Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES December 12th, 2020

Cheer is Why Wine Was Invented
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo MS, Michael Godel, and Sara d’Amato

The cover of Vintages December 12 Release catalogue proclaims “It’s Time for Cheer”.  Well, no kidding eh.

As we hunker down to spend this Holiday Season more apart than together, we need to dig deeper to find cheer and pass it on.  And cheer is, of course, why wine was invented. And why there is almost no better gift to give this year.  Below, the WineAlign “cru” bring you their highlights from the December 12 release to consider as more expensive special gifts, and less expensive stocking stuffers.

Even after ‘working’ with wine for over 35 years, wine still cheers me in so many ways, every day.

I am cheered by tasting great wine, and the process that begins with beguiling aromatics that heighten anticipation of how it will play out on the palate. Then finding the textural elegance that great balance brings, and finally the finish that extends the pleasure like a long chord at the end of a great piece of music. In this regard, I was most impressed by the Château Prieuré-Lichine 2016, Margaux, Bordeaux at $113.95.

I am cheered by finding great value, and that almost giddy feeling of knowing I could buy several bottles and repeat the experience of an excellent wine again and again. Two such wines appear this month from the same South African producer: Ken Forrester 2019 Old Vines Reserve Chenin Blanc at $17.95, which was also released earlier this year, and Ken Forrester Petit Pinotage 2019 at $13.95, the latter maybe not such great quality but certainly interesting, engaging, authentic and bound to be controversial.


I am cheered by how people bond when they converse about wine.  COVID severely restricted my teaching with this year, but Sara, Jen Heuther MS and I are scheduled full-on in 2021. I really missed the camaraderie of the classroom. Up to 20 strangers coming together to taste, talk and learn, with many making friends by lunchtime, and sometimes vowing to get together and form tasting groups by the end of the day. The best conversation piece wine on this release may be the Tedeschi Ansari 2016 Amarone that weighs in at well masked 17% alcohol.

I am cheered by how opening a bottle of wine can instantly change the mood and timbre of a gathering – the pop of the cork, or snap of screwcap signalling that it is time to relax, be ourselves and be friends. This magic may not be felt among larger groups this year, but it works just as well with two people as ten. The wine on this release I would pour into that mood, without demanding attention onto itself, would be the 16198 Ruris Amor Les Burnins Montagny 1er Cru 2016, a white Burgundy at $29.95

I am cheered by learning from every bottle, whether building on something I already knew, or questioning what I thought I knew. And sometimes learning something completely new – a grape variety or region – which still happens regularly, especially in wines from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. While tasting a handful of wines from Georgia in this release, with their foreign and difficult names, I quickly found myself lost virtually touring the Kaheti Valley and its sub-regions via Google maps. The surprising number of wines in this release from Eastern Europe and the Middle East are very much worth exploring – Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Greece, Lebanon and Georgia itself, with four. You could assemble them all fairly cheaply and plan a virtual Very Old World vinous tour on an otherwise empty day over the Holidays.

And lastly, we are cheered by the glow that wine in particular kindles. We are drinking wine because in the end it feels good. It has been thus for over 6,000 years of human history. We are not unique. The media is alive with stories and warnings that with COVID we are drinking more. Not saying it’s not true but that is such a Canadian reaction. I think the way we drink wine, more slowly, with food and with appreciation tends to help manage our intake.  But that is up to each individual to know thyself and manage accordingly.

So, manage well, be cheered, share as you can, and enjoy being with those who are closest. We will see you on the other side in 2021 – still at the COVID summit perhaps, but looking downhill.

Gifting Wines

Olivier Tricon Montmains 2017 Chablis 1er Cru, Burgundy, France
$41.95, DB Wine & Spirits
David Lawrason – Here’s a 1er Cru that shows classic Chablis linearity. Not highly aromatic but catches complex, classic apple, lemon and flinty minerality. Very cohesive with impressive flavour intensity and excellent length. If oysters are in your Holiday plans.
Michael Godel – Definitely classic Premier Cru Montmains with richness and Kimmeridgian mineral seamlessly woven and intertwined. I could drink this for days.
Sara d’Amato – A classic! This 1er Cru Chablis has developed a pleasant oily texture and offers up notes of lemon, mineral and brine. Brimming with tension and intrigue, here is one your recipient won’t be able to wait to open.

Ruris Amor Montagny 2016 Premier Cru Les Burnins, AOC Bourgogne, France
$29.95, Vinexx
Michael Godel – Les Burnins near the village of Montagny-Les-Buxy is an understated, taut, linear and restrained chardonnay to be sure, more mineral than fruity but certainly notable for its serious and accomplished character.

Château Haut-Bergeron 2016 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
$29.95, MCO Wines
David Lawrason – This maturing, golden Sauternes is very opulent and full bodied with ripe peach, candied orange, spice and dried apricot. Very sweet and rich. Chill well. This half bottle is an ideal for a late night tete a tete with mild sweets and ripe cheese.

Château Prieuré Lichine 2016, 4e Cru Classé, Ac Margaux, Bordeaux, France
$113.95, Connexion Oenophilia
Michael Godel – The price may not reflect a mere mortal’s budgetary parameters but if one were to spend $114 on a classified growth Bordeaux that’s just perfectly constructed than this Margaux should surely be at the top of the wish list. Silk-threaded and seamless. Not to mention a vintage of structure, grace and class. What a gift this would make to someone who deserves some Bordeaux love.
Sara d’Amato –  For the more serious collector on your list, here is finely matured Margaux from an excellent vintage that is accessible now in part due to its substantial merlot content. Broad-shouldered but also elegant, this complex Cru Classé is an undeniable head-turner.

Le Serre Nuove 2018 Dell’ornellaia, Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy
$74.95, Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits
David Lawrason – This is second label of Ornellaia, an iconic estate in the coastal Tuscan region of Bolgheri. Although not ready for prime time it is a very elegant, refined merlot. Very much in a modern, international style yet with a certain Tuscan sense of structure. A cellar gift.
Sara d’Amato –  For someone you’ll want to impress, Ornellaia’s second label is a great option and what is inside the bottle is equally impressive. Firm, balanced and texturally compelling, this refined Tuscan blend is youthful and full of potential.

Château De Montfaucon 2016 Lirac, Rhone Valley, France
$25.95, Nicolas Pearce Wines
David Lawrason – There is a fine cohesion and generosity to this wine that age has embellished. Nicely complex and well layered red plum, pepper, gentle sage/bay leaf and fine oak. It is medium weight, fresh yet elegant. The length is excellent. Great value.
John Szabo – A seriously gravelly essence of the southern Rhône here at a terrific price, uncompromising, firm, dry. It’s aged in concrete, explaining the edgy tannins to a degree, and could use another year or two to settle out in bottle. I love the honesty and purity on offer, the pure black fruit, licorice, garrigue and more from the textbook.
Sara d’Amato –  Pushing the limits of a stocking stuffer, this southern Rhône Cru is an absolute delight and is my top pick for value in this release. Just as aromatic and complex as Gigondas, the elegant style of Château de Montfaucon is embodied exemplary vintage.

Gabriel Meffre Saint-Théodoric 2016 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, AP France
$53.95, Trajectory Beverage Partners
John Szabo – Dense, ripe, concentrated, fleshy and full-bodied Châteauneuf here, checking all of the boxes. Keep for a solid decade or more in the cellar if desired, though there’s already considerable pleasure on offer.

Tenuta Luce 2018 La Vite Lucente IGT Toscana Italy
$34.95, Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits
John Szabo – This is a fine vintage for Lucente, restrained, ripe but not exaggerated, displaying genuine Tuscan grip and savouriness It’s better balanced than the 2017, builds on the strengths of the 2016, and is leaps and bounds more interesting than the 2015. A genuine and solid mouthful, and well-priced as such in this sphere. Best 2023-2028.

Perrin & Fils 2018 La Gille Gigondas, Rhône, France
$29.95, Charton Hobbs
Sara d’Amato – The “La Gille” is sourced from grapes planted on a unique sandy parcel within the Gigondas appellation giving it a deceptively lighter profile with generous floral aromatics despite a warmer vintage. Silky with a whisper of oak, this sophisticated find will be a sure-fire hit with any wine lover on your gift list.


Lan 2011 Gran Reserva, Rioja
$34.95, Profile Wine Group
Sara d’Amato –  For the price, it’s hard to do better. Highly regarded but undervalued, Lan’s Gran Reserva is a traditional beauty. Drinking exceptionally well now so no need to wait.

La Chablisienne Le Finage 2018 Chablis, AC France
$22.95, Vinexx
John Szabo – Pure, clean, stony, like the scent and taste of a mountain water stream, this is as good as it gets, indeed it doesn’t get any more Chablis than this at $23 anymore. Fans of Chablis will rejoice at this, one of the last wines of this quality, at this price.

Stocking Stuffers

Avondale Jonty’s Ducks Pekin 2017 White, Western Cape, South Africa
$16.95, Rare Earth Wines
David Lawrason – This organically grown ducks-in-a-row blend of chenin blanc with viognier, roussanne and semillon was wild yeast fermented and aged in old barrels. So, a lot of effort has gone into a $17 wine. Very complex, exotic and a great winter white for a song.
Michael Godel –  Named for the ducks that safeguard and keep the biodynamic-farmed vines in tip top health on Johnathan Grieve’s Paarl farm. A multifarious white blend with chenin blanc at the fore and in 2017 as fleshy as it has ever been. Finishing spice, no oak to be found but maybe a percentage point of qveri. Perhaps.
John Szabo – Seriously? This is remarkably complex and creamy, rich, broad, dense and complete white wine for $17. Seems like a pricing error. Pure pleasure.

Budureasca 2019 Clasic Alb De Budureasca, Deula Mare, Romania
$13.95, Trialto Wine Group
David Lawrason – This is a lovely, almost pristine off-dry and aromatic white from a modern producer. The nose shows floral apple blossom, lemon/lime and pear notes. It is so tender and fresh, with lively ambiance. A delightful surprise.

Domaine Du Pre Baron 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
$18.95, The Case for Wine
Michael Godel – A ripe vintage to be sure and just a lovely and high-spirited Touraine with tell-tale herbal and tonic injections to otherwise juicy and forthright fruit. Top notch example at   a get what you pay for price, as in good value climbing up the rungs of quality

Domaine De La Tourmaline 2018 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine Sur Lie, Loire Valley, France
$16.95, Perignon Wines
David Lawrason – This is a very generous, riper style of muscadet from the hotter 2018 vintage with yellow pear, spice, waxiness and fresh herbs. Yet it remains fresh and lively with a hint of spritz.

Ken Forrester 2019 Petit Pinotage, Stellenbosch, South Africa
$13.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel – Another solid notch in the Forrester Petit range with pinotage at its lightest and brightest. No oak excessiveness, not in the least, more just fruit and pleasure. What pinotage can incite and commit to, if more producers would just let it be.

United Stars 2018 Kindzmarauli, Kaheti Valley, Georgia
$18.95, The Dochas Wine Company
David Lawrason This is a semi-sweet red made from the saperavi grape, the lead varietal in Georgia. Expect pretty, floral (violet) plummy/blackberry jam nose with hints of licorice and vanilla. Chill and enjoy late evening with cheese or chocolate, as you would port but with much less alcohol and sweetness. Chill a bit.

Invicta 2019 Xinomavro, Amyndaio, Macedonia, Greece
$17.95, Phillippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.
Sara d’Amato –  The northern Greek variety of xinomavro is often compared to nebbiolo and case in point in this wine that has a notably Barbaresco-like character (with a much lower price tag). A superb holiday sipper or gift for the more adventurous wine drinker.

Papale Linea 2016 Oro Primitivo di Manduria, Puglia, Italy
$23.95, Caliber Fine Wines & Spirits Inc.
Sara d’Amato –  This hearth-warming red is sure to sooth on blustery nights. Rich and distinctive, this enveloping primitive offers ripe tannins, a kiss of sweet oak and spice, along with notes of hibiscus and black cherry.

Château Ksara 2017 Réserve Du Couvent, Bekaa Valley Lebanon
$17.95, Tocade
John Szabo – A cabernet franc-sauvignon blend, this is compelling wine from Lebanon. For similar quality from a better-known region, you’d be paying far more, I have no doubt.

Zonte’s Footstep Hills Are Alive 2017 Shiraz, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
$23.95, Cru Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – Bright, tart and effusive, a blood orange meets pomegranate tang in shiraz as a hallmark of the Adelaide Hills. A crossing of style and effect, especially in the hands (and feet) of Zonte’s Footsteps. Crunchy and crisp with almost no oak intrusion but simply the sort of fun drinking that makes one feel alive.

Juan Gil 2018 Honoro Vera Monastrell DOP Jumilla, Spain
$13.95, Kylix Wines
John Szabo – Yet another sharp value from Juan Gil, always reliably over-delivering in the price category. A perfect winter ‘house’ wine.

And that’s it for this edition. Stay tuned for John’s annual Fizz Report, and watch for our next newsletter covering Vintages January 9 release, the same day that we return with the next edition of Think You Know Wine.  Wishing all our readers a safe and happy holiday. Be positive, test negative.

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

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