Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – July 22, 2017

Old and new favourites, Piedmont’s Collisioni Festival and the Cool weekend ahead
By Michael Godel, with notes from David Lawrason

What is the meaning of old versus new favourites?

Michael Godel

Michael Godel

The VINTAGES July 22nd release is compartmentalized as straightforward as it gets. The latest offering pits old versus new set up as a linear equation in which favourite places make use of grape varieties as their sectional conduit. We usually like to think of new and old in simpler terms, more often than not seeing wines as either hailing from Europe (The Old World) or everywhere else (The New World). This July 22nd VINTAGES thematic map is a geographical one, but its emphasis is on pinpointing the locales where Ontario consumers are most comfortable making their purchases, from what varietals and which specific correlative geographic areas they are most recognizably found.

The old and established varietal meets wine growing region thematic reads like a city’s suburban strip mall, juke joint wine list. Argentina and malbec. Australia and shiraz. Ontario and riesling. Bordeaux and the southern Rhône and red blends. The Veneto and Appassimento. Tuscany and sangiovese. Rioja and tempranillo. New Zealand and sauvignon blanc. California and chardonnay/cabernet sauvignon. No surprises here. Conversely the new favourites mélange (or mishmash, depending on your perspective) leads the Ontario wine seeker down the QEW in search of sauvignon blanc, to Washington for syrah, New Zealand for pinot gris, South Africa for red blends, Cahors for malbec, the Loire Valley for melon de bourgogne, Austria for grüner veltliner, Campania for falanghina, Abruzzo for montepulciano d’abruzzo, Rias Baixas for albariño. Thankfully, as hoped for and even expected, on this side of the thematic there a few surprises.

What happens in Piemonte stays in Piemonte

Having just returned from a trip to Piemonte during which the organized program led an international group down an off the beaten path, it makes this VINTAGES release all that much more conventional, habitual and comfortable. Piemonte’s Collisioni Festival provides the stage for professionals of passion to gather, create and establish one of the great vinous environment wonders of the world. What began years ago as an annual pilgrimage to the tiny hilltop hamlet of Barolo for music, literature and culture has evolved and morphed into something furthered, whimsical and complex, a gathering of expert minds and emotion, to celebrate, teach and learn about Italian wine in the most magical and avant-garde ways.

Progetto Vino is the vinous arm of the Collisioni Festival and takes place every July in Barolo, Piemonte, a northern Italian village in which 51 weeks a year the population maxes out at 600 residents. More specifically this week-long wine gathering takes place inside the Castello Falletti di Barolo, one of Italy’s great medieval castles. The brainchild of Dr. Ian D’Agata, Collisioni’s Progetto Vino is singular in concept, style and execution. Top sommeliers, wine journalists and educators from around the world are assembled to discuss one subject; Italian wine. Travelling through other parts of Piemonte precedes the Progetto Vino’s philosophical, economical, cultural and politically charged seminars and round table discussions. In my case it was a four day immersion into Barbera territory, in Costigiole and Castagnole Monferrato, with barbera d’Asti, grignolino, dolcetto, ruché and dozens more barbera interpretations found in Nizza Monferrato.

Barbera is a widely misunderstood, highly diverse chameleon of a grape. Ninety-nine per cent of what we see here in Ontario is of the barbera d’alba variety, mostly because the comfort zone for importers, the LCBO and consumers is found in the soils in and around Barolo and Barbaresco territory. Barbera’s most unique expression may just be located in Nizza Monferrato, a stunning territory where the grape maintains an intensity of high level acidity, maximizes phenolic ripeness and develops a structure unparalleled in the barbera diaspora. Several producers stood out in my tastings, most notably Coppo, Olim Bauda, Marco Bonfante, Eredi Chiappone, Cascina Garitina and Berta Paolo. In Barbera d’Asti lands it was Garrone Evasio & Figlio, Castello di Gabiano, Tenuta Il Falchetto, Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta and the white limestone soil-driven mineral litheness of Ivaldi Dario that stood apart.

Ruché is perhaps the most interesting Piemontese varietal diversion, a once noble grape lost to the world and only recently resurrected. Ruché (pronounced roo-K) di Castagnole Monferrato develops its sugars very early, well before its phenolic journey is completed. This poses a great challenge to the winemakers because the grapes accumulate high alcohol but have to hang well into October or even November before they are truly ripe. The closest comparison I can make is with garnacha/garnatxa in Spain’s Aragaon and Catalonia regions. Some Ruché producers really get it right, turning out that ideal combination of freshness and structure. Of note are the houses of Bersano, Ferraris, Demarie and Crivelli.

The Barolo portion of Collisioni involved seminars set up in three rooms inside the castle, with approximately 15-20 journalists, sommeliers and buyers in each. Italy’s wine regions from top to bottom were presented by producers and moderated by a group of wine educators, including D’Agata, Michele Longo, Michaela Morris, Levi Dalton, Laura DePasquale and Monty Waldin. I sat in on Piemonte (nebbiolo of Barolo, Barbaresco and also roero arneis), plus Friuli (Prosecco, ribolla gialla, sauvignon blanc, friulano, pignolo and refosco) Vulture (aglianico), Medici Ermete (lambrusco), Amarone and Montefalco. My notes for all the wines from barbera to sagrantino will soon be up on WineAlign.

Most noticeable to this Canadian was the quality and quantity provided by north of the 49th parallel content at Collisioni. Ian D’Agata’s roots in this country no doubt contribute to the number of Canucks stationed in Alba and Barolo for the festival. One of the chief moderators for the seminars was Vancouver’s Michaela Morris, an Italian wine specialist rapidly ascending to a level that pits her as one of this country’s top wine educators. Also present was Northern Lands Founder and journalist Gurvinder Bhatia, Ontario sommeliers Will Predhomme, Ellen Jakobsmeier, Chris Wilton, Arlene Oliveros and Rob Miller, along with Vancouver’s Jason Yamasaki, Jenna Briscoe and Kurtis Kolt. There were moments when not only the international dignitaries but also the Italians were wondering where all these Canadians were coming from. Just as we saw at Prowein in Düsseldorf back in March, we Canadians are everywhere, up front and centre. First Hollywood and now the world of wine.

Travelling through wine country in Piemonte is one thing, hanging around a castle for four days with temperatures pushing to the mid-thirties is another.  But it is this intense Italian wine immersion mixed with tens of thousands of Italians making a Woodstock-like pilgrimage to Barolo for four days that elevates the game. They come from near and far to take in on-stage literary dissertations and discussions and to catch a concert moment performed by Italian pop star acts playing on various stages erected around the town. Barolo transforms and the effect on sommeliers and journalists is hard to describe. Things happen, from good times to enlightenment. It’s not quite Las Vegas, Cannes or The International Festival of Authors but indeed what happens in Barolo stays in Barolo.

Cool Chardonnay International Celebration

I4C Cool Chardonnay in my immediate future

Which leads us to the greatest Chardonnay show on earth, i4c, the Cool Chardonnay International Celebration beginning this Friday in Niagara. Last year’s Friday “School of Cool” seminar session’s keynote speaker was coincidentally Ian D’Agata and in 2017 i4c welcomes  California’s Karen MacNeil. Last 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.” One thing is certain regarding Ontario’s world-class chardonnay conference. Memories will always come up cool.

For those of you making the trip down to Niagara this weekend I hope to see you there. Failing that it would be wise to put some chardonnay in your glass this weekend and raise a toast to our ever-progressing industry making lightening leaps and bounds on the world stage. If the local cool climate juice is not your wine of choice then perhaps think of making it Italian, if only to appease our soulmate cousins, especially in Piemonte. The choices are many, from nebbiolo to barbera, grignolino to ruché. Saluti!

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES July 22nd

Old Favourites (Riesling, Malbec, Tempranillo, Sangiovese)

Norman Hardie Riesling 2016, VQA Ontario ($21.00)
Michael Godel – It’s as if there is no other riesling in Ontario that acts, tastes and breathes like Hardie’s and in fact I don’t think there is. It’s not fruit but rather it is mineral and salts that deliver, in the form of super saline lime and here in 2016, fleshy material for singular riesling intuition.…

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2013, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula ($35.20)
Michael Godel – Picone is no longer a mature 20 year-old vineyard but now a wise old thirty year-old one. Imagine a Yogyakarta market, tart mangoes, sliced and doused with the intensity of Java lime juice and then sprinkled with Laut Jawa salt. The flavours are searing, sweetly saline and quenching. Only this tart is this, where tart and acidity meet, intertwine and connect on an emotional level. “The best vintage you could ask for in riesling,” notes Charles Baker.

