Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – April 16, 2016

Signature Europe Feature
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s preview focuses on ‘signature’ European wines, the feature of the VINTAGES April 16th release. I’ve selected half a dozen classic wines – useful textbook expressions for anyone studying wine, which can be held up as regional models (helpful for benchmarking in blind tastings). I’ve also unearthed a half-dozen, under $20 wines covering a range of novel European regions (well, ancient regions less traveled, but worth re-discovering), and paradigm-shifting wines from established areas that offer an appealing new direction. France, Italy, Spain and Greece are represented, as well as an Istrian red, a fine entry point into the increasingly exciting world of Croatian wine.

Buyers’ Guide: Regional Classics

Fans of classic Loire Valley sauvignon will be comfortably familiar with the F. Tinel-Blondelet 2014 L’Arrêt Buffatte Pouilly-Fumé ($24.95). L’Arrêt Buffatte is one of the estate’s single vineyard bottlings, an amphitheatre exposed to the southwest with nearly 50 year-old-vines on Kimmeridgian marls. The name is a reference to the past, when Roman legionnaires used to stop at the site for rest and repast – did they set up a buffet? This offers plenty of quivering, stony minerals and acids on the palate, and long, reverberating finish; tart green apple flavours lead over lime and lemon notes. Best 2016-2022.

Old vines at Argyros Estate, Santorini-0184

Old vines at Argyros Estate, Santorini

I hesitated whether to include the Argyros 2015 Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece ($22.95) in the classic or novelty section; wine has been made on Santorini since pre-eruption times (3700+ years), though the style offered here is closer to just a quarter century old, coinciding with the arrival of the Boutari company on the island in 1989. The introduction of stainless steel and cool ferments made possible the rivetingly fresh, dry, stony wines we know today. Call it a modern classic. This is another excellent Santorini from Argyros, and a terrific bargain, worthy of up to a decade in the cellar – indeed it’s still a year or two from prime drinking – rich with extract and even palpably tannic. Best 2018-2025.

F. Tinel Blondelet L'arrêt Buffatte Pouilly Fumé 2014 Argyros Santorini Assyrtiko 2015 Santa Duc Roaix Les Crottes 2010 Cune Reserva 2011

The southern Rhône is faithfully represented by Gigondas-based Santa Duc and their 2010 Roaix Les Crottes , Côtes du Rhône-Villages, France ($19.95). It’s nicely mature now, with a high degree of complexity, in the realm of Châteauneuf for a fraction of the price. Organically-farmed old grenache vines (80%) meet young vines syrah in large ancient foudres, wild fermented, bottled unfiltered. Best 2016-2020.

Rioja is a region in full ferment, offering a huge range of styles ranging from slick, modern, French wood-inflected ‘vinos de autor’ (winemaker’s wines) to the ultra-traditional, American oak-infused styles that would have been familiar to late 19th century drinkers. CVNE sits closer the latter end, and their Cune 2011 Rioja Reserva, Spain ($24.95) is a classy and stylish, succulent and flavourful wine, with noted but integrated wood component and vibrant, fresh dark fruit character. I love the juicy acids and the fine-grained tannins, and the perfumed, lingering finish. Best 2016-2026.

San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 Il Grigio Da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2011 La Lecciaia Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

Signature Tuscan-style sangiovese is delivered by a couple of producers in this release: for pure value seek out the San Felice 2011 Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva, Italy ($27.95), an authentically savoury and dusty, crunchy red fruit flavoured wine from the heart of the Classico zone near Castelnuovo Berardenga, which is only a small step down from the outstanding but pricier 2011 Il Grigio da San Felice Gran Selezione Chianti Classico, Italy ($46.95). The top Tuscan expression comes from a little further south in the form of La Lecciaia’s superb 2010 Brunello Di Montalcino ($57.95). This is a delicious baroque symphony of spice and earth, with cascades of herbal-tinged red fruit on a dense, ripe and powerful frame, product of the great 2010 vintage. It also helps that La Lecciaia’s vineyards lie just south of town, in prime Brunello territory. Best 2016-2025.

Buyers’ Guide: Novelties, Paradigm Shifters and Future Classics

In the oft-polarized world of sauvignon blanc, pegged as either Loire or New Zealand style, there’s a third, very attractive, lesser-known expression: southern Austria/northern Italy. I find that Sauvignons from Styria, Alto Adige and Friuli find a comfortable middle ground between the laser-sharp stoniness of the Loire and the effusive and pungently green flavours of New Zealand. The Cantina Andriano 2014 Floreado Sauvignon Blanc, Südtirol/Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95) is a terrific example and fine value, too, offering an intriguing mix of citrus fruit, herb, and spice, liquorice and tarragon, wet stone and honey – in other words complexity in spades.

