Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES March 4 Release

John Szabo’s Vintage’s Preview March 4: Off the Beaten Track, New Releases of Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello, 20 Years of Flat Rock Cellar’s Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling and Celebrating Women in Wine

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

The feature for the VINTAGES March 4, 2023, release is “Off the Beaten Track” wines from Italy, a collection of lesser-known grapes and places from the vinously vast Italian Peninsula. Nobody is quite sure how many different varieties actually grow in Italy, somewhere between about 500 and 1000 by most estimates. Efforts to count them all up are complicated by the bewildering range of synonyms used for the same grapes, with names often changing valley by valley, much like Italian dialects and cuisines. We’ve picked out a few that are worth a deviation off the beaten track of familiarity, plus several other “aligned” wines from the release.


And to balance coverage of the unfamiliar, we’ve got two highly detailed reports this week on some of Italy’s most famous wines. Freshly back from Piedmont in January, I’ve written up a Nebbiolo Prima Report and buyer’s guide to the hotly anticipated 2019 vintage in Barolo, a year of structured wines for collecting and long-term ageing (but not all), which Tiziana Settimo of Aurelio Settimo summed up simply by saying: “In 2019 we will release a Rocche Riserva. This says it all about the vintage. It was exceptional.” Also included are the top releases of 2020 Barbaresco, clearly another strong vintage for nebbiolo, yielding both aromatically finessed and well-structured wines that should also age extremely well.

Michael for his part shines the spotlight on the latest vintage of Brunello di Montalcino to reach the market, “drawing 2018 vintage connections between breezy Annata and resolute Cru, overall less ‘Mediterranean as a vintage,’ high acid 2017 Riserva, plus retrospectives with Col d’Orcia and Biondi-Santi.” (See also my earlier Brunello report on the same vintage).

And, last week Flat Rock Cellars hosted the deepest vertical tasting of Canadian wines I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend, 20 years of the single vineyard Nadja’s riesling. Named after proprietor Ed Madronich’s mother, Nadja’s vineyard has long been the source of some of the best rieslings in Ontario and Canada since first planted in 2001. Read my brief background on the vineyard and reviews of all 20 vintages with their consistent quality but stylistic meanderings.

Finally, to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, Sara has highlighted some of The Women Behind the Wines in this release.

Nebbiolo Prima: the back room full of bottles. ©John Szabo

Barolo & Barbaresco New Releases and Life in the Langhe Hills (by John Szabo MS)

Each January in the town of Alba, Piedmont, one of the year’s most anticipated tastings takes place: Nebbiolo Prima. This is the annual press tasting organized and hosted by the Albeisa Association, which features the latest releases of nebbiolo, one of Italy’s finest red grapes, specifically from the appellations (Denominazione di Origine Controllatta e Granatita, or DOCG) of Barolo, Barabaresco and Roero.

Yet despite its long history in the region and its inherent quality, nebbiolo has only cemented its place as the Italian “King of Wines and Wine of Kings” in barely the last generation and a half. “Dolcetto [another local red variety], was much more valuable than nebbiolo as late as the late-1970s to early 1980s,” Aldo Vaira of G.D. Vajra in the commune of Barolo tells me. “The farmers had more dolcetto than blood in their veins.”

Read my Nebbiolo Prima report for a short history of nebbiolo’s rise to prominence, and for a complete buyer’s guide to the hotly anticipated 2019 vintage in Barolo, a year of structured wines for collecting and long-term ageing (but not all), which Tiziana Settimo of Aurelio Settimo summed up simply by saying: “In 2019 we will release a Rocche Riserva. This says it all about the vintage. It was exceptional.” Also included are the top releases of 2020 Barbaresco, clearly another strong vintage for nebbiolo, yielding both aromatically finessed and well-structured wines that should age extremely well. Quality in any case is consistently high, with few missed wines.

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Previews: Annata, Etichetta and Vigna 2018, Riserva 2017 (by Michael Godel)

Drawing 2018 vintage connections between breezy Annata and resolute Cru, overall, less “Mediterranean as a vintage,” high acid 2017 Riserva, plus retrospectives with Col d’Orcia and Biondi-Santi. Read Michael’s Brunello Report.

Nadja’s Vineyard

Twenty Years of Flat Rock Cellar’s Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling (by John Szabo MS

Last week Flat Rock Cellars hosted the deepest vertical tasting of Canadian wines I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend, 20 years of the single vineyard Nadja’s riesling. Named after proprietor Ed Madronich’s mother, Nadja’s vineyard has long been the source of the best rieslings in Ontario and Canada since first planted in 2001. To prove the point, and the ageability of wines from the site, Madronich gathered a small group of writers to taste through 20 vintages, from the inaugural 2003 to a tank sample of the 2022. There are few wineries in the country that would be able to pull off a similar tasting.

Nadja’s vineyard favours a long, slow, flavour-gathering ripening period, allowing the wine to pack in considerable flavour but on a light, sharp, laser-focused frame. What was most fascinating about this tasting, other than the consistent quality (if not consistent style), was the transparent window into both vintage variation, always a significant factor in Ontario, as well as the varying approaches of different winemakers over the years. The Nadja’s riesling has been made by no fewer than six winemakers since 2003, each bringing a nuanced shift in philosophy, and in some cases evolving their own philosophy from year to year. The wine has always been made with a pinch of residual sugar, but the number has been as low as 8 grams, up to 30 grams for the least dry vintage. Acids, too, have varied by several grams, even if overall the wine has stayed within a fairly classic Niagara Bench style that remains firmly in the citrus and white-fleshed orchard fruit spectrum of flavours, never veering into tropical.

Read on to see which vintages are showing best.

The Women Behind the Wine – Celebrating International Women’s Day (by Sara d’Amato)

March 8th is International Women’s Day, an occasion that recognizes and to bring prominence to the achievements of women across the globe. I wanted to mark this day by highlighting some of the women behind top picks in this early March VINTAGES release. In the world of wine, women have made impressive strides since I began my studies and career in wine 20 years ago. I’m proud to have been part of a growing number of women that decided to study winemaking and viticulture in the early 2000s at Niagara College’s Wine and Viticulture program. Enrolment in the program is now quite healthy, with women regularly making up close to the 60% of the class. Yet women still make up a minority, overall, in the wine industry. According to demographics published on Zippia, as of 2022 in the US, only 17.8% of winemakers are women. In other sectors of wine such as viticulture, marketing and writing, those numbers tend to improve. Nevertheless, women in positions of leadership and influence are still a minority.

Click here for the full Women Behind the Wine article.

VINTAGES Buyer’s Guide March 4: Whites and Sparkling

Chartron et Trébuchet Chardonnay Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2019

Chartron et Trébuchet Chardonnay Brut Crémant De Bourgogne 2019, Burgundy, France
$22.95, Hektars Agence Inc.      
David Lawrason – Not a world beater, but this is very flavourful and I was very attracted by the quality/price ratio – or value. It is a generous, balanced and fresh traditional method cremant with typical apple crisp, lemon and leesy notes. It is light weight, a touch sweet and fresh. Chill well.

Creekside Iconoclast Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2020

Creekside Iconoclast Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2020, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario      
$23.00, Trajectory Beverage Partners 
David Lawrason – A solid example of a white Bordeaux-style sauvignon-semillon by a Niagara winey that has excelled with sauvignon blanc for over 25 years. This captures complex grapefruit, green fig, lime, green olive and spice from nine months in French oak. It is medium-full, substantial and weighty with excellent length.
Michael Godel – This latest Iconoclast comes by way of a really fine Niagara vintage which is such a boon for sauvignon blanc and sémillon. Intrigue and amuse should increase with a few years of age. John Szabo – More than a nod here to classy white Bordeaux, an even-keeled, zesty, flavourful, highly enjoyable wine from a great vintage; best 2023-2026.
Sara d’Amato – Sauvignon and semillon are unlikely heros when it comes to the portfolio of Niagara’s Creekside winery. Brimming with tender stone fruit, elderflower and spice such as ginger and white pepper. But some pine nut and tender white with mouth-watering salinity. peach and pear and elderflower and blossom. Charming and pervasive.

Leaning Post The Fifty Chardonnay 2020

Leaning Post The Fifty Chardonnay 2020, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario       
$24.95, Leaning Post Wines
Michael Godel – I believe it was April of 2017 when I first tasted the inaugural (2015) vintage of Ilya Senchuk’s The Fifty. This chardonnay is remarkably precise and delivers a layered experience in which more than one vineyard and sub-appellation contribute to the greater good. Might very well be the best one made of the six to date.
John Szabo – A perfectly juicy and lively, fruity, ripe and fresh, minimally-oaked chardonnay from Leaning Post, at a very appealing price. It’s worth buying several bottles of to have on hand for those occasions when you need to impress without re-mortgaging.

Domäne Wachau Terrassen Federspiel Grüner Veltliner 2021,

Domäne Wachau Terrassen Federspiel Grüner Veltliner 2021, Wachau, Austria       
$19.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
David Lawrason – Excellent value from the upper Danube – with a detailed nose of ripe pear, beeswax, spice and fresh herbs. It is mid-weight, crisp and a bit stony with lively acid, moderate alcohol, a hint of sweetness and a lively effervescence.
John Szabo – A terrific grüner here from the great 2021 vintage and from this region-leading cooperative, though with more of an estate winemaking philosophy rather than traditional cooperative structure, responsible for no less than one third of this celebrated regions’ wines. It’s hard to argue with the freshness and poise on offer, just a lovely $20 wine, ready to go or hold 2-3 years.
Sara d’Amato – I’m enamoured with this gingery grüner veltliner of great concentration at a small price from the well-respected Domaine Wachau. Green apple, passion fruit and a salty, lightly nutty profile characterize this tart and nervy wine with impressive staying power. Drink up!

Eradus Sauvignon Blanc 2022

Eradus Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Awatere Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
$19.95, The Kolonaki Group Inc
David Lawrason – The cooler Awatere Valley relays lovely fresh and piquant greens. This has an intense nose of lime leaf, fresh dill, grapefruit and a touch of green pepper. It is light to medium bodied, brisk and crisp. The agent advises this has been approved for continuous “Essentials Collection” availability later this year. It has always been an Awatere favourite.

Monte Del Frà Lugana 2020

Monte Del Frà Lugana 2020, Veneto, Italy    
$21.95, Signature Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason – This is a terrific, almost tropical white with all kinds of green melon, linden florality and grapefruit on the nose. It is very polished and bright, with a certain freshness and poise. There is some sweetness here but the acid balance is excellent. I have long been a Lugana fan.
Michael Godel – A viscous example with many citrus layers, unctuous and satisfying. Like biting into a really good late summer nectarine.

VINTAGES Buyer’s Guide March 4: Reds

Tornatore Etna Rosso 2018

Tornatore Etna Rosso 2018, Sicily, Italy   
$24.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc
David Lawrason This is a fiery little number with the distinctive lava lift I have come to expect from Etna reds. Almost a lurking not obvious smokiness. And I really like the vibrant red currant/sour cherry jam fruit, plus the oregano herbality and background spice.
John Szabo – Tornatore’s 2018 ‘basic’ Etna Rosso shows an intriguing mix of dried red cherry and pomegranate mixed with a lifted whiff of dried herb character, revealing its advanced state of maturity, very much at prime. There’s certainly loads of distinctive personality on offer for under $25.

Falernia Titón Single Vineyard Reserva Syrah  2017

Falernia Titón Single Vineyard Reserva Syrah  2017, Elqui Valley,  Chile     
$22.95, Du Chasse Wines & Spirits         
David Lawrason – The syrah’s of Elqui, an Andean valley in Chile’s far north, have unique amplitude. Like a northern Rhone syrah on steroids. Aromatic and flavour intensity are very impressive. And all those syrah smoked meat, pepper and caper notes are in full bloom. The cherry fruit is very ripe and it is very smooth and sweet edged.
Michael Godel – So very meaty, full of animal musk, scenting of iron and iodine. Quintessential northern Chilean syrah in every respect.
John Szabo – Terrifically stony, wooly syrah from Falernia’s supremely stony vineyards in the Elquí Valley, which resemble those of the southern Rhône and its large, round river stones. It’s a very intense and particular style, with that sort of high pH, creamy-round texture, a rather singular expression with high complexity, a treat to find at this price. Drink or hold 2-4 years.

Vinosia Santandrea Taurasi 2014

Vinosia Santandrea Taurasi DOCG 2014, Campania, Italy
$25.95, Majestic Wine Cellars          
Michael Godel – Even at $25 this Santandrea moves from strength to strength because, well ripeness. That’s the magic and from 2014 the wine is just now entering its window. Another year will lead to even better results. Don’t find this tiring whatsoever.
John Szabo – Showing much better than when first tasted in November 2021, this has turned more silky and complex, a fine introduction to mature aglianico. Drink or continue to hold another 2-4 years.
Sara d’Amato – A top value, this gracefully matured aglianico is delightfully peppery with now gentle but voluminous tannins. Sensual yet poised with a silky texture and offering a waterfall of fruit flavours, spice and botanicals. Enjoy while you still can.

Baron De Philippe De Rothschild Escudo Rojo Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2020

Baron Philippe de Rothschild Escudo Rojo Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Maipo Valley, Chile
$18.95, Charton Hobbs Inc.
John Szabo – Another fine and complex cabernet from the Rothschild’s portfolio in Chile, delivering poise and complexity above the price category. Tannins are properly firm, and flavours span the expected range of red and black fruit flavours with a dash of savoury herbs. I like the honest grit and palpable freshness.

Stratus Gamay 2021

Stratus Gamay 2021, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
$29.95, Stratus Vineyards
Michael Godel – J-L Groux made no mistake to coax all out aromatics with the sweetest swarthy swirl imaginable for the grape raised aboard the peninsula flats. Serve this at the right temperature and you too will experience the pure joy of a Stratus gamay. That means 12-13 degrees celsius, give or take a half point, either way.
Sara d’Amato – Lively, peppery and brimming with youthful vigor, this wildflower-tinged gamay exhibits a stylishly reductive facet that will help preserve fruit presence in the bottle. Exhibits the complexity of a Cru Beaujolais at a similar price point. Drinking pleasurably now but with the stuffing for further maturation.

J. Lohr Tower Road Petite Sirah 2019

J. Lohr Tower Road Petite Sirah 2019, Paso Robles, California
$39.95, Profile Wine Group (Barrique)
Michael Godel – Thick and inky to no surprise as this is petite sirah though as a Paso Robles example there are some cool minty notes streaking through the fruit. High alcohol (14.9 percent) but it’s quite well integrated and disappears into the scenery. Well made P-S in any case and quite satisfying too.

Zonte’s Footstep Baron Von Nemesis Shiraz 2019

Zonte’s Footstep Baron Von Nemesis Shiraz 2019, Barossa Valley, Australia
$24.95, Cru Wine Merchants
Sara d’Amato – A modern, smoldering shiraz, undeniably expressive and holding its alcohol well. Features a pleasant freshness, verging on edgy that, in contrast with its full-bodied nature, sets it apart from a more traditional warm climate style of shiraz. Botanicals, anise, cedar and candied cherry hang on the finish of surprising length.

VINTAGES Buyer’s Guide March 4 Celebrating International Women’s Day

Leaning Post Cuvee Winona 2020

Leaning Post Cuvee Winona 2020, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada
$28.95, Leaning Post Wines
Sara d’Amato – This blend of merlot and cabernet franc is hearty and very right-bank in feel despite its origins. Nicely concentrated, voluminous but not heavy, lightly grippy tannins. Complex with excellent length.

Lungarotti Rubesco Rossi di Torgiano 2019

Lungarotti Rubesco Rossi di Torgiano 2019, Umbria, Italy
$20.95, Vin Vino Wine Merchants Inc.
Sara d’Amato – Women are at the forefront of this historically significant Umbrian winery launched in the 1960s that focused on the cultivation of local varieties and innovative viticultural methods. Their flagship wine featured in this release is from the Torgiano DOC, the first sub-appellation awarded to Umbria in 1968 and must contain at least 50% sangiovese. This incarnation is a blend of sangiovese and colorino with a notably tannic profile. Youthful and with careful oak use and gentle extraction. An authentic representation of place with memorable intensity on the finish.

Angove Family Crest Shiraz 2019

Angove Family Crest Shiraz 2019, McLaren Value, Australia
$19.95, The Case for Wine
Sara d’Amato – Angove’s Family Crest Shiraz is sourced from a selection of low interventionist vineyards across the hot and dry McLaren Vale region grown in a range of soils, aspects, and age of vines with the aim to create a classic representation of the region. The low-yielding vintage of 2019 made for some memorable wines such as this dark and salty expression of shiraz fermented with wild yeasts in open top concrete vats. Chock-full of black fruit with a hint of campfire and trailing notes of violet. Still rather tightly wound and exhibiting more structure than the norm for a syrah. A notable find at the price.

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2020

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2020, Toscana, Italy     
$68.95, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo – Tenuta San Guido’s Guidalberto was first created in 2000, named after an ancestor, Guidalberto della Gherardesca, who planted the famous avenue of cypress trees in the 19th century in Bolgheri, the ‘Viale dei Cipressi’, 2500 trees lining a stretch of road that is now a national monument. It was originally designed as a wine to enjoy younger than Sassicaia, and at a more approachable price point. Yet it has evolved into a wine that can age a decade or two without a stretch, and has developed its own character, so not really a second wine as such, with mostly its own vineyards and produced in its own facility on the estate. Though usually a cabernet-dominant blend, this 2020 vintage mixes equal parts cabernet sauvignon and merlot, as it was a year that favoured the latter, earlier-ripening variety (and sangiovese). It’s a marvellous wine, ripe but still markedly fresh, gently extracted, with a measured amount of wood influence supporting the broad and plush, dark fruit flavours. Tannins are abundant but velvety, framed by zesty-succulent acids. Length and depth are excellent, lingering on an appealing saline saltiness. Best 2024-2032+.
Sara d’Amato – Guidalberto by Tenuta San Guido, is a cabernet sauvignon led-blend but in this most recent vintage, it is blended with equal parts merlot due to the cooler vintage. The gentle oak influence plays second fiddle to the generous dark fruit on the lightly salty palate. With youthful vigour, freshness and silky tannic appeal, this plush assemblage is poised for graceful maturation.

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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