Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – April 1st, 2017

Ontario’s Black Tie Wines, New World Finds and Old World Classics
By Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo, MS

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

Tomorrow’s VINTAGES release, previewed last week by Michael Godel, includes some big players from classic old world wine regions as well as slew of attractive new world whites. Now that David Lawrason and John Szabo have returned from Lazio, Prowein in Düsseldorf as well as Mexico, we have all weighed in on our top finds from the April 1st release.

It has been a big month for wine in Ontario as you may be aware by now based on recent posts. On the heels of VQA Wines of Ontario’s Taste Ontario event, this past weekend marked the 28th anniversary of Cuvée, Niagara’s most prestigious celebration of Ontario wine. The black tie Gala is a forum showcasing the best-loved wines of winemakers throughout Ontario. The choice of wines poured was made by the winemakers themselves from among their winery’s portfolio. Those choices often reflect new trends in the province, emerging strengths as well as up and coming styles and grape varieties.

This year, cabernet (surprisingly) and sauvignon blanc were among top choices of new producers and the old guard alike with memorable finds from Creekside Estate and a daring premium, un-oaked cabernet franc from Small Talk Vineyards. If you weren’t convinced already that the globally prolific chardonnay variety is worth pursuing in Ontario’s cooler climate, then this event was sure to make you a convert. Wines such as Thomas Bachelder’s Queylus Chardonnay Reserve 2013, Malivoire’s Mottiar Chardonnay 2013 and Adamo’s Wismer-Foxcroft Chardonnay 2014 are the potential rivals of serious Burgundy. Pinot noir also shone bright with examples like Flat Rock’s 2013 Gravity and the compelling “Double Noir” pinot-gamay blend from Emma Garner at Thirty Bench (2015). Traditional method bubbles also sparkled with finds such as Fielding’s dynamic Sparkling Rosé and Cave Spring’s Blanc de Blancs.

Tim Appelt, Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel at Cuvée 2017

Fewer of the appasimento style wines dominated at Cuvée 2017 and there was a greater focus on less affected wines with more subtlety. Missing were the aromatic syrahs that dazzled the previous year. (You can view top Cuvée 2017 picks from Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato here. Because many are not at the LCBO, remember to set your WineAlign search filters to ‘All Sources’ and ‘Zero Inventory’)

Two years ago, CCOVI (Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute) took over stewardship of Cuvée and created a legacy fund that supports student scholarships in the wine profession along with research in the grape and wine industry. Thus Cuvée is now focused on giving back to the industry and promoting future stars. If you haven’t been to the event and have a hankering to dress to the nines, you’ll be sure to discover cutting-edge finds that redefine the landscape of Ontario wines. On that note, congratulations to Italy-based Ian D’Agata, the winner of this year’s Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence for his efforts abroad at promoting Ontario Wines. Kudos as well to Gerald Klose, recipient of the Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award for his sustainable efforts as custodian of some of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s oldest chardonnay vines.

Cuvée 2017

In other Ontario wine news, a big congratulations to Emily Pearce, of Barberian’s Restaurant, for taking home the title of Ontario’s Best Sommelier two weeks ago. The Ontario Chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers held a grueling competition that whittled down twenty of Ontario’s finest, and bravest, sommeliers to three competitors whose service skills and wine knowledge were tested in front of a live audience over three hours. For more information: CAPS Ontario Crowns Best Ontario Sommelier 2017

If you haven’t got enough of Ontario wine yet, join us at County in the City on Thursday, April 6th at the Berkeley Church for a chance to taste and buy Prince Edward County’s newest vintages. For more details and advance tickets: County in the City – Try and Buy Event

Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 1st Release:

New World Finds

Airfield 2014 Yakima Valley Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, Washington, USA ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Airfield Estates is located on an old WWII airbase and now focuses on only estate grown fruit form their 900 acres farmed with 27 different grapes varieties. The farm is located in the cooler reaches of Yakima Valley and thus the chardonnay tends to feel nervy and flinty but with the depth of flavour associated with this region along with some lightly funky intrigue. A solid example of Washington chardonnay at an accessible price.

