John Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Aug 4th, 2018

David Lawrason: A Canadian Wine Industry Champion, & Top Smart Buys
By John Szabo, MS, with notes by David Lawrason and Michael Godel

John Szabo, MSWe hope you’ve been following the results from the National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC) that poured out over the last two weeks. For current and future lovers of Canadian wine, this is THE DEFINITIVE LIST of top Canadian wines. Virtually every winery of note coast to coast submitted wines, the largest number ever, and we’re extremely proud of the medals awarded by our peerless panel of judges. Many expected winners emerged alongside happy surprises from new and improving producers, everything we hoped for. And special congratulations to Two Sisters Vineyards in Niagara, who took the honour of the Best Performing Small Winery of the year, and Road 13, a well-deserved winner of Canada’s Winery of The Year. Create your shopping list of Canada’s best wines. Considering the barrage of news, I’ll keep it simple this week and just present David’s, Michael’s and my top smart buys from the August 4th release (Sara d’Amato is bumming around southern France). But first, on the Canadian theme, WineAlign would like to congratulate one of our own, David Lawrason, who was recently awarded the Canadian Vintner’s Association 2018 Wine Industry Champion Award.

WineAlign’s David Lawrason: A Canadian Wine Industry Champion

Industry insiders know it’s no surprise that David Lawrason was named Wine Industry Champion during the 2018 Canadian Wine Industry Awards ceremony held a couple of weeks ago in Kelowna, BC. Few have worked as tirelessly as Lawrason to shine the spotlight, and educate both professionals and consumers on Canadian wine over the last four decades. As the Canadian Vintners Association press release states, the award was “presented to an individual who has provided exemplary support to the Canadian wine industry through media, research, policy or advocacy… a wine journalist who has spent over 30 years reporting on wine, and making wine more accessible to Canadian consumers”.

“I am thrilled to honour David’s exceptional contribution to consumer wine education today,” continued Dan Paszkowski, CEO of the CVA. “David’s dedication to Canadian wine whether through co-founding the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (NWAC), or teaching the Canadian Wine Scholar course are a snapshot of how hard he has worked to educate Canadian consumers about Canada’s high-quality fine wines.”

Read the full press release.

Moreover, David has immeasurably enriched Canadian wine culture through his development and mentorship of countless budding wine professionals, who have gone on to their own successful careers in the wine industry, in no small measure thanks to him. Many, myself included, owe David a debt of gratitude.

Here is what a few of the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada judges had to say about David:

“I’ve known David for more than 20 years now and seldom have I see him flustered by this crazy business. He was a pioneer in the Canadian wine writing business and remains a force to this day. He continues to dream big and push Canadian wineries to do the same. He is also a better typist than me which has always pissed me off.” Anthony Gismondi, Vancouver

David Lawrason and Anthony Gismondi

“I met David through his wine writings, ages before I met him in person. I started seriously thinking, drinking, and collecting wine back in my university days, and it was not long before I encountered his candid, balanced, unadorned prose. I learned about Ontario wines along with him, word by word. It was almost 18 years ago when we finally met – an introduction brokered by his longtime friend Anthony Gismondi. I cut my Judging teeth sharply, thanks to David, who took me in hand and quietly guided and shaped me. I respect, adore, revere, and applaud him. He’s a national treasure. Order of Canada, I should think.” DJ Kearney, Vancouver

David Lawrason, DJ Kearney and Brad Royale

“My first time tasting with David was with Wine Access. We had volunteered to take a late flight of Syrah, it was just the two of us. David’s determination for absolute due diligence to the wines in front of us was so genuine I remember it vividly even today.  He left nothing to chance, tasting and re-tasting, talking and re-talking, combing through the wines like a detective. I felt incredibly lucky to have this leadership in front of me. From that day on I tasted wine with the sense of responsibility to always do my best, always. I suspect anyone who has ever tasted with David has a similar story.” Brad Royale, Calgary

“David’s award was so deserved. He has worked so hard to promote the fact that Canada can make top-class wine. Always enthusiastic for new regions and producers, he is one of the most open-minded critics I have ever known. He supports Canadian wine but also helps wineries push for better and better quality with criticism where and when necessary. He has helped open the doors for so many of us younger judges and writers and supported giving us a chance to have our voices heard. His influence has helped Canada to make better wine and keep that discussion at the forefront. A true legend!” Rhys Pender MW, Okanagan Valley

