Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 7th, 2020

California and Global Picks, Nitpicks & Dreaming Big

By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato

COVID-19 permitting, the annual California Wine Fair, now in its umpteenth year, will be held Monday April 6th in Toronto. There will be a new wrinkle however with the Fair moving from the convenient but stuffy ballrooms of the Royal York Hotel to the Beanfield Centre at Exhibition Place. Change is good. With about 150 wineries on board it promises to remain one of the largest wine events of the year. For ticket info and a $5 discount for WineAlign members go here. Ticket sales are in support of Second Harvest.

But allow yourself a Lotto Max moment and dream big.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if every wine presented at the California Wine Fair was available for purchase then and there? Or at least at a pop-up wine store on the premise open for the following 48 hours.

Because I am really tired that virtually every conversation between consumers and producers at this show and others (not picking on California), ending with “sorry not available at the LCBO”, or alternatively, “sorry only available by the case from the agent or winery”.  Is this any way to run an enterprise?  Why even pour the wines and have a consumer event if consumers cannot buy the wines?

Vintages features a meagre dozen California wines in its lead-up California feature on March 7.  They have selected a few interesting cabernets in particular and Sara and I put forward our picks below. But again, they are missing such a selling moment. Why not arrange to have a tranche of 50 wines on the release available, even if only at a limited number of stores.

And one more LCBO nitpick before getting to our recommendations. There are four very fine Ontario wines featured in the March 7 catalogue – all recommended. All are continuously available Vintages Essentials.  Note however that none have a vintage date published in the Catalogue.  This is an historic issue with LCBO general lists and Vintages Essentials. The LCBO can’t control when a vintage will ‘roll over’ in terms of the wines continuously coming into their system, so they don’t publish vintage dates. Which again makes life easy for them, but vintage dates do matter to consumers, especially in vintage sensitive, cool climate, variable Ontario.

Xavier Vignon Côtes Du Rhône 2018 

So, here are our recommendations, noting that only about half the wines being released were presented to the media for preview. So that the LCBO maintains control (of commerce not the public good).

Buyers’ Guide March 7th: California Picks

Rodney Strong Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Knights Valley, Sonoma County ($39.95)
David Lawrason – A charming ripe and rich cabernet on the softer side with a fragrant, floral and mint/menthol character that I equate with Knights Valley fruit. It is full bodied, quite supple yet dense, with soft tannin. Ready to enjoy now.
Sara d’Amato – One of the standouts of the California feature, this rich and satisfying cabernet is juxtaposed by a rather severe and impressive structural edge. The oak is important but not imposing. Open with food or decant if immediate enjoyment is your goal.  

Obsidian Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Red Hills, Lake County ($49.95)
Sara d’Amato Volcanic obsidian is the main ingredient in the steep slopes of this Lake Country cabernet. Showing some restraint despite its level of alcohol – a high altitude phenomenon. Tender violets and velvety tannins are most memorable. Stylish with regional character and vineyard pedigree showing.
David Lawrason – From the obsidian/volcanic soils of a mountainside vineyard in Lake County north of Napa (therefore much less expensive) comes an intriguing cabernet with classic aromatics. Full bodied, intense and nervy indeed too tannic and starchy to drink now.

Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, $59.95
David Lawrason – The mountain-grown cabernets of Sonoma’s Alexander Valley remain a source of true California cab value without having to pay nosebleed Napa prices. This is a full bodied, ripe and rich example with ripe blackcurrant jam, cabernet mint, dark chocolate and fine resinous wood spice. Excellent focus and length.


Rodney Strong Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016  Obsidian Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017  Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Shafer One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley ($149.95)
David Lawrason –  Will sell out in a flash even at $150.  It is one of the iconic cabernets of Napa, delicious with all the right Napa notes of ripeness, elegance and finesse. Love the florals, blackberry/cassis, finely etched and integrated cedar, spice, vanillin. So well balanced. $150 is your call.

Simi Chardonnay 2018, Sonoma County, California, USA ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A solid value here from Sonoma County with an elegant profile and a very well-balanced style. A hint of toast and creamy vanilla don’t overwhelm the pear and peach fruit on the buoyant palate. Zesty and floral with just the right degree of complexity for the price.

Buyers’ Guide March 7th: Global Whites

Joseph Drouhin Montagny 2017, AC Burgundy, $32.95
Sara d’Amato – In the often-overlooked appellation in the Chalonnaise, chardonnay is a specialty. This solid village level offering from Drouhin offers an abundance of ripe, fleshy peach, laced with vanilla and toast from oak. With a good deal of acidity, this Montagny is quite polished and is a notable value.
David Lawrason – Montagny is one of my favourite value Burgundy chardonnay regions and this dovetails so well with Drouhin’s style. It is ripe, elegant and refined with generous aromas of peach, lemon yoghurt, barrel spice and vanillin, plus a peaty note.

Charles Montserat Bourgogne Aligoté 2018, $16.95                     .
David Lawrason Aligote is chardonnay-like variety authorized in Burgundy, usually making lighter, less emphatic wines. This is fine example with a moderately forward aroma of apple, lime and stone. Well priced,handy white for simple fish recipes.


Joseph Drouhin Montagny 2017  Charles Montserat Bourgogne Aligoté 2018

Abras 2017 Torrontés, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – Fresh, appealing and deceptively light. This tangy torrontés proves a great example of acid retention despite a warm climate. Salty and delicately floral but without an overly exaggerated profile.

Louis Jadot Chablis 2018, Burgundy $31.95
David Lawrason This is rich for basic Chablis, but still in the zone with quite lifted, well integrated apple, lemon, bread crust and parmesan notes. It is medium bodied, fleshy yet nicely tart-edged. The length is excellent.

Abras Torrontés 2017

Buyers’ Guide March 7th: Global Reds

Reverend V Mount Barker Syrah 2017, Great Southern, Western Australia $21.95
David Lawrason – From the coolish southwestern tip of WA, this actually owes more comparison to French syrah than classic Australian shiraz. Somewhere in between perhaps. I like the ripe black cherry fruit, underlying pepper and fine herbs. It is full bodied but not heavy.
Sara d’Amato – A stylish, cool climate offering that shows the varied facets of syrah. More French than Australian but still with a plush, clean ripeness. Peppery, floral with mineral, and a plenty of charm. Not to be missed!

Quinta Das Carvalhas Red Blend 2015, Douro Valley, Portugal ($13.95)
Sara d’Amato – A delicious value here that is holding up quite well. A touch rustic and grippy but offering a great deal of charisma. This regional blend of top grape varieties of touriga nacional and tinta roriz is fruity, zesty, and best paired with salty protein.
David Lawrason  The nose is reserved but certainly ripe with blackberry/plummy fruit, woodsy notes and some pepper. It is full bodied and fairly dense yet juicy and lively at the same time. Tannins are drying but not unbalanced, and the fruit concentration is quite remarkable for the money.

Nuiton-Beaunoy Beaune 2017, Burgundy, $36.95
David Lawrason  – This is a pale, evolving Beaune with strawberry/red cherry nicely integrated with wood spice and forest floor notes. It is medium weight, fairly rounded and generous with some alcohol warmth and tannin, but all nicely juxtaposed. Lovely Burgundy at a minimum price for a village level appellation.

Hidden Bench Estate Organic Pinot Noir 2017, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment $29.95
David Lawrason – Youthfully reserved aromatically but with aeration comes classic complex red currant/cherry fruit, woodsy, herbals and spicy complexity. It is medium bodied, firm yet balanced and solid with intensity. Best 2022 to 2027.

Reverend V Mount Barker Syrah 2017  Quinta Das Carvalhas Red Blend 2015  Nuiton Beaunoy Beaune 2017  Hidden Bench Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2017

Cave Des Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2017, Burgundy, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Aromatic and enticing offering notes red licorice and pepper on the fruity nose. Ethereal in weight and offering character without volatility. A crushable entry level find

El Enemigo Cabernet Franc 2015, Mendoza, Tupungato, Argentina ($23.95)
Sara d’Amato – Although on the flashy side, this power-packed cabernet franc delivers an impressive degree of concentration for the price. Wonderfully aromatic without an overtly green, underripe or astringent profile. Very well ripened but not overdone with winemaking. Drinking very well now.

Château Simard Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2015, Bordeaux, France ($49.95)
David Lawrason  – Here’s a very fine, ripe St.Emilion from a great vintage that is just beginning to round into form, but will be even better in another three to five years. Chock full of berries with ample cedar, herbs and spice. It is medium-full bodied, very nicely balanced and age-worthy.
Sara d’Amato – A deep and intensely flavoured Saint-Emilion with more tannic presence than expected. The oak is aromatic with sandalwood and clove. Chill slightly to tame the heat. Slightly bitter giving it some rusticity but also wild and compelling.

Cave Des Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2017  El Enemigo Cabernet Franc 2015  Château Simard 2015

And that’s wrap for this release.  We will return in two weeks with all hands-on deck for the March 21st release.

VP of Wine

David Lawrason

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