Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES March 19 Release

Review of March 19 VINTAGES

Cabernet Sauvignon is Not a Value Proposition

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

On the March 19 release VINTAGES is featuring the “ABC’s of CABs” — a useful introduction to cabernet sauvignon and the many places it is grown. There are 16 wines featured from eight regions. Of the 16, 11 are priced under $25, which is VINTAGES pricing wheelhouse for instore purchases. And that makes sense because most people in the aisles shop in this price range.

But here is the problem. If I only had $25 to spend on one bottle of full-bodied red wine it would almost never be a cabernet sauvignon, except perhaps if it was from South Africa, Chile or Argentina.  And here’s why.

As VINTAGES points out, cabernet sauvignon is the world’s most popular red wine grape. It has earned this “honour” because it can and does make some of the world’s best-quality, most-famous and most-expensive reds, particularly in Bordeaux, Napa Valley in California, and Tuscany’s coastal regions. The prices of cabernet in these places are among the highest for any wines in the world.  So, regions elsewhere have naturally tried to emulate that success, or at least cash in on cab’s cache. This has led to it being planted where it doesn’t ripen well, or farmed at volumes that drive down its price and quality.

Of course, cabernet sauvignon can be grand, but only in exactly the right conditions. Those late-ripening, small, concentrated, thick-skinned berries need pitch-perfect ripeness. Underripe, overripe and/or overcropped cabernet loses aromatic nuance, complexity and structure. Its fragrant blackcurrant can easily become jammy, candied or raisined. Its subtle, uplifting herbaceousness can become weedy and vegetal. Its firm tannins can become cakey and pasty and coarse. And, universally, winemakers try to repair the damage by using too much sugar or oak-derived confection. Bourbon barrels for example! Inexpensive cabernet is a minefield of oenological and organoleptic trickery, and oh so boring.

VINTAGES catalogue details the most important regions where cabernet is grown, so I won’t repeat that. But as a real reference point for the finest cabernets, I will itemize specific regions where I think it performs best: Medoc in Bordeaux, Bolgheri in Italy, Napa Valley and Alexander Valley in California, Coonawarra, Langhorne Creek and Margaret River in Australia, Stellenbosch in South Africa, Maipo Valley in Chile, and finally Cafayate in Argentina. And, except for South Africa, Chile and Argentina, whose wines remain chronically, institutionally under-valued, you won’t find very much cabernet selling from these prime locations at under $25.

Thus, I am not very excited about VINTAGES selection. There are a couple of recommendations, but I am still spending my $25 for a big red elsewhere.

Before we get our picks, some WineAlign housekeeping.  As you may know we have been joined by understudy Megha Jandhyala who is tasting with us and now publishing some of her notes on the database. We invite you to read her work and comment.

We would also like to inform readers that we have had some expected difficulty acquiring samples of VINTAGES new OnLine Exclusives in a timely manner. So, the plan now is to do one OnLine report in the fourth week of each month. Watch early next week for our first report. It will deal with any VINTAGES OnLine Exclusives and Classics Catalogue wines that we have been able to taste that are in stock at the time of publication. We hope to grow the numbers.

The Whites

Rust En Vrede Stellenbosch Reserve Chardonnay 2019

Rust En Vrede Stellenbosch Reserve Chardonnay 2019, Stellenbosch, South Africa
$19.95, Thompson Vintage Trade Ltd.
David LawrasonThis is a solid, impressive, complex and well-structured chardonnay for $20. It is made in a somewhat reductive, flinty style with many other complexities. Another Cape value triumph.

Rustenberg Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc 2019

Rustenberg Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc 2019, Stellenbosch, South Africa
$14.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits
Sara d’AmatoA gorgeous wine for under $16, richly textured, salty and viscous. Ripe and unctuous in the most satisfying way. Highly distinctive of the unique Stellenbosch expression of chenin blanc.

Citra Ferzo Pecorino Superiore 2020, Abruzzo, Italy
$17.95, Univins And Spirits Canada Inc.
John SzaboAbruzzese giant Citra’s “Ferzo” pecorino, which refers to a patch of fabric stitched together with others to create a sail or flag, is made from a ‘ferzo’ of vineyards, parcels blended together to create this white, a nicely representative example of the pecorino variety from the region. It’s a perfectly pleasing and pleasant wine with no detectable wood flavour, ready to drink.
Sara d’Amato –
Spring incarnate! This perfumed pecorino from Abruzzo offers notes of sweet pea and honeysuckle along with elegant minerality and a refreshingly salty profile with a hint of soothing aloe on the finish.

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2018

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
$34.95, Rogers & Company 
David Lawrason
This is a really solid chardonnay, with crunch, poise and complexity from one of the best estates of B.C.  It is medium weight, very firm and juicy, with moderate alcohol, excellent focus and length.

European Reds

Filodivino Diana Lacrima Di Morro d'Alba 2018

Filodivino Diana Lacrima Di Morro d’Alba 2018, Marche, Italy
$21.95, The Living Vine Inc. 
John SzaboHere’s a lovely, fresh, fruity-floral red in the varietal style of lacrima di Morro d’Alba, a rare, perfumed variety from Le Marche in central-eastern Italy on the Adriatic side. I love the rose water perfume, the sweet red and blue fruit, the purity and freshness. Enjoy now with a light chill, but not too cold – you’ll want to enjoy the aromatic fireworks.
David Lawrason –
From a small appellation in Adriatic Marche this organically grown “lacrima” shows deep colour and a very ripe, pretty blue fruit and almost minty herbality. There is a lovely freshness and exuberance, with fine balance (only 12.5%), lively acid, a hint of sweetness and moderate tannin. Back up the SUV for summer red drinking.

Massimago Valpolicella 2018, Veneto, Italy
$24.95, The Living Vine Inc. 
John SzaboThis is terrifically balanced, ripe and savoury, earthy and spicy, open and honest Valpolicella from Camilla Rossi Chauvenet of Massimago, a lovely property in a privileged local of Mezzane di Sotto. There’s a savouriness that invites you back for more. Drinking now or hold another year or two.
David Lawrason –
This is an organically grown Valpolicella with some age as it morphs into garnet shade and shows some earthy, leathery character nicely positioned amid pretty florals and cran-cherry fruit. It is light to medium bodied, smooth and well balanced with very fine tannin. Drinking very well in its moment.

Château Maucoil Côtes du Rhône Villages 2019

Château Maucoil Côtes du Rhône Villages 2019, Rhône, France
$19.95, Connexion Oenophilia
Sara d’Amato
An organic blend of grenache, syrah and carignan exhibiting a notable sense of place with floral garrigue and of licorice, black currant, fresh fig and black olives. Both sweet and savory with velvety and accessible tannins. A mouthfilling value.

Papale Linea Oro Primitivo Di Manduria 2017

Papale Linea Oro Primitivo Di Manduria 2017, Puglia, Italy
$21.95, Caliber Fine Wine & Spirits Inc.
David Lawrason
This is a plush, soft and generous red from the hot south of Italy, with ripe blackberry jam, heady rose, dried herbs and spices. it maintains some poise and elegance in a region where alcohol and overripeness often create soupiness.

Château Peyros Vieilles Vignes Madiran 2017

Château Peyros Vieilles Vignes Madiran 2017, Madiran Southwest, France
$22.95, Profile Wine Group (VinVino)
Sara d’Amato
A very consistent Madiran at a good price made from largely from tannat in the southwest of France. Softening very nicely in bottle without having lost fruit to any substantial degree. Very well composed with excellent length.

New World Reds

Printhie Topography Shiraz 2019

Printhie Topography Shiraz 2019, Orange, New South Wales, Australia
$31.95, Thompson Vintage Trade Ltd.
John Szabo
From the high reaches of Orange in New South Wales, with vines up to 625m a.s.l., this is a fresh but ripe and rich, nicely layered, succulent shiraz with plenty of peppery black and blue fruit and a welcome absence of oak influence. I find this stylish and well-crafted, enjoyable now but cellarable 3-5 years.

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Sutherland Pinot Noir 2019, Elgin, South Africa
$19.95, Epic Wines and Spirits Inc.
John Szabo
This is a lovely, well-balanced, fruity pinot noir from the cool reaches of Elgin in the southern Cape, at an attractive price. It’s a fine entry point into the premium world of pinot noir, delivering the equivalent of much pricier wines from elsewhere, another South African bargain; drink or hold 2-4 years.

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Mendoza, Argentina
$19.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo
Well-crafted, widely appealing wine from the reliable house of Catena, blending here a notable but well-measured amount of high quality chocolatey-oak influence alongside ripe and supple black fruit flavours. Professional wine. Drink or hold into the mid-’20s.

Trius Distinction Cabernet Sauvignon 2020

Trius Distinction Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario           
$19.95, Andrew Peller Limited
David Lawrason –
This is a typically lighter weight, young Niagara cabernet with lifted, pretty and correct cabernet aromas. An excellent vintage and textbook winemaking have delivered a an accomplished cool climate effort with very good length. I would age it another two or three years.

Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon

Concha Y Toro Marques De Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon, Puente Alto, Maipo Valley Chile
$19.95, Escalade Wine & Spirits
David Lawrason
This has been good value Chilean cab staple for years, capturing the essential cassis, menthol/shrubby evergreen character of Maipo cab in spades. It is medium-full bodied, quite smooth and dense with slightly green tannin and a touch of earthiness on the finish.

Coming up at WineAlign: Watch for our first OnLine Report early next week. Our next edition of Think You Know Wine happens on Saturday April 2 at 5 p.m. And the week after that, our Review of VINTAGES April 2 Release. Then later in April, an update on California with wines available at the LCBO and VINTAGES.

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
Sara’s Selections
Michael’s Mix

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

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