Rhys Pender and David Lawrason

“I took my first serious steps in wine judging under the careful and smart mentoring of David Lawrason, and one of the things he taught me was to look beyond the obvious, and to go further than first impressions or personal preferences. His dedication to taking in the full scope of the wine world, and in particular the world of Canadian wine, without prejudging and with careful consideration, is exemplary and constantly inspiring.” Rémy Charest, Québec City

“David Lawrason is the main reason I ended up having a national voice as a wine writer and judge. When I met him in Germany, by chance – we weren’t on the same writer trip – I was just starting out in my new career, and he took interest and gave me a leg up. I’ll never forget it and I can’t thank him enough. He’s a great writer, mentor, judge, and friend.” Craig Pinhey, New Brunswick

“I met David a short while after starting to work in and with the Canadian wine industry after almost a decade hiatus in Europe and South Africa. I am forever grateful for the opportunities he has given me over the past years – to judge, write and so much more, and am ever thankful to him as a mentor, colleague and friend. He is a gentleman, in the true sense of the word, generous, thoughtful and kind and with an unwavering support and commitment to the journey and future of Canadian wine and the industry, both within Canada and on an international stage.” Janet Dorozynski, Ottawa

Janet Dorozynski and David Lawrason

“David has enlightened me about two things which have made a difference in my life. One was the wines of Prince Edward County, well before the region became popular. The other was the band War on Drugs, and because of his suggestion I got to see them live at Massey Hall before they only started doing stadium tours. Obviously he is a man of great taste.” Bill Zacharkiw, Montreal

Bill Zacharkiw and David Lawrason

“A generous soul who shares his wealth of knowledge willingly with always having in sight the benefit of everyone involved in the wine industry. And the best travelling partner one could ever hope for! A great example to follow for the new generation.” Michelle Bouffard, Montreal

David Lawrason and Michelle Bouffard

“Put up your hand if you owe a debt of gratitude to David Lawrason for helping you get to where you are in the wine business. There must be thousands of hands in the air right now. That is the scope of David’s reach. It would be impossible to fathom where Canadian wine and wine in Canada would be today without the guidance of this gentleman wine writer, competition judge, educator and mentor. Now it is time for our Prime Minister, Premiers and Trade Ministers to consult with David Lawrason on why and how to free our grapes. He’s the man.” Michael Godel, Toronto

David Lawrason. Michael Godel, Sara d'Amato and John Szabo

“David Lawrason has been writing about wine in Canada for over 30 years and his words are more relevant than ever. A wildly impressive expertise of local and international wine is not due solely to his extensive travel. David knows how to ask the right questions, the important ones, and above all, he knows how to listen. He is able to assemble complex ideas from many points of view to create a concise and convincing argument that is relatable, without pretension and always a pleasure to read. This is what makes him an exceptional educator, journalist and one of the classiest people in the world of wine. Thank you, David, for your many years of support and encouragement. There is no one more deserving of the recognition you have received.” Sara d’Amato, Toronto

John Szabo and David Lawrason

Enough said. David, congratulations, and thank you.

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES Aug 4th


Rotem & Mounir 2015 Saouma Inopia, AC Côtes du Rhône-Villages, France ($35.95)
John Szabo – What an intriguing wine: full of that intriguingly flinty-stony, sulphury character so common these days (especially in chardonnay), but here on a much riper frame composed of grenache blanc – it’s no surprise that Rotem & Mounir are negociants based in Burgundy. The nose is pungent and forward, far from typical southern Rhône I have to say, but bloody hell, an interesting experience. The palate is dense and thick, ultra-ripe but not flabby, with excellent length. Totally captivating, and yes, worth $36. Best 2018-2025.
Michael Godel – Concrete eggs and large foudres provide the space to develop a southern Rhône white blend of delicious texture and fleshy aromatics. It’s all stone fruit and flowers, saltiness and great white tannin. You’ve just got to get here and try this rarely seen French wine from which boozy and beauty together rise as one fair beast.

Waterkloof 2017 Seriously Cool Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95)
David Lawrason – South African chenins are widely heralded by those who know them, and often come in different guises. This one, in my mind, is text book. It is a bright, fresh, nicely made chenin with clean, correct aromas of pear, honeysuckle and lemon. It is medium weight, just off dry with balancing tartness and warmth. Really very drinkable as well as being classy.

