Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – Feb 3rd, 2018

Villages and crus in Europe’s continental climates and harvest anticipation buys from the Southern Hemisphere
by Michael Godel with notes from David Lawrason, Sara d’Amato and John Szabo, MS

Michael Godel

Michael Godel

In last week’s part one of the WineAlign Buyer’s Guide John Szabo took the main VINTAGES theme to heart and gave us “Club Med Bargains.” In his report John noted that “vineyards around the Mediterranean are a smart place to search for value. The main reason is simple: the weather is nice.” In this week’s follow-up we’re going to look at the rest of continental Europe’s finest growing regions where the weather is also quite fine though the wines are in most cases more expensive. Read John’s article to get an overview as to why. This week we’ll also delve into the southern hemisphere where harvest time is on the horizon and in some of the most parched and warmest locales, has actually already begun.

Climat, terroir, villages and crus

The most classic, iconic and archetypal wine-producing territories are in western and central Europe and each has their own set of standards to define their singular subset of historical through progressive wine production. When we think of the most classic regions in Italy we consider Toscana and Piemonte first, in Germany the Mosel and in Spain Rioja and Ribera del Duero. When thoughts turn to France we think of Bordeaux, Champagne, Alsace, the Loire Valley, the Rhône Valley and of course Bourgogne. Everywhere pre imminent and famous wine is borne there are words to describe and to explain the ambiguity or mystery of how or why these places do it best. In Bourgogne that word is Climat.

Bourgogne is but a place built upon a word, of wines designed and articulated through their very own personal vernacular. The region’s most important vineyards are defined in a word, in summary and without comparison. Climat is the word and you may be shocked to hear how it is expressed as a highly complex chain of topographical, elemental and ethnological conditions. The glossary is much longer than you might think and adds up to quite a versatile declaration. To arrive at the distilled quotient of one, no less than 20 words are employed, exercised and ushered into explanation. The lineage travels through geography-geology-topography-landscape-position-relief-aspect-exposure-slant-elevation-slope-soil-vegetation-weather-microclimate-humankind-heritage-history-tradition-knowhow and temperament. While we understand the intellectual autonomy of choosing the unescorted word Climat as acting on behalf of all these conditions, what makes it so specific as to be exclusively owned by the people of Bourgogne?

It’s really quite simple. The people of Bourgogne coined the term or rather it came to them, as naturally as signs and portents but in the most positive, abiding and permanent of ways. Climat as in the Latin verbum sapienti, “a word to the wise,” meaning it stands alone, suffices, tells the whole story. Many will ask how many base and necessary conceits comprise this peerless notion that is Climat? The answer is not how many but that it belongs to the Bourguignons and no one else, so deal with it. Climat is the perfect oxymoron, a low and slow developed and yet truly miraculous occurrence, or perhaps a marvel but also forever etched in stone. It’s hard not to feel some trepidation when it sounds like preaching through a biblical voice because like the phrase that speaks to the Ten Commandments, the word implies that nothing else is as absolute and unalterable. In the case of Bourgogne it is owned because of 2,000 years of recorded history, thanks to the educated and the phrénique, of monks, farmers and intellectuals whose minds were connected to a feeling in the pit of their stomachs and to the earth below their feet. Climat keeps you, as it were, on your toes.

Mysteries of climat, soil and orientation in Chablis

But the question begs how does Climat translate to everywhere and everyone else? It doesn’t, in a word, but it does in each territory, village, commune or cru, as terroir or whatever other moniker or phrase we wish to attach to that parochial and combinative sense of people and place. In this report we look at the regions of the Douro, Chianti, Kamptal, Alsace, Bordeaux, Bourgogne and Brunello di Montalcino.  I’ve noted the regions but how about the villages and crus? Gaiole, Kittmansberg, Kessler, Fourchaumes, Fronsac and Nuits-Saint-Georges are all essential geographical mentions integral to the bottles’ labels. There lies within more specific sub-zones, in Italian it’s called zonazione, places of interest where microclimates and shared geologies bring land and producers together. I am no genius nor close to the first to perpetuate the idea that drawing borders along any definable lines is a very complicated subject. This is why we continue to seek the truth in the villages and the crus.

