John Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – February 4th, 2017

Willamette Valley Pinot Feature; Top Wines from South Africa and the Rest of the World
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report takes us on a journey to the Willamette Valley where pinot is the word, and raison d’être of this small Pacific Northwest appellation, a region as rich as a 19th century Russian novel in geological happenings and pinot producing protagonists. The VINTAGES February 4th release features South Africa, which comes up shiny with a couple of outrageous value whites, as well as “European Discovery”. But I found several excellent non-European wines to also add to my recommended list this week, ranging in price from $14 to $55.

Defining the Willamette Valley: Pinot Noir

On a recent journey to the valley with fellow wine pros and pinot scavengers Véronique Rivest (Soif Wine Bar in Hull and vice world sommelier champion) and Brad Royale (wine director, Canadian Rocky Mountain Resots and WineAlign judge), ever under the watchful eye of majestic volcanic peak Mt. Hood, and with wintry weather more familiar to a Canadian than an Oregonian, we journeyed to the highest and remotest points of the Valley to learn which soils are found where.

Majestic Mt. Hood at sunset

We kicked up Willakenzie marine sediments in the Yamhill-Carlton and Ribbon Ridge AVAs, and scraped windblown Laurelwood loess from the eastern ridge of the Chehalem Mountain AVA, facing directly into the gaping Columbia Gorge. My findings and more are posted as a separate Free Run article.

For those who like to head straight to my smart buys, read on. There will be plenty to choose from on the shelves February 4th.

February 4th Buyers’ Guide:


Andrea Oberto 2012 Barolo DOCG Piedmont, Italy ($54.95) Moving along nicely at this stage, Oberto’s Barolo from La Morra offers lovely high-toned floral perfume, fresh road tar, fully ripe red berry fruit, resinous herbs, and so much more, part of the classic, more feminine, nebbiolo repertoire. The palate is fullish, succulent and satisfying, densely packed yet enlivened by fresh acidity, firmed up by dusty, grippy, but largely integrated tannins. Terrific length. Lovely wine; drink or hold mid-term. Best 2017-2027.

Mount Veeder Winery 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley California, USA ($49.95) A true mountain wine, the nose here is tight and smoky, dark and brooding, a long ways away from revealing its full potential, while the palate is likewise tight and concentrated, intensely tannic (for Napa). Give this another 3-5 years minimum to unfurl and develop – there’s ton of stuffing here. And value, in a relative sense, is excellent. Best 2020-2033.

Andrea Oberto Barolo 2012 Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Tectonia Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Bodegas Volcanes de Chile 2013 Tectonia Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile ($19.95) This just feels right on the palate: a nicely proportioned, succulent and juicy, and above all fresh and balanced cabernet from the foothills of the volcanic Andes. It has all of the minty-evergreen-sage brush flavours one has come to expect from Maipo cabernet, but with an extra measure of acid freshness and salty-minerality typical in volcanic cabernet. I like the well-defined and chiselled flavour profile, and the genuine concentration and balance. Best 2017-2023.

Bridlewood 2014 Blend 175, Central Coast, California, USA ($19.95) I’m not sure if 175 blending trials were truly necessary to assemble this attractive ripe black fruit-flavoured wine, but the results are very satisfying in any case. You’ll have to appreciate the sweet mocha-chocolate flavours of oak to fully get into it, alongside very ripe, verging on lightly raisined fruit character. The attractively soft and round, fleshy palate, however, is easy to love. I like the high extract and concentration, especially in the price category. Best 2017-2022.

Bridlewood Blend 175 2014 Chateau Saint Roch Vieilles Vignes Syrah Grenache 2014

Chateau Saint-Roch 2014 Vieilles Vignes Syrah Grenache, AP Côtes de Roussillon, France ($15.95) $16? Buy by the case. It’s full, sappy, ripe, very fleshy and concentrated, a terrific syrah-grenache blend for the money, with all of the depth and complexity of many southern Rhône or Priorat blends at twice the price. There’s an added bonus of intriguing scorched earth-like minerality, common in the schistous parts of the Roussillon. Best 2017-2024.

South Africa & Other Whites

Avondale 2015 Jonty’s Ducks Pekin White, WO Paarl, South Africa ($15.95) I’d almost think this was being sold at 50% off the regular price. It’s yet another lovely, fullish, flavourful, ripe but balanced, seriously stony and fruity Chenin blanc-based blend from Avondale, a staunchly environmentally-conscious producer on the slopes of the Klein Drakenstein Mountains south of Paarl. This has quite amazing depth and length in the price category, and lovely smoky minerality. Best 2017-2022.

Tussock Jumper 2015 Chenin Blanc, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($12.95) A tidy value here in SA chenin blanc, showing far above average character for the modest price. There’s genuine depth and length, lots of fruit, plus a stony-mineral component and a touch of leesy nuttiness… So, what else can you ask for at this price?

Avondale Jonty's Ducks Pekin White 2015 Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc 2015 Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Riesling Spätlese 2014

Maximin Grünhäuser 2014 Abtsberg Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany ($39.95) An absolutely brilliant essence of Saar riesling here from Grünhäuser, off-dry but perfectly balanced by ripping acids, defying the laws of flavour concentration, weighing in at just 7% alcohol. How can this be possible? It’s one of the great mysteries of the wine world – there’s amazing weight and extract here, much more than is logically possible on such a light frame. Whatever the case, this is stellar. Drink or hold to drink at your grandchild’s wedding. Best 2017-2034.

La Chablisienne 2014 Grande Cuvée Chablis 1er Cru, AC Burgundy, France ($29.95) One of France’s best co-ops, La Chablisienne rarely fails to deliver top value, and this is no exception. From a blend of premier cru sites on both sides of the River Serein, given, it appears, some time in wood, this is a fine bottle of white Burgundy for the money. It’s perfectly mid-weight, fresh yet fleshy, certainly very mineral, with characteristic lactic-creamy flavours. I’d give it another 2-3 years to really come into prime. Best 2019-2024.

La Chablisienne Chablis 1er Cru Grande Cuvée 2014 Ponte Pellegrino Greco Di Tufo 2015 Matetic Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Ponte Pellegrino 2015 Greco di Tufo, IGT Campania, Italy ($13.95) Here’s a screaming good value from the vineyards of Massimo Alois in northern Campania (Caserta province, near the extinct Roccamonfina volcano). It’s a very smart greco, as structured and minerally as you could hope for under $15 (and more so than many far more expensive), with a genuine sense of salinity, and saliva inducing acids. Beneath that lies sufficient fleshy yellow fruit flavours to keep your non wine-drinking friends from running away screaming. A gem waiting to be discovered; best 2017-2019.

Matetic 2015 Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc, San Antonio Valley, Chile ($15.95) Here’s a tidy little sauvignon blanc from a great organic/biodynamic producer in the genuinely cool, coastal San Antonio Valley. I like the resinous-herbal, peppery character, not excessively green, as well as the crisp citrus-green apple-grapefruit flavours. There’s terrific tension and length with great sapidity and even saltiness/minerality. Another superb value Chilean SB all round.

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


John Szabo, MS

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Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay