Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Aug 19th

Styria, Languedoc and Assorted Whites
By John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In my last report, I covered the extraordinary grüner veltliners and rieslings of the terraced vineyards in the Wachau. But did you know that Austria also produces superb sauvignon blanc? In part two this week I take a deep look at Südsteiermark, or Styria. Here, a Mediterranean-meets-Alpine climate, limestone and schists, and Austria’s highest and steepest vineyards conspire to produce middle Europe’s best sauvignon (among others). The report includes top producers and 70 reviews. Continue reading about Styria…

The VINTAGES August 19th release features a duel between two sources of excellent value: France’s Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Cape Winelands of South Africa. This week we pick our favorites from the former, a region I frequent for maximum pleasure-price ratio, along with a collection of assorted smart buy whites. Sara d’Amato air mails comments directly from the South of France, with a mini report on Provence and Rhône. Next week David leads on South Africa, well represented in the release, along with assorted reds.

Genuine Values from the Languedoc-Roussillon

I first discovered wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon in the late 1990s while working and studying in Paris, and later in the region itself. Back then there was a great deal of excitement surrounding the region, with much talk of the immense potential, the breadth and diversity of the offerings, and the very keen pricing. I discovered dozens of memorable wines.

Well, the wine world moves slowly. Not much has changed really, aside from the growing list of quality-oriented producers. There’s still terrific breadth and diversity of wine styles, excellent quality and keen prices. Despite the efforts of a handful of ambitious, ultra-premium wines with prices to match, the pricing of Languedoc-Roussillon wines remains hemmed in by a glass ceiling.

Of course it’s purely perception, not directly linked to quality. You’d probably shell out $50 for a Châteauneuf-du-Pape without too much hesitation. But $50 for a Corbières, or a Minervois, or a Côtes du Roussillon? Much less likely I’m guessing. Yet lined up side-by-side, L-R wines can easily hold their own. They’re wild, savage, and concentrated, often from old vines, wines that ooze with character and personality. But the bulk wine image of the past still dogs the region, better for consumers, worse for producers.

A more twisted and ironic side benefit of the glass ceiling is that L-R wine producers have had fewer earnings to re-invest in their operations than their marquee region counterparts. That means less money for new barrels and fancy winemaking gear, or to replant old vineyards with younger, more productive vines. They’re less tempted to over ripen, over extract, or over oak their wines, and polish them up for wide international appeal since the financial rewards are not there. Yet these are the very same things that give the wines their charm, their appealing rusticity, their pure and wild, unadulterated flavours, their drinkability without excess nor shortage of anything.

You needn’t look upon the wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon as poor country cousins; they’re genuine wines of place. Give the following examples a swirl in your glass to experience why.

August 19th VINTAGES Buyers’ Guide:


Château de Sérame 2010 Minervois, AC South of France ($16.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a mature, stylish, polished, widely appealing Minervois (mourvèdre, grenache, syrah and carignan) from a magnificent Languedoc property, with nicely rounded tannins and balanced alcohol/acid. I like the savoury dark fruit character and the wild Mediterranean herbs. Solid length, too. Best 2017-2022.…
David Lawrason – Fine value in a maturing blend. It has a ripe, quite elegant nose of plum-prune, licorice, leather and pepper – nicely integrated. It is medium weight, fairly soft, smooth, almost creamy and rich, with easy tannin. Very good fruit concentration and length for the money.

Château De Sérame Minervois 2010Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir La Clape

Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir 2014 La Clape, AP Coteaux de Languedoc ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This large producer is focused on firm, authentic Languedoc reds. Some are pedestrian, but this is nicely balanced and authentic red with dusty, peppery, herbal and some meaty complexity with blackberry fruit and vanilla nicely placed in the mix. It is a mid-weight, firm, tannic and dry style – rather edgy but I like its honesty.
John Szabo – Ex rugby-man Gérard Bertrand has become one of the most reliable names in the Midi, with a consistently very good (and very large) range of wines. I love the savoury, leathery, spicy dark fruit-flavours of this blend La Clape sub-region, an authentic southern French expression with real scorched earth and rocky character; complexity is remarkable in the price category. Serve with herb-crusted, roasted lamb. Best 2017-2022.

