Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES February 8th, 2020

New Value Ratings Elevate South America

By David Lawrason with reviews by John Szabo and Michael Godel

In our last newsletter Sara d’Amato announced that WineAlign reviews will now include a value rating from 1 to 5.  It sounds as though the rating should be based on a pure mathematical formula comparing price to score. And certainly, that is the framework.

But as each critic is coming up with his or her own scores we feel the calibration of the value rating should also be individual. The numbers – as always when it comes to wine – are opinions and guides, not scientific fact, which has always been the Achilles heel of numeric wine ratings.   We trust you will look for each of us to be consistent with our individual value ratings, and that you will come to know our ranges. Then align or not.

New Value Ratings

One benefit of this new tool is more easily identifying value trends. In this release a trend emerged with glaring clarity. For me, the reds of South America are rating four and five stars with regularity. It is not that some particular fondness for South American reds is punching up my ratings.  It’s because the winemaking and quality in South America is outstripping the price dictated by the historic (but now outdated) perspective of the global marketplace.  So take advantage now before prices begin to rise.

I first went to Chile 30 years ago, when the first export-oriented producers were beginning to show their potential. Compared to the oxidative “traditional” wines being consumed domestically they were fruit drenched, fresh and quite pure if not very sophisticated. At roughly the same time I attended the first trade mission of domestically inspired Argentine wines to Toronto and it was the worst tasting I have still ever experienced.

But the quality level in both Chile and Argentina (and Uruguay) has improved tenfold in a generation while the pricing in the market has not. Whether you like them and embrace them is entirely up to you. But given the value of the half dozen examples on this release you are being offered a fantastic financial opportunity to explore.  And in the heart of winter the more robust style is particularly fulfilling.

I found myself contemplating all this when I attended a trade tasting in mid-January featuring Escudo Rojo of Chile’s Maipo Valley.  We don’t see Escudo Rojo a lot in Ontario, which is surprising given that this property is owned by Baron Philippe de Rothschild, with all the marketing muscle, resources and pedigree attached to one of the leading houses of Bordeaux.  More surprising was the quality of the 2018 Cabernet below (90 points) at the $17.95 price point.  My value rating 5 out of 5!

As I tasted through a range of eight Escudo Rojo wines with Bordeaux-trained winemaker Emmanuel Riffaud he provided a detailed history of the property (founded 1999) and all the work going into making the wines. They are now rolling out more expensive wines – including a new Gran Reserva, and an untasted, unnamed, still-in-barrel super-premium that will invariably be compared to Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.  But by far their most important wine is the basic Escudo Rojo Cabernet Sauvignon being released Saturday at $17.95.

I have been in enough winery presentations to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to “telling the story”. There was lots of verbiage in this presentation that I had heard before, most of earnest if hardly original, but I perked up when I heard that this inexpensive cabernet goes through three sortings to capture the best ripened and most healthy berries, and reject “residual vegetal matter”.  One happens via multiple harvests within one parcel – a field ripeness triage as is practised in harvesting Sauternes. A visual sort happens when the grapes come down a conveyor belt in the winery. And then there is a final optical sort through a computerized system that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This type of attention to detail is going on throughout South America.

We present our South American picks in a group below, then move on to some whites and reds from other parts of the world.  With a reminder we were only allowed by the LCBO to preview about 50% of the wines being released Saturday.

Arboleda Carmenère 2017 

Buyers’ Guide February 8th: South American Reds

Catena Lunlunta Old Vines Appellation Malbec 2017, Mendoza, Argentina ($22.95)
John Szabo – Nicely perfumed, especially floral Malbec here from Catena, with a well-measured dose of wood influence, just enough to perfume without overwhelming. It makes a strong argument for Mendoza malbec, especially the region of Lunlunta in Maipú in the epicenter of production. Drink 2020-2025
David Lawrason – The aromatic lift and flavour intensity are very impressive. Lots of concentration as well. It is full bodied, a touch sweet, almost silky in texture, with some alcohol heat and excellent length. Almost the perfect example of modern commercial winemaking. Made for BBQ/roadhouse cuisine.

Zuccardi Poligonos Malbec 2016, Tupungato Alto, Mendoza, Argentina ($29.95)
David Lawrason – It is rare for me to describe Argentine malbec as fresh. But that was my first impression here. It is also ripe and full but it stays away from over-extraction and over-oaking. The nose is soft and pure. It is medium-full bodied with good acidity, warmth and fine tannin.
Michael Godel – The Vinos de Montaña line from Zuccardi employs the name Poigonos to refer to the many sides of a vineyard and this is all about Seb Zuccardi’s drive to celebrate micro-vinifications and the new diversity of Mendoza terroirs. Here dry, tannic and unique in its new spark of dark fruit.

Escudo Rojo Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Maipo Valley, Chile ($17.95)
David Lawrason – This is a Chilean project by Bordeaux’s Philippe de Rothschild of Bordeaux. Despite the resources and prestige behind the name that they have continued to price the wines well. This shows a precision and purity that reaches well beyond $17.95. It is quite full bodied, focused, bridging softness and sturdiness. Impressive fruit.

Catena Lunlunta Old Vines Appellation Malbec 2017  Zuccardi Poligonos Malbec 2016  Escudo Rojo Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Casa Silva Lolol Gran Terroir De La Costa Syrah 2016,  Colchagua Valley Chile ($21.95)
John Szabo – Cool Lolol out near the coast in the Colchagua Valley yields typically cool climate syrah character, yet with the generous sweet cassis fruit born of the Chilean sun. I like the streak of resinous herbs running through, and the fleshy, abundant but ripe, grippy tannins. I’d cellar for about another year for maximum effect. Drink 2021-2025.

Arboleda Carmenère 2017, Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($19.95)
David Lawrason – No mistaking the distinctive blackcurrant and red pepper relish carmenere aromatics here!  It feels mid-weight but has good density and fine tannin with some heat, very good flavour intensity and length. Test drive if you don’t know this grape variety.

Viña Cobos Felino Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Argentine cabernet is universally underrated. Here’s a big, buff, dense example by California-based winemaker Paul Hobbs. It has real presence and acidity for its size with gritty tannin and alcohol heat stamping the finish. Not the most elegant wine but proportions are good.

Trapiche Medalla Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Great respect is afforded a large, essentially commercial winery that performs proper investigations into the important pockets of their terroir. As a result they are able to blend for rock solid cuvées to serve many market purposes. This is such a wine, mainly from Luján de Cuyo.

Casa Silva Lolol Gran Terroir De La Costa Syrah 2016  Arboleda Carmenère 2017  Viña Cobos Felino Cabernet Sauvignon 2017  Trapiche Medalla Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Buyers’ Guide February 8th: International Whites

François Martenot Bourgogne Aligoté 2018,  Burgundy, France ($15.95)
John Szabo – A great entry point into the world of Burgundy’s other white grape, aligoté, suitable for drinkers of discreet, stony white wines delivering more than the necessary for the money, fitting the aperitif/first course category, ready to drink.
David Lawrason – Aligote is a vaguely chardonnay-like grape in Burgundy, usually making lighter, more acidic wines. The nose is typically low intensity – mindful of Muscadet. Not dramatic but I like is authenticity and price. Fresh fish entrees.

Château De Fontaine-Audon 2018 Sancerre, Loire, France ($32.95)
John Szabo – This fits the bill for fans of classic Loire Valley sauvignon, clean and pure, with driving citrus, white flower and wet stone aromatics in a classic, restrained style. It’s surprisingly crisp indeed for the warm vintage, nicely contained, and should continue to age well into the mid-’20s. Textbook stuff. Drink 2020-2025

Palatine Hills Riesling 2016, Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario ($17.95)
David Lawrason – With a large, maturing vineyard on Niagara Lakeshore Palatine Hills is an under-the- radar winery that often surprises. This off-dry to medium sweet riesling offers generous, ripe and complex aromas. At 10% alcohol it has a pleasant sense of tenderness with residual sugar adding texture, and there is just enough acidity. Chill well.

Dominio De Punctum 2018 Pomelados Orange Wine, La Mancha, Spain ($16.95)
John Szabo – If you’ve yet to dip your palate into the world of skin fermented whites (orange wines), this is an ideal springboard, very reasonably priced in the context, offering a similar flavour profile to far more precious examples. Expect the usual burnished copper colour and wildly aromatic nose featuring Grand Marnier-like aromatics, Earl Grey tea, dried orchard fruits and plenty of other oxidative components. I like the sapid-salty nature that makes this as much like drinking cold tea as any wine. Should be fun to play with at the table. Drink 2020-2025.

François Martenot Bourgogne Aligoté 2018  Château De Fontaine Audon Sancerre 2018  Palatine Hills Riesling 2016 Dominio De Punctum Pomelados Orange Wine 2018

Buyers’ Guide February 8th: Euro Reds

Pierre Amadieu Domaine Grand Romane Cuvée Prestige Vieilles Vignes 2017, Gigondas, Rhône, France ($33.95)
John Szabo – This is very satisfying, complex and complete Gigondas from Pierre Amadieu, to be reserved for grand occasions when a wine of substance and consequence is required. Hold comfortably until the end of the decade, if desired. Drink 2020-20230

Château Vrai Caillou Bordeaux Supérieur 2016, France ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Lack some aromatic intensity and length which is not surprising at $16, but it picks up marks on complexity and structure beyond its price. Expect well integrated raspberry, herbs, some earth and meatiness. It is medium weight, firm and quite dry.

Tornatore Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappuccio  2017, Etna Rosso, Sicily , Italy ($23.95)
John Szabo -This is top notch value from the slopes of the active Mount Etna volcano, delivering the savoury, wild red fruit, gravelly tannins and dried herbal finish typical of the place/grapes. I would buy this by the case for sophisticated, and more impromptu soireés alike, whenever intriguing but good wine is required (i.e. always). Drink 2020-2025.

Pierre Amadieu Domaine Grand Romane Cuvée Prestige Vieilles Vignes 2017  Château Vrai Caillou 2016  Tornatore Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappuccio 2017

Cabral Reserva 2016, Douro, Portugal  ($13.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a perfectly serviceable, fleshy and succulent red wine, at the top end of the value scale, like so many wines from Portugal. Chill lightly and serve – you could be drinking a wine at 1.5 times the price. Drink 2020-2023.

Domaine Des Vals Corbières 2017, Corbieres, France ($14.95)
David Lawrason – From the deep south of France comes syrah, grenache based blend with not very intense here but classic, pure and complex aromas of blackberry, violet, anise, herbs and a touch of oak vanillin. Favour focus and depth are impressive for $15. Tannins are a bit elevated, slightly green but not austere.

Lornano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012, Tuscany, Italy ($45.95)
Michael Godel – Lornano’s interpretation of Gran Selezione for Chianti Classico in 2012 was a selection of the finest few barriques of both sangiovese and merlot. No longer sangiovese of acute youth, as those sweet tannins are now in line with the violets and roses.

Cabral Reserva 2016  Domaine Des Vals Corbières 2017  Lornano Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2012

And that’s another round. We will be back in two weeks with our take on the February 22nd.  Hope you are enjoying some lovely reds to help you through the deep of winter

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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