Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES August 21st Release

John Szabo’s VINTAGES Review August 21st: Of Natural Disasters, and Buying Wines That Make a Difference

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

It’s the terror of knowing what the world is about. Just ask any vintner in the Okanagan Valley, or California, or the south of France. Or just about anywhere. Grape growers should be terrified, as they face a foe over which they have no control. We call it weather. And weather sparks natural disasters. Some preventative or reactive steps can be taken to mitigate the damage. But really, growers are largely at the mercy of weather, and nature has been anything but merciful in 2021, one of the worst years on record for climatic calamities (“unprecedented”, “wettest/driest/hottest/highest on record”, etc.). The  South of France is the latest wine region to announce wildfires, a particularly widespread meteorologically-exacerbated foe in 2021, against which you can do nothing but literally fight. It’s an apt time for a Mediterranean thematic, the focus of the Vintages August 21st release. Elsewhere in the Mediterranean and environs this year, large blazes have ravaged regions of Turkey, Bulgaria, Albania, Northern Macedonia, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Israel, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

For an industry that rambles on endlessly about “sense of place”, the effects of a climate landscape shifting under every vintner’s feet is nothing short of an existential threat. And it’s all the more ironic that we (human beings) are the main cause. But remember that all of us, including the wine industry, can be part of the solution, too. As wine drinkers we can send a message that the privilege of growing, making and drinking wine can’t come at the cost of the planet. Use your dollars as both a carrot and a stick to encourage sustainable production. In better news, there’s a terrific range of wines on offer this week, with uncommon alignment among the crü.  Read on to find out which earned triple alignment, even a rare quad. And spare a thought for those vintners affected by climate disasters.


Mercy Mercy Me. Things Ain’t What They Used to Be

I trust by now you’re not still denying that climate change is real, and that we have caused it. Have a read of the very sobering Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, released a week and a half ago.

“Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion—such as continued sea level rise—are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years”, its authors report. And it gets more blistering from there.

Every region in the world is now affected, and the effects affect everyone and everything. But agriculture gets the bluntest and most immediate hit. And grape growing, of course, is one of the sub-specialty areas most affected. Granted, wine is not life or death, like food production. But for an industry that rambles on endlessly about “sense of place”, the effects of a climate landscape shifting under every vintner’s feet is nothing short of an existential threat.

Some preventative or reactive steps can be taken to mitigate the damage, such as irrigation (where permitted and possible) to overcome drought, canopy management techniques to reduce disease pressure or shade grapes from a fiery sun, planting inter-row cover crops to limit erosion from heavy rains and flooding, and using hail nets to limit damage, to name a few. But really, growers are largely at the mercy of weather, and nature has been anything but merciful in 2021.

The latest wine country region to announce wildfires is the South of France, included in the Vintages August 21st release thematic. Over 7000 hectares of forests, and some vineyards, have been scorched and two lives lost, as reported by France24. The fire started last Monday August 16th in the Var department and has since spread to Côtes de Provence region, intensified by hot, dry conditions and the infamous Mistral wind, which screams down the Rhône Valley with Swiss regularity. The fire is still smouldering in the hills behind the French Riviera resort of Saint-Tropez.

Jeany Cronk, co-founder of Domaine Mirabeau, posts a picture of fire damage (Instagram: @maisonmirabeau)

Provence hasn’t seen wildfires like this since the scorching hot 2003 vintage. There are also fires in the wine-producing Aude and Beaumes-de-Venise regions. Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, this year large blazes have already ravaged regions of Turkey, Bulgaria, Albania, Northern Macedonia, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Israel, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Instagram: @maisonmirabeau

I cannot recall a vintage more stricken by natural disasters than 2021. Catastrophic floods in Germany all but destroyed the Ahr wine region. Vicious spring frosts across Europe have decimated crops, with losses estimated at 2 billion euros in France alone. So too, have violent hailstorms ravaged vineyards in Spain’s Ribera del Duero and the Loire Valley in France, among too many other regions to report. Relentless rains have caused outbreaks of downy and powdery mildew attacks in Southern Ontario as well as across Europe. The list of climate-induced disasters goes on and on and on.

