Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES December 7th

Open Season for the Holidays!

By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo, Michael Godel and Sara D’Amato

This is the last and largest release of the year at Vintages, with about 180 products representing the widest possible range of styles, prices, regions and grape varieties to serve the widest possible clientele just before Christmas. The quality mean is average – lots of 86 to 89 point wines – perhaps because December customers are not the ones who are really paying attention during the other eleven months of the year and will be in indiscriminate Holiday shopping mode.

Which makes our job all the more important to come up with the nuggets of value and quality that dedicated readers will enjoy.  Vintages helped a bit. Of 180 wines we were allowed to taste about 100 (60%) over two days. New World one day, Europe the next, which explains why some critics have not tasted all. We have also added in a few notes from wines tasted outside of Vintages tasting lab.

There is a “featured” section on sparkling wines in Vintages Dec 7 catalogue that offers a couple of good buys but we are going to defer these to John Szabo’s annual Fizz Report coming later this month.

Some “unfeatured” themes also emerged during the tastings. The selection of eight red Bordeaux offers some very good 2015s and 2016s – both excellent vintages. They are not highly recommended as great values but most are very good wines.  Likewise, with a handful Tuscan reds, particularly from less well-known wineries in the coastal Bolgheri region.  In the New World, South America delivers some fine values, but this is hardly news.

Alamos Selección Malbec 2016 

Below we have lined up our value-driven recommendations for the Dec 7 release, with a couple of great wines price be damned.   And please bear with us if this one and only report goes on a bit longer than most.

VINTAGES Buyer’s Guide November 23rd: Whites

Ken Forrester 2018 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95)
John Szabo – Still terribly, and happily, undervalued, the Old Vine Reserve from chenin blanc maestro Ken Forrester features regularly among my recommendations. Despite the low price it is age-worthy stuff; I’d buy a case of the 2018 and start drinking it after 2021, and follow the evolutionary journey until the end of the decade. Also a savvy gift idea for the insider wine lover on your list. Best 2021-2030.
David Lawrason From a steadfast South African proponent of this Loire grape, this perennially great value has a classic chenin nose of honey, quince/pear jam and elderflower, elevated by South African ripeness. It is medium-full bodied, quite rich but nicely dry and well balanced.
Michael Godel – From vines planted in 1974 in the Helderberg in Stellenbosch with an uncanny profile that is both salty and sapid. Truly chenin blanc from South Africa made by one of the great pioneers. Ridiculous buy at $18 Canadian.

The Lane Gathering Single Vineyard Sauvignon/Semillon 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($24.95)
David Lawrason –  I am a fan of Aussie sauv/sems blend, a Bordeaux inspired combo that Australia handles very well due to its proficiency with semillon in particular. This shows a nicely forward, ripe nose of apricot/lychee fruit with vague beeswax (common to semillon) and spice from some time in barrel. It is medium-full bodied, warm, spicy and dry. Serious white.
Michael Godel – Nicely lean and direct, toasty, flinty and striking. Lime and wet stones, age ability foreshadowed and honey with lit paraffin in the not too distant future. A big yes from one vineyard and two grapes.
Sara d’Amato – An exciting white for the holidays that is “ABC”, stylish and won’t break the bank. Exuberantly aromatic and offering impressive complexity. Gently mature with notes of honey, and oats, dried herbal, white flower, pear, green apple, white grapefruit and a hint of pepper. Highly memorable.

Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2017, Niagara Peninsula, Canada ($24.95)
John Szabo
A perfect wine for holiday gatherings, neither excessively expensive nor embarrassingly cheap, Bachelder’s Niagara ‘Village’ cuvée delivers a broadly appealing, premium flavour profile, suitable for wine snobs, neophytes and pretty much anyone who’ll darken your door frame this season.  Best now-2023.

Raimbault Bel-Air Vouvray 2016, Loire Valley, France
David Lawrason – This has a subtle but complex, well woven nose of pear, honey, elderflower and spice. It is medium bodied, firm and quite mineral on the palate. Textbook.  Buy this and Ken Forrester Chenin above for a chenin blanc clinic.

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2018  The Lane Gathering Single Vineyard Sauvignon/Semillon 2016  Bachelder Niagara Chardonnay 2017  Vincent Raimbault Bel Air Vouvray 2016

VINTAGES Buyer’s Guide November 23rd: New World Reds

Morgenster Lourens River Valley 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($33.90)
Michael Godel
– A Bordeaux style that shouts local, parochial and Cape Western flavour like no other. Peppery reductive and structured to age even longer than has already been done for you, Perfectly charming sense of place exacted.
John Szabo –
All of the costly cellaring work (time, space, inventory dollars, patience, etc.) has been done for you here. This savoury, earthy, silky red Bordeaux-style blend is fully ready to enjoy, and at a very fair price.
David Lawrason – Impressive depth and complexity from a very serious wine farm in more coastal Stellenbosch, but this is for fans of mature Bordeaux-style reds only.

Brittan Vineyards Basalt Block Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($39.95)
David Lawrason
– Vintages has offered a much better selection of Oregon pinots this year. This one is firm, focused and tidy – very much built around minerality with its notably stony finish. Nicely lifted aromas of sour red cherry, cranberry, red flower, gentle spice and wood smoke.

Lange Classique Pinot Noir 2016, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA ($39.95)
John Szabo –
Pinot noir makes an excellent holiday companion, especially rendered in this fragrant, pretty, supple style from predominantly volcanic soils of the Willamette Valley, and a reliable cellar established by a former folk musician. Pre-dinner sipping transitions seamlessly onto the table with a varied spread. Complex but widely appealing, this wine has nothing but friends.

Morgenster Lourens River Valley 2011  Brittan Vineyards Basalt Block Pinot Noir 2014  Lange Pinot Noir 2016

Paringa 2016 Peninsula Shiraz, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia ($32.95)
Sara d’Amato – A pure and undeniable shiraz offering characteristic notes of black currant licorice, violet, pine and pepper. The ripe tannins still offer grip, definition and texture to the palate. Beautifully poised with excellent length that straddles old world syrah and more modern style shiraz.

Wapisa Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, San Javier, Río Negro, Patagonia ($18.95)
David Lawrason – From the southerly (cooler) Rio Negro region of Patagonia only 25kms from the Atlantic coast, comes a well-priced cabernet with very lifted minty, cassis aromas that reminded me of Australian cab. There is some oak in there as well, but this is a stripped down, very flavourful wine. Great value from a brand new region.

Fabre Montmayou Gran Reserva Malbec 2015, Mendoza, Argentina ($24.95)
David Lawrason Here’s a  lovely, refined malbec with generous floral/peony, plummy aromas well framed by subtle oak spice and mocha. It is quite tender, a bit sweet with soft tannin. Very agreeable.

Paringa Peninsula Shiraz 2016   Wapisa Cabernet Sauvignon 2016   Fabre Montmayou Gran Reserva Malbec 2015

Tarapaca Gran Reserva Blend 2016, Maipo Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason –  From a massive and impressive estate in the lower Maipo Valley, this shows a very lifted minty/eucalyptus, olive and blackcurrant nose. The focus and concentration are very impressive at the price. Tannins are quite fine and sandy.

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2016, Okanagan Valley, B.C. ($57.95)
John Szabo – Burrowing Owl provides a bold, ambitious, highly concentrated red wine option for your holiday gathering, in the premium price category to be sure, but every bit as impressive as more expensive options from further south. It would also make a fine gift, for your serious collector friend with a cellar, where this will continue to improve deep into the ‘20s.

Elderton Ode To Lorraine Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz/Merlot 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($39.95)
Michael Godel – The 24th vintage of Lorraine is a blend of the finest barrels of each of the Elderton Nuriootpa vineyard varietals; cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot. There is restraint and honesty so much so I’m more than fully intrigued. Always my sweet Lorraine.

