Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES March 18 Release

Assessing Pinot Noir’s Mainstream Progress

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

We begin with an apology that this newsletter is a couple of days later than usual, owing to the March Break absence of the Crü, which delayed tasting until March 20–21. It was precious time spent with families and friends and we hoped you enjoyed likewise.

VINTAGES theme of the release is Pinot Noir: A Labour of Love. Anything you read about pinot noir ratchets up notions of labour, passion, improbability, persnicketiness, heartbreak and hopefully, in the end, exaltation. Underlying all this is a simple truth that pinot’s performance is very site-specific. It is a thin-skinned grape difficult to grow well and requires low yields to make exciting wine, thus dictating high prices.

All of this makes it an unlikely candidate for homogenous, commercial success at the price point that commerciality dictates. Even mid-price pinots — $25 to $50 — rarely achieve the complexity, delicacy, tension and terroir driven detail that can make pinot noir truly great.

Still, its commercial progress has been impressive since the North American mass market awakened to pinot via the 2005 Academy Award-nominated film Sidewise, a rom-com road trip set in the pinot noir vineyards of Santa Barbara County in California. Pinot’s virtues were passionately extolled by the lead love interests.

There will also be a Happy Hour on Saturday, April 15th at 5:30pm on Zoom where John Szabo and Thomas Bachelder will taste through and discuss the wines in this case. Don’t miss it! Register here.

Until Sideways, pinot noir was an expensive, niche wine out of Burgundy, France, and a handful of other burgeoning New World regions with similar cool climate ambiance and particular soils — usually limestone — that were similar to Burgundy. But whether the mass market became enamored by the pinot ideal, or awakened to the idea that paler, lighter bodied, less tannic reds were actually enjoyable, pinot noir has become popular.

So how is it doing as a mainstream red? Well, if the VINTAGES release of eight featured mid-price pinots on March 18 is an indication, the verdict is lukewarm.

Taking up 14 pages in its March 18 catalogue, the “Labour of Love” collection nibbles at pinot’s nobility. We were able to taste each of the eight wines, with Le Clos Jordanne Grand Clos 2020 from Niagara being the most expensive ($50) and highest scoring in my books. We also tasted a couple of other pinots from the Online/Flagship Store offerings, which were not featured. But only one pinot below gets a value recommendation from me in this newsletter.

Thankfully VINTAGES selection stayed away from the very popular sweeter pinots coming out of California. Meomi is the poster child of this genre, taking advantage of California’s very loose labelling laws to produce a rich, almost think and sweet wine. California pinot can contain up to 24% of other heavier grapes, which easily swamp the light-hearted pinot premise. The rule applies across all varieties, but heavier varieties don’t expose this loophole as readily. Many love Meomi pinot. Knock yourself out if you do. But it ain’t pinot, and it insults thousands of winemakers striving for the real thing. They could call it Meomi Red without losing a dime.

The selection did include two high-volume lower-priced wines from New Zealand, both VINTAGES Essentials under $25 from Oyster Bay and Kim Crawford. They capture the right red fruit flavours and ambiance but not the quality (balance, purity, depth) that New Zealand can achieve. To me, New Zealand is your best chance to find affordable, exciting pinot noir that is also quite approachable.

A pair from Oregon — Erath and Six Stones — were also decent but again not exciting, showing a softer, fruitier ambiance but not much complexity or the depth I wanted at the price. From Ontario, the selections were quite strong, and very much in a lighter, higher acid style that will appeal to pinot fans, but again the value was not quite there. Even the one Burgundy featured — Marchand Tawse Bourgogne — strained to deliver at $40, but it was very stern and youthful and may yet deliver.

The takeaway is that low-to-mid price commercial pinot noir remains fraught. And frankly, if I were looking to spend modest amounts on lighter reds with red fruit I would go elsewhere — to gamay from Canada or Beaujolais, to basic Valpolicella/Bardolino and Barbera from Italy, to Zweigelt and other Central European reds, and perhaps to Etna Rosso from Sicily. And there is always grenache in its many global and less expensive incarnations.

The rest of the release is more interesting, with some terrific if eclectic whites, and some notable reds from South America and Spain. And speaking of Spain, two drop-dead riveting dry sherries!

Before getting to these picks, some timely news for Ontario readers. Until April 1, VINTAGES is offering 1000 Aeroplan points when you buy a case of any 12 different New Release Collection Wines. That’s a fairly hefty reward if you want to dabble. I did so with this release, buying 12 wines resulting in notes on some selections my colleagues might not have tasted.

Pinot Noir

Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2018

Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2018, Marlborough, New Zealand
$29.95, Epic Wines and Spirits, Online/Flagship Store Exclusive      
John Szabo – Among the pinots featured in this release, this one stood a notch above for its pure clean fruit, and supple, forward, ready-to-drink nature, typical of Marlborough. It’s not a monument of complexity, but pleasure is high. Chill slightly. 
David Lawrason
– This is a medium bodied, quite mellow, warm and easy drinking pinot with very good flavour intensity. The nose is generous and ripe with quite classic cherry pie, woodsy and dried flower and oak spice. Nice focus and detail here. Ready to drink.

Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2020

Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2020, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario     
$31.95, Westcott
Sara d’Amato – Aging gracefully and ready to drink, this peppy, crowd-pleasing pinot noir is laced with sweet cherry, pepper, nettle, and bergamot. Light to mid-weight with a punchy flavour profile and good length.
John Szabo
– Fully mature I’d say, Westcott’s 2019 Estate pinot noir pours a pale garnet colour, with lifted, potpourri and desiccated red berry fruit aromatics and silky texture to match, moving nicely along its evolutionary curve. A good example of what Ontario can offer in this price range.
Michael Godel – Really exemplary for the Vinemount Ridge and were there a dictionary entry for such a character this may as well be the one. Good for two-plus years further.

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir 2020

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir 2020, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario       
$49.95, Arterra
Sara d’Amato – A warmer vintage expression of this paradigmatic Bench pinot noir that is sure to charm even great skeptics of Ontario wine. Silky and generous with memorable floral aromatics, gentle oak spice and the integrity to develop further in bottle.

Marchand Tawse Côte d’Or Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2020

Marchand Tawse Côte d’Or Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2020, Burgundy, France       
$38.95, Burgundy Direct Ltd.
Sara d’Amato – A high-quality expression of the broad region of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, this highly flavourful style of pinot noir offers notes of rhubarb, roasted red pepper, blackberry and bramble marked with a spice from fine oak treatment. A luxurious wine whose quality is well-matched to price.
Megha Jandhyala – For those looking to enjoy red burgundy, this is a ripe, refined, gently warming example, balanced and relatively nuanced. I like the flavours of tender, fleshy red and blue fruit, underbrush, delicate spice, and violets.

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Réserve Du Domaine 2018

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Réserve Du Domaine 2018, Niagara Peninsula
$49.95, Marchands des Ameriques, Online/Flagship Store Exclusive
Megha Jandhyala – This is an aromatically and texturally enticing pinot noir from our very own Niagara Peninsula. I like the velvety tannins, the perfumed nose of fine spice, vanilla, underbrush, black raspberries, cherries, and strawberries, and the enduring finish.
Michael Godel – The middle (Réserve Du Domaine) tier made by winemaker Kelly Mason has just about fully matured and here arrived at its destined place, that being as a pinot noir where all the parts coexist in syncopation.


Margan Family Hunter Valley Semillon 2017

Margan Family Hunter Valley Semillon 2017, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia   
$19.95, Connexion Oenophilia
David Lawrason – What a great nose and huge value for $20. It blasts semillon’s green fig, candlewax, saffron and lime aromas to perfection – great focus and integrity. It is full bodied, yet juicy and racy with grapefruit pith, salinity and considerable bitterness. The length is excellent to outstanding.
Sara d’Amato – A springtime awakening. Hunter Valley semillon typically takes considerable time to develop in bottle and with this 2018, the wait is over. Blossoming with elderflower, limeleaf, anise and white pepper, this salty, crunchy white is sure to liven the senses.
John Szabo – A reliable Hunter Valley semillon producer since 1996, Margan’s 2017 has reached a stage of evolution that will appeal to fans of the genre. It has an austerity that won’t draw in all drinkers, but those familiar with the style will feel right at home. Drink or hold another 10 years.
Megha Jandhyala – Margan’s entry-level Hunter Valley sémillon represents excellent value, with its rich, melodious notes of lemon oil, ripe grapefruit, and lime zest. I like how mellifluous yet taut it feels on one’s palate, leaving an enduring impression. Michael Godel – Some vintages produce stars and at $19.95 this is just about as good as it gets for age-worthy Hunter Valley sémillon.

Howard's Folly Alvarinho Monção E Melgaço 2018

Howard’s Folly Alvarinho Monção E Melgaço 2018, Vinho Verde, Portugal             
$21.95, Rubaiyat Wine and Spirits
Sara d’Amato – It is so rare to find an aged expression of Vinho Verde and here is evidence that it is possible to produce a lasting wine in this wet, green, and cool climate. Certainly, a curio find, this typically light-bodied alvarinho is fleshy, mineral, and chalky, with ginger and toasty lees that add volume to the palate. You’ll find no spritz here, just a pleasant apéro style wine suited to a sophisticated alfresco setting.
David Lawrason – No folly here! This is from the best sub-region of Vinho Verde, this pours fairly deep lemon-gold. It has a lifted, concentrated and very exotic nose. It is full bodied, rich and extracted with some sweetness, great intensity and tension. It is unlike any Vinho Verde you have ever had. Excellent length.

Alain Geoffroy Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru 2020

Alain Geoffroy Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru 2020, Burgundy, France    
$39.95, Ex-Cellars Wine Services       
David Lawrason – Such cohesion here! This is medium-weight, almost rich Chablis with polish, warmth and very fine acidity and minerality at the core. Such a lovely, detailed and well integrated nose here with ripe apple, clover honey, vague tarragon, almond and fine yeast. The flavour focus and length are excellent to outstanding.
Megha Jandhyala
– This is a delicate, layered, consummately elegant Chablis, with gentle notes of ripe orchard and citrus fruit, nuances of herbs and lees, and silvery mineral tones. I especially like the textural complexity on display here and the subtle, lingering finish.

Giesen Uncharted Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Giesen Uncharted Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Marlborough, New Zealand
$22.95, Charton Hobbs          
Sara d’Amato – The German-born Giesen brothers have been making wine in New Zealand in the infancy of winegrowing in the country, in the early 1980s. They’ve recently been innovators in the no-to-low alcohol movement but are best known for delivering a classic representation of place in their wide-ranging varietal portfolio. Their newly branded “uncharted” series is well worth discovering and focuses more specifically on individual expressions of terroir such as this sauvignon blanc sourced from Marlborough’s Awatere Valley, high on tropical aromas, substantial and lengthy.

Tawse Limestone Ridge-North Riesling 2020

Tawse Limestone Ridge-North Riesling 2020, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario
$21.95, Tawse Winery Inc.
David Lawrason – We may have become blinkered to Niagara riesling, but in every respect it is world class and invigorating. This has the unmistakeable lift and penetration of Niagara bench riesling, with direct lemon, fresh basil-like herbs, petrol and minerality. Also some honeysuckle florality. It is light to mid-weight, just off-dry but defined by racy acidity and minerality. The length is excellent.

Other Reds

Contino Reserva 2018

Contino Reserva 2018, Rioja, Spain
$32.95, FWM Canada                
David Lawrason – This maturing reserva captures a certain grace and intensity that makes it quite exciting. The nose is fairly generous and complex. It is medium weight, very well balanced, lively, yet sophisticated at the same time. Excellent focus and length.
Megha Jandhyala
– This is a complex, richly layered, silken Rioja, sourced from a single vineyard. It is maturing gracefully, with generous, integrated notes of sandalwood, vanilla, and nutmeg poised in perfect equilibrium with ripe fleshy red fruit.
Michael Godel – Contino’s Reserva ’18 reminds of the 2004, similar of mild and sweet acidity and great structure. Quixotic, exotic, ripe, spicy, floral, meaty and never gamy. Clean, beautiful and ready for next winter.

CUNE Rioja Reserva 2018

CUNE Rioja Reserva 2018, Rioja Alta, Spain
$22.95, FWM Canada
John Szabo – I vacillated between recommending this and the (excellent) Contino Rioja Rerserva 2018, but in the end the CUNE edged it out for value. The vast scale of production of the Compañia Vinícola del Norte de España (“CVNE”; the “Cune” brand resulted from a spelling error early on that stuck) – it’s the best-selling Rioja in Spain, and the fully established operation, since 1879, means unbeatable economies of scale and low production costs. This is a lovely, fleshy, balanced wine, fullish and satisfying, also with an uncommon degree of structure and depth in the price category.

Pesquié Édition 1912M Ventoux 2020

Pesquié Édition 1912M Ventoux 2020, Rhône, France
$19.95, The Vine Agency
David Lawrason – Grown in uplands near the famed cycling destination Mt Ventoux, this is a lively, fresh almost exuberant take on Rhone styling. It is open knit, fairly dense and juicy with plum, violet and a hint of licorice on the finish. This could use a light chill, and certainly doesn’t need age to deliver its charms.

La Vite Lucente 2020

La Vite Lucente 2020, I.G.T. Toscana, Italy
$36.95, Mark Anthony Group
Megha Jandhyala – The Vita Lucente is an affordable introduction to Luce’s famed Tuscan blends, with a perfumed nose of violets, ripe red and dark fruit, fine spice, and herbs. There is such intensity and concentration on display here. I would buy a couple of bottles and enjoy them in 3-5 years.

Alta-Yarí Reserva Malbec 2020

Alta-Yarí Reserva Malbec 2020, Gualtallary, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina 
$18.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
John Szabo – This wine stands out for its uncommon freshness and liveliness, a product of the cooler, high-elevation sub-region of Gualtallary. I like the succulent acids and the ripe, taut fruit. Drink or hold short term.
Sara d’Amato – Here is a distinctly bright and mineral malbec from the Uco Valley sub-subregion of Gualtallary located within the northern region of Tupungato. Memorably perfumed with lavender and bramble along with bergamot spice, the palate offers inviting flavours of licorice-tinged black fruit and then and finishes on a note of tender rose. Wild and personality driven, this dynamic find is a great value.

I Latina La Armonia Vineyard Petit Verdot 2019

I Latina La Armonia Vineyard Petit Verdot 2019, Curicó Valley, Chile
$21.95, Vineter
Sara d’Amato – For those of you who are looking for intensity in their lives, start with this impactful, Curicó-born petit verdot with impressive vigor and concentration. Deeply pigmented with tightly entwined flavours of cedar, black currant, blackberry bud and licorice. It avoids the trappings of sweet or alcoholic. Beware that it is a touch reductive in style so best to decant before serving.

Viñalba Gran Reserva Malbec 2019

Viñalba Gran Reserva Malbec 2019, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina     
$24.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
David Lawrason – From 60 year old vines, this is a classic, ripe malbec showing lovely blackberry/mulberry fruit, violet, sage and background oak spice and vanilla. It is quite full bodied, expansive, warm yet soft and stylish. Flavour focus and intensity are excellent.

Emiliana 57 Rocas Los Robles Estate Carmenère 2019

Emiliana 57 Rocas Los Robles Estate Carmenère 2019, Colchagua Valley, Chile    
$22.95, PMA Canada Ltd.
David Lawrason – From one of the world’s best organic producers, this is an intense carmenere with classic blackcurrant/raspberry fruit, greens, cordite and pepper. It is medium-full bodied, soft and charming yet very powerful at the same time. Lovely texture and poise.


Bodegas Barbadillo Pastora Manzanilla Pasada, Sanlucar de Barrameda

Bodegas Barbadillo Pastora Manzanilla Pasada, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Jerez Spain    
$16.95, All The Right Grapes Inc.
David Lawrason – If you missed it last time through in Sept 2021, don’t miss it now. Read the reviews to get the full story on its production and style, but rest assured this is a classic, and in my mind the best value of the release. It wafts intense sultana raisin, sourdough, peanut shell and licorice, with honeyed and licorice notes – very exotic and alluring. It is medium-full bodied, just off dry warm, and rich.
Megha Jandhyala – With vivid flavours of dried lemon, lime zest, aged spices, and toasted nuts, this is an intriguing and distinctive sherry. I really like its richness and tender warmth and its beguiling, prolonged, finish. I think it would pair especially well with sushi and sashimi or a cheese plate.

Lustau Escuadrilla Rare Amontillado Sherry

Lustau Escuadrilla Rare Amontillado Sherry, Spain    
$23.55, John Hanna & Sons Limited
John Szabo – Lovely, rich, complex, burnished and evolved in the most positive directions, Lustau’s rare Escuadrilla Amontillado is a marvel of depth and complexity, medicinal and tonic, intensely flavoured beyond the mean at this price. Length is exceptional. The sort of wine to pull out with the cheese board, to enjoy slowly, in small sips.

And that’s a wrap for this release. We will back in a more timely manner with our review of April 1 Release.

David Lawrason,

VP of Wine

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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