Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Oct 29th, 2016

Compare Your Predictions with the World’s; Top Smart Buys in VINTAGES, and Licencee Alert! Fine Niagara Pinot under $25
by John Szabo

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In this week’s report, compare your predictions on the development and future trends of the wine world with those of key industry stakeholders in seven major international markets. Do your perceptions and predictions match theirs? Are these international views mirrored in Canada? The buyer’s guide features the top smart buys from the Vintages October 29th release, including the best of the Bordeaux theme, as well as random excellence from Portugal, Italy, California, and Greece. Finally, licencees in search of listable pinot noir under $25 take note: a trio of top Niagara pinot noir for on-premise only is now available. And if you missed it, last week David revisited the 90-point rational and he and the crü shared their top 90+ wines from the release. Premium members can see them all here.

What’s Trending in the World of Wine? Compare Your Views

A recent survey conducted by Sopexa, an international communication and marketing agency specializing in food and wine, sheds some light on current perceptions and the future of the world wine market. The findings of the 2016 Wine Trade Monitor were compiled from the responses of 1,100 key stakeholders in seven major international markets (USA, Canada, Russia, China, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea), including importers, wholesalers and retailers, presenting their 2-year forecast on market development and key trends for still wine (champagne, sparkling and fortified wines were not included). Take a moment to consider the questions below, then read on to find out what the rest of the world thinks. Will this be true for Canada?

  1. Which country is an essential part of any import or retail portfolio?
  2. Which country is poised to enjoy the greatest growth in sales?
  3. Which country enjoys the most positive image across categories such as “special occasions”, “sustainably developed”, “wide range”, and “consistent taste”? Who’s at the bottom?
  4. Which country is most closely associated with “attractively priced”, and “wines for every day”?
  5. Which country is viewed as the most innovative?
  6. What will be the main driving force behind consumer purchasing decision: region/appellation, variety, price, or organic/sustainable/biodynamic?
  7. Which grape variety is on the way up, and which is on the way out?



Answers (at least, according to Sopexa):


    1. Question: Which country is an essential part of any import or retail portfolio?

    Answer: France.

    No news here. France is still the most popular wine-producing country in trade portfolios, considered a “must-stock” category. Vin français is represented in the portfolios of 94% of respondents. Italy follows (80%), then Spain (76%). Within our borders, however, there’s no doubt Spain is far less represented. We’re a little slow on that trend, but it’s definitely a growing category.
In the new world, Chile leads the way, listed by 64% of those surveyed, compared to Australia (62%) and the USA (58%). In Canada, I’d wager the USA and Australia are far ahead of Chile.

      1. Question: Which country is poised to enjoy the greatest growth in sales?

      Answer: Spain.

      To my point above, 40% of all respondents – and 1 in 2 in Canada –anticipate a significant increase in sales of Spanish wines by 2018. Christian Barré, President of the Spanish Wine Federation And Managing Director Of Pernod Ricard Winemakers Spain, points out:
“Among the reasons behind the success of Spanish wines, I would mention first of all that for a great number of consumers, they are seen to offer great value for money, which is a real selling point in times of economic crisis. In addition, the entire Spanish wine sector, particularly certain wine regions such as Rioja, has become very aware – faced with this crisis – of the need to develop exports. It has therefore grouped together to promote the growth of its wines and brands internationally.”

        1. Question: Which country enjoys the most positive image across categories such as “special occasions”, “sustainably developed”, “wide range”, and “consistent taste”? Who’s at the bottom?

        Answer: France.

        Again, no surprise here. A 200 year head start on the world of fine wine takes time to erode. “In terms of global image, France lies significantly ahead of its competitors. 69% of all respondents consider French wines to be the most successful, across all criteria.” In contrast, and perhaps more surprisingly, Italy lies at the other end of the scale with only 13% of votes. I think Canadian love for Italian wines runs a little deeper.

          1. Question: Which country is most closely associated with “attractively priced”, and “wines for every day”?

          Answer: Spain and Chile.

          Did you guess that Spain and Chile top the value list? Chile, in particular, has been considered a haven for bargains since first emerging on the Canadian import scene in the late 1980s. I suspect the Chileans would like to shed that image, however, and get on the premium bandwagon. It’s a lesson Spain should study closely as more and more Spanish wines enter the market.

            1. Question: Which country is viewed as the most innovative?

            Answer: Australia

            Australia comes out as the most innovative country, a testament to the effectiveness of the steadfast educational blitzkrieg of Wine Australia over the last decade, aimed at debunking the myth that Oz offers little more than simple sunshine in a bottle. It is indeed a dynamic country (so is Chile, yet fewer people seem aware of this). Australian shiraz?  It doesn’t exist. You gotta be more specific to be taken as a serious wine professional these days.

