Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES March 5 Release

John Szabo’s Vintage’s Preview March 5, 2022: Evolution in Tuscany, and Nothing to Recommend from Russia

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

Harvest in Panzano, Greve in Chianti ©John Szabo

Evolution and progress are underway in Tuscany. Two of the region’s key, historic appellations, Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, have recently introduced new UGAs, “unità geografiche aggiuntive” or “additional geographic units” — known elsewhere less awkwardly as sub-regions — into their existing appellation structures. As they function wherever they exist, the added label information allows producers to identify more specifically where wines originate, and for consumers to connect more deeply with, and understand more clearly the differences in wine style that arise across and within each region. With the UGAs also comes a tightening of production regulations, most notably an increase in the percentage of sangiovese required, and the elimination of international grapes for the top tier wines. Tuscany has also quietly been turning into more and more of a green haven of biodiversity, with Chianti Classico in particular now a world-leading appellation with an impressive 52.5 percent of vineyards farmed organically. Who says the old world is carved in stone?

For more details on Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, listen to the three-part Wine Thieves podcast series:

  1. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: past, present and future
  2. The Cartographer of Montepulciano
  3. Sangiovese: A Reflection of Terroir in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

The VINTAGES March 5 release features Tuscany, though you could be forgiven for thinking not much has changed in central Italy in the last century, or has changed for the worse, given the rather dull range of wines on offer. It’s a harbinger of the new normal, as the release of more captivating wines moves inexorably off LCBO shelves and online. The WineAlign crü has picked the best of the 14 Tuscan wines in the release for this week’s buyer’s guide. To supplement your Tuscan needs, click to read my separate buyer’s guide of new releases from Chianti Classico, fruit of a recent week-long visit to the region, and the best Vino Nobile from a recent tasting back here in Toronto featuring many of the region’s top producers, along with more details on the developments in the region. A handful of smart buys from the rest of the world fills in the rest, as usual. Lastly, in our own tiny gesture, WineAlign will not review any Russian products until peace is restored in a sovereign Ukraine. We stand by Ukranians.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide March 5th: Tuscany

Note to collectors: the excellent 2018 Ornellaia has been re-released, with about 100 bottles still available at print time.

Gaja Ca'marcanda Promis 2019

Gaja Ca’marcanda Promis 2019, IGT Toscana
$63.95, Stem Wine Group Inc
John SzaboFrom the Gaja family’s coastal estate in Castagneto Carducci, I find this, not surprisingly, extremely accomplished and well-made wine, highly satisfying, a particularly enjoyable and forward vintage. Though drinking well now, this will surely improve over the next 3-5 years, or hold into the ’30s, even if it’s not a vintage that needs ultra-long term ageing.
Michael Godel –
Promis is merlot, syrah and sangiovese produced out of Bolgheri. Bring the 2019 vintage into the mix and what comes forth is well, everything. Promis made, Promis kept.
Sara d’Amato – Gaia’s Promis is a blend of merlot, syrah and a smaller component of sangiovese. Plentiful, rich and full of intrigue with jammy-ripe fruit and floral notes. Polished and satisfying with excellent concentration and elegant barrel spice. Drink now as tannins are relatively supple or hold another 3-4 years.

Castelli del Grevepesa Clemente Vii Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2015

Castelli del Grevepesa Clemente Vii Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2015
$34.95, Profile Wine Group (Vin Vino)
John Szabo
Maturing nicely at this stage and notably spicy, Grevepesa’s 2015 Gran Selezione delivers a waft of dusty red fruit, leather, terra cotta and wild Mediterranean herbs in a classic sangiovese expression. Though drinking well now, there appears to be no rush – this has the stuffing and balance to continue to age gracefully into the latter half of the decade.

Rocca Delle Macìe Famiglia Zingarelli Riserva Chianti Classico 2018

Rocca Delle Macìe Famiglia Zingarelli Riserva Chianti Classico 2018
$24.95, Profile Wine Group (Vin Vino)
David LawrasonChianti Classico can be complex, cerebral and sophisticated but there is something to be said for a wine that delivers sheer deliciousness and value without giving up its roots. This is smooth, refined, maturing and satisfying.

Viticcio Morellino di Scansano 2017

Viticcio Morellino di Scansano 2017
$21.95, Glazer’s of Canada
Sara d’AmatoFrom coastal Tuscany, this blend of sangiovese with merlot and cabernet sauvignon aged 12 months in French oak is both refreshing and satisfying. Peppery with gentle spice, hints of forest floor and a lively disposition. Uncomplicated, representative and ready to enjoy.

Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2019
$20.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc. 
David Lawrason
Since the inception of the “less-aged” Rosso concept in Tuscany I have been a fan. Sangiovese is not necessarily rendered better or more enjoyable by longer time in wood. This is very pretty, delicate and charming from one of the finest producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
John Szabo
– This is an attractive, ripe and easy-drinking Rosso from Poliziano, polished and plush, with thick velvety tannins and balanced acids, ready to enjoy or hold short term.

Villa Trasqua Chianti Classico 2017
$18.95, Frontier Wine Merchants
John SzaboThis is a nicely lifted and surprisingly fresh Chianti Classico from Castellina in the warm 2017 vintage, showing an elegant, medium-bodied palate and very fine-grained tannins framed up by zesty acids. I like the balance and drinkability, classically styled, drinking well now. Certified organic.
Michael Godel –
Due to its formidable structure the Hulsbergen brothers and their oenologists Franco and Matteo Bernabei wisely hold back their Classico a couple of extra years. Their sangiovese is luxe, woolly and just now showing signs of being ready to go. Seasoned to taste already so put away the salt and pepper.

White and Sparkling

Drappier Brut Nature Pinot Noir Champagne

Drappier Brut Nature Pinot Noir Champagne, France
$64.95, Family Wine Merchants
John Szabo
Disgorged in November of 2021, this latest release of the Brut Nature from Drappier, an early adopter of this increasingly popular style, shows a rich and intense, very toasty and autolytic style, The palate is thoroughly dry and crisp as advertised, but not shrill – there’s a richness and ripeness to the fruit, and a generosity and natural sucrosity that makes dosage superfluous and perhaps even detrimental in such a wine. A very fine champagne in the final analysis.

Susana Balbo Signature White Blend 2020

Susana Balbo Signature White Blend 2020, Valle de Uco, Mendoza Argentina
$21.95 Profile Wine Group (Barrique)
John Szabo
This is an intriguing and intensely aromatic — and innovative — blend of predominantly semillon, with 33 percent sauvignon blanc and 25 percent Torrontés with partial ageing in wood. Fans of the  tropical fruit-inflected sauvignons of Friuli and Styria, for example, will find lots to talk about here, as fans of the old vine semillons of South Africa will as well. Well worth a look at this price — one of the most interesting wines from Balbo I’ve tasted in recent years.

Cave Spring Estate Pinot Gris 2019

Cave Spring Estate Pinot Gris 2019, Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Ontario
$24.95, Cave Spring Cellars Ltd.
John Szabo
With its pale pink-copper colour, there’s surely some skin contact at work, if not quite full-on “orange wine” character, but a new paradigm shift for Cave Spring. The result is very positive in any case, surpassing the mean of flavour intensity for the variety in Niagara by a good margin. A welcome evolution; best to enjoy over the short term.

Guillaume Aurèle Viognier 2020

Guillaume Aurèle Viognier 2020, Pays d’Oc, France
$12.95, Profile Wine Group (Barrique)
John Szabo
Really terrific and varietally accurate nose here on this keenly-priced viognier from the Pays d’Oc. Textbook; sharp value.

Domaine Du Tariquet Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Côtes de Gascogne, Southwest France
$13.95, Epic Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason
At this price, grab a case to slake the thirst of sauvignon fans who will populate your deck or dock this summer. This is a very fresh, lively yet ripe example that offers veracity and value, if not the depth or precision of higher-end models.

Domäne Wachau Terrassen Federspiel Grüner Veltliner 2020

Domäne Wachau Terrassen Federspiel Grüner Veltliner 2020, Qualitätswein, Wachau, Austria
$17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel
Wachau’s Federspiel is a cracker example, white peppery, sweetly herbal and dry. A simple and a delicious glass with essential varietal character. Pair with a green dragon roll and Green Day “on holiday!”
Sara d’Amato – A very fresh and lightly spicy grüner with great sapidity. There is so much to appreciate at under $18 in this distinctive wine featuring white pepper, blossom, honeysuckle, wet stone and vibrant acidity. Mouth-wateringly memorable.

Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2019, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula
$29.95, Marchands des Ameriques
Michael Godel
Quite the extracted, concentrated and buttery Tradition in a Queylus that really captures the possibility of the vintage. Not so much a creamy chardonnay, mind you, but one of emulsified curd cut citrus sharp, intense and spoken in full-on Lincoln Lakeshore smack.


Carabella Estate Pinot Noir 2016, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon
$44.95, DB Wine & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo –
From the volcanic soils of the Chehalem Mountains AVA, Carabella’s 2016 Estate Pinot is a complex expression, continually developing in the glass. Intensity and concentration of flavour are also excellent, as is length, lingering impressively onsweet maturing fruit flavours and a twist of earthy organic compost. A fine example, all in all, at a great price in the realm of pinot noir. Drink or hold into the mid–late–2020s.

Domaine Lafage Cuvée Nicolas Vieilles Vignes Grenache 2019, Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, France
$19.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
John SzaboThe consistency chez Lafage is shocking — I find their wines on my smart-buys list with remarkable regularity. Rest assured a wine of this intensity and caliber from a better-known appellation would easily fetch in the $30s or $40s or more, so consider this a steal. Drink or hold 4–6 years.
Michael Godel
– Distinctly, singularly and perfectly grenache, juicy as can be and just so much up front fruit substance. Some gastronomy here as well: tomato and red pepper sweetening a Mediterranean sauce with just a bit of black olive, good olive oil and caper.
David Lawrason
This house is right on top of its game. This is smooth and almost silky; easy to drink. The nose is ripe with sweet plum, violets and pepper — very pretty.
Sara d’Amato – Grenache’s natural propensity to please is exuberantly on display in this most recent Cuvée Nicolas. Upbeat and jammy, with candied red fruit and a full-bodied mouthfeel. Cleanly made, expectedly warm on the finish and loaded with charisma.

Señorío De P. Peciña Crianza 2015, Rioja, Spain 
$24.95, Le Sommelier Inc.         
David Lawrason –
Go to school on a classic old school Rioja. It is very sophisticated, complex and even-handed, and drinking perfectly at six years of age. The cedary, savoury, leathery and dried fruit aromas are lifted and compelling. It is smooth and dense. The length is excellent, with some minerality on the finish. Fine now and it will drink well through this decade. It was still delivering 48 hours after being opening.
John Szabo
– Maturing, traditional-style Rioja here from the reliable and consistent house of Peciña, a genuine and complex mouthful of wine, and textbook example, from the region. Drink or hold into the early 2030s for the fully mature experience.

Catena Paraje Altamira Malbec 2018

Catena Paraje Altamira Malbec 2018, Mendoza, Argentina
$22.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
David Lawrason
From a specific high-altitude region in the southern reaches of the Uco Valley, this is a smooth, streamlined malbec, more lifted and vibrant than the run of the mill in Mendoza. It is plush without being heavy and the tannins are fine.

Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes Du Rhône 2019, Rhone Valley, France
$29.95, Charton-Hobbs
David Lawrason
Sneak a case into your cellar for future value satisfaction. It performs well above the Côtes du Rhone mean because it is from a vineyard adjacent to Château Beaucastel but lying outside of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. Very good density, firm tannin and a sense of minerality. Best 2025 to 2030.
John Szabo
– Another accomplished Coudoulet from the Perrin Family, delivering far above its basic Côtes du Rhône appellation. Drink or hold into the late-2020s.
Sara d’Amato – Despite a warm vintage, the 2019 Coudoulet is poised and even refreshing with considerable depth and balance and appealing salinity. Punches above its weight class and features memorable length. Drink now or hold on.

La Causa Cinsault/Pais/Carignan 2019

La Causa Cinsault/Pais/Carignan 2019, Itata Valley, Chile
$22.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.
Michael Godel –
In 2019 a blend, of 72 percent cinsault, 18 país and 10 carignan. Exciting, spirited, even a little bit of brown dirt cowboy earthiness. “Still green and growing, city slick Captain Fantastic, the feedback, the honey the hive could be holding.”

Stratus Gamay 2019

Stratus Gamay 2019, Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario
$29.20, Stratus Vineyards
Sara d’Amato
Gamay is more “cru style” in Ontario than not due to a handful of producers like Stratus who reliably take great care to ensure a more serious and concentrated outcome. This recent release is pleasantly spicy, notably peppery with fresh raspberry and a lingering, salty finish. An upbeat crowd pleaser that is best enjoyed soon.

Monte da Ravasqueira Mr Clássico 2019

Monte da Ravasqueira Mr Clássico 2019, Alentejano, Portugal
$13.95, Epic Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason –
If you love California reds but are frustrated by the search for something good and cheap, try this bargain. It blends three varieties from the south of Portugal with a splash of syrah. A pleasant, smooth, open-knit, fruit bomb — and not too sweet.

That’s all for this report. See you around 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.

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Selections
Michael’s Mix

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for the latest WineAlign recommendations, tips and other interesting wine information.