Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Nov 25th, 2017

Upcoming Events, Disaster Relief for Northern California & Puerto Rico, and a Bevy of Great Wines

By John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

There will be little respite the rest of this month, so I’ll cut to the chase. This weekend the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo hits Toronto, where I’ll be delivering three great tastings. Hopefully I saw some of you last night at the New World, Old Vines session, but if not, join me for first-rate Italian wines tonight (Friday), or (and!) let’s travel through Spain on Saturday afternoon: Details and tickets. If oysters are your thing (and it’s primo oyster season), get thee to the 2nd annual Great Canadian Oysters and VQA Wine Experience on Monday the 20th, where in addition to copious bi-valves, you’ll taste over three dozen VQA Ontario wines, the majority of which won gold or platinum at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. And in the midst of all the revelry, spare a thought for the less fortunate, and make a difference via the disaster relief opportunities below. And with that, click on for the best of the best from a massive November 25th Vintages release.

Disaster Relief: Northern California & Puerto Rico

Michael Godel mentioned the terrible California wildfires last week, and I’m mentioning it again, along with the opportunity to make a difference (and drink great wines doing it).

Join me on December 4th from 6-9pm at the Liberty Grand in Toronto for The California Wildfire Grand Tasting Fundraiser, “an all-inclusive, walk around wine tasting event where wine lovers have an elite opportunity to sample premium and super-premium wines from the Golden State. Upon entrance [$150], participants gain full access to try an incredible selection of California wine… many rarely tasted before in this market. It’s a special evening of showstopping California wines, delicious foods and wonderful company—all for a great cause.”

Members of the trade are also invited to a special tasting of old and rare California wines that afternoon. I know it’s rare to reach into your pocket for a wine tasting, but this is your chance to give back to the wine industry that has surely given you plenty over the years. $50 gets you in; I’m doing the same, and volunteering my time to moderate, along with Jennifer Huether MS, Bruce Wallner MS, Will Predhomme, and Jamie Drummond, what should be a memorable tasting. Thanks to Lifford, The Vine, Jackson Family Estates, Rogers & Co., and The Profile Wine Group for digging into their personal stashes. Contact Steve Campbell, the Grand Fromage at Lifford, to secure your spot. Active trade and media only please.

Donation Recipient: The Canadian Red Cross, who will transfer the funds directly to the American Red Cross in California.

AdvertisementErrazuriz Aconcagua Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Puerto Rico

And while disaster is disaster anywhere in the world, relief aid depends greatly on media focus. Puerto Rico has no glamorous wine estates to capture your attention, nor any fine wines to entice your help, but you can be sure the situation there in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is even more dire than in northern California. I received the note below from fellow master sommelier Emmanuel Kemiji, who splits his time between Napa and Puerto Rico (how’s that for luck), outlining his stepson’s efforts to make a difference, and how you can help:

To my fellow Masters,

As many of you know I reside in both Napa and in San Juan, Puerto Rico where my wife lives with my two young stepchildren. The last weeks have obviously been trying for everyone in light of Hurricane Maria and the devastating fires in northern California. On top of that I’ve had to deal with the rising unrest in Catalunya as my other project, Clos Pissarra, is located in Priorat.

Still in the darkest of moments the human spirit brings out the best in some of us and I want to share a tale of a young man whose deeds have brought light and hope to many.

Fortunately our household on the outskirts of San Juan did not sustain much damage, especially compared to the vast majority of the populace. I was in Priorat harvesting when Hurricane Maria ravaged the island and created a catastrophic situation that simply cannot be described. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed. After almost 2 months over 2 million people (70% of the population) still do not have electricity and the prognosis is that it will take 6 months to restore power to the entire island. There are vast food and water shortages and disease is starting to run rampant.

After the hurricane hit I suggested to my wife that she temporarily relocate with the kids to California. After talking it thru they decided that it was more important for them to stay in Puerto Rico and help out those that did not have the luxury of leaving to a safe haven. 

My 15 year old stepson, Ricardo Kury Calderon, took it upon himself to organize a group of high school students to raise funds, negotiate food and water prices with various large distributors, and then on weekends, take those goods to small communities in the central part of the island where nobody has been to help those poor people who live in critical conditions.

He spends every waking moment working on ADELANTE! (meaning Go Forward in Spanish). His goal is to raise at least $30,000 (in the last week he has raised over $5,000). I hope that you can support his efforts, and like he says no amount is too small.

So, there’s nothing tangible in it for you, but hopefully that’s not the only motivation to help! Thanks for reading through this far in any case.

Click here to support ¡Adelante! Organized by Ricardo Kury Calderón.

And now, on to the smart buys and top wines from the November 25th release.

John Szabo’s November 25th Vintages Buyer’s Guide: 


Drappier 2012  Millésime Exception 2012, AC Champagne ($74.95)
John Szabo – Drappier was one of the first houses to go fully dry, and while this isn’t zero dosage, the superb 2012 is very dry and tightly wound, firm and succulent, with real energy and depth. I love the light salinity on the finish and the saliva-inducing acids that draw you back for another sip, as well as the fully mature and complex range of flavours, like maple syrup and toasty-caramel notes over ripe and fleshy, dried orchard fruit. Lovely.

Henry Of Pelham 2012 Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc, VQA Short Hills Bench, Ontario ($44.95) John Szabo – The latest release of Henry of Pelham’s top, category-leading sparkling cuvée, pure chardonnay, is very dry and firm, appealingly mature and biscuity, subtle and sophisticated. Generous lemony-citrus flavours jive with salted toffee and pine nuts in a complex expression, another classy edition, refined and elegant. Cellar for several years if desired or enjoy straight away. Best 2017-2024.

Desiderius Pongrácz Brut Cap Classique Sparkling, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($16.95)
John Szabo – This traditional method pinot/chardonnay could easily pass for a bubbly at twice the price, and should be considered as a house pour for holiday gatherings. It’s very mature and toasty in a decidedly oxidative style, with exceptional complexity for the money.

Drappier Millésime Exception Champagne 2012Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2012Desiderius Pongrácz Brut Cap Classique Sparkling


Cave Spring 2015 CSV Riesling, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($29.95)
John Szabo – Cave Spring’s top riesling bottling, from the oldest vines on the estate planted in the late 1970s, is an absolute cracker in the excellent 2015 vintage. It brings together depth, richness, vibrancy and complexity in harmonious measures, at once transparent and precise, but also genuinely dense and concentrated, with excellent length. An exceptional wine, best 2017-2030.

Charles Baker 2014 Picone Vineyard Riesling, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario ($34.95)
John Szabo – And speaking of exceptional riesling, Baker’s 2014 Picone vineyard is one of the stonier and more mineral vintages since inception, distinctive and sharp.  It’s evolving nicely now, just starting to shift into the honeyed-mineral spectrum of flavours as fresh citrus fruit is shed, already showing significant complexity, with more to follow. The palate is tight and taut, crunchy and essentially dry, with terrific energy and verve. Best 2017-2026.

Hidden Bench 2015 Estate Chardonnay, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($29.95)
John Szabo – Hidden Bench gets it right this year (and most years, actually), delivering a bold and ripe, fleshy and full, nicely concentrated and structured chardonnay. Wood has yet to fully integrate, so tuck this in the cellar for another year or two at least, but this surely has the stuffing to improve, and last, in bottle. Best 2019-2025.

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2015Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2014Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2015

Bachelder 2014 Mineralité de l’Oregon Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($24.95) John Szabo – Canadian Thomas Bachelder, no stranger to the wine world, has crafted a subtle and discreet, very stony, taut and firm Willamette chardonnay in his minimalist, gently oxidative style. For once cuvée name and wine style match up. Very nicely priced as well in the context. Best 2017-2022.

Antinori Castello Della Sala 2015 Cervaro, IGT Umbria, Italy ($59.95)
John Szabo – Cervaro is Piero Antinori’s top end, chardonnay-based blend from his Umbrian outpost near Orvieto. There’s an attractive flinty note on the 2015 in the minerally, post-modern style, and impressive depth and complexity, clearly a big, dense, rich, highly concentrated vintage. I’d leave it in the cellar for another 2-4 years for the wood to fully integrate, but this is a real beauty, a revelation in Italian whites. Best 2020-2028.

Bachelder Chardonnay Mineralité 2014Antinori Castello Della Sala Cervaro 2015


Tawse 2013 Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario ($26.95)
John Szabo – The hard red clays of the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-region have proven to be tailor-made for arch-classic, classy cool climate cabernet franc. And in the case of Tawse’s 2013 Laundry Vineyard, also particularly spicy and black liquorice-tinged, with graphite and gravelly dark fruit. I appreciate the integrated, medium-full-bodied palate and the excellent length – it’s a wine with character and personality that draws you in for another sip. Best 2017-2023.

Mulderbosch 2014 Faithful Hound, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($20.95)
John Szabo – The only red produced at Mulderbosch is a blend led by cabernet franc (with sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot) from the Polkadraii Hills, and merlot from the cooler Elgin region. The 2015 is lifted and perfumed, zesty and vibrant, fresh and pleasantly herbal, with inviting leafy-minty notes and more than a casual stylistic nod towards Bordeaux, if ripe, fleshy red and black fruit bring it back the warmer climate and sunshine of the Cape. Lots of wine here for the money. Best 2017-2024.

Ca’ Romé 2011 Romano Marengo Cerretta Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($71.95)
John Szabo – Open and wonderfully perfumed, Marengo’s Cerretta is showing beautifully at the moment, relative to when I last tasted it last year around this time, even if it’s still not fully at prime. I love the complexity on offer, the savoury, succulent, resinous flavours very much in the umami spectrum, and the exceptional length. A top notch offering, structured, firm, complete. Best 2019-2031.

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013Mulderbosch Faithful Hound 2014Ca' Romé Romano Marengo Cerretta Barolo 2011

Marchesi Fumanelli 2011 Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto ($72.95)
John Szabo – Amarone lovers will revel in this dense and ripe, full-bodied example with high extract and juicy, balanced acids to match. Textbook flavours of dried plum, raisins, cherry and raspberry-blackberry jam linger attractively, and length and depth are excellent. And the good news is that it’s fairly immediately satisfying – it doesn’t need decades in the cellar, even if it would happily sit until the ’30s or even ’40s for a stretch. 16% alc.

Petra Potenti 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, IGT Toscana, Italy ($44.95)
John Szabo – Petra is the Maremma-based (Suvereto) project of father and daughter team Vittorio and Fancesca Moretti, also owners of highly-regarded Bellavista and Contadi Castaldi in Franciacorta. Soils on the estate are derived mainly from volcanic tufo, which I can only claim is at least part of the secret behind this exceptional cabernet. It’s dense and ripe, cassis and blackberry-driven in the classic varietal mould, full and plush, and quite clearly highly extracted and structured, but also balanced. In the rarified Tuscan world, I would call this a very sharp value indeed. Drink, or better yet hold into the early-mid ’20s.

Rivera 2011 Il Falcone Riserva Castel Del Monte, Puglia, Italy (18.95)
John Szabo – Be forewarned, this is not an inexpensive wine for casual sipping, but rather an impressively complex and structured red at a great price, built for rustic, protein-based dishes. A firm and savoury, clean but, mature and complex in the price category to be sure. I like the resinous herbs, the dry, dusty earth, the leathery notes and the dollop of dried black fruit in this appealingly rustic nero di troia-based red blend from northern Puglia. Best 2017-2023.

Cave De Tain 2015 Grand Classique Crozes Hermitage, AC Rhône Valley, France ($23.95)
John Szabo – The reliable Cave de Tain, one of the better co-ops in France have delivered us a classic northern Rhône syrah in 2015, peppery, spicy, meaty, firm but not hard. I like the mouthfeel, the textural relief, the density and structure, and the length. I’ve had many similar wines from the new (cool) world at far higher prices.

Marchesi Fumanelli Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2011Petra Potenti Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Rivera Il Falcone Riserva Castel Del Monte 2011Cave De Tain Grand Classique Crozes Hermitage 2015


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

New Release and VINTAGES Preview