John Szabo’s Vintage’s Preview February 16th: A Smart Dozen

February 16th Buyer’s Guide – A Smart Dozen

By John Szabo MS, with notes from Michael Godel

This week, while David was throwing another fundraising Canadian Kitchen Party in BC, and Sara was in the thick of the 2015 Amarone preview tasting in Verona, Michael and I worked our way through the Vintages February 16th release. I kick it off today with my smart dozen, a broad round up of twelve wines from six countries, including a quartet of terrific, ‘cool’ (literally) Aussie wines, the feature of the release. A red trio from Italy highlights the kinship of style from Barolo (nebbiolo), Chianti Classico (sangiovese) and Etna (nerello mascalese), which would make for a superb tasting.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

And speaking of cool, Northern Rhône syrah lovers dejected by current prices should explore a highly recommended Chilean example from the far out Leyda Valley, a vineyard I visited a couple of weeks ago a stone’s throw from the Pacific where syrah ripens on a knife’s edge, and cold onshore winds chill even in the dead of summer. Also wind-influenced, New Zealand provides a particularly serious and satisfying Central Loire-esque sauvignon (no offense intended) from the windswept Awatere Valley next door to Marlborough proper, and an unusual but delicious, fruit-backward pinot gris. A fabulous old vines red Douro blend and a crackingly good Niagara chardonnay priced well below its quality level round out the picks. Michael will share his take on the release next week.

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February 16th Buyer’s Guide

 Local Talent

Leaning Post The Fifty Chardonnay 2016, VQA Ontario, Canada ($22.95) John Szabo – There’s an exceptional amount of wine here for $23, with quality equaling many chardonnays at twice the price. It hails from Leaning Post’s home vineyard, whose young vines appear to be coming into form. Generous but balanced, and medium-full-bodied, it’s complete with plenty of wet stone, mineral oil and truffle character to keep the punters happy, while fresh orchard fruit broadens the appeal. Very good to excellent length.
Michael Godel –  Labeled as such to note the even split between the first, meaning barrel fermenting and then the second, aging in lees for nine months in stainless steel. The name pays homage to the 50 settlement in Winona, 50 miles from the American border and home to the winery. Must be the beautiful 2016 summer and fall talking because this is nothing if not a deliciously spicy chardonnay.

Leaning Post The Fifty Chardonnay 2016

Cool Aussie Quartet

Stella Bella Chardonnay 2016, Margaret River, Western Australia ($29.95)
John Szabo – Stella Bella has produced a nicely dialed-in, post-modern, lightly sulphidic (flinty) chardonnay in 2016, walking the line between fruit and stones in a very firm, tart, low-wood style, designed for maximum zestiness. Length and depth are impressive. I’d suggest cellaring this for another 1-3 years for maximum enjoyment. Best 2020-2026.
Michael Godel – Quite the reductive shell surrounds the flesh hidden inside this Margaret River stunner, a chardonnay of presence and style. The idiosyncratic tang inherent in this region’s chardonnay is nonplussed, dramatic and implosive. All great characteristics in abundance and self-reflective intensity into which fruit can hitch a ride. Wow flavours here to be sure. Apples and lemons in dance.

The Lane Vineyard Block 14 Basket Press Shiraz 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($29.95)
John Szabo – This is serious quality, complex shiraz from the cool Adelaide Hills, made with the gentle basket press method to yield a wine with supple tannins, and ripe and fleshy texture balanced by fresh acids. The profile is complex and appealing, featuring typical cool(ish) climate licorice, smoke, cold charcoal, and black pepper, alongside blackberry and black currant fruit, lightly compoted. Length and depth are excellent. Best 2019-2026.

Domaine Naturaliste Discovery Syrah 2014, Margaret River, Western Australia ($24.95)
John Szabo – Domaine Naturalist is a discovery for me, and all three of the winery’s wines in this release are impressive. This syrah is an especially appealing cool climate version, a variety rarely seen in Margaret River, which is far better known for cabernet and chardonnay. It features typical black pepper and fresh black fruit flavours, spiced with resinous herbs, while tannins are relatively light, designed for more immediate consumption.

Port Phillip Quartier Pinot Noir 2016, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia ($28.95)
John Szabo – A well-priced pinot from this premium appellation, it offers perfumed aromatics, squarely in the new world, cool/moderate climate style, complete with ripe/lightly stewed red and black fruit, cola berry, fresh sweet herbs, twigs, and more. The palate is a touch warm at 13.5% alcohol declared so serve at 17ºC or less. I like the supple tannins and the balanced acids, and the very good length.
Michael Godel – There is just something about the sweetness meeting the tension of Mornington Peninsula pinot noir, exemplified with full quarter by this Quartier. It’s a crossing of strawberry and plums but on a string that teases and dangles the fruit so that you have to strain to get some. When you reach past the anxious moments of missing out the fruit then falls effortlessly into you, before you’ve even touched its flesh. Have can you resist?

Stella Bella Chardonnay 2016  The Lane Vineyard Block 14 Basket Press Shiraz 2016  Domaine Naturaliste Discovery Syrah 2014  Port Phillip Quartier Pinot Noir 2016

Classic & Cutting-Edge Kiwis

Awatere River By Louis Vavasour Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Marlborough, South Island New Zealand ($21.95)
John Szabo – A more reserved, old world style sauvignon all in all, easily mistaken for top notch Loire sauvignon (no offence intended), from the cool, windswept Awatere sub-valley. Complexity and depth are well above the mean; I love the zesty-succulent acids, the tart citrus fruit, fresh but not overtly green, and the serious length and depth.
Michael Godel – It takes only a moment for this Awatere-Marlborough sauvignon blanc to throw everything at you and out there, seemingly all at once. There’s a peppery capsicum bite and all the sweet herbs allowed. There’s juicy stone fruit with tropical notes and citrus acidity in waves. There’s the integration of these things and more. Grape tannin and optimum extraction. If this is the new sauvignon blanc in laser focus emerging from the sea of the multitudes and the effort of opportunity than I for am all in.

Momo Organic Pinot Gris 2017, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand ($19.95)
John Szabo – I can’t say this will please everyone – it’s definitely a stylistic outlier- but adventurous drinkers take note of this unusual but delicious pinot gris (unusual in the general varietal sense, but perfectly in line with the Momo/Seresin house style). Dominant wet rock and mineral oil, and honey and petrol, make it a rather fruit-backward expression all in all. The palate is mid-weight and very sapid, with ripe-crunchy acids and sharp-creamy-leesy texture, a unique, and appealing, combination.

Awatere River By Louis Vavasour Sauvignon Blanc 2017  Momo Organic Pinot Gris 2017

All in the Italian Family

La Spinona Sorì Gepin Barolo 2011, Piedmont, Italy ($68.95)
John Szabo – So lovely and fragrant, open and inviting at this point, this is unabashedly old school style nebbiolo with beguiling dried flower/pot pourri perfume, and especially meaty, dry-aged beef, umami-ridden profile, black truffle and more in the classic Barolo register. The palate is silky-firm, like raw silk, unpolished but authentic, framed by high acids and dusty tannins. Alcohol pokes out somewhat at 14.5% declared, but the wine wears it well enough. Splash decant and serve at no more than 17-18ºC, or cellar another 5-10 years. Tasted February 2019. 2019 2026
Michael Godel – The old school is acceded in a notably traditional Barolo loyal to the nebbiolo ancients. Not sure which matters more, the gentle way in which fruit is coaxed towards subtlety and grace or the fineness of tannins that will eke a living for decades if you allow the wine to wait that long. This is juts one of those nebbiolo that will change ever so slowly and offer minute by minute new pleasures all along the way.

Ama Chianti Classico 2015, Tuscany, Italy ($34.95)
John Szabo – All of Ama’s wines are outstanding, including this ‘entry level” CC, delivering marvelous complexity, firm and fullish palate, succulent and dense. The estate’s exceptional limestone terroir is hard to obscure, and here it’s rendered is glorious, transparent fashion. Best 2019-2027.

Piano Dei Diani 2015, DOC Etna Rosso, Sicily, Italy ($26.95)
John Szabo – Seeking a wine of strong personality at a very reasonable price? Here’s a sharp value smoky-earthy, regionally accurate example of nerello mascalese from Etna, unusually inexpensive for this fashionable appellation. It gives more than a nod back stylistically to the tar and rose petals of Barolo, dry and dusty earth, gentle resinous herbs, and predominantly tart red fruit. The palate is expectedly firm and gritty, salty and intensely flavoured, with very good to excellent length.
Michael Godel – The northern slopes of the volcano at 700m in the commune of Solichiatta is the source for this Alberello-trained nerello mascalese. Tenute Bosco offers this non-vineyard or block specified Rosso for what amounts to a Catanian song. It’s more than correct, it’s just and right. Grippy without expense and never grandiose, it’s a structured lava-flow of varietal beauty for next to nothing but a few piastra and some time. Fruit, acidity, lava-mineral and tannin are all in line. The character here is unparalleled at the price.

La Spinona SorÌ Gepin Barolo 2011  Ama Chianti Classico 2015  Piano Dei Daini 2015

Coastal Chile

Viña Leyda Single Vineyard Canelo Syrah 2015, DO Leyda Valley, Chile ($19.95)
John Szabo – I can personally attest to the fact that it’s really too cold in the Leyda Valley for syrah; thankfully I had a jacket during my mid-summer visit to break the chilly, late afternoon Pacific winds. Viña Leyda cuts natural yields in half to about 1.5 kilos/vine to ensure adequate ripeness. The result in 2015 is a wine that’s still peppery and reductive (youthful) four years in, vibrant and juicy, with honest, zesty acids and very good length. It’s a decidedly cool climate style, yet nonetheless an infusion of sunlight permeates form start to finish. Cellar for another 2-3 years; it would not be a stretch compare this to Northern Rhône syrah, indeed it would give many French examples at three times the price a good run for the money. Best 2021-2025.

Viña Leyda Single Vineyard Canelo Syrah 2015

Old Vine Portuguese Field Blend

Pintas Character 2015, DOC Douro, Portugal ($49.95)
John Szabo – You’d have to shell out considerably more to find this kind of structure and architecture, and depth and complexity, from other more high-profile red wine regions. It’s clearly complex and quality wine straight off the top, with notable wood influence but a superior amount of fruit extract to balance; flavours swirl around the red, black and blueberry spectrum in a typical old vine (50+ years) Douro blend expression. The palate is firm, balanced-fresh, with excellent structure and terrific length. Classy and refined wine.

Pintas Character 2015

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

John Szabo, MS

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