Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES February 5 Release

Review of VINTAGES Feb 5 Release: Remembering Paul, Editorial Shift, Argentina

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

Here We Grow in Ontario’s New Era: WineAlign’s expanded coverage, streamlined reviews, and broadened voice

WineAlign welcomes the expansion of fine wine retailing in Ontario beyond the LCBO, into grocery and bottle shops, as well as growing online channels through wineries, importers, wine clubs and delivery services. And with so much more choice for consumers, and so much more ground to cover, WineAlign is streamlining reviews to better serve you. We will continue to taste as broadly as humanly possible, but we will only be publishing the reviews and ratings of wines that we deem recommended to buy. To be clear, we will no longer publish reviews and ratings for wines we do not recommend. While a small fraction of you may miss our occasional rants, almost as much as we will miss the cathartic revelation and finger-pointing at mediocrity and banality, we feel that focusing only on the best wines will help you find the bottles that matter to you more easily – just the wheat and the cream. It’s only taken us 13 years to figure this out, a philosophy that aligns with most of the world’s best wine publications. And it still honors our founding mission and raison d’être of helping people find great wine.

Recommendations will, as always, be based on quality, value and education for you enthusiastic and knowledgeable readers, and not only on scores. Also following WineAlign’s core philosophy, each critic will make their own, independent recommendations. We certainly don’t always agree.

We are also expanding our coverage to move with the market, adding regular monthly Buyer’s Guides on “Currently Available Wines” through all channels, and “Online Offerings” from wherever you can click and buy.

Dick Snyder

To tighten up our editorial (sorry for those sporadic typos), we have hired a professional editor. We’re delighted to add Dick Snyder, DipWSET,to the team, a Toronto-based editor and writer specializing in food, drinks, guitars, music, travel, culture and other fun stuff. Recent work has appeared in Canada’s 100 Best, for which Snyder is wine and drinks editor, as well as in LCBO Food & Drink, The Toronto Star, Toronto Life and Zoomer. He has been writing about Toronto’s food and drink scene for going on 20 years.

Janet Dorozynski

And last, but not least, we are expanding our ‘cru’ of tasters to broaden the WineAlign voice. Our long-time Ottawa correspondent and NWAC judge Janet Dorozynski, PhD, DipWSET, will be bringing us expanded coverage of Canadian craft spirits & ciders, while Megha Jandhyala, S.J.D. joins us as our first critic understudy. Megha has a Doctorate in law, useful perhaps in the field of criticism, and is WSET 3 certified. She is passionate about wines from all over the world, and is especially interested in emerging wine regions, and has a refreshing and diverse take on food and wine pairings which we think you’ll appreciate. You’ll start to see her wine recommendations alongside ours soon.

Megha Jandhyala

Remembering Paul Pender

Midday on Friday last week as we were tasting the wines for the VINTAGES February 5 release, we learned of the unexpected and tragic passing of Paul Pender, manager/chief winemaker for Niagara’s Tawse and Redstone wineries. Well-known to WineAlign and all of the crü, Pender guided Tawse to the National Wine Awards of Canada Winery of the Year award a remarkable four times, in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016, and in 2017 for Redstone, picking up a staggering 248 medals along the way since WineAlign took over the awards in 2013, including 8 platinum medals.

On Saturday night during the first episode of season eight of Think You Know Wine, Sara, David, Michael and I all opened with a tribute to Paul with some of our favourite Tawse wines that we pulled out from our personal cellars; watch the replay on our Facebook page. He was a large personality and an important figure in the industry, respected by all and an inspiration for many. It is a big loss for Canadian wine, and he will be sorely missed in the wine community, and far beyond. We send our condolences to his close ones.

Paul Pender

Evolving Argentina

Argentina has been going through a period of self-reflection and introspection over the past few years, reckoning with its early success with malbec, and looking to deepen the narrative. Mendoza, the regional heart of the wine industry where nearly three-quarters of the country’s vineyards are planted, is undergoing an ever-finer dissection of its terroirs, moving from the macro to the micro. Both soils and climate are far more varied than the early, one-dimensional malbecs might have led one to believe, and the revelation of nuance across the nearly 1000 meters of elevation difference from eastern Mendoza to the upper Uco Valley is ever-more urgently sought. In this release, the Jasmine Monet Brut sparkling, for example, defies pre-conceived notions of hot and sunny Argentina with its remarkable freshness and liveliness.

Last year, Sara d’Amato and I sat down with wine critic Joaquín Hidalgo for a podcast episode of Wine Thieves focused on the emerging variations of malbecs from Mendoza. Hidalgo, South American correspondent for Antonio Galloni’s Vinous publication among others, was the perfect guide to lead us through the evolving story – I highly recommend a listen.