Les Neiges de l’Agly 2013 Vermentino/Viogner, IGP Côtes Catalanes ($19.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a southern French white with some fantasy, floral-aromatic, white fruit (pear, apple)-driven, with excellent balance and lovely, sapid acids. Viognier plays its aromatic role without being too obtrusive, and vermentino (aka rolle in France), brings its tangy acids and saline, wild herb character. Fine length, too.
David Lawrason – Great value here from a surprising four-year old white. Vermentino is a western Mediterranean white variety known for its acidity, blended here with richer, more exotic viognier and partially vinified in barrel. The nose is generous with distinctive pine, fennel, spice notes. It is medium bodied, firm and dry with intriguing sappy, lemon rind and spicy flavours. Cohesive, just slightly austere and very long.

Les Neiges De L'agly Vermentino Viogner 2013Le Secret Des Capitelles Saint Chinian 2014

Le Secret des Capitelles 2014, AP Saint-Chinian ($15.95)
John Szabo – Appealing fruity, almost Beaujolais-like expression here (partial carbonic maceration?) from the Saint-Chinian co-op, but with a little more tannic grip and darker fruit flavour. Quite tasty all in all, inviting, if not profound. I like the juiciness and drinkability on offer. Grenache-syrah blend.
David Lawrason – From an important village at the foot of the Massif Centrale in Languedoc, this is a grenache-syrah blend with a lovely nose of pepper, sage, cedar, some violet and red plum fruit. It is mid-weight, firm to the point of tartness, with a very dry, tannic finish. I like all the savoury notes here. Wanted a bit more fruit depth and richness but fine at the price.

Assorted Whites

Domaine Berthenet 2015 Tête de Cuvée Montagny, Burgundy, France ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Montagny is a favourite lesser-known chardonnay appellation, making wines with brightness, tenderness and finesse. This 2015 is a dandy, with ripe pear/apple fruit, a hint of butter, vague almond and oak spice. Medium weight, even-keeled, refreshing yet commanding attention at the same time.

Domaine Berthenet Tête De Cuvée Montagny 2015Tenuta Roveglia Vigne Di Catullo Lugana Riserva 2013

Tenuta Roveglia 2013 Vigne di Catullo Lugana Riserva, DOC Lombardy, Italy ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Harvested from old trebbiano vines on the shore of Lake Garda, this mature white is showing lemon-gold colour. It has a soft but fairly complex and well integrated nose of peach, yellow flowers and vague almond. It is medium weight, smooth, warming and quite rich yet built on fine acidity. At its peak but there is life here.
John Szabo – A maturing but still fruity, concentrated and textured example of Lugana, certainly in a Riserva style. Old vine richness and density is also noted, while succulent, ripe orchard fruit lingers admirably on the palate. This is solid white wine, ready to enjoy or hold short term. Best 2017-2021.

Tabalí Pedregoso 2015 Gran Reserva Viognier, Limarí Valley, Chile ($13.95)
David Lawrason – Such fine value here. From the northern Limari Valley cooled by Pacific proximity this a pleasant, softer, fruity viognier with typical aromas of starfruit, lemon/orange citrus, anise and fresh basil. It is medium-full bodied, nicely clean and bright with intense flavours.

Tabalí Pedregoso Gran Reserva Viognier 2015Philippe Viallet Savoie Blanc 2015

Philippe Viallet 2015 Savoie Blanc, AP France ($14.95)
John Szabo – This Savoie is clean, fresh, open and inviting, with delicate white flowers and lively citrus-type fruit in a cool climate idiom. I like the crunchy-fresh acids and the lemon curd flavours on the palate. Quite a lovely wine, especially for the price.

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

John Szabo, MS

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Ferrari Trento Brut