Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES July 11th, 2020

Ten cool years of chardonnay kicks off this weekend, eight groovy examples, a Barolo primer and top critics’ picks from the past weekend’s VINTAGES release

by Michael Godel with notes from David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S. and Sara d’Amato

Beginning this Friday there will be events playing on Zoom screens across Ontario, throughout Canada and in fact, around the globe. There will be wine tastings, educational seminars and breezy cocktail hours all virtually orchestrated to include winemakers, producers, sommeliers and wine critics, all talking about one grape variety at the core and the crux of cool-climate viticulture. The weekend long fest, affectionately known as “i4c”, brings the wine community close together, perennially cementing the bonds that really tie the varietal room together. Though the 2020 edition of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration gatherings will be virtual in 2020, they will by no means lose their lustre, their significance or their chardonnay shine.


This preview marks my eighth year writing about i4c and believe me when I tell you I’ve waxed prodigiously on about this wondrous subject. Some of the monikers, titles and terms of endearment I have given the annual Niagara event have included “The meaning of Chardonnay: You’ve gotta be cool to be kind,”‘I4C’ a future filled with Chardonnay,”Can chardonnay get any cooler?, and “You’ve gotta be cool to be kind. Have we not all been contemplating the axiom of chardonnay continuing to make its own new set of rules, putting its best foot forward? Yes chardonnay is always on our minds, especially here in Ontario and so we feel the progression continuously dovetailing towards the cool and the ethereal.

In a way i4c feels like the prodigal child of the local wine industry and we wait for the homecoming every July. Change and adjustment has infiltrated all of our lives and so the concierge team and Wine Country Ontario are taking i4C online from July 17-19. You can get right into the cool spirit by joining in at 11:00am on Friday July 17, 2020 virtually for the #i4CAtHome School of Cool Homeschool Edition, presented by VQA Wines of Ontario, the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario and the Grape Growers of Ontario. The online presentation will feature Andrew Jefford, Columnist at Decanter and World of Fine Wine Magazine and Academic Advisor to the Wine Scholar Guild. Andrew will be joined by several of the i4C’s past keynote speakers in celebration of 10 Cool years of Chardonnay. This dynamic session will involve interviews with past keynotes, all acclaimed authors and wine writers from across the globe, including Matt Kramer (2011 and 2015 keynote), Ian D’Agata (2016 keynote) and Karen MacNeil (2017 keynote).

The afternoon session will be one of academics meeting market experience in a lively debate! Featuring a dynamic panel of multi-hat wearing Canadian industry professionals. Join John Szabo MS (Ontario), Treve Ring (BC), Brad Royale (Alberta) and Véronique Rivest (Québec) in a virtual debate about the various scientific and interpretive parameters of what it means to be cool. Featuring, and leveraging, the sensational Chardonnays of Chablis, New Zealand and Ontario, each panelist will be asked to defend, or condemn, one of the classic parameters of cool climates. Including, but not limited to, latitude, altitude, length of growing season, average temperatures, soil colour and temperature, and sunlight hours. Which is most important, and how should cool climate really be defined?

Click here to see the list of participating Ontario wineries

Click here to see the list of participating International wineries

Then on July 18 with “A Toast to VQA Cool Chardonnay” join WineAlign critics Michael Godel and John Szabo MS for a virtual, interactive Zoom tasting of top Ontario wines. Purchase your favourite cool VQA Chardonnay, gather your bubble, bring your burning wine questions, and tune in for a mostly fun, but accidentally educational cocktail hour featuring the world’s most planted fine wine white grape and a top performer in Ontario vineyards. We’re going to party like it’s 2020! (Virtually…) And finally, on July 18: An #i4CAtHome Cooking Challenge featuring Chardonnay-inspired recipes shared from some of Ontario’s most beloved wine country Chefs. Click here for recipes and contest details.

Switching varietal gears we slide over from chardonnay to nebbiolo for Michael’s report:Barolo DOCG previews and retrospectives: 2016, Riserva 2014, 2006 and 2004. This Barolo primer follows on the heels of last month’s WineAlign article, Barbaresco DOCG previews and retrospectives: 2017, Riserva 2015, 2007 and 2005. This time the talk is about Nebbiolo Prima being a sprint and a marathon wrapped into one. Who could not be made stronger, wiser and yet so humbled by having tasted through the experience. These notes reflect a highly personal experience, a connection to Piedmontese life, performing to others rhythms. The totality of these tasting notes cover Barolo DOCG 2016 (197), Riserva 2014 (6), 2006 (20) and Riserva 2004 (7), played to the tune of 230 reviews.

What’s in VINTAGES stores right now

As always, the WineAlign critics gather (while practicing social tasting guidelines) every two weeks to taste through as many VINTAGES release wines as we can get our hands on. Our unwavering commitment is to maintain the mandate of reviewing monopoly wines and by providing WineAlign readers with a four-poster assessment of the quality (or lack there-of) in the wines being pedalled to the Ontario consumer. This is how WineAlign came to be in the first place. The tasting and reviewing is our essential service and you can be sure we will get you the goods every two weeks.

The July 11th release feature is “Discover Old World classics and their New World contemporaries, plus cool-climate Chardonnays from here at home and abroad.” The sub theme is “Transplanted Classic and Contemporary Wines,” applesauce wording that reads like the lyrics of an Oasis song. Nevertheless the sub-text reads “Born and bred in Europe, some of the wine world’s best-known and best-loved grapes journeyed to faraway shores and set down roots, creating a new world of benchmark expressions.” So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

David, John, Sara and I have compiled our picks for July 11th and i4c so here they are. Happy shopping to all, stay safe, adhere to provincial health guidelines, exercise common sense and above all else, stay cool.

Critics’ Picks – Whites

Tahbilk 2019 Marsanne, Nagambie Lakes, Central Victoria, Australia ($17.95)

Michael GodelOne of Australia’s great white wine hidden gems, a varietal Rhône-ish experience of great secrecy and sneaky structure. A marsanne of poise and great grape tannin, not to mention citrus taut and tight as a wire wrapped around a winch. Great purpose and spirit. Put one away for five years. Trust me.

John Szabo – I’ve had a fascination for this wine for many vintages now, both released young, as here, but also as a ‘museum’ release after about a decade when it has acquired a completely different character. This is still all on the fruit, verging on exotic, though admittedly I like it old, when it turns beguilingly smoky and much more idiosyncratic (my mother hates it!). That we’re even discussing an $18 wine in such terms means that it’s already worth of considering. Pick up a few bottles for yourself and drink one now, then follow its evolution for another decade – it’s a fun ride.

Mountadam 2018 Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia ($19.95) 

David Lawrason – This is one of the best riesling producers of Australia, from a cooler region that has made its name with riesling.  This is very classy, rich and dry.  It doesn’t often show up here, so grab it while you can.

John Szabo – Terrific, classic Eden Valley Riesling here with its pure lime cordial flavours, bone dry palate and riveting acids. It ticks all of the right boxes, including impressive depth and concentration at just 12% alcohol. A regional paradigm; drink or hold into the late ’20s.

Leeuwenkuil 2017 Reserve White, Swartland, South Africa ($19.95) 

David Lawrason – Based 80% on chenin blanc with six other varieties making up the last 20%, this is a fine, solid and quite mineral blend from the vast arid Swartland. Not highly aromatic or expressive but complex and staunchly built. Minimal oak.

Bonfire Hill 2018 Extreme Vineyards WHITE WO Swartland South Africa — Western Cape $17.95)

John Szabo – What a fun wine for $18 dollars, full of character and depth. You can’t really ask much more from a white at this price, except perhaps to bring along some lobster or shrimp for the BBQ, a patio, and some friends. Chenin blanc, roussanne and grenache blanc blend; 13.5% alcohol.


Critics’ Picks – Reds and Rosé

Troupis Fteri 2018 Agiorgitiko/Moschofilero Rosé, IGP Greece ($16.95)

Michael Godel – Rosé by Troupis is so interesting because it is made from a red and a white grape, agiorgitiko and moschofilero. Together they marry parochial rusticity with fleshy citrus and in the end it’s really quite watermelon and peach, packed with flavour and a streak of saltiness. It’s Greek. How could it not come out that way?

Fern Walk 2019 Rosé, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($16.95)

Sara d’Amato – I was impressed by this dry, Provençal style rosé with a little more freshness that wines from that sunny, southern climate. Red fruit dominates but there is no over ripeness, no pandering character just clean, straightforward refreshment.

Waterkloof Seriously Cool 2018 Cinsault, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95) 

David Lawrason – This is a bright, playful, fresh and chillable cinsault – a style of emerging popularity around the Southern Hemisphere in particular. Light to medium bodied with crunchy acidity, easy tannin, juicy berry fruit and a stony finish. Summery.

Sara d’Amato – Seriously cool is right, looking down on the False Bay coast, Waterkloof is known for its fresh, ethereal wines. Here is a tasty summer red based on the southern French grape of cinsault that can benefit from a slight, refreshing chill. Light bodied and light in alcohol, brimming with notes of strawberry, tilled earth, dried herbs and wildflower. Both complex and upbeat.

John Szabo – Waterkloof’s vineyards lie on the southern side of Stellenbosch in Somerset West, over looking False Bay and thus experiencing the full cooling effect of its waters, so this is genuinely, seriously cool. You can taste the ocean breeze in the bright, red fruit flavours, in the tart acids and the fine-grained but edgy tannins. Old vine density and richness is also evident, from vines planted in 1964 and 1974. Enjoy chilled over the near term.

Manoir Du Carra 2017 Beaujolais Villages AC, France ($15.95)

John Szabo –  Light, fruity, juicy, this is quintessential Beaujolais-Villages, a sheer, simple joy to sip, especially with a light chill. Enjoy now.

Paul Cluver 2017 Estate Pinot Noir, Elgin South Africa ($29.95) 

David Lawrason – This is one of the great pinots I have tasted so far this year. Intense, riveting and balanced on a pin, from a very fine producer based in this cooler, coastal enclave. Don’t miss it!

Michael Godel – Paul Cluver is not just a rabid fanatic and pinot noir specialist in Elgin but also more the whole of South Africa. His cooler vineyard sites with their particular exposition and orientation to the Western Cape’s oceans make for one of the pinot diaspora’s most unique micro-climates. This balanced and precise wine is Paul’s entry through the gateway and it will drink so well four years forward and for four more easy.  

Sara d’Amato – Prepare to be instantly take by this sustainably produced Elgin pinot noir. Inspired by the new world given the wine’s colour, perfume, elegance and gentle, feathery tannins but it is distinctly new world in terms of its ripe red fruit and delicately smoky oak. In all, a breath of fresh air that you’ll want to come back to time and time again. 

Isabelle Et Phillipe Germain 2018 Le P’tit Léon Beaune, Burgundy, France ($32.95)

Sara d’Amato – Sustainable production guidelines of France’s relatively new HVE (High Environmental Value) are at play here in this delicious Beaune pinot noir. Fleshy, open and honest with feathery tannins and lots of charm. Both fresh and jammy fruit are represented in this fuller, more generous style.

Tenuta Perano 2016 Chianti Classico DOCG, Italy ($24.95)

Michael GodelThe white and grey clay plus fine decomposed Galestro soil mixes with great 2016 promise for one of Gaiole and the greater territory’s most polished ’16s. Almost too good to be true and in just Frescobaldi’s second vintage. Almost feels like a peak has been reached so the question is, how far can this property go. Sky’s the limit?

Ruffino Modus 2017, Tuscany, Italy ($29.95) 

David Lawrason – Modus is almost an even split three-way blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. It is a pretty, complex, sophisitcated and contemporary Tuscan red for the short-term cellaring or enjoying now with aeration.

Michael Godel – Modus is one of the original and affordable Super Tuscans, a Ruffino mainstay that draws upon sangiovese at Chianti (but not Chianti Classico) level percentage and blends with merlot and cabernet sauvignon. A very modern interpretation of grapes grown in this place. Hot vintage, well-managed, ripe in both ways and well suited to early drinking probability.

Shingleback Davey Estate 2018 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Mclaren Vale, Australia ($22.95)

Sara d’Amato – I admit that cabernet sauvignon is not on my regular roster of casual sipping so it takes a special example to get my excited such as this 2018 from Shingleback Davey Estate. A rich and spicy blend with a mineral and ferrous quality to the palate. Offering compelling textural appeal, great succulence and tannic tack.

Tormaresca Torcicoda 2017 Primitivo Unfiltered, IGT Salento, Puglia, Italy ($21.95)

John Szabo – Raisined and plummy, this is quite representative primitivo from Puglia made at Antinori’s local outpost. What’s remarkable is how it holds it together on the palate, and even turns fresher and more savoury, with a salty character that brings you back for more. Satisfying overall for the money, and then some.


i4c Chardonnay Picks 

Domaine Des Deux Roches Vielles Vignes 2018 Pouilly-Fuisse, Burgundy, France ($42.95) 

David Lawrason – I look for streamlined finesse and minerality in from the limestone-based soils of Pouilly-Fuisée, and this fine producer never misses, even in a warmer vintage like 2018 that has delivered some intriguing flavours. 

Michael Godel – Still the warmth and ripeness of the southern Bourgogne appellation persists but this old vines chardonnay carries an x-factor that separates its wheat from others’ chaff. Who could not drink this glorious wine everyday?

Sara d’Amato – The glorious, round and inviting nature of the southern appellation of Pouilly-Fuissé is deliciously represented in this 2018 incarnation from Domaine des Deux Roches. Exuberantly expressive, lightly nutty with a leesy component juxtaposed by an oily texture. Racy and salty.

