Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES January 22 Release

Review of VINTAGES Jan 22 Release: Sustainable Attitudes and Smart Buys

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

Sustainable Attitudes

I’ve been hammering on, along with countless others from the wine industry, about sustainability in recent years. There’s a moral responsibility to practice sustainable viticulture and wine production, in my view, and even a need to redefine “fine wine” as wine that is, at the very least, not only delicious but also sustainably produced. It’s a non–essential luxury, after all, not a matter of life and death, so shouldn’t further contribute to climate change and the degradation of the planet.

There have been big strides made around the world since the turn of the century in establishing sustainable certifications, along with ever–increasing numbers of organic vineyards as well. In a recent OIV report, certified organic vineyard surface area has increased by an average of 13% per year over the period 2005–2019, while the ‘non–organic’ vineyard area decreased by an average of 0.4% per year during the same period. The total global organic vineyard surface area is estimated at 454,000 hectares, representing 6.2% of the world’s area under vines.

Ultimately consumers will drive the biggest change and motivate producers to go more earth–friendly. But at a press conference last November, Wine Intelligence CEO Lulie Halstead revealed some telling research that shows consumers don’t really care that much. Or, perhaps more accurately, consumers already think wine is sustainably produced. This is not true. Although viticulture represents just three3 per cent% of France’s agricultural land, for example, the sector spreads 20 per cent of the country’s fungicides. These, as well as along with herbicides and pesticides, contribute to significantly to topsoil degradation, which, along with constant tilling, releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, destroys microbiome, speeds up desertification, and necessitates the use of ever–greater amounts of synthetic fertilizers and water for irrigation, among other bad things.This approach can’t be sustained indefinitely, so, by definition, is unsustainable.

With all the talk of sustainability in wine and other industries, one might have believed that consumer awareness and demand is at an all–time high. Coupled with the shift towards localism brought on by the pandemic, consumer choices, one would assume, would reflect this enlightened view. Yet discussing the issue of sustainability in wine, Halstead reports instead that there had been little change in perceptions during the pandemic. Canvassing wine drinkers around the world, she revealed that, while organic wine had the “highest opportunity index” among consumers, that is, the potential to have the greatest impact on consumer choices, it had remained almost identical in 2021 as it had been in 2019.

At the same time, the opportunity index of “sustainably produced wine” had actually dropped over this two–year period (–2.1), as had the index for Fairtrade (–2.7) and vegan wine (–3.5), while there was small decrease (–0.5) for the idea of carbon neutrality, and a marginal increase (+0.2%) for the concept of “environmentally–friendly wine”.

Summing up, Halstead said, “The evidence says that the consumer momentum towards sustainability in wine has not increased.”

Halstead attributes the stagnating enthusiasm for sustainable wine to the fact that, “the consumer already thinks that wine is sustainable.”

In interviews with wine drinkers in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, France, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and the US, she found that most believe that wine is natural: “In the consumer’s mind, you squeeze bunches of grapes, put the juice in a barrel and then put it in a bottle.”

Also alarmingly, only one third of global respondents said they will always buy sustainable wines when given the choice, and only 37 per cent are willing to pay more for it.

These responses seem to reflect a prevailing attitude that sustainable wines aren’t better for the planet (because all wines are good, or at least not bad, for the planet), and therefore not worth more.

This poses a dilemma for producers and their marketers. Sustainable or organic production, for example, is one big potential point of product differentiation in a crowded market. But to communicate that difference, you have to cast a shadow on the rest of the industry, implying that “conventional wine” is unsustainable, or worse (a problem that “natural wine” producers also face). This runs the risk of driving consumers away altogether. Already, Millennials and Gen Z-ers are drinking less alcohol than any generation before them. And when they do reach for alcohol, it’s often for low-calorie, high-flavour ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs).

So, what to do? Make reality match perception, before consumers find out and it’s too late? The only way forward to ensure a truly sustainable industry (economically, environmentally, socially) is to make it truly sustainable.

Attitudes toward sustainability in wine: a global view

Per cent in agreement with each of the following statements (n= 9215)

• I only trust the sustainability of wines if they have official certification – 43%
• Wine is a more sustainable product compared with other drinks – 42%
• Sustainable wine has less chemicals than other wine – 39%
• I’m willing to pay more for sustainable wine – 37%
• Wine in a bag–in–box is a sustainable form of wine packaging – 35%
• I will always buy sustainable wines when given the choice – 33%
• Sustainable wine is always organically produced – 29%

Source: Wine Intelligence, Vinitrac® 2019 (n=16,704) and 2020 (n=17,852) wine drinkers in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, France, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and US global wine markets.

VINTAGES January 22 Buyer’s Guide

This week’s Buyer’s Guide features the smartest buys from the VINTAGES January 22 release. The theme is California, though a weak selection yielded no recommendations (and we were unable to obtain samples of all releases), though there is much (triple) alignment elsewhere, with wines from no fewer than a half–dozen countries. In other valuable news, Michael reports from Montalcino where he spent several days touring and tasting the latest releases last fall. His comprehensive overview features 222 reviews of 2019/2020 Rosso di Montalcino and 2017/2016 Brunello, with a handful also tasted in October 2021 at the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri Awards tasting in Rome.

