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.


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.

Kir-Yianni Le Nord Assyrtiko 2020

Kir-Yianni Le Nord Assyrtiko 2020, IGP Florina, Greece
$18.95, Kolonaki Group
David Lawrason – Assyrtiko is arguably the finest white variety of Greece, made famous on Santorini (above), but making dashing whites wherever grown, in this case in NW Greece. This is very satisfying, with energy yet substance and excellent length. It is medium weight, dry and almost austere, yet intense. Chablis crossed my mind.
Michael Godel – This particular example is a stoic, dry, lean and intense assyrtiko, verging on the profound. It’s a different sort and one that must be embraced, by growers and also consumers. At under $20 this represents the greatest of value for striking white wine.
John Szabo – pure assyrtiko, one of the country’s flagship white varieties, best known from its iterations on the island of Santorini. It’s clean and oak-free, vaguely fruity and grapefruit-inflected, but mostly it’s about the firm acid structure, the density and weight on the palate at a moderate 13% alcohol, and the genuine length. You’d be hard-pressed to find many other whites of this depth and class for under $20.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a balanced and focused assyrtiko representing great value. Mineral and savoury notes are layered over flavours of lemons, peaches, and crunchy apples, supported by taut acidity. Length is excellent, a gentle saline note waxing over the mid-palate, then waning, leaving a warming sensation in its wake.

Château Saint-Roch Chimères Grenache/Syrah/Carignan 2019, Cotes de Roussillon-Village, France
$19.95, Glencairn Wines
David Lawrason This is a blend of grenache, carignan and syrah from the Agly Valley in the hot southeast corner of France, only 20 kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea. It is a very generous, polished/buffed and smooth red for immediate enjoyment.

Velluto Rosso Red Velvet Beneventano Aglianico 2019

Velluto Rosso Red Velvet Beneventano Aglianico 2019, Campania, Italy
$24.95, Don Ackerman Wines
David Lawrason – Aglianico is the star red grape of southern Italy known for its power and intensity. Modern viticulture and winemaking aims to soften the blow. This comes nicely up the middle with showy red rose florality, fruit and decorous oak spice and mocha. Tannins are firm, the finish is dry and warm. 

Wine Art Techni Alipias Red Blend 2018

Wine Art Techni Alipias Red Blend 2018, IGP Drama, Macedonia, Greece
$27.95, The Kolonaki Group Inc
John Szabo – A 70%-30% cabernet sauvignon-agiorgitiko blend from Drama in northeastern Greece, this is maturing, dense and concentrated wine, clearly a cut above the commercial mean. Techni Alipias in Greek means “the art of making people forget their sorrows”. Mission accomplished. Drink or hold late into the decade.

Planeta Frappato Vittoria 2019

Planeta Frappato Vittoria DOC 2019, Sicily
$22.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel – In the realm of rare and dignified frappato there are moods, as if sounds, environment, beats and emotion have become involved, as if music saved my life. Not the light and bright frappato of some years and yet always sharp, direct, pointed. It can’t help but be.

Other White

Cloudsley Twenty Mile Bench Chardonnay 2018, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
$34.95, Noble Estates
David Lawrason – Here’s a really fine, elegant, detailed chardonnay from various Twenty Mile Bench sites that together capture a certain delicacy and minerality. The nose is very complex and well integrated. It is medium weight, smooth, warming with a hint of sourness. The focus and length are excellent to outstanding.

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2021, South Africa
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines
Michael Godel – Intense investigations through schist, granite and old vines floats the boat and raises the bar for Kloof Street. Hard to match the succulence, centring and focus. Remember, the Mullineux concentration of effort and resources should not be to the exclusion of everything else. Certainly not Kloof Street.
David Lawrason – From a family of leading-edge Cape wines, this is such a great value in sturdy, ripe, rich and stony chenin blanc. The nose is classic with pear/quince, clover honey, gentle spice and waxiness. The length is excellent with some salty minerality in the mix.

Raimbault Bel-Air Vouvray 2019, Loire, France
$21.95, The Case For Wine
John Szabo – A representative and quality Vouvray at an attractive price, floral, wooly, appley in the classic varietal idiom, with judicious creamy-lees influence and impressive complexity overall in the price category and beyond. I like the zesty, mostly dry palate, the saliva-inducing acids, the salinity that drives additional sips, and the overall balance. Enjoy or hold mid-term – no rush here.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a bewitching and beguiling Vouvray: woolly aromas lift like a veil to reveal an exquisite perfume of elderflowers, green pears, and honey drizzled apples. Softened by an ethereal sweetness, and delicately rounded by lees-contact, the palate is nevertheless sprightly with tart acidity. Length is very good to excellent with varietally classic bitterness and texture appearing on the mid-palate and lingering on the finish.

