Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – March 3rd, 2018

Drilling Down South of the Equator
by David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo, Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

VINTAGES’s catch-all South of the Equator theme struck me as impossibly broad, until I tasted the wines and noticed a few things. The selection is by and large of very good quality, and even better value. There are some new, less well-known producers in the line-up (not just a rehash of familiar labels from powerhouse wineries, which would have been an easy route to go). And finally, many of the best quality/value offerings are from specific appellations that are earning their reputations for terroir-driven wines. So praise to VINTAGES buyers!

But let me zoom out and provide some context. When you look at a map of the world, and overlay the zone between 30 and 50 degrees of latitude in which vinifera wine grapes grow, the Southern Hemisphere wine land area is much smaller than in the Northern Hemisphere.

This is confirmed by wine production statistics where the Southern Hemisphere, in 2015, produced just 19.6% of the world’s wine at 5.5 million hectolitres. By comparison, Italy, the world’s largest producer, was responsible for 17.4 % at 4.9 million hl.

I was surprised by this, because the contribution of the Southern Hemisphere seems much larger in my mind. Australia alone seems really big, but in fact only contributes 4.2% to the global wine pool. Argentina at 4.7% contributes slightly more. Chile is at 4.5%; South Africa 3.9% and New Zealand is a mere .8% (despite the oceans of sauvignon blanc on our LCBO shelves). Uruguay and Brazil add another 1.3%.

So perhaps it is the formidable presence of southern Hemisphere wines on shelf at the LCBO that is driving this particular delusion of grandeur. There are always so many wines to choose from, and it is always very easy to find good wines from these countries. They are, by and large, safe, generous and easy to get to know. On top of which, many are very good value indeed. (A big factor in LCBO purchasing.)

Fess Parker Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014

If there is a negative connotation to “South Hemisphere” wines it might be that they are “cheaper, therefore less good quality”. But I believe this is largely a perception of those focused solely on European and American wine. Anyone who has investigated a few bottles South of the Equator understands that it is just not true, although it might have been more true a generation ago.

I have crossed the Equator 17 times since 2010 – with trips split almost equally among the top five wine producing countries. I was either invited on wine-focused press trips, or I was co-hosting groups of Canadians on culinary/athletics focused tours with Gold Medal Plates, a national fundraiser for Canada’s Olympic athletes. (Hey, how about our performance in PyeongChang?)

The latter trips were eye-openers in terms of the degree of acceptance and fondness shown to the wines of the Southern Hemisphere. Once people got to know them, they loved them and prejudices melted away like Canadian snowbanks in March. And they kept shaking their heads in disbelief at the prices.

But it was the press trips that dug into the reasons why the wines are so good. The other side of the world, in my view, has a much more liberated and practical/science-based view of wine and winemaking. Despite many instances of Euro ownership and imposition of tradition, there is a common, open-minded, very fast paced drive to improve all the areas of the game – from site and varietal selection, to viticultural and winemaking practices.

The rush to define terroirs seems the most urgent. What took centuries of evolution in Europe is being applied vigorously by a younger generation of well travelled, well schooled, practical winemakers South of the Equator.

And this is what I discovered in several of the better examples in the VINTAGES release. They were from very specific places and varieties well suited to those places – whether pinot noir from Patagonia, chenin blanc from Swartland, chardonnay from Eden Valley, malbec from Cafayate, or shiraz from Margaret River. And all this is very much a sign of a maturing hemisphere.

So don’t miss it, or dismiss it. Here are some of our picks.

