Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Preview – Nov 10th, 2018

Global Finds and New World Pinot Noir
By Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason, John Szabo and Michael Godel

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

It is the time of year when the bi-weekly VINTAGES releases swell to such great numbers that we at WineAlign are tasting into overtime. Saturday’s line-up includes 148 new wines on the shelves which tend to move quickly as holiday season approaches. The WineAlign team is now all back in Toronto after a great deal of travel with destinations that include Hungary & the Carpathian Bassin, Austria, the Rhône Valley, Chianti Classico and well as harvesting closer to home. With greater perspective on emerging wine regions and innovative developments in classic appellations, we look forward to sharing our adventures with you in the month to come. More pressing are our top picks that are just gracing the shelves of your local VINTAGES shop.

New World Pinot Noir

Pinot noir’s reference point may be Burgundy, but outside of this classic terroir, an increasing number of exceptional pinot noirs are surfacing in the market. Unfortunately, they are rarely a bargain due to the grape’s intolerant nature requiring exacting growing conditions and careful attention in the winery. Having emerged as premium hotbeds for this finicky variety are Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Casablanca in Chile, Central Otago in New Zealand, Sonoma, Carneros and Santa Barbara in California and the Western Cape of South Africa. Closer to home, pinot noir is demonstrating praiseworthy potential in BC’s Okanagan Valley, the Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward Country. This week we were particularly taken by local examples from Niagara as well as pinot from Sonoma, Santa Barbara and a surprising value find from Mendoza’s Uco Valley.

Central Otago

Central Otago

Château des Charmes 2016 Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($38.95)
Sara d’Amato – This warmer vintage edition of the home-farmed pinot noir of Château des Charmes offers an impressive depth of flavour. Barely-there volatile acidity adds complexity on the palate giving an edge to the generously showcased flavours of fresh red and black cherry, bramble and nettle. There is a distinct purity and authenticity of note as well as elegance and definition from acidity. The wildness under the surface is just palpable but is kept restrained at present. A broody intensity is brewing, and a flinty smokiness is tangible on the finish. The evolution of this multi-layered pinot noir should prove captivating. Tasted October 2018. 

Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2016, Short Hills Bench, Ontario ($34.95)
Michael Godel – Take a warm vintage like 2016 and perfectly great vineyard fruit and you can pretty much expect the best for the Speck Family Reserve. The Short Hills Bench sweetness really comes through, transparent, crisp and clear. It’s both youthful and structured pinot noir. Best ever from Henry of Pelham I’d say.

Château des Charmes 2016 Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard Pinot NoirHenry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2016

Salentein Reserve Pinot Noir 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)
Michael Godel – The pinot noir/Uco Valley relationship is not so oft investigated and I dare say this union is a bright, sweetly high-toned and efficient one. I approve of this union and how it marries sweet fruit to naïveté with an inherent grace and wisdom. The varietal gods would be pleased. And I would say to other, more established pinot noir regions, “never be jealous in this life, not even for an instant.”

Flowers Pinot Noir 2016, Sonoma Coast, California, USA ($64.95)
Michael Godel – Though winter rains ended years of drought it truly continues to be that combination of coastal fog, cool climate conditions and rugged coastal influences that make this pinot noir shimmer with Sonoma Coast brightness and glimmer with mountain ridge minerality.
David Lawrason –This has a very lifted, spicy and evergreen nose with currant-raspberry fruit and nicely leveraged oak spice and toast. Love the aromatics here. It is medium bodied, smooth and elegant yet firm with very fine tannin. Many California pinots lack energy; this has plenty. You might want to age it a year or two. Excellent length.

Foxen 2015 John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County, California, USA ($55.95)
Sara d’Amato –A succulent, broody and intense pinot noir yet agile and sinewy. Sourced from flavours of coffee and toasty oak are offered up on the palate. Ripe fruit does not give way to high alcohol and a hint of bitterness refreshes the palate. A fleshy textural mouthfeel is notably satisfying. Tannins are firm but not tacky. Tighten it up just a bit by chilling slightly. The long, salty, vibrant finish keeps you wanting more.

Salentein Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 Flowers Pinot Noir 2016 Foxen 2015 John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir


Robert Mondavi 2015 Oakville Fumé Blanc, Oakville, Napa Valley, California, USA ($44.95)
Sara d’Amato – Vineyards that are nearing half a century were sourced to produce this Oakville blend of 79% sauvignon blanc and 21% semillon fermented in barrel. Salty and lightly herbal on the palate with great viscosity, depth of flavour and intrigue. Only 8% of the barrels are new, limiting the amount of oaky flavour  that would otherwise subdue the delicate fruit. Generous and voluminous yet with some notable restraint from nervy acidity.
John Szabo – A properly ripe and fragrant, sweet passion fruit-scented version of Mondavi’s classic fumé blanc, with minimal wood impact and broad, mouth-filling palate. Depth and intensity are excellent – this is very fine wine, for current enjoyment or mid-term hold, 2018-2025.

Abacela 2017 Albariño, Umpqua Valley, Oregon, USA ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – The Umpqua Valley is the nexus between the Coastal Range, the Klamath mountains and the Cascade mountains situated in southern Oregon with a great range of elevations and varied topography. Sandwiched between the Willamette and the Rogue Valley, this region was the first in Oregon to be planted with grapes in 1960s. Abacela’s vineyards straddle on an important fault line and grapes are grown at elevations up to 816 ft above sea level, some at steep 43% gradients. The winery grows a significant amount of albariño and the results are vibrant and unexpectedly layered with a rich flavour set. The price may seem steep, but the level of complexity is on par. A compelling curio find.

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2017, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is perpetually good value – an expressive, complex, well structured, dry chenin with typical spicy baked pear, vaguely herbal notes and even a sense of minerality. It is medium-full bodied, firm and quite intense with some alcohol heat and bitterness.
Michael Godel – Speaking beyond the reaches of the choir and out to the rest of the uninitiated my suggestion would be to get out and give this wine a try. Not just because of the need to date South African chenin blanc but because since we have known the category it is Ken Forrester and these old vines that have been taking it to a whole other level.
John Szabo – A wine of tremendous character and depth for the money, this is yet another superlative value from Ken Forrester. The palate is fleshy and replete with white and yellow fruit, and wood is not a factor. Length and depth are impressive. Structured, age worthy, intensely flavoured. Badly underpriced, but let’s not tell anyone. Best 2018-2027.

Robert Mondavi Oakville Fumé Blanc 2015 Abacela 2017 Albariño Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2017

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2016, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($17.95)
David Lawrason –The warm 2016 vintage has delivered of the best ‘musques’ in recent memory – a polished, bright and well-defined example that shows the floral lift of the musque clone amid lovely peachy fruit and a hint of vanillin. It is medium bodied, smooth and generous with a warming finish. Lemon, anise and lavender come to the finish.

Domaine Naturaliste 2016 Discovery Chardonnay, Margaret River, Australia ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – Such an elegant and endearing chardonnay at a great price. A touch leesy and lightly lactic contributing flavours that add to overall complexity. Compelling yet offering some restraint and a great deal of poise. Showcasing very fine wood treatment and a cool climate freshness that is well-balanced by an appealing toastiness. Salty with a mineral edge resulting in a deliciously crunchy profile. Tasted October 2018

Sperling Chardonnay 2016 BC VQA Okanagan Valley British Columbia ($32.95)
John Szabo – This is a very intense, balanced, full-flavoured chardonnay, with perfectly integrated wood influence and excellent, salty acids. Length, too, is impressive. Very fine wine all in all, drink now or hold mid-term.

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2016  Domaine Naturaliste 2016 Discovery Chardonnay Sperling Chardonnay 2016


Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula ($32.95)
David Lawrason – I have been tracking this wine for a couple of years. To me it is one of the most serious expressions of cab franc in Niagara to date, and at five years it is still promising.  It has a maturing, lifted nose of fresh herbs, red currant, smoked rosemary and oak spice. It is medium-full bodied, edgy, taut and a bit tannic but has this terrific flavour intensity and complexity. The length is excellent. Will stretch another five years.
John Szabo – Classic cool climate cabernet franc here, with plenty of spicy green pepper and fresh-tart black fruit in a textbook idiom. The palate is mid-weight, firmly dusty-astringent, with succulent acids and very good length. Well measured and balanced, and with above average depth and length. Drinking well now or hold into the mid-twenties.

Zuccardi 2016 Concreto Malbec, Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($39.95)
Sara d’Amato – A project of third generation proprietor and winemaker Sebastián Zuccardi, this carefully conceived malbec is sourced from grapes grown on the calcareous soil of Paraje Altamira in the Uco Valley at over 3,800 feet in altitude. Whole cluster fermented and aged in concrete eggs to show off this meticulously grown fruit. Concreto offers both elegance and power with an appetizing dynamic tension. Straddling both old world tradition and new world innovation, this sophisticated malbec is expressive without the restraints of oak. The alcohol by volume is kept below 14% and the feeling of over-ripeness is nowhere to be found. Floral, dry and salty with an abundance of aromatic cassis fruit.

Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013 Zuccardi 2016 Concreto Malbec

Galerie Latro Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, California ($74.95)
Michael Godel – Galerie latro is one of two cabernet sauvignons made by Knight’s Valley winemaker Laura Díaz Muñoz on the Sonoma side of Mt. Saint Helena. It’s really quite elegant with some perfectly reasonable tension and structure. Like dark chocolate without pigmentation, if that can be imagined.
John Szabo – Fine, ripe, proper cabernet here with character and depth, also great acids and firm, nicely composed tannins. Length and depth are excellent – clearly from a superior mountain terroir, and well-made. Drink or hold mid-term. Best 2018-2026.

Joseph Phelps Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Napa Valley, California ($118.95)
Michael Godel – The vintage marks the back end of four dry Napa Valley years and yet with three vintage experiences in pocket it shows how the winemaking team has found the juiciest cabernet sauvignon of the string of four. There is also a more noticeable mineral-savoury line streaking through and a vanilla bean scrape that clings to that salty vein. A very complex Napa Valley red that will please any and all camps, now and for years to come.

Newton Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Unfiltered, Napa Valley, California ($88.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a properly rugged, structured, savoury, earthy and appealingly vegetal (roasted) cabernet from Newton, with excellent depth and length. This has far more character than the average from the valley at this price, also fine architecture and age-worthiness. Complexity and depth are indeed impressive. Drink or hold until the late ’20s and beyond, 2018-2034.

Galerie Latro Cabernet Sauvignon 2014  Joseph Phelps Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Newton Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon 2014



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

New Releases & VINTAGES Preview

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