Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – January 7, 2017

Best Buys Under $20, and a Resolution
by David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

We kick of 2017 like many years past, with a selection of well priced best buys from the January 7 release – indeed most picks are under $20. But before we get there, I present the New Year’s resolution I am most likely to keep.

Be it resolved that I will not waste time, effort and words on wines that I don’t recommend.

I have always believed that it is part of a critic’s job to warn readers away from poor quality and poor value wines. This is especially important in Ontario where the government is the monopoly retail buyer and seller of wine (imports at least), and government always needs an opposition to hold them to account. But this can be done with one simple phrase – Not Recommended. Writing a negative review is much more difficult than writing a good one – usually because one doesn’t want to offend – but in the end it pleases almost no one anyway.

The only real loss might be helping you better understand flawed or imbalanced or dilute wines, but how many will really go and buy that wine in the name of experience and education? Winemakers and LCBO buyers might also benefit from a critical review if it helps them correct a problem. In this case I am happy to answer their inquiries privately, and perhaps more fully. I will still be keeping notes on those Not Recommended wines.

So where am I going to the draw that Not Recommended line?

Here are the four categories of reviews you will see in my WineAlign space in 2017. (Note: Some of these will not start right away, as we may need to make some system adjustments)

Not Tasted: When I have not tasted a wine that you might have expected me to taste (at VINTAGES or the LCBO) NR will appear in the rating area (below the grape cluster) and Not Tasted will appear in the review space. Likewise, if a wine is faulted and I cannot confirm the fault in a second bottle NR will appear and I will say Re-Taste Required in the review area, until I get to re-taste.

Not Recommended: If a wine is not seriously flawed but has shortcomings in terms of balance, complexity and length that would drop it below 85 points, you will again see NR in the ratings area and Not Recommended in the review space.

Not Recommended On Value: If a wine is not recommended based on poor quality/price ratio you will still see a rating between 85 and 89 in the rating box, but Not Recommended in the review space. Further comment on value and style may or may not be included.

Not Recommended On Value will be as follows.
A wine under $10 that scores below 85
A wine $10 to $14.95 that score below 86
A wine $15 to $19.95 that scores below 87
A wine $20 to $24.95 that scores below 88
A wine $25.00 to $29.95 that scores below 89

Recommended: This is what you have been used to. A score will appear in the ratings box, and a full review will appear in the review space, if the wine meets the standards above. Any wine rating 90 or better will be reviewed at any price, but where value is still not met I will comment in the review.

Adopting this system is a personal choice, and it may not be used by other WineAlign critics. We are each to our own – chacun son vin – which is actually one of the great strengths of this enterprise, giving you a collection of different perspectives.

Personally I would like to dump the entire 100 point scale and see ratings go to a simple five-star system, but as long as we are stuck with it, and having to deal with all the subtle nuances around the differences of “one-point”, then I feel I should be trying to be more diligent and open about applying the system. This allows me to do so without building value into the actual rating.

So here we go with some picks from the January 7th release. Mine are all Best Buys Under $20. Hint: none scored 90, but they are all wines I would buy. Sara and Michael followed the under $20 theme and then added a few extras.

Top Picks from January 7th Release:

David Lawrason’s Best Buys Under $20

Gérald Talmard 2015 Mâcon-Uchizy, Burgundy, France ($15.95)
If you find many New World chardonnays too fruity and rich, and some Old World chardonnays too lean, may I suggest Macon as the middle ground. I am becoming a big fan of the less intense, linear yet still fruity profile of chardonnays from this southern edge of Burgundy. And I am an even bigger fan of their price.

Fairview 2014 The Goatfather, Coastal Region, South Africa, ($14.95)
This swarthy, South African red  blends Italian varieties like sangiovese, nebbiolo and barbera with cabernet sauvignon from different parts of the Cape’s coastal regions. It’s warm, ferrous, meaty, edgy and intense. No shortage of flavour complexity or length, especially at the price. Perfect for mid-winter roasts and stews.

Gérald Talmard Mâcon Uchizy 2015 The Goatfather 2014Quercecchio Rosso Di Montalcino 2012Le Gravillas Sablet Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2014Heartland Stickleback Red 2013

Quercecchio 2014 Rosso di Montalcino, Tuscany ($15.95)
This captures the lovely rosemary-scented aromatics I have come to expect from the reds of Montalcino, along with the red currant/berry fruit of sangiovese. This doesn’t have the depth and gravitas of big brother Brunello, but there is poise and complexity here well beyond its price.

Le Gravillas 2104 Sablet Côtes du Rhône-Villages, France ($15.95)
I am always on the look-out for good “basic” Cotes du Rhone and Villages wines. Often they are simply boring and a bit coarse. This shows firm balance and good fruit without austerity or bitterness. The length is very good, especially for the price. Could be my Tuesday night/house Rhone, just lightly chilled.

