Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES July 16 Release

Mediterranean Selection Turns up the Heat

By David Lawrason with notes from Michael Godel, John Szabo, MS and Megha Jandhyala

Our Sara d’Amato is currently in the south of France with family from the region, and will be there for another month. That sounds absolutely lovely! On the other hand, the Mediterranean is blazing hot yet again, with temperatures breaching 40 Celsius and wildfires breaking out in several countries. Even when I was there in May, temps reached into the low 30s, and in one stretch in southern Italy hit 35C precipitating a drought that is ongoing. The green fields of Basilicata browned a month ahead of schedule.

So, with the VINTAGES July 16 release catalogue calling us to “Make it a Mediterranean Summer,” I bet most Ontarians are happy to be right here enjoying our almost perfect, so far, Ontario summer.

Yet there is something very appealing about the Mediterranean lifestyle when centered on food and wine. It has to do with a more casual ambiance and longer engagement at the table, often outdoors with local foods and wines. Having spent a stationary two weeks in May at the classic Chateau de Fonscolombe near Aix-en-Provence, then another two weeks in fascinating Matera in Basilicata, Italy, I had time to really soak up this culinary ambiance, fueled by some regenerative hikes.


William HIll North Coast Chardonnay 2020

My work there was to explain the wines of south of France and south of Italy to visiting Canadians touring with Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, a nationwide charitable, culinary movement supporting youth endeavours in athletics, music and food.

The guests by and large had little knowledge of Mediterranean wines. It is a similar educational exercise that VINTAGES undertakes with this release, doing a quick tour to highlight regions and grapes that wine keeners should know about but often don’t. The selections by and large are good, but by casting such a broad net across the Mediterranean VINTAGES is just dipping our toes in that tepid and troubled sea.

Having had the luxury of time to deep dive in Provence and Basilicata, I realized the extent of the variety on offer, in terms of new grape varieties and specific appellations. And the quality that is being achieved, at very good prices.

Provence

In Provence rosé is over 80 percent of the production, so it was always rosé o’clock. I like Escalade Rosé on this release, by the way. But I spent considerable off-pink moments getting to know local whites and reds, with 36 varieties authorized across nine appellations — some very large, some tiny. Virtually all are blends, which makes identity more difficult to grasp.

Provençal whites fall into two camps. First, the lighter, fresher styles based on higher acid grapes like vermentino (locally called rolle), ugni blanc (otherwise know as trebbiano), clairette and bourbolenc. Sauvignon blanc and semillon are making inroads in this style as well. The other white style is more full-bodied and softer, based on grapes like marsanne, roussanne and grenache blanc. I was most smitten by the mineral sturdiness of the white wines of Cassis, a bucolic coastal village with terraced limestone vineyards based largely on clairette and marsanne.

The Provençal reds are dominated by more familiarly known southern Rhone varieties, led by grenache, syrah, carignan and mourvedre. But in Provence, cabernet sauvignon has made an indelible mark anchoring some serious blends that are among the elite wines of the region, and it is sneaking into many less expensive blends. The one local red that has risen to special status is Bandol, from yet another coastal village framed by an amphitheatre of vineyards planted to the late-ripening, aromatic and tannic mourvedre. The fragrant, black-fruited reds age beautifully, the roses are among the most aromatic and riveting of Provence, and even the whites here (again based on clairette) have uncommon structure as well.

Southern Italy

In southern Italy I was based for two weeks in Matera, one of humankind’s oldest settlements dating from the Neolithic era of 6000 BC, where inhabitants lived in caves now converted to hotels, restaurants and cellars. There is a local Matera DOC (appellation) but it is a reflection of its three much more famous neighbouring wine regions: Aglianico del Vulture, Puglia and Campania. Among white varieties it was the increasingly popular varieties of Greek origin like aromatic falanghina, sturdy greco and elegant fiano d’avellino. There was so many available, at such good prices, that my head spun. A decent falanghina has just arrived on shelf July 16, if not among our picks.  

The star grape however was aglianico, a red variety considered the single most important quality grape in southern Italy. It reaches its peak in high altitude, volcanic vineyards on the slopes the dormant Mt Vulture. The reds have almost explosive energy, tension and depth, and are known for their cellaring potential. But modern winemaking techniques are creating softer, easier versions that are great value. I also encountered surprisingly good rosés and blanc de noirs based on aglianico, including traditional method sparklers! Many thanks to Cantine de Notaio, Re Manfredi, D’Angelo and Elena Fucci of Mt Vulture for hosting our groups. There is a good value aglianico from Campania in Vintages July 16 release, and a few bottles of post-Classics Elena Fucchi Titolo lurs on Vintages shelves.

To the east of Matera there is the sprawling region of Puglia, the hottest region of Italy known for its plush, ripe reds, that our guests from across Canada particularly loved. The best known variety is primitivo (aka zinfandel) with a good example in Vintages release.  Top examples tasted there were seriously good, ripe, rich and elegant. But I found those made from local negroamaro had a bit more structure, and the surprise of the trip was fragrant, rounded yet structured variety called susumaniello.

Now back home to Ontario for our picks from the large July 16 release, and some selections from the July 2 Online release that are, hopefully, still available.

Mediterranean Picks

Argyros Assyrtiko 2020

Argyros Assyrtiko 2020, Santorini, Greece
$44.95, Kolonaki Group
David Lawrason – One of the great whites of the year, with a sense of the profound but delivered with disarming charm. Let me start at the end and say that focus and length are outstanding. The aromas aren’t highly lifted but they are very complex. It is medium-full, almost creamy yet centred on this great minerality and energy. Such textural delicacy, poise and refreshment.
Megha Jandhyala – The fruit of 100-year-old vines growing in the volcanic soils of Santorini, this is a nuanced, concentrated assyrtiko of remarkable length that gracefully but firmly captures one’s attention. Mineral notes, stone and citrus fruit, and subtle salinity coalesce seamlessly, the texture somehow both soothingly mellifluous and yet infused with vigour and energy.
John Szabo – As consistent and reliable as the sun on this Cycladic island, Argyros’s 2020 Santorini, from century old ungrafted vines, although the price has more than doubled in my short career, still represents stunning value in the realm of distinctive wines. There’s just so much stuffed into each mouthful. Drink now, but hold a decade or more.


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And that is a wrap for this edition. We will return next month with a look at the August 13 release, and any Online Exclusives that we might encounter in the meantime.

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
Megha’s Picks
Michael’s Mix

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