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES March 3rd


Greywacke 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very fine somewhat subdued yet complex sauvignon from legendary NZ winemaker Kevin Judd, many years ago a founding partner in Cloudy Bay. It has a gentle nose of green apple, lime zest, green tea, fresh mint and wet stone/flint. All so subtle, tender yet fresh and refined. Excellent length and focus.…
John Szabo – Crafted in the flinty, reductive style, Kevin Judd’s Greywacke sauvignon falls into the narrow band of quality Marlborough producers (like Dog Point and Seresin, for example), crafting distinctive, intriguing wines with density, depth and complexity far above the Marlborough Valley quality floor. Acids are salty and fresh, and the length is impressive. This likely won’t appeal widely, especially to drinkers of the more popular, mainstream commercial style, but I certainly admire its integrity and valid regional expression. Best 2018-2026.
Michael Godel – Here the next shot in the sauvignon blanc arm from Kevin Judd is a stone-struck, flinty and airy 2016. It’s hard to say that this Greywacke vintage is better, worse, more interesting or important, but if nothing else it surely does not disappoint.
Sara d’Amato – Winemaker Kevin Judd’s mastery of sauvignon blanc was largely responsible for the success of Marlborough’s signature style as Cloudy Bay’s first winemaker. In his solo project, Greywacke, he strives for elegance, more restraint and to fully express the unique stony soils of the Wairau and its gentle climates in the wines.

Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2016Hill Smith Estate Chardonnay 2015

Hill-Smith Estate 2015 Chardonnay Wild Ferment, Eden Valley, South Australia ($21.95)
John Szabo – From the fifth generation of the Hill-Smith family, Barossa pioneers and fervent proponents of the cooler Eden Valley above the Barossa floor, this is a very tidy value in a fresh, minimally oak-influenced, wild fermented chardonnay that ticks all of the boxes. The balance on the palate is impeccable, crunchy and fresh, but also saturated with flavour. Really lovely, salty, saliva -inducing wine. Superb value.
Sara d’Amato – Crafted using only a delicate touch, this naturally fermented chardonnay from the cool Eden Valley has only the faintest hint of oak. The leesy, yeasty character is much more apparent and adds weight and texture. Beautifully balanced and underpriced.
David Lawrason – This is a very pure and bright chardonnay with real poise from a slightly higher altitude adjunct to the Barossa Valley. Expect finely integrated cashew, spice, vanillin and poached pear. Very fine aromatics that go right down Main Street of the New World. Polished, mid-weight, a bit tight and mineral. Very classy and a steal at the price.

Susana Balbo 2016 Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés, Uco Valley, Argentina ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – This wine is certainly an odd duck but one that offers considerable intrigue. Torrontés is not a variety that is frequently oak aged due to its exuberant aromatic nature. In non-compliance, Susana Balbo has been experimenting with this technique for some time and seems to have hit the jackpot with this arresting incarnation. The oak here seems only have contributed a knitting together of flavours and not any discernible oak spice. This game-changing torrontés is bright and fresh, showing sophisticated restraint and delicate notes of mint and white pepper.

Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2016Spier Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc 2015

Spier Vintage Selection 2015 Chenin Blanc, Swartland, South Africa ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is a great value Cape chenin with impressive intensity and complexity on the nose and palate. Expect generous spice, green pear, lime and waxy notes. It is medium-full bodied with firm acidity, grip and structure. Almost Burgundian structural seriousness for $18.


Aniello 006 2016 Pinot Noir, Patagonia, Argentina ($17.95)
David Lawrason – The Rio Negro in Patagonia is a bona fide pinot region. When I visited four years ago I found many of the pinots still rather jammy despite the “cooler” latitude at 39 degrees (Niagara is even cooler at 43.5), but this example is quite firm and leaner, with nicely ripened cran-cherry fruit, herbs, spice and leather. It is well balanced, fresh and accurate, if not profound or deep. Nonetheless a good buy for pinot fans at $17.95.
Michael Godel – Patagonia’s Río Negro is the source for this lithe and deliciously aromatic pinot noir, a wine as light and refreshing as it is fruity and fine. At under 13 per cent alcohol it’s just what it needs to be. The future of great value, varietal Patagonia pinot noir is in good hands if this is the directive; unencumbered, unadulterated and simply stated.
Sara d’Amato – A rare non-Malbec exported find from Argentina derived from a 1998 planting in the cool southern region of the Upper Rio Negro in Patagonia. The vineyard is uniquely located along a river, quite unusual for this arid country, and gentle winemaking has ensured the resulting wine showcases the freshness of the site. Concrete is largely used here with only 30% of the wine aged in old oak.  And Winemaker Federico Moreira’s experimentation with the cultivation of indigenous yeast very much elevates this pinot’s declaration of terroir.