Rotem & Mounir Saouma Inopia 2014Waterkloof Seriously Cool Chenin Blanc 2017De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016

De Morgenzon 2016 Reserve Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($39.95)
David Lawrason – And then on the other hand, there are the whopper chenins! This is a big, ripe and complex barreled version offering very generous aromas of wood spice, honey, pear flan and a touch of beeswax. It is full bodied, powerful and rich with a fine seam of Stellenbosch minerality and acidity. The intensity and length are very impressive. So it the cohesion despite its bigness.
John Szabo – De Morgenzon’s reserve chenin hails from an old parcel planted in 1972, the only vineyard not replanted on the property when purchased by the current owners in 2002. It spends about a year in a combination of 300l oak casks, larger foudres and cement eggs. And the ’16 is a lovely wine, fragrant and complex, bright and classy, with minimal wood influence, just bright, sunny yellow flowers, ripe lemons, white peach and nectarine, and much more. The palate is mid-weight, classy, dry, with excellent acid balance and long, long finish. Top notch stuff.

Paul Anheuser 2016 Schlossböckelheimer Königsfels Riesling Kabinett, Nahe, Germany ($17.95)
David Lawrason – Nahe rieslings often have this particular delicacy and tension at the same time. This is a very fine, gently firm riesling from steep slopes above the tiny Nahe tributary of the Rhine. The 9% alcohol creates the delicacy. Expect wonderfully pure honeysuckle, Japanese pear and vague lemon and mineral on the nose and palate. It is off-dry but so poised with such gentle mouth-watering acidity that I hardly noticed the sweetness.

Donnachiara 2015 Montefalcione Fiano Di Avellino, DOCG Campania, Italy ($18.95)
John Szabo – Fans of soft and fruity need not stop here. This is complex, stony, minerally white wine, lightly petrol tinged, all mineral oil and smoke, wet wool and other intriguing herbal flavours, bone dry and appealing lean. Bring out the grilled calamari or similar, or cellar 3-5 years without concern. Loads of character here for the money.
David Lawrason – The Campania white varieties continue to offer great value, in a richer yet still elegant style than northern Italian whites. This is a very bright, fresh yet nicely restrained white with fine aromas of lemon, white pepper, subtle herbs and a hint of wet stone. It is medium-full bodied, fleshy yet nicely dry, with a pleasantly bitter finish. Nicely made.

Paul Anheuser Schlossböckelheimer Königsfels Riesling Kabinett 2016Donnachiara Montefalcione Fiano Di Avellino 2015La Chablisienne Le Finage Chablis 2014

La Chablisienne 2014 Le Finage Chablis AC Burgundy, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – It’s hard to fathom how they do it, but the La Chablisienne cooperative pulls out value after value, year after year. This is a brilliant opportunity to get back in on the superb 2014 vintage, now with a lick of maturity creeping in. There’s the expected stony-leesy-lemony character, but with an extra measure of depth and class. I love these sizzling acids. If only all $20 chardonnay could taste like this. Best 2018-2026.

Domaine Fèvre 2015 Vaulorent Chablis 1er Cru, France ($49.95)
Michael Godel – From the singular Right Bank Vaulorent, the only Chablis Premier Cru vineyard located on the same hill as the Grand Cru. Here in the hands of Fèvre (not be confused with the Bouchard-owned William Fèvre) this is a very pretty Chablis, expected from the exceptional Climat but also rich into the ’15 fruit.

Leaning Post 2015 The Fifty Chardonnay VQA Ontario ($21.95)
John Szabo – A sharp value from Leaning Post, The Fifty, named for the winery 50 miles from the Niagara River, actually comes mostly from the Twenty Mile Bench (Wismer vineyard). It delivers all of the stony, minerally notes and controlled reduction that chardonnay fanatics seek, on a light and brisk frame. I love the crispy green apple and lemon fruit, and the ultra-subtle wood influence (fermented in wood but aged in steel). Length is solid, too. One of the top buys going in Ontario chardonnay I’d say. Best 2018-2023.

Domaine Fevre Vaulorent Chablis 1er Cru 2015Leaning Post Wines The Fifty 2015Castano Chardonnay Macabeo 2017

Castaño 2017 Macabeo/Chardonnay, DO Yecla, Spain ($13.95)
John Szabo – This is your inexpensive, go-to summer party white, another genuinely good value from the Familia Castaño. It’s clean, fresh, and fruity, but also with solid flavour intensity and lingering finish. The appeal is wide – both my mother and I would happily drink this (no offense, mama!).


