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.

San Pedro 1865 Tayú 2018 Pinot Noir, Buchahueico, Do Malleco Valley, Chile
$19.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.
Michael Godel – A project of Viña San Pedro 1865, the largest vineyard to be planted in Chile in collaboration with an indigenous (south-central Chile) Mapuche community. Pure, lightly volatile, lithe, spicy and authentic. A regal wine and at $20 surely drinks like many more prestigious and site pinpointed wines double the price.

Odfjell Winemaker’s Travesy 2016 Carignan/Malbec/Syrah, Vegan, Central Valley
$29.95, Azureau Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel – Crazy aromatic blend right here, in violets, big concentration and vanillin by the barrel. A high-water mark for Chile and a line joined from Tres Equinas, through Rio Claro and to Padre Hurtado.


Indomita Old Vines Dry Farmed Gran Reserva Carignan, Maule Valley
$17.95, Rare Earth Wines
David Lawrason – Carignan is a solid if rarely flashy Mediterranean variety. In old vine sites in Chile it also prospers creating full, structured mineral wines. Well okay, there is some jammy sour cherry fruit too. But this is full bodied, warm, swarthy and tannic red pouring in its own universe.
John Szabo – Old, dry-farmed carignan wines from the Maule Valley have really gained prominence over the last decade, for good reason. If Chileans specialized in pizza, this would be their classic Tuesday night pizza wine. It’s a wild and savoury example, juicy and appealingly herbal, with more acids than tannins but fine balance overall on the livelier side.

San Esteban In Situ Reserva 2019 Chardonnay, Aconcagua Valley, Chile
$14.95, M.C.O.
John Szabo – This is a very tasty, zesty, lively chardonnay from the Aconcagua Valley, replete with lemon and lemon peel/pith, grapefruit and flinty notes in the post-modern style. Wood is a flavour of the past, and this is in the future; and the price, well, highly attractive.



Quails’ Gate 2019 Dry Riesling, Okanagan Valley, B.C.
$19.95, Family Wine Merchants
David Lawrason – This is a very fine, just off-dry and tender B.C. riesling that shows generous aromas of ripe yellow apple/peach, soft linden florality and spice. Alcohol nicely kept to 12.5%, which to me is the whole secret to success with Canadian riesling.
Sara d’Amato – A generous yet lively and peppery riesling that is dry but not austere. Bright and citrusy but not without depth from ripeness. Overall stylishly reductive, briny and upbeat.

Domaine Vieux Vauvert 2019 Vouvray Sec, AP Loire, France
$19.95, Authentic Wine & Spirits Merchants
Michael Godel – Dry chenin blanc in the modern Vouvray style full of salinity, sapidity and a washed, hard cheese rind. Really clean and almost like Trocken riesling though surely with more flesh and a different set of zests. A terrific example of what the chameleon chenin blanc can do and be.

Les Vignes De Bila-Haut Côtes Du Roussillon Blanc, France
$15.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines
David Lawrason – Five-star value. Bila Haut is a great value demonstration of a genre of whites in the Catalan belt. Grenache blanc, roussanne, marsanne and macabeu create a moderately aromatic,  medium bodied, fairly firm and dry white with lower acid and spritz providing buoyancy.
John Szabo – I’ve often marveled at the pleasure afforded by this grenache blanc, roussanne, maccabeu blend from Chapoutier’s Roussillon outpost, a gentle, rounded, oak-free (if lightly leesy) white that captures the warmth and sunshine of the region, with a casual, easy-drinking lifestyle, as though they were meant to be together. Enjoy without deep contemplation, while knowing that the integrity behind it all is there.
Sara d’Amato – A top producer of the Côtes du Roussillon, Chapoutier’s basic Bila-Haut range offers exceptional character for a low price. A blend of grenache blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne and macabeu, this dry pure and crunchy white is an exuberant, oak-free mouthful.


Simi 2018 Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California, USA
$22.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.
John Szabo – More than serviceable chardonnay from Simi, the equivalent of many  chardonnays from California at higher prices. There’s an ease and even-keeled tempo to this wine that draws you in for more. Nicely done.

Van Loveren Christina The Heritage Collection 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, WO Western Cape, South Africa
$19.95, Colio Estate Wines
John Szabo – Robertson, and its limestones, are surely better-known for chardonnay (especially sparkling), but this sauvignon is a good argument for its inclusion in the regional range. There’s uncommon density and richness on the palate, while flavours are notably ashy and green (pyrazine-inflected), a feature of many South African sauvignons. Ready to enjoy.



Burrowing Owl 2018 Merlot, Okanagan Valley. B.C.
$39.95 Wyse Wine Agency
David Lawrason – A top finisher in the merlot category of the 2020 Guide to Canada’s Best Wines, this is a bit lighter and fresher than anticipated, perhaps due to the cooler 2018 season. And I like the effect with lifted blackberry fruit, with florality, herbs and light smokiness. It is more juicy with some heat; and tannins are quite fine.

Franschhoek Cellar The Churchyard 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Western Cape, South Africa
$14.95, Hobbs & Company
Michael Godel – A dark currant, herbal and peppery reductive cabernet sauvignon in the classic and parochial style that despite the price will surely age gracefully into the next decade. Until then an ideal match for Springbok loin, chops and stew. That and a Springboks match at the next World Cup.

Domaine Des Escaravailles Le Ventabren 2016 Cairanne, Rhone Valley, France
$24.95, The Living Wine
John Szabo – Bold and beautiful, impressively silky-smooth and fleshy, voluptuous wine for the money; hugely satisfying on a cold winter’s night. Ready to enjoy.


Feudo Montoni Lagnusa 2018 Nero d’Avola, DOC Sicilia, Italy
$24.95, Paradigm Fine Wine Agency
Michael Godel – The name of the cru where nero d’avola grows, by the masterful and studied work of Fabio Sireci. Balanced, non “marmalata,” far from dense, heavy or over the top in any possible way.

Torre Zambra Madia Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, Italy
$13.95, Marchands Des Ameriques Inc
David Lawrason – Wow, what a delicious value at $14.  This Adriatic zone is known for offering big wines for less, but not often balanced, fresh and enjoyable wines. This captures such charm and authenticity.
Sara d’Amato – A notable value in this release, this rustic but compelling montepulciano from Abruzzo offers heaps of plummy fruit along with appealing flavours of red and black licorice. Clean with a mild edginess and more concentration than expected. No apparent oak but lots of charm.

Isole E Olena 2017 Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy
$38.95, Halpern Enterprises
Michael Godel – What’s special is the supple and actionable structure, of acidity embracing and unproblematic tannin. Works like an Isole e Olena Annata should, with imaginary Riserva folded in.

Osoyoos Larose Pétales D’osoyoos 2016 Red, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, Canada
$29.95, Charton Hobbs Inc.
John Szabo –. I like the grip and grit, the energy and vibrancy on the palate of this red blend from the southern Okanagan Valley, the “second” wine of Osoyoos Larose, but a first wine in terms of quality/value. Long-term cellaring is not necessary, but there’s no rush to drink this either.

Seghesio Defiant 2016, Sonoma County USA
$29.95, Andrew Peller Import Agency
John Szabo – A seamless and nicely assembled blend from Seghesio, warm and satisfying, in a complex ensemble overall. Lovely stuff.

Rustenberg 2014 Shiraz, Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa
$19.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits
Sara d’Amato – A charmer, this full-bodied shiraz is wildly expressive with pepper, berry jam and rich earth. Showcasing a compelling angular character yet still que accessible. With one foot in the new world and one foot in the old, this well-priced shiraz offers considerable pleasure.

Mission Hill Reserve 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, Canada
$29.95, Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits
John Szabo – This is a well-made, balanced, classically-styled cabernet sauvignon from Mission Hill, with an appealing mix of fresh black fruit and herbal-vegetal spice in the proper cool climate cabernet idiom. Tannins are well-managed, polished, and length and depth are good. Solid wine, impeccably made. Drink or hold short term.

Monte Del Frá 2019 Bardolino DOC, Veneto, Italy
$16.95, Signature Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – Why don’t we drink more Bardolino? This is everything Valpolicella used to be before cursed ripasso versions took the market by storm. Taste corvina the way it was meant to be: light, pretty, fruity, red cherry and strawberry scented, with a bit of a floral lift. A joyful mouthful of wine. Serve lightly chilled.



Quinta Do Crasto Late Bottled Vintage 2014 Port Unfiltered, Portugal
$14.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.
John Szabo – The flavour intensity here for $15 is unexpected. This is a serious mouthful of wine, as most of these historical, classic wines styles often are. Surely their star will rise again. For now, enjoy the value, a serious LBV.


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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