Southern harvests and drought

North America and continental Europe are mired in right proper cold winter conditions while on the flip side much of the Southern Hemisphere is in the early preparatory stages to ready the vines and production facilities for harvest. Though most of the southern world usually sees harvest anywhere from early March through late April, unusual weather patterns and climate change have quite recently been responsible for some February harvests. Farmers everywhere are adapting to the new, sometimes cruel and often unusual realities of weather that make no two vintages the same and keep growers and producers up on their toes. In Argentina harvest parties have been in full swing with Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia is Mendoza’s Harvest Festival and the festivities culminate in an impressive Central Act in the city of Mendoza (province capital) during the first days of March. In many parts of Chile the 2017 grape harvest was brought forward by almost two weeks. Concha Y Toro noted “it usually takes place in March, but (in 2017) was initiated in February due to a season characterized by high temperatures. And for this process, the calendar is not important. What is important is being on the land, where the grapevines are planted.” Massive fires on some areas of Chile were devastating in 2017, so there is much hope for great success in 2018.

Meanwhile in South Africa they are bracing for what could be the smallest harvest in nearly 15 years because of serious drought conditions. The 2017-2018 growing season in South Africa is precisely and explicitly one of the greatest reasons to foster, nurture and celebrate the culture of old bush vines. A while back John wrote about the Old Vines Project, noting “the mission, I learn, has been taken on by “The Old Vines Project”, a small, privately funded group of crusaders launched by former lawyer-turned-viticulturalist Rosa Kruger. Kruger, the great-great-granddaughter of Paul Kruger, president of South Africa from 1883-1900, arrived at the realization that old vines not only had advantages on a viticultural level, but also produced better wine, during travels around the world and tastings of many old vine wines.” John goes on later to mention the practical advantages “beyond better site expression or simply better tasting wine, on a more practical level it’s understood that the deep root systems developed over time are a buffer against extreme weather, compared to young vines with more superficial root systems. In the case of generally hot, sunny and drought-prone South Africa, this means that grapes reach full ripeness at lower alcohol and higher natural acid levels, a clear advantage in the winery if your winemaking goal is to do as little as possible.”

Bush vines, Groot Drakenstein Mountains, Franschhoek, South Africa

Bush vines, Groot Drakenstein Mountains, Franschhoek, South Africa

In South Africa’s drought-stricken vintage, in a time where water is being rationed in Cape Town, it’s likely the bulk wine sector that will be hardest hit. According to the South African Wine Industry Information and Systems yields could be down 25 to 50 per cent due to the persistent dry conditions. Most of the industry’s large irrigation dams are 30 to 40 per cent full. This means that wine grape producers’ water resources were cut by 40 to 60 per cent and they could not fully meet their vines’ water demand. The premium wine industry will likely fare better though will also see some reduction in quantity. Frequent rainfall in October and November, as well as cooler weather up to the end of November will help to sustain the vines through these early 2018 drought harvest conditions. All this speculation does not mean there will be any trackable compromise to quality. Vineyard yields and bottle quantities may be down and as a result prices up, but it looks like 2018 will be a memorable vintage for South Africa.

The New World may not have a thousand years of grape-growing and every square metre of their plantable soils assessed, delineated and defined but crus and sub-appellations are increasingly being recognized in diagrammatic fashion. Our Wine Align crü takes a look at wines from Lujan de Cuyo, the Wairau Valley, Paarl, Faure, Helderberg and Bottelary Hills sites in South Africa. In Australia we break things down further, from the Ebenezer district and 1847 grafted vines in the Barossa, not to mention Coonawarra vines as old as 110.  Let’s get this Buyer’s Guide rolling with some gems from south of the equator (plus one exceptional value from Napa Valley).