John Szabo – A classic example of Pouilly-Fuissé, an AOC about to get the Mâconnais’ first 1er cru vineyard classification. This is still a year or two away from prime at least, or hold easily into the mid-’20s, though no need to cellar long-term.

Vignerons De Buxy Buissonnier 2017 Montagny AC, Burgundy, France ($19.95)

John Szabo – The cooperative Vignerons de Buxy is, and has been since the 1930’s, one of the most progressive in France, representing the lion’s share of this white only AOC in the Côte Châlonnaise with its 230+ active vignerons adherents. Quality across the board is very good to excellent, and the prices, very attractive. This is quite lovely white Burgundy, which, at $20 is a happy find. Enjoy now or hold short term.

Josef Chromy Pepik 2019 Chardonnay, Tasmania, Australia ($21.95) (378240)
Michael GodelSuch a treat and a pleasure to see Cool Climate Celebration mainstay Jeremy Dineen’s Pepik chardonnay make its return to the Ontario market. This Tasmanian devil of a chardonnay is focused, precise and full of optimum phenolic fruit in 2019 with a lovely touch of herbal-verdant green. Beautifully balanced and syncopated in its localized chardonnay rhythms.

John Szabo – I’m a fan of Tassie wines, both sparkling and still versions of chardonnay, like this friendly entry point into the Joseph Chromy portfolio. It’s another cracker for quality and value. Chromy is a multi-year participant at the i4c, so happy memories of this wine and July are closely intertwined, when fun met underlying seriousness, as in this 2019.

VQA Cool Chard: Ontario’s Best (Ever)

Cloudsley Cellars 2017 Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench ($35.00)

Michael GodelAdam Lowy’s chardonnay exhibits an uncanny prescience of Bourgignons styling you could seriously close your eyes and swear you were tasting Goisot-like Côtes d’Auxerre or Villages level Côtes-de-Nuits. As good as it gets for grape and place, not just in Ontario but anywhere it is understood that high quality chardonnay will grow.

Rosehall Run JCR 2018 Chardonnay Rosehall Vineyard, Prince Edward County ($36.00)

Michael Godel – In 2018 JCR Vineyard chardonnay takes the high road, eschewing richness and power to seek shelter in a very drinkable, manageable, almost non-reductive, happy place. A bite into a green apple that means it’s verdancy within nicely ripe phenolic means.

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos 2017 Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula ($44.95) 

David Lawrason – In case you missed its inaugural release several months ago, this is one of the best, most sophisticated chardonnays yet to be produced in Canada. Treat yourself as you enjoy some of the web-based I4C events this weekend.

John Szabo –  This is the eagerly anticipated first re-release of the Clos Jordanne project, formerly a joint venture between Burgundy’s Boisset family and Constellation Brands that was shelved in 2012, but which was resurrected by new owners Arterra Canada. The project’s original winemaker, Thomas Bachelder, was called back into action to craft this revival, the result a rather spectacularly understated wine, sumptuous, one to be sipped and savoured slowly and deliberately, now or into the mid-’20s.

Hidden Bench 2017 Chardonnay Felseck Vineyard, Beamsville Bench, Ontario, Canada ($42.20)

John Szabo – This is nothing short of an excellent bottle of wine from Niagara’s Beamsville Bench sub-appellation. Fans of classic chardonnay at the top level will find this to be an exceptional value, so very pure and stony, tightly wound without being austere, and with mightily impressive length. This easily competes with wines at double the price (Corton Charlemagne?), and forgetting the value equation, is simply superb wine, one of the region’s best to date.

Bachelder 2017 Chardonnay Wismer Wingfield Ouest, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula
Ontario, Canada ($47.95)

John Szabo – More hyperbole for the 2017 vintage in Niagara, and in particular this small parcel selection another one from Thomas Bachelder, which flirts with the greatest examples yet made in the province. What was once just “Wismer”, after the highly respected family that farms considerable acreage across the Niagara Escarpment, became the more specific Wismer-Wingfield vineyard in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation, and now the even more precise Wingfield Ouest (west) sub-designation. Bachelder is evidently on a monk’s errand to map out the escarpment with Burgundian-like precision. But it’s clearly not just an academic exercise in sub-division; there’s something genuinely special about this wine.


Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Be sure to check out our latest Passport Series offering, destination California! John Szabo and Sara d’Amato launched their new podcast “D’Amato & Szabo: Wine Thieves” so check out the multi-part series focusing on Burgundy’s top values. The first podcast is D’Amato & Szabo: Wine Thieves – Episode 1: Bourgogne for a Changing World Part 1: Attractive Values of the “Bourgogne Plus”.

Good to go!


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