Other Red

Torbreck Old Vines Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2018, Barossa Valley, South Australia
$24.95, Noble Estates
Megha Jandhyala
– Made with fruit harvested from old vines, this is an aromatically intense red blend with an attractive peppery note, flavours of ripe and dried red fruit, and herbs. The palate is subtly sweet, warm, and soft, with gentle acids and almost impalpable tannins. Length is excellent with a splash of seawater preceding a gently smoky finish. Try it with vegan barbecue.
David Lawrason – This is a hyper fragrant and maturing GSM blend loaded with black pepper, peppermint, fresh herbs and cran-cherry fruit. It is medium-full bodied, broad, smooth and loose-fitting with a touch of sweetness. Tannins have melted away. Great BBQ fare with herbed red meats.

Laurent Gauthier Grand Cras Vieilles Vignes Morgon 2019, Beaujolais, France
$19.95, The Upstairs Cellar
David Lawrason – Very good complexity, structure and depth for $20, with a sense of the minerality I expect of Morgon. The nose shows generous kirsch, a hint of strawberry jam, red rose and barnwood. It is light to medium bodied with slightly tart acidity. Tannins are barely there, but it still feels firm, energized and even.

Fabre Montmayour Gran Reserva Malbec 2018

Fabre Montmayour Gran Reserva Malbec 2018, Mendoza, Argentina
$25.95, Glencairn Wines
David Lawrason – This is a very impressive, hefty yet energetic malbec from a classic Mendozan house. The colour is very deep, saturated purple-ruby showing remarkable youth a four years of age, and portending a long and graceful future. It is full bodied, fairly dense and tannic but manages some charm. It is full of flavour, and the length is excellent.

Salentein Reserve Malbec 2019, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina
$17.95, Azureau Wines & Spirits
Megha Jandhyala – This noteworthy re-release is a fruity, ready-to-drink malbec awash with ripe plums, blackberries, and fresh violets, peppered with spice. The palate is medium to full-bodied and ever so slightly sweet, with bright acidity and velveteen tannins.

Schild Estate Shiraz 2019, Barossa Valley, South Australia
$21.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines
David Lawrason – The Schild family has been making wine from their Barossa farm since the early 50s. This has a particularly lifted and fragrant nose. It is medium bodied (less dense than many Aussie shiraz) with an even texture, fine tannin and a certain charm. Flavours stay well focused. Delicious.

Las Veletas Grenache/Carignan/Mourvèdre 2019, Valle del Maule Chile
$19.95, Heritage Cellars
John Szabo – Las Veletas is a recent project in southern Chile involving celebrated winemaker Rafael Tirado, also of the excellent Laberinto Wines in Colbún in the foothills of the Andes in the eastern Maule Valley, here sourcing and reviving old vineyards in the dry-farmed Secano district of the same valley. It’s a refined, post-modern take on Chile, professionally-made and highly drinkable, with the complexity and depth to keep you coming back. A very exciting wine from this exciting country, and special value, for those seeking finesse, elegance and complexity over sheer power. Drink or hold 2-4 years.

Nugan Estate Alcira Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Coonawarra, Australia
$29.95, Glazer’s Of Canada
John Szabo – Nugan’s Alcira Vineyard cabernet from Coonawarra is aged 16 months in a mix of new and one year old oak barriques of French and American origin, delivering a mature profile on the oxidative side of the spectrum. But it’s really the palate that shines with its plush, full-bodied but balanced and lively profile, and evident, low-yielding concentration. I’d enjoy now, after decanting and with salty protein, or cellar into the latter part of the decade. Quality wine.

La Seigneurie Vieilles Vignes À Pierrot 2018, Saumur Champigny, France
$21.95, PV Wine & Spirits Agency
Michael Godel – Lovely, fulsome and balanced cabernet franc here from Saumur Champigny with just the right give and take between fruit and land. Delicate enough yet also concentrated with thanks to old vines and a keen sense of what is right in the winemaking world.

Pink and Orange

Leaning Post Rosé 2021

Leaning Post Rosé 2021, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
$21.95, Leaning Post Wines
David Lawrason – This is 100 percent pinot noir rose that weighs in at a modest 12 percent alcohol. It is a very generous, vinous and flavourful example but not at all heavy. In fact the texture is almost silky. Expect classic pinot noir cranberry, sour cherry and vague herbs. The focus and length are excellent. Well done.
Megha Jandhyala – This is an expressive, delightful rosé, brimming with tart strawberries and redcurrants, sour cherries, and hints of white pepper and rosemary. The palate is delicately honied with lively, tart acidity. A versatile wine with a pleasing balance between fresh acidity and subtle sweetness, it should pair well with a wide range of spicy cuisines.
Michael Godel – Only pinot noir, fruit-driven, vinous and varietally pure. This is precise and lucky at the same time, all the fruit scents and flavours captured without any undue distraction. Really pure and proper, crisp and satisfying.

Online Exclusives Picks from the July 2 & July 7 Classics Release

Graham Beck Brut Zero 2016, Méthode Cap Classique, South Africa
$29.95, Vinexx
David Lawrason – Wow, this is very fine and not as alarmingly dry and piercing as the Ultra Brut/Zero dosage labeling might suggest. It is a chardonnay-based sparkler with that ripe South African chardonnay fruit. It is light bodied, crisp and lean but not austere.

Casa Silva Lago Ranco Viñedo De Futrono Riesling 2019, Austral, Patagonia, Chile
$34.95, The Case for Wine
John Szabo – From Casa Silva’s deep southern vineyards in Futrono, some 900kms south of Santiago in the largely volcanic, cool and rainy Austral region, this is attractively maturing riesling, still crunchy and fresh, but displaying a shift from white citrus fruit into the orchard spectrum, with the first licks of petrol beginning to emerge. I like the depth of flavour and the length on offer; brings to mind warmer Rheinhessen or Pfalz rieslings.
Megha Jandhyala – A flinty reductive quality gives way to aromas of lemons and limes on the nose and ripe apples on the palate in this riesling from the volcanic region of Futrono in Chile’s deep south. Gossamer strands of salinity and subtle sweetness are so seamlessly woven into the acidity here that it is near impossible to pull a thread and unravel the silky palate. The finish recedes gradually, leaving a phantasm of a citrus caress behind.

Catena Alta Historic Rows Chardonnay 2019, Mendoza, Argentina
$39.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel – Kind of surprised how many years have passed since last seeing this über specialized Tupungato chardonnay in a VINTAGES release and thankful to see its auspicious return. The White Stones may be Catena’s chardonnay prize but do not sleep on this wine. It delivers all you could want from producer, place and grape.  David Lawrason – This is a modern classic showing Argentine tropicality yet clean lines, acidity and minerality. It is glossy and powerful on the palate, with some heat at 14 percent alcohol, but there is also a sense of finesse and delicacy.

Valdemar Finca Alto Cantabria Single Vineyard Viura 2019

Valdemar Finca Alto Cantabria Single Vineyard Viura 2019, Rioja, Spain
$34.95, Kylix Wines
John Szabo – From Conde Valdemar’s oldest viura vineyard, and aged in new French oak, this is clearly an ambitious, concentrated wine, loaded with wheat germ, Graham cracker and other cereal aromatics, white and mostly yellow-fleshed orchard fruit, custard pear, golden delicious apple and more in a complex and inviting expression. I’d say this is still a year or three away from prime drinking, and with this level of depth and concentration, it should age and evolve slowly over the next decade or so.  Megha Jandhyala – Notes of ripe apples, pears, lemons, vanilla, nutmeg, and camphor flow into one another melodiously in this complex and intriguing viura from a single vineyard in Rioja planted in 1970. Length is exceptional with flavours rising and receding gracefully, the finale a lemony adieu.

Paitin Ca Veja Nebbiolo D’alba 2017, Piedmont, Italy
$34.95, The Living Vine
John Szabo – This is a really lovely and perfumed nebbiolo in the classic, textbook style, with lovely florals, bright, fresh red fruit and succulent, sappy, salty acids that keep you coming back for more. A fine, well-proportioned and serious wine all in all, best now-2027.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a concentrated and refined expression of nebbiolo in the Barbaresco dialect with an alluring perfume of roses, ripe cherries, cloves, and raw fennel seeds. Firm, with assertive tannins, bright acidity, and a splash of salinity, the palate radiates a pleasing, diffused warmth.
Michael Godel – A solid Alba construct of nebbiolo from the Neive Barbaresco producer and a more structured example than almost any. A wine that saves nebbiolo for the consumer that appreciates the grape without the appellative strings of expectation as here, firm, structured and capable of working life to the fullest.

La Crema Sealift Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Sonoma Coast California
$69.95, Breakthru Beverage Group
John Szabo – A genuine “far out” Sonoma Coast pinot, grown a short hop from the Pacific on prized Goldridge sandy-loam soils, this blend of Dijon clones is a real beauty. It’s surely fully ripe at 14.6% alcohol declared, but deftly steers clear of the surreptitious sweetness that plagues many California pinots, as well as the obtrusive oak. Length and depth are excellent. Probably the finest pinot I’ve yet tried from La Crema, a reliable name in Sonoma County and beyond.

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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