Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – Jan 20th, 2018

The Path to Value Runs Off the Beaten Track
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo, Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Baseball legend Yogi Berra was famous for his witty nuggets of wisdom. My favourite goes like this: “When you get to a fork in the road, take it”.

It is a call to decisive risk taking when facing the unknown. On VINTAGES Jan 20 release the forks in the road will come up one after another as shoppers are confronted by many less well-known labels, grape varieties and regions. But go ahead, “take it”. Be surprised, be uncomfortable, be challenged, and learn from the experience. Don’t turn your back and go back down the road you have just travelled.

Your reward will be the discovery of real value. Because most of the world’s best-known wines are now happily charging you the price of their success, and the less well-known wines are not (yet). So many of the wines on this release are under $20.

As I tasted through eclectic selections I found that good winemaking has rendered most of them bright, balanced and very drinkable – no matter the regions or grapes. There are no great secrets to making good modern wine nowadays, anywhere in the world! And when I compared my scores (many in the narrow 88 to 90 range) to the modest prices, I quickly racked up a list of wines I would buy, and would recommend that you buy.

I had been prepared to focus this entire introduction on Portugal, which is the ancillary feature of this release. But with only six wines offered, and only two that I feel are very good values, there was no real reason to linger. Portugal is actually one of the best value regions in the world, and with all its unknown, hard-to-pronounce varieties and regions it is a risk taker’s paradise. But this lot – with the exception of a terrific avesso from Vinho Verde in particular, is not highly notable.

Elsewhere, my personal selections point to important if less well-known regions and sub-regions in both Europe and the New World. In Argentina I always pay close attention to the wines coming from the high altitude Cafayate Valley in Salta province. In Australia I often find great value in the slightly cooler clime regions of Margaret River and even farther south in Frankland on the far west coast. Two German wines also stood out for me, a rarely seen sylvaner from Franken and a pinot noir from Baden. And there are others.

My colleagues at WineAlign have added their own recommendations for their own reasons, although value is always on our radar. And in case you missed it, last week John dealt in depth with the Chilean wines featured on this release, most also a source of great value.

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES January 6th:

White wines

Covela 2015 Edição Nacional Avesso, Vinho Verde, Portugal ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Avesso is variety that flourishes in the more southerly, interior, drier sub-regions of Vinho Verde, especially Baiao, adjacent to the Douro Valley. This is a beautifully rendered example with a sense of ripeness, sub-tropical fruit and plush gentle texture yet lovely freshness. Akin to pinot gris or perhaps Swiss chasselas. A gentle winter’s eve white.…
John Szabo – The terraced vineyards of Quinta de Covela form a natural amphitheatre perched high above the right bank of the Douro river, straddling both the Douro/Port and Vinho Verde appellations. Indigenous grapes like avesso are the focus and quality is high, evinced by this crunchy, fresh, fruity Vinho Verde, totally natural, lightly flinty, and seriously drinkable. It’s an excellent value in terroir-driven wine that will bring spring one step closer.
Sara d’Amato – Covela’s southern location in the land of Vinho Verde on the bank of the Douro is home to indigenous grape varieties that showcase the surprising bounty of this region. There is plenty of sunshine here on the south-facing slopes of Baião that ripen and give character to white varieties that are often tart and illegibly blended. Covela chooses to showcase these lesser-known varieties in a thoughtful manner. Due in large part to the winery’s efforts, the avesso grape is a rising star in the region showing an ability to match the quality of the esteemed alvarinho and loueiro grapes of the region. A fetching wine inside and out.

Covela Edição Nacional Avesso 2015Covela Edição Nacional Avesso 2015

Bürgerspital 2016 Würzburg Trocken Silvaner, Franken, Germany $19.95
David Lawrason – This is a pale, super bright and clean sylvaner – a solid but less flashy Germanic variety that I have come to really enjoy with food. This has green pear, vaguely peppery, waxy and herbal aromas that are very precisely expressed. It is light bodied, fairly crisp and slightly spritzed. Save a bottle for spring and your first encounter with white asparagus.

Anna’s Way 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95) (535765)
Sara d’Amato – Anna Vavasour, a widely recognized pioneer of winegrowing in Marlborough, is paid tribute in this keenly crafted sauvignon blanc. Although the wine shows distinctive regional character, it is not lean or overly green. Generous on the aromatics, it offers plenty of white pepper, tropical flowers and citrus zest. The end of hibernation is nigh and here is a wine to wake you up!

