Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES July 24th, 2021

Great Value Quenching Whites and BBQ Reds

By David Lawrason, with reviews from John Szabo, Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

VINTAGES primary feature on this July 24th release is “High Scoring Wines” with a selection of 12 wines reviewed by publications that score wines “high”. Given the LCBO exists to sell wines VINTAGES always picks the highest scores it can find, usually from authoritative sources. WineAlign is rarely represented because we don’t score “high”. Only one of the wines in their selection has an equivalent WineAlign rating – the terrific Argyros Assyrtiko from Santorini, Greece that is reviewed below.

I am tempted to once again go down the rabbit hole of inflated scores, which is now endemic as magazines, awards and blogs compete to stay noticed by consumers seeking confidence and the industry that feeds them. But that’s as far down as I will go.

Because I think that WineAlign’s most important function is actually finding good value wines at any price.  Why exist if not give our readers high quality wines at the lowest, or at least the fairest prices. And to be clear about which wines are high quality and at what price. So, all our quality ratings and reviews are accompanied by value ratings out of five stars, which is the very best service we can offer.  (And any reviewers who use value as an argument to inflate their scores do a disservice to their readers).


The July 24th release – as is historically true of mid-summer VINTAGES releases – is very slim on high falutin’ and high scoring wines. But it is fairly rich on nifty, unoaked, summery whites and moderately priced, perfectly accessible reds for the BBQ season.  Again, we are no longer tasting everything VINTAGES has on offer, but I have personally tasted over 60 of the wines on this release and my colleagues are in similar territory.

So here we go into our picks.

Value Whites and Rose Under $20

Kutjevo Grasevina 2020

Kutjevo Grasevina Danube-Kutjevo Vineyard 2020, Slavonia, Croatia
$16.95, Croatia Unpacked

David Lawrason – Grasevina is also known as welschriesling, commonly found in central Europe.  Although similar to riesling in terms of acid vigour and freshness, the aromatics are less strident and fruity. This is showing some lemon, grapefruit, fennel and yellow (mirabel) plum.
John Szabo – Fresh, clean, apple and citrus-scented white here from Croatia, well made, crunchy and lively. It’s fully ready to roll; a fine aperitif-style wine.
Michael Godel – Surely and duly noted as a sharp and tidy package of the local grasevina with lemon and lime, a touch of tropical to tinned pineapple, wild chamomile (Matricaria Discoidea) and finishing with an ever so slight spritz. Tight and focused, quenching and also a bit off the beaten path. Right proper example and worth a look.

Silvio Carta Su Puddu Vermentino Di Sardegna 2019

Silvio Carta Su Puddu Vermentino Di Sardegna 2019, Italy
$17.95, Le Sommelier Inc.

John Szabo – Here’s an attractively ripe and forwardly fruity, white and yellow fleshed fruit-flavoured vermentino from the grape’s Mediterranean island outpost in Sardinia, free from oak influence. Worth a look.
Sara d’Amato – A compelling wine with surprising length for the price. A real treat to have a Sardinian vermentino in this release. Stainless steel vinified as is typical, with a distinctive saltiness, a lightly grainy texture and a delicate toastiness. Dominated by a mineral character that is complimented by floral notes of pear blossom, rosebud and jasmine. Drink up!
David Lawrason – This has a lovely, lifted and lively nose of rosemary, mint, pine nut and pineapple. It is mid-weight, very clean and loaded with flavour, if a bit low in acid zest. But dryness and bitterness compensate. Chill well.

Umani Ronchi Casal Di Serra Verdicchio Classico Superiore 2019

Umani Ronchi Casal Di Serra Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore 2019, Le Marche, Italy
$19.95, Perugini

Michael Godel – Casal di Serra is simply classic verdicchio what with its smart and smashing sensations derived by freshness and marine salty behaviour. An absolute steal of a mid-weight, easy alcohol, citrus-focused Italian white wine that suits the word aperitif to a capital “A.” Croccante, balanced, unfettered, free and alive.
John Szabo – A reliably excellent value, Casal di Serra is a particularly compelling wine, certainly very ripe, and with flavour depth and breadth above the mean. Bonus marks for organic certification.

Bonny Doon Vin Gris De Cigare Rosé 2020

Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris De Cigare 2020, Central Coast, California, USA 
$19.95, Family Wine Merchants

David Lawrason – Randall Graham of Bonny Doon has long believed in the suitability of Rhone varieties in California’s Mediterranean climate. This rose has very similar, vey generous aromatics similar to styles from the south of France/Provence with strawberry/cherry blossom, saffron, licorice and grapefruit. It is medium-full bodied, very smooth and polished.
Michael Godel – Vin Gris de Cigare is a “pink wine of the earth” that will stop to make you think, despite being in defiance of the spiralling zeitgeist that emphasizes its immediacy. Seemingly concocted from a mixologist’s cauldron brimming with woodland sage, polished trumpets and peach schnapps. A Rosé by any other name is Vin Gris and this is it.

