Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Dec 8th, 2018

South America’s Giants are Drilling Down

By David Lawrason, with notes from Michael Godel.

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

With VINTAGES’ tastings recently divided into New World/Old World camps, I have drawn the assignment here in Part One of highlighting the New World recommendations. As I made my selections among the reds, I found myself going to the values from South America, where increasingly exciting and terroir-driven wines are being made at good prices.

Argentina and Chile’s historic value reputation is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it is a compelling reason to keep searching out wines that over-perform, of which there are many. On the other hand, it sets up a general expectation that they may not be sophisticated or likely to inspire, or engender gratitude when presented as a Christmas gift.  This is compounded by a perception that South American wines – although very flavourful and robust – are simplistically ripe, fruity and oaky.


Enter two of South America’s largest wineries – Zuccardi of Argentina and Concha Y Toro of Chile – who are involved in serious investigation and elaboration of wines from specific regions, sub-regions and even single vineyard plots. Within the last week there have been two seminars/tastings led by their leading winemakers, who travelled (separately) all the way here to help me, and you, understand that South America’s geography is as diverse and fascinating as anywhere else on the planet. From a wine perspective it only requires that winemakers understand, dial in and embrace that simple fact.

Zuccardi of Argentina

Sebastian Zuccardi is a leading terroir hunter of Mendoza, and specifically the Uco Valley, that high altitude area that nestles just below the eastern wall of the Andes. Terroir is on everyone’s lips nowadays with good reason because so many “new” terroirs are being explored. But Sebastian Zuccardi isn’t lip-synching. He plans by terroir, lives by it and delivers very well both in the bottle, and to anyone who gets his enthusiasm.

“Wine is a product of place and people,” he said. “All the information about how to vinify a wine is in the vineyards. And I don’t just want red and black fruit aromas, or oaky flavours in my wine, and I refuse the current trend toward sweetness. I want to smell the landscape of a particular place with its vegetation, its rocks and soils,” says Zuccardi.

But what does that mean to you?  Well, it means that his wines are different and rather unexpected, and you may or may not enjoy the difference. The early take on Argentine malbec was that it should be a big, hearty, soft, oak, fruity and high alcohol red. Zuccardi’s reds are not lighter per se, but fresher and so well integrated and savoury that they may come as a surprise.

Sebastian is the fortunate son in a large family enterprise – that has brought us Fusion, Santa Julia and Zuccardi wines, at any price and quality tier you might wish to name. His wines range from $14.95 to $135.00.  Within 48 hours in Toronto, he presented to two LCBO groups, two media groups and two consumer audiences, before flying to Vancouver to do the same.

He was here to support the large range of wines now on shelves, which makes it the best time for you to take Zuccardi family wines for a spin. The Zuccardi Q Malbec is being re-released on December 8 (reviewed below), a signature well-priced, only 30% oaked malbec 100% from the Vista Flores sub-region of the Uco Valley.

Zuccardi Q Malbec 2015

In previous releases this fall, but still available, we have seen Zuccardi Poligonos 2015 ($19.95), entirely from a vineyard in the San Pablo region only 200 metres from the first rock face of the Andes.  Zuccardi Concreto Malbec 2016 ($40) is 100% concrete aged and fermented, from the Altamira region with its concentration of large stones and boulders. In a shout out to the more traditional wines of his father, with more oak and a traditional Euro ambiance there is the Jose Zuccardi Malbec 2014  ($44.95)

And those who attended the VINTAGES Zuccardi event on Wednesday night also had a chance to purchase the suave, seamless and deep 2013 Alluvional Altamira Paraje ($80), plus a mighty, deep and firm Finca Piedra Infinita ($150) from the new winery that Sebastian has sculpted out of the Uco Valley desert. Any unsold bottles will go into distribution in the weeks ahead.

Concha Y Toro of Chile

Due west of the Uco Valley – up, over and below the western wall of the Andes – lies one of the most well-established sub-regions of Chile, called Puente Alto. Within it lies a single vineyard of 127 hectares that makes Chile’s most famous red wine, Don Melchor.  First made in 1987, it now sells for $130 here in Ontario, with the 30th Anniversary 2016 vintage set for release through Vintages Classics Catalogue on December 6.  See my review at Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2016.

Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Concha Y Toro is the largest winery of Chile, and ranks in the top ten in size in the world. And sure, it makes wines of every price and style for both domestic and export markets. But at the pinnacle stands Don Melchor, nowadays made by a young woman named Isabel Mitarakas, a “rising star”, who in short order has worked through several positions in Chile to be named Don Melchor’s custodian.

Before a lunch at Richmond Station in Toronto Mitarakas presented a seminar and blending exercise, with bottles from three different plots within the Don Melchor Vineyard. It was largely for our entertainment as we tried to group-think the proportions of each that we would like to see in a final blend. I was much more interested in the idea that they drilled down to isolate parcels in the first place, and that given vagaries of sites, age of vines and vintage she would have to blend the final wine from dozens of samples to create one wine.

This is the Bordeaux model of winemaking, which is the foundation of many of the New World’s iconic, cabernet-based reds. It is based on terroir and a single vineyard – and the resulting wine should be distinctive from its peers from other sites – but by blending all the bits to make one consistently styled and expected wine of excellent quality, it is not quite as focused or individual – or for me as intriguing – as the higher end Zuccardi wines. And when spending a lot of money on one bottle I want intrigue, not just greatness.

The New World Recommendations

Whites and Sparkling

Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blancs, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($44.95)
David Lawrason – I often use this wine in the Fine Vintage Canadian Wine Scholar course, and it is a hit with students every time. It is a very fine chardonnay blanc de blancs with generous, complex, well woven flavours of baked apple/pear, honey, hazelnut and brioche. There is great acid ballast here. The length is excellent.
Michael Godel – Talk about benchmark, here is your guide to Ontario’s most prominent, knowable and classically styled sparkling wine. This is from the cloud covered, top quality 2013 chardonnay vintage in pure blanc de blanc from. It’s as dry as you’d want it to be, full on intense and rendered through the conduit of low developed ripe fruit and supportive spice. This is it.

Cloudy Bay 2015 Chardonnay Marlborough, New Zealand ($37.95)
David Lawrason – Cloudy Bay is best known for its pioneering, premium sauvignon blanc, but its chardonnay is also a wine of stature. It is very complex with a slightly reductive/oniony note amid otherwise very generous and complex oak toast, hazelnut, peach and florals. It is medium weight, lean, energetic and mineral, hitting excellent to outstanding length.
Michael Godel – Cloudy Bay’s is a cracking, reductive and very ripe chardonnay in 2015. If that’s not enough of a coaxing welcome mat to revel in the pale golden sunlight of this excellent wine then what else can I say. Kudos to the maker of these new age wines. In this case, saline like kimmeridgian Chablis.

Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Carte Blanche Estate Blanc De Blanc 2013  Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2015

Charles Baker 2017 B-Side Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment       ($21.95)
David Lawrason – A sort of “second wine” to Charles Baker’s single vineyard rieslings, this is very bright, clean and energetic with classic aromas of apple, lemon, honey and a hint of petrol. It is light to medium bodied, just off-dry and built around tart acidity. Well-priced Niagara Escarpment fare.

Balletto 2015 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California ($37.95)
David Lawrason – From a small, previously unknown (to me) Russian River winery, this is quite fine, elegant, if full flavoured, with ripe peach/melon fruit and nicely fitted with toasty, nutty oak. Well proportioned, focused and long on the palate. Pretty good value in the wide world of $40 chards.

Yalumba 2016 Samuel’s Garden Collection Wild Ferment Chardonnay, Eden Valley, South Australia ($24.95)
David Lawrason – The Eden Valley is a somewhat elevated, cooler sub-region of Barossa. This is a nicely bright, slim and tasty chardonnay – notably lean for an Aussie. It has a generous, toasted almond/nutty nose with poached pear, lemon and spice. It is medium weight, sweet-edged yet tart as well, with excellent length.

Charles Baker B Side Riesling 2017  Balletto Estate Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2015  Yalumba Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2016


Zuccardi Q 2015 Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Sourced entirely from the Vista Flores sub-region of the Uco Valley, this was 100% concrete fermented and only 30% aged in oak, so it’s a nicely affordable window into Zuccardi’s philosophy and technique. It shows a fragrant plum/berry compote nose with some spice, lavender and thyme accents. It is mid-weight to full-bodied, with some juiciness, firm tannin and very good length. There is a feint earthy/concrete cast on the finish. Best 2019 to 2023

Trapiche 2014 Gran Medalla Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($24.95)
David Lawrason – From Argentina’s largest wine company, this shows very impressive colour depth, aromatics and structure and it is well worth $25. The nose is lifted with violet, blueberry/mulberry, a hint of mint and chocolate. It is full bodied, fairly dense, firm and nicely proportioned. The tannins are firm, the length is very good to excellent. Best 2020 to 2025.

Santa Ema 2016 Amplus Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Alto, Chile ($21.95)
David Lawrason – From new higher altitude, closer-to-the-Andes appellation of Maipo Alto, this is a stylish, nicely firm and even-handed cabernet with typical blackcurrant/raspberry jam, green cedar/mint and fine oak. It is medium-full bodied, quite lean and minty on the palate with quite rigorous tannin. I like the tension and fruit depth.

Zuccardi Q Malbec 2015   Trapiche Gran Medalla Malbec 2014  Santa Ema Amplus Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Emiliana 2014 Coyam Los Robles Estate, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Coyam is a top-tier blend from Emiliana, an organic estate based in Colchagua. This re-release (re-tasted this week) is based on 45% syrah with five Bordeaux varieties, with carmenere weighing in at 35%. It has lifted, blackcurrant, juniper/evergreen, dark chocolate and peppery/cordite notes so typical of Chilean reds. It is medium-full bodied with some creaminess and richness, yet energy and tension that is again very Chilean. Very focused with excellent length.

Avondale 2014 Jonty’s Ducks Pekin Red, Paarl, South Africa ($16.95)
Michael Godel – I tasted this first in South Africa and then in VINTAGES lab. Both times the Syrah is handled with finesse, along with cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Driven by fruit and housed to allow that fruit to reach its goal. So perfectly crushable and yet will age for seven to ten years with comfort, poise and ease.

Giesen 2016 The Brothers Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand ($32.95)
Michael Godel – Here is a truly delicious pinot noir with promising plum fruit and just the right amount of tension. Admittedly the mouthfeel is cool and lean with a developing savoury sapidity. The lack of ambition, pretension and narcissism speaks to the balance and the eminently drinkable quality of this pinot noir.

Fel 2016 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, California ($59.95)
David Lawrason – Fel is owned by Canadian Cliff Lede who also owns the Lede Winery in Napa. It is a gorgeous, fairly rich, well balanced pinot from the northerly Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. The fruit is ripe, with raspberry/cherry fruit, red rose and nicely tucked oak spice and vanillin. It is seamless, very smooth, generous and warming with fine tannin. The length is excellent.

Emiliana Coyam 2014 Avondale Jonty's Ducks Pekin Red 2014  Giesen The Brothers Pinot Noir 2016  Fel Pinot Noir 2016

And that’s a New World wrap. John returns next week with our Old World selections, which will likely include a few decent Champagnes for your consideration.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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