Domaine de La Fruitière 2015 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie, Loire Valley, France ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Muscadet is fairly mainstream but too often ignored in the light, dry white category by folks who reach for pinot grigio. This bright, ripe and quite fruity yet still crisp example from the warmer 2015 vintage struck me as an ideal entrée to the appellation, at a very fair price.
John Szabo – Here’s a classically crisp and stony, vaguely leesy-lactic, in other words, textbook Muscadet, and a very good one at that, from 30 year-old vines. It’s tough to beat the quality/price of the best from this appellation, for fans seeking lean and minerally whites. Best 2018-2025.

Anna's Way Sauvignon Blanc 2016Domaine De La Fruitière Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie 2015Tetramythos Roditis 2016

Tetramythos 2016 Roditis Patras, Peloponnese, Greece ($13.95)
David Lawrason – Those who have shied away from the foreign alphabet, varieties and regions of Greece, should venture forth here. It is nicely made, fresh and appealing. Ideal with breaded/battered seafood appetizers. And at $13.95, what’s really to lose?
Sara d’Amato – On the value end of the spectrum, Tetramythos’s roditis is an energizing sipper with a nose that smells like spring and a zesty, cleansing palate with notes of tangerine and lemongrass. You may notice a very slight rosy hue in the glass as this pink-skinned variety can sometimes throw a bit of colour. This grape variety has been unfortunately the source of bulk-quality wine and plays a leading role in Retsina, no one’s favourite wine. Due to concerted efforts by select producers and government to reduce yields, this up-and-coming variety is beginning to bear more complex results without a great hike in price.
Michael Godel – Tetramythos is owned and operated by the brothers Aristos and Stathis Spanos. The oenologist since 1999 is Panayiotis Papagiannopoulos, a winemaker who may just have been separated from twin Frank Zappa at birth. Tasting like a leesy ripe peach, this is the best “basic” roditis in the Peloponnese.
John Szabo – Vineyards of the northern Peloponnese rise abruptly up from the Gulf of Patras to over 1000m a.s.l. in the span of a few kilometers, where fresh mountain whites like this can be produced. This is a superbly delicious, and terrific value white (roditis is the grape) from one of Greece’s maximum exponents of low intervention winemaking, Panayiotis Papagiannopoulos. It’s simple, crunchy, honest and fresh, with that saline character that drives salivation and keeps you coming back for another sip. I’d buy this by the case and serve by the glass at my wine bar, and watch my sales soar while expanding horizons.

Euro Reds

Boutari 2015 Xinomavro, Naoussa, Greece ($13.95)
Michael Godel – It’s the dictionary entry because it defines the grape and does it for pure commercial purpose. No Greek winery succeeds year after year with a pure and honest varietal wine like Boutari. Ripe red cherry, smouldering pine bough, new leather and fresh tobacco leaf. You can drink this anytime, in any way, with anything, for absolutely no reason at all.
John Szabo – I don’t expect I’ll ever stop recommending this wine every time it’s released, unless something dramatic happens. As usual it’s neither soft nor fruity, but rather appealingly lean and savoury, firm and tight, grippy and dusty, definitely not for fans of plush reds. For lovers of the savoury, old school style (think nebbiolo or sangiovese made without barriques), this delivers a tremendous glassful for the money. Best 2018-2021.

Michele Chiarlo 2015 Le Orme 16 Months Barbera d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy ($13.95)
John Szabo – Dark, juicy, succulent fruit and crunchy acids make this an infinitely drinkable, honest and well-balanced wine for the table, what you’d expect to drink by the pitcher in an (upscale) Milanese trattoria. In Canada, it makes for a perfect mid-week red, versatile from the start to the finish of a meal. Serve with a light chill.

Boutari Naoussa Xinomavro 2015Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 16 Months Barbera d'Asti 2015Guadalupe Red 2015Königschaffhausen Steingrüble Pinot Noir 2015

Guadalupe 2015 Red, Vinho Regional Alentejano, Portugal ($12.95)
David Lawrason – The hot south of Portugal is even more foreign to many than the regions of Douro and Dao in the north. And the grape varieties are different too. But wine making has rapidly improved delivering ripe, rich soft wines made in a California style. This is very tasty, and again at only $12.95, very much worth a try.

