Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES February 20th, 2021

A New World Pinot Noir Primer

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

Long time readers will know I am irresistibly drawn to pinot noir, like a moth to a porch light. Not because it is always divine but because it is always real and intriguing. Its spirit is so fragile that it immediately radiates any attempts by Mother Nature or her winemakers to make it into something it doesn’t want to be. And that narrative is fascinating to taste – vintage after vintage, place after place, technique after technique. It is the essence of what makes wine worth pursuing.

One of the sure ways to muck up pinot noir is to attempt to make it cheaply. The best pinots – the divine pinots – are made at very low yield and with a sense of diligence and detail that most wineries that want to make money can’t even begin to contemplate unless they can charge a ton. So, cost and corner-cutting are endemic to the variety, and increasingly encountered in New World regions that have not yet achieved the upper atmosphere price tenure of Burgundy.

At the same time, it is increasingly a grape variety of interest as more and more consumers are broadening their attachment to this light red – and that’s a very good thing for gastronomy. So, on a commercial level I understand VINTAGES’ spotlight on New World Pinot Noirs in the Feb 20 release. But to find great pinots within their sweet-spot pricing of $25 is just not realistic. I do commend VINTAGES buyers however for finding fairly well-made examples that represent and educate about the styles now being made in various New World regions.


Pongracz Cap Classic Rosé

I am happy to report that out of all the New World regions represented in the release Ontario fares best, with our cool climate, taut and tender style being very impressive. This comment is based on the narrow shoulders of two lovely light-hearted 2019s that fill me with hope for more 2019s to come. The Henry of Pelham 2019 Estate Pinot Noir (review below) is juicy, fragrant and delicious. The Hidden Bench 2019 Estate Pinot Noir Unfiltered, a VINTAGES Essentials, has the same lighter, vibrant vibe but with a slightly leaner ambiance. Both are charmers. Then there is Pelee Island 2017 Vinedressers Reserve Pinot Noir grown in Canada’s most southerly vineyard – softer and heavier but it has regional accuracy and is drinking well at a very fair price.

Burgundy, France is the Oracle of pinot noir, and although many New World regions talk the Burgundy talk, not many really walk the walk. The one pinot in this release that is most Euro-like (leaner, more mineral, less exuberantly fruity) is from South Africa, and that is a common commentary on South African wines. Sutherland 2018 Pinot Noir from the cool, coastal Elgin region is firm, dry, complex and intriguing. And as always from South Africa, very well priced.

Moving over to South America, where third-world low prices unfortunately remain the consumer looking glass of an entire continent, cooler Chile is really working hard at pinot noir. Montes is one of the most highly regarded producers in the country and it delivers a nicely spry, fresh, ripe if somewhat jammy and juicy commercial example Montes 2018 Limited Selection Pinot Noir for a mere $14.95.

Staying in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand pinot prowess continues to impress. To me, it is the second most interesting pinot region in the world after Burgundy. And not because it is trying to be Burgundy in style. The Matahiwi Estate 2018 Me Pinot Noir is a light and very well priced example ($19.95) of Kiwi zest, while the Delta 2017 Pinot Noir from the ‘southern clays’ region of Marlborough begins to scale the heights of really serious and seriously good NZ pinot (reviewed below).

And lastly moving to the west coast of North America, here is where pinot begins to run into real stylistic and value issues. Oregon has long been considered a great New World pinot zone, but it is still a moderately warmer region making a riper, softer and commercially successful style in America. Combined with outsized American premium wine pricing in general and Canadian exchange rates, Oregon is the least good value pinot noir regions on our shelves although Cloudline 2018 Pinot Noir takes a swing at it. Then south into California, pinot noir at an affordable level has become notably full bodied, soft and sweet, as in the new Sea Sun 2019 Pinot Noir from the Wagner family. Not to universally diss the Oregon and California pinots, because some great premium wines are being rendered, but the duo on this release just can’t deliver much value.

Elsewhere on the release out WineAlign critics have gone to town to unearth the best and most interesting wines. As usual.

VINTAGES Buyer’s Guide February 20th:


Terres Secrètes 2018 Les Préludes Saint-Véran, Burgundy, France
$21.95, Vinexx
David Lawrason – This is s a really lovely, delicate yet slightly crunchy and mineral chardonnay from the southernmost appellation of the Macon. It shows a complex weave of tree fruit, florals, spice and stones, firm and lively but not the least austere.

Château de Thauvenay 2019 Sancerre, Loire, France
$34.95, John Hanna & Sons Limited
John Szabo – Crunchy, fresh, juicy, stony, classic Sancerre with an added degree of richness and ripeness; the genuine flavour concentration is revealed by the extended flavour experience.
Michael Godel – Classic lean and precise Sancerre from the local calcaire that translates as expected. Not a fruity wine by any stretch but also not simply salty or sapid. This one means business. That is something you need to know.
Sara d’Amato – An undeniably compelling Sancerre exhibiting rich minerality and chalky saltiness. A classic, this lightly flinty sauvignon blanc offers elegant notes pear and lemon rind. Medium-bodied but high on the complexity scale.

Terres Secrètes 2018 Les Préludes Saint-VéranChâteau de Thauvenay 2019 Sancerre Eradus 2020 Sauvignon Blanc

Eradus 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, Awatere Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
$19.95, The Kolonaki Group
David Lawrason – This is a lovely, soft, pristine subtropical sauvignon with a great nose of starfruit, kiwi, grapefruit and elderflower. It is very fresh and lively, but complex and elegant at the same time. The length is excellent.
Sara d’Amato – Sourced from the Awatere Valley subregion of Marlborough and representative of the crisp, mineral-driven styles of the area offering both tropical fruit and herbal flavours. Delicate with a progressive build of flavours on the palate. Finely crafted, sophisticated and memorable.

Argyros Atlantis 2019 Dry White, PGI Cyclades, Santorini, Greece
$24.95, The Kolonaki Group Inc
John Szabo – An aromatically-reserved wine in the Santorini style, more assertive and severe on the palate with its density and extract – a wine of significant personality and character for the money. Indeed, you won’t find much more intensity for $25.
Michael Godel – The A’s (assyrtiko, athiri and aidani) get together for dry and salty, Greek isle white that leaves everything to imagination. Wow does this hit the spot, leads to dreaming of travel and relaxation.

Argyros Atlantis 2019 Dry White Vollereaux Brut Blanc de Blancs

Vollereaux Brut Blanc de Blancs, A.O.C. Champagne, France
$52.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – A crisp, taut, toasty and flinty Blanc de Blancs that speaks to excitement and spirit when solo chardonnay Champagne is the concern. Slightly austere style but no less fun as a result.


Henry of Pelham 2019 Estate Pinot Noir, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment
$24.95, Family Wine Merchants
David Lawrason – This is a  lovely, light-hearted Niagara pinot with a fairly generous, fresh nose of cran-cherry fruit, florals, fresh herbs and spice. Complex, subtle and very appealing.
Sara d’Amato – This gripping pinot noir offers plentiful red fruit, notes of iron and very delicate oak. Sourced from the easternmost appellation of the Niagara Escarpment, the moisture-retaining clays of Henry’s of Pelham’s Short Hills Bench home estate have created a stunning pinot noir in 2019 that is poised and polished with significant length. Sustainably made.

Henry of Pelham 2019 Estate Pinot Noir Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2019

Hidden Bench 2019 Estate Pinot Noir Unfiltered, Beamsville Bench, Ontario, Canada
$34.95, Mark Anthony Group
John Szabo – Arguably the finest of the Hidden Bench estate-blended pinot noirs to date (a fun argument), this 2019 vintage is full of the sweet-tart red berry perfume that the variety does so well, with classic Niagara Bench floral and earthy-twiggy-leafy nuances, also a marked limestone twang, for me a gritty-salty texture more than a flavour. Drink or hold mid-term.

Mont Rochelle Little Rock Rouge Franschhoek 2017, South Africa
$16.95, Global Cellars
Sara d’Amato – A clean rich and flavourful red blend from Franschhoek based on merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah. Wines have been produced on the north facing slopes in the Franschhoek Valley for over 300 years – one of the oldest sites of the “new world”. Full bodied but not heavy, quite elegant with bright acidity but smooth mouth-filling tannins. An impressive value.

Delta 2017 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand
$26.95, Alegria Food and Drink
David Lawrason – This pinot is from a single site in what locals call the ‘southern clays” in the Waihopi Valley. Winemaker Heather Stewart has crafted a rich, streamlined and elegant pinot with classic cherry, spice, tobacco herbality and distant wood smoke. It is silky smooth, a touch sweet and warm, with excellent length.

Delta 2017 Pinot Noir Sutherland 2018 Pinot Noir

Sutherland 2018 Pinot Noir, WO Elgin, South Africa
$19.95, Epic Wines And Spirits Inc.
John Szabo – A ripe, maturing, fresh and dried red berry-scented pinot noir from cool Elgin, made by reliable Thelema Mountains Vineyards, and which drinks like good coastal Sonoma pinot at an unbeatable price. Enjoy now with a light chill to maximize the fruit and freshness.
Michael Godel – Coolness of Elgin, warmth of a vintage and a peppery reduction elasticized by that combination of place and time. Red fruit but with a cola and earthy side that also contribute to a markedly South African thematic. Just feels and tastes so very varietal in Cape clothing. Fine acids and notable length.

Domaine Lafage 2018 Tessellae Old Vines, AP Côtes du Roussillon, France
$19.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – Perennial consistency and quite frankly evidence in excellence of this Roussillon grenache-syrah-mourvèdre blend. Yet again rich and sumptuous, understood in that it’s a straightforward compulsion to be heady and firm. Great balance in 2019 takes the Old Vines to another level.
John Szabo – Another fleshy, full-bodied, old vine red blend from Tessellae in the Roussillon (grenache, syrah, mourvèdre), about as consistent as they come. 70-year-old vines do their part to maintain regularity, as does the benign Mediterranean climate, but part of the magic is recognizing these physical advantages, which the Lafage Family does so well. Buy to drink now or over the next 2-4 years.
Sara d’Amato – A lush and yet juicy blend made in the winery’s typically modern and silky style. Tessellae sources the fruit from co-owner Jean-Marc Lafage old vine farms near Maury blending 40% grenache, 40% syrah and 20% mourvedre.  A consistently competent, top value producer from the Côtes du Roussillon.

Domaine Lafage 2018 Tessellae Old Vines Château d'Anglès 2018 Classique La Clape Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre Catena 2018 Lunlunta Old Vines Appellation Malbec

Château d’Anglès 2018 Classique La Clape Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre, Languedoc, France
$18.95, John Hanna & Sons
David Lawrason – Great value from this tiny appellation on slopes above the Mediterranean. It captures both ruggedness and poise with very complex aromas of ripe blueberry/blackberry fruit, florals, pepper, violets, licorice and fresh herbs. It is medium-full bodied, dense yet lively.

Catena 2018 Lunlunta Old Vines Appellation Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina
$22.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel – One could be forgiven (and kidded) for confusing Lunlunta for a lighter, more ethereal style of old vines, vineyard-focused zinfandel (tasted blind, wine-wink) although hindsight would say the comparisons end right there. Think of this wine as a high end malbec to impress, reach a large audience and pair beautifully with dry-rubbed and grilled flank steak. Chimichurri optional.

Seven Hills 2017 Walla Walla Valley Merlot, Washington, USA
$34.95, Andrew Peller Import Agency
John Szabo – From the deep loess of the Walla Walla Valley, this wine captures the creamy texture and soft tannins afforded by these wind-blown soils, alongside abundant, ripe, dark fruit with a streak of varietally-typical savoury green herbs. I find this infinitely drinkable and pleasurable, the kind of wine you’d likely pay much more to enjoy from vineyards further south in California.

Seven Hills 2017 Walla Walla Valley Merlot Quercecchio 2015 Brunello di Montalcino

Quercecchio 2015 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
$34.95, Ruby Wines
David Lawrason – This is almost charming Brunello where many might expect something more ponderous. The nose is gentle and complex with a fine weave of red cherry, fresh herbs and fine background oak. It is medium-full bodied, warm and lively with fine tannin.
John Szabo – Maturing, ripe and sultry Brunello here from the celebrated 2015 vintage, a warm, sun-kissed vintage year that yielded voluptuous and agreeable wines across the board. Really quite a sharp value in the context. Drink or hold into the mid-twenties.

And that’s a wrap for this release. We will be back in two weeks with a review of VINTAGES Mar 6 release that involves an Argentine 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.

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Sommelier Selections

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