Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES January 7 Release

Banish the Blahs: Four Great Ways to Enjoy Wine in Ontario this Winter

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

On my first day back at the WineAlign World HQ in Etobicoke in 2023, there was a mixed case of cheap wines waiting with my name on it, and a press release explaining that these were a perfect fit for “Blue Monday.” I had to Google that, but it is apparently the third Monday of January, this year January 16.  And it is blue because it is the most depressing day of the year. Holidays over, debts piling up, resolutions unresolved, luggage still lost — the blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blahs.

But how is boring, cheap wine supposed to help? Remember that T-shirt wisdom: “Life’s too short to drink bad wine”? How about this: “Life’s not bad enough to drink short wine.”

VINTAGES usually takes this low-ball approach in January as well, offering a slew of cheaper wines. This year however they have at least couched them more positively as Smart Buys, a term and idea that we began using at Wine Access magazine — predecessor of WineAlign — about 20 years ago. It implies that more than low price is at play. That there is something interesting, noteworthy and perhaps better quality than expected.


Overall, the selection is indeed fairly smart.  Several show up in our critics’ picks below. We offer them to help you get through January with a smile. But there are other ways you can make this winter hum right along this year.

First up is the return of our happy hour series, So You Think You Know Wine, Episode 9.2, on Saturday, January 14, in which we four WineAlign critics select a wine that will hopefully stump each other during a blind tasting challenge. We are tasked to guess the grape variety(ies), country, region, vintage and price. A winner is always declared but as there is no prize involved as this exercise is mostly about entertainment and education. After you register here to watch, the wines will be revealed to you so that you can purchase them ahead of time and taste along. Then carry those wines to your Saturday night home-cooked dinner.

If you are more in the mood to leave home for your wine enjoyment, the Niagara Icewine Festival runs over multiple locales from January 13 to 29. Full details are at Niagara Icewine Festival. The big send-off is also Saturday, January 14, with the renamed Cool as Ice gala being creatively staged at the Niagara Falls Power Station from 7 to 10 p.m. Dozens of wineries will pour Icewine, of course, but other wines as well, and history has proven they tend to debut some of their small batch, winemakers’ pride offerings at this event. A full calendar of events rolls out in the days beyond at several individual wineries listed in the Discovery Pass section on the website.

While on the subject of Canadian wines, I will be fully engaged in an event coming up Feb. 3 that is of particular interest to Ottawa readers, or anyone who wants to pack up their ice skates and head to the capital for a wintry weekend at the Canadian Culinary Championship, Feb 3–4. This CCC is the culmination of the cross-Canada Great Kitchen Party campaign, wherein winning chefs from nine cities face off over three separate competitions. The first event on is the Mystery Wine Competition. As National Wine Advisor to Kitchen Party, which serves fine Canadian wine at all its charitable events, I have chosen one wine that will be served blind throughout, to which the chefs must create a matching dish. Guests taste along, station to station, and vote for People’s Choice. See the ad at the end of this article for more details and to register with a 20 percent discount to WineAlign subscribers.

And from a cast of hundreds to a small cadre of smitten wine fans, there is the two-day Fine Vintage Sensory Course that I am teaching in Toronto on Feb. 18–19. Designed for those delving into the sensory analysis of wine, it is a fascinating olfactory journey through the world’s most important grape varieties and regions that grow them, with top examples presented to make the case. It is highly recommended for students moving through the WSET Levels Two and Three, but it is not a WSET program (no exam). It is also highly recommended for those simply wanting to understand why they find aroma identification so challenging. You are not alone! Please visit: Specialty Courses – Fine Vintage

Here are the WineAlign Cru’s picks from the January 7 Release:

Whites & Sparkling

William Fèvre Espino Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2021

William Fèvre Espino Reserva Especial Chardonnay 2021, Valle del Maipo, Chile
$14.95 Family Wine Merchants 
John Szabo – From Chablis producer William Fevre’s Maipo-Andes project, this chardonnay shows unusually intense perfume for the variety. I can’t say Chablis-like but the inspiration is there; it’s well worth a look for fans of the variety, and future fans of Chilean white wines.
David Lawrason – A prominent producer of Chablis in France has taken to very high altitude (1000M) vineyards to ply its unoaked chardonnay style. It has a generous nose of yellow apple/yellow plum, minty herbs and grapefruit. Nicely balanced with loads of flavour.
Michael Godel – Espino is like Chablis, Saint-Bris and the Maipo all wrapped up into one seriously expressive chardonnay. Tons of character for $15.
Megha Jandhyala – Here is a chance to try a ripe and silky Chilean chardonnay at an attractive price. Sourced from a vineyard located at high altitude, planted with a clone imported from William Fèvre, Burgundy, it is focussed and concentrated; stone and citrus fruit shine through here, without any distraction from oak flavours.

Vitese Grillo 2020

Vitese Grillo 2020, Sicily, Italy                           
$14.95  Hertiage Cellars
David Lawrason – Grillo is a personal fave. This shows both tropicality and a certain tenderness, spryness and freshness. It carries lovely aromas of fresh fig, mint and lemon blossom with some tarragon. Again, a great value.
John Szabo – There’s unexpected fruit intensity and character at this modest price – I’d have guessed a splash of moscato blended in, such is the aromatic intensity. A real joy to drink, honest, straightforward, organically-certified for full bonus marks.
Megha Jandhyala – This is an organically grown, very well-priced grillo, zesty, herbal, and -aromatic. I like the purity and freshness of flavours here and the refreshing, herbal finish.
Michael Godel – Not so much on the bright and juicy citrus side but more so zesty, green and dripping with tonics. Reminds of some unique Portuguese (Douro) Branco. Certainly worth a look.
Sara d’Amato – This organic Sicilian grillo offers a compelling aromatic profile of jasmine, melon, lime zest and white pepper. The grape variety is a Sicilian signature, long used to make Marsala wine and now, more often as a refreshing yet substantial non-fortified style best suited for youthful consumption or short-term aging. Here’s an inexpensive way to get to know this southern charmer.

Donnachiara Montefalcione Beneventano Falanghina 2021

Donnachiara Montefalcione Beneventano Falanghina 2021, Campania, Italy
$19.95 The Case For Wine
John Szabo – A lovely, representative wine from Benevento, putting the citrus peel and wild herb character of Falanghina on display, an essence of the southern Italian countryside in full spring bloom. Intrepid explorers, take note. Drink or hold 1-3 years..

Gunderloch Fritz's Riesling 2021

Gunderloch Fritz’s Riesling 2021, Rheinhessen, Germany                        
$15.95, Mark Anthony Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason – Gunderloch shot to stardom in the 1990s with perfect scores from American publications for its late harvest wines (not this one). Fritz Hasselbach has passed and the mantle has been lifted by his son Johannes. This return to the Canadian market is a huge bargain – light bodied, sleek, off-dry yet racy with fine acidity.
Sara d’Amato – Grown in the red slate soils between Nackenheim and Nierstein in the Rheinhessen, this riesling is an undeniable value in the Gunderloch portfolio. It’s worth picking up a case to have on hand alongside for weeknight cheese cravings or as an aperitif for drop-in guests. Barely off-dry due to the zesty acidity that permeates the refreshing finish.

André Chemin Cuvée Sélectionnée Brut 1er Cru

André Chemin Cuvée Sélectionnée Brut 1er Cru, Champagne, France                 
$57.95, Gradwell Wine Agency 
David Lawrason – This is a very fine, flavourful Champagne that you might want to pour for a blah’s busting occasion for two, even before Valentine’s Day. It is brisk with bold acidity, rich flavours and classic minerality on the finish.


Cortonese La Mannella Rosso Di Montalcino 2019

Cortonese La Mannella Rosso Di Montalcino 2019, Tuscany, Italy
$27.95, Profile Wine Group
Michael Godel – Purity of Montalcino sangiovese incarnate as it pertains to these vineyards farmed by the Cortonesi family. These next three years will be special generously serviceable Rosso. Do not miss them.
John Szabo – Tommaso Cortonesi uses a parcel of young vines to fashion this rosso from the territory of Brunello, with structure and depth aplenty in the category. I’d suggest decanting if enjoying now or hold in the cellar another 3-5 years for an intriguing, developed expression no doubt. An exciting wine for the money.
Megha Jandhyala – The product of a warm, dry vintage, Cortonesi’s 2019 Rosso is drinking beautifully now. Not just Brunello-lite, this is a youthful and lucent expression of sangiovese from Montalcino, with a bounty of succulent, perfectly ripe red cherries and currants on the palate, joined by delicate spice notes.
David Lawrason – This is nicely balanced sangiovese from Montalcino, but not as profound, deep or expensive as big brother Brunello. The nose shows very pretty aromas of raspberry jam, pink rose, fresh herbs and straw. Still a bit tight and tannic now, best 2024 to 2027.
Sara d’Amato – This unadorned, classic Tuscan sangiovese is notably elegant with a pleasant degree of restraint, poise and a fine-grained tannic texture. Still youthful but showing signs of great mid-term aging potential over the next 2-3 years. A solid value.

Stags' Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2018

Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2018, Napa Valley, California                                         
$59.95, Mark Anthony Wines & Spirits  
Michael Godel – Stags’ Leap represents one of California’s elite petite sirah in that it combines full and substantial fruit with ample if also supple tannins. This being 2018 is terrific because the extra year or two have helped to soften the grip and set this PS up for success.
David Lawrason – From old petit sirah (duriff) vines, comes a deeply coloured, firmly structured red for the cellar – or for those who like a certain edge and heft in young reds. The focus and length are excellent to outstanding.
Megha Jandhyala – From vineyards across Napa Valley comes this concentrated, integrated, and structured but supple red. I like the resonant notes of ripe dark fruit, sandalwood, and spice, accompanied by a delicate floral perfume. Almost five years in, this petit sirah is emerging from adolescence and will drink well over the next few years.
Sara d’Amato – Dense and peppery, with an appealing crunchiness, this Petit Verdot is sourced from both northern vineyards in Calistoga and St. Helena along with southern vineyards in Oakville, Oak Knoll and Coombsville giving the wine a rather complex profile with both floral spice and density of fruit. The alcohol is particularly well managed in this longer, slightly cooler growing season.

Lua Cheia Old Vines Red 2020

Lua Cheia Old Vines Red 2020, Douro, Portugal
$15.95, The Vine Agency
Michael Godel – Juicy, juicy red blend, essence of the Douro, unencumbered and without unnecessary make-up. Terrific value from this brand consistently on point.

Stéphane Aviron Vieilles Vignes 2020

Stéphane Aviron Vieilles Vignes 2020, Moulin-À-Vent, Beaujolais, France
$24.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines
David Lawrason
– From the ‘cru’ village that makes the biggest, longest lived gamays of Beaujolais, this sports ripe sweet plummy fruit, florals, licorice and hay. It is medium bodied, fairly plush and dense with some salt and pepper spice on the palate.

Beaumirail Vacqueyras 2020

Beaumirail Vacqueyras 2020, Rhone Valley, France                                
$27.95, DB Wines         
David Lawrason – This is a generous example of Vacqueyras, the Rhone Village offering more Chateaunneuf-like character than any other. There is a certain broadness, complexity and warmth generosity that I really like in a winter red. The nose is detailed and complex.
Sara d’Amato – From a cooperative located in the heart of Gigondas, in operation since 1956, comes a delightfully well-priced example of the cru of Vacqueyras whose vineyards are grown at the very foot of the steep, largely south-facing limestone slopes along the Dentelles Mountains. A very savory and salty, traditional expression of this grenache led-blend old cedary wood that takes second stage to the red fruit and lightly meaty syrah. At perfect stage of maturity for immediate enjoyment.

Pérez Cruz Limited Edition Carmenére 2020

Pérez Cruz Limited Edition Carmenére 2020, Maipo Valley, Chile
$19.95, Charton Hobbs
Michael Godel – A carmenère of soft tannic intention – therefore immediate and easy drinking. Impressively concentrated and acids that crunch all the way through. Stylish wine.
John Szabo – From a single vineyard named Fundo Liguai de Huelquen, this is a richly fruity, clearly very ripe and less herbal-vegetal carmenere than the mean from value-prone Pérez-Cruz, with smooth and supple texture. It’s a real pleasure to drink, with fine depth and length. Drink or hold 2-4 years.

Viña Pedrosa Aves Del Sur Reserva Syrah 2018

Viña Pedrosa Aves Del Sur Reserva Syrah 2018, Loncomilla, Maule Valley, Chile
$16.95, Origin Wine and Spirits
John Szabo – Intriguingly scented, with a mix of fresh rubber, road tar and dried violets, also dried black currant and black cherry, this is surely more complex and complete than most in the price category. Enjoy now or hold 2-3 years.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2020

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2020 Red Wine of the Earth, Central Coast, California
$19.95, FWM Canada
John Szabo – I remember when this wine sold for more than twice this current price and caused a stir of excitement for Rhône varieties from California with its launch in 1983 (a blend of grenache, cinsault, syrah, with a splash of petite sirah and counoise in this case). Production has increased significantly since Bonny Doon was purchased by a large corporate concern, hence the reduced price, but it’s still a highly attractive, fully dry, succulent and savoury, spicy, earthy-herbal, also fruity wine, satisfying and complex. Drink or hold short term – the fun is all upfront.
Sara d’Amato – A perfumed southern Rhône-inspired blend of grenache, cinsault, syrah, petite syrah and just a touch of counoise with one of my top favourite wine labels (look for that flying saucer, a nod to Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s archaic law preventing the landing of UFOs in vineyards). Not too hefty but nicely concentrated with a touch of welcome maturity and notes of underbrush and lavender that trail off on the lengthy finish.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. We will be back with a review of the next release January 21.


David Lawrason

VP of Wine

Canadian Culinary Championship (Receive 20% off regular ticket prices)


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
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Selections
Megha’s Picks

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