Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – Sept 1st, 2018

Happy Wine New Year
By David Lawrason with notes from John Szabo, Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

We have a precious last three-day summer long weekend on the doorstep. It is called Labour Day in tribute to organized labour, a socialist movement whose roots are now 100 years old this very autumn, if measured by the ascendancy of the Communist Party to governance in Russia under Vladimir Lenin in 1918. My sense is that Vladimir Putin would have loved being president in that era too. But I digress.

This weekend most of us are not labouring, or celebrating organized labour. We are squeezing the last drops out of summer, and perhaps even anticipating the New Year ahead in terms of back to school, back to work and generally just back at it, with a renewed intent that runs deeper and more confidently than faux New Years Eve resolutions.

Certainly for those in the wine business in Canada, Labour Day weekend is the real New Years. I long ago learned not to publish speculation about the vintage before the grapes were harvested and the wine was made. This is especially important here where capricious autumns make or break a vintage.

It is an important and stressful time for winemakers, especially if the growing season has been erratic. Europe has been broiling. And what an erratic year it has been in Canada – steamy humidity in the East, dry smoky conditions in the West. I am reminded of a Tweet I saw this week from a Canadian winemaker on the eve of harvest. “Waiting to exhale,” he said.

Yalumba The Strapper GSM 2015

Well you, dear readers in Ontario, do not have to hold your breath. You get to enjoy some good wines on VINTAGES September 1 release. Last week John Szabo focused on European values, this week the team shifts to the New World. Value is not so much the imperative as simply directing you to some excellent wines.

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES Sept 1st, 2018

Ontario Whites

Henry of Pelham 2016 Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay, Short Hills Bench, Niagara Escarpment ($29.95)
John Szabo – The top-level SFR 2016 chardonnay is a generously oaked wine, medium-full-bodied, ripe and creamy, well balanced, with impressive flavour intensity in a forward and widely appealing style. I like the sweet citrus and cherry fruit, and the high-quality wood spice. Length and depth are very good to excellent as well. Best 2018-2026.
David Lawrason – I am also impressed. 

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2016Nomad At Hinterbrook Sauvignon Blanc 2017Château Des Charmes Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2015

Nomad 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This is a gentle, quite smooth and subtle sauvignon blanc from Hinterbrook (which is now marketing under the Nomad name since purchased in 2014 by George and Violette Liu. Ilya Senchuk of Leaning Post is consulting winemaker.) It has a mild nose of fresh dill, guava and almost peachy fruit I have found before in Niagara Lakeshore. It is nicely smooth and even, with moderate acidity, some warmth and a slightly green, bitter finish.

Sara d’Amato – If sauvignon blanc is not a wine you would normally reach for, I suggest you try this version from Nomad at Hinterbrook which is not at all simplistic or green. Offering a great deal of purity, beautifully ripened fruit, substantial and with the brightness of white pepper spice, this intriguing white makes me think both of Pouilly-Fumé and Napa Valley at the same time. A surprise find and a winner in my books.

Château des Charmes 2015 Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($16.95)
John Szabo – Drinking nicely now, this aromatic version of Chardonnay, a CdC specialty, delivers an appealing range of ripe orchard fruit on a wave of florality that should earn lots of fans. Acids are mellow on a mid-weight frame, and length is more than adequate for the money.

Other New World Whites

Enroute 2014 Brumaire Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, California ($37.95)
Sara d’Amato – This terroir driven chardonnay is made with care and attention to detail – all of which is revealed at first sip. This definition and freshness is due to an opt out of malolactic fermentation and the use of only French oak barrels, 70% of which are neutral (older barrels). The ten months sur lie ageing adds a flavour but not richness. A sophisticated chardonnay that is sure to turn heads.
David Lawrason – This is a big, quite intense yet firm and balanced chardonnay. It has complex and generous aromas of pineapple, lemon custard, forest greens, wood smoke and clove spice. Nice firmness and acidity across the palate with excellent length.

Enroute Brumaire Chardonnay 2014Bellingham Homestead Series The Old Orchards Chenin Blanc 2016

Bellingham 2016 Homestead Series The Old Orchards Chenin Blanc, Paarl, South Africa ($15.95)
John Szabo
– A terrific value from Bellingham, made from average 25 year-old dry-farmed bush vines grown on sandstone and shale, wild fermented and aged in old barrels ageing, without malolactic (each barrel is fitted with a cooling plate). It’s ripe, creamy, fresh, with a deft touch of oak and pure crisp white fruit, apple, and pear. I appreciate the impressive depth, ripe but still fresh, barely into the tropical spectrum, and solid length. $16? I’m in. Best 2018-2024.
Michael Godel – From Stephen Joubert, viticulturalist of the DB group who has said “my passion is to understand South African terroir and to figure out what grows best and where. Ocean is the thing, heavy soils, cold winters, dry summers, sea breeze influence, to keep acidity and freshness.” Here chenin blanc from Paarl is richer and deeper with an orchard fruit crunch. It’s bloody delicious.
Sara d’Amato – One of the top values of the week is Belingham’s Homstead chenin blanc. Nothing chintzy about this wine that is produced from 35-year-old vines, spontaneously fermented and aged 30% in new French oak all for under $12 – but most notably, it’s delicious!

Voyager 2016 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Margaret River, Western Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is a nicely made, fairly bright blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon that is lightly oaked. Margaret River does this white Bordeaux style very well. Expect fairly generous aromas of gentle wood spice, juniper, fig and vague pepper. It is medium bodied, somewhat creamy with moderate acidity and alcohol. Wanted a bit more length and depth but it is fine for the price.
Michael Godel – Quite herbal for the typical blend but also plenty of fruit keeps this moving along with drinkable ease. The sémillon is present but does little to distract and so sauvignon blanc takes charge without asking for even a moment’s patience. Drink this now with fresh lake fish caught swimming in warm Ontario waters.

Voyager Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2016Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Dog Point 2014 Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand ($43.95)
Michael Godel – Block 94 the 1990s single-vineyard section is as a reminder, “a particularly good Sauvignon Blanc block,” noted by James Healy. Character is very much lees driven and reduction is at the top of the freshness, or fresh making game. It’s a delicious and frantic one.

New World Reds

Southern Right 2016 Pinotage, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, South Africa ($27.95)
David Lawrason – From the fold of Hamilton-Russel (although a separate label and property) this has a nicely lifted, classic pinotage nose of strawberry/currant fruit, with eucalyptus, iron-like minerality and considerable pepper and smoke. It is mid-weight, a touch sweeter than I expected but sour edges help. Tannin is in synch. The flavour intensity and depth is excellent. One of the best pinotage in South Africa.
Michael Godel – Southern Right is pinotage raised on the western border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards. This will help you adjust your pinotage set and affirm what Anthony Hamilton Russell said about the much maligned grape. “What people thought was pinotage was badly made pinotage. It’s not a bad grape,” he insists. Terrific if singular stuff with high quality acidity and a long finish.
John Szabo – Regularly one of the best examples of pinotage on the market, this version from the folks at Hamilton-Russell in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley shows a more refined and floral side of the variety, with both red and black fruit mingling with moderate wood spice. Acids are a touch tart, but overall work nicely into the ensemble. Length is very good, and this should age well, too. Best 2018-2026.

Southern Right Pinotage 2016Creekside Cabernet Franc 2014

Creekside 2014 Cabernet Franc, Serluca Vineyard, VQA Four Mile Creek, Niagara On The Lake ($25.00)
Michael Godel – Serluca Vineyard serves a very specific and if idiosyncratic cabernet franc well then that’s perfectly fine and impressionable. Older barrels bring a soy meets leathery aridity and fruit finds its dark rooted way. This should be put aside and brought out alongside the hearty braises and root vegetable roasts of colder winter months.

Bonterra 2014 Merlot, Mendocino County, California ($21.95)
David Lawrason – This is a nicely balanced, firmer style of merlot – organically produced which is perhaps the reason it shows such energy. Expect nicely ripe black raspberry, herbs, spice and well metered oak toast and spice. Good structure here, a bit drier than the norm with very good to excellent length.

Bonterra Merlot 2014Lincourt Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2015Lake Breeze Bernoota Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Lincourt 2015 Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir, California, USA ($43.95)
Sara d’Amato – An authentic pinot noir that fully exploits the cool climate, breezy terroir of Santa Rita Hills. Specialists in cool climate chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah, Lincourt’s sustainably grown Rancho Santa Rosa offers all the tension and texture you’d expect from pinot noir but soothes the palate with an abundance of rich, fleshy fruit. Dynamic and widely appealing but not pandering.

Lake Breeze 2015 Bernoota Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, Langhorne Creek, South Australia ($27.95)
David Lawrason – This is an intense, juicy, ripe shiraz-cab blend from the small but mighty Langhorne Creek region, virtually on the coast of the Southern Ocean. I really like the concentration of fruit here, with complex lifted cran-cherry, background menthol, smoked meat and capers on the nose. It is full bodied with juicy acidity, some salty tang and easy tannin. Even some graphite on the finish. Excellent length.

And that is a wrap for this edition. Tune in next week for a peek at the September 15 release, and have a great long weekend.

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
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Sommelier Selections

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