And there is life beyond malbec, and Mendoza as well. David and Michael find opposite love for two single vineyard bonardas from the Catena outpost El Enemigo, who also supplies us a chardonnay that finds its way into Sara and David’s picks. I was delighted to see a few wines from the deep south of the country in Patagonia in this release. Considerably cooler overall than Mendoza, Patagonia is perhaps best known for its pinot noir and even sparkling wines. The 2018 Sur de Los Andes Pinot Noir on shelves now, while not a monument of complexity, captures the freshness and lithe style that the region is capable of. Be sure to serve it with a light chill. Same goes for the simple but tasty Del Rio Elorza Verum Malbec, well priced and infinitely drinkable. Read on for our top picks.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide February 5: Argentina

White and Sparkling

Jasmine Monet Organic Brut Sparkling 2019, Valle De Uco, Mendoza
$19.95, Ottimista Wines
John SzaboA traditional method sparkling of uncommon refinement from Mendoza, fine and fresh, well-balanced and lively. Fruit is more of a feature than toasty-leesy autolysis, making this more of a crisp and easy aperitif style.
Sara d’Amato –
South American fizz is an unfortunate rarity in our market so it’s a real treat to find such a vibrant gem in our midst, with stylish packaging a bonus. A blend of organically grown chardonnay and a smaller degree of pinot noir grown in Gualtallary is vinified using the traditional method resulting in some toasty tones to balance out the fresh citrus, stone fruit and ginger on the palate. Great value.

El Enemigo Chardonnay 2018

El Enemigo Chardonnay 2018, Mendoza
$24.95, Trialto Wine Group Ltd.
David LawrasonHere’s a very elegant and poised chardonnay that lets the tropicality of Mendoza shine through. Very well balanced indeed! Expect apricot/peach, lemon blossom, fine grained nutmeg and hazelnut. It is medium bodied, even tempered, not too sweet and not too dry.
Sara d’Amato – Immediately striking, this spirited chardonnay boasts impressive concentration and a rich texture that is supported a taught acidic structure. Finely balanced with delicately integrated oak spice and a hint of macadamia. Lightly buttery with a fruit-a-plenty on the palate including pear, peach, pineapple, lime and coconut. A highly engaging find with memorable length and finesse.


Versado Ancient Reserva Malbec 2014

Versado Ancient Reserva Malbec 2014, Mendoza
$58.95, Cru Wine Merchants
John Szabo
Canadians Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble embarked on their Argentine adventure about a dozen years ago, finding a century-old planting of malbec (1920) in the gravels of the ancient Rio Mendoza, lying in the path of cool air funneling out of the Andes. The site produces wines of particular finesse, like this top-level bottling, mature and complex at this stage, broad and silky, well-proportioned, voluptuous and satisfying. I appreciate the measured balance of power and refinement. Drink now, or continue to hold short term.
ichael Godel
A maelstrom of fruit concentration sinking into a structural abyss will require five times that of the other Versado to settle in.  A twenty year wine in all respects, with highest vintage quality fruit and purposeful winemaking decisions to see this get stronger as the days get longer.
Sara d’Amato
Sourced from a 1920 planting of malbec, this showstopping cuvée features a lofty mouthfeel with an appealing juxtaposition of opulent and tannic. Rich and ripe but not without backbone. Reaching its apogee of drinkability, this attractive find is perfect for riding out the cold weather.

Sur De Los Andes Reserva Pinot Noir 2018

Sur De Los Andes Reserva Pinot Noir 2018, Rio Negro, Patagonia
$19.95, Intra Vino Inc.
John Szabo
From vines planted in 1977 – quite old for pinot in Argentina, this is aged half in wood and half in steel, and shows off the fine purity and cool fruit of Patagonia. I love the smooth, velvety texture, fresh without angularity. Ready to enjoy with a light chill.

Del Rio Elorza Verum Malbec 2019

Del Rio Elorza Verum Malbec 2019, Patagonia
$16.95, SommShopWine
John Szabo
From the cooler, southerly reaches of Patagonia, a very long way from Mendoza, this is appealingly perfumed and lifted malbec, ripe but indeed lighter and fresher than most examples in this price range from further north. Ready to enjoy.
Michael Godel –
Extremely refreshing for malbec, much appreciative of the moderate alcohol feel, the smart acids, crunchy tempura bits and elastic length. An afternoon sipping delight.

El Enemigo El Barranco Bonarda 2017

El Enemigo El Barranco Bonarda 2017, Mendoza
$21.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel
Catena is one of a select few Argentinian producers procuring precise investigations through multiple bonarda bottles. This El Barranco single vineyard is rather juicy and somehow light on its feet, prescient in floral display and perfectly expressive for Bonarda that way. Fine acids and tannin help pave the way for a four to six year run out of a wine of specificity and surely place. Drink 2023-2026.

El Enemigo El Mirador Single Vineyard Bonarda 2017, Mendoza
$21.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
David Lawrason
This elevates basic bonarda to a still approachable but fine level sophistication. It is generous, well balanced and restrained with fragrant petunia, blueberry, vanilla and black pepper spice aromas. It is full bodied with tempering acidity and soft sandy tannin.