              1. Question: What will be the main driving force behind consumer purchasing decision: region/appellation, variety, price, or organic/sustainable/biodynamic?

              Answer: Region/appellation.

              Place, it seems, matters most. A wine’s origins will continue to drive purchasing decisions, and become increasingly important, adding the most value. Variety and low-cost are the second and third most important factors, while organic/biodynamic certification is the least important purchase driver, despite what we wine writers continue to say, except in Japan. But we also say that place matters, a lot.

                1. Question: Which grape variety is on the way up, and which is on the way out?

                Answer: Grenache is in, malbec is out.

                When did you last try a Grenache? “Currently one of the world’s most cultivated grape varieties, Grenache is particularly sought-after by North-American wine professionals who now rank it among their top 5” says the survey. Grenache is now positioned 4th overall behind cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir. “Olivier Moreaux, Director of Sopexa Americas explains: “The demand for Grenache-based wines is in line with strong growth over recent years in sales of Spanish wines, as well as wines from the Rhone and Languedoc-Roussillon. Offering great value for money, Grenache-based wines beautifully meet consumer needs as they are well structured, fruit-driven and easy-to-drink.”

                On the contrary, Malbec seems to have lost its luster: “Just 5 years ago it was at the top of the rankings, particularly in the US.” Argentina, of course, leads the malbec market, actually single-handedly created it, but now it’s suffering from the sameness syndrome and the boredom that accompanies it. The next crucial step for Argentina will be to both diversify their varietal offering and to differentiate between regional styles of malbec.

                So there you have it. Are these accurate predictions, or self-fulfilling prophecies? Your dollars will decide.

                Top Picks from the Oct 29th VINTAGES release:

                Smart Buys Red

                A bit pricey for Chianti Classico you’ll say (though you wouldn’t balk at $70 for Brunello, would you?) the Fattoria Di Fèlsina Rància Riserva Chianti Classico 2011 ($69.95) is a very serious, dense, ripe and rich wine, aimed at the top level. The Rancia vineyard is the estate’s top parcel, perfectly southwest facing and rising up to over 400 meters on the marly-limestone of Castelnuovo Berardenga. This 2011 is superbly structured, highly extracted yet still balanced, for fans of bold and concentrated reds, yet with the sharp acid lift and lovely savoury-herbal finish that sangiovese does so well. It’s one for the cellar, best 2018-2026.

                Bordeaux is the main theme of the October 29th release, and the best of the dozen or so wines is the Château Dufort Vivens 2010 Margaux Grand Cru Classé ($54.95). Unquestionably a great vintage in the Médoc, this classy, well-composed wine has attractive vibrancy and lovely lift, with acids balanced by firm and abundant tannic structure. Fresh fruit still has some scope to evolve, so tuck it away for another 2 to 4 years for best enjoyment, or hold until the mid-twenties.

                Most of what Dirk Niepoort makes is brilliant, so there was no surprise by the quality of the Niepoort Dão Rótulo Red 2013 ($18.95). He first ventured from his base in the Douro into the Dão in 2012, seeking old vines that express the unique (cooler) conditions of the region and its solid granite bedrock. The idea behind Rótulo is to make “fresh and light wines with a traditional profile and very gastronomic”, according to Niepoort, and this blend of touriga nacional, jaen (aka mencía in Spain) and alfrocheiro accomplishes just that. It’s lovely and fragrant, very floral, with lively acids and very good length. I love the peppery freshness, the honest, grippy tannins, and the balanced, mid-weight palate that invites some salty protein. Best 2016-2021.

                Fattoria Di Fèlsina Rància Riserva Chianti Classico 2011Château Dufort Vivens 2010Niepoort Dão Rótulo Red 2013

                Smart Buys White

                There’s nothing like a paradigm shifting wine to shatter those comfortable pre-conceived notions. If you’re still under the impression that Napa makes blowsy, woody chardonnay, the Stony Hill Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley ($71.00) will give you a hearty shake. In the league of other greats like Montelena and Mayacamas, this is shockingly fresh for a 6-year-old wine. But then again, Stony Hill has been producing tight, ageworthy, minerally chardonnay from vineyards 600 feet above the valley floor in St. Helena since 1952. The palate is superb: salty, firm, with pitch-perfect balance and exceptional length. There’s a great core of flinty fruit, tightly wound around vibrant acids. Drink or better yet hold long term – in a good cellar, this will last another couple of decades.

                And if you thought that gewürztraminer could rarely achieve more than a pleasantly plump and obvious aromatic profile, you’ll be floored by the Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2013, Alsace ($64.00). It’s premium-priced to be sure, but it’s an exceptional wine from the storied house of Weinbach, rich and very generously proportioned, classically styled with effusive lychee and rosewater aromas/flavours, but also with an uncommonly generous dusting of mineral flavours and overall complexity. Noble bitterness serves to balance a pinch of residual sugar, keeping it lively through the terrifically long finish. Drink, or hold mid-term for even more exotic flavours.