Norman Hardie Riesling 2016 Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2013

Luca Malbec 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($34.95)
Michael Godel – The vintage is a great one for the Luca Malbec in which optimum phenolics meet modern structure. Though bursting with energy it is a very controlled one and it is hard not to see this evolving with low and slow grace over a 10 year period. You can absolutely have a go at this with a decant and some air but waiting will only improve and induce it to develop some funky secondary character.

Ontañón Gran Reserva 2005, DOCa Rioja, Spain ($38.95)
Michael Godel – The old-school, classic Rioja temperament is written all over this Gran Reserva’s face and spoken clearly through a regional vernacular. Dry, dusty but simultaneously juicy, this tempranillo is borne from a great GR vintage, a hot season of shrivelled and concentrated fruit. This Ontanon has the grip and perfumed multi-oak layering to carry it another 10-15 years easy. Tempranillo of structure is something to behold.

Luca Malbec 2014 Ontañón Gran Reserva 2005 Theulot Juillot Vieilles Vignes Mercurey 2015

Theulot Juillot Vieilles Vignes Mercurey 2015, AC Burgundy, France ($31.95)
Michael Godel – A great house in Mercurey delivers the goods in the broad brushstroke that is the 2015 vintage, with beautifully ripe red fruit and the kind of firm backbone that develops a solid house of classic architecture. This is again proof of Mercurey’s rising village value and the impression pinot noir specifically delivers.

Giacomo Mori Chianti 2014, Tuscany, Italy ($21.95)
David Lawrason – There is a nice ring of authenticity to this fairly priced Chianti. Marks for its very pretty, complex, so-typical Chianti nose of red currant/raspberry fruit, herbs, leather and woodsy earthiness. It is medium weight with slightly tart acidity and firm tannin.

Giacomo Mori Chianti 2014 Castiglion Del Bosco Brunello Di Montalcino 2011

Castiglion Del Bosco Brunello d Montalcino 2011, DOCG Tuscany, Italy ($54.95)
Michael Godel – Clearly a sangiovese born and bred from the firm but fairly appraised vintage with structure to last beyond the years. This wells with that Brunello liqueur; cherries, fresh leather, sapidity and anise tea. Lovely and structured Brunello right here.

New Favourites (Rosé, Vinho Verde, New York Riesling, Cool Chardonnay, South Africa, Piedmont, French reds and whites)

Westcott Delphine Rosé 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario ($16.95)
Michael Godel – I think it’s safe to assume this is pinot noir, based on the Westcott expertise and the way it so rustically defines the varietal for Rosé. It wouldn’t be out of the question for something other to creep in (read: cabernet franc) but the savoury strawberry meets ripe rhubarb notes really hit with dominant texture and energy. A bit sweeter than some but still briny, saline and bursting from lime to grapefruit citrus, with an oyster shell finish.

Anselmo Mendes Passaros Vinho Verde 2015, DOC Portugal ($13.95)
Michael Godel – From the northern Vinho Verde alvarinho specialist this is Mendes’ alvarinho-trajadura symbiosis, still carrying that same Anslemo magic and richness but in a highly amenable and so drinkable package. Don’t miss this great value opportunity.

Westcott Delphine Rosé 2016 Anselmo Mendes Passaros Vinho Verde 2015 Paumanok Dry Riesling 2015

Paumanok Dry Riesling 2015, North Fork of Long Island, USA ($24.95)
Michael Godel – A rare North Fork of Long Island VINTAGES sighting delivers this dry riesling from Paumanok on the shores of Peconic Bay. The aridity, salinity and gravelly beach terroir does indeed bring the driest of riesling expressions but also an impression of marine fog and brine. Delivers the salty goods and high acidity in an Alsatian style.
David Lawrason – This is the first Long Island wine to show up in Ontario in years! And it is a dandy with a fairly generous and complex nose that riesling fans will love, inclufing petrol and paraffin. It is medium weight with a great beam of acidity, a hint of sweetness, with real finesse and some power.

