Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Nov 11th, 2017

Europe’s Finest, and Bonus Buyer’s Guide: the Best of Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri Winners

By John Szabo, MS with notes from Sara d’Amato & Michael Godel

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Around this time every year, the task of tasting through the upcoming VINTAGES releases reverts from work back to pleasure. Median quality shifts up to exceptional as shelves are fortified for the impending holiday season and the reliable surge in spending. Average prices, too, move inexorably upwards, but there’s plenty to commend in the November 11th release. This week I report on the best from the old world – Europe – including several exceptional bottles from the theme country, France, and classics from Burgundy and Bordeaux as well as the Loire, Alsace and a prodigious red from the Southwest. A handful of wines from Spain and Italy were also just too good not to highlight.

As a bonus, Italian wine lovers should check out my nearly thirty highlights out of a hundred or so wines tasted at the Gambero Rosso’s annual Tre Bicchieri tasting, held last month in Rome. Any wine in this report will make the holidays shine that much brighter. Promise.

13th Street Gamay Noir 2016


Italy’s Gambero Rosso Guide 2018: Top Tre Bicchieri Winners

No other nationally focused wine and food publication has become more internationally relevant than Italy’s Gambero Rosso. Serious Italian wine drinkers around the world will be familiar with the magazine’s red shrimp logo (the literal translation of gambero rosso), and eagerly await the publication of its annual wine guide, Vini d’Italia, and especially the announcement of the year’s winners of the coveted Tre Bicchieri, or “Three Glass” award, the publication’s highest honour bestowed on a wine… [Jump to the complete Report here]

November 11th VINTAGES Buyers Guide:

Top Old World Whites

Domaine Servin 2013 Bougros Grand Cru Chablis, AC Chablis, France ($69.95)
John Szabo – A gorgeous, rich, complex, highly mineral, lightly honeyed and waxy Chablis, very pure and concentrated. The palate, too is amazingly dense and well structured this is a big mouthful of wine, all the while keeping purity and freshness at the highest level. It’s like a honey-drizzled essence of rock in liquid form. A stunning wine, and amazing value, all things considered. Best 2017-2028.
Sara d’Amato – It was no easy feat to produce great wine in Chablis in 2013, a tumultuous vintage plagued by cold rainy days resulting in slow ripening, precision picking and an overall loss of almost 30% of fruit. Yet, those producers that were unwilling to give in birthed some exceptional wine such as this complex, harmonious version from Domaine Servin. Showing only the mildest signs of oxidation, the delicate tree fruit is lifted by nutty flavours, very fine oak and balanced freshness. A brilliant salty, mineral note is particularly clear in this expressive chardonnay.

Domaine Servin Bougros Grand Cru Chablis 2013La Chablisienne Grande Cuvée Chablis 2015Picard Le Charmois Saint Aubin 1er Cru 2014

La Chablisienne 2015 Grande Cuvée Chablis 1er Cru, AC Chablis, France ($31.95)
John Szabo – And speaking of value from Chablis, here’s another excellent one, from the over-achieving L Chablisienne cooperative. A kiss of oak is noted on this blend of 1er cru sites on the east and west banks of the Serein River, clearly ripe and concentrated, with acids a little lower than the mean and a broad and generous palate. This maintains its cool climate styling, though delivers more fruit than stony flavour, at least for the time being. Best 2021-2027.
Michael Godel – As only La Chablisienne can do the Grand Cuvée draws fruit from both Left and Right (Serein River) bank Premier Cru sites. This is the Super-Chablis, an IGT like idea but expressly French and falling under the auspices of AOC. And why not? It’s fantastic, electric and multi-layered kimmeridgian stuff. Oyster fossil shell, citrus and fineness of tannin meeting acidity head on carries just enough 2015 flesh but could pass for lightning 2014.

Picard 2014 Le Charmois Saint Aubin 1er Cru, AC Burgundy, France ($57.95)
John Szabo – Fans of white Burgundy won’t want to miss this wine, easily at the level of 1er crus from more famous villages like Meursault or Puligny, without the price tag. The nose is gorgeous, full of stony-flinty minerality, cool fruit and plenty of lemon-lime and key lime pie character, while the palate is fullish, firm, well-structured with excellent length.  Clearly made from a superior piece of land, treated appropriately in the cellar. Best 2017-2026.
Michael Godel – This is a chardonnay to place Saint Aubin in a remarkable light if only because it’s the most stony, flinty and tightly wound example just about ever. The lieu-dit Charmois is the elevator that carries the appellation into a purity of climat for Bourgogne Premier Cru. You have no idea how good a deal this is from the most excellent 2014 vintage. Coincidentally Les Charmois vines are located just outside Chassagne-Montrachet at a south-westerly aspect of the western slopes of the Mont-Rachet.

