Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES January 8th Release

Review of VINTAGES Jan 8th Release: In Praise of Wintry Syrah and Other Big Reds

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

Please note there are some changes to VINTAGES release program now underway. See below for more detail.

The January 8th release provides a selection of heart-warming red wines for these bone chilling days, and some of them are even very good value. There have been many, many times over the years that the January ‘pickins’ were slim, and boring.  This time, I am actually fired up by some very good selections from Australia, South Africa and the South of France, with many made from syrah/shiraz and company.

The most common FAQ of my career has been, “what’s your favourite grape/wine?” Pinot noir is numero uno because it is the most demanding, frustrating and stimulating of the major red wine grapes. (And, there are a couple of beauties below – Bel Echo from New Zealand and Domaine Carneros from California). But pinot is a fairer weather friend. Syrah runs a very tight second. It is also very expressive of place with nuance and complexity, with the bonus that its hearty and generous soul is much appreciated in the wintry days we are now experiencing.

There are a multitude of web places where you can learn all about syrah, if you are starting out, and how it interacts so deftly with equally peppery grenache, brooding mourvedre, combusting carignan and other Mediterranean varieties. To me, syrah has a real climatic sweet spot, delivering best in places with hot days, but cooler nights, or, altitudes, while reacting well to most soil structures from sand to limestone to granite that produce varying textural definitions.

There are many classic syrah pockets in the Rhône Valley and Languedoc in southern France, and of course, coast-to-coast in Australia. But, I would also place syrah, and blends thereof, as the number one red style in South Africa, Washington, the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys in B.C. Also, spot arguments can be made for Catalonia in Spain, Sicily in Italy, Chile, Argentina, California and even the North Island of New Zealand. And, this global swashbuckler is even more appealing because it almost universally priced below Cabernet and Co. Below, you will see several Syrah-based and picks, plus, some recommended reds and whites from other varieties, with a handful of good, cheap Bordeaux included.

The Syrah-Based Reds

Lavau Gigondas 2018

Lavau Gigondas 2018, Gigondas, Rhône, France
$34.95, Connexion Oenophilia
David LawrasonThis is a typical Gigondas. It is medium-full bodied, quite plush and warm, yet with a certain finesse particular to this appellation, which many consider the finest in the southern Rhône after Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The length is excellent. Best now to 2028.
Sara d’Amato –
The Lavau’s have always had an adventurous sensibility that led them from Bordeaux to Tunisia and then back to France in the Rhône Valley, where they have been established since 1965. The lively, juicy, and undeniably endearing Gigondas is brimming with local garrigue in the form of dried lavender, licorice and tarragon. The texture is quite compelling as well – somewhere between velvet and supple leather. A kick of mineral helps liven the palate and compliments the ripe red and black fruit. Ready to drink.

Best's Bin No. 1 Great Western Shiraz 2018

Best’s Bin No. 1 Great Western Shiraz 2018, Victoria, Australia
$21.95, Family Wine Merchants
David LawrasonGreat Western is a cooler nights appellation in Victoria, two hours west of Melbourne, on rolling lands leading up to the Grampians Range. It is full bodied, fairly dense, notably peppery and spicy with black licorice, crushed wild berries and all kinds of what the French would call garrigue. Huge value and ideal winter fare.
Sara d’Amato –
Bin No. 1 may be second to Best Thomson Family’s Bin No. 0 but it sure is a lot more accessibly priced and offers impressive value. A lovely lush, salty, dark and potent find that is ALL fruit only with a hint of sandalwood from oak. The density and the crunch are particularly satisfying. Excellent concentration and length with a long violet-floral-licorice-laced finish.

Penfold's Max's Shiraz/Cabernet 2019

Penfold’s Max’s Shiraz/Cabernet 2019, South Australia
$29.95, Mark Anthony Group
David Lawrason
The blending of shiraz and cabernet has long history in Australia, and even in France – indeed, they are very compatible. This is typically very full bodied, almost lush expression of Australia. It is almost thick and chewy and a touch sweet, with considerable tannic grit. The length is excellent.
Sara d’Amato –
An homage to Penfold’s former Chief Winemaker Max Schubert, whose almost three decades of service in the 40s to the 70s was instrumental in establishing Penfold’s legacy. Exceptionally concentrated, vibrant and broody, with a no shortage of blackberry and cassis fruit on the salty, power-packed palate. Keep this one tucked away for another 2+ years for best expression.

Domaine Le Clos Des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas 2019

Domaine Le Clos Des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine Gigondas 2019, Rhône Valley, France
$31.95, PV Wine & Spirits Agency
John Szabo
Silky, but firm, genuinely structured and complex Gigondas here from 50 year-old vines on average (a classic mix of grenache, syrah, mourvèdre), with a graceful and easy balance on the palate. It’s still several years away from prime enjoyment, at least 2-4, I’d say, to allow the tannins to soften.
David Lawrason –
This is a very fragrant, stylish and quite supple Gigondas. Love the lifted nose of pepper, raspberry jam, canned plums, purple lilac and wood spice. It is smooth and almost silky in texture, with considerable fine-grained, dusty, drying tannin signifying further ageing.

Fortant Grands Terroirs Minerovis 2018

Fortant Grands Terroirs Minerovis 2018, Languedoc, France
$15.95, Univins
John Szabo
It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but you won’t find too many wines with more marked terroir character and strong personality for the money. It offers a wild and complex aromatic ride, and full and fleshy, broadly flavoured palate, all scorched earth and baked stones. Drink or hold into the mid or even late ’20s.
David Lawrason –
This is huge value – a syrah-based red grown on the weathered limestones of Minervois in the south of France. It is deeply coloured with a lifted roasted, peppery nose with dried spicy fruit, mindful of mincemeat tarts. It is a touch reductive, as well. It is full bodied, very spicy and juicy with moderate tannins.

Fram Shiraz 2019

Fram Shiraz 2019, Swartland, South Africa
$22.95, Trialto Wine Group
John Szabo
Here’s a wild and free shiraz from Fram wines; not experimental, but playing on the edge, a ‘new wave’ South African shiraz, focused on drinkability and pleasure. It’s one of the better ones and at an attractive price. Drink now, or, hold short term.
David Lawrason –
Here’s a firm, complex, mineral rich shiraz from the Swartland, one of the most interesting places outside of France for wines based on southern French varieties. There is an aridness to the whole ambiance – dusty, mineral, peppery with dried fruits and wilted flowers and straw. But there is freshness and energy too.

Tyrrell's Hunter Valley Shiraz 2019

Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Shiraz 2019, New South Wales, Australia
$26.95, Select Wine Merchants Inc.
David Lawrason –
From a legendary winery of the Hunter Valley comes a very well knit, complex and savoury shiraz. It is not at all thick, heavy and dense, in fact, it is one of the paler Aussie shirazes with a lovely arrangement of wild patch berries, pepper, leather, sage, oak vanillin and spice. Very smooth and balanced, focused and detailed.

Cabernet Merlots

Redbrook Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2017

Redbrook Estate Cabernet/Merlot 2017, Margaret River, Western Australia
$38.95, Eurovintage Wines & Spirits
John SzaboComplex and inviting cabernet from Margaret River, full-bodied and voluptuous, banking on genuine fruit intensity and balance. It has the capacity to continue to improve and grow in complexity over the next 3-5 years, though it’s also delicious now, if you prefer more fruit. Textbook stuff.
Michael Godel –
Inky Bordeaux blend, black fruit and serious. Still a bit shy, but coming soon. It is a major structural convergence in this acid retentive, tannin suggestive and overall thinking winner of a Margaret River red.

Folklore Cabernet/Merlot 2018

Folklore Cabernet/Merlot 2018, Western Australia  
$17.95, The Living Vine                
John SzaboLike a stroll through a gum tree forest after the rain, this is so distinctly Aussie, and especially Margaret River. Fruit is ripe and black, like classic black currant, along with black currant bud, while oak is a minor backdrop feature. It’s not a monument of complexity, but there’s certainly a great deal of pleasure on offer. At peak.
Michael Godel –
Same bay leaf to black fruit swirl, now meatier and more gastronomic than ever. Good choice for pork schnitzel with harissa.

Château La Commanderie du Bardelet 2019

Château La Commanderie du Bardelet 2019, Bordeaux, France
$15.95, Epic Wines & Spirits
Sara d’Amato –
A well-proportioned, accessible Bordeaux made from 70% merlot, 25% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cabernet franc. Delicately grippy tannins, with some pleasant musky spice and mineral give the wine an authentic feel with more intrigue than the norm at this price.

Marquis De Bern 2018

Marquis De Bern 2018, Bordeaux, France
$13.95, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel
The Marquis once held a military command over Rions, much like this merlot dominated blend demands attention for the way it stands up to be counted. Triple threat of red fruit, verdancy and herbals with 30 per cent (of two cabernets) playing an important role in how this executes its plan.

Gaïa De Château Puybarbe Côtes de Bourg 2019

Gaïa De Château Puybarbe Côtes de Bourg 2019, Bordeaux, France
$15.95, Heritage Cellars
David LawrasonThis quite ripe, ready and drinkable merlot-based red is from the Cotes Bourg which so often delivers great value. Expect very generous, ripe blackberry fruit, florals, chocolate and tobacco from the 22% cabernet sauvignon in the blend. It is medium bodied, quite juicy and fresh with some heat and grainy youthful tannin.

Pinot Noirs

Bel Echo Pinot Noir by Clos Henri 2018

Bel Echo Pinot Noir by Clos Henri 2018, Marlborough, New Zealand
$29.95, Charton Hobbs Inc.
Michael GodelGreat, structured pinot noir, bigger than some earlier Bel Echo, but always with charm. Plenty of fruit for an ’18 that drinks with great pride at a much higher price. Snap it up.
Sara d’Amato –
Clos Henri is the New Zealand outpost of the well-known Sancerre producer, Henri Bourgeois, where they produce exclusively Marlborough-grown pinot noir and sauvignon blanc in three different ranges. Bel Echo is the more experimental tier, from grapes grown on “less conventional soil types”, like the coveted Greywacke riverbed soil, and it features notable complexity due in part to terroir and from thoughtful wood ageing. Notes of toast, clay, cherry, fresh ash and purple plum enticed on the well-balanced and poised palate.

Domaine Carneros Avant Garde Pinot Noir 2019

Domaine Carneros Avant Garde Pinot Noir 2019, Carneros, Napa Valley, California 
$36.95, Family Wine Merchants
Sara d’Amato – Domaine Carneros may best be known for their traditional method sparkling wine production based on Napa-grown chardonnay and pinot, but this example proves that they are just as adept at producing elegant, terroir-driven pinot noir adjacent to the cooling Pacific influences of San Pablo Bay. Rich and zesty, featuring dusty tannins and delicate, bottle aged complexity. Mid-weight and nicely restrained with flavours of Earl Grey, cherry, rhubarb, toast and dark chocolate. Memorable.

Other Reds

El Enemigo Los Paraisos Bonarda 2017

El Enemigo Los Paraisos Bonarda 2017, Unfiltered, Single Vineyard, Mendoza, Argentina  
$21.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel – Emits a true sense of place and belonging, variegates with slinging acids and sweet-grained tannins. Spiced to the hilt though, as much by its berries as would be by wood. So, a good integration had by all.

Viñalba Reserva Malbec/Touriga Nacional 2019

Viñalba Reserva Malbec/Touriga Nacional 2019, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina           
$19.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants    
John Szabo – A juicy, thoroughly delicious and satisfying blend made by specialists of each variety: Portuguese winemaker Rui Reguingua for the touriga, and Argentine Hervé. J Fabre for the malbec. It’s all about the fresh black fruit and violet flavours, lively and energetic. Enjoy now, or, hold short term.


Closerie des Alisiers Bourgogne Aligoté 2020

Closerie des Alisiers Bourgogne Aligoté 2020, Burgundy, France    
$17.95, Connexion Oenophilia
David LawrasonSo much class and definition.  Love the pristine, delicate nose of linden, green apple and baguette. It is medium bodied, balanced and fleshy, with medium acidity and a very long finish.
Sara d’Amato –
Only 6% of vineyards in Burgundy are planted to the aligoté grape which often produces simpler wines that showcase distinct floral notes than its white regional counterpart, chardonnay. Wines made from aligoté tend to range from neutral to surprisingly complex and highly pleasurable such as this example. Vibrant with an appealing saltiness, this viscous and honeyed wine offers a wealth of orchard fresh apple and pear blossom.
Michael Godel
Just a lovely example of aligoté from Bourgogne. Old soul, not nearly as rustic as some might deem and just a joy to drink. Substantial and satisfying.

Stéphane Brocard Closerie Des Alisiers Petit Chablis 2019

Stéphane Brocard Closerie Des Alisiers Petit Chablis 2019, Burgundy France
$22.95, Connexion Oenophilia
John Szabo – A rather classic cool climate, unoaked chardonnay, all green apples and white flowers, with gentle, lactic character. I find it even-keeled and succulent, with a lick of saltiness to add interest. Textbook stuff. Drink now, or, hold a year or two.

The Fledge & Co Jikken Bareru Experimental Barrels Sauvignon Blanc 2019

The Fledge & Co Jikken Bareru Experimental Barrels Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Western Cape, South Africa
$15.95, Lusoscape
David LawrasonThe Fledge is a fledgling enterprise based on the vision of two young South Africans with agrarian roots – winemaker Margaux (great wine name) Nel and co-owner Leon Coetzee. This delivers a bucket load of character for $16, a barrel-aged sauvignon with complexity, structure and depth way beyond its price, in a fumé style.

Changes to Vintages Releases

Modifications to VINTAGES release program are coming into effect here in 2022. We are at the beginning of a transition year to far more Online purchasing. John detailed the whole program in late November, based on internal LCBO documents. Suffice to say for now, some 45 LCBO stores have been cut out of VINTAGES Saturday releases, with regular releases now only maintained at about 250 out of over 660 stores in the province. Some others, however, will have expanded selections of always available 200+, generally middle of the road VINTAGES Essentials. Lower volume, higher price Flagship Store Exclusives are now disappearing as a concept, with those wines moving completely Online. The Online Exclusives will open for purchase on the Thursday before the Saturday In-Store release. First up Jan 20.  Watch our next newsletter for more detail.

And, that’s a wrap for this edition. Stay warm and stay safe. 

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 Selections
Michael’s Mix

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

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