Königschaffhauser 2015 Steingrüble Pinot Noir, Baden, Germany ($18.95)
David Lawrason – From the slopes of the ancient Kaisersthul volcano in southern Baden comes a light, pretty, tender and very flavourful pinot to enjoy here and now. The ripe fruit is a touch jammy, but it is not sweet. By the way, the Kaiserstuhl sits only one degree of latitude (110 kms) farther north than Beaune in Burgundy.

Jaffelin Les Grandes Vignes Givry 1er Cru 2015, Ac Bourgogne ($32.95)
Michael Godel – The price is quite enticing for Premier Cru level Bourgogne and the vintage deliver sweet fruit and spice, some youthful reduction and plenty of promise. With a fineness of acidity and some delicasse worked into the tannin this may turn into one of the great finds of the season.

Château Fombrauge 2006, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France ($62.95)
Sara d’Amato – Cellared in optimum conditions and ready for enjoyment, this 2006 Saint-Emilion is well worth the expense. Although 2006 was a tumultuous vintage, it yielded some impressive results such as this incarnation from Fombrauge that offers impeccable harmony and undeniable finesse.

Jaffelin Les Grandes Vignes Givry 1er Cru 2015Château Fombrauge 2006Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf du Pape 2004Château Pech Redon La Centaurée La Clape 2012

Château La Nerthe 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape AC Rhône, France ($52.95)
John Szabo – Yes that’s correct, a 13 year-old Châteauneuf from a highly reputable and consistent producer, on sale now. It’s a lovely, mature, beautifully complex wine to be sure, with marvellously evolved flavours, in a perfect state of enjoyment. I love the silkiness of the texture and the terrific length. Grab this while you can – considering the prices of top Châteauneuf these days, it’s a steal for a pre-cellared example. Best 2018-2024.

Château Pech Redon 2012 La Centaurée La Clape, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($33.95)
Sara d’Amato – This organically grown find offers both refinement and youthful exuberance. It is still quite tight with an intense amount of fruit spice at present but balanced by the affability of the sun-seeking grenache. The coastal Mediterranean appellation of La Clape was previously an island and before that, entirely submerged.  Present day, its salty, calcareous soils are rife with fossilized minerals at relatively high altitudes making for unique terroir and distinctively spicy wines.

New World Reds

Piattelli 2015 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina  ($16.95)
David Lawrason – When I visited this remote region of northern Argentina a couple of years ago, I was struck by the quality of the cabernets, more so than any other red varieties. They have aromatic lift, typical cab currant and herbal notes, and a certain verve on the palate. Here is a case in point at a very good price.

Anko Flor Cardón 2014, Salta, Argentina ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Are we not always in search of varietal high water marks? It just so happens that Anko means just that in native Salta dialect and so the area’s attributes of altitude, desert and beneficent oasis conditions deliver something other, even special to this malbec. Bright cherry fruit, unencumbered and unadulterated in its honesty. This brings real Cafayate value to VINTAGES.

Piattelli Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015Anko Flor Cardón 2014Anthonij Rupert Wines Optima l'Ormarins 2013Alkoomi Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Anthonij Rupert Wines Optima L’Ormarins 2013, Franschhoek, South Africa ($27.95)
Michael Godel – Optima is always this wise and mature Bordeaux blend made up of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. Rooibos, currants and rich earth are the stars. There is no stepping back in 2013 and Optima delivers the distinction of a well-orchestrated blend from L’Ormarins and the 17th century Huguenot Farm.

Alkoomi 2014 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Frankland River, Western Australia ($19.95)
Michael Godel – There is a special and unique meatiness and savour to cabernet sauvignon grown in the Frankland River region and its always on rich and beautiful display in Alkoomi’s wines. The varietal obviousness comes clean with very ripe ribena meets syrupy cassis with accents provided by tobacco and herbal savour.
David Lawrason – There are many fine cabernet regions in Australia, including now mainstream Coonawarra and Margaret River (where prices are creeping up). The cooler, very southerly Frankland region in southwest Australia has not yet caught on, but has similar potential.  Napa cab fans might find this green, but those with Bordeaux in their veins will approve.

By the way, other famous Yogi Berra quotes include “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours”. “You can observe a lot just by watching.” And the most quoted of all “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”.  This is over, but just until next week when John returns with the first look at the February 7 release.

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.

Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


Liberty School Zinfandel 2012