Aniello 006 Riverside Estate Pinot Noir 2016Invivo Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016

Invivo 2016 Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This is delicious, composed NZ pinot, and a great buy at $25 from deep on the South Island near Queenstown. The nose exudes ripe red cherry fruit and red roses, with oak spice, smoke and some minty character. It is medium-full bodied, smooth and almost sweet, but nicely balanced by fine acidity. Delish! Stock up!
Sara d’Amato – For some time now, quality minded pinot producers of Central Otago have been trying to find a balance between the powerful style of which it has become known, and a more refined, classic approach. This incredibly tasty version from Invivo seems to have done just that. Without neglecting the fruit driven intensity, naturally resulting from the region’s dry, hot summers, this pinot is balanced by earthy forest floor and a nervy vein of acidity.

Montes Alpha Pinot Noir 2015, Anconcagua Coast, Chile ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Montes’ is a lovely, energetic, high-spirited and tonal pinot noir with plenty of fruit-ripeness, consumer-appeal upside. It’s really quite a punchy mouthful with tart raspberry and grippy fruit, plus some balancing acidity and near-negligible tannin. Really crisp, clear and focused

Neil Ellis 2015 Stellenbosch Pinotage, Stellenbosch, South Africa  ($17.95)
David Lawrason  – Thank goodness for an honest pinotage not wallpapered with mocha sweetness. It is medium weight, fleshy, balanced and almost elegant, but the strawberry/cherry flavours have just enough vibrancy, along with herbs and some meatiness. Lovely mid-palate presence if not huge depth.

Montes Alpha Pinot Noir 2015Neil Ellis Stellenbosch Pinotage 2015Hancock & Hancock Mclaren Vale Home Vineyard

Hancock & Hancock 2015 McLaren Vale Home Vineyard Shiraz/Grenache, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very pretty, lush, smooth and vaguely sweet edged red, but it is not soupy or confected. It’s pure, subtle and refined with classic red plum, floral and herbal notes. Tannins are as smooth as polished soapstone. A bit hot, with very good length. I sense a new stylistic sensibility in this wine.
Michael Godel – The spicy bite and ripe plum of shiraz joins the smoky culture and red cherry ubiquity of grenache for what needs and to cure what ails. It’s just firm and grippy enough to stand tall at the table and needs no reason to sidle over into the tangent of multi-dimensionality. This is a terrific example of McLaren Vale transparency and is a perfect deal for light, refreshing and enjoyable drinking.

Fabre Montmayou Reserva Malbec 2015, Mendoza, Argentina ($17.00)
Michael Godel – What’s fine about this malbec of modest price is its great acidity, a factor to keep the dark fruit honest and things moving swimmingly along. Plum and pepper get together with wood-spice and tart angles for good measure and ultimately good quality after high threshold extraction. Good length too.

Fabre Montmayou Reserva Malbec 2015Abras Malbec 2015Wynns Coonawarra Estate The Siding Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Abras 2015 Malbec, Cafayate Valley, Argentina  ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Huge value here in a delicious, generous yet well-structured malbec from sites in Cafayate – the world’s highest altitude wine region in Salta province. It is so solid, yet juicy and concentrated, with all kinds of red and black currant, herbs, florals, spice and a touch of leather. Nicely compacted and generous at the same time.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate 2012 The Siding Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia ($22.95)
Michael Godel – The Siding and 2012 are another Wynns gift to the Ontario market, a wine of pure Coonawarra terra rossa soil, cabernet sauvignon specificity and estate expertise. This is wonderfully savoury and spicy cabernet, more black fruit notable than tart currant fresh and yet it’s got an elevated air-filled tonality about it. Great energy and more than useful structure carry it to a long and effortless linger. Perfectly ready to go right now.

That’s it for this edition. Next week John Szabo responds with a focus on the (Evil?) Northern Hemisphere.

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.

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

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Fess Parker Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014