This is not intended to depress, but rather press upon readers the disaster that we have created, and the changes that we need to make to stop, and reverse where possible the damage done. Everyone can participate. As wine drinkers, we can insist upon sustainable/organic/biodynamic production. We can leave on shelves those irresponsibly heavy glass, ego-driven, CO2-emitting bottles. We can send a message that the privilege of growing, making and drinking wine can’t come at the cost of the planet. With well-established, regenerative agricultural techniques and responsible packaging, the wine industry can become part of the solution. But for that to happen, consumers need to make their voices heard, as both a carrot and a stick. That part is up to you.


Librandi Duca Sanfelice Cirò Riserva Rosso 2017

Librandi Duca Sanfelice Cirò Riserva Rosso 2017, Calabria, Italy
$17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
David Lawrason – Here’s a very pleasant surprise from old, head pruned, dry farmed gaglioppo vines in Italy’s deep south, where historically wines were rather coarse and rustic. This rich yet quite elegant wine shows quite brightness and freshness of the red cherry/plummy fruit, with integrated florals, herbs and oak spice. Tannins are firm but not out of balance.
John Szabo – This is fine quality, polished and modern gaglioppo from old bush vines on the southern coast of Calabria. Tannins are supple and tame, acids strident but in balance, and overall depth and length impressive in the price category. A good quality wine, especially useful around the barbeque. Drink over next 1-3 years.
Sara d’Amato – Calabria’s flagship wine, Ciró rosso is made entirely from galioppo which can result in rather hearty wines, yet this vibrant example is so finely balanced and feels lighter than expected.  The fruit of Librandi’s old head-trained vines is treated with a light hand, aged in stainless steel and concrete tanks. Accessible now so no need to wait.

La Cadiérenne Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé 2020

La Cadiérenne Cuvée Grande Tradition Bandol Rosé 2020, Provence, France
$24.95, Connexion Oenophilia
David Lawrason – I really like the fragrance and piquancy of the mourvedre aromas, with blueberry/red currant fruit then softer pink rose, saffron and peppery spice. There is also a seaside oyster shell brine. It is mid-weight, crisp yet not severe with some textural gloss and warmth.
Sara d’Amato – Raspberry and cherry and pomegranate, oh my! This dry but satisfyingly ripe Bandol rosé is a solid, thirst-quenching cooperative produced wine that really delivers for the dollar.

Other Whites & Rosés

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2020,

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Marlborough, New Zealand                     
$27.95, Trialto Wine Group Ltd. 
David Lawrason – There is some ‘house style’ reductive flintiness, but dig deeper to reveal well honed and integrated aromas of grapefruit, green peach, fresh dill, grapefruit and even some florality. It is medium weight, more substantial and rich than many with a certain roundness and great depth.
John Szabo – 2020 marks a return to the old, idiosyncratic Dog Point style after a fruitier 2019, a good thing. It shows that lovely (in my opinion), stony, sulfide-driven, intense and complex flavour profile, one with saltiness that drives additional sips. It’s a polarizing profile, but seriously, this is good wine, with character, depth and class. Splash decant if you want more fruit, or cellar another 2-3 years, a rarity in the Marlborough sauvignon world. This wine is worth a little effort to understand.

Moillard Coquillage Chablis 2019

Moillard Coquillage Chablis 2019, Bourgogne, France
$23.95, Family Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – Yes this is marine salty and alludes to the crustaceous feel you get when sipping such a wine. The pairing is more obvious and suggested. Think sea creatures and citrus. It’s that simple.
Sara d’Amato – Chalky, salty and brimming with pear and wet stone, the textbook definition of Chablis. A leesy component gives a toasty flavour as well as adding volume to the palate. A top value in this VINTAGES release.

