John Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Sept 1, 2018

Top Euro values; Benchmark Chianti Classico
By John Szabo, MS, with notes by David Lawrason, Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato

John Szabo, MSThis week we look at top European values from the VINTAGES September 1st release, which is happily saturated with many smart buys under $20, including an astonishingly good trio under $15. If you’ve depleted your stock over a well-deserved summer break, here’s your opportunity to replenish. And in a separate special report, I consider the convergence on purity that is ongoing in Chianti Classico, and select ten benchmark producers who have helped write the story. These pioneers have been the catalysts of positive change, those who helped get the region back on the rails to fine wine. It’s no exaggeration to say that the wines are the best they’ve been since before phylloxera (and probably ever), so start, or re-ignite your Chianti Classico appreciation here: Chianti Classico Converging on Purity & Ten Benchmark Producers

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES Sept 1st

Top Sparkling and White Euro Values

Louis Eschenauer Brut Crémant de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France ($16.95)
David Lawrason – What an intriguing, offbeat and good value sparkling wine! Produced in the traditional method from four varieties – semillon, muscadelle, colombard and a touch cabernet franc (blanc de noirs), this shows very good complexity and structure – especially for the money. Flavours are not mainstream however – with mulched hay, yeastiness, mushroom and something like avocado fruit (from the semillon, I’m guessing). It is medium weight, almost silky, yet lively and well balanced.

Sara d’Amato – The Crémant de Bordeaux appellation is Bordeaux’s newest appellation having been inaugurated about 30 years ago. Demand is steadily increasing and so are sales so it was only a matter of time before we saw a few in our market. Made from semillon, muscadelle, colombard and a hint of direct pressed cabernet franc, this complex and a highly appealing fizz is also surprisingly well priced.

Louis Eschenauer Brut Crémant De BordeauxTornatore Etna Bianco 2016Ponte Pellegrino Greco 2015

Tornatore 2016 Etna Bianco DOC Sicily, Italy ($22.95)

John Szabo – Etna is hot right now in the wine world and prices have risen exponentially. So, this excellent wine from Giuseppe Tornatore, a relative newcomer who’s first vintage was 2014 (although his family has been growing grapes on Etna for generations) is a striking bargain. A pure carricante, it’s still at least a year or two from prime enjoyment, for now unusually fruity, with white fruit – pear and white peach – mingling with tangerine, maraschino cherry, honeydew melon and pineapple, while wood is a very minor influence. The mid-weight palate delivers appealing sharp and clean cut Etna acids, with solid weight and length beneath. Try after 2020, or hold into the mid-twenties.

David Lawrason – From the indigenous carricante grape grown on volcanic slopes of Mt. Etna, this is a quite hefty, yet almost silky, dry white with very engaging pepper and cardamom spice, lemon blossom and tropical fruit aromas (almost passion fruit).  It is very well made, both refreshing and satisfying with, a unique almost salty minerality on the finish. Fine extension as well.

Ponte Pellegrino 2016 Greco di Tufo, IGT Campania, Italy ($14.95)

John Szabo – Yet another terrific value from Massimo Alois, a textbook, smoky, structured, earthy and mineral greco from northern Campania with impressive character and complexity for the money. Length and depth are very good, too. This will make a brilliant restaurant by-the-glass discovery pour.

Sara d’Amato – A refreshing more ethereal style of greco, affable yet intricate. Flavours of tonic water and quince, white pepper, mineral, nectarine flesh and citrus zest make up the stimulating palate.  A delicious pour at under $15.

Michael Godel – From Vini Alois directed by father and son Michele and Massimo this is this next screaming value from Campania. What separates this in varietal terms is where it is grown, up and away from the seaside and into the Campanian hills. It’s therefore less maritime and sun-worshipped while conversely acting with greater (and simultaneous) richness and tension. It’s a fine departure for greco and one not to be missed.

Casa da Passarella 2016 Dão Branco, DO Portugal ($13.95)

John Szabo – The Dão is one of my go-to regions for value, often shockingly underpriced, and this is yet another example. Local stars encruzado, malvasia fina (30%) and gouveio (20%) are blended to yield a fullish, fleshy-fruity white, a touch oxidative already, so no need to cellar this further (not recommended). Acids are crunchy and lively and the fruit turns sharper on the palate, like starfruit and verjus, making this a fine seafood option, free from oak. Well worth a look.

