Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES October 26th

France vs. Italy and Global Finds

By Sara d’Amato with notes from John Szabo and David Lawrason

France and Italy go head to head in this week’s VINTAGES release, a somewhat inane premise but it does give a chance to highlight a few prominent regions. The stark differences between climate, varieties planted, and stylistic approaches do not go unnoticed but there are similarities to be drawn as well. An example would be the appropriation in both Bordeaux and Tuscany of varieties such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot which hold historic significance in both regions. The Ligurian coast is an extension of France’s famed Riviera and although less ostentatious and hillier, it is likewise influenced both by the Mediterranean and the Alps.

Although political tensions between France and Italy over the past two centuries have been at times strained and, at others, collaborative, if you reach back far enough, the Italians were responsible for the advent of wine culture in France. As we know, the French ran with it and have established global benchmarks for the world’s most prominently grown “vitis vinifera” varieties, the European genus of grape vines. The Phonecian’s of Greece are widely accepted as the proliferators of grape vines and wine throughout the Mediterranean, in particular in Italy in the 8th century B.C. Once the Etruscans became a powerful merchant culture of their own, they began bringing their wine to Provence and southern France as early as 425 B.C. Thus, began an over 2,000-year-old wine culture that later spread to such northerly locales as the Loire Valley and Champagne. Further improvements with respect to the delimitations of regions and quality of the wine were brought about by the French monasteries of the Middle Ages, setting the stage for global reverence and dominion of French wine.

Proust QuestionnaireJohn Szabo and I have also decided to go head to head with the theme of France vs. Italy. In order to keep this debate entertaining, I have adapted the “Proust Questionnaire” to both French and Italian wine thematics. To find out exactly what a “Proust Questionnaire” is, and glimpse into our psyche via our insightful answers, check out: John’s Italian Revelations and Sara’s French Confessions.

Our top picks in this rivalrous VINTAGES theme are as follows:

La Vite Lucente 2017 

Buyer’s Guide October 26th: France

Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne, France $87.95
Sara d’Amato – The house of Bollinger has developed a formidable reputation since its inception in 1829 and is known for its distinctively pronounced, pinot noir dominant Champagnes. The Special Cuvée is Bollinger’s flagship offering and showcases this mouth filling, vibrant style. This incarnation exhibits a toasty, leesy nose that is notably generous. Nervy with a significant acidic backbone and a silky, mouth filling mousse.

Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut Champagne

Château La Garde 2010, Pessac Léognan, Bordeaux, France $70.95
Sara d’Amato – Pessac Léognan is southwestern Bordeaux’s original delimited region of quality and produced equally admired whites and reds. Château La Garde is an up-and-coming domaine owned by the négociant Dourthe-Kressman that has invested significant funds in the estate. At first impression, the wine is smokey, earthy and cedary on the nose but the palate offers so much more behind the veil. Vibrant and peppery with a great deal of character and authenticity. Youthfully vibrant and an excellent representation of this great vintage.

Xavier Vignon 2017 Côtes du Rhône, Rhône, France ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – Like a baby Châteauneuf-du-Pape but at much more accessible price. Xavier Vignon is a prolific winemaker in the South of France, consulting for various progressive wineries but also with his own label. This offering is supple with generous dark fruit and a pleasant peppery character. An organically produced blend featuring grenache and generous proportions of syrah and mourvèdre. Great value.

Château De Saint-Pey 2016 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France ($34.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a St. Emilion GC with fine, spicy, minty, ripe black fruit aromatics, violet perfume, sophisticated and elegant. While tannins are quite polished, they still offer some grip and resistance, so I’d recommend another 2-3 years in the cellar, or hold until the late ’20s.

Château Lamartine 2015 Prestige Du Malbec, Cahors, France ($17.95)
John Szabo – Fine, ripe, complex – this comfortably over-delivers at the price, ready to sip alongside some salty, fatty protein or cellar into the mid-twenties. Best 2019-2025.
David Lawrason – This house always makes more approachable Cahors, emphasizing the mulberry fruitiness of the malbec grape, along with peppery and herbal character. Oak is in the background. It is mid-weight and firm with very good length.