Domaine Jean Pierre Sève Terroir Pouilly Fuissé 2019

Domaine Jean Pierre Sève Terroir Pouilly Fuissé 2019, Bourgogne, France
$31.95, The Case For Wine
Michael Godel – Now here is a dramatic, ever-interesting, snap, crackle, pop and jolting Bourgogne with true terroir inductive smoulder. Big power and fulsome throttled texture. Wow. P-F for the big time.
John Szabo – A multi-generational family operation, Domaine Seve’s 2019 Pouilly-Fuissé’s “Terroir” cuvée is an ambitious, smoky-toasty-mineral wine, with high palate concentration and riveting acids. Sulfides and wood components are yet to fully integrate, so cellar another 1-3 years at least to see full integration. Length and depth are very good indeed.

Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2018

Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2018, New Zealand
$29.95, Charton Hobbs
Sara d’Amato – The label may read sauvignon blanc but this wine by Henri Bourgeois of the Loire Valley has a captivating nerviness, a distinct stoniness and a lactic-leesy profile so reminiscent of Chablis. This deliciously restrained incarnation offers a mouth-watering saltiness and light creaminess but with a texture akin to the fine powder of crushed stones. Not exactly typical but certainly compelling.


P. Ferraud & Fils Les Merrains Beaujolais Villages 2018

P. Ferraud & Fils Les Merrains Beaujolais-Villages 2018, Beaujolais, France           
$15.95, Marchands Des Ameriques Inc.
David Lawrason – A whopper of a deal! Such a charming, generous yet serious gamay. Ferraud is a classicist making generous yet structured gamays from all the cru villages. This Beaujolais Villages captures classic fruit and florality in a smooth yet juicy, exacting style.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Cuvée Oumua

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Cuvée Oumuamua 2018, Monterey County, California       
$19.95, Family Wine Merchants               
David Lawrason – From Randall Graham, California’s Rhone magician, this is very exacting, very well balanced and simply delicious mid-weight red. Grenache leads the blend with its ripe strawberry jam and peppery character but 34% cinsault brings surprising lift, florality and vitality. It is medium bodied, firm and confident.
Michael Godel – Quite the crispy exterior and chewy interior, like a Sicilian arancini filled with braised beef and salty Cacciocavallo. Look what you’re Doon to me.
John Szabo – It’s been ages since I tasted this iconic Central Coast Rhône blend originated by iconoclast winemaker Randall Grahm, an early favourite of mine way back in the 1990s. The nose on this 2018, a cooler vintage, is very pretty and fragrant, full of grenache perfume, spicy red cherry, wild resinous herbs, red and black licorice, white and black pepper, while the palate is sleek and polished, delicious. Serve with a light chill for maximum enjoyment – it’s a highly versatile wine that will find plenty of appropriate partners at the table.
Sara d’Amato – This southern Rhône inspired blend featuring grenache (52%), cinsault (35%) and syrah (13%) is highly expressive with no shortage of personality. Offering a good deal of complexity and effortless charm for a small price. Peppery syrah dominates the nose while ripe cherries from the cinsault make an impact on the palate but it is the backbone of grenache gives this well-priced find its affability

Más Que Vinos Garnacha De La Madre 201

Más Que Vinos Garnacha De La Madre 2015, Castilla La Mancha, Spain
$19.95, H.H.D. Imports
John Szabo – An organically farmed garnacha tintorera (more colour than garnacha) from cool, high elevation vineyards in Castilla-Léon, this has delightful perfume and complexity, and silky and velvety palate. I like the sapidity on offer; all concrete-aged, so no obtrusive wood flavours to report. Really quite a lovely value all in all; drink or hold 2-4 years.
Sara d’Amato – A super stylish, lightly reductive and notably peppery garnacha tintorera which is a cross between the grapes petit bouschet and grenache/garnacha, primarily grown in the Alentejo region where it is known as alicante bouschet. Named after the certified organic, 30-year-old vineyard “La Madre” on the El Horcajo estate just east of Toledo that is has a relatively cool microclimate resulting in plenty of peppery spice on the nose. Full bodied with a velvety tannic presence on the palate and a wealth of black fruit. A sensual delight with a refreshing degree of local charm and varietal typicity

