Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – November 25th, 2017

Top Drops for the Holidays

By David Lawrason, with notes from Michael Godel & Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES’ last release of November is historically the grandest of all – filling the shelves with expensive gift-able wines for the Holidays. It is far better than upcoming December 9 release in this regard, so if you were planning to wait two more weeks to do your Top Drops purchasing, change your plans. And as most stores will have these wines coming onto the shelves Thursday and Friday, you might want to get out there sooner rather than later.

I don’t like to contribute to a shopping frenzy at the LCBO. It is such a lousy way to purchase wine. But panicked buying has been part of the game at VINTAGES for as long as I have been reviewing releases.  The system is at fault. Things have improved a little in the sense that there are now more on-line options and direct-from-agent options (and through our WineAlign Exchange) but for the vast majority who just want go into a store, spend 30 minutes, and leave with a basket of goodies, a trip to VINTAGES is still the only option.

There was something of a frenzy situation with the November 11 release around an obscure Tuscan red Corte 2014 Medicea Athos that cost $28.95. The fuss was created when VINTAGES decided to publish the 99-point score this wine had been awarded by the equally obscure Luca Maroni, in a publication called Annuario dei Migliori Vini Italiani. It was an unnecessarily sweet red that I scored 88.  I heard tell of frantic consumers and harried staff racing around trying secure bottles, with bad manners and bad tempers in full boil.

Hine Rare VSOP

All of my picks below have scored higher than 91 points, so I suppose I might be considered guilty of fomenting the same kind of behaviour. I have even included two 95-point wines (but they are not $28, believe me). I am increasingly disliking the 100-point system due to widespread commercial abuse, lack of consistency and score creep, but that is for a different time. I am more concerned at the moment in the shopping days leading up to Christmas, and that a good time is had by all, and that VINTAGES be more wary of aggravating customers already frayed and disadvantaged by its monopolistic structure and fixed bi-weekly releases.

So here we go. Good luck, and be careful out there!

November 25th VINTAGES Buyers Guide: 

The Whites and a Sparkling:

Kistler 2014 Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay, Sonoma Mountain, California ($107.95)
David Lawrason –  From one of the best chardonnay producers in California, this is a delicious, layered and elegant edition that captures the leanness and tension of good Burgundy and overlays some California fruit and charm. It is medium weight, very refined and almost silky with a great acid core and excellent to outstanding length.

Flowers 2015 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($69.95)
Michael Godel – If you want to find out what Sonoma Coast chardonnay is really all about or more importantly what it can be when made in the right way (because there truly is a wrong way) then begin right here. Dave Keatley makes use of some of the finest Sonoma fruit and carefully considers how to coax what combination of it and tension are needed to exercise the finest balance. Exquisite phenolics, flavours, texture, acidity and tannin.

Grgich Hills 2013 Estate Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California ($67.95)
Sara d’Amato – I continue to be impressed by the evolution of this riveting chardonnay and my score has increased by a point more than once. A wholly immersive wine – complex, compelling and evolving with grace. Although waiting is certainly an option, it is in such a healthy, expressive and evocative phase that patience need not be exercised.

Gérard Bertrand 2015 Cuvée Thomas Jefferson Brut Crémant De Limoux, Méthode Traditionnelle, Languedoc, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – The connection between Thomas Jefferson and France began with his ambassadorship during the French revolution. Because of his libertarian tendencies, he is thought to be the “most French of the American Presidents” but further to that, his love of French wine and his correspondence regarding the wines of Limoux was influential to the region’s prominence. Although Bertrand’s ode to Jefferson, the man, may prove controversial, the wine is more than sound. In fact, it is one heck of a deal at under $20 – toasty with notes of chamomile and blossom, knife edge acidity with a natural and authentic approach. Not to be missed.

Kistler Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay 2014Flowers Chardonnay 2015Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2013Gérard Bertrand Cuvée Thomas Jefferson Brut Crémant De Limoux

New World Reds:

Stags’ Leap 2013 The Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($99.95)
Michael Godel – Though it continues to get more expensive, The Leap from winemaker Christophe Paubert just seems like it progresses to better and better. This is just gorgeous cabernet sauvignon, full throttle but gentle somehow, like iron in velvet, a fist in silk. This is great winemaking as seen in the ability to coax out impressive flavours, texture and length.

Shafer 2014 One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley ($154.95)
David Lawrason – Here is a wine that combines the best attributes of Napa and of cabernet sauvignon. It is a beautifully fragrant cabernet – very classy and very well integrated. It is full bodied and dense, yet quite suave and elegant with fine, firm tannin. The length is excellent to outstanding.

Fess Parker 2014 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County ($64.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a great California pinot with all kinds of lift, tension, richness and warmth. Love the intense cran-cherry fruit with herbs and gentle barrel notes. Bien Nacido is justified as one of the great pinot sites in the US.

Stags' Leap The Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Shafer One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Fess Parker Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014

The Chocolate Block 2015, Swartland, South Africa ($39.95)
Michael Godel – Once a cult classic, now an icon and never failing in its unwavering Marc Kent indiscretion, this is the Chocolate Block, a fat cat of Swartland fulsomeness. The plum pudding, black forest cake and sharp acidity could stand up to many Barossa Valley syrah but also (in stretched comparison) to Napa Valley mountain fruit cabernets. This is a ton of wine for the money replete with South African soil-driven, delectably rendered, wine gum rubbery reduction.

Benmarco 2015 Expresivo, Uco Valley, Mendoza ($39.95)
David Lawrason – Great value here. This is a ripe, elegant and expressive malbec with 17% cabernet franc that adds sheen, vitality and balance. There is a sense of creaminess here, punctuated by fine acidity. The length and composure are excellent; just what Argentine malbec needs. Expressivo indeed!

Château Tanunda 2014 Newcastle Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvèdre/Cinsault, Barossa, South Australia ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – This illustrious estate’s limited Newcastle release is a bombshell of a blend. Full on southern Rhône style, the wine seems to channel the garrigue and firm tannic character of Gigondas. Highly memorable and widely appealing.

The Chocolate Block 2015Benmarco Expresivo 2015Château Tanunda Newcastle Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvèdre/Cinsault 2014

Old World Reds:

Luigi d’Alessandro 2102 Il Bosco Syrah Cortona 2012, Doc Tuscany ($61.95)
Michael Godel – Imagine a 2012 Brunello di Montalcino made with syrah but in Cortona. The comparison is silly of course but sometimes offer perspective when trying to imagine a Rhône intrusion in Toscana. This is as good as syrah gets and continues to stake the claim for the varietal-Cortona connection. It’s dark, grippy, fine in tannin, high in acidity and quite silky in texture.

Ginestet 2015 Grand Vin De Pauillac, Bordeaux ($35.95)
David Lawrason – Here is a good buy in young Bordeaux that might reward three years in the cellar. It is balanced and quite complete with classic Pauillac graphite, cedar and fine tannin. Really like the structure and it bodes well for the 2015s that will be coming full on next year.

La Colombina 2012 Brunello Di Montalcino, Tuscany ($69.95)
David Lawrason This is a delicious, supple and warming Brunello with a sultry, rich and fragrant nose. It is medium-full bodied, smooth and rich but not punchy and intense. Glides but does not pounce. Excellent length and more or less ready now.

Luigi d'Alessandro Il Bosco Syrah Cortona 2012Ginestet Grand Vin De Pauillac 2015La Colombina Brunello Di Montalcino 2012

Alpha Estate 2013 Xinomavro Reserve Vieilles Vignes, Macedonia, Greece ($29.95)
Michael Godel – The oldest and ancient of worlds are accessed in this Macedonian xinomavro that reeks of the wild, the natural and the preternatural. Despite only four years of age you’d imagine 14 or 24 with the curative, oxidative and deeply rendered dried wild berries in a pool of cool, herbal and alcoholic liqueur. These are bush vines in a single-block, on sand and limestone, naked as the day it was born and way ahead of its time. An ecosystem all on its own and a very special tangy, chalky acquired taste.

Viña Olabarri Crianza 2013, Doca Rioja ($14.95)
Michael Godel – Few Crianza tempranillo offer a fraction of traditional value as does Olabarri’s and this is as true as it’s ever going to be from this come and get it 2013 vintage. Fruit wealth walks confidently across the high availability wire while rusticity is more dream than reality. Stock up for parties and stay away from the sweet stuff.

La Ferme Du Mont Le Ponnant Côtes du Rhône Villages 2015, Rhône, France ($20.95)
Sara d’Amato – Stéphane Vedeau continues to impress with his well-priced brand that offers wide appeal and great regional expression. The “Le Ponnant” is a blend of grenache, syrah along with a touch of mourvèdre and cinsault that shows firmness, excellent depth of flavour and surprising ageing potential for the price.

Alpha Estate Xinomavro Reserve Vieilles Vignes 2013Viña Olabarri Crianza 2013La Ferme Du Mont Le Ponnant Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2015

And that’s it for now. Coming up next week is our first look at the large Dec 9 release. And later in December watch for John’s annual fizz report and other Holiday newsletters. For another gift idea, please read my recently published article, Red Icons Unfiltered, for information about some of Canada’s best red wines and how to give a collectors 3-pack of Canada’s top red wines.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Canada's Red Icons

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