Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – July 21st, 2018

A Tour de France
By John Szabo, with notes from David Lawrason and Michael Godel

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report features France, the home and native land of fine wine. While we work tirelessly (and happily) to find the latest and greatest wines from undiscovered sources, it’s also critical to keep up with the classics. This gives us context and relativity, the ability to place lesser-known wines in some kind of world hierarchy of quality, price and style. And French wines are still the go-to paradigms against which so many other wines are measured. So here the WineAlign crü picks out some regional classics from the particularly France-rich July 21st VINTAGES release, which will help re-calibrate your wine-o-meter and enlarge the context of your preferences. You might even have fun. Take a Tour de France this week.

The Context of Greatness

At WineAlign we spend a lot of time travelling around planet wine and tasting as broadly as possible to bring to light those lesser-known little vinous treasures, rare indigenous varieties, forgotten regions, and future hot-spots for quality and value. These are the wines that nourish a wine lover’s curiosity and replenish enthusiasm; finding a new brilliant wine is as big a thrill for us as I imagine it is for an astronomer to discover a new galaxy (and thankfully it happens more frequently). But to find a new galaxy you must know what you’re looking for. In the wine universe, that means knowing the classics, the standards against which all new discoveries are measured, either consciously or subconsciously.

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Liberty School Chardonnay

Wine quality is, after all, highly relative: greatness doesn’t exist in a vacuum. To say a wine is great implies a comparison to some other wine that is equally great, or less great, to some degree. And it’s the depth of those relative comparisons that essentially separates opinion from expertise. Everyone has an opinion. Somewhat fewer have the experience to put it into a relative context and articulate the differences, while fewer still have the considerable knowledge and experience spanning, in the case of wine, vintages, grapes, places, producers and techniques, which is required to make ever-finer assessments and evaluations of style and quality. That’s not pretension. It’s just expertise, as it exists in any other technical-heavy fields like cars, or Hi-Fi audio equipment, or microbial populations.

As much as winemakers in the new world have increasingly of late sought to distance themselves from tiresome and over-used comparisons to old world paradigms, they’re nonetheless always there, lurking in the background, forming the subtext, creating the context of discussion. And France remains the number one source of these comparatives, her grapes the most well-travelled and widely diffused. Indeed, the world’s currently most planted red and white varieties, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, claim their origins in France. And peering back at these original paradigms from other parts of the world is as natural and inevitable, and wise, as double checking your mental arithmetic on a calculator.

I’m not suggesting that the goal is to emulate or reproduce a facsimile of someone else’s work, but neither can you create something different if you don’t know what the original looks like. It’s all part of the context, and the more the merrier.

This week we recommend examples from Burgundy, ground zero for chardonnay and pinot noir, a representative of the cabernet blend genre from Bordeaux’s right bank, archetypal rosés from Provence, an original cool climate sauvignon blanc from the Loire, and benchmark examples of syrah and GSM blends from the northern and southern Rhône, respectively.

July 21st Buyer’s Guide

French Whites

La Chablisienne 2015 Montmains Chablis 1er Cru AC, Burgundy ($34.95)
John Szabo – Quite tightly wound at this stage, surprisingly, this Montmains offers considerable reductive-leesy character (smoky-flinty), with a backdrop of wood spice, the ensemble still yet to fully integrate. The palate however indicates the future: flavour intensity is high and balance is impeccable. Best 2020-2027.…


There are 11 VINTAGES Release recommendations this week that are currently only available to our premium members. This complete article will be visible to all members 30 days after publication. We invite you to subscribe today to unlock our top picks and other Premium benefits.

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That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

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.

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

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


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The Pinot Party