Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – March 3rd, 2018

Drilling Down South of the Equator
by David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo, Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES’s catch-all South of the Equator theme struck me as impossibly broad, until I tasted the wines and noticed a few things. The selection is by and large of very good quality, and even better value. There are some new, less well-known producers in the line-up (not just a rehash of familiar labels from powerhouse wineries, which would have been an easy route to go). And finally, many of the best quality/value offerings are from specific appellations that are earning their reputations for terroir-driven wines. So praise to VINTAGES buyers!

But let me zoom out and provide some context. When you look at a map of the world, and overlay the zone between 30 and 50 degrees of latitude in which vinifera wine grapes grow, the Southern Hemisphere wine land area is much smaller than in the Northern Hemisphere.

This is confirmed by wine production statistics where the Southern Hemisphere, in 2015, produced just 19.6% of the world’s wine at 5.5 million hectolitres. By comparison, Italy, the world’s largest producer, was responsible for 17.4 % at 4.9 million hl.

I was surprised by this, because the contribution of the Southern Hemisphere seems much larger in my mind. Australia alone seems really big, but in fact only contributes 4.2% to the global wine pool. Argentina at 4.7% contributes slightly more. Chile is at 4.5%; South Africa 3.9% and New Zealand is a mere .8% (despite the oceans of sauvignon blanc on our LCBO shelves). Uruguay and Brazil add another 1.3%.

So perhaps it is the formidable presence of southern Hemisphere wines on shelf at the LCBO that is driving this particular delusion of grandeur. There are always so many wines to choose from, and it is always very easy to find good wines from these countries. They are, by and large, safe, generous and easy to get to know. On top of which, many are very good value indeed. (A big factor in LCBO purchasing.)

Fess Parker Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014

If there is a negative connotation to “South Hemisphere” wines it might be that they are “cheaper, therefore less good quality”. But I believe this is largely a perception of those focused solely on European and American wine. Anyone who has investigated a few bottles South of the Equator understands that it is just not true, although it might have been more true a generation ago.

I have crossed the Equator 17 times since 2010 – with trips split almost equally among the top five wine producing countries. I was either invited on wine-focused press trips, or I was co-hosting groups of Canadians on culinary/athletics focused tours with Gold Medal Plates, a national fundraiser for Canada’s Olympic athletes. (Hey, how about our performance in PyeongChang?)

The latter trips were eye-openers in terms of the degree of acceptance and fondness shown to the wines of the Southern Hemisphere. Once people got to know them, they loved them and prejudices melted away like Canadian snowbanks in March. And they kept shaking their heads in disbelief at the prices.

But it was the press trips that dug into the reasons why the wines are so good. The other side of the world, in my view, has a much more liberated and practical/science-based view of wine and winemaking. Despite many instances of Euro ownership and imposition of tradition, there is a common, open-minded, very fast paced drive to improve all the areas of the game – from site and varietal selection, to viticultural and winemaking practices.

The rush to define terroirs seems the most urgent. What took centuries of evolution in Europe is being applied vigorously by a younger generation of well travelled, well schooled, practical winemakers South of the Equator.

And this is what I discovered in several of the better examples in the VINTAGES release. They were from very specific places and varieties well suited to those places – whether pinot noir from Patagonia, chenin blanc from Swartland, chardonnay from Eden Valley, malbec from Cafayate, or shiraz from Margaret River. And all this is very much a sign of a maturing hemisphere.

So don’t miss it, or dismiss it. Here are some of our picks.

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES March 3rd


Greywacke 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very fine somewhat subdued yet complex sauvignon from legendary NZ winemaker Kevin Judd, many years ago a founding partner in Cloudy Bay. It has a gentle nose of green apple, lime zest, green tea, fresh mint and wet stone/flint. All so subtle, tender yet fresh and refined. Excellent length and focus.…

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That’s it for this edition. Next week John Szabo responds with a focus on the (Evil?) Northern Hemisphere.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Fess Parker Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014