Flat Rock 2015 Unplugged Chardonnay, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($16.95)
John Szabo – Subtle, delicate, soft and elegant, this is a fine unoaked chardonnay with attractive, clean and fresh white fruit (apple/pear) flavours. The finish lingers nicely, too. T’s excellent value, as with most of the Flat Rock range, and would make a fine ‘house’ pour.

Airfield Yakima Valley Chardonnay 2014Flat Rock Unplugged Chardonnay 2015Echeverria Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2015

Echeverria 2015 Gran Reserva Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – The chilly, coastal Casablanca Valley is a romantic spot for chardonnay of the cool climate variety. This version from Echeverria, a well respected producer of value-focused wines, offers classic flavours of grapefruit and tropical fruit among a fresh framework that builds in volume on the palate. This elegant new world gem makes for a solid weeknight sipper.

Giesen 2014 Estate Riesling, Marlborough, New Zealand ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – Both scientist and intellectual, German ex-pat Marcel Giesen is a well-respected pioneer of riesling in Marlborough and champions sustainable winegrowing. His work with pinot noir in Oregon, Burgundy and California has made him a coveted consultant of reds throughout New Zealand.  Giesen’s riesling is a benchmark example of the soulful styles that can come from this cool climate valley.

Ken Forrester 2016 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch Stellenbosch ($17.95)
John Szabo – 2016 is another fine vintage of this perennial favourite old vine chenin from Ken Forrester, with superb depth and richness. A whisper of wood lends an extra dimension. This should age nicely, beyond the mid-twenties I suspect. Best 2017-2026.

Giesen Estate Riesling 2014Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016Momo Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Momo 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
John Szabo –  Nicely mature at this stage, and still very much in the Seresin house style (a biodynamic estate), this is more stony and savoury than fruity or herbal. I like the way this induces salivation – there’s palpable saltiness here, and impeccable balance.

Thirty Bench Winemaker’s 2015 Blend Double Noir, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Great to see a serious and successful attempt at blending gamay and pinot noir in Niagara, which in southern Burgundy is called Passetoutgrain. Winemaker Emma Garner has found a fine balance between the varieties, and between the fruit and barrel. Excellent summer red.

Catena 2014 Paraje Altamira Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($22.95)
David Lawrason – For it’s own reputation as a fine wine country it’s really important that Argentina elaborates, identifies and captures the essence of the sub-regions it keeps talking about. This does the job for Altamira, a high altitude sub-district of the southern Uco Valley. It sports classic Uco wild thyme, strawberry/raspberry fruit, a touch of graphite and spice.

Thirty Bench Winemaker's Blend Double Noir 2015Catena Paraje Altamira Malbec 2014Invivo Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014

Invivo 2014 Central Otago Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Great to see a delicious Otago pinot here at $25. Pinot purists might find this heavily wooded but there is plenty of ripe, rich cherry fruit as well, and it has this sense of intensity and deliciousness that can’t be denied. Smooth and substantial.

Old World Classics

Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Vermentino 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – Although vermentino is most famously grown on the isle of Sardinia, it is readily planted on the Tuscan coast where it exhibits characteristic freshness and elegance. Sourced from Antinori’s Guada Al Tasso estate in Bolgheri, the seaside makes an indelible mark on this ethereal vermentino with notes of cool stone, saline and lemon that waft from the glass. The palate offers a further wealth of flavours but a pure and delicate nature.

