Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES October 21 Release

Falling for Autumnal Pinots From Niagara and Abroad

By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato, Megha Jandhyala and Elsa Macdonald

As we edge closer to the holidays, VINTAGES is rolling out its over-sized bottles, two-bottle gift packs and fancy packages, most of which we do not get to taste and review.

This release also features some high falutin’ California bottlings that make sense as gifts for those who shop early. Icon wines like the stunning Kistler Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay 2021 and Napa cabs from Cliff Lede and Grigich Hills are over $100. But most are between $50 and $100 and include somewhat less-familiar blends like the excellent J Lohr Pure Paso Proprietry Red 2020, Orin Swift’s bulldozer Palermo 2021 and the quixotic Beringer Q Red Wine 2020.

I am not feeling holiday spirit yet. The first frost is just hitting the pumpkins and the harvest in Niagara is wrapping up.  So, I hope you will indulge a few words about that most autumnal of wines — and my favourite — pinot noir. It is brought to mind by a mini-feature on Niagara Pinot Noir in the October 21 VINTAGES catalogue, and a dabbling of interesting well-priced pinots from around the world.

The VINTAGES article on Niagara’s pinots gets as close to journalistic as I have seen from this publication by letting the winemakers do most of the talking — Thomas Bachelder, Kelly Mason of Domaine Queylus, Casey Kulczyk of Westcott and Levi de Loryn of Arterra, which owns Kew Vineyards. The conversations are short and edited but begin to explain the maddening variability of Niagara pinot. Pinot is variable everywhere, but more so in Niagara.

Niagara is at the right latitude for this early ripening red variety, and Ontario has the right limestone-based soils, as in Burgundy. But after that, all generalizations and bets are off, as Niagara experiences wild vintage swings and more than its share of humidity thanks to its gigantic lakefront. This is a real problem for pinot noir, whose pine-cone–shaped (pineau, en francais) clusters are tightly packed and rot or desiccate rapidly once humidity sets in, resulting in a propensity for volatile acidity with its sourness and acetone. All of this means they need very careful winemaking management.

Kelly Mason puts it well. “Niagara never has the same vintage twice. The consistency of estate vineyards becomes essential for growing pinot because each year has its own challenges.” She goes on to praise a new generation of winemakers who are very much invested in this grape and following and learning year to year. So is their dean, Thomas Bachelder. “The promise young winemakers show is astonishing the veterans of Niagara viticulture. I am so excited about what the next generation is going to bring.”

The collection of four Niagara pinots on this release is the perfect tableau. You will find multiple reviews on all four.  Suffice to say that although from two different cooler vintages — 2021 and 2019 — they capture that Niagara pinot ethos: pale in colour, rife with sour-cherry fruit, tender and almost fragile with feathery tannin, lurking acetones and a touch of minerality. To pick one favourite, as reviewed below, I am pleasantly surprised by the flavour intensity of the Kew Vineyards Pinot Noir 2019 from Beamsville. Others include Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2019, Bachelder Les Villages Pinot Noir 2021 and Domaine Queylus Tradition Pinot Noir 2021.

As a pinot fan I am very open to following the bouncing ball in Niagara, but many would rather go to riper and more consistent pinot breeding grounds like New Zealand, Oregon, California and South Africa. This release offers some well-priced selections.

From Burgundy there is the swarthy, intense Domaine du Château Philippe le Hardi 2020 Mercurey (listed by Vintages under its former name Château De Santenay Vieilles Vignes Mercurey 2020. From New Zealand try the firm, complex, organic Clos Henri Petit Clos Pinot Noir 2019 and the charming, tender Rapaura Springs Reserve Pinot Noir 2020. From South Africa there is the good value The Fledge & Co. Katvis Pinot Noir 2021 from coastal Elgin. From Australia’s Adelaide Hills I loved the cranberry crunch of Riposte The Dagger Pinot Noir 2022. The boring, commercially uniformed O.P.P. 2020 from Oregon does not stop traffic, and well, the Belle Glos Eulenloch 2020 from California was not tasted, but is usually too sweet and un-pinot like. Many love Belle Glos and Meomi, which is fine, but just don’t call them pinot.

Some of the pinots appear among our critics’ recommendations below. Both John and Michael were travelling in Italy during this tasting period, so we invited Master of Wine Elsa Macdonald to the bench. The wines below are placed in ascending price order within the style categories

Sparkling and White

Radford Dale Vinum Chenin Blanc 202

Radford Dale Vinum Chenin Blanc 2022, Stellenbosch, South Africa
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce
David Lawrason – There is a reductive, flinty streak here that some will like, others not so much. But there is also generous, typical chenin pear/pineapple, wild flower and honey. It is medium-full bodied, fleshy, yet anchored by firm acidity, warmth and minerality Excellent length for $20.
Megha Jandhyala – Here is another delicious, skillfully-made, very well-priced wine from South Africa. Radford Dale’s Vinum is classic Cape chenin blanc – I love the flavours of stone and citrus fruit, the satin silk-like palate, and the long, faintly bitter, textured finish. I would keep several bottles of this on hand for large gatherings or a casual weeknight at home.
Sara d’Amato – Intended for bistros and casual drinking, this food friendly chenin blanc
from the Vinum series is worth stocking up on for weeknight sipping. Dry-farmed in granitic
soils on the foothills of the Helderberg Mountain, this very gently oak-aged chenin blanc is
stylishly reductive with chalky minerality and youthful purity. A refreshing, lighter style that is
that is halfway between Vouvray and Stellenbosch.

Kew Vineyards Marsanne 2019

Kew Vineyards Marsanne 2019, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment              
$19.95, Arterra Wines  
Megha Jandhyala – This is an interesting white wine for those looking to try something unfamiliar and uncommon. Mineral and delightfully fruity, with a botanical and spice-infused, pleasantly bitter finish, this Rhône-inspired, golden-hued marsanne-based blend from Ontario is a rare and lovely treat. I love the creamy, rounded texture, backed by taut acids, and the expressive flavour profile.
Elsa Macdonald – I am fascinated when producers invest in developing their understanding of their growing environment and winemaking skills.  Locally, this sometimes means planting varieties that don’t immediately seem to fit Niagara’s cool climate profile.  Kew Vineyards has been known for this practice so it’s good to see LCBO has picked up their captivating marsanne, a white variety normally associated with the warm Rhône valley in France.

Nino Franco Rustico Brut Prosecco Di Valdobbiadene Superiore

Nino Franco Rustico Brut Prosecco Di Valdobbiadene Superiore, Italy         
$27.95, Carpe Vinum
David Lawrason – This has more character than your everyday prosecco. There is still the essential lightness of being, but flavours are complex with cava-like dried pear, hay and flowers and grains. It is light bodied, firm and dry, with excellent acid structure.

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2022

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2022, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment $34.95, Henry of Pelham
Sara d’Amato – Perfectly poised despite its generous, high-quality oak treatment, this fulsome chardonnay is comforting without sacrificing freshness. Sustainably grown in a biodiverse setting with wildlife corridors that permeate the vineyard that is planted to a mix of clones in an old school, Burgundian fashion. A feel-good find in more than one way.

Deux Roches Rives De Longsault 2021

Deux Roches Rives De Longsault 2021, Saint-Véran, France
$38.95, Barrique Wine Imports Ltd. (Profile)
Elsa Macdonald – Saint-Véran is a somewhat lesser known Mâconnais village close to Pouilly-Fuissé in the south of Burgundy.  I thoroughly enjoyed this classic example of how chardonnay reacts to warmer pockets within a moderate climate and skilful handling in the winery.


Evel Tinto 2019

Evel Tinto 2019, Douro Portugal
$15.95, Family Wine Merchants 
David Lawrason – What a bargain for $16!  It has all the gravitas of a Douro red, with classic ripe blackberry/plummy fruit and subtle oak. Even a sense of minerality on the finish. It is full bodied, fairly dense and tannic yet well proportioned

Jeff Carrel Les Darons 2021

Jeff Carrel Les Darons 2021, Languedoc, France  
$16.95, Rouge Et Blanc
David Lawrason – This sports a very pretty nose with jammy blackcurrant, rose and fresh herbs in nice alignment. It is medium weight, fresh, bright and almost serious at the same time. Tannins are drying. The length fine for $17.
Megha Jandhyala – A grenache-based blend from the South of France, the Les Darons is very reasonably priced, given how flavourful, enjoyable, and comforting it is. There is a sense of simplicity and honesty here, a forthrightness of flavours as it were, that I find especially appealing.
Sara d’Amato – Look no further if laid back sipping is what you need this week. This unfussy, kraft paper-labeled Languedoc is a blend of grenache, syrah and a splash of carignan. Juicy and supple with sensual aromas of black pepper, bergamot, and mixed botanicals.

Frankland Rocky Gully Shiraz 2019

Frankland Rocky Gully Shiraz 2019, Frankland River, Western Australia
$17.95, The Case for Wine
Sara d’Amato – Frankland River shiraz is a relative rarity here in Ontario but is an exciting region for fragrant syrah reminiscent of styles from the northern Rhône’s Crozes-Hermitage or even St. Joseph. This peppery gem is sure to be a conversation starter, the Rocky Gully Shiraz delivers an earthy, stoniness along with wildflower and a hint of rustic meatiness.

Szászi Birtok Balaton-Felvidéki Cabernet Franc 2019

Szászi Birtok Balaton-Felvidéki Cabernet Franc 2019, Hungary                
$19.95, Le Sommelier Inc.         
David Lawrason – You have to be a card-carrying cab franc fan, but this is fine, authentic and well-priced. The aromas are not effusive but correct with well meshed raspberry fruit, tobacco, subtle florals, herbs and a touch of meatiness. Complete. It is light to medium weight, juicy yet in-filled with mild, starchy tannin.

Kew Vineyards Pinot Noir 2019

Kew Vineyards Pinot Noir 2019, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario              
$24.95, Arterra Wines  
David Lawrason – Ontario pinot value of the year? A fine maturing pinot from a small winery finally coming into the limelight since being purchased by Arterra – Ontario’s largest wine company.  2019 was also a very good Niagara pinot vintage. It is light bodied, juicy, edgy and intensely flavoured. Surprising depth and length.

Riposte The Dagger Pinot Noir 2022

Riposte The Dagger Pinot Noir 2022, Adelaide Hills, South Australia        
$26.95, Heritage Cellars            
David Lawrason – Very lifted aromas of cranberry, Aussie eucalyptus/ juniper, vanilla and cinnamon are fragrant and appealing.  It is light to medium weight with acid crunch and fine tannin. It has some charm, and the flavours radiate nicely.

Cavaliere D'oro Riserva Chianti Classico 2018

Gabbiano Cavaliere D’Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2018, Tuscany, Italy    
$24.95, Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits    
David Lawrason – This riserva is sitting at a perfect place of maturity, offering considerable complexity and depth at the price. It is medium weight, balanced and nicely in-filled without being heavy. The length is excellent. Best now to 2027.

Château La Gorce 2018

Château La Gorce 2018, Médoc Bordeaux, France
$24.95, Profile Wine Group
Sara d’Amato – Showing stamina through bottle age, this Cru Bourgeois offers a great deal of
fresh and dried fruit on the palate along with a seamlessly integrated oak treatment. Almost equal parts cabernet sauvignon and merlot are enhanced by an aromatic lift from a small dose of cabernet franc. Altogether elegant, harmonious, and ready to enjoy at a very fair price.

Teho Zaha Toko Vineyard Malbec 2019

Teho Zaha Toko Vineyard Malbec 2019, Paraje Altamira, Mendoza, Argentina
$25.95, Noble Estates
Megha Jandhyala – For those to whom bold, warm, fruit-driven wines appeal, this lush malbec-based blend might be just the thing to get cozy with as the days get cooler and gloomier. It is positively saturated with flavours of ripe dark cherries and summer berry jam, while notes of violets, herbs, and spice add dimension.
Elsa Macdonald – It’s not often that I find malbec worthy of remark but I appreciate it is an attractive variety for drinkers that want everything in their wine to be on high volume – deep colour, ripe, concentrated fruit flavours and full body.   This example delivers on all those fronts with some added dimensions of stoniness, spice and floral notes that charmed me.

Broccardo Il Giò Pi Nebbiolo 2020

Broccardo Il Giò Pi Nebbiolo 2020, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
$25.95, Origin Wine and Spirits
Sara d’Amato – For those of you who love nebbiolo but don’t want to wait until the end of the decade for your bottle to mature, here is well-priced compromise. Perfumed with lavender, peony and licorice, this cleanly made, traditional Langhe red features dusty tannins and refreshing acidity. Not a pandering style, this traditional and cleanly made expression of the variety is a solid value in this week’s release.
Elsa Macdonald – Nebbiolo is a grape variety that takes some time to get to know and appreciate given its often high acid, high tannin and high alcohol structure. Start your relationship with this gentler version from the broader Langhe region. It’s savoury, taut and firm like it’s Barolo and Barbaresco cousins but more accessible in the glass and easier the pocketbook.

Descendientes de J. Palacios Pétalos 2020

Descendientes de J. Palacios Pétalos 2020, Bierzo, Galicia, Spain
$28.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits
Sara d’Amato – It’s hard not to be seduced by this mencìa, finely crafted by Alvaro Palacios, barrique seller tuned maverick winemaker. Sourced from hillside and hilltop vineyards of western Bierzo, this flagship wine is consistently elegant and perfumed despite a warming climate and rising alcohol levels.

Penfolds Max's Shiraz/Cabernet 2021

Penfolds Max’s Shiraz/Cabernet 2021, South Australia                   
$29.95, Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits           
Megha Jandhyala – With a pleasing sense of fullness and warmth, alongside potent, integrated flavours of fruit and spice, this balanced blend is a reliable addition to one’s cellar. I especially like the long and comforting finish, with plush fruit giving way to savoury herbs. Save this homage to Penfold’s first winemaker for a cold and grey day when you need something warm and comforting to drink or serve.

J. Lohr Pure Paso Proprietary Red 2020

J. Lohr Pure Paso Proprietary Red 2020, Paso Robles, California                   
$42.95, Barrique Wine Imports Ltd. (Profile)
David Lawrason – This blends cabernet sauvignon and old vine petit sirah, a grape that brings some edge to soft Cali reds. Expect a complex nose of blackcurrant/cherry jam with all kinds of chocolate, licorice, cigarette smoke and spice. It is full bodied, smooth and dense with some grit to balance the largesse. Excellent to outstanding length.

Clarence Dillon Clarendelle 2016

Clarence Dillon Clarendelle 2016, Bordeaux, France (1500ml)
$53.95, The Case for Wine
Megha Jandhyala – This classic merlot-based, ready-to-drink Bordeaux-in-a-magnum should make for a great addition to a large dinner party. With engaging notes of supple red fruit, well-integrated spice, violet essence, tobacco, and dried herbs, and a firm, lithe palate, this is sure to please a wide range of palates whilst also pairing with plenty of foods.

Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf Du Pape 2020

Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf Du Pape 2020, Rhone Valley, France
$64.95, Woodman Wines & Spirts
Megha Jandhyala – This syrah and grenache-led Châteauneuf-du-Pape strikes a splendid balance between elegance and richness. Warm and plush, yet refined, with silk-velvet tannins, impressive concentration, complexity, and length, it is well worth the splurge.
Sara d’Amato – The well-manicured 18th century Château of La Nerthe stands out amidst the humbler structures of the southern Rhône, even within the star cru of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The estate was also the first to bottle its own wine in the region as well as employ the practice of destemming, in the early 19th century. It is not surprising that their wines have always had an aristocratic demeanor as well as being pridefully demonstrative of their terroir. As such, this organically grown, grenache-led blend is rich with local garrigue and exhibits poise despite the warmth of the vintage.

And that’s a wrap for this edition. We will return for the Nov 4 release with continuation of the Holiday Gift Guide theme.  John and Michael will be back in action, while I continue my travels across the country with Canada’s Great Kitchen Party.

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.

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Selections
Megha’s Picks
Elsa’s Excellent Choices

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