Casa Da Passarella Dão Branco 2016Domaine Bonnard Sancerre 2016Louis Guntrum Nierstein Bergkirche Riesling Kabinett 2015

Michael Godel – Few countries can dish up this much fruit marked by a notable sense of place as Portugal can. The wine region of Dão is no exception and here you get white flowers, verdant grippy tones and a bit of floral spice. Very functional and pretty at the same time.

Domaine Bonnard 2016 Sancerre, Loire Valley, France ($27.95)
David Lawrason – This has very pretty, refined aromas of juniper, spearmint, lime blossom and green apple. It is light to mid-weight, with a real sense of delicacy/tenderness on the palate – light bodied with brisk, juicy acidity and a pleasant grapefruit/lime finish. It does not have the flinty mineral core and depth of the best Pouilly-Fumé, but the charm here makes up some ground.

Louis Guntrum Nierstein Bergkirche Riesling Kabinett 2015, Prädikatswein, Rheinhessen, Germany ($20.95)

Michael Godel – Here from Konstantin Guntrum is a riesling from steep slopes above the Rhine you’ve just got to try. You will get ripeness, richness and mouthfeel above and beyond. It’s a part of the Rheinhessen where red soils and friable limestone live in riesling, not far from Guntrum’s most famous Roter Hang.

Top Rosé and Red Euro Values

La Cadiérenne 2017 Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé, Provence, France ($22.95)
David Lawrason – One of the best, most vibrant yet restrained rosés of the season. It very pale and bright based on the aromatic and tannic mourvedre grape. Expect vague floral, currant and spicy aromas and flavour. It is medium bodied, smooth and dry with an almost creamy texture. Very nicely balanced. Some fennel and currant on the finish, with excellent length.

Villa Raiano 2012 Taurasi, DOCG, Campania, Italy ($39.95)

John Szabo – Not inexpensive you’ll say, but excellent value nonetheless in the world of distinctive regional benchmarks. Fans of northern Rhône syrah, for example, will love the spicy, pungent black pepper character, while Italophiles will be comforted by the floral perfume and fresh-tart red and black fruit alongside a strong undercurrent of savoury, mineral-rocky flavour (it’s volcanic!). An aglianico of genuine consequence and depth, regional character and complexity. Best 2018-2027.

La Cadiérenne Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé 2017Villa Raiano Taurasi 2012Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2015

Fumanelli 2015 Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Veneto, Italy ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This is a quite delicious, well balanced and easy drinking Valpolicella with classic red cherry fruit, a touch of meatiness, herbs and spice. Good aromatic integration. It is medium weight, fairly supple but soft, pleasant tart without being sour. The tannins are fine. Length is very good to excellent. I could drink this fine example all evening, with just a light chill.

Bastide Sobirana 2015 Lieu Dit La Colomine, AP Côtes du Roussillon, France ($18.95)

John Szabo – The Roussillon is a reliable source of value, and I was not surprised to learn that this wine is produced by Domaine Lafage, who has appeared multiple times in my reports, especially in the smart buys category. This is dense and complete on both the nose and the palate, sappy, and concentrated, a wine that would give many Châteauneuf-du-Papes a serious run for the money. I like the ample but supple tannins, the balanced-ripe acids, and the very good to excellent length. Half grenache with syrah and carignan. Best 2018-2015.

Antichi Poderi Jerzu 2015 Chuèrra Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna, DOC Italy ($18.95)

John Szabo – Cannonau, aka grenache (garnacha) was brought to Sardinia by the Spanish centuries ago, where it has evolved its own special character. This is a representative example: decidedly old world with a touch of earthy, leathery, barnyard character, yet also with a solid dose of fruit, dried and pot pourri-inflected. I’m drawn back again and again as additional layers reveal themselves – complexity is really very impressive. Length, too, is very good to excellent. Don’t be fooled by the relatively low price – this is complex, regionally representative wine. Best 2018-2025.