Chateau Grand 2015 Mouëys, Bordeaux, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – This is quite a rich and classy white (80% sauvignon, and 10% each semillon and muscadelle), with evident but integrated barrel ageing. It’s well above the quality mean for basic Bordeaux, and could use another year or three in the cellar. Fine concentration; ripe green fig and pineapple fruit linger. Best 2018-2022.
David Lawrason – It’s rare to find the refinement and complexity of Bordeaux’s great whites under $50, let alone at $20. This is refined indeed. It doesn’t have the richness and length of the cru classe wine, but it has classic, bright barreled aromas of fresh cedar, juniper and vague guava. Buy one to check out the style if you have not had it before.

Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Vermentino 2015Chateau Grand Mouëys 2015Louis Moreau Domaine De Biéville Chablis 2015

Louis Moreau 2015 Domaine de Biéville Chablis, Burgundy, France ($27.95)
John Szabo – A surprisingly tight and stony, restrained Chablis, considering the generally ripe and open 2015 vintage, though this does hail from a cool terroir, plunged in shadow while the warm afternoon sun fattens berries on the other side of the valley. This delivers a serious dose of chalky minerality in both flavour and texture, so I’d say leave this in the cellar another 1-2 years for a more full and complete expression. Impressive.

Gaja 2014 Ca’marcanda Promis, Tuscany, Italy ($54.95)
Sara d’Amato – Although Gaja’s wines have become a classic component of the Italian cannon, this producer is a rebel at heart. The family’s patriarch Angelo Gaja is known as a controversial instigator of new practices that changed the face of Piedmontese wines. This non-conforming Tuscan red from the Gaja’s Bolgheri estate is a blend of merlot, syrah and a touch of sangiovese offering both charm and refinement.

Paulo Laureano 2014 Reserve Tinto, Alentejo, Portugal ($19.95)
David Lawrason – The south of Portugal seems to slumber off the radar but the warm climate and compote of native and international varieties is turning out some delicious California-esque reds with far better value. This is delicious with ripe blackberry jam, plummy fruit backed my moderated oak spice and vanilla.

Gaja Ca'marcanda Promis 2014Paulo Laureano Reserve Tinto 2014Castello D'alba Vinhas Velhas Grande Reserva 2013

Castello d’Alba 2013 Vinhas Velhas Grande Reserva, Douro, Portugal ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – My Easter pick is comes from the classic region of Douro in Portugal, long known for it sweet fortifieds but more recently a region for coveted, substantial red blends. This crowd-pleasing find is dominated by the local touriga nacional grape and supported by a mix of other indigenous varieties. It is powerful enough to stand up the robust  flavours of roast lamb with a mint sauce and would make a delightful match with hard, aged cheeses.

Domaine Pierre Usseglio et Fils 2013 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône, France ($47.95)
Sara d’Amato – A blend of 80% grenache supported by syrah, cinsault and mourvèdre from a less than classic vintage that was cool, wet and windy. As a result, the wines of the Southern Rhône are distinctively fresh, elegant and wildly expressive in 2013, characteristics exemplified in this intricate Châteauneuf that is accessible now.

Domaine Pierre Usseglio Et Fils Châteauneuf Du Pape 2013Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva 2013Coto De Imaz Gran Reserva 2010

Brancaia 2013 Chianti Classico Riserva, Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($36.95)
Sara d’Amato – This alluring and complex Riserva level Classico had me hooked at first sip despite its firm, unyielding tannins and vibrant acidity. A collector’s find best tucked away for 3-6 years but worthy of the investment.

Coto de Imaz 2010 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($36.95)
David Lawrason – I like the 2010 vintage in Rioja – a classic, as it was in Bordeaux not far to the north. This is very generous yet well structured, complex Rioja with all the right aromatic complexities. It is medium-full bodied, nicely firm and well proportioned. I would actually age six bottles.
Sara d’Amato – A deliciously slow ageing Gran Reserva with classic notes of iron, rare meat and bold, ripe fruit. The oak treatment here, although notable, is integrating nicely and appropriately frames the jaunty and confidently expressive palate. Hold for 3-5 years.



Sara d’Amato
Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


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