John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for November 23, 2013

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John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Invest heavily on November 23rd! That’s my advice after tasting 130+ wines from the upcoming VINTAGES release. It’s one of the most impressive collections I’ve seen, like what you’d expect to taste at the sommelier all-star game.

I’ve highlighted two-dozen smart buys, divided under varietal or regional headings, ranging from $15 to $88. If you can’t find something that fits your taste and budget here, then I’ll turn to tea tasting.

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Domäne Wachau Achleiten Smaragd Riesling 2011Kerpen’s Graacher Domprobst 1 Star Riesling Auslese2011 Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling SpätleseI promise to keep recommending great German Riesling until you start drinking more of it. There are just too many original, enjoyable, undervalued wines to ignore. Yes, the 2011 Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese ($23.95) is off-dry, but it’s balanced by crackling acids and more than fleshed out by ripe, honey slathered peach, apricot, and pear fruit, plus of course great minerality – absolutely textbook down to the generous expression of the Goldtröfchen vineyard. Decant if serving now, or hold a decade or longer.

2010 was a magical vintage for the later harvest styles, and Kerpen’s Graacher Domprobst 1 Star Riesling Auslese ($36.95) is mesmerizing. It’s rich, unctuous, extremely intense but perfectly poised and balanced. This is a wine for the ages – it should continue to improve over the next decade, and I wouldn’t be surprised to be enjoying this in 2030 and beyond.

Riesling is Austria’s best-kept secret – only about 3% of acreage is devoted to it, but the top examples from the Danube Valley are equal to the best in the world. Domäne Wachau’s 2011 Riesling Smaragd Achleiten is brilliant. Smaragd refers to ripeness at harvest– the highest level in the Wachau, while Achleiten is the name of the ridiculously steep, terraced, primary rock vineyard overlooking the Danube. The wine is bone dry, tight, intense and full of verve.


2010 Santa Carolina Gran Reserva Chardonnay ($14.95) will fit the bill when wide appeal is required, offering enough complexity and interest to keep the punters happy.

Santa Carolina Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2010Domaine Bachey Legros Vieilles Vignes Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot 1er Cru 20102010 Domain Rijckaert Puligny-Montrachet Les Champgains 1er CruBut when granny’s fine chinaware is dusted off, pour some fine white Burgundy (just leave the thick cut-crystal glasses in the cupboard and go with sleek Schott Zweisel stems). 2010 Domaine Bachey-Legros Vieilles Vignes Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot 1er Cru ($59.95) is an excellent option, a youthful, plump, densely concentrated old vines Chassagne best served at cellar temperature (12ºC), from a decanter.

For a more idiosyncratic but haunting expression, try the 2010 Domain Rijckaert Puligny-Montrachet Les Champgains 1er Cru ($69.95). I can’t call this typical Puligny with its golden-topaz tinge and honeyed, wheat bread, wet hay and walnut aromas and flavours that are more typical in 10-year-old wine, but the flavour intensity and underlying minerality are striking. Without exaggerating too much, this is like Krug champagne without the bubbles.

Other Whites & Blends

2012 Pierre Luneau-Papin Clos Des Allées Muscadet Sévre et Maine ($18.95). Yes, I’m recommending muscadet, again. Like German riesling, the best are among the most regionally distinct wines for the money, anywhere. Luneau-Papin is a reference, just don’t expect soft and fruity – the palate is yet lean and a touch austere – a wine drinker’s wine to be sure. But considering the extract, I’d expect this to flesh out and gain weight over the next couple of years. Decant if serving this year.

Stratus White 2010Domaine Du Petit Métris Clos De La Marche Savennières 2009Pierre Luneau Papin Clos Des Allees Muscadet Sevre Et Maine 2012If flesh and richness are what you’re after, consider the 2009 Domaine Du Petit Métris Clos De La Marche Savennières ($23.95) or the 2010 Stratus White ($44.20). The former is a dry chenin blanc of substantial depth and honeyed, spiced fruit character, ready for luxury shellfish or white meats, while the latter is the most compelling Stratus white to date. Essentially a semillon-sauvignon blend with viognier and a splash of chardonnay, it, too, has late-harvest-like aromatics of dried peaches and apricots, marmalade, guava and melon, and intense violet perfume, with a rich and creamy palate balanced by brisk underlying acids.


Italy provides three marvelously savoury, traditional-style wines: Jerzu’s 2008 Chuèrra Riserva Cannonau Di Sardegna ($16.95) makes no concessions to polished modern winemaking nor prevailing international tastes, remaining steadfastly Italian with its dried fruit and pot pourri flavours. Similarly, Terredora’s 2010 Aglianico ($16.95) is all dried flowers and dirt, in the finest sense, reminiscent of solid Langhe nebbiolo.

But for the real thing, nebbiolo fans should consider the excellent 2008 Palladino Parafada Barolo ($68.00), a lovely old school Barolo from the excellent Parafada cru in Serralunga, complete with pale garnet red colour, fully evolved, savoury aromatics, tons of umami flavour, and dry, dusty tannins. Palladino’s philosophy that “tradition allows history to live on”, sums it up nicely.

Jerzu Chuèrra Riserva Cannonau Di SardegnaTerredora Aglianico 2010Palladino Parafada Barolo 2008Château Potensac 2009


Plenty of great 2009 Bordeaux have been hitting the Canadian market recently, but I was particularly struck by Château Potensac ($41.85) arriving November 23. It’s a classy left bank Bordeaux that has managed to retain a large measure of sophistication and structure in the otherwise soft and come-hither 2009 vintage. There’s plenty of fruit here to be sure, along with well-integrated barrel spice, but there’s also freshness, tension, and genuine tannic backbone. Decant if drinking now, or cellar 15+ years.

