Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES March 6th, 2021

Commercial Online Wine Auctions Come to Canada, Refreshing Argentina, and other smart buys

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

The Vintages March 6th release is one of the strongest of the year so far. Out of the 60-odd wines we assembled for tasting, the hit rate was unusually high. Perhaps it was the onset of spring fever. Or the vaccine-powered light at the end of the tunnel. But more likely, the average quality was simply higher than usual, for whatever unfathomable confluence of factors. The feature on Argentina is particularly refreshing, straying beyond commercially safe and sound, predictable malbecs into more adventurous varieties like bonarda and cabernet franc, as well as less travelled regions like cool Patagonia and Salta’s ultra-high elevation Cafayate.

Speaking of Argentina, you’re invited to join Sara and Michael this Saturday evening, March 13th at 5pm, for our inaugural VINTAGES Taste-Along.  It will be a fun and interactive WineAlign cocktail hour as they taste their way through four of the best from the release. (Register for this Saturday night – Mar 13) Neighbouring Chile is also strongly represented with some attractive, off-beat examples of familiar varieties, while classics like Vintage Port, Brunello, and Etna Rosso come out aces high.

Saturday, March 13th at 5pm


In more good news for Canadian wine lovers, the details of a new online wine auction platform based in Alberta reached WineAlign headquarters, yet another digital retailing shift arising from the COVID-19 era and rapidly changing liquor distribution laws. Iron Gate Auctions promises to offer Canadian consumers coast to coast much easier access (or access, period) to fine and rare wines. Where wine lovers in countries like the US and the UK have long enjoyed a robust wine auction scene, Canadians have had precious few to choose from to either buy or sell, just a limited handful of government-licensed auctions and charity auctions. What has changed to allow Iron Gate to legally operate a national online wine auction, so that you can buy wine in Alberta have it shipped to your Ontario address? Click here to find out.



VINTAGES Buyer’s Guide March 6th: Argentina

Catena Appellation Agrelo Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Uco Valley, Mendoza
$21.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – This duo of wines from Catena (this and the cabernet franc below) offer refreshing breath from the so-often monovarietal Argentine malbec focus. And it’s a bonus that the wines are very good – There’s a really pretty nose here gravelly and graphite-scented in the varietal idiom, with plenty of black fruit and cassis, a sheer pleasure to drink and ready to go; hold into the mid-’20s if desired, but there’s no real need, either.
Michael Godel – Argelo suits cabernet like a glove, creating this smooth and satiny red with tart accents and plenty of spirit. Make sure to put two or three down in the cellar. Drink 2021-2026. Tasted March 2021.
Sara dAmato – A premier sub-region of Mendoza for bold, complex reds, this well-priced cabernet sauvignon is a top value in this release. Catena’s carefully crafted 2018 features impressive concentration and depth with a toasty and cedary finish of great length. Satisfying yet not too heavy.

Catena Appellation San Carlos Cabernet Franc 2018, Uco Valley, Mendoza
$19.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – Cabernet franc has been gaining prominence and recognition in Argentina, even if often used a blend to add finesse, elegance and acids to malbec, but here’s an example of how the grape can stand proudly on its own. It’s ripened beyond the herbal-green pyrazine spectrum and into ripe dark fruit, also lightly floral in the varietal idiom. With even-keeled palate, well balanced and juicy, with light, fine tannins and just a gentle sheen of wood spice to add interest. Drink or hold 3-4 years.

Fin Del Mundo Patagonia Malbec 2018, Patagonia
$15.95, Charton Hobbs Inc.
John Szabo – I’m a fan of the wines from remote Patagonia, in the deep south of Argentina, where ample sunlight meets cooler temperatures, and early-ripening grapes like pinot noir really perform well. The result, as with this malbec, is greater freshness and especially the attractive floral side of the variety, also juicy acids. Chill lightly to maximize the freshness.
Sara d’Amato – To those that have visited the southern tip of Argentina, Patagonia may very well feel like the edge of the earth with its dramatic vistas, pristine fjords, hanging glaciers and granitic spires.  From these cooler reaches, malbec is much brighter and juicier than a typical example from Mendoza. Offering fragrant appeal, fine balance and excellent length.

Trapiche Gran Medalla Malbec 2017, Uco Valley, Mendoza
$27.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines
David Lawrason – This is plush yet elegant malbec from Argentina’s largest (and most undervalued) somewhat old school winery. Showing considerable oak and gobs of fruit It is full bodied, thick and warm with very fine tannin. The integration is so good that its hard to separate the threads.

Zuccardi Q Chardonnay 2019, Uco Valley, Mendoza
$19.95, Dionysus Wines & Spirits Ltd.
John Szabo – Good, fresh, crisp but fleshy, also ripe chardonnay here from Zuccardi, with fruit to the fore and no evident oak influence. This is balanced and lively white wine, with attractive modern styling.
Michael Godel – Cuts to the cool climate chase faster and faster with each passing vintage. Bites back straight away, keeps the barrel at bay and acts a bit Chablis like, with lime citrus and lees accumulation. Fine wine, fine chardonnay.

Los Haroldos Estate Bonarda 2018, Mendoza
$14.95, Michael Andrew Brands
John Szabo – Widely-planted bonarda has always taken a back seat to malbec, but with the worldwide consumer shift to lighter and fresher, is well-suited to gain more notoriety. This is a clean and lively, example, with no detectable oak influence, an attractive style of easy-drinking red wine, to enjoy now, with a light chill around the BBQ.

Benmarco Malbec 2018, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
$19.95, Profile Wine Group
Sara d’Amato – A classic high-elevation malbec from the Uco Valley, this bright and taught and surprisingly tannic malbec offers youthful appeal and lovely definition. Graphite and mineral help to juxtapose the concentration of fruit on the palate. Memorable.

Alta Vista Estate Premium Torrontés 2019, Cafayate, Salta
$17.95, H.H.D. Imports
John Szabo – Fine, clean, hyper-fragrant, very floral in the varietal idiom, balanced and fresh, a more elegant and poised version of the torrontés. This is nicely done; enjoy now.
David Lawrason – Aromatic torrontes is the signature white of Argentina, growing best in high altitude sites like Cafayate. Love the exotic, perfumed aromas of lavender, fresh mint, saffron, fennel and tropical pineapple and tangerine! It is medium-full bodied, waxy in texture, dry and intensely flavoured. Chill well and enjoy with an Asian inspired poke bowl.
Sara d’Amato – A bright and briny torrontés from the uber-high northern elevations of Salta, the variety’s home turf. No shortage of character here, this salty, savory expression packs a delectable crunch.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide March 6th: Whites

Nik Weis St. Urbans Hof Old Vines Riesling 2019, Qualitätswein, Mosel, Germany
$23.95, The Vine Agency
Michael Godel – Old Mosel vines, high level grape extract and tannin and if memory serves correct a wine that used to be lower in alcohol and higher in residual sugar. Now at a comfortable 11 per cent and while not quite Trocken it surely gives the impression of acting quite dry. Beautifully balanced riesling with endless food pairing possibilities.

Gustave Lorentz Réserve Sylvaner 2019, Alsace, France
$16.95, Family Wine Merchants
Sara d’Amato – A bright and exotic white made from the often-overlooked Alsatian variety of sylvaner, a softer alternative to riesling. This rather complex incarnation offers distinctive flavours of wet stone and honeysuckle and pear. A prime example of this variety at a price that can’t be beat.
David Lawrason – Sylvaner is underappreciated and undervalued, perhaps because its character is subdued compared to Alsatian riesling, gewurz and company. I like it for this very reason, and when I spent a week hiking in Alsace in this vintage, I gravitated to sylvaner with my meals. It didn’t fight but enveloped. This a very good example at more than a fair price.

Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2014, Hunter Valley, Australia
$25.95, Authentic Wine & Spirts Merchants
David Lawrason – Here’s a classic, ageing Hunter Semillon, one of the world’s most unique and compelling white wines. It has a great nose of paraffin, lime, chestnut peel, wet stone, white mushroom, lemon-lime-tangerine citrus, elderflower and the list goes on. It is full bodied, broad and well structured, with great acidity. The length is outstanding.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide March 6th: Reds & Fortified

Croft Quinta Da Roeda Vintage Port 2005, Douro, Portugal
$59.95, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo – If 2005 is a year to mark (birthday, anniversary, etc.). this is the wine to celebrate it with in years (decades) to come. It’s an intensely concentrated vintage port from Croft’s Roeda estate, thick, rich, sweet, but not cloying. An excellent wine all in all; I’d hold off for at least another 5 years, 10 better, and this will easily hold into the ’40s and beyond – this wine has the legs for a half century.

La Torre Brunello Di Montalcino 2015, Tuscany
$61.95, John Hanna & Sons Limited
John Szabo – From the excellent 2015 vintage, this is fragrant, ripe, heady Brunello, inviting and complex, with fleshy, broad palate, succulent and juicy. This will appeal widely across the board, from die-hard sangiovese fans to casual Tuscan drinkers. Lots of class, balance and elegance.
Sara d’Amato – An impressively drinkable and elegant Brunello offering notes of plum, red cherry, oregano, new leather and tilled earth unencumbered by meddlesome winemaking. The tannins are quite fine and the oak is seamlessly integrated. Not to be missed!

Coto de Imaz Gran Reserva 2012, Rioja, Spain
$37.95 Noble Estates
David Lawrason – This is a traditional Rioja for those who prize elegance, smoothness and balance – which to me is the whole point of long aged wine. It has developed classic complex mature aromas from long ageing in American oak. There is plenty of fruit and vitality at nine years, and it will drink well through this decade.

Perdeberg The Vineyard Collection Cinsault 2018, Coastal Region, Paarl, South Africa
$17.95, Family Wine Merchants
Sara d’Amato – A juicy little number sourced from dry-farmed, bushland vines. This cinsault is enjoyably fleshy and offers more depth than expected.  The alcohol is notably high giving the wine viscosity but not considerable heat. Lots of wine here for the price and well made.

Tornatore Pietrarizzo Etna Rosso 2017, Sicily
$34.95 Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
John Szabo – A pure nerello mascalese from the north side of Mt. Etna in the historic Pietrarizzo contrada, cultivated in terraces, vinified in cement and aged in large wooden barrels. It offers rather unique, very botanical character, a somewhat atypical Etna expression, but worthwhile of the volcano to be sure.

Kir Yianni Cuvée Villages Xinomavro 2017, Naoussa, Greece
$19.95 Kolonaki Wines
David Lawrason – Here’s a great find in sturdy, mid-weight xinomavro, in my opinion the best red variety of Greece. It sports a generous very complex nose of red fruits, florals and herbs. It is mid-weight, crusty, sour-edged and dry with a fairly tannic and mineral finish. If someone told me blind that it was a $50 Barbaresco I’d be all in.

Louis Latour Marsannay 2018, Marsannay, Burgundy, France
$41.95, Mark Anthony Wines & Spirits
Sara d’Amato – From the most northern reaches of the Côtes de Nuits, this bright and dynamic find that should satisfy the most discerning of pinot lovers. Bright cherry fruit with a silky almost creamy mid-palate and very well integrated notes of spicy oak.

Pierre Dupond Morgon Côte Du Py 2018, AP Beaujolais, France
$26.95, Tocade
Michael Godel – Morgon’s Côte du Puy to a “T,” or perhaps to a “C” that being the concentration, charisma and cherry, black as can be. Sharp and focused acids elevate the character and help usher is a state of added complexity though this gamay comes with some tension and demand. Will age quite well.

Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz 2019, Barossa Valley, Australia
$29.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits
Sara d’Amato – A wildly seductive shiraz that is a result of carefully cared for, younger vines in the Torbreck’s portfolio. Meaty, peppery and stylishly reductive, this 2019 is more Northern Rhône than Aussie in style except for those velvety tannins and ample alcohol.

Mulderbosch Faithful Hound 2016, WO Western Cape, South Africa
$24.95, Abcon International Wine Merchants Inc.
Michael Godel – Faithful Hound, more like old faithful by Ontario standards, a Cape red blend that speaks to a time when reds were reds and you knew where they stood. Why should 2016 be any different and indeed the way things were continue to shine in a wine that’s timeless and fine.

J. Bouchon Block Series Carmenère 2017, Maule Valley, Chile
$17.95, Azureau Wines
David Lawrason – From the coastal clay/gravel soils of coastal Maule, this rings with authenticity – a complete and slightly rustic carmenere. A bargain diamond in the rough. It is low key, yet fulsome and very nicely balanced. Expect aromas blackcurrant, herbal/coniferous, and very little apparent oak.

Koyle Royale Syrah Vegan Los Lingues Vineyard 2017, Colchagua Valley, Chile
$24.95, Trajectory Beverage Partners
John Szabo – A thick, rich, ripe and supple, well-structured syrah from the volcanic soils of the Andean foothills. Tannins are abundant yet ripe, gently grippy-dusty, enveloped by ample black fruit. A very satisfying wine all in all.

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.

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

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