Tessellae 2015 Old Vines Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre, Côtes Du Roussillon, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – I have to say, this is an essence of the Roussillon, and one which would make many southern Rhône reds at twice the price blush in comparison. It’s a deep and sappy, highly extracted, serious old vine red (grenache and syrah with 10% mourvèdre), with notable floral perfume, and dense, briary, dark fruit flavour. Length and depth are excellent; best 2018-2025.

Tessellae Old Vines Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre 2015Paul Dolan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Paul Dolan 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, California ($31.95)
John Szabo – Fans of big Napa cabs will find comfort here in spades, at a quality level that is untouchable at this price in the famed valley to the south of Mendocino. This is pleasantly ripe but not excessively so, and even includes a welcome evergreen note, that leafy-herbal touch that defines the variety when not baked to death. The palate is chewy and richly extracted but without hard edges, retaining a sense of freshness and verve, and length and depth are excellent. Best 2018-2025.

Guado Al Tasso 2015 Il Bruciato DOC Bolgheri Tuscany ($25.95)
John Szabo – An excellent “second” wine from the estate, worth much more than 1/4 (of the price) of the grand vin. It’s rich and ripe, dark fruit scented with notable but not excessive barrel influence, black berry, plum and black cherry flavours. Tannins are polished and fine, structure-lending without intrusions, while the length is good to very good and acids are properly balanced. Best 2018-2025.

Guado Al Tasso Il Bruciato 2015Mastroberardino Aglianico 2015Gérard Bertrand Terroir Minervois Syrah Carignan 2015

Mastroberardino 2015 Aglianico IGT Campania ($22.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a proper, pleasantly rustic southern Italian red with loads of character for the money. Earthy, savoury, pot-pourri flavours lead in a decidedly non-fruity idiom, rather typical for Aglianico from Campania. I’d suggest carafing to bring out the appealing dried flower side of the profile. Best 2018-2023.

Gérard Bertrand 2015 Terroir Minervois Syrah/Carignan, AOC Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($16.95)
Michael Godel – Yet another really solid southern French red with the négoce stamp of the house. It’s becoming almost comedic how many well-priced, in-the-wheelhouse red blends arrive at VINTAGES by way of the Bertrand label, very much like Bouchard or Jadot in Bourgogne. But make no mistake: the case loads are much greater here and all the more impressive that the quality is so consistently high.

Li Veli Passamante 2016 Negroamaro IGP Salento, Italy ($16.95)
Michael Godel – Bush vines of negroamaro are the source for the bright red fruited, dusty and lively Salice Salentino red. It’s blessed with an effusive volatility and a nice dried red fruit edge to the sharp and tangy pomegranate flavours. Such a great food wine for cured meats and lunchtime pasta with the freshest of summer’s tomatoes.

Li Veli Passamante Negroamaro 2016Angove Wild Olive Shiraz 2016Roco Gravel Road Pinot Noir 2014

Angove 2016 Wild Olive Shiraz, Mclaren Vale, South Australia ($21.95)
Michael Godel – Wild Olive is apropos because the Olea Europaea component is front, inherent and centre in both the aromatics and the flavours of this very Mediterranean-styled, if McLaren Vale-entrenched, shiraz. Sure, there are berries and peppery plums but those olives! It’s a fine savoury affair made by the folks at Angove with organics clearly cumulative in every facet of their being.

Roco 2014 Gravel Road Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($27.95)
Michael Godel – All gravel all the time is the pinot noir cry for this beautifully broad expression by Willamette winemaker Rollin Soles. The multiple vineyard sources are all tied to such soils. Ripeness, heady character and intensity of fruit. This really does it all.

Pablo Claro 2015 Biodynamic Cabernet Sauvignon/Graciano, Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is an unusual combo of two tough-minded grapes – cabernet and graciano.  So it offers good density, energy and complexity for the money, but it is hardly svelte and satiny. It has generous blackberry-currant fruit with violet, licorice and botanical notes, plus some earthiness. It shows good structure, depth and length, especially at the price.

Pablo Claro Biodynamic Cabernet Sauvignon Graciano 2015Montes Alpha Syrah 2015

Montes Alpha 2015 Syrah, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Organically grown, this is a nicely lifted, fairly intense and bold syrah – very Chilean, with that wild blueberry/currant fruit, evergreen, black pepper and some oak vanillin. It is not everyone’s idea of syrah (certainly not French) but it is Chilean to its core, and has very good complexity and length. It is bright and polished and clean.

That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

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