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES February 3rd

Southern Stars


Chakana Reserve Malbec 2016, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95)
Michael Godel – Height and the work of winemaker Gabriel Boise are the impetus for bringing more game to their malbec. It could so easily get lost in a Mendoza sea bobbing with hundreds of like-minded or middle road-styled wines but height (and the use of concrete vats) does have its advantages. Savour and cool, verdant streaks for one and length, even when production is high and price is low. The combinations and permutations are gratuitous and fortuitous.…

Chakana Reserve Malbec 2016

New Zealand

Mount Riley Syrah 2016, Marlborough, New Zealand ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – Marlborough syrah is hard to come by in our neck of the woods and is an genuine treat – I can honestly say I have never met one I didn’t like. Syrah’s high aromatic potential in cooler climates is evident here expressing itself with compelling nose of wildflowers, black pepper and liquorice.
David Lawrason – New Zealand syrahs are so far rare in Canada, but deserve much better exposure. They are not at all like Aussie shiraz, being more slim, demure with a cooler climate ambiance that emphasizes pepper and cured meat notes more similar to the Rhone Valley. It is medium weight, fairly smooth yet just firm enough with gentle chalky tannin.

Framingham Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – While Framingham is especially known for their riesling, likely the oldest in Marlborough, they have serious clout when it comes aromatic whites of all kinds. The producer’s against-the-grain philosophy makes their wines particularly intriguing and while this sauvignon has a signature stamp of Marlborough, it avoids the trappings of under ripeness. Sourced from the Wairau Valley, there is a great deal of dimension and texture to this wine that undergoes a short fermentation on the skins and a tour in acacia barrels.

Mount Riley Syrah 2016Framingham Sauvignon Blanc 2016Vidal Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2015

Vidal Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand ($25.95)
Michael Godel – Vidal brings the fruit from Marlborough and lays it on the line with risky business and quite a forward personality to match the tones set on high. Quite plummy, soft and easy to enjoy, for little to no reasons needed.


Pewsey Vale Single Vineyard Estate Riesling 2016, Eden Valley, South Australia ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – This arch classic riesling from Eden Valley is as steely, nervy and spine-tingling as ever. Made in a typically dry style, it exudes the freshness of youth and offers enough structure for significant ageing potential. Pewsey Vale is a riesling pioneer having been the first to exploit this cool climate with plantings of riesling in 1847. A cult classic that is sure to be quickly snatched up.
John Szabo – Pewsey Vale’s ’16 riesling is a lovely wine right off the top, offering a marvellous fragrance full of green apple and apple blossom, cherry blossoms, lemon and lime citrus, and the general scents of a warm spring day. The palate is dry, taut, very crisp and lean, succulent and saliva-inducing, with crackling acids and great length. A new world paradigm to follow I’d say, delicious now, but surely equally so in 3-5 years or beyond.
Michael Godel – The intensity and pinpoint accuracy of Pewsey Vale’s riesling always feels like it’s been shot through a syringe into your veins. Few if rarely any Australian brethren or sistren can do what this SV does. It strikes quickly and goes straight to the heart of the riesling matter. Lemon, lime, salinity and brine with just enough flesh and bone to give it structure and length. Never wavering Eden Valley dreamer.
David Lawrason – Eden Valley is riesling central in Austalia, and this is a classic, with gorgeous aromas of honey, petrol, spiced pear/pineapple and gentle spearmint/menthol. Bright, focused and fairly intense flavours with considerable viscosity and richness then a tart lemon pith finish.

