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.


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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.


Mediterranean

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.


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That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

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