Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 23rd, 2021

Diverse Chilean Selection Breaks Up the January Blahs

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

As I posted my Vintages January 23 reviews to WineAlign this week I was struck by three things. There are few wines over $25 on this release, few 90-point scores, and few five-star values. So, I am calling this state of affairs the January blahs, and it happens at Vintages almost every year at this time. This is not saying the wines are all poor to average; there are lots of decent drinking, inexpensive three or four-star values. But our job in this newsletter is to find the great values and wines that excite us.

One brighter spot is the Chilean feature.  Again, there were only a couple of 90 pointers or better, but the selection is thoughtful and shows Chile’s growing range. It is anchored by cabernet sauvignon and carmenere, the original Bordeaux variety mainstays, of which more in a moment, but there are also two wines playing heavily on carignan, a ground breaking pinot noir, and an excellent Casablanca Valley sauvignon blanc.

The carignan grape is not new to Chile, but it is broadening its commercial base and there are good, inexpensive examples emerging like the Indomita on this release. It is a Mediterranean variety from the south of France and northern Spain that grows well in old vine sites in the granitic hills above the Maule Valley in Chile, original blended to bring structure to the grapy, sweet pais wines of yore. Carignan does not make pretty wines, in fact I describe the aromas of the Idominita as like walking a railway track with scents of iron, gravel and weathered ties.  But the wines do have a central energy, and carignan brings that game to an intriguing and impressive blend in this release called Travesy, by Odjfell, a Norwegian family that has been making organically farmed reds in the Maipo Valley since 1980s.


Another must try from Chile is the San Pedro Tayu Pinot Noir from the far southern, cooler Malleco Valley.  It is explained in detail in a separate article by John Szabo, and shows up in our picks below, so I won’t repeat. But anyone with even those most fleeting curiosity about pinot on a global basis must have a look. It is promising within a genre where Chile, in my mind, has struggled.

The one wine that completely and pleasantly surprised me was the Vina Casablanca Nimbus Sauvignon Blanc from the cool coastal valley of the same name.  Sauvignon has long emerged as the key white in coastal Chile, but we are so frequented by ‘value’ priced options at $15 that we lose sight of what can be achieved in a more ambitious, more expensive, attempts.

And finally, to the cabernets and carmeneres, the bread and butter reds of Chile.  Chile’s traditional ‘take’ is to produce vibrant, firm examples laden with blackcurrant and greens (capers, spinach, shrubby boldos which is the native garrigue of Chile). The slate of three in this release steer to less green and more fruit ripeness as possible, with Mayu Appassimento going as far – perhaps too far – to use overripened grapes.   And there are different takes on the cabernets as well, with the big, cellar worthy Montes Alpha adding some riper, softer syrah. Most curious however is the Aquitania, a project by three French winemakers plus a Chilean partner who have produced one of the lightest, most discreet Chilean cabs I can recall.

There is also a slim but well-chosen B.C. selection on this release that drops some worthwhile wines into the mix, including the re-release of Blue Mountain’s solid Gold Label Brut Sparkling and a good 2016 vintage of Osoyoos-Larose Petalos, plus two picks below.

We four have dug as deeply as possible below to put the best foot forward for the January 23 release, with our personal Chilean picks plus others.

But before turning you loose, I want to dedicate this newsletter to Claudius Fehr, one the founding and guiding spirits of Vintages fine wine program, who passed away last week.  He was an institution as a head buyer and educator from the late 70s until his retirement last decade, training not only LCBO product consultants, but legions of Ontario trade and consumers who studied under him in WSET classes, and private tutorials within the LCBO lab.  Please raise a glass in gratitude to an inveterate wine lover.


Viña Casablanca Nimbus Single Vineyard 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile
$24.95, Charton Hobbs
Michael Godel – Multi-citrus expression of sauvignon blanc and as such indicates that place beats out winemaking for a splendored, single-vineyard wine. Lime, lemon and grapefruit, or perhaps keffir, meyer and pomello. Three-dimensional and therefore threefold complex and veritably long.
David Lawrason – This has a fresh nose of dill, cucumber, mustard seed, lime leaf – all very delicate sauvignon aromatics. It is mid-weight, fresh, just a bit mineral, dry and squeaky clean without being cosmetic. Consider delicate Asian/cucumber/bokchoy greens.
Sara d’Amato – The nimbus cloud formations that shade the delicate sauvignon blanc vines from the morning sun in the coastal region of Casablanca give us dynamic, tangy wines such as this stunner at under $25. Complex, zesty, salty and brimming with citrus and tropical fruit. Each sip packs a great deal of energy. A notable pick-me-up during these cold and dreary lockdown days.

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And that’s a wrap for this release. We will be back in two weeks with a review of Vintages, Feb 6 release that involves an Italian feature.

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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