Pinot Noir

Louis Jadot Clos Des Ursules Beaune 1er Cru 2010Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2011Canada has far more pinot diamonds in the rough than just a handful of years ago, thanks to the favourable 2009 and 2010 vintages. The jury is still largely out on 2011, but Hidden Bench’s Estate Pinot Noir ($32.95) is definitely worth a look. It’s a muscular, powerful and concentrated pinot in the customary house style, where ultra low yields and generous extraction are the norm. I’d leave this aside for another 2-3 years for maximum integration.

Back in the spiritual homeland of pinot, track down a bottle of 2010 Louis Jadot Clos Des Ursules Beaune 1er Cru ($74.95). Although Jadot is a large operation, quality is astonishingly high across the board, and the Clos des Ursules is particularly special. The cru is walled in a portion of the Beaune 1er Cru Vignes Franches purchased in 1826 by Louis Henry Denis Jadot, and has remained a monopole of the Jadot family ever since. The 2010 is a very pretty wine, for fans of arch-classic red Burgundy, in the typically delicate and floral style of Beaune.


Catena Zapata Nicasia Vineyard Malbec 2009Mendel Malbec 2010Salentein Reserve Malbec 2011Malbec sales have been slipping in Canada due mostly to the inevitable nuclear fission of the Fuzion brand, but, like all ends, the result is a new beginning. The future of Argentine malbec is wine of genuine balance and complexity, not simply jam, wood and heavy bottles. For a view of the elegance and complexity achievable, pick your entry price and enter via one of the following three windows:

2011 Salentein Reserve Malbec ($17.95)

2010 Mendel Malbec ($24.95)

2009 Catena Zapata Nicasia Vineyard Malbec ($87.95)

The secret to all three is elevation. The higher, the cooler, the better for refinement and natural acids. The pricing here reflects a climb in intensity, depth and complexity.

Spain & Portugal

Portugal, and especially Spain, are hot categories in Canada. And it’s about time, too. Our neighbours to the south have been putting back Spanish wines like oxtail after a bullfight for several years now. Modernity has found a place alongside the ultra-traditional, with both coexisting in peace. In the premium range, the 2004 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial ($38.95) represents the old guard in all its glorious traditionalism, complete with an amazing amalgam of toasted coconut, burnt caramel, dried figs and dates, resinous herbs and more, with the telltale heavy influence of American oak ageing. This is the sort of wine that you can sip slowly all evening and keep on discovering new things.

La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial 2004Alion 2009Quinta Vale D. Maria Vinho TintoThe 2009 Alion Ribera Del Duero ($84.95) on the other hand, represents modernity at its finest. Bodegas y Viñedos Alión was established in 1992 with the aim of demonstrating that even the well-established Alvarez family of legendary 19thC Bodega Vega Sicilia can produce “wines of the 21stC”. But make no mistake – this is not modernity at its over-extracted, oaky worst – Alión is a wine of remarkable depth, matching fruit concentration with tight tannins and bright acids. Put a note on the bottle not to touch before 2018.

Douro reds continue to gain in stature as more and more effort is focused on them rather than on the fortifieds. Quinta Vale D. Maria is one of my reference producers, and their 2010 Douro ($65.25) is exceptional, displaying an uncommon degree of elegance, freshness and florality allied to dense and compact structure. If I had anything to reproach, it would be the palate warming alcohol (14.5% declared), but there are few wines that can wear this sort of ripeness with as much flair and elegance. This will be best after 2018 or so.

Southern France

Domaine La Roquéte Chåteauneuf Du Pape 20102008 Château d'Anglès Languedoc La ClapeSouthern France, and especially the Languedoc and Roussillon, continue to crank out fantastic values. The 2008 Château d’Anglès La Clape ($20.95) is a prime example, a syrah-dominated blend that delivers abundant smoky, smoked meat, cold cream, black pepper, and cassis fruit notes, with a wicked streak of scorched earth-minerality underlying it all. There’s plenty of personality here for the money.

2010 has proved to be an exceptional vintage in the southern Rhône and especially Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Among many excellent wines, look for 2010 Domaine La Roquète Châteauneuf-Du-Pape ($49.95). It offers plenty of old vine (50+ years) sappiness and density, not to mention terrific length. This should continue to gain in interest and complexity over the next 4-6 years, but has already achieved a fine value-for-money ratio even in this premium price range.


Creekside Broken Press Syrah 2010M. Chapoutier Les Bécasses Côte Rôtie 2010I don’t rank syrah/shiraz as one of Ontario’s most promising grapes, but in the hands of Rob Power at Creekside, in the right vintages, it does indeed deliver something special. The 2010 Creekside Broken Press Syrah ($39.95) is a seriously smoky, savoury, black pepper-scented wine, which bears more than a passing resemblance to fine Côte Rôtie. As such, it’s a fine value I’d say; best from 2016, or hold until the mid-twenties.

Double down and you’ll get the real thing, but let me know if it’s twice as good (184 points?). The 2010 M. Chapoutier Les Bécasses Côte-Rôtie ($84.00) is an arch-classic Côte-Rôtie crafted from several parcels in the Côte Brune and Côte Blonde sub-areas. Its structure is based on finesse rather than sheer power, as all great northern Rhône syrah should be. This will be best from 2016-2030.

John Szabo, A Master ClassNo plans this evening? Join me for an insider’s tour through the world of wine. I’ve selected an outstanding lineup of up-and-coming grapes, regions, producers and styles – the stuff you wouldn’t likely know about unless you are immersed in the wine trade – that are ripe for discovery. Pick up some tips on how to taste, serve and pair wine and food like a master sommelier along the way. See more details and get your tickets here.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

From the November 23, 2013 Vintages release:

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Penfolds Grange 2008

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