Bastide Sobirana Lieu Dit La Colomine 2015Antichi Poderi Jerzu Chuèrra Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna 2015Tormaresca Trentangeli Rosso 2015

Tormaresca 2015 Trentangeli Rosso, DOC Castel del Monte, Puglia ($19.95)

John Szabo – Antinori’s operation in Puglia is a perennial value proposition, and this generous and complex, fine value red blend of mostly Aglianico with cabernet sauvignon and a dash of syrah delivers. It’s big, ripe, and plush, to be sure, yet you’d never pick up on the international varieties – it’s properly earthy and spicy in old world, Italian style. Best 2018-2025.

Hacienda López de Haro 2012 Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This slim, linear and almost piquant Rioja offers intriguing, complex aromas of cedar, fresh herbs, dried beef, currants, vanillin and coconut. A classic Rioja combo of scents. It is mid-weight, taut and firm with drying tannin and herbality on the finish. The length is excellent.

Flavium 2014 Selección Mencía, DO Bierzo, Spain ($13.95)

John Szabo – This is an absurd value. Where else in the world can you find a wine made from 50 year-old vines (mencía), with this degree of complexity and enjoyment, for $14? I love the floral-violet, dark berry and wet wood-inflected perfume, and the medium-full, soft and gentle, fruity palate with uncommon length and depth in this price category. A wine to buy by the case. Best 2018-2022.

Hacienda López De Haro Reserva 2012Flavium Selección Mencía 2014Tarima Hill Monastrell 2015

Tarima Hill 2015 Monastrell Old Vines, Alicante, Spain ($23.95)
David Lawrason – This is a quite lovely, expressive and well balanced, New Worldish rendition of monastrell from the eastern coast of central Spain. Lovely, clean aromas of violets and blackberry, plus a bit of pepper, and void of the awkward meatiness this grape can often deliver. It is medium weight, balanced and fresh with moderate tannin (it is a naturally tannic grape).

Burgo Viejo Garnacha 2017, Doca Rioja, Spain ($14.95)

Michael Godel – The other Rioja is represented with this straightforward, simple and juicy garnacha. It’s plain delicious, honest and unadulterated but also bleeds its regional discretion. Might not have the firm grip and alcohol of let’s say Aragonese garnacha but it serves the freshness factor with great and bright ability. It’s like the #gogamaygo of Rioja.

Burgo Viejo Garnacha 2017Les Darons 2015

Les Darons 2015, Ap Languedoc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($16.95)

Michael Godel – This Languedoc red is firm if very juicy, unadulterated and wholly unencumbered by any extraneous distraction. Its fruit compliment does what a Midi red should do and that is to offer pleasure alongside equally honest cuisine. A sweetly prepared rare duck breast and some bitter greens will do.

Duorum Tinto 2015, Dop Douro, Portugal ($18.95)

Michael Godel – You just have to get your nose into this red Douro blend to believe what combinative beauty of fruit and flowers it gives. There is a sweetness and a bouquet of intoxication that never dissipates. Even while the palate descends into brooding where chocolate and cocoa live there too is acidity that also keeps things buoyant. Fine value here.

Château Pesquié 2015 Terrasses, Ventoux, Rhône, France ($19.95)

Sara d’Amato – There is real integrity to this Southern Rhône blend made with minimal intervention. The property is run by the Chaudiere family who were the first in the region to introduce sustainable viticultural practices in the mid-80s and were once again the first to be organically certified 10 years later. Situated at the foot of the commandeering Mt. Ventoux, best known as one of the most challenging parts of the Tour de France, it boasts gravelly limestone soils and dry, sunny conditions. I was particularly fond of the spicy garrigue that is so apparent, the mineral definition, mild oak and the perfectly ripe tannins in the glass.

Château Pesquié Terrasses 2015Bodega Jesús Romero Rubus 2016

Bodega Jesús Romero 2016 Rubus, Aragón, Spain ($18.95) (575944)

Sara d’Amato – A blend of garnacha, syrah and tempranillo from Aragón in northeastern Spain –  home to some of the country’s most extreme viticulture and a great deal of old vine garnacha. Fresh, juicy and pleasantly viscous, this ready-to-drink red offers a great deal of satisfaction. A hint of floral from high altitude fruit lingers on the finish. Great on its own or with beef tenderloin.

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

John Szabo, MS

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Tormaresca Trentangeli Rosso 2015