Casal De Ventozela Espadeiro Rosé 2020, Vinho Verde

Casal De Ventozela Espadeiro Rosé 2020, Vinho Verde, Portugal                     
$14.95, Le Sommelier

David Lawrason – From a singular and rare local grape variety called espadeiro, this is one of the more vivid salmon pink roses of the season, with terrific aromatic intensity and palate energy. Expect very lifted, detailed aromas and flavours of sour cherry/redcurrant, lilac, evergreen and peppery spice. A touch spritzed to refresh, and dry.

Value Reds Under $20

Réserve De La Roncière Cuvée Traditionnelle 2018

Réserve De La Roncière Cuvée Traditionnelle 2018, Côtes du Rhône, France         
$15.95, Marchands des Ameriques

Sara d’Amato – If you’re going to buy a wine by its packaging, you won’t be disappointed in this well-priced find. The embossed cartouche of the Rhône River flowing below the city of Avignon around which the grapes are sourced is quite stunning and may even distract you from the heat of the wine. That being said, it is fairly well-balanced wine with significant fortitude and depth of flavour for under $16. Offering the peppery spiciness of syrah (10%) and the red fruit of grenache (85%) with some local garrigue in the mix.
David Lawrason – This is a fairly soft, ripe and rich Cotes du Rhone with fig jam, plum, licorice a touch of hay and pipe tobacco. It is medium-full bodied, with luxurious texture. Tannins are soft, the ambiance is warm, with some alcohol heat. Chill lightly around the BBQ.
Michael Godel – Mainly grenache with some mourvèdre and syrah for a firm and tight-knit Rhône that surely punches above its price and weight class. Like Gigondas or Chateaunneuf-du-Pâpe, albeit simpler and less brawny. An admirable facsimile I would say over all.

Fina Nero D'avola 2017

Fina Nero D’Avola 2017, Sicilia, Italy
$16.95, Epic Wines & Spirits

Sara d’Amato – A bold and crunchy find, this salty, organically certified nero d’avola is a charmer and more complex than most at this price. Well-balanced, mid-weight with mildly grippy tannins and a lovely floral, botanical aromatic character. Juniper and black pepper resonate linger memorably on the finish. 
Michael Godel – My if this nero d’avola does not speak for Fina’s Vini Siciliani Marsala homeland. Juicy as a rare piece of grilled tuna, fresh from the sea, a chalky underlay and varietal purity speaking on behalf of the foothills terroir and an all encompassing Sicila DOC.

Foncalieu Prestige Fitou 2019

Foncalieu Prestige Fitou 2019, Languedoc, France            
$13.95, Marchand des Ameriques

David Lawrason – Very well priced for an AOP Fitou, and very good wine as well. The alcohol does run hot, but everything else is restrained and fairly well poised. The nose shows lifted pepper, fresh herbs (oregano), licorice and meaty character amid blackberry fruit.
Sara d’Amato – A rare value in these parts, the premium Languedoc sub-appellation of Fitou is very similar to its neighbour Corbières featuring dark fruit and a wealth of garrigue as does this well-priced example. The tannins are ripe and supple give this blend an affable and ready-to-drink character.

Pipoli Aglianico Del Vulture 2018

Pipoli Aglianico Del Vulture 2018, Basilicata, Italy
$16.95, Barrique Wine Imports

Sara d’Amato – A great value aglianico from the Vulture appellation. Graphite and perfectly ripened dark fruit are brimming from the glass of this peppery red. Featuring notable concentration and velvety, voluminous tannins. Finishes on an elegant note of tomato leaf that contributes to its Mediterranean charm.
David Lawrason – I was shocked by the pricing of this wine from the most expensive red appellation on the boot of Italy.

Château Saint Roch Chimères 2018

Château Saint-Roch Chimères 2018, Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, France
$19.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants

John Szabo – Another sharp buy from the Lafarge Family, this is classically savoury and minerally red wine from the schists and marls of the Roussillon, with thick and broad palate, wearing 15% alcohol comfortably. All in all, a terrific mouthful of wine for $20; examples like this from better-known parts of the Rhône would often cost double.

Lapostolle Gran Selección Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Lapostolle Gran Selección Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Rapel Valley, Chile
$16.95, Trialto Wine Group Ltd.

John Szabo – Lapostolle’s 2018 cabernet sauvignon is an appealingly fruity, plush, balanced wine with broad supple tannins and generous, mouth-filling palate. There’s plenty of dark fruit in the expected register, alongside varietally typical herbal character and a modicum of barrel spice. Satisfying and widely appealing wine all around, for current enjoyment or short-term hold.

D.V. Catena Historic Red Blend 2018, Tupungato, Argentina   
$19.95, Trialto Wine Group

David Lawrason – This deftly blends 75% malbec, 19% bonarda petit verdot – a creative and successful idea. It is full bodied yet nicely fresh without a lot of astringency. The nose is lifted and pretty with violet, plum, blackberry, dried sage, vanillin and spice – all nicely coalesced. It really is a charmer.

More Expensive Whites and Rosé

Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2019

Argyros Assyrtiko 2019, Santorini, Greece
$45.95, The Kolonaki Group Inc.

John Szabo – Although the price of this wine has doubled in the last half-dozen years, it was always undervalued and unsustainable as such, so I can’t gripe overly about the increase. I mean, this 2019 vintage made from 100+ year-old ungrafted assyrtiko vines, stainless steel aged, is a classic example of the terroir, not an easy wine, but one of extreme personality, as distinctive as the island itself. Density and extract like this are rare in wines of any colour, especially whites. Drink, or better yet hold up to a decade or longer without concern.
Sara d’Amato – Out of all the wines tasted in this release, this assyrtiko from 100–120-year-old ungrafted vines impressed me most. The price seems prohibitive, but I would rank the quality similar to an excellent 1er cru Burgundy. Despite being oak-free, the mouthfeel is considerable due both to the quality of the fruit and the battonage of fine lees during maturation. Closed in Diam closures to help prevent bottle variation. Don’t miss out. Quantities are surely limited.
David Lawrason – This is such a high calibre wine. Flavours are not mainstream if you have never tried it before, but this is complete, intense and complex. Look for lifted aromas of almost tropical pineapple/starfruit, fennel, spearmint, flinty minerality and fresh herbs, with mineral, salty tang.

Vincent Raimbault Bel Air Vouvray 2018, Loire, France
$22.95, The Case for Wine

Michael Godel – Actually a Vouvray sec, not sparkling at all and confusion with the VINTAGES release all around. No matter for it is (mostly) dry with just a few drops of sugary pear fruit to enliven the chenin blanc wholesome goodness. A slice of Loire pie in the most balanced and effective way.

Daou Rosé, Paso Robles 2020, California, USA
$29.95, Glazer’s of Canada

Sara d’Amato – In a blind tasting, I’d mistake this for a Provencal rosé but this is the aim of Georges and Daniel Daou that “came of age” in the south of France. Almost entirely grenache (95%) with a splash of sauvignon blanc. Elegant and somewhat restrained with flavours of red berries, lavender and underbrush with a lightly oily texture and some refreshing mineral punch. In the mid-to-premium pricing tier but very competitive with similar examples from the Côtes de Provence.

More Expensive Reds

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2018

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2018, Stellenbosch, South Africa    
$24.95, Woodman Wine Agency

David Lawrason – Here’s a classic Cape syrah that fits its skin very well, packing good complexity and syrah accuracy into a mid-weight, firm, balanced wine. It shows spot-on dried cherry/mulberry fruit, cured smoked meat, pepper, fresh cedar bough and spice. It is medium bodied with very good density, acidity, moderate alcohol and excellent length.

Benziger Sonoma County Merlot 2017, Sonoma County, California, USA           
$24.95, Corby Spirit and Wine

David Lawrason – Benziger was an early adopter of organic and sustainable viticulture in Sonoma. This is a quite lovely, if just slightly sweet-edged merlot that goes for energy and detail over richness and luxuriousness. The nose shows fairly intense red plum, lilac, sweet oak vanilla and mixed herbs, all nicely composed.

Kir-Yianni Diaporos Single Vineyard Xinomavro 2016, Imathia, Greece
$53.95, The Kolonaki Group Inc.

John Szabo – 2016 marks the 10th vintage of this trailblazing, single vineyard xinomavro first made by Stelios Boutari in 2006. The grape is northern Greece’s most important red cultivar, often compared to nebbiolo from Piedmont for good reason; fans of Barolo and Barbaresco will find comforting familiarity here. It shows beautiful perfume and elegance, dried florals and wild herbs, brown spice and beautifully integrated oak notes (22 months in barriques), And though starting to drink nicely now, another 2-4 years will only see more positive development, and a further polishing of the texture. Complexity is already outstanding. Classy, stately wine.

Cantina Di Montalcino Brunello Di Montalcino 2015

Cantina Di Montalcino Brunello Di Montalcino 2015, Tuscany, Italy
$39.95, Majestic Wine Cellars

John Szabo – A blend of vineyards from all four sides of the hill of Montalcino, this is a well-priced, stylish Brunello from a great vintage, drinking well now. It’s not a highly extracted or structured example, but it surely delivers in terms of perfume and classic sangiovese character. I love the sapid, saline finish that brings you back for another sip.

Delas Crozes Hermitage Les Launes 2019

Delas Crozes Hermitage Les Launes Crozes Hermitage 2019, Rhône, France
$32.95, Univins and Spirits

Sara d’Amato – Peppery loveliness, this slightly earthy, meaty Crozes Hermitage from a warm vintage shows poise and balance. The house of Delas Frères, currently owned by Louis Roederer, has seen a rebirth since the late 90s under the winemaking direction of Jacques Grange and has since been producing wines of increasing finesse. This charismatic blend boasts a wealth of flavour, minerality and b through bottle aged flavours that contribute to surprising complexity for the price.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. Join us in two weeks as John and our gang comb through the August 7 release, which contains VINTAGES first ever “orange wine” feature. Enjoy these gloriously open days of summer.


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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