Heartland 2013 Stickleback Red, South Australia ($14.95)
Here’s a very tasty, great value Aussie red – a blend of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, grenache and merlot. Elegance may not be a strong suit, but nicely defined flavours menthol/spearmint, cabernet blackcurrant and shiraz pepper pile on. It’s medium-full bodied, juicy yet nicely dry with some sweetness and alcohol burn. Better than most Aussie reds at the price.

Sara d’Amato’s Sommelier Selections

Budureasca 2015 Feteasca Regala, Dealu Mare, Romania ($11.95)
Feteasca regala is an expressive and flavourful grape variety planted throughout Eastern Europe but it is most widely grown in Romania. This example is sourced from the central Dealu Mare region, were the variety is most widely planted. An inexpensive discovery find, this widely appealing, unoaked and youthful version is barely off-dry due to an abundance of freshness on the palate. Compelling notes of white flower permeate the palate along with notes of pear and almond.

Giesen 2014 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand ($21.95)
The Giesen brother proprietors, Alex, Theo and Marcel are German ex-pats who fell head over heels for Marlborough’s unique cool climate growing region and have dedicated themselves to the production of expressive pinot noir and riesling. Although now a household name, their style remains offbeat and innovative. The 2014 incarnation of the Geisen pinot noir is youthful yet revealing, offering old world light-footedness and complexity along with a spicy, creative panache.

Budureasca Feteasca Regala 2014Giesen Pinot Noir 2014Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2014Roche De Bellene Bourgogne Pinot Noir Cuvée Réserve 2014

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA ($17.95)
Although chardonnay is the hallmark of this eminent Washington producer, its collaborative efforts with Mosel producer Dr. Loosen have turned a focus on riesling. This solo effort from Chateau Ste. Michelle is an entry level, easy drinking riesling that is deceptively complex, brilliantly structured and makes for a spirited weeknight libation.

Roche de Bellene 2014 Bourgogne Pinot Noir Cuvée Réserve, Burgundy, France ($21.95)
Roche de Bellene once again delivers an impressive quality to price ratio. There is perhaps more power in this 2014 cuvée but due regard for origin and regional style is notable. One of the more complex entry-level Burgundian pinot noirs that offers a little wildness beneath its refined façade.

Michael Godel’s Mix

Laurent Miquel 2014 Nord Sud Viognier, Vin De Pays D’oc ($14.95)

Always terrific value in Midi Viognier, purposeful and loyal to what is and seems to want to be in the south of France. If you like aromatic, able-bodied and food-friendly viognier than get a load of this clean, fruity and floral north-south beauty.

Baronia del Montsant 2011 Flor d’Englora Garnatxa, Montsant, Spain ($15.95)

Wonderfully balanced garnacha from Montsant with just a minor, nuanced level of funk. Sourced from Llicorella and Codols soil types abutting good solid altitude (533m) in the foothills of the Siurana Valley. The confluence treats garnacha to a feast of unique characteristics and impart nothing but spirit into the effort. Worth the entry-level detour and a lovely showing with a few years extra age to up and celebrate its game.

Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier 2014Baronia Del Montsant Flor D'englora Garnatxa 2011Piattelli Premium Reserve Malbec 2013

Piattelli 2013 Premium Reserve Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95)

The nativity in this stylish malbec is clear as Tuscan in origin but its status is made classic by Mendoza. Lujan de Cuyo’s 3,000-plus feet of altitude adds stature and perpendicular length to the ripeness and the terrific linear acidity. An added year of development before release into our market is a plus for integration and drinkability.

Organized Crime 2013 Cabernet Franc, Ontario ($18.95)

Classic and I mean classic Beamsville Bench cabernet franc aromatics are in the know with organized precision and soil-deriving crime. Take Chinon and drag it through sweet mud, coat it in candy apple shell and finish it off with the finest tannic dust and you get the drift. The fruit is ripe and sweet, the flavours slightly savoury but nothing gains or climbs over the top. Warmer, richer and more intense than either Lincoln Lakeshore or Creek Shores and exactly what this Bench can give.

Organized Crime Cabernet Franc 2013Nikolaihof Hefeabzug Grüner Veltliner 2014Marquis De Montferrat Saint Joseph 2012

Nikolaihof Wachau 2014 Terrassen Grüner Veltliner, Austria ($20.95)

If I were to buy only one grüner veltliner in 2017 I would not pass on this affordable Nikolaihof and hold out for something else. Many will come through VINTAGES for a few dollars less but none will match its authenticity and its ability. There is no need to slap entry-level status on this Nikolaihof. Know that its affordability is only exceeded by its drinkablity that is simply eclipsed by its excellence.

Marquis de Montferrat 2012 Saint Joseph, Ac Rhone, France ($29.95)

One of my favourite discoveries through VINTAGES is affordable syrah from St. Joseph in the northern Rhône valley. The combination of fruit purity, low alcohol and food compatibility is hard to beat. A couple of extra years have graced this syrah with some qualitative age and render it quite pleasurable at this stage. The price is right for the appellation and while this certainly does not re-write or define the St. Joseph book it is a pure expression of syrah and will age positively for another three to four years. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted January 2017.


Happy New Year!

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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 January 7th Reviews

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012