John Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Nov 10, 2018

European Value Whites and Classics for the Cellar, Plus Special Penfolds Collection 2018 Report

By John Szabo, MS, with notes from Michael Godel

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week we highlight the top Old World/European wines from the huge November 10th release, which includes some classics for the cellar as well as a few inexpensive, younger wines well worth discovering. And as the season of indulgence nears, I’ve included and port and a late harvest wine from Hungary to round out the selection. Next week we’ll cover the best of the New World, but to lead into that, I’ve published a special report on the Penfolds 2018 Collection, reviews of the annual release of this Australian icon’s top wines, including, St. Henri and RWT Shiraz, Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, and, of course, Grange. Read on to learn how this 174 year-old company has evolved, or not, with the changing Aussie wine landscape.


European Value Whites

Zacharias 2017 Assyrtiko PGI Peloponnese, Greece ($13.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a terrific value from one of Greece’s top white varieties grown in this case in the Peloponnese. This carries significant weight with style (14% alc. declared) alongside crackling acids; the palate is further lifted by a light CO2 spritz. Fruit is mostly in the citrus and pear-apple spectrum, with no wood evident and good to very good length. Loads of character here for the money.

Ilok Cellars 2017 Classic Grasevina, Croatia ($14.95)
John Szabo – Grapefruit pith and peel lead off the top in a typical varietal expression, with mid-weight, fullish palate, juicy acids and good length. A solid, well made white.

Zacharias Assyrtiko 2017 Ilok Cellars Classic Grasevina 2017

European Classic Reds For the Cellar

Domaine de la Solitude 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape AC Rhône, France ($41.95)
John Szabo – Big, rich, ripe, bold, broad and flavourful, this is a fine vintage for Solitude. I love the mouth-filling dark and red fruit flavours, the garrigue, the savoury notes. Length and depth are excellent. Although drinking well now, this should age amazingly as well, beyond the ’20s with ease. Best 2020-2030.
Michael Godel – The absolute succulence and fruit-driven elegance of the southern Rhône Valley’s best abilities are to be found in this wine. The finest of grenache-led acids are the conduit for that fruit to soar and do nothing but delight. This is a pure example of a finessed Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe with restraint and power that drinks well right from the very beginning.

Viña Tondonia 2005 Reserva DOCa Rioja, Spain ($49.95)
John Szabo – Marvelous, complex aromatics off the top here from arch classic Lopez de Heredia, featuring earth, pot pourri, faded red fruit and more mingling in a highly complex expression. The palate is firm and surprisingly still astringent, with dusty tannins abetted by strong acids. I’d say this needs another 3-5 years to fully soften, and then some; hold in the cellar into the late ’20s and beyond without concern. Terrific wine. Best 2021-2031.
Michael Godel – Welcome to the oldest school, in class where aromas and flavours of a world forgotten will bring you back to where you came from. And even if your heritage has no connection to Rioja this wine will transport you to another time and place. It’s amazing how the oak treatment delivers less wood and more diversity in secondary and tertiary notations. It may be geeky cliché to expound upon the wonders of singular wines like Tondonia but that’s just fine. Leave them all for us.

Château Haut-Brisson 2015 AC Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France ($41.95)
John Szabo – Ripe and concentrated, this is a clear step up from the mean right off the bat. The palate is properly mid-weight, firm and dark fruit-flavoured, with solid architecture and fine balance. Styled in the traditional, classic fashion, built to age. Best after 2023 or hold till 2030.

Feudo Montoni 2015 Lagnusa Nero d’Avola DOC Sicilia, Italy ($23.95)
John Szabo – Super ripe, almost jammy, and very concentrated to be sure, but lifted by herbal and earthy notes in very Mediterranean fashion. The acids are likewise juicy, and tannins are fine – this is good wine. Length is excellent. Best 2018-2025.


Domaine De La Solitude Châteauneuf Du Pape 2015 Vina Tondonia Red Reserva 2005  Château Haut Brisson 2015  Feudo Montoni Nero D'avola Sicilia Doc Lagnusa 2015

Xavier 100% Côtes Du Rhône 2015, Rhône, France ($17.95)
Michael Godel – The packaging solicits a response. That’s for sure. What does 100 per cent mean? Varietal or regional? I think it means all in. With fruit, acidity, structure and acidity. For Côtes du Rhône it lays it all on the line. One hundred per cent.

Castello Di Meleto Chianti Classico 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($18.95)
Michael Godel – From Gaiole in Chianti commune, Castello di Meleto’s is really refined sangiovese, taking a deeper step into the calcaire, welling with some hematic and even ferric notes, developing towards secondary functionality. Here alights the cerebral induction sangiovese with even a slight scant drop of syrupy liqueur.

Borsao Berola 2014, Do Campo De Borja, Spain($18.95)
Michael Godel – Berola refers to the original name used for Campo de Borja’s 12th century Cistercian Monasterio de Veruela. The blend was predominately garnacha but syrah is increasingly employed for many reasons, namely what it does to support texture across the palate. The expat grape is a best of all worlds blending component in Campo de Borja, ideally suited to the climate and the alluvial soils. It elevates the musculature and grip while adding a strong, flexible, and fibrous feel to the structure and mouthfeel. Alongside garnacha this ’14 turns fleshy and the union is so balanced, nearly ethereal and surely represents ridiculous value.

Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2016, Rhône, France ($93.95)
Michael Godel – If there was any concern that the Rhône Valley had lost its way, fear not and no more. It was only a matter of time before producers at the top of the quality spectrum began to make sense of climate change and modern ripening abilities. Case in point this Beaucastel, wine of optimum and innate understanding. Deep dark fruit aromas and flavours meet the finest acidity seen in quite some time, at least since the exceptional 2015. Today’s structure is the new world but tradition is always in tow. A new benchmark.

Xavier 100% Côtes Du Rhône 2015 Castello Di Meleto Chianti Classico 2015  Borsao Berola 2014  Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2016

European Classic Sweet & Fortified

Quinta Vale D. Maria 2015 Vintage Port, Portugal ($49.95)
John Szabo – Full, dense, intense, sweet and incredibly youthful, this is a big, powerful port, many, many years away from prime drinking – I’m talking decades. It’s really too early to fully assess, but I suspect this will be a wine for the ages, packed with flavour, still spiritous, with structure and length in spades. Best 2030-2060+.

Biro So Sweet 2016 Tokaj Tokaj-Hegyalja, Hungary ($17.95)
John Szabo – Beautiful aromatics: peach pie and quince paste, pears in syrup and tangerines – a classic, clean, botrytis expression. The palate is medium-sweet, balanced by high acids and even a bit of tannic backbone, and long finish. While not a top level aszú, for the price this is impressive.

Quinta Vale D. Maria Vintage Port 2015 Biro So Sweet Tokaj 2016

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

John Szabo, MS

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

John Szabo, MS

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.

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix

New Release and VINTAGES Preview