VINTAGES Buyers’ Guide – July 20th, 2019

The Subtle Allure of Italian Whites

By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Michael Godel

During a heat wave it is simple logic that refreshing, fruity and perhaps mineral whites will be our go-to style. Which means VINTAGES July 20 mini-feature on Italian whites is very well timed indeed. I would love to see double the number of entries to represent the much broader-than-you-might-think world of Italian whites, but the window is open.

Why the allure Italian whites?  First, they are not based on the international triumvirate of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc or riesling. So they are less familiar, therefore less often purchased, therefore less expensive. There are a few prized whites from certain producers, particularly in the northeast regions of Italy, that might command $40 to $50 or more (which is a routine price for premium chardonnays) but by far most “very good” Italian whites sit at $20 to $25, with many good wines available for even less.  You could buy one of each of the seven wines on this release for $150, which to my mind would be a smart educational expenditure.

M Minuty 2018 

Italian whites are based on many different indigenous grape varieties that vary from the cooler reaches of alpine northern Italy to warmer Mediterranean south. Those from the north produce lighter and more crisp wines, while those from the south soften and pick up weight and richness.  Pinot grigio (which is actually the same as pinot gris from France) is the only well known, “international “ Italian grape, and it is now being planted around Italy.

Very few Italian whites are barrel aged, which may be their most salient stylistic signature. And it is why I really like them. Without oak they have a much better ability to transmit the grape characteristics and the regions from whence they come.

The aromas and flavours of most Italian whites follow climate. In the cooler and sometimes alpine north tree fruit aromas like apple and pear are common, especially in pinot grigio from Trentino and Alto Adige and whites of Piemonte. I would say however that the majority of Italian whites, especially from the center of the country, have more stone fruit aromas – peach, apricot, yellow plum (Soave, Verdicchio, Orvieto, Vernaccia, Pecorino). While in some regions, especially farther south the fruit begins to go more tropical with scents of guava, starfruit, melon and banana (Campania, Sicily).

No matter the origin many Italian whites also have subtle, alluring complexities involving wildflowers, almond, olive and honey.  And it is these oak-free scents that I find particularly attractive, and which are found in the better examples.

The group offered by VINTAGES on the July 20th release is representative and generally very good value, which is why most are recommended below.  We offer our Italian picks first, followed by other whites and sparklers, rose, reds and one great chillable fortified.  Again, a reminder that less than half of the wines on the release were set out for media preview. We have managed to taste only a handful above and beyond the LCBO offering.

VINTAGES’s Buyer’s Guide July 20th

Italian Whites Feature

Sergio Zenato Riserva Lugana 2016, Veneto, Italy ($39.95)
David Lawrason – One of the great whites of northeast Italy, a barrel-aged Lugana with understated class. Expect fine, well woven and complex aromas with wood subtly applied. Fine integration and balance.
Michael Godel – From the southern shores of Lake Garda and the sandy soils at the foot of Morainic Hills in surround of the Lugana territory. This is Zenato’s prized white with the local trebbiano at its core. The Bordeaux Blanc of the lake district if you will and at the top of the game.
John Szabo – A perennial favorite in a particularly favourable vintage, Zenato’s classic Lugana should continue to gain in complexity over the next 2-4 years. Best 2019-2025. 

Ca’ Rugate San Michele Soave Classico 2017, Veneto, Italy ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Great value in a well-made, complex Soave with sub-tropical aromas. It is medium bodied, almost creamy yet just brisk enough with good lemony acidity and minerality.
John Szabo – Another fine value from Soave, still underrated internationally, from the 4th generation of the Tessari family and their volcanic vineyards in the classico district. Pleasantly plump and ripe, cherry and juicy pear, peach and apricot flavours lead off, while the palate is well-balanced and fresh, especially for 2017. Enjoy now.

