John Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – February 18th, 2017

The Good Oz and Miscellaneous Best Buys
by John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

The February 18th VINTAGES release features Australia, a country that, if you thought you were familiar with and have dismissed, you should try again. Few have gone through such a radical transformation from bulk to beauty in the last decade – it’s not all Yellow Tail anymore. Aside from the Aussie preoccupation with pH, which still occasionally leads to rampant, over-enthusiastic acid addition in the worst cases, the scene is buzzing down under.

In an unprecedented national undertaking, Australian winemakers have gazed deeply into their collective navel and discovered a wealth of potential: broad climatic range from downright cool to decidedly hot, now-treasured tracks of ancient vines (especially reds like Grenache, shiraz and cabernet, probably the world’s vastest acreage of old vines), and most importantly, a willingness to be different and paint by style, not numbers.

Last year, Anthony Gismondi, Brad Royale and I posted a series on the History, Evolution and Revolution of Australian wine that you may want to revisit to set the tone for this VINTAGES release. The lineup on the 18th features some truly lovely reds – I’ve picked four in the sweet spot from $17 to $25, each distinctive, yet unmistakably Aussie.

Part two of this buyer’s guide takes you on a round-the-world journey with memorable stops for smart buys in Chile, New Zealand, Greece, France and Italy. Textbook northern Rhône syrah, classic Tuscan sangiovese, the world’s most polyphenol-rich red from Umbria, and beautifully savoury dry-farmed Chilean carignan await, with whites to wedge in between.

John Szabo’s February 18th Buyers’ Guide:


Jim Barry 2013 The Lodge Hill Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia ($24.95) Here’s a lovely, savoury, well-balanced shiraz from Jim Barry, from the highest vineyard in the Clare Valley (up to 480m) and noticeably cooler climate in style. I like the natural balance and freshness on offer, the vibrant black fruit, and the superior length. A lovely, juicy red all in all, for current enjoyment or mid-term hold. Best 2017-2025.

Yalumba 2014 The Strapper GSM, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($19.95) This is a lovely, fragrant, peppery-strawberry scented grenache blend from Oz’s oldest family-run winery (est. 1849), with silky-firm texture and savoury finish, with minimal wood influence. It’s the sort of red I’m happy to drink on myriad occasions, from braised meat dishes to late night sipping, or as they say at Yalumba, “it’s the wine that the winemakers drink, when they’re not having a riesling or an ale.” Amen. Best 2017-2024.

Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz 2013Yalumba The Strapper GSM 2014Oscar's Estate Vineyard Shiraz Viognier 2013Shoofly Pinot Noir 2015

Oscar’s Estate Vineyard 2013 Shiraz/Viognier, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($18.95) This is admittedly not the style of shiraz that I drink very often, but fans of the dense, ripe, bold and chewy style of Barossa shiraz will revel in this. Raisined fruit leads from start to finish with heaps of oak flavour thrown into the mix, all sitting on a strapping 15% alcohol frame. This works in the genre, but don’t hold too long – fruit won’t last much past 2020 I suspect.

Old Bridge Cellars 2015 Shoofly Pinot Noir, Victoria, Australia ($16.95) Ay! To find pinot that tastes like pinot under $20, there’s the rub! Well here it is: simple but attractive, bright, high-toned red berry-cherry fruit drives this fine value pinot noir from the Yarra and King Valleys in Victoria. This is honest-to-goodness pinot for the price, absent wood intrusions and excessive ripeness/extraction, a great, everyday drinking sort of wine.


