Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES August 31st: Smart Buys and Ludicrously Big Numbers

Look for the Name, Not the Number

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

This week’s report features smart buys from the Vintages August 31st release, the last of the summer. I’ll keep it short; hopefully you’re engaged in more enjoyable holiday reading, and absorbing the last rays of summer warmth. If you care to ponder yet another round of thoughts on wine scores, read on. Or, jump straight to the buyer’s guide.

If you pay attention at all to wine scores, you’ll probably have noticed that the numbers on WineAlign are relatively low compared to the impressively large numbers that are invariably attributed to wines on shelf talkers, stickers on wine labels, websites and other marketing material, including the Vintages circular. Believe me, we hear about this frequently from our advertisers.

You’ll also have noticed that the numbers seem to be getting bigger and bigger – in the industry we call it “score creep”. It’s like an arms race, with certain reviewers and bloggers engaged in Olympian one-upmanship, attempting to outdo one-another with ever-higher scores. It’s an effort, I’d have to guess, to be that name quoted on the marketing material. Which writer doesn’t want free public exposure?

The real problem for you, the consumer, is that the numbers are rendered meaningless. Rather than a useful shorthand for making buying decisions, now you might be led to believe that near-perfection lies in countless bottles, even ones priced in reach of everyone. The 100-point magic is gone.

Parés Baltà Brut Cava 

I really didn’t want to re-open this discussion; we’re content at WineAlign to try to keep some semblance of meaning in our scoring and suffer the consequences from advertisers and dwell in anonymity in the murky wine marketing world. We’re working for you after all, not advertisers.  But I came across yet another ludicrously high-scoring wine at the media tasting for this release that made me angry. It’s a 2017 Tuscan Red ($16.95) rated 98 points by Luca Maroni, an Italian reviewer notorious for his scarcely fathomable scores. Even the platinum medals we awarded during the National Wine Awards of Canada, the best of the best, didn’t come near to such a large number.

98pt Tuscan Red Blend $17When it comes to impossibly big numbers, Maroni’s in a rarified league of his own, outdoing even other notorious high scorers like James Halliday and James Suckling. And the wine? It’s a rather thick, chewy, rustic red, slightly sweet, a commercial proposition. It has wide appeal no doubt, but hardly 2% from perfection. I’d have to think that even the winemaker who made the wine was scratching his head upon learning of the score, perhaps even giggling, before turning despondent and maybe even upset that he has already reached the pinnacle of his career, and that whatever future wines he might make, he can only do better by the smallest of margins. Maroni has taken his dreams away.

Or maybe, he just ignores the number, knowing that it is meaningless (after of course using it to sell the crap out of the wine), much like I suggest you should do.

Maroni’s trick is that he apparently bases his scores on a “quality – quantity index”, presumably meaning that this a decent wine made in impressively industrial quantities. It’s a near-perfect combination. But you’d have to read the tiny print on the sticker to learn this and work it out for yourself. The trouble is, the sticker looks a lot like every other bottle score sticker. Shoppers are stopped by the big number, and I guarantee you that precious few look more closely – it’s a calculated scam.

The LCBO for its part also happily quotes Maroni’s massive score in the Vintages magazine, conveniently omitting any explanation that it is not an absolute score, but rather an extraordinarily relative score. Even worse, Maroni provides no tasting note to accompany the score, no explanation of his personal index, no context for the wine.

The bottom line is that the most useful thing you can do is to find a reviewer whose preferences align with yours, and then use her recommendations to help guide your buying. It’s a matter of tasting a handful of recommended wines from a few people and finding the nexus of your and a reviewer’s preferences. The highest scores from your trusted source, then, even if they are relatively low numbers “only” in the high eighties or low nineties, are more valuable than the highest scores from an attention-hungry writer. Look for the name, not the number, I suggest.

Buyer’s Guide August 31st: White & Rosé

Domaine Des Deux Roches Pouilly Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2016, AP Burgundy, France ($41.95)
John Szabo – Here’s an impressively rich and densely concentrated Pouilly-Fuissé, with superb intensity and length. A genuine mouthful of wine, drinking well now, but certainly capable of another 4-6 years in the cellar or beyond.
Michael Godel – Full fruit compliment, smokey and reductive, managed and assuaged by wood, extended, elevated and then lifted by very mature acidity. All in and doling out plenty of pleasure.

Domaine De Congy Pouilly-Fumé 2017, AC Loire France ($32.95)
John Szabo – Clean, pristine, sharp and tightly delineated, this is a fine new addition to the Loire sauvignon lineup at the LCBO. I appreciate the tension and flavour intensity rendered on a balanced, 13% alcohol frame, and length is very good to excellent. Ready to enjoy now, or hold short term.
David Lawrason – Classic! This is a solid, firm and dry sauvignon with well integrated lemon, fresh herbs, chive and mineral notes. It is medium-full bodied, tight yet somehow rich with excellent length.

Les Vignerons Du Castelas Côtes Du Rhône 2017, AC Rhône, France ($15.95)
Michael Godel Perfectly reasoned, seasoned and expressed white wine from the Rhône with white flower, beeswax and yellow plum fruit notes followed by mildly tangy and more plum flavour. With a great chill it will surely aid and abet to keep summer alive.

Domaine Des Deux Roches Pouilly Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2016 Domaine De Congy Pouilly Fumé 2017 Les Vignerons Du Castelas Côtes Du Rhône 2017

Rascallion 33 1/3 Rpm White Blend 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($18.95)
John Szabo – This white blend makes you salivate uncontrollably and return for another sip, such is the savoury tension, the depth and especially the salinity on offer. Well worth a look at the price.

Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa ($13.95)
David Lawrason – Like so many South African wines this captures far more complexity, structure and depth than $13.95 indicates. It has typical ripe chenin pear, lime and vaguely waxy aromas.

Dalva Branco 2017, DOC Douro, Portugal ($12.95)
Michael Godel – Simple, full fruit forward and best steps taken Douro white with plenty of appeal in how it seems so seamless in its delivery of pleasure. Nothing wrong with buying this easy drinking white by the case load.

Domaine Ott By Ott 2018 Rosé, AP Côtes de Provence, France ($29.95)
John Szabo – A rosé of above average price, but also with above average complexity and intensity – this is genuine wine, not frivolous patio sipper, deserved of attention and respect. It will surely even continue to evolve and improve in the cellar, though I’d still enjoy over the next year. Ott is a reliable Provençal reference.
Michael Godel – Dry, spirited, plush and full of plaisir. Is it worth $10-15 more than your large production types or smaller output, detailed and attentive peers? In a word, yes, if it’s what you can afford. Ott is the epitome of Provence and truth be told this is a bloody delicious Côtes example.

Rascallion 33 1/3 Rpm White Blend 2017  Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2018  Dalva Branco 2017   Domaine Ott By Ott 2018 Rosé

Buyer’s Guide August 31st: Red

Domaine Du Grapillon d’Or Gigondas 2016, AC Rhône, France ($34.95)
John Szabo – A big, chewy mouthful, designed to impress, and impress it does. It’s at the level of many Chateauneuf-du-Papes at 1/3 higher price. Tasted August 2019.
David Lawrason – Nice sense of aromatic purity, in a quite full bodied, lush yet elegant style. A big warm-hearted, correct and delicious Gigondas. Excellent length.
Michael Godel – Truly the commercial leader in gifting Gigiondas to the world and here with the most getable vintage there ever was. Fully lush, plush and ripe it’s fully believable in every respect and coming from and celebrating its Rhône origins. Just getting things right is a big deal these days.

Rhonea Roaix Côtes Du Rhône-Villages 2016, Rhone Valley, France ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This very good value scores on purity and charm. It has a pretty and bright nose of red plum, fragrant peony and pepper. It is lovely, fresh rounded and balanced.

Château Tanesse 2015, Côtes de Bordeaux – Cadillac, France ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a nicely complex, warming and flavourful Bordeaux from an excellent vintage that delivers classic cedar bough, currant/raspberry fruit, graphite and finely woven oak. The length is excellent.

Domaine Du Grapillon D'or Gigondas 2016  Rhonea Roaix Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2016  Château Tanesse 2015

Château La Fleur Peyrabon 2014, AC Pauillac, Bordeaux, France ($49.95)
Michael Godel – Plenty of 2014 identity and quality with a leanness that is a restrained breath of fresh air. Sharp and balancing acids meet structure of knowledge for length and promise. It’s so Bordeaux and worth noting that vintages 2010-2012 were $64 in VINTAGES. The math has digressed in our favour.

Rizzi Barbaresco 2015, DOCG, Piedmont Italy ($42.95)
John Szabo – Fine, floral nebbiolo perfume leads off in an elegant, old school style, complete with dusty tannins and succulent acids, not to mention lingering finish. A complex and complete range of flavours is on offer; drink or hold mid-term.

Anzivino Gattinara 2012, DOCG Italy — Piedmont $29.95)
John Szabo – A proper, firm, old school wine showing remarkably well considering the age, ready for enjoyment, but not at all tired.

Château La Fleur Peyrabon 2014  Rizzi Barbaresco 2015   Anzivino Gattinara 2012

Hacienda Araucano Clos De Lolol 2015, Lolol Valley, Colchagua Valley Chile — Colchagua Valley $29.95)
John Szabo – Classic herbal-fruity Chilean expression derived from syrah, carmenere, cabernet sauvignon and franc, distinctively resinous, like bay leaf and rosemary, with added spice from barrel. Drink or better yet, hold into the mid-twenties.

Pérez Cruz Limited Edition Cabernet Franc 2016, Maipo Valley, Chile ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Very good value cabernet franc from a region that doesn’t often do solo franc, but should. This is quite delicious, well balanced and an exacting version with a little Maipo twist of lifted currant fruit. Almost charming.

Tío Pepe Fino En Rama 2019, Jerez, Spain ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Something new and delicious from sherry land. Rama is a fino bottled in the spring directly from underneath the flor blanket. A super-fresh fino! The colour is medium gold. Classic sourdough bread, peanut shell and ripe yellow pear. Very gently textured, dry.

Hacienda Araucano Clos De Lolol 2015   Pérez Cruz Limited Edition Cabernet Franc 2016  Tío Pepe Fino En Rama 2019

That’s all for this report. I hope to see you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

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