Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 2, 2020

New Zealand Still Shines in a Dimmed Spotlight

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

For years in the lives of wine lovers in Ontario the first days of May meant an exuberant focus on the lively wines of New Zealand. Wines of New Zealand staged some of the most upbeat, educational and fun wine fairs on the annual wine calendar. I do miss them! But here in 2020, we are left with no fair and a VINTAGES themed release that is dimmed to only 50 stores, the largest stores in various communities around the province.

To help fill the gap I point you to an in-depth article and links to two seminars by John Szabo who travelled extensively in New Zealand in 2019. The article is “Life Beyond Sauvignon: New Zealand’s Insider Secrets. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the other 45th Parallel.” And on that same theme John hosted a webinar on NZ sauvignon blanc on April 29th. Part two on NZ chardonnay and pinot noir is coming up May 27th.

In the absence of VINTAGES media tastings, Wines of New Zealand stepped up to finance the WineAlign purchase of all the New Zealand wines on the May 2 release. (A reminder that without media preview tastings WineAlign cannot publish newsletters until a few days after the release). That meant me going to the Kingsway LCBO in Etobicoke on Saturday morning, loading up a cart and taking too much time – to the disapproval of the silent, masked shoppers lined up outside.

Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2013 

The selection of nine wines (why only nine wines in a feature?) is very representative of where New Zealand sits commercially in the world’s minds eye, but VINTAGES has applied a fairly keen eye and found some interesting wines.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc remains NZ’s centrepiece but only one of the four sauvignons (Babich Black Label) is from Marlborough this time. The Tohu is from next door Awatere Valley (although still technically Marlborough), and the Craggy Range and Borthwick are from the Wairarapa Valley (which includes Martinborough) across Cook Strait on the southern tip of the North Island. From our far distant global perspective that distinction may seem irrelevant, but they are a little less fruit-obvious, drier and leaner. Which I like.

The mid-priced Matahiwi pinot gris also leans to restraint within a category that is all over the map, and again often too sweet. The Coopers Creek Plainsman Chardonnay is unfortunately not particularly noteworthy of itself, but NZ can make great cool climate chardonnay with the best of them.

The three reds are each notable. The Satellite Pinot Noir displays basic, good NZ acid structure in lighter and affordable style and the Mohua Pinot from Otago lays out the exuberance of that regional style. From Hawkes Bay the Elephant Hill LePhant blend perfectly captures the midweight, energy of the region. Our critics picks from the NZ collection are below, with full reviews on WineAlign.

The rest of the release is, as always, is all over the global map. With VINTAGES no longer making wines available to preview we are left to make our own decisions as to which wines we would like to review, then seek importers consent to fund the purchases. And I must say I like this method, even though the work is increased. And yes, ideally if we were making pots of money we would just buy all the wines. We are not there yet.

VINTAGES Buyers’ Guide May 2nd:

The New Zealand Wines

Craggy Range 2018 Te Muna Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough, North Island ($27.95)
David Lawrason – Te Muna is a slightly cooler sub-zone of Martinborough with vineyards planted on deeply gravelled benches above the Huangarua River. So there is some herbal/vegetal spike to the nose here, with capers, celery leaf and gooseberry, plus wet stone minerality. It is medium weight, firm and just ever so slightly off-dry, with excellent flavour intensity.
John Szabo – Craggy’s sauvignon fits stylistically in a category somewhere between Bordeaux whites (the region also features gravelly riverbed soils), Friulian or Styrian sauvignon, and well, Martinborough. It delivers an impressive mix of ripe citrus aromatics but also textural interest, abetted by a small percentage of wood ageing. Premium wine.

Borthwick Vineyard 2018 Paddy Borthwick Sauvignon, Wairarapa, North Island  ($19.95)
John Szabo – I’m a fan of the sauvignons from Wairarapa (North Island) – a much more challenging and naturally lower-yielding region relative to Marlborough, also with less punchy and pungent aromatics, but the trade off pays off in the extra depth and density, as well as the zesty natural acids and the more sophisticated range of fruit flavours generally on offer. Borthwick captures this well with his 2018
Michael Godel – A stellar stalwart and consistently superior provider is Paddy Borthwick out of Waiwarapa on the North Island of New Zealand. The fruit concentration is at the top of heaps in 2018 and comes equipped with next level acidity.

Craggy Range 2018 Te Muna Sauvignon Blanc Borthwick Vineyard 2018 Paddy Borthwick Sauvignon Mohua 2017 Central Otago Pinot Noir

Mohua 2017 Central Otago Pinot Noir,  Central Otago, South Island ($22.95)
John Szabo – Mohua has vineyards in Bendigo, Pisa and the Gibbston Valley in Ceweet-sour black and blue fruit, and almost baked strawberry, with a lightly reductive/smoky edge. Wood is a very minor flavour contributor, and tannins are light, leading to an acidulated finish. Drink or hold mid term.
David Lawrason – Here’s a quite powerful pinot from Central Otago, where arid and high altitude conditions produce intense, ripe and somewhat wild styles.  There is certain sage/thyme note, very outdoorsy, dusty and spicy. It is medium-full bodied, quite intense, rich and smooth, with excellent length.
Sara d’Amato – Both authentically pinot noir and a genuinely Central Otago, this flinty, smoky and deliciously sour pinot noir is not burdened by heavy oak yet is immensely satisfying. Lush but well-defined and pleasurably energetic.

Matahiwi 2019 Pinot Gris, Wairarapa, North Island ($17.95)
John Szabo – This is a compelling pinot gris from NZ’s north island and the low-yielding Wairarapa region. Concentration and depth are evident in this flavourful, almost late harvest but bone dry style. There’s a lot of wine here for $18 to be sure; think more Alsace than Italy.

Matahiwi 2019 Pinot Gris Satellite 2015 Pinot Noir Elephant Hill 2016 Le Phant

Satellite 2015 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, South Island ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very pretty, lighter weight pinot with lifted, fragrant cranberry/cherry jam fruit, generous toast, and woodsy green herbs. It is easy drinking yet there is good NZ acidity and firmness, creating a sense of juiciness on the palate.

Elephant Hill 2016 Le Phant, Hawke’s Bay, North Island  ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Here’s a fine, tensile yet easy-going red from Hawkes Bay that combines merlot, syrah and malbec. It is mid-weight only – Hawkes Bay may be the warmest red region of NZ but it is not California or South Africa. So there is charm here, with a lifted, fine potpourri of red fruits, mint, syrah pepper, some meatiness and nicely applied oak. It is medium bodied, juicy yet firm with balanced tannin.

Global Whites

Terres Secrètes 2017 Les Sentinelles Saint-Véran, Bourgogne, France ($21.95)
Michael Godel – No so much a secret terroir as much as the mystery of what these Mâconnais rocks do what they do to and for chardonnay. Warmth and sweet yet crisp orchard fruit deliciousness plus a kiss of the barrel make this Villages-level Bourgogne a must have, do not miss, need to purchase by the case. Why not go straight to the source?
John Szabo – Here’s a terrific value Saint-Véran, delicate but flavourful, fresh but ripe, showing genuine old vine and limestone succulence and salinity. This is the style of chardonnay that made chardonnay great, and while it may not have the complexity of the very best, for this price, you’re getting a genuine Burgundian experience – it will not disappoint.

Terres Secrètes 2017 Les Sentinelles Saint-Véran Sidewood 2017 Chardonnay

Sidewood 2017 Chardonnay Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This delivers better structure, depth and complexity than I expected under $20. It is not a world beater, but it shows generous wood smoke, toast, dried herbs and some lemon-vanilla custard complexity beyond its price. It is firm, slightly tart edged, dry with excellent length.

Global Reds

Château Ollieux Romanis 2017 Cuvée Classique Corbières, Languedoc, France ($18.95)
John Szabo – This is a delightfully juicy, balanced and flavourful southern French red from the fine terroir of Boutenac in the Languedoc’s Corbières region. 14.5% alcohol is absorbed comfortably in the dense and dark fruit, as well as savoury garrigue flavours, and overall complexity is superb in this price category. It’s the sort of satisfying red you can pull out at both casual backyard BBQs (at only $19), as well as more sophisticated dinner parties with discerning guests (drinks like a more expensive wine).
David Lawrason – This is extraordinary value, organically produced by a small family domain. It is medium-full bodied, fairly dense, a touch sour-edged and warm but the overriding tension is impressive with good depth and complexity under $20.00
Michael Godel – The source terroir is Boutenac and the estate farms organically to raise a naturally rich Corbières with more obviating structure than was at first ascertained. Seemed simple enough to start but then the mouthfeel morphs with pockets of mineral and surges by the wood residuals of barrel. Cellar worthy for so little cost.
Sara d’Amato – Château Ollieux-Romanis is one of the largest privately-owned wineries in the appellation of Corbières with over 130 hectares of land largely planted to vine. The Bories family have been the caretakers for over 200 hundred years and over the last 30, have almost entirely converted to organic farming and vegan practices. The 2017 “Classique” offers plenty of tannic gusto, full-bodied mouthfeel and spicy black peppery from a significant inclusion of syrah in the blend. Great value.

Edetària 2017 Via Edetana, Terra Alta, Catalonia, Spain ($19.95)

Michael Godel – Edetana is the estate’s Terra Alta version of what we might think of as an IGT-style in that it combines three grapes (garnacha, syrah and cariñena) blended in assemblage while maintaining a sense of place. While the local garnatxa is the prize there can be little lost and much gained when blending is the order of the day. This will appeal to everyone. Bar none.
John Szabo – Here’s a flavourful and well-structured garnacha-syrah-cariñena blend, with a genuine and honest feel, a nice essence of place and a more modern expression of Spain/Catalunya.

Château Ollieux Romanis 2017 Cuvée Classique Corbières Edetària 2017 Via Edetana El Coto de Imaz 2012 Gran Reserva Sutherland 2015 Syrah

El Coto de Imaz 2012 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($37.95)
Sara d’Amato – At the Gran Reserva level in Rioja, red wines are held back for at least 5 years with 2 in barrel and 3 in bottle and thus can expect complex evolved flavours and a softened tannic grip. Although notably complex, this 2012 offers a reductive edge that has preserved an abundance of fresh fruit and authentic spice remarkably well. Exhibiting a great deal of finesse, this tempranillo – graciano blend can be enjoyed now or held for another 2-3 years.

Sutherland 2015 Syrah, WO Elgin, South Africa ($19.95)
Michael Godel – From the most thoughtful mind and capable hands of Thomas Webb in the syrah world where Elgin and varietal meet. A syrah with a sense of adventure, exuding confidence and ripping a page out of the Western Cape book. Tremendous value too.
John Szabo – Sutherland, under the umbrella of the excellent Thelema Mountain Vineyards in Stellenbosch, is the company’s cooler climate outpost. Indeed, Elgin is one of South Africa’s coolest regions overall, and this solid value syrah walks the typical SA line between old and new world styles, well-balanced, and wearing 14% alcohol comfortably. I like the succulence and crunchy acids on offer, while the finish lingers respectably. Complexity is more than adequate at the price.

Wolf Blass 2013 Grey Label Shiraz, Mclaren Vale, South Australia, ($34.95)
Michael Godel – Now here’s a treat in a VINTAGES release: Classic Grey Label from one of the great Australian icons and seven years aged for the consumer before hitting the shelves. McLaren Vale in a mini time machine, holding fruit notes in surround of a sapid interior pitch. Balance and an execution that screams to match everything and I mean everything that gets a char on this summer.

Wolf Blass 2013 Grey Label Shiraz Terrazas de Los Andes 2017 Reserva Malbec Nine Hats 2017 Red

Terrazas de Los Andes 2017 Reserva Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95) (29280)
Sara d’Amato – I have long been drawn to Terrazas de los Andes less typical style of Mendozian malbec that his more savory than fruity, more angular and with more freshness than the norm (with the understanding that this is not everyone’s cup of tea). This incarnation is no exception and leaves one with an almost Bordelaise impression. It has only gained in mouthfeel and complexity the years it has remained in bottle.

Nine Hats 2017 Red, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA ($35.95)
Sara d’Amato – A project that began as a “second label” made from the declassified wine of the long Shadow’s portfolio, the project has since evolved into its own, due to overwhelming praise, and now involves a collective of great winemaking talent in its creation. Modern and stylish, here is a juicy, highly drinkable blend with a surprisingly integrated degree of alcohol. Offering pleasant tension and a little tactile impression from its structural elements that stem from merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and syrah.

Raymond 2016 Reserve Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($46.95)
David Lawrason – Napa cabs have become so expensive that anything under $50 appears to be a steal. This edition from Raymond actually does qualify as a good buy because there is a certain elegance that is very appealing. True cabernet here with its uplifted blackcurrant fruit, mint and cedar aromas. And it has some leanness and tension on the palate.

Raymond 2016 Reserve Selection Cabernet Sauvignon K Syrah 2016 Powerline Château de Beaucastel 2017 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

K Syrah 2016 Powerline, Walla Walla Valley, Washington  ($64.95)
David Lawrason – You may be shocked by this price but this is an impressive syrah from Walla Walla. It is not as deep, thick and inky as I expected. Indeed is fairly pale, exuberantly fruit and spicy and easy drinking. The nose is rife with black pepper, herbs, cumin, licorice and candied fruit. It is very smooth, rich and warm with mild tannin. The flavour depth is outstanding.

Château de Beaucastel 2017 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France  ($93.95)
David Lawrason – Obviously not a value pick, but this is a famous red of interest to many collectors.  It does not impress with jaw-dropping power, but it does impress with all its subtle layers within a typically generous and lush Châteauneuf style. It is plummy, peppery, herbal and vaguely toasty, full bodied, smooth and warm – with an underlying sour edge. The tannins are fine, the length is excellent to outstanding. Best 2023 to 2030.

And that is all for this week. Wishing all families a wonderful weekend together as you look after and pay tribute to Mom.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine


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