Tarapaca Gran Reserva Blend 2016  Burrowing Owl Meritage 2016  Elderton Ode To Lorraine Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz/Merlot 2015

VINTAGES Buyer’s Guide November 23rd: European Reds

Domaine De La Cendrillon Classique Corbières 2015, Languedoc, France ($18.95)
David Lawrason  – Great buy alert! Here’s a generous, juicy and rounded syrah based southern France blend with ripe spicy plum jam, a touch of evergreen, rosemary and pepper. It is medium-full bodied, open knit, smooth, warm and sweet-edged, with fine tannin.
Sara d’Amato – This polished Corbières offers impressive depth and complexity for the price. Flavours of black currant, crunchy red fruit and saline are elevated by notes of local “garrigue”. Youthful and still relatively tannic with notable warmth, hold this another year or two for better integration. If you can’t wait, serve a touch cooler than room temperature and pair with hearty fare.

Château La Gorce 2016, Cru Bourgeois, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – The Cru Bourgeois designation can offer considerable value and, unlike the rest of the left bank Bordeaux classifications, is dynamic with a renewal of quality-assessed wine. The 2016 from Château la Gorce showcases a classic Médoc nose of plum, red currants, bay leaf with a hint of cocoa. Nicely balanced, fleshy and generous. Drinking well now so stock up for the holidays!

Château Clarke 2015, Listrac Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($51.95)
Sara d’Amato – The 2015 vintage for Château Clarke is a stunner and one that could certainly rival the more prestigious appellation of the Haut-Médoc. A very rich and intense incarnation that has begun to lose its classic austerity offering an abundance of fruit along with hints of tobacco and leather. Decant if enjoying over the holidays or hold another 2-3 years for best expression.

Domaine De La Cendrillon Classique Corbières 2015 Château La Gorce 2016  Château Clarke 2015

Château De Gaudou Renaissance Cahors 2015, Southwest France ($26.95)
David Lawrason – I am lately enjoying Cahors more than ever before, as the small landlocked region in southwest France somehow joins the rest of the world by finding its prettier side with the malbec grape. This has a lifted nose of blackcurrant/mulberry, roasted notes, mint and herbal notes. I like the energy and focus.

Château Mont Redon 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône, France ($49.95)
Sara d’Amato – A classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape with crunchy minerality compensating for the warmer climate volume and substance. The tannins lend a touch of grip to the palate but the wine is overall, quite accessible. Complex but still revealing and ready to enjoy due to its notable harmony of components.

Il Borro 2015 Rosso, Toscana, Tuscany, Italy ($82.95)
Sara d’Amato – A very tight and tannic Super Tuscan blended from merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah that is organically grown. The 2015 incarnation offers notable pedigree and polish along with an excellent concentration of fruit and a right-bank Bordelaise feel. A great gift for the collector on your list who can expect to enjoy this within the next 2-5 years.

Château De Gaudou Renaissance Cahors 2015  Château Mont Redon Châteauneuf Du Pape 2016  Il Borro Rosso 2015

Tedeschi Capitel Nicalò Valpolicella Superiore 2017, Veneto, Italy  ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This has always been a good buy – a well-intentioned, nicely structured and slightly restrained Valpolicella with cherry jam, fresh forest, slightly meaty notes adding up to good complexity. It is medium weight, fairly firm and warming

Quinta Do Casal Monteiro Touriga Nacional/Merlot/Syrah 2016, Tejo, Portugal   ($14.95)
David Lawrason –  I am always drawn to the amiable yet edgy wines of Tejo in central, coastal Portugal. Here’s a bright, fresh, balanced and quite delightful blend of native touriga, syrah and merlot.  It has fragrant blackberry, floral, peppery and herbal notes. It is medium bodied, a bit tart-edged and juicy with some heat and tannin.

Isole E Olena Cepparello 2016, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy ($113.95)
Michael Godel – One of the Chianti Classico territory’s great sangiovese is Cepparello and in the near-perfect vintage of 2016 it is a wine of relentless fruit and fineness. Just relentless.

Tedeschi Capitel Nicalò Valpolicella Superiore 2017  Quinta Do Casal Monteiro Touriga Nacional/Merlot/Syrah 2016  Isole E Olena Cepparello 2016

And that is a wrap for this report. Again, watch for the annual fizz report later this month along with our Holiday guide where our critics provide their picks for Holiday gifting and entertaining based on wines still available. Happy shopping!

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 Sommeliers Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview