Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 15th, 2021

Portrait of Portugal and Springtime in Paris
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo, Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

No, it is not Thursday. Going forward we have decided to publish this review on Mondays to give our loyal readers a better chance to access our picks before stocks are diminished or depleted after their Saturday release. A simple goal but with COVID nothing is simple. I would like to provide some context for this change of schedule, particularly for new subscribers.

In the good old days we preview tasted wines courtesy of the LCBO, allowing us to publish before the Saturday release. With those tastings halted we had to wait until wines were on the shelf to acquire samples. Most Vintages stores load in new releases on the Wednesday prior to the official Saturday release date. We are now acquiring samples by Thursday morning prior, tasting socially distanced on Thursday and Friday, and posting reviews and publishing the newsletter on Monday/Tuesday. Some reviews may appear on the database on Saturday/Sunday.

For further context, importing agents and wineries pay for the samples. They either send them to us or WineAlign purchases and they reimburse us. Most agents participate, but not all, for their own reasons. The result is that we are not tasting everything. This is a huge release of about 150 wines. We have tasted about 60%, with some pre-selection of those we think are most interesting, of highest quality and best value. Sometimes individual critics may spend their own money on certain wines that fill out a theme, or are just personally of interest. I have purchased half of the Portuguese samples in this release.


Portugal is one of two themes, and Vintages selection includes most major styles and regions. But the real allure of Portugal is value, and most of the wines offered are showing well for under $20. For $150 you can do an eight-wine tasting tour of Portugal involving five regions. With an option to finish off with the mature Delaforce 2000 Vintage Port for another $62.

My comment on Portugal’s reds is that winemakers are working hard to deal with the stout and sturdy tannic nature of the country’s red grapes. One trick is the increasing use of syrah as a softener particularly in central and southern Portugal. Another is heavy barrel work that leaves a sweeter chocolaty impression, but it needs to be done carefully to keep the wonderful varietal complexity aloft. My comment on Portuguese whites is that they are among the best wine values in the world today.

The other theme is Springtime in Paris. Ouch! Oh to be travelling again! I think wine writers love travel more than wine itself. Anyway, this is a good selection of modest wines from around the country, and most are new to the Ontario market, which is a very good thing. It is as if one is sitting in a Parisien bistro scanning a short wine list of less well-known offerings from the countryside.  Some of them made our list of recommendations below.

But just before we present our picks, a note that WineAlign critics have been able to review the entire list of Roche de Bellene of Burgundy being offered by Vintages as an On-Line exclusive from now to June 3. The selection focuses on the excellent 2019 vintage and although obviously not cheap there are some beauties.

So here we go! Click on the links to see full reviews and ratings from each critic. Wines with “alignment” from two or more critics lead the selections within the Portugal, Whites, Roses and Red categories.


Lua Cheia Old Vines Red 2019, Douro, Portugal
$15.95 The Vine Agency
David Lawrason – Terrific value from one my favourite Douro houses. This is a blend of old vine indigenous varieties that pours deep, youthful purple-ruby and aromatically blooms with blackberry jam, violet, a hint of chocolate and subtle herbs. It is medium-full bodied, fresh and juicy.
John Szabo – From old vines (of undisclosed aged) in the Douro Valley, this is a fruity-juicy red with light, dusty tannins, and both crunchy-fresh red and black fruit with a typically Douro-esque floral note. I love the immediacy of this wine, and the simple pleasure on offer, as well as, of course, the price.
Michael Godel – A “normale” or “genérico” red of old vines stature in capture of how value wines are made in such a specific place. A wine that has BBQ pork written all over its multi-varietal face. Don’t pass up on the cheap cuts because that’s where the flavour is.

Howard’s Folly Sonhador White 2018, Alentejo, Portugal
$25.95 Rubaiyat Wine & Spirit Merchants
John Szabo – From the cooler granite foothills of the São Mamede mountains in the northern Alentejo, this is a partially barrel-aged undisclosed white blend (from old vines). I love the interplay between the green and white-fleshed fruit, the firm acids and the creamy-leesy flavours, the long citric finish and delicate wood influence. All in all, there’s a great deal on offer here for $25. A portion of profits goes to an arts-based charity for children.
David Lawrason – From the sunnier south this is an impressive, fairly bright new wave white with bright fleshy tropical white melon, lychee fruit lightly dusted with spicy, vanilla and hazelnut. It is medium-full bodied and firm.

Quadrus Reserva 2011, Douro, Portugal
$28.95 Halpern Enterprises
David Lawrason – Quadrus is a project by Toronto-based Amaro brothers who own the deep cellared Opus restaurant in Yorkville. At ten years this is showing optimum maturity – good complexity with plum, cedar, earth/dried mushroom and spice. It is almost silky on the mid-palate with firm acid, some minerality and dusty tannins. Re-tasted on re-release in May 2021

Casa Santos Lima Colossal Reserva 2017, Lisboa, Portugal
$15.95 Majestic Wine Cellars
David Lawrason – From the maritime region north of Lisbon this is a blend of syrah, touriga nacional, alicante bouschet and tinto roriz (tempranillo). It is deeply coloured, youthful and ripe with blackcurrant, dark chocolate, thyme/basil and pepper. Good weight and energy!

Whites and Rose

Two Rivers Convergence Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Marlborough, New Zealand
$19.95 Authentic Wine & Spirits Merchants
John Szabo – A more serious example of Marlborough sauvignon than the norm, labelled as “Appellation Marlborough Wine” (AMW), a private association whose adherent members guarantee the origins of their fruit from the Marlborough region. It’s a superior sauvignon, at a fair price, worth a look to be sure.
David Lawrason – Blended from two river valleys within Marlborough this nicely expresses the fresh dill, lemongrass and grapefruit I expect of Awatere, plus some riper tropical fruit from Wairau. It is medium weight, very well balanced with a coy sweetness and very focused flavours.

Arboleda Chardonnay 2019, Aconcagua Costa, Chile
$18.95 Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits
David Lawrason – Surprising quality and value in this solid, firm if rather reductive and mineral led chardonnay from hillsides above the lower Pacific influenced Aconcagua Valley. Look for cool green apple, toast and hazelnut notes. Structure and depth are excellent.
John Szabo – This is without doubt the most interesting Arboleda chardonnay I have tasted; such a pleasure to see (and taste) this flinty, fresh coastal example. Superb value. Drink or hold 2-3 years.

Jean-Marc Brocard Kimmeridgien Chardonnay 2018, Bourgogne, France
$19.95, Perugini
John Szabo – Although under the generic “Bourgogne” appellation, this smells and tastes very much like the home-grown, Chablis style of chardonnay in Brocard’s region: citric, gently lactic, full of energy and terrific length, depth and complexity at the price. A high quality basic Chablis is what this tastes like, so for $20, grab it.
Michael Godel – A wine estate’s ode to the soil composition most prevalent and predominate ringing hills around a set of villages is a beautiful thing. Yes this drinks just like a Villages level Chablis, all stone and mineral salts, lemon and lime.

Château Lugaud Graves 2018, Bordeaux, France
$20.95 Appellation Wines
David Lawrason -This is a solid, dry, mid-weight and fairly crisp blend blend of semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle. Expect generous notes of grapefruit, fresh herbs and pine scents often found in Graves.

Les Vignerons Du Castelas Le Monarque Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2019, Rhône, France
$15.95, Connexion Oenophilia
Michael Godel – More complexity than price should allow whereby viognier mixes and matches with 20 points each grenache blanc and roussanne. Floral and Mediterranean in feel. Crunchy and effective, tart, dry and quite singular for a $15 wine.

Litorale Val Delle Rose Vermentino 2019, Maremma Toscana, Italy
$17.95 Charton Hobbs Inc
Sara d’Amato – From the sunshine drenched coast of Tuscany, this salty, clean and refreshing vermentino has a surprising plumpness. Enticing notes of pear blossom, orange zest, green apple and a lingering stony note make up the palate of this incredibly stylish summer find at a very affordable price.

Wagner Finger Lakes Select Riesling 2017, Finger Lakes, New York
$24.95 Epic Wines and Spirits Inc.
Sara d’Amato – From the largest grower in the Finger Lakes, Wagner has had a great deal of experience choosing the best sites for riesling in the region. This 2017 is showing very well now with a dynamic, nervy tension despite the medium-sweet style. Slate and mineral along with savoury dried herbs and lime zest co-exist with the bottled-aged petrol flavour. Time to take advantage of this rather rare release of New York wines.

Sacred Hill Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2019, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
$18.95 FWM Canada
Sara d’Amato – Sacred Hill is established in Marlborough but its home is in the warmer region of Hawke’s Bay. This chardonnay offers a whole lot of flavour and texture for the price. Featuring a salty, mineral-driven, mid-weight profile and has been dosed with an appropriate amount of toasty oak.

Mastroberardino Radici Fiano di Avellino 2018, Campania, Italy
$25.95 du Chasse Wines
David Lawrason -This is a rock solid Fiano – impressive in its firm resolve and focus. The nose shows greengage plum, celery, flint and minerality. It is full bodied, very well balanced with moderate acidity and alcohol. But such delivery.

Featherstone Phoenix 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
$18.95, The Living Vine
Michael Godel – Phoenix rises as a varietal gewûrztramniner made in a dry style from a really good year it must be said because the equanimous tug makes for succulence, juiciness and great food pairing ability. Try duck confit in salad. Thank later.

Château Pigoudet Classic Rosé 2020, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, France
$24.95 Authentic Wine & Spirits Merchants
Sara d’Amato – The rosés have arrived and this is a great value pick from the appellation of Côteau d’Aix-en-Provence, a region whose in-demand pinks have seen impressive hikes in price. Pigoudet’s rosé pours a barely-there-pink, so much so you have to search for colour. The palate is zesty and lively with acidity, minerality and plenty of wild garrigue.
John Szabo – Very pale, almost vin gris-like, classic Provençal rosé from the inland, higher elevation Côteaux d’Aix AOC, source of savoury and sharp wines. Really lovely stuff, a classic, as the cuvée name implies.


Paxton AAA Shiraz/Grenache 2019, McLaren Vale, South Australia
$21.95 Trialto Wine Group
David Lawrason – This biodynamically grown grenache-shiraz blend has that little extra energy jump and fruit purity that organics brings. It is medium-full bodied, warm, lively and moderately tannic, with excellent length. Huge value here.
John Szabo – Lovely ripe, fresh, even-keeled and lively shiraz from the warm maritime McLaren Vale, grown and made organically/biodynamically. It’s a model of juicy, friendly, easy-drinking fun, but with an underlying serious edge. Chill lightly and enjoy – love the energy here.
Michael Godel – Paxton’s shiraz and grenache joint is juicy as a noun and while certainly toothsome it’s really more a matter of essence and spirit. Crunchy and flirtatious, inviting and lively. Great fun.

La Nerthe Les Cassagnes Côtes Du Rhône-Villages 2018, Rhône, France
$24.95 Woodman Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – The sandy soils of La Nerthe’s domaine de la Renjarde property where this is grown deliver a particularly fine and supple, open-knit, gentle-textured wine with immediately appeal, light and soft tannins and balanced acids. That’s not to say there isn’t genuine density and extract – there certainly is – even if the salty notes on the finish draw salivation and make this infinitely drinkable.
Michael Godel – La Nerthe, a name inseparable from Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe. So much effortless ease and a cool centre in a calm, gorgeous and solitary red blend that speaks just as it should. Silk threaded, fine and balanced.
Sara d’Amato – A wine that drinks more like a southern Rhône cru then a blend of villages, this partially oak-aged grenache-syrah-mourvedre blend is a top value in this release. Drinking best now with its silky tannins and plush fruit character of sweet pomegranate and blackcurrant.

I Castei Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2015, Veneto, Italy
$43.95 Ian J Campbell & Associates
David Lawrason – This is a delicious, maturing amarone with a billowing, complex nose of hazelnut and chocolate (Ferrero Roche), dried fruit, kirsch, and a dash of lilac florality for good measure. It is smooth, creamy, warm (15.5%) and rich. Tannins remain a bit starchy.
John Szabo – An evidently bold and rich, impactful wine, well within the expected regional idiom, certainly ageworthy, especially for those seeking the fully evolved, herbal-medicinal experience of aged Amarone. Terrific length.

Maison Chandesais Santenay 2016, Burgundy France
$38.95 Vin Vino Wine Merchants
David Lawrason – It’s ribald and rustic but great to find such a complex, intense village Burgundy under $40. Maturing toward prime it shows very generous, open knit aromas of red cherry, floral notes, well integrated spice and some greenness and earth. Very intense with excellent length.

La Ferme Du Mont Vendange Châteauneuf-Du-Pape 2018, Rhône, France
$57.95 Eurovintage International Inc
Sara d’Amato – An accessible vintage for this Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Stephane Vedeau’s largely negotiant operation of La Ferme du Mont. Grenache dominant (80%) with the remainder made up of syrah and mourvèdre. Quite peppery and naturally spicy without supple tannins and plenty of vibrancy. Ready-to-drink.

Masi Toar Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2016, Veneto, Italy
$23.95, Authentic Wine & Spirits Merchants
John Szabo – Masi’s unique wine made from local oseleta blended with corvina from the volcanic ‘toar’ tufo soils of this part of the Veneto, this is maturing, complex wine. It’s the sapidity and salinity on the palate that really drives interest, not an ‘easy’ wine per se, but wrapped up in singular flavours.

Boutari Grande Reserve Naoussa 2016, Greece
$24.95 The Kolonaki Group Inc
David Lawrason – This is so much like a fine nebbiolo from Piedmont that it is uncanny. It is fairly pale with a generous, very complex nose of cranberry/redcurrant fruit, fresh herbs, vermouth-like botanicals and spice and dried wood. It is medium weight, firm and quite tannic but the structure really works.

Southbrook Laundry Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula
$34.95 Vinexx
Sara d’Amato – An energizing pinot noir brimming with aromas of plum, cherry, raspberry, forest floor, new leather and delicate spice. Fermented with wild yeast with largely older French oak contributing very little flavour from wood. This organically produced pinot noir is drinking very well now featuring appealing texture and a moderate level of alcohol.

Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block 2019, Swartland, South Africa
$39.95, Univins & Spirits Canada Inc.
John Szabo – A blend of 71% syrah, 11% grenache, 9% cinsault, 8% cabernet sauvignon and a splash of viognier, all from the Swartland, though you’ll have to scrutinize the back label to glean that last tidbit of information. The wine’s origins should be front and center in my view, such is the distinctive nature of dry-farmed Swartland fruit, ripe but firm, sun-drenched yet possessive of terrifically firm acids and structural tannins. All in all, a far more serious wine than the rather commercial-sounding Chocolate Block brand name would lead unfamiliar drinkers to believe. Drink or hold into the late-’20s or even a bit beyond.

Concannon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Paso Robles, California
$21.95 Corby Spirit and Wine Limited
David Lawrason – Very well priced in the California realm, with classic cabernet blackcurrant, basil/mint herbality, mild spicy oak and some graphite. It is medium-full bodied, quite warm yet lively. There is a certain freshness (and absence of sweetness) that I really like.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. Watch end of May for the review of Vintages equally large May 29 release, with features on Spain and Australia – with other reports coming in the meantime, including a Canadian Wine Insider look at the 2020 vintage across the country.

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.

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

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