Citra Ferzo Abruzzo Pecorino Superiore 2017, Abruzzo, Italy ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Pecorino is an Adriatic (eastern Italy) variety on the move. This is a fulsome, dry, sour-edged, nervy example with lemon, nutty and floral hay-like aromas and flavours. Good intensity.
John Szabo – Move beyond the subtle aromatics (pecorino is not a particularly fragrant variety), and into the underlying depth and breadth on the palate that draws you further in. This is a fine example of this still rather rare variety, generously fruity in the yellow spectrum, ripe but still fresh. Very good length, too. Solid value, drink or hold into the early ’20s.

Sergio Zenato Riserva Lugana 2016, Doc  Ca' Rugate San Michele Soave Classico 2017, Doc  Citra Ferzo Abruzzo Superiore Pecorino 2017, Dop

Janare Fiano del Sannio 2017, Campania, Italy ($16.95)
David Lawrason – The whites of warm Campania pack real heft and ripeness. The nose is lifted and tropical with banana, ripe yellow pear, spice and florals. It is full bodied, almost creamy, smooth yet lightly spritzed.
John Szabo – From the reliable La Guardiense coop in Campania, Janare is the premium range, and this fiano delivers the requisite smokiness and dried sweet herbal quality in the typical varietal spectrum, alongside tarragon, beeswax, pine honey and more. All in all, a striking value in the more full-bodied, unoaked white wine spectrum.

Terre Stregate Svelato Falanghina Del Sannio 2016, Campania, Italy ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a nicely smooth, almost elegant yet ripe and hefty southern white with soft aromas of yellow flower, banana, peach and spice. It is medium-full bodied, fleshy and warming with good acidity.
John Szabo – Give this sometime in the glass to open (or splash into a decanter before serving) – it seems rather awkward at first but quickly evolves into a juicy, sapid, savoury, mid-weight falanghina unoaked, more stony and earthy than fruity.

Janare Fiano 2017, Dop Sannio  Terre Stregate Svelato Falanghina Del Sannio 2016, Dop

Other Whites and Sparklers

Bouchard Père & Fils Les Deux Loups Blanc 2015, Côteaux Bourguignons, France ($13.95)
John Szabo – That’s right, Burgundy for under $14! From the relatively new Côteaux Bourguignons appellation that covers pretty the entire region, this is clean, correct, juicy chardonnay, with no wood detected, just light citrus fruit and succulent acids. I’d happily drink this, nicely chilled.

Família Oliveda Jove Brut Cava, Spain ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Cava often delivers sparkling value, but this is particularly noteworthy with good complexity, structure and intensity for $16, while maintaining typical Cava flavours. Great acidity and fine mousse here.

Max Ferdinand Richter Elisenberger Kabinett Riesling 2016, Mosel, Germany ($24.95)     .
Michael Godel – Veldenzer Elisenberg is the cru source for M. F. Richter’s Kabinett, a Mosel riesling round and expressive of peaches with acidity up to the task. Really classic and with high level, later picked sweetness but plenty of energy to back it up

Argyros Assyrtiko 2017 Santorini, Greece ($29.95)
David Lawrason. This summer thirst slaker is mid-weight, fairly bold and clean with generous of lime, green pear and subtle lychee-like tropicality braced by great acidity and salty minerality.
John Szabo – 2017 marks another in a long string of superb wines from Argyros, unquestionably in the top tier of Santorini producers, with excellent old vine vineyard resources across the southern and central part of the island. This wine is particularly firm, limey, saline, tart and tightly wound in a way that defies its Aegean origins, like shaking hands with a giant, or getting tossed about at sea in a rowboat during a hurricane. Allow this to mellow in the cellar over the next decade if more gentility is desired, otherwise, decant and serve with lamb chops on the grill with a drizzle of oil and a squeeze of lemon. Best 2019-2030.

Bouchard Père & Fils Les Deux Loups Blanc 2015, Ac Côteaux Bourguignons Família Oliveda Jove Brut Cava, Traditional Method, Do, Spain   Max Ferd. Richter Elisenberger Kabinett Riesling 2016, Prädikatswein   Argyros Assyrtiko 2017, Pdo Santorini

Red Wines

Xavier Ventoux 2017, Rhône Valley, France ($16.95)
Michael Godel – Here’s a lovely tangy and expressive Ventoux of many-varied berries, red, blue and black. Naturally elevated acidity keeps it vibrant and fresh. Perfectly apropos summer red for all warm weather needs.

Xavier Côtes Du Rhône 2017, Rhone Valley, France ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This has a lovely lifted, quite perfumed nose of classic grenache red plum, strawberry with gentle pepper and dried herbs. Very appealing, smooth, just a touch sweet and warming. Chill a bit.

Villa Puccini Toscana 2014, Toscana, Italy ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a light, fresh red from a lighter vintage, that delivers more than expected for $15. Classic and lifted aromas of sour cherry/raspberry fruit with some green, floral and toasty notes.

Cimal Garnacha 2015, DO La Mancha, Spain ($15.95)
John Szabo – Perfumed and resinous, like a Mediterranean pine forest in summer, with fresh black licorice, black cherry, plum and more – there’s a fine dose of flavour complexity on offer for the price. I like the balance on the palate, the fine-grained tannins, the lingering finish. This would make a perfect summer BBQ wine, nicely priced.

Xavier Ventoux 2017  Xavier Côtes Du Rhône 2017  Villa Puccini 2014, Igt Toscana  Cimal Garnacha 2015

Ka Tahi Merlot/Malbec 2015, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand ($23.95)
Michael Godel – Fruit concentration and über freshness in a steal for merlot that is so bloody interesting in a far-away eyes, right bank in Bordeaux way.
John Szabo – A sharp value in a more mature, evolved, cool climate red, this is attractively mid-weight, succulent and juicy, with fine-grained tannins, naturally balanced acids and good to very good length. Nicely done overall. Best 2019-2025.

Heartland Stickleback Red 2015, South Australia ($14.95)
David Lawrason – My red pick among the Under $20 feature. The nose balloons with highly scented cran-raspberry fruit, green and black pepper and spice. It is medium-full bodied, sour-edged, intense with fine tannin.

Mission Hill Reserve Merlot 2016, Okanagan Valley, B.C. ($29.95)
David Lawrason – This merlot is delivered to its template – full bodied, soft and rich with ripe black fruit, chocolate and toast, with a hint of Okanagan sage. Within that profile the balance is quite good.

Decero The Owl & The Dust Devil 2015, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina ($29.95)
David Lawrason – A BBQ worthy blend based on cabernet and malbec, it is a typically full and rich Argentine red that has been combed to elegance. Decero is among my favourite producers of Argentina.
John Szabo – A cabernet-malbec-petit verdot blend with 10% tannat that stands above the mean in terms of complexity and quality. I like the depth and the structure, the evident concentration of fruit, and the length. Best 2019-2025.

Ka Tahi Merlot/Malbec 2015, Hawke's Bay, North Island   Heartland Stickleback Red 2015, Langhorne Creek, South Australia   Mission Hill Reserve Merlot 2016, BC VQA Okanagan Valley   Decero The Owl & The Dust Devil 2015, Remolinos Vineyard, Agrelo, Mendoza


Valdespino Single Vineyard Fino Dry Sherry Inocente, DO Jerez, Spain ($29.95)
Michael Godel – This is Fino from Albariza white sandy soil that slides over to the really arid line, surely still very salty and briny. The complexity for the price is almost unbeatable and it is fully accountable for enzymatic activations borne out of necessary and dominant personality traits. Stands for what it believes in and owns it. Just wow.

Valdespino Single Vineyard Fino Dry Sherry Inocente

And that’s a wrap for this week.  Before leaving a note for cyclists to check out a two-day luxury cycling and culinary experience in Niagara coming up Sept 27/28.  There are 100KM, 50KM or 25KM rides that will roll out in the morning of Saturday, September 28. Each will feature multiple stops to refresh, refuel and rehydrate. It is the second year for this increasingly popular event.

Until next time,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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.
John’s Top Picks
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Sommelier Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview