Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES October 8 Release

Touring Italy, Bargain Southern Rhone, plus Mondavi’s Event Release

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

First, we regret that this report comes almost a week after the October 8 release. With John and Michael travelling to South Africa (more to come for sure), Sara in Italy, and Thanksgiving weekend in the mix we could not get together until this week.

VINTAGES is highlighting Italy on this release with 30 sparklers, whites and reds. The catalogue takes a mini-tour of eight prominent appellations in a series of typically photo-heavy, double page spreads. The accompanying “Closer Look” snippets are informative, succinct and well written, making this feature useful for those trying to get a handle on the complex diversity of Italian wines. We have only been able to taste about half the wines.

We were able to taste a better selection of almost a dozen reds from the south of France — the southern Rhône, Languedoc and Roussillon. These hearty yet smooth blends involving grenache, syrah, mourvedre and carignan in various configurations are ideal autumn reds, and several are priced under $20. The best-known area in the south of France is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with the reliable Château Fortia Cuvée de Baron 2019 featured on this release, which we were, alas, unable to taste. The Perrin Family Vacqueyras, which to me always makes wine most similar to Châteauneuf, reviewed below, is a classy stand-in, while Guigal 2018 Gigondas shows its girth as well


Robert Mondavi Event Release

VINTAGES events are back live with Master of Wine Mark de Vere, the senior educator at Robert Mondavi in Napa, California leading a tasting at the Wychwood Barns on October 12. I was not able to attend the dinner but joined media and somms at an afternoon tasting at the Fine Wine Reserve for a quick look at the featured wines, some of which were available for purchase at the dinner and will be in very limited quantities through VINTAGES, most on Oct 22.  

The whites were sauvignon and semillon barreled blends built in the Bordeaux idiom, wines of power yet poise and vitality. The whites included were the first varietal iteration of a delicious Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($34.95, now available # 221887 ), the very solid, complex 2019 Fume Blanc ($53, Oct 22 #27492) with more oak and semillon, and the superb 2019 Fume Blanc To-Kalon Reserve ($82, Oct 22 #27491) a wine of great harmony, energy and nuance so tightly packed and wound and deep that it is difficult to deconstruct and describe.  Mark de Vere postulated that it might be California’s very best white – which would obviously get up the nose of chardonnay producers – but I can tell you that over the years no other California white has excited me as much either. Over dinner at home I revisited the 2016 Fume Reserve released last April, which I scored 98 points. So good!

The cabernet flight began with the fragrant, fetching, fruit forward, youthful 2019 Napa Valley Cabernet now transitioning onto Vintages shelves as an Essential ($54.95, #255513). Up next the solid, deeper more complex Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($102, Oct 22 #26557). The next three were Cabernet Sauvignon Reserves from the To-Kalon Vineyard, with the 2018 ($177, Oct 22, #26560) showing wonderful refinement within its powerful frame. The 2015 ($200, Oct 22, #26563) is whopping big and rich but suffers overripeness and borderline volatility from an August heat spike. The 2013 ($200, Oct 22 #26564) was the stand-out, so rigid yet balanced with great acid, tannin structure one rarely considers from Napa. It will live longer than I. 

For those who find these prices above and beyond, De Vere revealed that all are significantly less expensive at the LCBO in Canadian dollars than at the winery in U.S. dollars. He also explained that Napa grape and wine prices have at least tripled in the past 15 years, with grapes from the most coveted cabernet sites fetching up $50,000 U.S. per ton.

Napa Special Release is Still On

So can Canadian consumers handle these prices? The answer will come after VINTAGES gigantic special on-line release of Napa wines closes October 20.  It is a who’s who in Napa. But a scan of the current inventories suggests that there will be a ton of stock — potentially tens of thousands of dollars’ worth — unsold a week from now. Unless VINTAGES decides to extend the online availability I suspect we will see a flood of super premium Napa wine in the flagship stores this fall (which is where it belongs in the first place). The prime location will likely be the USA destination store at Weston Road and 401 in Toronto. Click on this link to our WineAlign article on this release which contains our picks from wines we have tasted.

