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.

There are 12 other VINTAGES Release recommendations this week that are currently only available to our premium members. This complete article will be free and visible to all members 30 days after publication. We invite you to subscribe today to unlock our top picks and other Premium benefits

Please take a moment to understand why we charge for this service.

“For the cost of a good bottle of wine we’ll help you discover hundreds of great ones.”

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

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for the latest WineAlign recommendations, tips and other interesting wine information.