                And for a little horizon-expansion, visit the cool, windswept region of Amyndeon in Macedonia, northern Greece, via the superb value Kir-Yianni Estate White Samaropetra Vineyard 2015, Florina ($17.95). A blend of equal parts roditis and sauvignon blanc, Kir-Yianni’s blend brings the ripe and fragrant side of sauvignon together with the stony-acid-structured character of native roditis in a minerally ensemble. Length and depth are very good. This is well worth discovering, for fans of unoaked, characterful, smoky-flinty whites.

                Stony Hill Chardonnay 2010Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2013Kir Yianni Estate White Samaropetra Vineyard 2015

                John Szabo’s Ontario Licencee Buyer’s Guide: Top Niagara Pinot Noir under $25 

                Attention licencees! What’s the hardest category to fill on your list? For me, it’s always pinot noir that tastes like pinot noir, for less than $25, especially in the cool climate category. Well, now we have some options. After years of build up, Ontario has finally come of age in the realm of pinot production, achieving both quality, and for the first time, some quantity. And with quantity comes reasonable pricing, following the laws of supply and demand.

                Adhere to the simple strategy of choosing the “entry level” wines from a top producer, like going to the bistro next door to the Michelin-starred restaurant run by the same kitchen, and things usually work out. At the Somewhereness tasting earlier this week, populated by top Ontario wineries, I came across three exceptional value Niagara pinots, two from the superb 2013 vintage. Although a challenging year, ’13 proves once again that beauty is born in the cradle of adversity and hardship. ’14 was also challenging, though (limited) tastings so far show lots of promise as well.

                Tawse has managed the tricky downward expansion into more reasonably priced wines admirably (the Sketches range, for example), without tarnishing the luster of the top wines. And now for the first time, Paul Pender has released a licencee-only Tawse 2013 Pinot Noir (Lic. $21.95), the direct result of an increase in production. Made from mostly young vines, it doesn’t reach the heights of the single-vineyard cuvées, though it’s not far off, silky and perfumed in the house style, and more than varietally accurate.

                And speaking of perfume, Thomas Bachelder’s 2014 Parfum Pinot Noir (Lic $21.90) delivers just that, high-toned and floral in the Bachelder style, essentially declassified fruit/barrels from the Lowrey vineyard in St. David’s Bench (‘93/’88 plantation) but mostly Wismer Parke in the Twenty Mile Bench. In Burgundian terms, this would be a regional ‘Côte de Beaune’ cuvée, but a very fine one at that.

                For a slightly more meaty and broad shouldered pinot noir, look to the Hidden Bench 2013 Bistro series (Lic. $19.95). Like all HB wines, it’s made exclusively from estate fruit, generally the younger vines and barrels that don’t make it into the single vineyards or the estate bottling. But considering that the baseline is set high here, with all wines built on big structure from vineyard management on up, there’s no big drop in quality or complexity.

                While it’s true that all three of these wineries would be out of business in no time if they sold only these wines, the least we can do is recognize their efforts to help licencees out. And help spread the word on Ontario pinot noir.

                Tawse Pinot Noir 2013Hidden Bench Bistro Pinot Noir 2013Bachelder Parfum Pinot Noir 2014

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






                John Szabo, MS

                From VINTAGES October 29, 2016

                Don’t Miss this Volcanic Event – Nov 22nd!

                Join John Szabo, Master Sommelier, principal critic at WineAlign and author of the recently published book: Volcanic Wines, Salt, Grit and Power, at George Restaurant on November 22nd for an explosive taste & buy event of volcanic wines selected from a dozen of the finest private import/consignment portfolios available in Ontario. Explore these unique regions and pick your favourites for your own volcanic wine tasting at home. John will be on hand to sign your copy of his new book and to answer questions.

                Your ticket includes:

                • Wine samples from top ‘Volcanic’ consignment portfolios
                • Volcanic inspired hors d’oeuvres created by chef Lorenzo Loseto
                • A signed copy of John’s new book
                • Opportunity to purchase top quality wines not available at the LCBO


                A photo exhibit of John’s best work from the book will be on display to take you vicariously around the volcanic wine world, and volcano-inspired, passed hors d’oeuvres created by George’s celebrated culinary artist, Lorenzo Loseto, will prepare you for the next sip


                Use these quick links for immediate access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release.

                Lawrason’s Take
                Sara’s Sommelier Selections
                Michael’s Mix
                Szabo’s Smart Buys
                All October 29th Reviews

                New Release and VINTAGES Preview

                Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


                Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2013