Cave de Turckheim 2013 Brand Grand Cru Riesling, AC Alsace Grand Cru, France ($37.95)
John Szabo – Here’s an impressive riesling grand cru from the Turckheim cooperative. The first whiff gave me the urge to pack up and ship off to Alsace to get me some more of this experience. It delivers classic honeyed-lime, wet stone and sweet cherry and cherry stone perfume and flavours on an essentially dry, firm, tightly wound frame. Length and overall depth are impressive. Best 2017-2028

Cave De Turckheim Brand Riesling 2013Jean Max Roger Vieilles Vignes Sancerre 2015Vette di San Leonardo 2015

Jean-Max Roger 2015 Vieilles Vignes Sancerre, AC Loire, France ($39.95)
John Szabo – A premium Sancerre worth the premium in my view, ripe and exotic, intensely perfumed and intensely-flavoured, with plenty of crunchy green fruit, apples and gooseberry, and attractive tropical-passion fruit notes. I like the persistence and complexity on offer, and the salty tang on the finish. This is clearly a serious and ageworthy wine. Best 2017-2025.

Vette di San Leonardo 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, IGT Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Alto Adige/Trentino Italy ($23.95)
John Szabo – This is the first time I’ve seen this wine, and was highly impressed. On paper there’s nothing particularly special about it, vines under 15 years old, standard stainless steel fermentation and ageing… But the wine has an extra dimension that I can only attribute to the vineyard.  It’s perfumed and stony, with an emphasis on both gentle tropical fruit and wet stone minerality, a very classy wine for the money. Drink now.

Top Old World Reds

Château La Garde 2010, AC Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux, France ($51.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a big, ambitious, generously ripe and oak influenced red Bordeaux, made with obvious care, and in a stellar vintage. The palate is ripe and thick, densely packed with tannins, and just beginning to develop the lovely savoury-earthy character that can only come with age. This is solidly built to last, though offers a great deal of pleasure at the moment. Best 2020-2035.
Michael Godel –  Patrick Jestin , CEO of Dourthe explained ”we bought Château la Garde in June 1990, totally seduced by the exceptional quality of the terroir, which is quite possibly one of the finest gravel outcrops in the Pessac-Léognan appellation. Even now the wood keeps the fruit buoyant and youthful, gregarious and enervating, as wood is often not, developing fruit into sumptuousness and grand vin behaviour.

Borgogno 2012 Barolo, DOCG Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($45.95)
John Szabo – Open and perfumed in the classic nebbiolo register, this is unmistakeable from the start. Faded roses, tar, tobacco and black liquorice dominate the flavour profile for now, sure to turn ever-more savoury and umami-driven in time. The palate is surprisingly light and tight despite 14.5% alcohol declared, fresh, vital and dusty, without rigid angularity or excessive astringency. This could be called elegant, with great complexity and minerality for the money. Borgogno has upped its game significantly of late. Best 2017-2027.

Château La Garde 2010Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo 2012Le Serre Nuove Dell’ornellaia 2015Marqués de Murrieta Finca Ygay Reserva 2013

Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2015, DOC Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany, Italy ($64.95)
John Szabo – It seems that as the younger vines of which this ‘second’ wine of Ornellaia is composed also begin to mature, it becomes an even more attractive value relative to the price of the estate’s top bottling. It’s a compelling Tuscan red blend, dense and rich, thick but not heavy, with velvety tannins and excellent length. I love the plush dark fruit, the fully integrated roasted vegetal and ripe black fruit flavours. A really fine wine all in all, and fine value, in the context, Best 2017-2030.

Marqués de Murrieta 2013 Finca Ygay Reserva, DOCa Rioja, Spain ($29.95)
John Szabo – A lovely, crunchy, vibrant, vital red Rioja here from arch-classic Marqués de Murrieta, with minimal wood influence, fantastically crunchy acids and succulent red fruit. This is the essence of drinkable wine, regionally accurate and approachable. Best 2017-2030.