Pewsey Vale Single Vineyard Estate Riesling 2016Teusner The Riebke Shiraz 2015Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2015

Teusner The Riebke Shiraz 2015, Barossa Valley, Australia ($22.95 )
Sara d’Amato – The focus of Teusner is that of preserving old, historic vineyards that give a wealth of flavour and a sense of place to their wines. A small, artisanal producer, they work with a number of growers, such as the Riebke family in the Ebenezer district who have been growing low yielding, high quality fruit for six generations and is the winery’s founding supporter. This incarnation showcases the ample full-bodied style of Barossa shiraz but is cut with freshness, complimented by fruit spice and hardened by tannic presence.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2015, Coonawarra, South Australia ($22.95)
Michael Godel – On more than one occasion I’ve noted that Coonawarra’s ability to make exceptional cabernet sauvignon trumps what it can do for shiraz but this 2015 from Sue Hodder is one of those exceptions. No knock on ’15 cabernet but the purity of fruit and the clarity of how it puts place first puts this shiraz in fine mind. The balance here is impressive, leading with tart yet sweet berries and merging into lanes of fine acidity.
David Lawrason – Such a refined, lively and fine pointed shiraz from Sue Hodder built on the acidity and minerality of the Coonawarra region. All kinds of shiraz flavour, packed with focus and precision within a full frame. Should live a decade, but enjoy at any point.

South Africa

Avondale Jonty’s Ducks Pekin White 2015, WO Paarl, South Africa ($15.95)
John Szabo – Another lovely, fullish, flavourful, ripe but balanced, seriously stony and fruity white here from Avondale, a staunchly organic producer based in Paarl. This has quite amazing depth and length in the price category. Lovely smoky minerality. I’d almost think this was being sold at 50 per cent off the regular price.
Michael Godel – Jonty’s Ducks is a bit leaner in 2015 so I sense a bit more chenin austerity than the last vintage but also more potential complexity. Chew on the pear, nectarine, melon and mint, like a julep and then you’ll find yourself looking for duck (confit) to match. This will evolve into something with a slight honeyed and smoky, petrol air when the Ducks peaks after a few years of age.

Avondale Jonty's Ducks Pekin White 2015Boschendal 1685 Shiraz 2015

Boschendal 1685 Shiraz 2015, WO Coastal Region, South Africa ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Very Boschendal, very shiraz and very coastal. The intensity of dark fruit, acidity and soil funk gather in an almost brooding cup of berry mountain tea. Though it must have some protein alongside it stands on two feet and speaks clearly of the mountainous coastal region. Wouldn’t have expected anything less.


Girard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, California ($39.95)
Michael Godel – Girard’s is richer, gritty-grippy saltier and crushes with more hedonism because of that aridity and intensity of 2014. This cabernet sauvignon is simply a huge wine that should be given aeration and some serious thought as to the marbled protein that will be served alongside.

Girard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Continental Europe

Lua Cheia Old Vines Red 2015, DOC Douro, Portugal ($13.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a fine value, highly appealing red from the Douro valley, with abundant, ripe, plush dark fruit flavour and some floral lift, and without evident oak. There’s a real come-hither juiciness and succulence that makes this pleasurable and easy-drinking. Serve with a light chill for maximum fruit and fun.
David Lawrason – Here is a terrific bargain basement cellaring red! It is full bodied, dense, lively and very impressive for the money with youthful Douro black fruit, licorice, mint and dried herbs. It is young, firm and tannic, but offers so much for $14. Grab six bottles and age them five years.

Coltibuono Cetamura Chianti 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($15.95)
Michael Godel – Cetamura is DOCG sangiovese produced by Gaiole (Chianti Classico) producer Badia a Coltibuono from outside of the Classico zone. As a result the fruit is ripe, dusty and in full advantage of the generous vintage but without an earthy-calcareous addendum. While it lacks in multiplicity it services sangiovese with nobility. It does not get more solid than this for and from the surrounding greater outskirts territory.