Tapiz Alta Collection San Pablo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Valle de Uco, Mendoza
$19.95, DB Wine & Spirits Inc.
David LawrasonExcellent value for fans of classic New World cabernet from local winemaker Fabian Valenzuela and Pomerol-based consultant Jean Claude Berrouet.  It sports rich cassis with herbal/minty greenness and fine oak. It is rich, warm, firm and dense with graphite on the finish.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide February 5: White & Sparkling

Bodega Garzón Reserva Albariño 2020, Maldonado, Uruguay  
$23.95, Mark Anthony Group         
John Szabo
Another fine, fragrant, intensely perfumed, high quality albariño from Bodegas Garzón in Uruguay, southern hemisphere flag-waivers for this aromatic variety of Spanish origin. The balance is spot on, concentration well above the mean, and length, too, is impressive. Just a sheer delight to sip. Enjoy short term.
Michael Godel
Do not adjust your glass but this is indeed albariño from Maldonado in Uruguay. Plenty of spirit, grape, energy and otherwise. Helluva lot of fun but really more like spiritual stuff.
David Lawrason
Bodegas Garzon is an ambitious venture near the Atlantic Ocean is eastern Uruguay. Albarino has become its flagship white. This is bright, almost luminescent with generous yellow plum/peach fruit, linden, lemon blossom and beeswax aromas. It is medium weight, smooth and fresh.

Whitehaven Greg Single Vineyard Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Awatere Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
$23.95, E&J Gallo Winery Canada Ltd.
David Lawrason
Named for Greg White who passed away soon after the winery was founded in the early 90s, this in an exuberant, bright sauvignon blanc with pineapple, passion fruit, fresh mint and lime. It is really well made, balanced and polished with excellent focus and length.

Rabl Langenlois Grüner Veltliner 2020, Kamptal, Austria
$18.95, Vintage Trade Wine
John Szabo
Crisp, clean, vibrant, classic grüner veltliner here from the reliable house of Rabl, with fleshy texture and creamy acids. Flavours swirl in the textbook spectrum, with citrus and orchard fruit mingling with lentils, fresh wheat and white pepper. Tasty as usual; drink short term.
Sara d’Amato –
True to character and a solid value, this textbook grüner is a steal at under $20 offering distinctive notes of white pepper, spice and mineral, along with slivered almonds, green apple and grapefruit. As it seems to stand up surprisingly well to umami, try pairing with a savory bowl of ramen, or miso-glazed tofu nuggets.

Jean Max Roger Cuvée Marnes et Caillottes Sancerre 2019

Jean Max Roger Cuvée Marnes et Caillottes Sancerre 2019, Loire, France
$31.95, Connexion Oenophilia
Sara d’AmatoThe nerviness of this Sancerre is offset by a delicious wave of fruit that includes sweet grapefruit, green apple and melon with trailing notes of blossom and honeysuckle. A reflection of this excellent vintage, Jean Max Roger’s sauvignon blanc is bright, refreshing and salty with a distinct chalkiness.  More voluminous than expected. An absolute delight with or without food.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide February 5: Red

Castello Di Bossi C. Berardenga Chianti Classico 2018, Tuscany, Italy
$22.95, Connexion Oenophilia
John SzaboA fine and fragrant, perfumed, and lively Chianti Classico, nicely in line with the 2018 vintage style. A sheer delight to sip now, or hold short term.

Château Monrecueil 2010

Château Monrecueil 2010, Castillon Côtes De Bordeaux, France
$20.95, BanQPay International
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.

Château Grand Colombier 2016

Château Grand Colombier 2016, Montagne Saint-Émilion, France
$17.95, Mark Anthony Group
Michael Godel
An impressive effort with a touch of swarthiness and some mushroom to truffle notes just now beginning to emerge. Great value here.
Sara d’Amato –
Featuring a pleasurable texture and opulent fruit, this merlot-based blend includes 20% cabernet sauvignon adding considerable structure. Very little apparent oak with a youthful disposition and excellent length. Overdelivers for the price.

Domaine Le Fagolet Le Granit Rouge Gamay Beaujolais Villages 2020

Domaine Le Fagolet Le Granit Rouge Gamay Beaujolais Villages 2020, Beaujolais Villages, France
$18.95, Burgundy Direct
Michael Godel
Effectively juicy and openly fragrant gamay and as easy a Villages as to likely ever encounter. Crunchy red fruit, tart, negligible tannin and a swirl of minerals. For any night of the week.
David Lawrason –
Here’s a textbook gamay with a firm, mineral interior that lives up to its “granit” name. The nose is clean and generous with peony/lilac florality, plummy fruit, gamay’s vague peppery backdrop. It is light to medium bodied, fresh and even.

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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