Remelluri 2011 Reserva, DOCa Rioja, Spain ($39.95)
John Szabo – Another terrific Rioja here, this time from Remelluri, the exceptional estate of Telmo Rodriguez. This 2011 is complex, complete, judiciously oaked, balanced, vital, lively and, well, lovely. I could drink this all day. Best 2017-2025.
Sara d’Amato Bordelaise trained winemaker Telmo Rodríguez has had an inspiring career, first in Hermitage and then in his homeland of Rioja where, for decades, he has fought to preserve traditional viticultural practices. This 2011 Reserva articulates his effort to produce authentic and expressive wines that offer a distinctive sense of place. Complex and utterly spellbinding, this immense wine requires either time or salty protein to loosen its tannic grip.
Michael Godel – The future of Spain continues to dwell in the past for Telmo Rodríguez, perpetuated once more in capitulated extension away from his formidable 2010. There is a depth in 2011 and an earthy presence to balance out the texture and chewy crunch that fruit meets wood presents. Spice is all over the back palate at which point tannin really steps in.

Château Bouscassé 2006 Vieilles Vignes, AC Madiran, Southwest France ($38.95)
John Szabo – Some vines at Bouscassé, the estate belonging to Madiran reference Alain Brumont (also owner of Montus) are claimed to be up to 150 years old. True or not, this ’06 is still amazingly deeply-coloured, even if the wine has shifted in to the fully umami-laced spectrum of flavours, like dried porcini, damp earth, old leather and dried black fruit, highly complex and intriguing. The palate is rich, thick, chewy and firm, big enough to cut with a knife, though also lively enough to carry the weight. For fans of mature wines, this is a steal, pre-cellared and ready to go, or hold another dozen years if you prefer. Best 2017-2028.
Sara d’Amato The influential Alain Brumont, owner of the well-respected Château Montus in Madiran calls Château Bouscassé home. Here he has crafted a slowly maturing marvel. This blend of tannat, cabernet franc and sauvignon boasts impressive volume, ripeness of tannins and ample personality.

Remelluri Rioja Reserva 2011Château Bouscassé Vieilles Vignes Madiran 2006Fontaine De Clos Confidences 2014Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico 2013

Fontaine de Clos 2014 Confidences, AP Côtes du Rhône, France ($17.95)
John Szabo – Meaty, dark and peppery, this is an intriguing southern Rhône red, with above average complexity and density to be sure. The palate is pure, natural, un-adulterated, strawberry-pepper flavoured, with supple, silky tannins and appropriately modest acids. Really quite delicious, succulent, sapid and salty, giving the desire to return for sip after sip. Best 2017-2026.
Michael Godel – Freshness and aromatic floral garrigue are rampant but what is so special is the finish, long and true. Something in the fresh herbs, bay laurel and mountain tea spectrum is gained and never lets go. Great value.

Villa Cafaggio 2013 Chianti Classico, DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($21.95)
John Szabo – A fine, savoury, open and perfumed Chianti Classico from the village of Panzano, light, delicate and elegant in the old world style. I like the succulent acids and fine mid-weight frame, the refinement and traditional craftsmanship. Best 2017-2025.

Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

Coming to the show? Join me on VIP night for a sneak preview tasting on my latest book project (or at least part of it):

New World, Old Vines, Thursday November 16th

6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. $80; buy tickets!

Ancient grapevines are prized for the exceptionally concentrated, complex and naturally balanced wines they produce. These gnarled and twisted witnesses to history have stories to tell: tales of the pioneering families who have farmed them for generations, and the evolution of the regions which they helped establish. Join Master Sommelier and WineAlign critic John Szabo on his latest global adventure to track down the greatest wines from some of world’s most ancient vineyards in Australia, Sonoma County and South Africa. Think these are “New World” regions? These vines, some of which date back to the 1800’s, tell a different story. It’s one not to be missed.

Icons like Henchske’s Mount Edelstone Shiraz and Yalumba’s Tri-Centenary Grenache, and Boekenhootskloof’s century old Semillon are on the docket with some other suprises.

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

John Szabo, MS

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
Sara’s Sommelier Selection
Michael’s Mix

New Release and VINTAGES Preview