The majority of the tiny wine production from alpine France slakes the thirst of visiting skiers and hikers, but a few cases of Jean Perrier & Fils’ 2014 Apremont Cuvée Gastronomie, Savoie, France ($18.95) have found their way to VINTAGES, as I wish more would do. This is as fresh and breezy as a spring day, with a brisk dose of apply acids and engaging cherry blossom perfume that involuntarily conjure up an Alpine vista. Perhaps a bottle of this will actually conjure up a real Toronto spring. It’s a fine sipping wine, or as the label implies, accompaniment at the table when salads, fish terrines, shellfish or seafood are the order of the day.

Cantina Andriano Floreado Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Jean Perrier & Fils Cuvée Gastronomie 2014 Clos Troteligotte K Or Malbec 2014Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo 2013

The historically hard and impenetrable wines of Cahors in southwest France have sadly kept many consumers away from one of the world’s finest terroirs for malbec. But the Clos Troteligotte 2014 K-Or Malbec, Cahors ($18.95) is just the ticket to shift your paradigm of the area. It checks all of the right boxes: vineyards on the prized upper, iron-rich limestone terraces of the region favouring finesse over mammoth tannic structure, organic viticulture (converting to Biodynamics), simple winemaking, and ageing in cement vats to preserve the lovely leafy, floral, liquorice seed flavours inherent in the grape. I love the honest, succulent palate, the saliva-inducing acids, the pure drinkability of this wine.

I often find primitivo from Puglia to be overly raisined, sweet and soupy, like a poor country cousin of Amarone, but Antinori’s Apulian outpost Tormaresca reinvents the model; try the 2013 Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo, Salento, Italy ($20.95) for proof. Old bush vine primitivo from the Masseria Maime in upper Salento yield a big, meaty, solidly structured wine to be sure, but rendered in a modern style, clean, plush, generously proportioned but genuinely dry, with excellent length and depth, and measured barrel influence – an excellent expression. Best 2016-2023.

The smoking volcanic craters of Salinas. Photo courtesy of Hauner Wines.-4

The smoking volcanic craters of Salinas. Photo courtesy of Hauner Wines


I’m willing to bet you haven’t had too many wines from the Aeolian Islands, a highly active volcanic island arc in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily, which includes the island of Vulcano itself, the origin of the word volcano.

Vina Laguna Terra Rossa 2013 Hauner Salina Rosso 2013

Lovers of easy-drinking, soft and fruity wines need not apply here, however. The Hauner 2013 Salina Rosso, Sicily ($19.95) is a decidedly smoky, earthy, slightly tarry red from local grapes nero d’Avola and nerello mascalese, with crunchy-fresh acids and notable salinity, scoring high in the distinctive category, an essence of volcanic soils. This would be best served with a light chill, for BBQs of fatty cuts of meat, sausages, lamb and the like. Go on, don’t be afraid and give it a try. It’s far less dangerous than tasting it in situ.

Croatian wines have slowly been edging their way into the consciousness of sommeliers south of the border, approaching the sort of hip and cool status that Greek wines had a decade ago. You can get ahead of the curve with a bottle of the Vina Laguna 2013 Terra Rossa Istria, Croatia ($15.95). The cooler, red-soiled coastal vineyards of the Istrian Peninsula, opposite Venice at the northern end of the Adriatic, are the source of this unusual blend of local teran, with merlot and ‘Burgundy’ [sic] (pinot noir presumably). It’s the entry range from Vina Laguna, designed for immediate appeal, which it has, in a fruity, relatively soft, lightly wood-flavoured style. At the price, this more than delivers pleasure for drinkers seeking new horizons.

That’s all for this week. If you are in Toronto on April 14th, the Austrian Wine Fair is hosting a great tasting evening from 4:30 to 6:30 at the St. James Cathedral Centre. I’ve often said that Austria has a terrific wine culture. Now here’s your chance to taste over 160 wines from 30 prominent winemakers, without having to pay the airfare. See you over the next bottle of Grüner?


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 16, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All April 16th Reviews

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Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Chardonnay 2012

Austrian Wine Fair