Lua Cheia Old Vines Red 2015Coltibuono Cetamura Chianti 2015Rabl Kittmansberg Grüner Veltliner 2016

Rabl Kittmansberg Grüner Veltliner 2016, DAC Kamptal, Austria ($16.95)
John Szabo – This pours surprisingly yellow-gold for such a young grüner, but the nose and palate are still fresh. I like the fleshy yellow fruit flavours and the typical white pepper notes. There might be a touch of botrytis here, hinted at by the saffron and honeyed notes (and colour), which adds some complexity to be sure.
Michael Godel – The uncanny whiff of white pepper comes first and lingers throughout but also a flinty note, dried herbs and lime. Perfectly classic generalized Kamptal is captured and you don’t have to mortgage the farm to find out why. Rabl rouser this one.

Darting 2015 Düerkheimer Hochbenn Riesling Kabinett, Germany ($21.95)
David Lawrason – Darting remains one of my go-to German riesling producers, with full throttle, classic examples. This is overtly fruity and very ripe, off-dry riesling with very lifted, generous and classic aromas of honey, pineapple, apricot and spice.

Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Grand Cru Pinot Gris 2012, Alsace, France ($22.95)
Michael Godel – Kessler by the venerated house is a perennial steal for Grand Cru Alsace and the impressive vintage continues the very real thread. Sumptuous would be an apt descriptor, as would unctuous, viscous and wise. Off-dry and pinot gris work wonders with a salty vein. The acidity does not mess around either, adding a layer of impression. Age potential runs high out of this special vintage.

Darting Düerkheimer Hochbenn Riesling Kabinett 2015Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Grand Cru Pinot Gris 2012Château La Vieille Cure 2008

Château La Vieille Cure 2008, AC Fronsac, Bordeaux, France ($41.95)
John Szabo – I’ve been a fan of La Vieille Cure for some time now (and Fronsac in general), and this 2008 is drinking beautifully now. There’s been sufficient time for spice, earth and forest floor to creep in to the ripe/fresh black fruit, only now starting to show some dried, desiccated ageing character. Fine juicy acids linger on the long finish. Elegant, complex and very satisfying. Drink or hold another 6-8 years without a stretch.

Domaine Laroche Les Fourchaumes Chablis Premier Cru 2014, AOC Bourgogne, France ($44.95)
Michael Godel – This grand slope of a Premier Cru brings the most ubiquity to Chablis PC, with kimmeridgian origins and here, in the confluence of great acid, citrus, limestone and fossil shell salty grip. This is a forceful but deeply elegant Chablis with years ahead before it will begin to drip with salted honey.

Machard De Gramont Vieilles Vignes Nuits Saint Georges 2015, AOC Bourgogne, France ($59.95)
Michael Godel – Just gorgeous Nuits-Saint Georges from old vines and a step up in terms of Villages level Bourgogne. The fruit is both deeply sumptuous but also lifted, in a state of awe, ethereal. Structure is not compromised within the framework of such a juicy and forward stylistic and who’s to say this won’t live a decade or more. What reason could there be to cast such doubt?

Domaine Laroche Les Fourchaumes Chablis Premier Cru 2014Machard De Gramont Vieilles Vignes Nuits Saint Georges 2015Caparzo La Casa Brunello Di Montalcino 2010

Caparzo La Casa Brunello di Montalcino 2010, DOCG Tuscany, Italy ($79.95)
John Szabo – Caparzo’s single vineyard expression, from the premium north side of Montalcino in an excellent vintage, is a wine of exceptional structure, depth and character. Don’t expect it to bowl you over with masses of fruit; this is a toned and firm expression of sangiovese, lithe and sinewy, energetic and tightly wound the way we like it. It’s still a couple of years away from prime drinking I’d speculate, at this stage only just beginning to deliver the beguiling savoury, umami-laden side of the region/grape. Length is terrific and complexity will only continue to build from an excellent base. Great stuff, best 2018-2028.

Wishing all WineAligners happy hunting and if you’re watching the game this weekend, grab a glass of something white (or green) and fly like an eagle. John and David will return over the next two weeks with your VINTAGES February 17th guides. I’m off to Toscana for the Anteprime collections and another deep delve into the sangiovese of Chianti Classico.


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Rodney Strong 2016 Sonoma County Chardonnay