenery of the healthy Mega Spileo vineyard. The entire footage leaves an indelible mark. What’s the point? The point is to get out there and make discoveries. This also applies to what can be found in the VINTAGES catalogue.

A view through Vouraikos Canyon from the Mega Spileo Vineyard

Chardonnay is always in the spotlight so why should February 4th be any different? This past summer at Niagara’s Cool Chardonnay conference I found out that we have to look at organoleptics and ask a very important question. Is your expectation of a Chablis going to be the same as chardonnay made from anywhere else? More important, who are we putting this wine in front of? Ian D’agata’s take struck a Canadian chord. He talked of “a welcome astringency characterized by piercing flavours. These are cool-climate wines. Cool climate chardonnay is not about a long litany of fruit descriptors. If you have a cool-climate viticultural area it behooves you to give the people what they are looking for.” More cool chardonnay examples available on this release are worthy of your time and your dollars.

South Africa is a geographical and geological land of wonder, of ancient soils and picturesque intrusions. Extreme examples include the shale and schist of Swartland that turns into dust and the granite domes of Paarl, which are 30 million years old. We are talking about beginning of time stuff, but how does it impart into wine? Taste more than just a few South African reds and you will get a sense.

I’ve said it before and will repeat myself. South African wine is not what we thought it was. This mantra can’t be repeated often enough. Ventures into the Cape wine lands, tastings and zealous immersion into Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, Swartland and Hemel-En-Aarde see to that. If you’ve not visited you can’t possibly know what revelations lurk but you can get a glimpse by drinking South African wines here in Ontario.

February 4th Buyers’ Guide:

Familiar Europe 

Sierra Cantabria Selección 2014, Doca Rioja, Spain ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is great value in a lighter and tighter, quite vibrant style of young Rioja. Really like the complexity and intensity of the cran-raspberry fruit, cedar, dried herbs, graphite aromas and flavours.
Michael Godel – Sierra Cantabria’s fine value Rioja hails from San Vicente de la Sonsierra vineyards and shows off nothing but tempranillo. When youth, spirit and fresh fruit combine for simple pleasures they should act just like this. There is over-oaking going on in this 2014. Enjoy just for the sake of it. 

Maculan Pinot Grigio 2015, IGT Veneto, Italy ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Maculan is among the best white wine producers of Italy. This shows a quite ripe and rich nose of peach pit, dried yellow flowers, honey and vague herbs. It’s medium weight, almost silky smooth with soft acidity typical of ripe gris.

Sierra Cantabria Selección 2014Maculan Pinot Grigio 2015Château D'or Et De Gueules Les Cimels 2013Bottega Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2014

Château d’Or et de Gueules Les Cimels 2013, AC Costières de Nîmes, France ($16.95)
Michael Godel – Here glides out a nice little red blend from the Costières De Nîmes, calm and balanced in every facet of being. The fruit melds fresh into dried, the palate is both smooth and a bit tannic rustic and the price lays down right in the sweet spot. This represents well-made, honest (syrah-led, with carignan and grenache) southern French value.
Sara d’Amato – A wine that immediately offers a distinctive taste of place and authenticity. Organic farming practices and minimal intervention are responsible for this dynamic blend based on syrah with 30% carbonically macerated carignan and a portion of upbeat grenache.

Bottega Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2014, Veneto, Italy ($21.95)
David Lawrason – Ripasso is one of the most unpredictable and disappointing genres in the modern wine world. I am not generally a fan. So I was pleased with this delicious, drinkable example with its nicely lifted, aromatic nose of cherry-currant jam, rosemary, earth and cedar. It reminds me of pinot noir with a bit more weight and succulence.

Jean Biecher & Fils Schoenenbourg Riesling 2014, AC Alsace Grand Cru, France ($23.95)
Michael Godel – No, this is not a typo, $23.95 for Riesling Grand Cru and from a really well-respected producer. To think you can access dry riesling from the Schoenenbourg at Grand Cru level and status for this price is unthinkable. The nose leads you to believe that something exceptional will happen and though the palate is certainly on the light, lithe and dare I say it, lean side, the balance, rapport and calm demeanour all call to say purchase by the handful.

Jean Biecher & Fils Schoenenbourg Riesling 2014Barone Ricasoli Castello Di Brolio Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2013Planeta La Segretta Rosso 2014

Barone Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2013, DOCG Tuscany ($59.95)
Michael Godel – A Chianti Classcio first borne in 1997 with the plan to create a maximum quality blend as an expression of the estate’s diverse terroir. A meticulous selection is combed from the estate’s vineyards, spread over 230 hectares of land. Ricasoli’s Stefano Capurso admits this about the transition from Chianti Classico to Gran Selezione.”It’s a matter of compromise between what is needed for the small producers and the need to express through crus for the large ones.” Great acidity and spirit from Ricasoli’s ’13 Gran Selezione are the addendum to what fine gifts are offered up by the estate’s geology. 

Planeta La Segretta Rosso 2014, Sicily, Italy ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – A tense, mineral tinged Sicilian red blend that offers an abundance of charm for a relatively small price. It is made half from the local nero d’avola with merlot, syrah and cabernet franc making up the remainder. The result is pinot noir-esque in terms of flavour and weight with a dose of Mediterranean seasoning.

Not-so familiar Europe 

Ponte Pellegrino Greco di Tufo 2015, IGT Campania, Italy ($13.95)
David Lawrason – Remarkable value from the Campania region southeast of Rome. Greco of this quality usually costs $10 more. It is bright, pleasant, quite rich and almost creamy white with subtle and complex aromas of yellow flower, wax, white melon and a touch of banana. Might be “soft” if you like zippy whites, but give it a try at $13.95.
Michael Godel – The 200,000 bottle output of the Ponte Pellegrino “entry-level” (falanghina, greco and fiano) wines are sectionally estate and regnant to the provinces of Caserta and Benevento. The greco channels more dry extract than the falanghina so conversely more weight and structure, a bit more intensity and acidity. Such evolved flavours are quite beautifully archived in a more than affordable entry-level package. Though it won’t age it presents for here and now pretty exposition.

Ponte Pellegrino Greco di Tufo 2015Prunotto Mompertone 2014

Prunotto Mompertone 2015, DOC Monferrato ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Monferrato is one of my fave little regions of Italy,  that flies way below the radar. It’s in northwest Italy, officially in Piemonte but veering into central Italy, with authorized varieties including the Piemontese classics plus cab franc cab sauvignon, and even pinot noir and syrah.  Mompertone is a rare blend of barbera and syrah from a fine producer. It is a bright, tart-edged, cran-rhubarb scented wine fresh green herbs/mint, vague pepper, nutmeg and vanillin.
Michael Godel – Prunotto has brought the guts and the glory to Monferrato in this ripe, ripping and severely tannic red. The fruit makes great gains early, so red, vibrant and full of fibrous vicissitude. The palate follows along with vivid streaks of plum, liquorice and currant liqueur. Drying tannins are a sign of virility. Great food wine.

Tommasi Poggio Al Tufo Alicante 2013, IGT Toscana, Italy ($22.95)
Michael Godel – This is in fact a rare production of alicante bouschét off of Tuscan soils (on the Tomassi Pitgliano Estate), raised in Slavonian oak. The modernity of such an old-school offering tenders kinship with Sonoma field blends and you can get a sense of those cuttings taken out of Italy at the turn of the 20th century and transported to America. There is real honesty and copacetic truth inherently laissez-faire (or, lasciarsi) in this varietal wine. This is certainly worth a side-trip back into tradition and forward thinking towards progress.

Tommasi Poggio Al Tufo Alicante 2013Domain Mega Spileo Red 2010Domaine F L Savennières Chenin 2012

Domain Mega Spileo Red 2010, Peloponnese, Greece ($29.95)
Michael Godel – From one of the great vineyards in the Peloponnese, or all of Europe for that matter, Mega Spileo (Grand Cave) is set within a dramatically oriented steppe of an amphitheatre, in a bowl beneath the shadow of a 940m rock that houses the great Greek Orthodox monastery of Mega Spileo. Winemaker Stelios Tsiris makes this ambitious Greek red, with generous old oak fashion and despite its dried fruit and old, dry tar personality, its spirit is lifted with great Greek acidity. It’s rustic, deferential and so interesting to behold.

Domaine F L Savennières Chenin 2012, AC Loire, France ($33.95)
Michael Godel – Savennières can run the gamut from dry to sweet and when it succeeds with the former it is one of the great table wine wonders of the world. This is striking and arid chenin blanc from the Loire with tell-tale fresh sliced mushroom, ripping acidity and intensity to sidle up to and stride along with the best. It’s a laser with such great length. Imagine the not too distant future dripping with honey.
Sara d’Amato – Chenin blanc has become fashionable for the good reason that it has the potential to produce exhilarating wines across the globe that express a true sense of place and time. This is a demanding wine but ultimately rewarding, goosebump-enducing and thought provoking.

More cool chardonnay

Simonnet Febvre Bourgogne Chitry 2014, AC Bourgogne, France ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Chitry (which is essentially Petit-Chablis territory) is a Louis Latour entry-level Bourgogne Blanc as seen through thn lens of Chablis producer Simonnet-Fevbre. So, not surprisingly this has a saline-mineral, acidity first Chablis feel, with no oak to be found unless you look under the rocks for some ancient and fossilized driftwood. This carries some personality that is attributed to stoic, stark, tart and oyster-shell fashioned chardonnay, which can be referred to as such because it definitely is not Chablis. It’s rounder than that. 

Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut Sparkling, Traditional Method, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($28.95)
Michael Godel – Well it contains 39 per cent chardonnay, so close enough. When the non-vintage Sparkling is completely reminiscent of recently tasted vintage-dated bottles from the same house, that’s a good thing. Matt Mavety’s Brut is all Blue Mountain and here almost a hyperbole of the R.D.’s, with exaggerated gingery and bronzing to golds notes and tones. The acidity is spot on. Delicious stuff. 

Simonnet Febvre Bourgogne Chitry 2014Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut SparklingDomaine Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2014Beringer Luminus Chardonnay 2014

Domaine Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($29.95)
Michael Godel – From vines planted by soil guru Alain Sutre, two km’s from the lake, close to Green Lane. This 2014 offers up its tour-guide expertise as a representational bridge into what Thomas Bachelder, Kelly Mason, the Queylus team and lake-proximate, lower Bench chardonnay is all about. The vintage takes an ambitious departure for the house and yet it carries enough (short history of) tradition in its DNA to resemble past issues of itself.

Beringer Luminus Chardonnay 2014, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley ($39.95)
Michael Godel – This is the 4th vintage of the Luminous, taken from one vineyard site on Big Ranch Road in the Oak Knoll District. As with the previous vintage, cool climate chardonnay is mimicked, stratified and personalized by Beringer. Luminous is brilliantly illuminated Napa Valley, for the intellectual, the enlightened and the lover of everyday chardonnay. 

South African reds

Rustenberg RM Nicholson 2014, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Nicholson is Rustenberg’s classic combative and combinative gathering for shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. It is distinctive both for Stellenbosch and for Rustenberg with its rich, earthy, creamy and silky smooth constitution. Reductive and rubbery isn’t anywhere on its radar, but it offers a ripe and chewy mouthful of true Stellenbosch fruit. The geology may be an after thought but the modernity and polish are all Rustenberg.

Rustenberg RM Nicholson 2014The Mentors Shiraz 2012

The Mentors Shiraz 2012, Wo Paarl, South Africa ($29.95)
Michael Godel – The Mentors is a brawny but stylish take on shiraz with big Paarl bones and soil dug into its depths. Replete with plenty of ancient geology, salinity and chocolate ganache. A really big shiraz with two years needed to settle its tones and integrate its parts.

I would like to wish you all great February release wine hunting and gathering. The WineAlign team is in travel mode these days but rest assured the reviews from upcoming VINTAGES releases will be dutifully covered. I’m off to Antiprime Toscane next week and will be back in time for everything March. The February 18th release will find a focus on Australia and March 4th, well, it’s anyone’s guess!

Good to go!


Use these quick links for immediate access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release.

Michael’s Mix
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys

Szabo’s Feb 4th VINTAGES Preview

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay