Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – Dec 9th, 2017

New World Treats for Stuffing, Gifting and other Holiday Occasions
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo, Sara d’Amato & Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

This week the last large infusion of new wines hits the shelves for the Christmas countdown – some 180 new products. WineAlign’s four critics spent close to 40 man/woman hours in the LCBO tasting lab poring through them, over four sessions. Collectively we have posted 472 reviews to the WineAlign database from this release. This newsletter does highlight those that have piqued our interest – and we have aligned on a handful – but this does not mean they are the only wines worth considering. So I encourage you to use the other tools on the website to scan reviews of all the wines, either by date or individual critic.

As mentioned last month, most of the big-ticket gifting and collectible wines have been and gone. This release is more about filling larders for home entertaining, house gifting and stuffing stockings with more affordable wines. But we are not necessarily bargain hunting. Our selection tends to highlight $20 to $40 wines that will add to the special ambiance of the season, without breaking the bank. We will be back in time for the January 6 release rummaging for the cheapo deals.


The Foreign Affair Enchanted 2015

Last week we presented our recommended buys among Old World offerings; this week we present our top picks among the New World selections.

December 9th VINTAGES Buyers Guide: 

Sparkling & White Wines

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique, Nova Scotia, Canada ($32.95)
Sara d’Amato – This latest non-vintage cuvée from Benjamin Bridge delivers impressive impact, complexity and is evidence of an evolving style that is wonderfully engaging. Certainly Euro in style with its spine-tingling backbone, chalky texture and toasty autolysis, it would surely fool many in a blind tasting. With now over 13 years of reserve wines to blend based on varieties such as l’acadie, seyval, pinot noir, and chardonnay, we should consider ourselves lucky the price remains where it is.…

Charles Baker 2016 Ivan Vineyard Riesling, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($27.20)
Michael Godel – A taste just last week of the B-Side Riesling by Charles Baker offered half a glimpse into the first part of the song that is Ivan’s Vineyard. Ivan is the lime-juicy, forward and textured one, replete with that Baker-induced glück sometimes prevalent and only in certain vintages. This is a blast to drink and let linger like good riesling should.
Sara d’Amato – This is now the 6th year since the affable Charles Baker has been producing wine from the 1-acre of riesling planted on Bob Nedelko’s Ivan Vineyard in the Twenty-Mile Bench. These young vines are low-cropped to produce some unexpected results – wines full of vibrancy, showing above the mean concentration and length. A must have for global riesling fans.

Benjamin Bridge Méthode ClassiqueCharles Baker Riesling Ivan Vineyard 2016Familia Zuccardi Q Chardonnay 2016

Familia Zuccardi Q Chardonnay 2016, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Not dissimilar to the Quail’s Gate above, this is a nicely balanced, fresh, firm and understated chardonnay with subtle, well meshed aromas of peach/pineapple, lemon and spice. It is medium-full bodied, nicely intense and long on the finish. Michael liked it too and explains why.
Michael Godel – Elevation and diurnal behaviour of hot days and cool nights bring serious mood swings and multiplicity of character to this tangy, tart and pleasurable Tupungato chardonnay. The wood is a splinter in its side so give it a year to show its best.

Quails’ Gate 2015 Chardonnay, Okanagan Valley, BC ($23.95)
David Lawrason – It is always instructive to taste BC wines within an international selection, and be reminded that they have “northern freshness”.  Here in Ontario we tend to perceive BC wines has big and rich (compared to Ontario wines) but this is actually a nicely intense, robust and fresh chardonnay with very good structure. I really like the tension here.

Patz & Hall 2015 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, USA ($64.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a nicely balanced, full, flavour-intense and balanced chardonnay from specialists Patz & Hall. The palate is replete with sapid flavours, ripe but still vital and fresh, and excellent length. I love the savoury aspect, the integrated barrel influence, and the overall poise and balance. Best 2017-2025.

Quails' Gate Chardonnay 2015Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2015Martin Ray Chardonnay 2016

Martin Ray Chardonnay 2016, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California ($28.95)
Michael Godel -The freshest of fresh chardonnay comes from the ’16 Martin Ray, still exhibiting fermentative character and unresolved thoughts. It’s like the alcohol has barely developed its sectional ability and so apple juice meets grape juice comes to mind. Dangerous elixir this one, too easy to knock back.

Red Wines

Thirty Bench 2015 Winemaker’s Blend Red, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($24.95)
John Szabo -Here’s a fine value Bordeaux blend from Thirty Bench, having taken full advantage of the excellent 2015 season for bigger-boned reds. Smoke and fresh coffee bean notes indicate the use of (high quality) oak, while the palate delivers impressive depth and density, plush, abundant tannins, and succulent acids. Give this some cellar time; best 2019-2027.
David Lawrason – This is one of the better “Bordeaux blends” of the fine 2015 Niagara vintage, a wine with good colour, structure and balance that captures blackcurrant, fresh and dried herbs, well managed oak and Bordelais earthy/graphite character. Rather tannic for current enjoyment, so aerate well if opening now, but I would buy for the cellar. I suspect a long future for this wine.
Michael Godel – The Thirty Bench Red is quite sizeable in 2015, with iron notes that take this boldly where it has rarely gone before. It’s a chewy, ropey, heavy set fruit blend from the Beamsville Bench with dusty berries, earthy tang and a richness ushered along by good dark chocolate.

Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Estate Vineyards, Napa Valley, California ($72.95)
Michael Godel – Tom Burgess purchased the 1870’s era mountainside winery in 1972. The home estate Burgess vineyard produces the flagship cabernet sauvignon. Like the previous 2012 this continues the tenets of deep, dark and brooding with some petit verdot in the mix and another arid vintage to thank for the depth and the inky body. As good as ’12 may have been, this ’13 goes further and will live much longer.
John Szabo – Founded in 1972, Burgess Cellars was among the pioneering Napa ‘mountain’ wineries of the modern era. Although labelled as generic ‘Napa Valley’, this is from all estate fruit grown on Howell Mountain, and it tastes like genuine mountain wine, dense, thick, tightly wound, and finely woven. There’s genuine extract, both fruit and terroir, on the palate, and excellent length with succulent acids and a fine, savoury, saliva-inducing quality. I love the chewy, intense mountain fruit and structure. Best after 2020 for the full experience.

Thirty Bench Winemaker's Blend Red 2015Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon 2013Stags' Leap Winery Merlot 2014

Stags’ Leap Winery 2014 Merlot, Napa Valley, California ($39.95)
David Lawrason – Very few “serious” merlots are being produced in California nowadays. Most are modern, fruit/oak editions priced for the supermarket aisles. But in the hands of French trained winemaker Christophe Paubert this quite elegant, firm merlot speaks as much of Pomerol in Bordeaux as it does Napa. A fine combination.

A To Z Wineworks 2014 Pinot Noir, Oregon, USA ($24.95)
John Szabo – Well-measured and firm, with typical pinot flavours leading off, this is a tidy value from A to Z, representing the variety, and the region, in more than respectable fashion. It would make a smart by-the-glass option, best 2017-2020.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – A terrific value, this plush cabernet sauvignon showcases the inviting nature of this variety sourced from three proprietary sites in the eastern Columbia Valley. All vines are planted on their own rootstocks, a trait that is surprisingly common throughout the region.  The tannins are silky enough for holiday consumption although there is enough stuffing in this wine to last a couple more Decembers yet.

A To Z Wineworks Pinot Noir 2014Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2015Terrazas De Los Andes Reserva Malbec 2015Gemtree Uncut Shiraz 2015

Terrazas de Los Andes 2015 Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)
David Lawrason – So much malbec is big, intense, garrulous and edgy – to a point of sensory saturation. This captures all the expected aromatics – fresh thyme, violets, oak and mulberry notes – and evenly packages it all in a firm yet balanced packaged. Drinks very easily without heaviness. Great gourmet burger red.

Gemtree 2015 Uncut Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($28.95)
David Lawrason – This large, biodynamic estate in McLaren Vale is making solid, fairly dense, high energy and honest wines. Not the flashiest or sexiest, indeed the nose is rather restrained. But the ripeness, complexity and tension will keep you coming back at the dinner table.
John Szabo – There’s evidently genuine life and interest right off the top in this biodynamically-grown shiraz from Gemtree, showing that extra dimension of flavour and interest that only special wines possess. “Uncut” refers to nothing added from vineyard to bottle, and it’s amazing how the energy leaps out of the glass here after tasting a long range of conventionally made wines. That, or perhaps this is just simply a superior site. In any case, I love the balance, the fleshy dark fruit extract, the lively acids, and the length. Best 2017-2025

Tahbilk 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria, Australia ($22.95)
John Szabo – The cooler Nagambie Lakes region, 120kms north of Melbourne, often yields well-balanced, juicy and fresh, highly drinkable cabernets, especially true in the hands of regional pioneers Tahbilk (established in 1860). It offers plenty of ripe black fruit, but also red and blue fruit, covering the spectrum nicely, while tannins remain balanced-firm, abundant but fine-grained, and acids lend support, not interference. Length, too, is impressive at the price. Best 2017-2026

Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Peter Lehmann The Barossan Shiraz 2015Elderton Ode To Lorraine

Peter Lehmann 2015 The Barossan Shiraz, Barossa, South Australia ($21.95)
Michael Godel – This is seriously deep, hematic and brooding shiraz from some of the finest value fruit that Peter Lehmann can find in the Barossa Valley. Striking acidity, variegated berry, plum and currant fruit, chocolate and the finest grainy tannin will all conspire for a decade of greatness. Tremendous value.

Elderton 2014 Ode to Lorraine, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($39.95)
David Lawrason – This is a classic, full bodied, dense, powerful, full-on shiraz with captivating herbal/menthol notes brushed with sour-edged fruit. Ideal for a rich holiday lamb tenderloin.

And that’s a wrap (with a bow) on this edition. I am now about ready to join in on the Holiday spirit. Our WineAlign Christmas Party on December 8, which is also the 9th birthday of WineAlign, will seal the deal.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Sommelier Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview