Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES October 31st, 2020

John Szabo’s Vintage’s Preview October 31st: Chianti Classico 2018 & 2017, Brunello 2015, & Values from around the world

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

As citizens around the world sit on the edge of their seats watching the chaos unfolding down south, we’ll take a lighter tack, with nothing but positive news. This week’s report features the finest values from the Vintages October 31st, in both the “everyday” and premium price categories – value can be found at (almost!) all price points. And there are plenty of wines – 20 recommendations – from the WineAlign crü from $16 to $80, out of the 80-odd wines that we managed to get a hold of from the release. Despite the LCBO shut-down of press tastings, we’re tasting more wines than ever, and finding you the best.

Tuscan Previews

And as the first snowflakes fly and tables fill with the earthy, savoury flavours of autumn, and inclinations turn from crisp whites to more substantial reds, Michael has penned a lengthy and detailed article and buyer’s guide to 2018 Rosso DOC and 2015 Brunello DOCG, which, he says, “raised the bar for Montalcino’s venerable sangiovese”. Reviews of 150 samples of sangiovese tasted at the annual Benvenuto Brunello event in February, along with six questions asked to ten Montalcino producers are in his report.

For my part, I too have reports from Tuscany. This past February also saw the annual Chianti Classico Collection tastings unfold as usual at the train-station-turned-event-space Stazione Leopolda in Florence – little did I know it would be the last tasting of its kind I would attend for, well, who knows how long, and the last time I would be outside of Canada in 2020. But it was a suitably grand farewell event, as always attracting some 200 producers, and this year 740 wines in the three “tipologies” of Chianti Classico: annata, riserva and gran selezione. I offer some thoughts on the 2019, 2018 and 2017 vintages, plus a Buyer’s Guide of the best in each category, all 90+.


Online Charity Auctions

And lastly, in other positive news for Canadian wine lovers, the pandemic has been a catalyst for permanent changes to liquor auctions that will make buying wine that much easier. Aside from the brilliant move to make take-out wine from restaurants a permanent option, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has also announced that virtual charity wine auctions are now legal.

The previous restriction to live, in-person auctions only was certainly a hinderance for a charity’s fundraising potential, limiting buyer demand and raising costs. “I’ve always believed that a virtual auction can substantially increase the amount of revenue that a wine auction can generate for charity and we’re thrilled that the AGCO is finally on board,” says Warren Porter, President, Iron Gate Wine and founder of, who has been lobbying for this change for a decade. “Virtual auctions cost less to execute, provide access to a larger buyer base and offer more bidding flexibility, so we can create more demand compared to traditional events. In short, it’s a game-changer for charity wine auctions.” And for wine lovers looking for fine and rare wines, you can now buy from the comfort of your home, without a paddle in hand.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s (TSO) 30th Annual Fine Wine Auction will be the first to run on Iron Gate’s virtual auction platform. The week-long online event begins on Nov. 17 and will feature 500 wine lots valued at almost $1 million CAD with all proceeds benefitting TSO’s vital music and educational activities in the community. Details on

Vintage’s Buyer’s Guide October 31st: The White Values

Château De Fesles 2017 La Chapelle Vieilles Vignes Chenin Sec AC Anjou, Loire, France
$21.95, Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits
John Szabo – A compelling, complex wine for the money, this is bone dry Anjou Blanc aged a year in old cask, with plenty of savoury, apple and pear fruit, both fresh and bruised. I like the sharp, unyielding acids that tighten up an otherwise loose flavour frame, drawing out the finish and leaving a saline-mineral lime-acid wash to linger impressively. A real find for fans of distinctive, original wines from a time and place. Drink or hold a half dozen years or more – this will move slowly.

Velenosi 2019 Querciantica Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Doc, Marche, Italy
$16.95, Vin Vino Wine Merchants Inc.
John Szabo – Lovely, crunchy-fresh, green apple and lemon blossom-scented verdicchio here from Velenosi, succulent, juicy, fresh, also friendly, with very good length in the category. A great by-the-glass pour, at home or at the restaurant.

Bersano 2019 Gavi di Gavi, Piedmont, Italy
$18.95, Profile Wine Group (Barrique)
Sara d’Amato – A vivacious, expressive and punchy Gavi with a slightly riper character than the norm. Notes of blossom, rose, passion fruit, melon, lime and green apple. Mineral and a hint of saline add dimension to the palate.

Cape Of Good Hope Altima 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa
$19.95, Vinexx
David Lawrason – This bracing sauvignon hails from a high-altitude shale-soiled site in the interior Overberg region. With intriguing dill, salty minerality, cilantro and cucumber on the nose, it is slender, firm and mineral. Great character.

Greywacke 2018 Riesling, Marlborough, New Zealand
$29.95, Connexion Oenophila
David Lawrason – Not a bargain price, but awesome quality and value. A pitch perfect, just off dry riesling with detailed pineapple/guava fruit, petrol, linden flower, herbs and citrus. Lively, fresh yet incisively serious. A beauty!
Michael Godel – This from Kevin Judd is riesling grown in one (Fairhall) vineyard and what’s so bloody perfect is the lack of distraction. When you taste this wine you concentrate on sweetness versus acidity, how they interact, socialize and develop their sense of community. Benchmark for Marlborough.

Main Divide 2016 Pinot Gris, Sustainable, North Canterbury, New Zealand
$26.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits
Sara d’Amato – North Canterbury is known for dry rieslings but also some intriguing pinot gris and this dynamic find is worth every penny. Rich and textured, just off dry with an appealing viscosity and oiliness. Notes of lemon curd, petrol, lemon oil, beeswax, honey and mineral linger on the finish of significant length.

Foris 2018 Pinot Gris, Southern Oregon, Oregon, USA
$19.95, DB Wine & Spirits
Sara d’Amato – A very appealing, leesy style from one of Oregon’s leading pinot gris’ producers. Quite complex and sophisticated, with notable toasty notes and a lightly flinty character.


Vintage’s Buyer’s Guide October 31st: The Red Values

Paul Mas Single Vineyard Collection 2018 Réserve Grenache/Syrah/Carignan
$16.95, Authentic Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason – An unexpected delight from a large southern France negociant. Very pretty, fragrant, smooth and balanced grenache-based red with generous strawberry/plum jam, lilac florality, pepper and oak spice. Easy and pleasing.

Potente 2018, Montsant, Spain
$18.95, HHD Imports
David Lawrason – Huge value in a delicious, rich garnacha-based red from a region that rings more famous Priorat in Catalonia. Expect lovely scented brambleberry, with fresh and dried herbs, licorice and subtle spice. Medium bodied, soft and rounded with alcohol warmth and excellent length.

Reyneke 2017 Syrah, Stellenbosch, South Africa
$29.95, Univins Canada
David Lawrason – From an esteemed organic producer comes a beguiling coolish climate syrah with lifted cranberry/pomegranate fruit, pepper in spades, a certain briny minerality and herbs. It is full bodied, smooth yet energetic with real poise.
John Szabo – A syrah of huge, strong personality here from Johann Reyneke, certified organic and presumably from estate vineyards in Stellenbosch, though the label does not specify this. Partial stem inclusion (c. 30%) amplifies the variety’s typical cold smoke and cracked black pepper character alongside black fruit and wet ash/earth – varietal character is extreme. It will likely polarize more than unite, but those who love it will love it a lot. Best after 2022, or hold late into the decade.

Rustenberg 2016 John X Merriman WO Stellenbosch South Africa
$24.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – A supremely good value in the mature cabernet blend category here from Rustenberg,  dripping with ripe and dried red and black fruit flavours, roasted herbs and leather, dark chocolate and faded flowers, a complex amalgam to be sure. I love the seamless texture, the silky-smooth tannins, balanced acids and voluptuous mouthfeel. Ready to enjoy or continue holding another half dozens years or more.

Bodega Garzon 2018 Reserva Tannat, Maldonado, Uruguay
$21.95, Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits
John Szabo – Another fine wine, and fine value from Bodegas Garzón, a tannat full of dark fruit and polished texture. They’ve managed to round and soften the grape’s notorious tannins, while maintaining freshness and balance. Drink or hold 2-4 years.

Maturana 2019 Natural Negra San Francisco Loncomilla, Maule Valley, Chile
$24.95, Wine Lovers Agency Inc.
John Szabo – And now for something completely different…San Francisco was one of the original grapes brought to Chile by Spanish missionaries in the 16th century, alongside the more widely planted país. It was prized for its utility as both a table grape and wine grape, and there are many scattered old vines, often interplanted with other varieties in Maule and further south, generally dry farmed. It’s a wine that fits the modern zeitgeist of lighter, fresher, livelier reds, to chill lightly and enjoy while young.

Vintage’s Buyer’s Guide October 31st: The Premium White Values

Robert Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard Reserve 2015 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley, California
$79.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.
John Szabo – A really exceptional vintage for Mondavi’s unique Fumé Blanc from the To Kalon vineyard, this edition includes a splash of semillon, and fruit from both the T block (oldest vines from 1960), and the even older, historic I block, planted in 1945 and very likely the oldest sauvignon vines in North America. Considering that this is five years old and evolving very slowly, with little signs of advancement, I’d be comfortable cellaring this late into the decade without concern. But it will be hard to resist now. It deserves a roast chicken or grilled pork chop, or scallops or lobster would do nicely as well. Spaghetti carbonara would be an interesting match as well.

Vasse Felix 2017 Chardonnay, Western Australia
$39.95, Breakthru Beverages
David Lawrason – One of the most elegant chardonnays of Australia with classic sweet pineapple/banana fruit, vanillin, crème brulee, buttered toast and spice. It is creamy yet tensile with great acidity and excellent length.
Michael Godel –  This is the middle tier Vasse Felix chardonnay, in truth closer to Filius than it is to the one of a kind and singularly focused Heytesbury. But only in price. Just one sip and you’re lost in a chardonnay dream.

Vintage’s Buyer’s Guide October 31st: The Premium Red Values

López De Heredia 2008 Viña Tondonia Reserva Doca Rioja, Spain
$61.95, John Hanna & Sons Limited
John Szabo – Fans of ultra-classic Rioja won’t want to miss this latest release from Lopez de Heredia. It’s a honest, pure, uncompromising wine, not widely appealing in a commercial sense, but a wine of massive appeal for seasoned drinkers seeking originality and purity. I’d cellar for another 3-5 years, or hold into the mid-’30s.
Sara d’Amato – Another fine aged Rioja example from Viña Tondonia. Showcasing notable tension and an impressive degree of complexity from fruit, oak ageing and bottle maturity. Offering notes of cherry, fig, leather, earth and licorice and rather silky tannins.

J. Lohr 2015 Cuvée Pau, Paso Robles, California
$78.95, Profile Wine Group
David Lawrason – Paso Robles vies with Napa for top drop cabernets and this classy blend that seeks to emulate Pauillac in Bordeaux turns in a powerful yet graceful performance. The best J.Lohr wine in memory.

McWilliam’s 1877 Hilltops 2018 Shiraz, New South Wales, Australia
$49.95, Authentic Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason – Here’s a terrific, structured New South Wales shiraz from a historic family and a high altitude site in the Great Dividing Range. Great aromatics of cran-cherry fruit, pepper, cordite and minerality. Outstanding length.
John Szabo – Fans of Hunter Valley shiraz, always on the peppery side the way we like them, will want to get to know the shiraz from the Hilltops region as well. On the slopes of the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales, this is cool-climate, high altitude viticulture. The McWilliam’s have been at it for 140 years and have things pretty well figured out.
Michael Godel – Massively fruity and undercut by something sharp, stony, mineral and cagy. Really peppery wine and there’s a flinty smoulder to it, something other for shiraz, a misty tobacco waft, a smoky feel. Will drift for a decade or more.

Stags’ Leap Winery 2017 Petite Sirah, Napa Valley, California
$59.95, Mark Anthony Group
David Lawrason – An opaque, deep red from old estate vines in the Stags Leap area.  Lovely sense of wild red and black fruit red with subtle violet, juniper and iron. Full bodied to the nth, yet very well balanced with excellent length. Great winter red.

Clos Pegase 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
$74.95, Azureau Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel – At half the price of the Clos Pegase signature red “Hommage” in the estate cabernet sauvignon you get significantly more than a mere 50 per cent unctuousness, deliciously lush and luxe cabernet sauvignon qualities. These days $75 in Napa Valley won’t buy you a song, let alone a wine like this.

Mastrojanni 2015 Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy
$83.00, Majestic Wine Cellars
Michael Godel – Mastrojanni is an aromatic wild one in 2015, florals and full citrus scrape. There’s no letdown anywhere on this sangiovese, fruit having come to fruition and everything pulled from it’s phenolic capabilities. It’s über ripe and conversely tannic, crunchy, chewy, earthy, floral, all of the above again and more. So much length and more to come. Drink 2023-2032. Tasted February 2020.

Groth 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa Valley, California
$121.95, The Vine Agency
Michael Godel – Actually quite lithe for varietal Napa Valley and surely owing to Groth’s Oakville that gifts ripe fruit without being overblown or overdone. The structural basis is sound, architecturally symphonic and styled out of interpretive design.

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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