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2015, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($18.95)
Michael Godel – A terrifically ripe, sweet fruit scented and fleshy vintage for Cave Spring’s estate chardonnay raises the Beamsville bar and the cool climate condition once again. It’s becoming increasingly amazing what weight, stone fruit and even tropical cream flavours can be coaxed from these Bench fruits and how that can accumulate into such a rich, though still spirited collection. Pour this for any sort of chardonnay lover anywhere in the world and they will all be duly impressed.

Cathedral Cellar Chardonnay 2015, Western Cape, South Africa ($16.95)
Michael Godel – Cathedral Cellar seems to make yearly adjustments and improvements to all their wines and this chardonnay is example A. Its got richness and wood-derived spice, of course, but its better than ever in its combination of ripe phenolic fruit and cool (relative terms here) personality.
David Lawrason – One of the oldest producers in Paarl is focused on very good value wines, and this certainly delivers. Flavours dance around tropicality and judicious oak. It is firm, well balanced and complex chardonnay with some heat on the finish.

Cave Spring Estate Chardonnay 2015 Cathedral Cellar Chardonnay 2015 Rustenberg RM Nicholson 2015 La Gironda La Lippa Barbera D'asti 2014

Rustenberg RM Nicholson 2015, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa ($18.95)
Michael Godel – From the esteemed South African representative out of Stellenbosch, the three dark fruit grapes layer seamlessly, with acidity, balsamic and dusty dark berry fruit with shiraz certainly taking the richness lead. Both merlot and cabernet sauvignon add in ripeness and ganache receptive consideration.

La Gironda La Lippa Barbera d’Asti 2014, DOCG Piedmont, Italy ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Quite the floral and even cheese-funky Barbera, natural, quaffable and unique. The red fruit is ripe and transparent, almost carbonic and the acids are sharp to tacky. Could drink a boat load of this simple, efficient and honest wine.

Chapoutier Les Vignes De Bila-Haut Blanc 2015, Côtes du Roussillon, France ($15.95)
Michael Godel – Rich 2015 fruit is managed with fine pearls of circulating acidity for a spirited Rhône white, just about as impressive as the sister red that wins hearts every year. This is a perfect vintage for this entry-level blend and will always do the right thing through these warm summer months.
David Lawrason – From the deep southeast corner of France, meshing with Catalan country in Spain comes a white made from local varieties like grenache blanc, grenache gris and macabeo (viura in Spain). honest regional wine from a highly reputable producer, and very good value.

M. Chapoutier Bila Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Blanc 2015 Bernard Fouquet Le Petit Clos Dry Vouvray 2015 Jean Luc Colombo Les Forots Côtes Du Rhône 2015

Bernard Fouquet Le Petit Clos Dry Vouvray 2015, Domaine des Aubuisières, Ac Loire Valley, France ($21.95)
Michael Godel – Vouvray of high acidity is a fine and beautiful thing when notes of honey and creamed corn move in to take up space with that fine, fine sapidity. A reductive environment and perhaps some time in large oak casks leads to this, a near mesmerizing chenin blanc. You can buy a few of these at $22 and put them aside for three to five years. Some magic is more than likely going to happen.

Jean-Luc Colombo Les Forots Côtes-du-Rhône 2015, Rhône Valley, France ($21.95)
Michael Godel –  The vintage is both generous and overtly ripe and fleshy but this Côtes-du-Rhône is not without its acidity and tannin. Les Forots delivers a formidable mouthful to be sure.
David Lawrason – A combination of winemaking talent from a top Rhone producer, and a fine vintage, has delivered a very fine, good value “basic” Rhone with classic, complex flavours, and very appealing

Good to go! 

The WineAlign team looks forward to coming back with our picks and more stories of wine travels when we reconvene for the VINTAGES August 5th release. Until then, happy hunting, ciao, a presto and arrivederci!

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

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

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


Kenwood Chardonnay 2015