White and Sparkling

André Chemin Cuvée Sélectionnée Brut 1er Cru Champagne

André Chemin Cuvée Sélectionnée Brut 1er Cru, Champagne, France
$52.95, Gradwell Wine Agency
David LawrasonGiven all the apparent angst over Champagne shortages, this should bring a happy interlude at a price that overdelivers. It is a very fine and flavourful with mature yellow gold colour. The nose shows lifted, complex hazelnut, nougat, lemon and yellow apple. Rich flavours with brisk acidity and classic Champagne minerality on the finish.
Michael Godel –
Nice and toasty, spiced and in particular gingered crème brûlée without sugar and caramel without sweetness. Great stuff with a developed feel, like vintage Champagne five or even 10 years past vintage.

Bachelder L'Ardoise Niagara Chardonnay 2019

Bachelder L’Ardoise Niagara Chardonnay 2019, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
$24.95, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
David LawrasonArdoise blends from various old vine sites in a lower priced exploration of Bachelder’s style. The nose is soft and complex with well meshed leesy breadiness, oak nutmeg and baked apple fruit. It is medium weight, notably rich with fine acidity, subtle acetic sourness and warmth. Substantial and compelling for the money.
John Szabo – A very fine entry-point into the superb 2019 Bachelder range of chardonnays, this shows the balance and freshness of the vintage, and the light hand with elevage of the entire range, if without the depth and class of the top single vineyards. Yet all in all, it represents nicely the character of Niagara chardonnay in a great vintage, with all of the succulence and juiciness, and gentle salinity expected. Drink or hold 2-3 years.
Michael Godel
Smooth, silky and beautifully textured while also gainfully accessible white wine. That’s all you need to want and know. Drink this while thinking about all those other specific and profound plots around town providing fruit for the Bachelder empire of chardonnay.

Christophe Patrice Petit Chablis 2019

Christophe Patrice Petit Chablis 2019, Burgundy, France
$23.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
David Lawrason
This is hefty, serious and complex for a ‘basic’ Petit Chablis. Good winemaking has laid in considerable richness and complexity. Look for detailed fresh croissant, baked apple, sunflower seed, lemon and spice. It is medium bodied, fairly plush and warm.
John Szabo
A lovely Petit Chablis from Christophe Patrice, delivering depth and length above the mean. Expect textbook lactic and citrus, lemon-yoghurt flavours, and a succulence and salinity that drives additional sips. Length and depth, too, are impressive. Drink, or hold 2-4 years.
Sara d’Amato
Refreshing, chalky and clean with more depth than expected from a Petit Chablis. Carefully crafted with 6 months on the lees before undergoing malolactic fermentation which helps to gently curve the chardonnay’s zesty edge. A great deal to enjoy for the price.

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2020

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2020, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
$22.95, Mark Anthony Wine Group
John Szabo
I was impressed when tasting this pinot gris blind at the 2021 national Wine Awards of Canada last fall, and the positive impression was renewed with this most recent bottle. Mission Hill’s move to organic viticulture appears to be paying dividends already; this is clean and fragrant, medium-full-bodied, well-rounded wine. It needs a splash of oxygen, so be sure to carafe before serving if enjoying in the next year or so.

Feudo Maccari Olli Grillo 2020, Sicilia, Italy
$15.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
David Lawrason –
Astonishing value grillo, a tropical white variety native to Sicily. It is not highly aromatic, or immediate, but there is a certain richness and complexity with banana, elderflower, honey and vague butterscotch (but no oak). It is full, smooth, soft – a touch hot – with impressive flavour intensity and depth.

Butinages White Par Famille Gassier 2020, Costières De Nîmes, France
$16.95, Profile Wine Group (Du Chasse)
Michael Godel
Quite the herbal entry with tag along by honeysuckle and faint honeyed scents in Gassier 2020 “Buti.” Opens up and delivers more and more stretched and pliant nuance. Feels like nature, carefree and always with a purpose.
Sara d’Amato –
A great deal of flavour and spice has been extracted from these organically farmed, young grenache blanc and roussanne vines. Three-months of battonage has contributed a round mouthfeel and further appeal. Brimming with flavours of pineapple, Asian pear, lemon, green apple blossom, honeysuckle, heather, lanolin and white pepper – I’m hooked!


Lafage Cayrol Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2019

Lafage Cayrol Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2019, Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, France
$19.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
John Szabo
An old vine carignan from the schists of the Roussillon, this is a swarthy and concentrated wine, with marked iron and iodine-like flavours, scorched earth, dried resinous herbs, rather fruit backwards all in all. It’s a characterful and very Mediterranean expression all in all. Drink, or hold mid-term.
Sara d’Amato –
A sustainably produced old vine carignan that offers compelling aromas of dried wildflowers, bramble, red currants, and new leather. Lightly grippy tannins, a dry palate and excellent length.

Clos De Luz Massal 1945 Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Clos De Luz Massal 1945 Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Almahue, Valle del Rapel, Chile
$21.95, Touchstone Brands
John SzaboFrom estate vineyards planted in 1945 to own-rooted, massal selections, not clones, and wild-fermented, this is appealingly pure and fragrant on the nose, unusually floral for cabernet sauvignon, with lovely fresh red and black cherry fruit, blueberry and wild resinous herbs, very “Chilean” in the end. A really lovely wine for the money, drinking now, or hold into the mid-’20s or beyond.
Michael Godel –
Quaint and effusive, a high tonality but one more air than alkali, aura than marinade. A good set of circumstances for a Rapel Valley red of charm, openly fragrant rose florals and berries more piquant than sweet.

Jean-Maurice Raffault Les Picasses Chinon 2018, Loire, France  
$21.95, Le Sommelier Inc.         
John Szabo
A classic Chinon featuring green herbs and wild violets, fresh green pepper and black cherry, black raspberry, graphite and cedar chips, this is lovely mid-weight, juicy wine from Raffault, a highly reliable name in the appellation. Textbook stuff; drink, or hold into the mid-’20s.
Michael Godel
Expertly tart, crunchy and dutifully performing cabernet franc from Raffault, all herbs, spices, calcareous matter and just plain dirt fun. Love the way you have to sink your teeth into this one, feel the soil and the depth of the varietal speak. This, folks is real wine.
Sara d’Amato
This highly perfumed Chinon is perfectly ripe and exudes plentiful floral aromas along with dried herbs, purple plum and a hint of sandalwood. Mid-weight with fine tannins and very good length.

Monte Del Frá Lena Di Mezzo Valpolicella Classico 2019

Monte Del Frá Lena Di Mezzo Valpolicella Classico 2019, Veneto, Italy
$18.95, Signature Wines & Spirits Ltd.
John Szabo
Lovely, light, lifted, very floral, almond and cherry blossom-scented Valpolicella, fresh and vibrant the way it should be. I love the succulent acids and very fine, silky tannins. A wine to drink now with a light chill, or hold a year or two maximum.
David Lawrason
This is a fragrant, quite delicate and well balanced young corvina-based blend. Just what I want in Valpolicelle (without ripasso). It has pretty, well integrated aromas of cherry, red rose and hay. It is light, firm and dry. There is a pastoral charm here.
Sara d’Amato
Bright, crunchy, vibrant and widely appealing, this Valplicella Classico from the reputable Monte del Frà, is a refreshing, easy drinking red that is both well-priced and versatile with food. Engaging and generous perfume, paried with a juicy mid-weight palate and good length. Flavours of red fruit, salty and flora.

Brigaldara Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2018

Brigaldara Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC 2018, Veneto, Italy
$21.95, Rogers & Company
Michael Godel
Open, fresh and fragrant Valpolicella from a vintage out of which the Cesari family chose to capture the simple essence of the appellation. This is possible from Ripasso and though the extra concentration and mouthfeel are clearly Ripasso qualities there is always a return to vitality and vigour.

Quinta do Quetzal Guadalupe Red 2019

Quinta do Quetzal Guadalupe Red 2019, Alentejo, Portugal
$12.95, Vinya Wine Agency
Sara d’AmatoA succulent, easy drinking red made from a local blend of aragonês (aka tempranillo), the deeply coloured trincadeira and a smaller degree of alfrocheiro.  Both juicy and jammy with lush appeal and glossy tannins. All of the intrigue comes from the fruit and not the winemaking in this well-made weeknight red that won’t break the bank.
David Lawrason –
Blended from three indigenous varieties in the south of Portugal, this may not have much finesse but the flavour depth, structure and presence are excellent for $13. Expect very ripe blackberry/plum with some violet, pepper and subtle wood spice. It is full bodied, soft and rather hot, typical of the region. But let me remind you it is only $12.95.

Butinages Red Costières De Nîmes 2019, Rhône Valley, France
$16.95, Profile Wine Group (Du Chasse)
David LawrasonThis is a new ‘value’ tier from the Gassier family, one the larger and best producers of this Rhone appellation. It is a friendly, soft, notably spicy and pepper red with confected blueberry/raspberry fruit. Open knit, a touch sweet, warm and quite intense. Designed for immediate appeal and it works.

El Escocés Volante Manga del Brujo 2018

El Escocés Volante Manga del Brujo 2018, Calatayud, Spain
$16.95, Kylix Wines
Sara d’Amato – Low-yielding,old-vine garnacha from Aragon in northeastern Spain is the base of this delectable red made by Scottish-born MW and winemaker Norrel Robertson (“El Escocés Volante” translates to The Flying Scotsman). Featuring irresistible sweetly ripened red fruit and a salty crunch that are notably typical of the variety. Beware of the substantial level of alcohol that is well hidden among the folds of this riveting red. Ready-to-drink.

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 Selections
Michael’s Mix

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

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