Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES February 4 Release

John Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview February 4

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

For Michael’s South Africa Cape Wine post, go here.

The Not So New World

As new as the “new-world” wine-producing countries south of the equator may seem to modern wine drinkers, especially in the context of the deep winegrowing history of “ancient-world” countries like Georgia, Armenia and Iran that stretches back 8,000 years, it’s worth noting that each of these southern hemisphere nations have several centuries of winegrowing history.

Peru is better known today for its Pisco production, though it was once South America’s leading wine producer, with the first wine grapes planted sometime around 1540. But today, not much is made. That makes Chile the elder vinous statesman of the south, with viticulture dating from the Spanish conquest in the mid-1550s thanks to the accompanying Jesuit missionaries and their need of sacramental wine.

Wine production would remain rather rustic until the mid-1800s when Santiago’s newly emancipated nouveau riche — thanks mainly to mining and cattle ranching in this resource-rich nation — began importing grapevines and technology from France. In that period, Bordeaux was the epicenter of the fine wine world. Its famous 1855 classification of top châteaux had just been freshly penned, and so it was the logical place from which to seek winemaking inspiration. Iberian varieties were traded for French, and cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc remain Chile’s two most-planted red and white varieties, respectively, to this day.


Argentina wasn’t far behind. The Jesuits crossed the Andes to plant Argentina’s first vineyards in the late 1550s with varieties that are still widely distributed in South America today, such as criolla (aka, país in Chile) and moscatel of Alejandría. It would take more than three centuries, however, for Argentina to learn just how well malbec could perform in the desert-like conditions of Mendoza. French agronomist Michel Aimé Pouget introduced pre-phylloxera cuttings of malbec to Argentina in 1868. Argentina is now home to 70 percent of the world’s malbec acreage, far more than in its native France.

South Africa is celebrating its 364th vintage this year, the first having been in 1659 from the company garden of Cape of Good Hope governor, Jan van Riebeeck. He was charged with producing wine for the Dutch East India Company to supply trading ships stopping off at the Cape for supplies along the Spice Route to India and further east. Apparently, wine is effective at warding off scurvy, and more fun to drink than sucking on a lime, as the English were wont to do. Simon van der Stel, however, Riebeeck’s successor, is generally the man credited for raising wine quality a notch or two at his Constantia estate outside of Cape Town, which grew to become one the most famous “new-world” estates of the 17th and 18th centuries. It was a favorite of Napoleon, among others, and still makes a cracking sweet wine today. For his services to wine, Stel had a charming little wine-centric town named after him, called Stellenbosch.

Over in Australia, Admiral Arthur Phillip, the first governor of New South Wales and founder of the first British Penal colony in what is now Sydney, brought the continent’s first grapevine cuttings with him on the First Fleet in 1788. Those first vineyards were by all accounts a total failure, unaccustomed to Sydney’s sub-tropical climate as European vines were. No admiral but proper vineyard specialist John MacArthur would finally get Australia’s first commercial vineyard going around 1817 with fresh vine imports from France. James Busby followed up with an important contribution of cuttings from France and Spain in the early 1830s, selecting many varieties suitable for fortified wine production, much in Vogue at the time and right up to the mid-20th century in Australia.

Not to be left too far behind, grapevines were planted in New Zealand’s Northland, north of Auckland, in 1819, though also with limited success. It would be the same, indefatigable James Busby who would lay claim to producing New Zealand’s first wine at Waitangi in the Northland in 1840. For the record, the Northland counts 71 hectares of vineyards today out of New Zealand’s roughly 40,000.

Yet with all this winegrowing history across the southern hemisphere, it’s also fair to say that this is unquestionably the golden age of sub-equatorial wine. The industries in all these nations have undergone radical transformations (or just plain formations) in the last generation or two. Chile didn’t know a stainless-steel tank until 1979. The most-planted varieties in New Zealand in 1965 were Baco 22A and Albany Surprise — and Marlborough, New Zealand’s biggest wine region by a country mile today with 28,000 hectares, didn’t know a sauvignon grapevine until 1975. The first vintage of Australia’s most famous wine, Grange, in 1951, was roundly panned by the Penfolds board of directors and winemaker Max Schubert was ordered to cease and desist and go back to making proper fortified wine the way Aussies liked it. (Happily, he continued in secret.) Wine consumption was so high in Argentina in the 1970s — close to 100 litres per capita at its apogee — that exports were almost non-existent, as was the pressure on producers to make quality wine. And finding a South African wine outside of South Africa prior to 1994 — the end of Apartheid and heavy international sanctions and import restrictions — was well-nigh impossible, and probably ill-advised in most cases.

Each of these nations has reinvented themselves in one way or another in the past half century, and quality has never been better. The divide between the global south and global north of wine is rapidly shrinking, and it’s a fine time to go exploring.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide February 4: Exploring the Southern Hemisphere

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2021

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2021, Stellenbosch, South Africa
$18.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo – 2021 is another marvelous vintage for Forrester’s classic old vine chenin, always a screaming value and particularly attractive in this vintage. There’s excellent flavour intensity in the category, and terrific fruit purity, mostly yellow-fleshed orchard fruit, yellow grapefruit, custard apple and more with no detectable wood influence. Drink or hold this into the mid or even late-’20s; it’s well worth buying a few additional bottles to put away in the cellar.
Michael Godel -What this old-vine chenin has up its sleeve in 2021 is abundant fruit and that will do well to carry it through for a decade. Crushable now and rewarding later. That is a great combo.
Megha Jandhyala – With clear, resonant notes of ripe orchard fruit, juicy grapefruits, and subtle floral and mineral aromas, this is a well-priced, delicious chenin blanc from a reliable producer.

Koyle Royale Alto Colchagua Carmenère 2019

Koyle Royale Alto Colchagua Carmenère 2019, Valle Colchagua, Chile                           
$24.95, Trajectory Beverage Partners
John Szabo – Here’s a premium carmenere from Koyle’s biodynamic-certified vineyards in the upper Colchagua Valley in Los Lingues, silky, refined, complex and concentrated above the mean. I love the soft, powdery tannins, the ripe-balanced acids, the deep, velvety black and blue fruit with an appealing minty-herbal twist. A fine example, drinking well now or hold into the late-’20s.

Montes Alpha Pinot Noir 2021

Montes Alpha Pinot Noir 2021, Aconcagua Costa, Chile                        
$20.95, Vin Vino Wine Merchants Inc.
John Szabo – Monte’s 2021 pinot is perhaps the best yet in my opinion, showing more restrained oak influence, fresher, more balanced fruit, and more gentle extraction than many previous bottlings on the riper and more oaky spectrum. I’d still wish for yet a touch less vanilla-chocolate oak flavour, but this should appeal widely, and is keenly priced for the quality. Best now-2026.

Perez Cruz Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon 2020

Perez Cruz Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Maipo Valley, Chile                        
$21.95, Charton Hobbs
Sara d’Amato – Cabernet sauvignon is rarely my go-to red but this is one I can dig. Not insubstantial but it is charged with refreshing acidity and exhibits a cooler climate aromatic profile. The tannins have been gently softened and the finish of blackberry and laurel is surprisingly lengthy.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide February 4: White

Domaine La Décelle Reserve Valréas Côtes Du Rhône-Villages Blanc 2021

Domaine La Décelle Reserve Valréas Côtes Du Rhône-Villages Blanc 2021, Rhône, France                         
$17.90, Marchands Des Ameriques Inc.
John Szabo Lovely, balanced, fragrant, soft and ripe white Rhône, with plenty of white and yellow-fleshed orchard fruit, white flowers, and creamy, leesy texture. It’s well-made and comfortably balanced, the sort of unoaked but generously proportioned white that’s so versatile around the table or the living room. For current enjoyment or short term hold.
Sara d’Amato– An inviting blend of 50-year-old viognier and marsanne from the cooler elevations (up to 320 meters) and latitude of Valréas in the southern Rhône. Vinified entirely in stainless steel, this assemblage delivers a great deal of zest and mineral along with aromatic local garrigue featuring thyme, violet and honey. Moderate in alcohol, balanced and with very good length, this under $20 find is not to be missed.

Selbach Tradition Feinherb Riesling Kabinett 2020

Selbach Tradition Feinherb Riesling Kabinett 2020, Mosel, Germany
$24.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel – Fun, racy and riveting riesling to partner with Chinese fish preparations and Malay curries.
Sara d’Amato – A fully loaded riesling with exceptional concentration. Considered off-dry (Feinherb) but with vibrant acidity that provides pitch perfect balance on the palate and results in a dynamic nervy tension that will have you coming back sip after sip. No need to wait as this zesty Kabinett is perfectly mature with some petrol just beginning to mingle with the juicy lime on the palate.

Domaine Vincent Wengier Chablis 2021

Domaine Vincent Wengier Chablis 2021, Bugundy, France                                     
$32.95, Heritage Cellars
Michael Godel – Intense Chablis, more than merely chalky mineral but something reduced, concentrated and variegated. Almost anti-Chablis or better yet, hyper-Chablis. Flinty smoulder and a lengthy finish.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide February 4: Reds

Cesari Bosan Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2018

Cesari Bosan Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore 2018, Veneto, Italy
$31.95, Vin Vino Wine Merchants Inc.
John Szabo – Cesari’s Bosan ripasso is made from corvina and rondinella wine in which the skins of the estate’s Bosan single vineyard Amarone are soaked for about two weeks, adding their richness and flavour depth. The 2018 shows mature and pruney flavours, dark chocolate and dried cherries/cranberries, and a supple, smooth texture with velvety tannins on a full-bodied (14% alc. declared) frame. A superior ripasso to be sure, classy and composed, ready to enjoy.

Vineland Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Vineland Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Ontario
$19.95, Vineland Estate Wines Ltd.
John Szabo
– Vineland’s 2017 Estate cabernet (franc and sauvignon) is showing well now, having reached that stage of mid-evolution where fruit and savoury character meet. It shows a nice mix of gently desiccated red and black fruit alongside sweet and resinous herbs, damp earth and dried flowers in a complex and inviting, refined expression. Drink or continue to hold another 2-4 years, though for me it’s pretty much at peak, the point at which I prefer to drink such wines.

Brancaia N°2 Cabernet Sauvignon 2020

Brancaia N°2 Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Maremma Toscana                          
$31.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.         
Megha Jandhyala – This is a lovely, fragrant cabernet sauvignon from Maremma in Tuscany, herbal, with notes of cool eucalyptus, fleshy dark fruit, and nicely integrated oak spice. I like the balanced, firmly structured palate.

Cabeca De Toiro Reserva Touriga Nacional 2018

Cabeca De Toiro Reserva Touriga Nacional 2018, Tejo, Portugal
$18.95, Trajectory Beverage Partners
Sara d’Amato –A satisfying and representative touriga nacional from the warm and dry Portuguese region of Tejo, just inland from Lisbon, formerly known as Ribatejo. Both jammy and juicy with well managed heat from alcohol. Its dense fruit is juxtaposed by flavours of juniper and aged cedar. A top value in this release for those looking for a more robust red.
Megha Jandhyala – This 100% touriga nacional from Tejo is ripe and juicy, with excellent concentration and length for the price. I like the expressive fruit flavours and subtle spice notes.

Jean Pierre Moueix Bordeaux 2018

Jean Pierre Moueix Bordeaux 2018, Bordeaux, France
$19.95, Rogers & Company
Megha Jandhyala – This is a balanced, full-bodied Bordeaux for under $20, with classic notes of ripe and slightly dried dark fruit, tobacco, herbs, and delicate spice.

Brumâl Red 2017

Brumâl Red 2017, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
$19.95, Philip Mirabelli Fine Wines
Michael Godel – A unique take on the local refosco del peduncolo rosso by marrying the endemic grape with merlot. Quite stylish and ever so swarthy, not to mention a maturity from structure that sees this Rosso just now hitting its stride. Shocked at how well this how come together.
Sara d’Amato – A blend of refosco and merlot from Friuli, this effortlessly fresh red boasts compelling alpine flavours such as pine needle, rosehip and lingenberry. Acidity abounds but so does flavour amidst soft and silky tannins. Idiosyncratic and stylish. Try with a slight chill.

Chateau Du Gazin Canon Fronsac 2018

Chateau Du Gazin Canon Fronsac 2018, Fronsac, Bordeaux, France
$25.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – Impressive fortitude and value come from this Right Bank Bordeaux abutting both Saint Émilion and Pomerol. Has barely matured and easily has five years left of stuffing.

Dievole Novecento Riserva Chianti Classico 2018

Dievole Novecento Riserva Chianti Classico DOCG 2018, Tuscany, Italy
$45.95, Vinexx
Michael Godel – Just about a year to the day after first tasting the ’18 Riserva and as predicted there is no movement, maturity or clues available. Open one if you must but please decant and choose food accordingly. Something akin to Chef Monika Filipinska’s dishes at the Dievole Wine Resort.

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

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