Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES August 8th, 2020

John Szabo’s Vintages Review for August 8th: Argentina and the Sacred Art of the Asado, High Elevation Winegrowing, Roero Report, and Other Assorted Smart Buys

By John Szabo MS, with picks from Sara, David, and Michael

The August 8th Vintages release is a timely feature on the wines of Argentina, the official national beverage, intended to be enjoyed while engaged in the national culinary sport, the asado. Do not make the perilous faux pas of calling the asado a barbeque – they are not the same thing – unless your goal is to tango with a gaucho. As with the skill of their footballers, Argentineans are particularly proud of their prowess for uniting fire and flesh. Bodega Argento makes the point clearly on their website: “Your gas-fuelled blow-torching of conveyor-belt beef patties has nothing in common with our sacred asadoAsado is cooking in its purest form – just fire, grill and meat – so it’s important that you get it right. Otherwise, you’ve got yourself a barbecue.” So there. Read on for Argento’s step-by-step guide for an authentic Asado, and for the WineAlign crü’s top Argentine wines in the release and other smart buys.

Elsewhere, Godel reports from the field on the latest Nebbiolo releases from Roero, Piedmont, and he and I delve into some technical details of high elevation viticulture in Argentina. Sara D’Amato and I release two more podcast episodes of Wine Thieves featuring the sleek, sharp values of the Grand Auxerrois, the vineyards surrounding the appellation of Chablis in northern Burgundy. And treasure hunters alert: a top-secret discount retail drop of LCBO Classics Catalogue wines is going down this weekend. Where? We don’t know.


Lost Classics

Treasure hunters will want to be on the lookout across Ontario this weekend. WineAlign has learned that some 200 LCBO Classics Catalogue wines, usually only available by online lottery, will find their way into bricks-and-mortar stores. But like a scavenger hunt without any clues, you’ll have to blindly scour the main stores or cozy up to a product consultant in the know. The LCBO does not list these wines on their website, so you’ll have no way of knowing either which wines are being released, or in which stores they’ll end up: “I can clarify that on August 15th, the LCBO will be having a Bin End sale for old release stock in stores. This will capture about 200 skus of product already in-stores and will vary greatly in inventory levels across our retail network.” – LCBO Press Office

Such fun! Good luck!

Wine Thieves Podcast

New Episodes featuring Burgundy’s Greater Auxerre region, the “Grand Auxerrois”.

In this latest, two-part episode, Sara d’Amato and I explore the wine growing areas surrounding Chablis and the town of Auxerre in northern Burgundy. We learn about the oldest known reference to winegrowing in Burgundy, a stone carving found near the village of Coulanges-la-Vineuse depicting César grapes (a minor, ancient local variety), discuss the region’s excellent traditional sparkling wines, the dramatic change in climate over the last 30 years, and chat with locals Magalie Bernard of Domaine du Clos du Roi and Dominique Gruhier of Domaine de L’Abbaye du Petit Quincy, among much more. Download the latest episodes here:

Episode 2A: Bourgogne for a Changing World: The Grand Auxerrois – Part 1

Episode 2B – Bourgogne for a Changing World: Grand Auxerre – Part 2

Roero Nebbiolo

In what now seems like a lifetime ago, in January of this year Michael Godel travelled to Alba in Piedmont for the annual Nebbiolo Prima, a trade event organized to showcase the latest releases – some 400 of them – from Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero. His latest field report covers Roero DOCG previews for 2017 and 2016 Riserva, as well as retrospectives of 2007 and 2006 Riserva.

Roero DOCG Previews and Retrospectives: 2017, Riserva 2016, 2007 and Riserva 2006

The Asado: A Sacred Art

I have participated in Argentine asados, but as a Canadian, I am deeply unqualified to detail how to carry out an authentic one. So, courtesy of authentically Argentine Bodega Argento and their companion website, The Real Argentina, here is a step-by-step guide to a proper Argentine asado:

  1. Start your fire. Make a stack of dry wood sitting on top of a heap of lump charcoal under the left-hand side of your parrilla, a cast-iron grill which can be adjusted to different heights.

  1. If he (always he) is having problems getting his fire to light, an Argentine will throw on a few pine cones– not briquettes, which taint the meat (and severely damage your rep as an asador).
  2. Once the grill has heated up, give it a vigorous clean with newspaper to remove all yesterday’s carbonised cow and arm yourself with the tools of the asador– the shovel and rake – for moving embers around.
  3. When the flames and smoke of your initial fire have relented, you will have a pile of smouldering charcoal to the left of your grill, from which you rake across glowing embers to sit under the right.
  4. Lower the grill to 15cm above the smouldering bed of coals. Waiting in the wings are your cuts of meat, very specific to the asado, so introduce the biggest cuts first, starting with the tira de asado (short rib).
  5. Allow 500g of meat per person. It sounds crazy, but the average Argentinean eats around 60kg of meat a year and half a kilo a head works out about right.
  6. Keep the hottest coals aside to avoid fat dripping and flares of smoke, which spoil the flavour of the meat. Vacio (flank) and entraña (skirt) are two other flavoursome cuts, which respond beautifully to asado cooking.
  7. It’s impossible to overcook beef in Argentina, as the locals like it medium to well done. If the meat is good, they say, this is the best way to cook it: low and slow.

Argentina meat sausage (chorizo) and meat short ribs (Tira de asado)

  1. The steady cooking process – fiddling is frowned upon – will give you plenty of time for the social element of the asado, conducted over a glass of Malbec and a few picadas (cheese/ham/salami/olives on sticks).
  2. Next onto the parrilla are the achuras (offal). The entry-level offal is mollejas [moh-shay-has], sweetbreads that are grilled to smokey crispness and served with a squeeze of lemon. Often these are the only achuras served, but they can also be accompanied by chinchulines [chin-choo-leen-ez] – intestines – and riñones [rin-yon-ez] – kidneys.
  3. Now it’s the turn of the chorizomorcilla (blood sausage) and provoleta (discs provolone cheese)
  4. Once all three are crisp on the outside and oozing within, the locals usually cut them into small pieces and serve them with slices of baguette, spread onto or sandwiched.
  5. Once the meat is ready, your team of sous-chefs should have finished making your salads. Of course, a true Argentino doesn’t need a side of salad to justify his meat consumption (this is, after all, the country where vegetarians are served chicken) though an ensalada criolla – tomato, lettuce and onion dressed with oil and white wine vinegar – cuts through the richness of the meat perfectly.
  6. Chimichurri, surprisingly, isn’t a fixture on Argentinean tables. And if it is, it’s certainly not glowing with fresh herbs – it’s based largely on dried oregano. You’re likely to find (more) salt on the dinner table, as well as some tangy salsa criolla, a fresh condiment made from red peppers, tomato, onion, parsley, oil and vinegar.
  7. If you’ve done this right, you should be sitting down to a table groaning with meat and Malbec round about midnight. Serve the meat in the order that it’s ready.
  8. Enjoy ‘un aplauso para el asadorwhen you sit down. It’s no reflection on the quality of your output – applause is granted whatever the standard of the cooking – but by this point, you’ve earned it.

Argentina: The Deal with High Elevation Viticulture
By John Szabo & Michael Godel

Aside from Football and the asado, Argentina is known for its high elevation viticulture. Indeed, the country boasts the second highest elevation vineyard in the world: vines at Donald Hess’s Bodega Colomé sit at a vertigo-inducing 3,111 metres above sea level in the province of Salta, north of Mendoza, about the height at which I once (and only once) jumped out of an airplane. (For the Guinness Book record, the world’s highest vineyard is in Cai Na Xiang, Qushui County of Lhasa, Tibet, at 3,563.31 metres above sea level, but I can’t speak to the quality of the wine produced there.)

Such extreme elevations have profound effects on sensitive grapevines, particularly due to high UV radiation – be sure to bring a sombrero if you are travelling to Argentina, and cooler temperatures. It’s in fact elevation that makes fine wine possible in most parts of the country, pretty much everywhere outside of southerly Patagonia. The effects are most dramatic in the north, where there are more than 20 ultra-high-altitude vineyards, carved out of desert sand and rock. Here, the usual climate parameters of rainfall, sunshine hours and average temperature are heavily modified by elevation.

Consider that for every 155m of linear rise in elevation, the average temperature drops by one degree (0.6º for every 100m). This effect is called the “vertical thermal gradient”, and it is caused, in part, by the exponential drop in atmospheric pressure with increasing elevation (height above sea level). When the pressure on a gas, like air, decreases, the temperature of the gas also decreases – the molecules become less energetic.

This means that even at latitudes close to the equator, where average temperatures are generally high, cool climates can be found if coupled with high elevation. The city of Mendoza, for example, is at 32º south, a latitude at which it is generally too warm for fine wine production at low elevations, as in Tiajuana, Mexico, or Marrakech, Morocco. But at 800m elevation (and much higher in nearby vineyards), fine wine is certainly possible. In Salta, at an even more extreme latitude of 24.7º south, the northern hemisphere equivalents of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, or Havana, Cuba, it’s only because elevations start at 1100m (and move up to over 3000m), that good wine is possible.

And then, with every 1,000m of linear rise, solar radiation (UVB) increases by 15 per cent. In order to endure the intense photon shower, plants produce more polyphenols, like the anthocyanins that give red grapes their dark colour. The vine is literally protecting its fruit from the damaging effects of high UV. If you’ve ever wondered why the malbecs of Mendoza, Salta and surrounding areas are so dark in colour, now you know.

In the end, it’s a matter of relatively cool climates with high sunlight intensity. The stressful conditions at 1,500m or higher results in lower yields, higher polyphenols, higher acidity and ultimately a marked variance of character from lower elevation examples. Explains Argentine wine expert Joaquin Hidalgo: “mastering the terroir is a challenge that involves another way of managing the vineyard.” And how you master a vineyard at 1m and at 1000m is dramatically different. In Argentina, they’ve had close on 400 years to work out how to do it, and the results are pretty interesting.

Buyers’ Guide August 8th: Argentina

La Mascota Rosé 2019, Mendoza, Argentina
$16.95, Univins
David Lawrason – I was surprised to find an Argentine rosé nicely echoing a Provencal style. It shows nicely fresh and lifted red currant jam, grapefruit, fresh herbs and chalky minerality in a dry, slightly bitter style.
John Szabo – A terrifically lively, fresh, bone dry, pale and crunchy rosé, properly lean, lightly saline, highly drinkable. Ready to go. Proof positive that elevation can bring freshness.

El Esteco 1947 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina
$24.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.
Michael Godel From Argentina’s northern desert, fruit from 70-plus year old vines, well trees really. Dense and concentrated, Cassis times 10, savoury and truly expressive. Do not miss this.
John Szabo – From Cabernet vines planted in 1947 in the northerly, high elevation Cafayate Valley, this is brilliant wine, appealingly herbal and peppery, crunchy and lively, varietally accurate but with lighter tannic structure than the mean. Acids are balanced and there’s genuine flavour density and depth, and terrific length in the price category. Drink or hold into the mid-’20s, or even beyond.
David Lawrason – From the northerly and very high altitude Cafayate region comes a great value in a very fine and classic New World cabernet. If this were from Napa you would be paying quadruple the price. Elegant and refined with excellent length.

Luigi Bosca Terroir Los Miradores Malbec 2017, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
$34.95, Family Wine Merchants
Michael Godel 70-plus year-old vines concentration, lower than low yields, rock solid DNA and a bomb of dark fruit. Generously oaked while balanced, and of a tannin that will see to 10-15 years of slow aging.
John Szabo – A generous, rich, ripe but not jammy or dried fruit-inflected example of Malbec, surely concentrated and low yielding, also well balanced. Wood spice is well integrated, and tannins are broad and plush over modest acids. 14.7% alcohol declared is equally well integrated. Very good length. I’d suggest another year or two at least in the cellar to build in more complexity.

Buyers’ Guide August 8th: Smart Buys White & Rosé

Château Léoube Rosé De Léoube 2019, Côtes De Provence, France
$32.95, The Living Vine
Michael Godel – Rosé De Léoube moves from Love Loubé to a next level up with true blue (in this case pink) blush by the acumen and experience generated hands of Romain Ott (formerly of Domaine Ott), fourth generation winemaker. Serious while simultaneously ethereal and in rosé terms, full of fun caught within the parameters of great profundity.
David Lawrason  – Here’s a classic, pale, firm Provencal rosé, with subtlety and finesse sewn into every seam. It is light to medium bodied, firm and compact – so well balanced – with excellent focus and length.
John Szabo – Delicate, subtle but complex aromatics on offer here from Léoube, an organic rosé specialist producer spitting distance from the sea in the La Londe sub-appellation of the Côtes de Provence AOC, always a classy wine. The 2019 is particularly ripe, peach and apricot-scented, with silky-smooth texture and excellent length. Fine stuff.

Mallory & Benjamin Talmard 2018 Macon Uchizy, Burgundy, France
$18.95, Glencairn Wines
David Lawrason – This fine little Macon has become a staple in Ontario, but this vintage has leapt ahead in quality, elevating into a seriously good, complex, rich yet refined chardonnay with good acidity and excellent length.
Sara d’Amato – An exceptional vintage of this chardonnay from the small southern “Bourgone Plus” appellation of Mâcon Uchizy. One of the top bargains in this summer release, this toasty, ample yet nervy white, offers an impressive degree of complexity for the price.

Skouras Moschofilero 2019, PGI Peloponnese, Greece
$17.95, Kolonaki Group Inc.
Michael Godel If a sense of place in a white wine is what you seek then look no further afield then the Peloponnese by Skouras in moschofilero. Expressive, entertaining and enervating, of an acidity so specific and a linger that waits until the sun sets over the Gulf of Corinth. Delicious stuff.
John Szabo – A very bold and intensely fruity-floral vintage for the Skouras Moschofilero, especially ripe and intense (though at just 12% alcohol), with high flavour concentration. Consider this a midway point between, say, pinot grigio and viognier, perfect for the patio.

Thierry Delaunay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 Touraine, Loire Valley, France
$16.95, MCO Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason – Touraine sauvignons are normally zesty if simple expressions, but this vintage from an excellent producer goes beyond, packing in some complexity and richness. It remains fresh and lively, yet broadens on the palate as well.

Quinta Da Calçada Terroir Alvarinho 2018, Doc Vinho Verde, Portugal
$17.95 Brand New Day Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – An impressive alvarinho from the from the marginally warmer, interior sub-region of Amarante in the Vinho Verde appellation of northern Portugal, from a company in business since 1917, more reminiscent of the premium examples from the celebrated Monçao-Melgaço sub-region. Ripe but fresh orchard fruit – peach and apricot – flavours lead, while the palate remains firm and taut, lingering nicely, though with more body than the mean, as well as alcohol (13% declared).

Famille Perrin Réserve Rosé 2019, AC Côtes Du Rhône, Rhône Valley, France
$15.95, Charton Hobbs
John Szabo – Arch-classic southern French rosé, fragrant, floral, fully dry, sapid and succulent, with beautifully balanced acids and alcohol. Terrific detail on offer in this value-priced wine. Impeccable.

Nivarius Special Edition Blanco 2016, Doca Rioja, Spain
$20.95, Hanna Neal Wine Merchants Inc.
Michael Godel – Flintiness and smoulder in a Bordeaux blanc way. Turns rich and mineral at the same time, from viura, malvasía and maturana blanca. A highly distinct and thoroughly interesting wine that deserves a good amount of attention.
Sara d’Amato – This flinty, lightly reductive viura-based blend is undeniably stylish. Old bush vines contribute to this large barrel, lightly oak aged white that is gently toasty due to lees stirring during maturation. Above all, this is an absolute delight to drink with a memorable finish of trailing floral notes.

Buyers’ Guide August 8th: Smart Buys Red

Pesquie Edition 1912 2018 Ventoux, Rhone Valley, France
$18.95, The Vine Agency
David Lawrason – Pesquie is a modern, small winery not far from the Vacqueyras appellation, and I get that same broadness, softness and richness in this wine. It is surprisingly plush, warm and complex for under $20.

Lavau Chateaunneuf du Pape 2016, Rhone Valley, France
$44.95, Connexion Oenophilia
David Lawrason – Châteaunneuf-du-Pape has power of course, but there is finesse within the best examples that the neighbouring appellations rarely achieve. This captures the concept beautifully, and the length is excellent to outstanding.
John Szabo – Lavau’s ’16 Châteauneuf is a really lovely wine. The palate is dense and sappy, dripping with fruit extract and classic wild herbal character, while tannins are also richly abundant and could use another 2-3 years to soften out. Length and depth are excellent; a genuine mouthful.

Palacios Remondo La Vendimia 2018, Doca Rioja, Spain
$18.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel Delicious, juicy, forthright and modern, the latter being a catch-all thing to call this beauty but apropos of how it presents and feels. A drink now, drink often, do what you feel and like vintage if there ever was one.

Viticcio Morellino di Scansano 2016, Tuscany, Italy ($19.95)
$19.95, Southern Glazers Wines & Spirits
Sara d’Amato – A slightly riper version of sangiovese, fleshy, juicy and influenced by coastal breezes. Crunchy, salty and lightly floral yet with a satisfyingly substantial palate. Pure with little adulteration and very good length.


Château De Chantegrive 2016, AC Graves, Bordeaux, France
($37.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)
Michael Godel Top vintage, great bones, soothingly aromatic and impressively structured Graves is an essential thing, whether you know it or not. This is a wine of feeling, like music that gets you, into you, you into it. Deeply resonant and layered, firm yet elastic, demanding and still generous. 

Tessellae Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2017, Igp Cotes Catalanes, Roussillon, France
$18.95 Glencairn Wine Merchants
John Szabo – Another fine vintage for this old vine carignan, with terrific complexity and high satisfaction in the price category. 14.5% alcohol is comfortably carried on a richly extracted, full-bodied frame, with impressive length. Show carignan some deserved love.

Sartori 120th Anniversary Valpolicella Superiore 2016, Doc, Veneto, Italy
$24.95 Family Wine Merchants
John Szabo – A classy and sophisticated wine, like the gentleman of Verona himself, maturing nicely now. It even smells like an authentic, traditional Valpolicella cellar and the old vats in which so many wines from the region are aged, like an old furniture factory, or an old-school apothecary, complete with dried medicinal herbs, licorice, old coffee grounds and more. The palate is silky-smooth, polished by time yet still properly firm and lively, while acids have comfortably mellowed, but are still in charge. Fully ready to enjoy.

Château Laulerie Juste Terre 2016, Bergerac, Southwest, France
$22.95, Appellation Wines
Sara d’Amato – In the shadow of Bordeaux, Bergerac produces a very similar style of wine to those of right-bank Bordeaux. Juste Terre showcases cabernet franc in all its aromatic beauty with notes of violets, dried mint, licorice and graphite. Appropriately evolved for immediate drinking.

That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

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

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


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