Château La Garde 2010  Xavier Vignon Côtes Du Rhône 2017  Château De Saint Pey 2016  Château Lamartine Prestige Du Malbec 2015

Buyer’s Guide October 26th: Italy

Lunae 2018 Colli Di Luni Vermentino, Italy ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – A salty and generously fruity vermentino from the white-hilled, marbled coastal appellation of Colli di Luni that connects Liguria to Tuscany. Compelling, zesty and complex, don’t miss out on this intriguing find.
John Szabo – An unusually ripe and intense, aromatic expression of vermentino from the Tuscan coast, featuring a mixture of sweet and resinous herbs dipped in salty lemon water, a very seaside expression to be sure. Certainly worth a look at this price.

Nals Margreid 2017 Pinot Grigio Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95)
John Szabo – Here’s an attractively scented pinot grigio from Alto Adige with complexity above the mean, fine depth and character all around, much better than oceans of the cheaper stuff from the flatter lands of the Veneto. Enjoy now or hold short term.

Paradiso Darione Podere Belmantello 2017 Primitivo, Puglia, Italy ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – A hot buy in the Italian category, this satisfying Primitivo is lush but not sweet with enveloping and full-bodied mouthfeel. The lack of oak is in part responsible for the pure, authentic fruit flavours and the retention of a fresh vein of acidity.
David Lawrason – Lots here for $17.95, in a very ripe, soft and almost raisiny and plummy red from the hot south of Italy. It is medium-full bodied, fairly soft and dense with sweet fruit and good intensity.

Lunae Colli Di Luni Vermentino 2018  Nals Margreid Pinot Grigio 2017  Paradiso Darione Podere Belmantello Primitivo 2017

Beni Di Batasiolo 2010 Riserva Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($39.95)
John Szabo – For the money, this delivers plenty of regional character, and more importantly, an excellent flavour experience. Drink or hold short term – this is already delicious, with little more to gain.

Castello Di Bossi 2015 C. Berardenga Chianti Classico, Tuscany Italy ($22.95)
John Szabo – Evolving nicely, Bossi’s Castelnuovo fruit overlooking Siena in the southernmost commune of Chianti Classico displays a fine range of old wood spice in a traditional manner, over a backdrop of red fruits, tart and fresh, slightly dried. A fine bottle of wine at the price. Best 2019-2025.
David Lawrason – Here’s a nicely ripe, quite linear and well integrated Chianti with classic aromas of currant/cherry jam laced with fresh herbs/shrubby character, spice and tomato paste aromas. Very amenable; easy drinking with classic character.

Le Serre Nuove Dell’ornellaia 2017, DOC Bolgheri Rosso, Tuscany ($69.95)
David Lawrason – The 2nd wine of Ornellaia shows plenty of class this vintage, but needs some cellar time. It is a nicely ripe, quite fruity and softer almost Californian style with a quite plummy, floral nose of with fine spice, tea and well sewn oak. It is full bodied and dense with fine, firm tannin.

Beni Di Batasiolo Riserva Barolo 2010  Castello Di Bossi C. Berardenga Chianti Classico 2015  Le Serre Nuove Dell’ornellaia 2017

Buyer’s Guide October 26th: Global Whites

Campbell Kind Wine 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
John Szabo – Ontario importing agent Steve Campbell of Lifford launched “Kind Wine” with the mandate of being carbon neutral and earth-friendly, a laudable aim to be sure. The plan is to partner with notable winemakers in various regions around planet wine, and this particular bottle is a joint venture with Kiwi winemaker and Master of Wine Steve Smith. Beyond the feel-good factor, there’s also serious wine in the bottle made from grapes sourced in Marlborough, in this case a rather rich and ripe, concentrated wine that still respects the character of sauvignon from the region. A project worth supporting in all regards.