Domaine Des Tourelles Red 2016

Domaine Des Tourelles Red 2016, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
$21.95, Heritage Cellars
John Szabo – Deeply-coloured, deeply fruity and ripe, this is a satisfying, nicely polished red blend (40% cabernet sauvignon, 40% syrah, 15% cinsault and 5% carignan) from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and vineyards at over 1000m elevation. Fermentation and ageing exclusively in concrete helps to preserve the fruit and freshness. Overall, this has a southern Rhône feel to it – I love the peppery spice that joins in the fray. Very good length and depth. Worth a look.
Sara d’Amato – Bordeaux meets southern Provençal inspired blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, cinsault and carignan. Flavours of black tea, pepper and blackberry make up some of the complexity featured on the palate. A light-handed approach with concrete-aging allows for regional typicity to shine through.

Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Syrah 2018

Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Syrah 2018, Limari Valley, Chile
$17.95, E&J Gallo Winery Canada Ltd.
David Lawrason – This Wine of the Month offers great value for syrah fans. It captures such authentic syrah character and complexity, delivering with intensity, juiciness and richness.  Yes, sweetness pushes the envelope, but there is so much going on – for such a modest price – that balance is maintained. Very focused with excellent to outstanding length.

Clos Henri Petit Clos Pinot Noir 2019

Clos Henri Petit Clos Pinot Noir 2019, Marlborough, New Zealand
$26.95, Charton Hobbs Inc.
David Lawrason From a French-owned house farming organically in the inland Waihopi Valley, this offers deep colour and a ripe, fragrant and refined nose. Very well pieced together and quite elegant with moderate acidity and alcohol (13.5%) and just slightly firm tannin.
Michael Godel The Bourgeois family has been growing pinot noir in the Loire for 10 generations, with experience transferable to NZ.  The Petite Clos is classic, classy and multi-purposed for the overall win.
John Szabo – This is a lovely, vibrant spicy-tart Marlborough pinot noir from Loire-based Bourgeois family, though also long-time producers in New Zealand. This is crafted is a light and juicy, immediately appealing style, absent any obtrusive oak influence. Tannins are light and dusty and acids crunchy, framing tart red cherry-cranberry-raspberry fruit, clean and pure, a style that NZ does so well. Ready to enjoy

Lavau Côtes Du Rhône 2018

Lavau Côtes Du Rhône 2018, Rhône, France
$14.95, Connexion Oenophilia
Michael Godel – First VINTAGES sighting here for an entry-level Côtes du Rhône from a winery with a long list of releases under its Ontario belt. A fruit first, ask questions later sort of wine. Fine work, as expected, and here at a steal of a price.

Emiliana Salvaje Syrah/Roussanne 2019

Emiliana Salvaje Syrah/Roussanne 2019, Valle Casablanca, Chile
$19.95, Origin Wine And Spirits
Michael Godel – More than a unique and curious take, or twist, rather, in using the Rhône white blending partner of roussanne to mix and match with syrah. Like crushed velvet.
John Szabo – Syrah, when co-fermented with other varieties, most classically with viognier in the northern Rhône, or here with roussanne, develops deeper colour and a wild range of floral aromatics. This wine is worth a look for the innovative approach, also the sustainable/organic farming practiced by Emiliana. I love the cold cream and fresh-ripe black berry flavour with floral-wild violet nuances, and for $20, you’re getting a lot of wine.

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
Michaels Mix

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for the latest WineAlign recommendations, tips and other interesting wine information.

Sponsored Toronto Wine Storage - Fine Wine Reserve

The Fine Wine Reserve provides discerning collectors with the highest standards of fine wine storage in Toronto. Their facilities are purpose-built and specifically engineered to protect your fine wines. With two locations in the GTA, The Fine Wine Reserve offers the widest range of storage options and styles in Canada - allowing them to serve the unique and evolving needs of novice and expert collectors alike.