Lungarotti 2010 Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG Umbria, Italy ($42.95) Sagrantino is by no means a soft easy-drinking red. In fact, the variety has the highest polyphenol concentration of any grape, anywhere (read: tannins). For this reason it was historically made in a sweet, late harvest style to soften the tannic impact. But modern vinification techniques have enabled the development of excellent dry versions. It’s still a sturdy wine, like this one, but fascinating. Lungarotti’s has an inky black colour and an impressive range of aromatics, like savoury tealeaves, forest floor and dried herbs alongside desiccated black fruit. The palate is full bodied plus, massive, still astringent and tannic, a chewy mouthful to be sure, but not overly hard or puckering. Be sure to serve with salty protein, intensely flavoured. This won’t be for everyone, but it’s highly satisfying for now, or a decade from now, for fans of big chewy reds. Best 2017-2027.

Maison Nicolas Perrin 2013 Saint-Joseph AC Rhône, France ($39.95) Northern Rhône fans rejoice! This joint venture between the Perrin family of Beaucastel fame, and N. Rhône icon Nicolas Jaboulet, brings an unparalleled amount of experience to the table. This St. Joseph is a nicely pitched, complex, savoury and succulent wine, textbook northern Rhône. Balanced, complex, it’s drinking now but capable of improving over 3-5+ years in the cellar. Best 2017-2025.

Lungarotti Sagrantino di Montefalco 2010Maison Nicolas Perrin Saint Joseph 2013Tenuta di Gracciano Della Seta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2012Santa Carolina Specialties Dry Farming Carignan 2012

Tenuta di Gracciano Della Seta 2012 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Tuscany, Italy ($21.95) I first came across this small, 20ha estate on the prized Gracciano Hill during the Montepulciano preview tasting several years ago. Tasting blind, the wine stood out for its finesse and authentic Tuscan styling. This 2012 is nicely mature at this stage and drinking brilliantly, still offering in an honest, savoury Tuscan style. Tannins have been sanded down to a fine-grained texture, and acids are fully integrated, leaving plenty of savoury red fruit and herbs to fill in. There’s lots of pleasure in this bottle, at an attractive price. Best 2017-2022

Santa Carolina 2012 Specialties Dry Farming Carignan, Cauquenes Valley, Maule, Chile ($17.95) Santa Carolina’s “Specialties” range is this large company’s most interesting line in my view, “formed by wines from new terroirs where grapes are in perfect balance with soil and climate. These wines speak of forgotten varieties, dry lands and endless root systems, old vineyards and small scale farmers…” This is a fine, rustic, highly drinkable, savoury-herbal-fruity carignan, the kind of red I’m happy to drink all night long (especially with protein-based dishes, roasts and grilled meats, not casual sipping). For this price it offers a world of honest and true flavours. Best 2017-2022.


Craggy Range 2015 Te Muna Road Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough, North Island, New Zealand ($25.95) I enjoy the more savoury, edgier style of windswept Martinborough sauvignon (relative to Marlborough), as exemplified in Craggy Range’s Te Muna Road bottling. This has depth and weight alongside freshness, as well as a fine range of savoury-herbal and ripe citrus flavours, and excellent length. It’s a very fine vintage from a highly reliable name.

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015Domaine Costa Lazaridi Amethystos White 2015Valle Reale Sentieri Pecorino 2015

Domaine Costa Lazaridi 2015 Amethystos White PGI Drama, Greece ($19.95) One of the original (and successful) international-indigenous white blends from Greece, Costa Lazaridi’s 2015 Amethystos blend of sauvignon blanc and assyrtiko is a clean, bright, oak-free, flavourful and concentrated wine for the money. Sauvignon flavours take the fore: guava, passion fruit, and herbal notes, but the palate structure and alcohol is all assyrtiko. Certainly worth a try.

Valle Reale 2015 Sentieri Pecorino DOC Abruzzo, Italy ($15.95) Pecorino is one of the largely unsung white grapes of Italy’s Adriatic coast, and Valle Real have produced en exemplary version here, unusually delicate and floral, with attractive fresh hay, white flower and white melon-flavours, certified biodynamic by Demeter. It’s hard not to like the gentle, soft texture, neither flabby nor sharp. There’s plenty of classy wine here for the money.

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


John Szabo, MS

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

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All February 18th Reviews

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay