Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES October 3rd, 2020

Thanksgiving Blues Yet Some Good News
by David Lawrason with recommendations from John, Sara and Michael

On the eve of Thanksgiving 2020 in Ontario, with COVID on the loose and calls to limit indoor celebrations to those in your bubble, there seems not much to give thanks about. But then there is always wine.

There is a T-Shirt doing the rounds that reads “Wine. The only thing getting us through the 2020 shit show”, or words to that effect.  I have no doubt that thousands of WineAlign readers heartily agree.  I have loved and consumed wine daily all my adult life, but this year it is bringing even more joy and solace.  Come six o’clock the opening of a bottle of wine, turning off the news, turning on the music and making dinner has become the highlight of my day.

These days we really do need these doses of well being, and not just the alcohol effect. More importantly it is the physical and psychological connection to pleasure, comfort, familiarity and companionship, even if the head count around the Thanksgiving table may be reduced.

Our job at WineAlign is to find you good news and good value wine, and now it is more important than ever.


The good news that broke this week is that Ontario is going to permanently allow licensed establishments to sell wine and liquor with take-out and delivery meals.  This will be so very welcomed by restaurants but is even better news for Ontario consumers.  It is the back door to privatization, the breaking of the monopoly on selection that no one saw coming seven months ago. We are discussing how best to manage and report on this very important new development, and we encourage you to support your local establishments in this regard.

Meanwhile, VINTAGES October 3 release has many worthwhile options. We have reviews on a COVID record 75 wines, a significantly higher number than the LCBO allowed us to taste when they invited us to the tasting lab at HQ. The majority of Ontario’s import agencies are on board with sending us samples, or agreeing to reimburse WineAlign for the purchase of selected samples when they hit the shelves.  (If there are agencies or wineries out there who want to know why we are not reviewing their wines, please email me at [email protected]).

Before getting to our picks at large, I have asked each critic to pick wines they would match with a Thanksgiving turkey dinner. It is a time-honoured tradition of wine writing in Ontario to recommend turkey wines, and as new wine lovers join the fold cooking their first turkey this weekend, there is no reason to abandon the ritual.

The Thanksgiving Turkey Wines

Mathilde Chapoutier 2017 Sélection AP Languedoc, France
$14.95, Terroir Wine Imports
John Szabo – For the Thanksgiving table, there’s nothing more versatile than a supple Mediterranean red blend (grenache-syrah) that satisfies both in terms of flavour – savoury and fruity in this case – and price, so it can be served generously throughout the meal without pomp or circumstance. This is a cracking value.
David Lawrason – Here’s a great $15 buy in an authentic southern France wine from the new selection by Mathilde Chapoutier.  It is deeply coloured, with a ripe nose of prune, licorice and pepper. Sturdy and dense with some tannic grit. The length is very good and on stride for $15.
Michael Godel – Straight to market syrah and grenache, simply divided fruit, part fleshy and part grippy but added together they spell success. Can’t go wrong for $15. A no-brainer no matter how you spill it or split it up

Vignamaggio Gherardino 2015 Riserva Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy
$30.95, H.H.D. Imports
David Lawrason – This may be the first Chianti Classico ever recommended for an Ontario Thanksgiving turkey dinner. But such is the versality of Chianti Classico with its medium body, tension and red fruits that remind so much of cranberry. It will handily deal with the proteins, gravies and various greens and root veggies as well. It is a fine example from an excellent vintage that is performing at the top of its game.

Godelia Mencía 2015 Red, Bierzo, Spain
$24.95, John Hanna & Sons
Michael Godel – The idea is very simple. Turkey wine needs to work for white and dark meat with equal measure. Takes a wine unchained to make that happen. Gotta be some gnarly old vines in this lively, swarthy and oh so natural red from Bierzo. Think unadulterated and if it may seem unhinged and possibly “under” sulphured, well just take it easy and manage your mencía expectations. Beneath the raw exterior is a beautiful Spanish red wine.

L’ecole No. 41 2017 Semillon Columbia Valley, Washington, USA
$29.95, Trialto Wine Group Ltd.
John Szabo – Admittedly I’m a huge fan of semillon, but this is a superb wine from L’Ecole in Walla Walla, with enough flavour concentration to take on the bounty of the harvest table. It’s made in the rich, full, more Bordeaux-esque style (with 15% sauvignon blanc), complete with gentle oak influence and creamy, texture. At this price, it’s a steal for fans of the genre, and makes a compelling alternative for chardonnay drinkers, too.
Sara d’Amato – A wonderfully versatile wine for anything that makes an appearance on your Thanksgiving Day table. Widely appealing with a rich layer of fruit, brightened by citrus and grounded by beeswax and lightly toasty wood. Almost Bordelaise in style. Ready to drink but will improve with a short decant.

Loveblock 2019 Orange Sauvignon Blanc, Vegan, Sustainable, Marlborough, New Zealand
$27.95, The Vine Agency
Sara d’Amato – An orange wine made from sauvignon blanc is a sure-fire way to add some flair to any Thanksgiving Day meal – plus it is vegan friendly for all those who will be avoiding turkey as a main course (although works perfectly well with turkey too!) A high-quality find, cleanly and keenly made with seductive aromatics.

More Whites from this Release

Radford Dale 2018 Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, South Africa
$31.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc
David Lawrason – Yet another stellar value from South Africa, even at $30. It hits with a fairly intense, reductive nose of sulphur/onion but loads of toast, spice and fruit as well. Expect lemon, pineapple and subtle wood vanillin. It is mid-weight, firm, crunchy and very well balanced.
Michael Godel –  Never ever underestimate wines made from fruit grown anywhere in the vicinity of the Helderberg Mountain in Stellenbosch. Radford Dale is a custodian of such land. Chenin Blanc? Well yes, but chardonnay.
John Szabo – An edgy, clearly concentrated and ambitious, low-yielding chardonnay from Radford Dale, by now well known for their minimalistic approach to wine making, including low/no sulfur additions. All in all, this is an excellent example of the most made, un-made style of wine, with clever and competent hands behind it. I like the way it’s drinking now, but I wouldn’t fear another 2-3 years in bottle either.
Sara d’Amato – High quality fruit comes wrapped in an elegant wrapping of oak offering notes of macadamia, butter, and white flower. This is one charming chardonnay that seemingly lasts for eons on the palate.

Cloudy Bay 2016 Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand
$39.95, Charton Hobbs Inc
John Szabo – Though famous for sauvignon blanc, this is one of the best chardonnays from Cloudy Bay so far. It’s thoroughly enjoyable, complex, evolving really nicely, while the palate is fullish and round, chiseled on the edges to keep lines sharp, but billowing with orchard fruit and exotics. The finish on fresh
mountain spring water and all of its stoniness is particularly engaging. Drink or hold this mid-term.
Sara d’Amato – Fresh, reductive, flinty, bright and charming. A stellar example of high-quality, new world chardonnay that is considerately produced and elegantly finished. Cool climate is apparent in the ethereal texture on the palate. Decant or give it a big shake.

Kahurangi Estate 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, Nelson, New Zealand
$19.95, Rare Earth Wines
David Lawrason – This is a clean, bright and narrow-beamed sauvignon with precise flavours and balance. It is an organic effort from the cool Nelson region on northwest corner of the South Island. I really like the classic green apple, lime, chestnut and flint. It is light to mid-weight, bracing and fresh.

Langmeil Three Gardens 2018 Viognier/Marsanne/Roussanne, Barossa, South Australia
$19.95, Breakthru Beverage Canada Inc.
David Lawrason – This has a brilliant, lifted and complex nose of tangerine/lemon citrus, spearmint, wasabi, anise and white pepper – a fruit cocktail of impressive intensity and veracity. It is medium-full bodied, very fresh, pithy and slightly bitter but in a good way.

Best’s Great Western 2019 Riesling, Great Western, Victoria, Australia
$19.95, Family Wine Merchants
John Szabo – Crunchy, lively, green and fresh riesling here, bursting with lime and lemon flavours in a classically dry style, reminiscent of Eden Valley riesling. Drink or hold a decade, though I find it delicious now.
Michael Godel – Great Western is part of Central Victoria’s Grampians wine region, 200+ km west of Melbourne. It holds one of the world’s great riesling secrets. A necessary try, one to have now and with extra bottles, to cellar.

More Reds from this Release

Hedges Family Estate 2016 Red Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington
$42.95, Noble Estates
David Lawrason – From a classic, pioneering estate vineyard on Red Mountain, a singular hill at the mouth of the Yakima Valley, this one of the great reds of Washington, and collectors should jump on it. Bordeaux varieties dominate with five, but three Portuguese varieties are also included. It is a hefty, yet poised and complex –  an excellent bottle and very cellar worthy.
John Szabo – This is where old world meets new world in compelling fashion, and beautiful balance, complex and genuinely concentrated without heaviness. Evolving at this stage, Hedges Estate merlot cabernet-syrah-led blend, with other exotic bits and pieces like touriga nacional and souzao, shows a Rioja-like profile with notable sandalwood-cinnamon-American oak influence (2/3rds aged in American oak), also with juicy, balanced acids, fine-grained tannins and long succulent finish.

Patrick Galant 2017 Cairanne, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, France
$16.95, Vinoluna Wines
David Lawrason – Hoping there is no pricing miscue here, because at $17 this represents a great buy in soft, ripe, supple and quite concentrated southern Rhone. The nose shows dried fig, olive, pepper, licorice and pepper. It is full bodied, warm, fairly rich and showing excellent length.

Condeminal Poncho Pampa 2018 Pinot Noir, Tupungato, Argentina
$18.95, M.C.O. Wines
David Lawrason – An amenable and unexpected pinot from a single vineyard high in the Tupungato, from a family with roots in the Beaujolais region of France. It has a pretty, soft nose of strawberry/cherry jam with generous herbs and spices and red rose. Light to mid-weight, fairly rounded and soft with feathered tannin.

Ferraton Père & Fils 2017 Le Parvis Châteauneuf-Du-Pape AC, Rhône, France
$56.95, FWM CANADA
John Szabo – Very pretty, ripe and evolving, grenache-dominant Châteauneuf from the northern Rhône house of Ferraton Père & Fils, classically styled and elegant, albeit very ripe and opulent at 15.5% alcohol declared. Textbook baked strawberry and raspberry flavours linger alongside black pepper and licorice, wild resinous herbs and more in a complex expression. Excellent length. Fine wine.

Lornano 2015 Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy
$18.95, Frontier Wine Merchant
Michael Godel – Now here is a prime example that you wait for in sangiovese, Chianti Classico and in this special case, Lornano. Annata at five years of age makes the world go ‘round. It opens up opportunity, realizes expectation and delivers pleasure.

Jim Barry Cover Drive 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia
$19.95, Family Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – This 2017 stands along with Barry’s best, an acid-driven year with expertly judged sour edging to get with fruit energy from Coonawarra’s terra rossa soil.

Plantagenet 2013 Shiraz Great Southern, Western Australia
$39.95, Airen Imports
John Szabo – Dense and concentrated, this is evidently serious wine off the top, maturing slowly, with billowing black fruit, in an engaging and satisfying ensemble, highlighting the coolish climate in the oceaninfluenced region of Great Southern in Western Australia. Bold and satisfying, complex and drinking well now, though no rush either.

Survivor 2018 Pinotage, Swartland, South Africa
$19.95, Trajectory Beverage Partners
Sara d’Amato – Juicy, delicious and dangerously drinkable at 14.5% which is worth mentioning because the heat is so well integrated that it is not apparent. Balanced, pure and perky with a full-bodied, mouth-filling character that is cut with freshness. A steal at under $20

Daou 2017 Pessimist, Paso Robles, California, USA
$27.95, Glazer’s Canada
Sara d’Amato – This full-bodied Paso is an unusual blend of petite sirah (64%), syrah (23%), zinfandel (10%), lagrein 2% and tannat (1%) delivering a smooth and satisfying profile. Elegant in structure, not pandering, with oak that is fully sunk into the palate, inseperable from the whole. Gentle notes of coffee and clove enhance the generous, voluptuous fruit on the palate. Drinking happily now.


And that is a wrap for this time. Please note that VINTAGES has cancelled its October 17 release, saying that all the wines scheduled will still be meted into the system at some point this fall. This has never happened before. Hmmm.

David Lawrason

VP of Wine

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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