Balbás Verdejo 2018, Do Rueda, Ribera Del Duero, Spain ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – Pear and grapefruit with dried herbal and a little sea salt. Love the punch here and the hidden depth for the price. Tang but backing that tang is some complexity and just pure enjoyment. Recommended.

Loosen Bros. 2017 Dr L Riesling, Mosel, Germany ($14.95)
David Lawrason – Now sold in 80 countries this nifty, clean, just off-dry riesling has become a modern calling card for the Mosel – riesling’s homeland. Moderate depth matches its price but it captures the fruit, minerality and elegance of the Mosel

Mission Hill 2018 Pinot Gris Reserve, Okanagan Valley, B.C. ($22.95)
David Lawrason – B.C.’s number one white grape performs well here, scoring on balance. It has exacting pinot gris aromas of peach, vague honey, lemon and bready notes with pinpoint acid-alcohol-sugar balance. It is dry, fresh and crisp with a fine sense of purity.

Campbell Kind Wine Sauvignon Blanc 2018  Balbás Verdejo 2018  Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling 2017  Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2018

Global Reds

Quinta Do Crasto, Crasto Superior 2015, Douro, Portugal $24.95
Sara d’Amato – Lovely! Wow, so pretty and pure and drinkable, supple tannins, fresh acidity, just the right amount of oak. Do it.
John Szabo – Juicy, soft, elegant and widely pleasing, this is the sort of red you can pour for just about anyone and gain a positive reaction. I like the classic floral-violet-rose perfume allied to ripe mostly black fruit. Drink or hold short term.

Potente 2016, Montsant, Spain ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – From a great value region next to the more revered Priorat appellation, this rich, lush yet crunchy red is a blend of hand-harvested, high-altitude garnacha, cariñena, syrah and merlot. Ripe red fruit abounds on the palate and a salty finish encourages another sip.
John Szabo – You could easily pay three or four times the price of this wine for equivalents from other marquee appellations. Indeed, this is rich and ripe in the style of neighboring Priorat, with highly extracted palate – there’s a lot of wine here for the money. Best 2019-2030.

Álvarez de Toledo 2015 Colección De Familia Mencía, Bierzo, Spain ($23.95)
Sara d’Amato – Yet another great value from Spain, Alvarez de Toledo showcases the silky, fruity star grape of Bierzo, mencia quite remarkably. Exotically representative with just the right amount of oak.

Quinta Do Crasto, Crasto Superior 2015   Potente 2016  Álvarez De Toledo Colección De Familia Mencía 2015

Tinto Negro 2016 Finca La Escuela La Piedra Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato –  A complex, full-bodied malbec but not notably alcoholic with lush tannins that still have a touch of grip. Issued from a limestone block of soil and then fermented with more whole bunches than the norm due to the riper vintage.

Riglos 2015 Gran Cabernet Sauvignon, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($28.95)
Sara d’Amato – Tupungato is a northerly region within the Uco Valley of Mendoza at such high elevations that it has become equally known for its fresh whites. This textured cabernet sauvignon offers a terrific concentration of fruit, nicely defined by acidity and notes of graphite. Keen French oak ageing is notably integrated. A sophisticated find.

Susana Balbo Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Uco Valley, Mendoza ($20.95)
David Lawrason – This is a lighter, slender and quite juicy cabernet with a lovely lifted nose of blackcurrant, vanilla and herbs. It is medium weight, fairy smooth with polished tannin. Fine for current drinking.

Tinto Negro Finca La Escuela La Piedra Malbec 2016  Riglos Gran Cabernet Sauvignon 2015  Susana Balbo Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Our globe-trotting WineAlign team will be back with another report in a couple weeks’ time. John Szabo is currently sipping Sherry in Jerez while Michael Godel has returned from yet another Tuscan adventure. Reports are surely to follow shortly.

Santé & Cin Cin!

Sara d’Amato

I hope these selections prove comforting as the bite of autumn enters the picture. We will be back with more recommendations next week from beyond VINTAGES.


Sara d’Amato

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