Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 16, 2020

USA Spotlight Comes at a Rough Moment
By David Lawrason, with notes from Michael Godel and John Szabo

There are two features to this Vintages release: Women in Wine and Spotlight USA.  Both themes were plotted months ago, pre-Covid. But of course all the best laid plans have fallen apart. We have not been able to taste all the wines in these features – although some below have risen to notice.

To continuously inform our subscribers – and the increasing number of new subscribers in the online wine era – we are no longer preview tasting Vintages releases at the LCBO HQ, and I doubt this format will return until a vaccine is universal. So with every Vintages release we are going out to wineries and importers with a selection of wines that look most interesting to us, buying them on release (which delays our reviews by a week), and asking for reimbursement for the trade samples. I also personally buy a handful that interest me. Most importing agencies are good with this program, a few are not for whatever their reasons.  This makes the selections less universal which is unfortunate, but we seek out a wide range of styles, price ranges and regions, and it doesn’t change our assessments of what’s in the glass by one iota.

Vintages USA spotlight takes a broad look at America – not just California – and even the California selections are non-Sonoma and Napa. It includes two wines from New York as well, rounding out a recent LCBO online offering of eight other New York wines: Destination Collection – Explore the Wines of New York. It looks like this collection might also be offered in a mixed-case WineAlign Exchange offering in the weeks ahead.

Ironically, and so unfortunately, the USA spotlight comes at a time when the Canada-USA border is closed, and according to a poll this week the vast majority Canadians want it to remain that way indefinitely to help slow the spread of the virus.  But wine has always been a vector for political dissent. So some will choose not to buy American wine as form of protest over the political situation in the U.S., which is their right. Our job is to review what’s available to you and what you might want to have in your glass.

Attems 2019 Pinot Grigio

Sara d’Amato and I have had the opportunity to taste and review all the New York wines. It is an interesting selection from the Finger Lakes, Hudson River Valley and Long Island, the three main regions of New York. Actually there are eleven AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) in New York, with a handful being just across the border on the south shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. So no big surprise that the close proximity means the grape varieties and styles tend to be very similar to what Ontario is producing – riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet franc leading the way. I view this as an interesting opportunity to compare notes.

New York sommelier Paul Grieco, who was born and raised and did his first wine schooling in Toronto, is the “General and Manager” of Terroir Wine Bar in Manhattan. He was very impressed by the selection being released in Ontario. “I am buying wine in a market that has 55,000 brands, so New York wines are not that easy to find here either. I don’t think I could go into a store and find as good a selection of New York wines as the LCBO has put together. If I were a somm in Toronto looking to offer something familiar yet new I would list them all”.

Yet another rough downside is that the weak Canadian dollar has made the wines fairly expensive. That affects all the wines from the USA of course, making American wine in general the least good value proposition of virtually any country in the world today when it comes to buying them in Ontario. But what is interesting about Vintages spotlight is that the wines are less expensive because they are not Napa or Sonoma – the famous north coast appellations that have driven pricing to the moon. Most of the USA Spotlight Selections are under $25.

So here we go with our value-based global picks from the May 16 release, plus some more expensive wines of interest to collectors.

Whites & Rosé

Jean Luc Colombo 2019 La Dame du Rouet Rosé, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Absolute classic southern French rosé styling with light hue, herbal fruit and salty veins. A step up, forward and positive in that is does not settle for disparate notes that do yeoman work but the added bonus is complexity and character. Leave it to the house that Jean-Luc Colombo built to take a tried and true if at times tired style and elevate the game.
John Szabo – Celebrated Northern Rhône vignerons and négociant Jean-Luc Colombo purchased several parcels of land and planted vineyards in 2009 near his birthplace in the Côteau d’Aix-en-Provence, and the result here, among others, is a stellar rosé on the sapid, flinty side, with complexity far above the mean – a superior wine in the category. I love the saltiness, driving desire for additional sips. Worth the premium; drink or hold short term – there’s no rush.

Organized Crime 2017 Limestone Block Chardonnay, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($21.20)
David Lawrason – This is a lovely, solid chardonnay – classic Niagara, and great value. Confirmed by its Gold Medal at National Wine Awards of Canada last year, and subsequent critics tastings. It’s mid-weight, firm but not austere, with well placed acidity and minerality. Very good intensity, focus and length.

Organized Crime 2017 Limestone Block Chardonnay Organized Crime 2017 Limestone Block Chardonnay Muré 2016 Calcaires Jaunes Riesling Catena 2018 Chardonnay

Muré 2016 Calcaires Jaunes Riesling, Alsace, France ($23.95)
John Szabo – An arch-classic, stony, dry riesling from yellow limestones (“calcaires jaunes’), from biodynamic (Biodyvin) producer Domaine Muré, on to its 12th generation of family vintners. Considering the already evolved stage of maturity I wouldn’t hold this long or even mid-term, rather enjoy it now with fruit remaining.

Catena 2018 Chardonnay, Mendoza, Argentina ($19.95)
Michael Godel – When you consider the excellence of the single-vineyard, terroir and micro-block chardonnays in the Catena sphere you might think the “entry-level;” wine will be dull. On the contrary skeptical ones. Great fruit quality, orchard and stone intertwined plus a kiss of supporting barrel, for a mildly buttery and blanched experience. Hard to do much better from a wine that pays all the bills.


Domaine Autrand 2017 Côtes Du Rhône, Rhone Valley, France ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is five star value is an 80% grenache, 20% syrah blend that captures the essential plummy fruit and peppery character of the southern Rhone. Ripeness is just right, the mid-palate is nicely smooth and rounded and the finish delivers some chewy tannin.
Michael Godel – Warm and inviting Côtes-du-Rhône with fresh and dried fruit mixed together and quite a full-bodied feel on a $15 frame. Crunchy and slightly earthy, fruit red to purple in its intonation plus upside, upside, upside. No brainer for grilled  meats.

Heart & Soil 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Langhorne Creek, South Australia ($19.95)
Michael Godel – A sneaky cabernet sauvignon from Ben Glaetzer and a terrific spot in Langhorne Creek. Here a location that gifts a muskiness that meshes well with the winemaking style, a.k.a. reductive, protected and meant to extend freshness. Give this screw-cap wine some air, to open up its generous heart and integrate its particular soil.
John Szabo – Very much like a walk through the Langhorne Creek area in the summer, this is a particularly fragrant and minty, botanical, lightly cedary cabernet with ample fruit, too, all black and very ripe. Wood spice contributes significantly to the profile as well. Well-made wine by Ben Glaetzer, for current consumption or mid-term hold.

Domaine Autrand 2017 Côtes Du Rhône Heart & Soil 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Leeuwenkuil 2017 Reserve Red

Leeuwenkuil 2017 Reserve Red, Swartland, South Africa ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is an impressive firecracker red with all kinds of dusty, earthy, peppery character that is such a great expression of the dusty, earthy Swartland region. There is intriguing strawberry/cherry pie amid all the savouries. It is full bodied, warm and edgy yet comes together very well. The length is excellent to outstanding.
John Szabo – There’s much to like about this red blend (60% shiraz, 22% cinsault, 10% grenache, 8% mourvèdre) from Leeuwenkuil (“Lion’s Lair”), one of the oldest and largest wine farms in the Swartland. It’s smoky and dark, lightly roasted, with spent coffee grounds and charred vegetable flavours, while tannins are light and easy-going, and length and depth are very good in the price category. Serve with a light chill to emphasize the fruit; best over the near term.

Château La Guilbonnerie 2014, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, France ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This was not a great vintage but a good vintage making typical medium weight Bordeaux with some life to them. This great little value strikes me this way, having a leaner side, but also way more fruit and depth than expected at the price. There is some maturity with raspberry, herbs, leather and earth. This performs way beyond expectation if you like quiet Bordeaux.

Bastide Miraflors 2017 Syrah/Vieilles Vignes Grenache, Côtes du Roussillon, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – An easy 5-star value, with exceptional extract and genuine old vine concentration, as well as terrific length in the price category. Ample dark fruit coats a richly tannic structure, alongside classic wild herb character, inviting and deep. Drink or hold mid-term.

