Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES April 4th, 2020

Wines for Your Easter Zoom

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

Ironically, Vintages theme for the April 4th release is “family gatherings”, which is very apropos with Easter and Passover on hand. Except that now many families will be gathering for an Easter Zoom, Skype or FaceTime, which is one blessing of the tech age! I would happily toast any virtual get-together with any of our picks below, but given the spring season I would particularly recommend the fine aromatic, largely unoaked whites. I was very impressed by many of them, enjoying their uplifting confidence and brightness.


With the LCBO shutting down media tastings until the end of April at earliest, we have not had “preview” access to the wines, nor have we been able to taste every wine on the release, by far. This will be the case until further notice. So, our Vintages Preview newsletter becomes a Vintages Review newsletter, published five days after the wines were put on the shelf. We are working with many importers and Canadian wineries to taste the wines once they become available on the release date, and would ask agencies to contact us if they can provide samples on the Friday afternoon before the release or by first thing Monday morning after the release.

Of course, all this comes with the increased possibility that our picks may no longer be available at your given location when you are in the store. Nothing can be done about this. This is a new less privileged, more pragmatic era.

Vintages itself is cutting back on availability too. Wines on the next release April 18 will only be made available in 50 stores across the province as they try to limit employee handling and exposure. If you have already assumed the 50 stores will be the larger, top volume stores, you are correct. And if you are wine lover in your community you already know which stores they will be, but just in case, here is the list.

There is always the LCBOs Shop On-Line ordering option as well, but I am hearing reports of long delivery times and lack of availability. WineAlign’s Steve Thurlow ordered 23 general listings on March 25, but only five were available and he is yet to receive any of them! I have never felt much urgency or conviction by the LCBO around this on-line portal and I would have thought it would be in full-on promotion mode during this crisis. Although, to be fair, it too is probably functioning with fewer staff.

And one final rumination before presenting our picks. We have all heard how COVID is changing the landscape in countless ways – some temporary, some perhaps permanent. The future of retailing wine in Ontario may be in this mix, for the better. Vintages is altering the way it operates. The new WineAlign Agency mixed-case program and Great Canadian Wine Exchange are doing a great job direct delivering mixed cases that allow people to stay home. And restaurants are now selling alcohol with their take-out and delivery wines.  Will all these advances suddenly disappear after COVID?

On that last note, please don’t forget to support your local restaurant by ordering a bottle of wine with your next delivery order, even if your cellar runs deep.

So here are our Vintages picks among those wines we were able to round up.

Euro Whites

Pieropan Soave Classico 2018, Veneto, Italy ($19.95)
John Szabo – Pieropan is one of the most reliable and consistent producers in the region, and their basic classico is a reference point. I love the crackling acids and the perfectly mid-weight palate. Drink or hold a half dozen years – Soave ages better than you think.
David Lawrason – This is such a well constructed Soave classic. Not the complexity or depth of the top bottlings, yet it is firm and quite lively, with a stony and slightly bitter peach pit finish. Great all round sipper.
Michael Godel – The vintage in and vintage out stalwart volcanic wonder that is Pieropan’s garganega never wavers or fails in its commitment to deliver. The flavours and palate feel are one in the same boat, taut, circulative and poised to prep for joy and a welcoming pasta filled with foul or game. Transport us all to Borsa Valeggio in Verona and all will be right in the world.

Pierre Sparr Mambourg Pinot Gris 2016, Alsace Grand Cru, France ($25.95)
John Szabo – Arch-classic, lovely and fragrant, medium-dry, rich and creamy pinot gris in a late-harvest Alsatian. Loads of flavour for the money on offer; drink or hold into the mid-’20s with everything from roast pork to soft cheeses to coconut curries.
David Lawrason – Great pricing for a Grand Cru and it delivers all I expect in terms of depth, richness and complexity for the genre. Heads up that it is off-dry to medium sweet with intriguing apricot, honey and jasmin. Think about ripe, soft cheeses.
Michael Godel – The tag of $26 is a pittance to pay for fruit of Grand Cru vineyard quality and few independent producers can gift such a thing. Remember that few wine regions tell their story through geology as succinctly and in as much variegated detail as Alsace. This may not be the a-ha moment for Alsace GC pinot gris but the simulacrum makes it pretty darn close.

Maria Papoila Loureiro/Alvarinho 2019, Vinho Verde, Portugal ($16.95)
John Szabo – Another fine vintage, and value, in wine here for fans of crisp, dry, oak free, semi-aromatic whites from the northwestern corner of Portugal for current enjoyment.
David Lawrason – This is light-bodied, crisp and spry but it has more structure and depth than basic Vinho Verde, and is very complex and pretty. A great spring fling. I kept thinking of having it with an asparagus salad for some reason. Great value.


Schiopetto Friulano 2017, Collio, Italy ($37.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a quite rare and exotic white from the under-sung region of Collio of the northeast. Very classy and rich, yet understated, with a subtle weave of peach, wildflower, lemon blosson and vague almond nuttiness. Worth lingering over. Excellent focus and length.
Michael Godel – Collio sits one kilometre from the Adriatic coast and also Slovenia so it’s no wonder that its white wines are highly aromatic and unique to a shared concentration of mito and geography. Friulano accounts for one in four wines and this from Schiopetto sits on the front line for quality and grape celebration. Delicate, reserved and so bloody promising.

Clarence Dillon Clarendelle Blanc 2018,  Bordeaux, France ($25.95)
John Szabo – This is an approachable, very nicely balanced Bordeaux Blanc from the Dillon family, owners of first growth Ch. Haut Brion, with balanced-crisp acids and favours in the white-fleshed fruit spectrum, with no discernible wood. A Classy wine for current drinking or short term hold.
Sara d’Amato – What I’ll be drinking in isolation!This white Bordeaux blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon produced by the same team as the legendary Haut-Brion, offers a suprising degree of complexity at this price. Still youthful but beginning to show an ounce of welcome maturity with notes of beeswax, honey and toast in the mix adding depth to the palate.

Saint Roch Vieilles Vignes Blanc 2018, Cotes Du Roussillon, France  ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This is a dry farmed, old vine blend of grenache blanc and roussane from the sunny Mediterranean. It is soft, quite ripe and exotic without oak. It is medium-full bodied and fleshy with a warm, slightly bitter and stony finish.


New World Whites

Radford Dale Vinum Chenin Blanc 2017, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($17.95)
John Szabo – Another terrific value SA chenin from Radford Dale, crisp, succulent and juicy, bone dry and lightly salty as well, making it infinitely drinkable. Drink or hold short term.
David Lawrason – This is a full-on Cape chenin with very ripe almost cantaloupe fruit and oak spicing. It is medium-full bodied, with firm acidity and a hint of earthiness on the finish. The length is excellent. I can see it with spiced ham.
Michael Godel – Winemaker Jacques de Klerk, proprietor Alex Dale and the team at Radford Dale offer the gift of stupid affordable chenin blanc from high quality fruit for all to know. If you would like to know what the entry point into Stellenbosch chenin happens to be then look no further and waste no more time.

Wildass Sauvignon Blanc 2017, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This is medium bodied, nicely fresh and bright with a Bordeaux like sauvignon ripeness consistent with Niagara-on-the-Lake versions. Love the fine pea shoot, fennel and green apple aromatics.

13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling 2018, Creek Shores, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – A tip-top riesling, bright, fresh, full of energy and zip and is a result of the decomposed yellow limestone in the soils of which the 20-year old vines are planted. Clean with a hint of mint and notable minerality. Offering an abundance of lime on the relatively dry palate. Balanced and with very good length but not heavy. Its youthful personality is a pleasure to appreciate now but the wine can hold another three years or more.


Euro Reds

Descendientes De J. Palacios Pétalos 2017, DO Bierzo, Spain ($24.95)
John Szabo – J. Palacios’s Pétalos has been a perennial favourite of mine since its inception around the turn of the millennium, helping to define modern Spain at an approachable price while offering a real sense of place and variety (mencía). Appealing salinity expressed by the region’s old vines and stony solid is still on full display. Drink or hold short term.
Michael Godel – Seems like we missed the 2016 here in Ontario which is a shame on so many fronts. One, we find this to be a perennial favourite, and two, the vintage was stellar. No matter because the ’17 does not miss a beat, in fact it tempers and restrains the heat for yet another beautiful Bierzo bottle.

Planeta Santa Cecillia Noto 2015, Sicily, Italy ($49.95)
John Szabo – A premium pure nero d’Avola that represents Sicily well, dense, substantial and meaty, neatly framed by sweet-spicy wood influence and an appealingly dried, exotic North African-like flavour ride. I’d give this another 1-3 years to fully resolve, then try with, say, a Moroccan tagine.
Sara d’Amato – A wonderfully peppery nero d’Avola, lightly reductive with an abundance of sensual aromas that include exotic spice, purple plum, violets and licorice. Crunchy acids and a mineral vein run through the palate. This could be heavy but it is lightened by freshness and the tannins are quite supple now.
Michael Godel – The first vintage was in the late 90s and the appellation eventually became DOC Noto, with the initial vintage of 2003 though 2008 is the official DOC recognition. Comes by way of the white chalky soils of Noto and is deceptively rich, deeply rendered, of an incredible acidity, dark and viscous fruit.


Crasto 2017, Doc Douro, Portugal ($18.95)
David Lawrason – Always such a great value, a dark wine with Douro gravitas but so nicely floral, balanced and engaging. Lovely primary aromas of purple rose and blackberry jam. Can drink now or hold, but I would buy a clutch of bottles as this wine comes our way too seldom.


Chateau De Montmal Fitou 2017, Languedoc, France ($17.95)
David Lawrason Here’s pretty, quite supple and nicely fruity red from the heart of the Languedoc. Nicely proportioned and complex aromas plummy fruit and garrigue of southern France. Great everyday red.

Fontanafredda Barbaresco 2015, Piedmont, Italy ($32.95)
David Lawrason – A lively, solid Barbaresco that ticks most of the boxes of this famous appellation and doesn’t break the bank. It is medium weight and nicely balanced – firm but not austere or raspy. Just a touch sour-edged with gently drying tannin.
Sara d’Amato – This well-priced Barbaresco is a textbook example of the appellation and nebbiolo. hits nebbiolo on the head Bright and modern, clean and vibrant, floral and violets, licorice bright cherry and rose and so lovely

Boasso Barolo Del Comune Di Serralunga D’alba 2015, Piedmont, Italy ($39.95)
David Lawrason – Showing pale fire ember glow in the glass, this has  seamless and intriguing aromatics. There’s nothing like the bouquet of good Barolo. It is medium-full bodied with richness and warmth, yet some sourness and typical tannic grit. Drink now with an hour aeration or hold through 2025.


New World Reds

Cono Sur Single Vineyard 8 Grapes 2017, El Encanto Estate, Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($21.95)
David Lawrason -This Wine of the Month is a classic Aconcagua red, despite eight varieties there in. The region makes reds with lifted cassis and eucalyptus, and this captures that very well.  Quite full bodied, juicy and packed with fruit. Fine tannin.

Nieto Senetiner Don Nicanor Barrel Select Malbec 2016, Mendoza, Argentina ($24.95)
David Lawrason – I have long been a fan of this house that makes hearty and hefty malbec that also express grace and charm. Lovely fruit, florals and subtle, effective oak. Full bodied, dense and almost creamy. Roast beef or early season BBQ.

Arboleda 2017 Syrah, Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – I love the cut of this syrah that exemplifies a Chilean style offering a big, juicy profile and aromatic vibrancy. Nervy yet still with a generous degree of fruit. A hint of mineral and game, a good deal of black pepper and violets along with eucalyptus make up the tapestry of flavour on the palate. Great value.

And that’s it for this edition. We will back next Thursday with reviews of the some of the wines in our Great Canadian Wine Exchange cases, and John is aiming for an insightful piece on Barolo and Barbaresco. On April 23 watch for next Vintages Review. Sincerely wishing all our readers some happy times this weekend, and remember, the Easter Bunny is an essential service. Hide those eggs well!

David Lawrason

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