Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES February 3 Release

Bordeaux Futures & Features, Chile and Argentina

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

This week’s Vintages release puts Chile and Argentina in the spotlight — an unusually robust feature with 25 releases, more than 25 percent of the total. Timing couldn’t be better to help these two struggling nations. The bleak economic and industry reports coming out of South America can be interpreted, selfishly, as good news for consumers. Argentina’s skyrocketing inflation and weak currency makes export prices look good while soft demand is putting downward pressure on Chile’s export prices. The (simplified) net result in the short term is a raft of good wines at attractive prices. And it’s not only the value. The stylistic and varietal range on offer in the release is equally exciting, from light and zesty criolla and pinot to sturdy red blends, it’s a good time to give the wines of South America another look, as our enthusiastic reviews indicate. 

Elsewhere, last month the WineAlign Crü crashed the LCBO’s annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux taste-and-buy event at the ROM (the LCBO has never invited the trade) featuring the 2021 vintage. The vintage can be summed up as a return to a “classic” style, the way Bordeaux used to be in the 1980s and 1990s. Reds are variable, with some lovely, elegant wines for fine drinking over the mid-term. Whites are generally excellent, one of the finest vintages in memory. Prices overall are mostly down on 2020. I tasted through about 50 wines, mostly left bank (Médoc and Graves), and grouped the best into Recommended and Highly Recommended categories. And lastly to round out our Bordeaux coverage, Michael and I report independently on a September 2023 visit to Bordeaux, where we crossed many famous châteaux off the bucket list and discovered a sea of excellent quality/value mostly everywhere else. Read on for recommendations galore.

(Note: David Lawrason was off this weekend in Ottawa hosting the Canada’s Great Kitchen Party Canadian Culinary Championships — congratulations to Jasper Cruickshank of Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar in Whistler, B.C., who took top honours. The Wine of the Year goes to Rosehill Run’s 2020 St Cindy Pinot Noir.)


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Breadth and Value From Chile And Argentina

This week’s Vintages release puts South American heavyweights Chile and Argentina in the spotlight — an unusually robust feature with fully 25 releases, more 25 percent of the total. The timing couldn’t be better to help these two struggling nations.

Argentina, as you’ve likely heard, is going through an economic meltdown, with inflation running at a staggering annual rate of 211 percent. And here I was complaining about the price of eggs in Canada.

And over in Chile, judging from multiple producer accounts during last fall’s annual Chilean wine fair, the wine industry is currently facing a significant downturn, with double-digit reductions in both domestic and international demand. Some producers are reporting sales declines of an alarming 30–40 percent, especially at the lower end, and many are even contemplating the drastic measure of abandoning vineyards.

I tasted through more than a dozen of the Chilean and Argentine offerings and found several to get excited about. And it’s not only the value. The stylistic and varietal range on offer is equally exciting, from light and zesty criolla and pinot to sturdy red blends. It’s a good time to give the wines of South America another look.

Jump directly to our release recommendations.

Bordeaux Futures and Features

In January, Sara, Megha, Michael and I attended the annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux LCBO walk around taste-and-buy event at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, part of a North America-wide UGC tour. The 2021 vintage was featured exclusively, with some 80 producers showing their wares. It’s not a very conducive environment for detailed note taking, but the event does provide an opportunity to gain a comprehensive overview of the vintage and pick out the top performers. I tasted through about 50 wines, mostly left bank (Médoc and Graves), and have grouped the best into Recommended and Highly Recommended categories. The wines are available online now from the LCBO, and will arrive sometime in 2024 (exact date TBD; check with the LCBO).

Bordeaux Vintage 2021

A word about 2021: In a nutshell, it’s a return to a more “classic” style, the way Bordeaux used to be in the 1980s and 1990s. Reds are highly variable, but with some lovely, elegant wines that will provide for fine drinking over the mid-term. Whites are generally excellent, one of the finest vintages in memory.

Yields were down quite significantly at some châteaux from a confluence of atmospheric challenges (frost, hail, rain, mildew, cool, gloomy days, you name it), but despite the limited quantities produced, prices overall are mostly down on 2020, thanks to the mixed reviews of the vintage and dampened enthusiasm from the trade.

Fans of the ripe and robust trio of 2018-2019-2020 vintages will find the ’21s comparably light. Alcohol levels are down by about a full degree on average, closer to 13–13.5 percent compared to the recent spate of 14-plus–percent wines.

It was a year to treat sensitively in the cellar to protect the delicate fruit. Those who got it wrong produced hard, over-extracted and often woody wines, the kind that will likely never come around before the fruit fades. Those who got it right produced beautifully balanced, perfumed, silky, elegant reds. St. Julien and Margaux were particularly successful, though there are some terrific buys in less vaunted appellations like Moulis, Listrac and Haut-Médoc.

The best whites of Graves and Péssac-Léognan are supremely fresh with succulent acids and vibrant, ripe but fresh fruit. There are some stunners on offer, though here, the generally tiny quantities mean that prices are pretty steep.

Special Report: Bordeaux Wishes and Classified Dreams & Buyer’s Guide For 2021 Futures and Top Current Vintages

By John Szabo

The majestic château of the Left Bank fuel the Bordeaux dreams of wine connoisseurs worldwide. The turreted, romantic renaissance castle of Pichon Baron with its grey slate roofs and white limestone walls, the neo-Palladian masterpiece of Château Margaux, the singular Oriental design of Cos d’Estournelle and its monumental 17th century Zanzibar portal, the elegant Tuscan-style tower at Château Lagrange… all conjure flights of aristocratic fantasies and fine-wine reveries.

The splendid architecture of the region reflects its prosperity over the past 400 years as the source, and gateway, for all wine exports from southwest France.

The wines, of course, are also among the finest in France, and the world, unsurprising given the near limitless resources at the disposal of the top one percent of Bordeaux estates. To visit any one of these tops many bucket lists. But you’ll need an appointment. Nobody drops in unannounced.

Last September, I spent ten days touring and tasting through the region, making a significant dent in my own bucket list. With many wineries showing the exceptional trio of vintages 2018-2019-2020, quality was universally high, and mid-90s scoring wines almost routine. Add in some terrific 2015s and 2016s, and even 2011s that are starting to drink beautifully now, and the list of recommended wines runs as long as a 19th century Russian novel.

But it’s not all about the classified growths and their near untouchable wine prices. For more grounded wine lovers, Bordeaux has much to offer. Remember that the Left Bank 1855 classified growths number about 60, while the greater Bordeaux region counts some 6,000 wine producers. In such a vast amount of wine can be found some of the world’s best cabernet and merlot red blends, along with sauvignon-semillon white blends, that don’t require re-mortgaging. Languishing as so many properties do in the shadows, yet with access to vast expertise and information-sharing with neighbours, not to mention a string of excellent vintages, and the quality-pleasure-price quotient of many of the wines is jaw dropping.

And the so-called second wines of the top château, usually from younger vines or lots that don’t make it into the grand vin — or, more rarely, from vineyards entirely separate from those used for the top bottlings — are fertile hunting grounds for relative value today more than ever. Vast improvements in vineyard management and winemaking technology and acumen have had both a positive ripple up and ripple down effect on a château’s entire portfolio.

Click here to read the full Bordeaux report.


Buyer’s Guide February 3: Chile & Argentina

Secreto Patagónico Rebel Pinot Noir 2022, Patagonia, Argentina
$16.95, Kylix Wines
Michael Godel –  As musically cool climate as it gets for pinot noir — and so come to Rebel with an expectation to find salinity, freshness and tart acidity.
Megha Jandhyala – Supple red fruit, delicate floral aromas, and subtle spice coalesce in this bright, refreshing pinot noir from the cooler Patagonia region in southern Argentina. At this price, I would buy a few bottles to serve as an aperitif in warmer months. 

There are 16 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

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That’s all for this report, see round 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.


Megha’s Picks
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys

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