Château La Guilbonnerie 2014 Bastide Miraflors 2017 Syrah/Vieilles Vignes Grenache Cafaggio 2015 Chianti Classico

Cafaggio 2015 Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy ($21.95)
David Lawrason – This is a light-hearted and authentic Chianti from an excellent vintage that has now matured to almost perfect drinkability. It is mid-weight, tender and almost silky in texture, with fine tannin. It is in its moment.

Castoro Cellars 2016 Estate Grown Zinfandel, Paso Robles, California ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This is a nicely honest zinfandel – no mocha chocolate and smoky artifice. Just straightforward pretty, brambly fruit and florals, with easy oak vanillin and spice in the background. It is medium-full bodied, fairly soft and smooth with easy tannin. There is some heat bring ballast. The length is very good to excellent.

Castoro Cellars 2016 Estate Grown Zinfandel Bodega Volcanes De Chile 2016 Tectonia Pinot Noir Torbreck 2017 Woodcutter's Shiraz

Bodega Volcanes De Chile 2016 Tectonia Pinot Noir, Bío Bío Valley, Chile ($24.95)
Michael Godel – From Mulchen in the Bio Bio Valley and a fine-grained saltiness attributed to volcanics in the soil. Just a straight line of sapidity that runs through optimum ripeness that reminds of fleshy stone fruit picked just before it may begin losing any iota of energy. Crafty wine with a little bit of age that goes a long way towards current enjoyment.

Torbreck 2017 Woodcutter’s Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia ($29.95)
Michael Godel – The Woodcutter’s just feels like an icon that dates back to the year of Adam. Full throttle, bodied and able to stand with the $100 best of them you can rest assured there will be heart, heartiness and longevity provided. Get out your heartiest fare and make this shiraz a proper pairing. Ground sirloin, brisket and/or beef heart grilled with sharp cheese should do the trick.


Château La Nerthe 2016 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, Rhône, France ($59.95)
John Szabo – A collector’s choice, La Nerthe’s 2016 is a terrific wine, very pretty and complete, featuring ripe but still fresh and vibrant red and black fruit in the usual spectrum, mixed with a generous handful of wild herbs and charred earth flavour, rather textbook. Equally classic is the silky, grenache-led texture (37% of the blend, with about equal parts syrah and mourvèdre and a splash of cinsault), broad and ample palate, warmed but not overly hot even with 15% alcohol. Excellent length and depth. Classy and sophisticated, as usual La Nerthe delivers at the top of the appellation in an understated old world idiom. Best after 2024, or cellar into the late ‘20s-early ‘30s.

Château La Nerthe 2016 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape Marziano Abbona 2013 Pressenda Barolo K Vintners 2016 The Beautiful Syrah

Marziano Abbona 2013 Pressenda Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($57.95)
John Szabo – the Pressenda parcel lies in the heart of the Castelletto cru in the commune of Monforte d’Alba, revered for its highly structured and ageworthy Baroli. Abbona’s 2013 is by now a very pretty and perfumed, with sappy, succulent palate showing excellent length and depth in a more polished, not to say modern, idiom, even if wood is not a major flavour factor. Tannins are fine-grained, still dusty but no longer grippy, while acids are balanced and alcohol integrated. Fine length. Starting to drink well now, but surely better in 1-3 years, or hold into the mid-late ’20s.
David Lawrason – Here’s a classic Barolo heading into maturity. The aromatics aren’t effusive but they are complex and compelling. It mid-weight, very nicely firm with perfect acidity and Barolo’s infamous crusty tannin. The flavours show intensity, excellent focus and length. Will certainly cellar nicely for another five years or more.

K Vintners 2016 The Beautiful Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington USA ($74.95)
David Lawrason – Indeed a beauty! What a nose – classic lifted syrah ripe cherry/olive fruit, beguiling sneezy pepper, capers, teriyaki, wood smoke and vanilla. So much going on aromatically. It is full bodied, very smooth with textural appeal of vintage port but not sweet. Outstanding length.

And that is a wrap for this time. Enjoy our first blast of summer weather and we’ll be back in two weeks with our review of Vintages May 30.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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