The October 8 Picks

White & Rosé

Alta Vista Estate Premium Torrontés 2020

Alta Vista Estate Premium Torrontés 2020, Cafayate, Salta, Argentina
$18.95, H.H.D. Imports
John Szabo – This is one of the more intriguing, well-made and satisfying examples of Torrontés I’ve come across. It delivers full-on aromatics in the varietal expression, like muscat, rose water, elderflower and more, but in a balanced and relatively sophisticated way.
David Lawrason – This is a very fine, pristine, clean and well balanced torrontes from the highest vineyards of Argentina. Often Torrontés can be very intense, and I like how this one is dialed back a bit. It shows lifted florals, grapefruit, ginger and fresh herbs.
Michael Godel – Alta Vista is one of Argentina’s most authentic and consistent varietal experiences with this waxy floral and jasmine scented 2020 being no exception to that rule. A true to form torrontés experience and one to savour in the here and now.
Megha Jandhyala— This is a refreshing, aromatically expressive, but balanced torrontès, with compelling aromas of rose water, lavender, and bergamot, alongside fresh grapefruits, and lemons. Supple and vibrant, with a sense of elegance and poise, it pairs well with bold, spicy foods like Indian cuisine.

Guigal Côtes Du Rhône Rosé 2021

Guigal Côtes Du Rhône Rosé 2021, Rhône, France
$19.95, Vinexx
John Szabo – One of the best Guigal rosés in memory, from the cooler ’21 vintage, which was particularly well-suited to whites and rosés and fresher reds. I like the genuinely dry palate, the sapid, saline qualities, and the lingering finish. Drink or hold 1-3 years – lots of stuffing here.
Megha Jandhyala— This is a vividly coloured, balanced, refreshing, and expressive rosè with notes of pink grapefruit, ripe strawberries, and red cherries. I really like the fresh palate with lively acidity and a splash of salinity.

Lacheteau Les Cimes Haut Poitou Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Lacheteau Les Cimes Haut Poitou Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Loire, France
$17.95, Mark Anthony Group
Michael Godel – Drinks with deferential ability as compared to many at this price. Lean and chalky, very mineral and salty. That’s a good combination of effects for a wine to satisfy and quench a thirst.

Domaine Lafage Tessellae Rosé 2021

Domaine Lafage Tessellae Rosé 2021, Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, France
$16.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
John Szabo – Tessellae’s 2021 rosé, from an excellent (cooler, wetter) vintage for pink in the south of France, is fully dry and savoury, firm and juicy, all citrus peel (tangerine, orange, lime), with a good dose of savoury herbs and cranberry juice. Yet another sharp value from the Lafage Family.

French Reds

Château De Tréviac 2019

Château De Tréviac 2019, Corbières, Languedoc, France 
$17.95, Connexion Oenophilia  
David Lawrason – Huge value from a refurbished vineyard in the heart of Corbieries, this blends syrah and grenache with little if any oak presence. It offers considerable complexity, poise and depth for $18, with finely woven cran-rhubarb-raspberry fruit, pepper, wet stone and garrigue/wild herbs. Just delicious.
Michael Godel – Like Corbières light, gentle and subtle, plenty of ripe fruit, orange tinged and sweetly savoury.  Always a pleasure.
John Szabo – Simply well-made Corbières at an attractive price from Arnaud Sié, running a well-organized estate in this wild and beautiful part of France. It’s refined and juicy, savoury and fruity, well-balanced, with genuine concentration without excess. Drink or hold 2-4 years. 

Château De Nages JT 2019

Château De Nages JT 2019, Costières De Nîmes, Rhone Valley, France     
$27.95, du Chasse Wines & Spirits           
David Lawrason Rarely for the southern Rhone, this has no grenache in the blend. It is a 95% syrah with a dash of mourvèdre. Love the lifted violet, pepper, blueberry and blackberry fruit, with black licorice and finely tuned oak vanillin and spice. It is full bodied, soft, almost creamy with notable 14.5% alcohol heat, and some fairly coarse youthful tannin.
John Szabo – A top vineyard selection of mostly syrah with 5% mourvèdre from the most northly parcels of the Costières de Nîmes appellation, this is deeply-coloured, heady and ultra-ripe red wine, sumptuous, thick and concentrated. This would easily compete with many reds from next door in the Rhône in more famous appellations, at an attractive price to be sure. Best now-2029 or so.
Michael Godel – The Nages is a smooth, silky and seductive southern French red, a most modern and forward thinking example of the Costières de Nîmes that just carries the it factor. Pop, pour and enjoy.

Famille Perrin Les Christins Vacqueyras 2019

Famille Perrin Les Christins Vacqueyras 2019, Rhône Valley, France
$24.95, Charton Hobbs Inc.
John Szabo – Tough to beat the Perrin Family for consistency and quality, as reliable as they come. This 2019 Vacqueyras shows the hand of confident winemaking (and grape growing), avoiding the tempting excesses of the vintage, retaining classic, savoury southern Rhône character. I love the genuine depth and savory-sapid character, also the length. For $25, you won’t find much better. Drink or hold towards the latter half of the decade.

E. Guigal Gigondas 2018

E. Guigal Gigondas 2018, Rhône, France
$44.95, Vinexx
Michael Godel – A big, burly, grippy and flavour packed Gigondas that resides at the top of the appellative spectrum. Gregariously soulful and conversely professional in its knowably itinerant ways.
Megha Jandhyala— This is a is ripe, nuanced, and intriguing blend from Gigondas, with excellent length. I love the aromas of lavender blossoms and dried herbs, recalling garrigue, layered over notes of toasted pepper, ripe plums, and cherry compôte. There is also an allusion to cured meat that appears on the mid-palate adding another dimension to the flavour profile.

Saint-Roch Vieilles Vignes Syrah/Grenache 2019

Saint-Roch Vieilles Vignes Syrah/Grenache 2019, Côtes Du Roussillon, France
$16.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
John Szabo – Very sharp value for a finely-made wine, clearly from a superior terroir, from old vines on black schist soils, a perennial favorite from the Lafage Family. It’s classically blue-fruited, with wild blueberry and black currant, sweet herbs and fig jam flavours in a highly appealing ensemble.

Château Hervé-Laroque 2018

Château Hervé-Laroque 2018, Fronsac, Bordeaux, France            
$29.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc                          
David Lawrason – From an undervalued right bank, merlot-based appellation this property has been in same family for 250 years. Good Bordeaux is an intricacy, elegance and the fitting together of many pieces than it is intensity and power, and this captures that notion well.
Michael Godel – The experience feels knowable and obvious in a Right Bank Bordeaux of finesse and flavour with cabernet franc making a clear and might fine savoury statement. Of pyrazine and peppers, robust acidity and smouldering kindling.

Italian Reds

Borgogno Pinin 2019

Borgogno Pinin 2019, Langhe Piedmont Italy
$19.95 Trialto Wine Group Ltd.
John Szabo – A blend of the Piedmontese trinity, barbera, nebbiolo and dolcetto, Borgogno’s Pinin is a fragrant and open, floral and red cherry/raspberry/strawberry-flavoured wine with immediate and honest appeal. I love the juicy acids, the fine, gently firm tannins, the oyster shell flavours, and the surprising depth and length, as well as complexity, at the price.

Carpineto Riserva Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2017

Carpineto Riserva Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2017, Tuscany, Italy
$32.95, Univins And Spirits Canada Inc.
John Szabo – Made from 90% sangiovese and cannaiolo, aged two years in 55hl Slavonian oak casks and a small part in French barriques, Carpineto’s 2017 Riserva is nicely balanced, especially for the challenging (hot) 2017 vintage, and drinking very well at the moment (though be sure to carafe). It’s deep and powerful, ripe within the sangiovese spectrum with the spice of cannaiolo emerging alongside ripe-tart red berry fruit, dried herbs, old wood in the classic idiom. Length and depth are excellent. No rush here either – hold into the early ’30s.

Mazzei Ser Lapo Riserva Chianti Classico 2019

Mazzei Ser Lapo Riserva Chianti Classico 2019, Tuscany, Italy       
$24.95, Roy + Co. Selections Inc.              
David Lawrason –
This is a very genteel, refined and delicious Chianti Classico Riserva. It’s a bit young with some tannic grip but composed in a way that is quite approachable and even elegant.

New World Reds

Catena San Carlos Cabernet Franc 2019

Catena San Carlos Cabernet Franc 2019, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina
$21.95, Trialto Wine Group Ltd.  
David Lawrason – Cabernet franc is breathing new life into Argentina’s red wine scene, both in blends to lighten up on malbec, and as a stand alone variety. This is a very fine example from a localized, high altitude San Carlos site in the Uco Valley, made by one of the best in the business. There is a lovely sense of purity, florality and cab franc herbality.

Miguel Torres Cordillera De Los Andes Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Miguel Torres Cordillera De Los Andes Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Valle Del Maipo, Chile
$22.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.
Michael Godel – Lovely smoothness and silky interior, the tenets of grape and obviously place met at a vortex where texture, spice and length all commit to great conspiracy. Give the tannins a year to integrate further.

El Enemigo La Esperanza Single Vineyard Bonarda 2018

El Enemigo La Esperanza Single Vineyard Bonarda 2018, Mendoza, Argentina     
$21.95, Noble Estates
David Lawrason – This is a lovely, classy expression of the low-tannin, ripe fruited Italian bonarda grape that has found a second (and even better?) home in Mendoza. Love this nose with its bumbleberry potpourri of red and black fruits, gentle basil/tarragon herbality and finely stitched oak spice. It is quite full bodied, broad yet poised with good acidity and warmth.

Creekside Iconoclast Niagara Syrah 2020

Creekside Iconoclast Niagara Syrah 2020, St. David’s Bench, Niagara Peninsula
$25.00, Trajectory Beverage Partners
Megha Jandhyala— If you are curious about Ontario syrah, this is a well-priced, balanced, and interesting example From St. David’s Bench. It has an integrated and complex flavour profile with classic aromas of dried thyme and oregano, fresh black pepper, and perfectly ripe black cherries. Subtle notes of sweet spice and a splash of olive brine add nuance.

Alta Yarí Gran Corte 2019

Alta Yarí Gran Corte 2019, Gualtallary, Valle De Uco, Mendoza
$29.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
Megha Jandhyala – This is a perfumed, ripe, and vibrant blend of cabernet franc, malbec, and cabernet sauvignon from Gualtallary, a high-altitude region in the Valle de Uco that was first planted to vines in the 1990s. It is saturated with ripe black berries, violet essence, and herbaceous notes, alongside well-integrated oak flavours of cedar, spice, and vanilla.

Rapaura Springs Rohe Awatere Valley Pinot Noir 2018

Rapaura Springs Rohe Awatere Valley Pinot Noir 2018, Marlborough, New Zealand
$26.95, Vinexx                 
David Lawrason – This very pale pinot from the cooler Awatere sub-region shows lovely, generous floral red rose, raspberry, nutmeg spice and vanillin, plus some earthiness. It is light-bodied, quite lithe and fresh at the same time, with distinct minerality. Classy and classic. Love it.

And that is a wrap for this release. Next up the huge almost 200-item October 22 release that includes 38 Online and Flagship Store products and several gifting items.  We plan to publish the newsletter earlier this time on October 25.

Cheers, 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
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Selections
Megha’s Picks

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