Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES October 22 Release

John Szabo’s Vintage’s Preview October 22: Bringing Wine to the Party

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

Etiquette on Bringing Wine

It’s coming up to that time of year. You’re invited for dinner. What kind of wine will you bring the host as a gift? With close friends it’s one thing. Usually, you know each other well enough to communicate and plan in advance without any embarrassment. But the etiquette becomes less certain the less you know your hosts. And when invited to dine with perfect strangers, there’s a deep social vacuum on the correct approach. How much to spend? One bottle or two? Should you insist on having your special wine opened that evening — because you were hoping to have a glass, too — even if it doesn’t work with the hosts’ dinner plan?

It’s proper etiquette to bring something, so to dodge the whole wine dilemma, you might bring a potted flower (cut flowers die, potted plants remind your hosts of your thoughtfulness forevermore). You might also consider a specialty, non-perishable food product, such as an exotic extra-virgin olive oil, rare wine vinegar, single origin chocolate (minimum 66% cacao content; milk chocolate is for toddlers), freshly roasted whole coffee beans (never pre-ground) from an exotic country (also fair trade, just in case your hosts are activists), special, loose leaf tea, or premium preserves are all good bets. The more exotic, the better you look.

If it has to be wine, then be prepared to spend about the average price for a main course in a fine dining establishment for one bottle (i.e., $40–$50). Any more might make the host feel awkward that the cheap wine they plan on serving is beneath you, and any less is, well, less. Bring one bottle per couple, which is about equivalent to what you’ll consume over the course of the evening.

But don’t expect to drink the wine you bring. In fact, insist that it’s a gift for the host and not to be opened. A gracious, savvy host will likely crack it anyhow, especially if it looks better than what they’re serving, and if not, well, then, you knew what you were getting into so no harm done. If you really want to share in the wine you bring, then bring two bottles (two different types looks better), and state clearly which one is to be shared tonight and which is a gift for the host to enjoy another time.

Which Wines?

Unless you know the particular preferences of the receiver, I’d stick with classics: they’re safe and always appreciated. If you’ve never heard of the wine, then it’s probably not a classic.

The majority of self-proclaimed “serious” wine drinkers drink red wine, so think red. The main exception to this is sparkling wine, usually appreciated even by those who don’t like bubbles very much given its intimate connection with celebration. In this case, champagne is the obvious choice, one with name-brand recognition. Safe whites include white Burgundy (including Chablis), Sancerre, and higher end ($40+) California chardonnay.

When it comes to red, your most solid options are likewise big, full-bodied wines with household names like Napa Valley cabernet, Amarone, Chianti Classico, Brunello, Barolo, Super Tuscans, Burgundy, or Bordeaux — these are some of the blue chips of the wine world. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and premium Australian shiraz or cabernet are right up there, too. And if investment grade wine is called for (for the big boss who loves wine), check out the Liv-Ex 2021 list of the most traded wines worldwide. Tracking these down will be extra work and extra dollars.

Remember, you’re not looking for value here — wow factor is more important, so expect to pay premium prices, $50-plus. Stay away from obscure wines, even if they are great value — the traditionalist receiver may not recognize how great a value it is, and just think you gifted an inexpensive bottle.

Open to Adventure

But if you do know the host, and/or know they are open to adventure, then a little sleuthing to find something special will go a long way to impress. They’ll surely be pleased if you can introduce them to a new wine, and this is where you can have some fun. In this situation, obscurity (coupled with quality) is a plus.

For example, instead of grande marque champagne, introduce them to a niche grower, or better yet, one of the growing range of premium Canadian sparkling wines. Instead of Burgundy, bring a chardonnay or top pinot noir. Canada does excellent red blends, too, for the Bordeaux or Rhône wine lovers on your list. These are some of the blue chips of the Canadian wine industry.

Beyond that, the world of wine is at your feet. That’s where we can help. It’s a nice touch if you provide a little background on whatever you bring. This could be a third party (WineAlign) review of the wine or some background information from the winery’s website — it’s a little extra effort that goes a long way.

Don’t forget about the growing number of bottle shops (restaurants that sell wine) across Ontario. These restaurant/shops carry wines that aren’t on LCBO shelves, so something unique and special is almost guaranteed. Scroll to the bottom of Sara d’Amato’s piece on the emerging alcohol retail landscape in Ontario for a starting list of bottle shops. The people behind these outlets are, by definition, deeply engaged in wine and eager to share their love with you.

See our Buyer’s Guide below for blue chip and adventurers’ selections.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide October 22: Blue Chip Classics

Domaine Les Vieux Murs Pouilly-Fuissé 2020

Domaine Les Vieux Murs Pouilly-Fuissé 2020, Burgundy, France
$33.95, Old Cellar Collection
John Szabo – Clean, crunchy, and fresh even if notably ripe, this Pouilly-Fuissé finds a comfortable balanced with complexity well above the mean. The palate is seamlessly integrated with ripe, creamy acids and integrated, 13.5% alcohol, while length and depth are excellent. A classy, well composed wine from clearly a superior terroir. Drink or hold 3-5 years.
David Lawrason – This is modestly inexpensive for fine white Burgundy, a quite rich barrel-aged chardonnay with the classic poise and elegance of Pouilly-Fuisse thanks to its limestone soils. It is so well integrated with classic Macon peach, honeysuckle, lemon, minerality, gentle spice and herbs.
Sara d’Amato – Curiously, the warm, 2020 lockdown vintage in Burgundy yielded surprising freshness in many whites as the particularities of the growing season led to strong development of tartaric acids. Case in point, despite the rich, voluminous, leesy and toasty nature of this southern grown chardonnay, the wine features a vein of notable freshness aided by a sensation of salty minerality.

Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2019

Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2019, Russian River Valley, California
$49.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel – More unctuous and ever so lightly honeyed version of itself, still with yeoman acidity but perhaps a bit more advanced as a vintage. The lightest of caramel and a window fully ajar for right now consumption.
David Lawrason – From a pioneering producer in the Russian River Valley this chardonnay of great precision, complexity and depth is made in a reductive, flinty style that may not appeal to all, but the chardonnay lover on your list will be delighted. Lots of other complexity, intensity and energy here.
Sara d’Amato – Plush and comforting at first sip, this chardonnay has a great deal more going on as it opens in the glass so be sure not to serve it too cold. Gary Farrell Winery has been making wine from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley since before there was an AVA and continues to work with select growers throughout the region to produce a range of terroir specific wines. This bottling is a blend of various vineyards, blocks and barrels intended to capture the essence of Russian River. This salty, vintage has begun to exhibit flavours of pine nut, cashew, lemon curd and honeycomb as it gracefully matures in bottle.

Jean Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé 2021

Jean Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé 2021, Méditérranée, Provence, France
$16.95, Profile Wine Group (Barrique)
Sara d’Amato – The large southeastern coastal designation of IGP Méditéranée covers Provence and parts of the Rhône Valley and is a source of great deal of high-volume single varietal wines along with value-based rosé blends. This is just the part of the world I want to be thinking of as our temperatures dip below seasonal norms in Ontario. From well-respected, uncompromising producer Jean-Luc Colombo, this blend of syrah, mourvedre and cinsault is an inexpensive way to bring sunshine and salty sea breeze into your glass.

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2016

Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino 2016, Tuscany, Italy
$69.95, Le Sommelier Inc.
John Szabo – Donatella’s 2016 Brunello is drinking beautifully at the moment, an excellent vintage from start to finish and one with long life still ahead. I love the silky, seamless palate, firm and grippy but balanced by loads of fruit extract and genuine depth and concentration. This is exactly the stage of evolution I prefer to drink such wines, before the twilight of fruit and dominance of earth, that happy middle ground. Though of course, it will hold comfortably another decade in the cellar.
David Lawrason – This is a lovely, rich yet genteel Brunello from a top house and great vintage. A can’t miss for a special holiday dinner or to put into the cellar. It has a generous, very complex nicely woven aromas of sour cherry, rosemary, cedar et al.. so much going on. It is very elegant and sophisticated with warmth, sweetness and generosity.
Michael Godel – A sangiovese that tells the Donatella (and daughter Violante) story with the most sincere and authentic truth at the forefront of a drinking window only slightly ajar with tannins still bearing their teeth. And just that dappling of tanned Donatella expressiveness.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a complex, concentrated, gracefully maturing Brunello from a winery run entirely by women. Made by winemaker Valérie Lavigne, it is an intricate tapestry of ripe and slightly desiccated black cherries, coffee, spice notes of nutmeg, cloves, and anise, and subtle aromas of new leather.
Sara d’Amato – A cerebral tasting experience, this impressively complex Brunello at the onset of its drinking window is sure to impress even the discerning of guests. Aside from a reputation for high quality Brunello, Donatella Cinelli Colombi is also known for promoting women’s roles in Tuscan wine production and created the first Italian winery staffed entirely by women.

R. López De Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva 2010

R. López De Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva 2010, Rioja, Spain
$64.95, John Hanna & Sons Limited
John Szabo – López de Heredia’s 2010 Tondonia Reserva is an excellent vintage for this arch-classic wine, one that should be counted among the best of the century so far. It delivers a spectacularly complex and complete set of aromatics, and impeccable balance, a wine of supreme refinement and elegance, with a finish that lingers on and on. Drink now or hold well into the ’30s.
David Lawrason – What a fine, elegant, expressive wine – the perfect gift for someone interested in exploring older vintages. At 12 years still full of beans but also stately and refined. The nose is very lifted and sophisticated with well woven cedar, leather, currant/cherry fruit etc. It is elegant, rigid yet tender.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a riveting reserva, saturated with notes of red and purple fruit, nutmeg, cloves, dill, and desiccated coconut, alongside nuances of balsamic vinegar and leather. A dozen years in, there is such depth on the palate: still vibrant fruit accompany dried cherries, redcurrants, and figs, while tannins have been tempered by time into a fine grain.

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2019

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2019, Tuscany, Italy
$39.95, Rogers & Company  
John Szabo – 2019 was an excellent vintage in Chianti Classico for boisterously fruity wines, taken full advantage of by Giovanni Manetti and his team. This wine delivers a terrific set of aromatics, clearly ripe and generous, fruit-rich, balanced, round and yet also acid rich on the palate, with a strong mineral signature. Excellent length. Classic Panzano, well done. Drink or hold late into the ’20s.
Michael Godel – The vintage of balance, pleasant wines, very charming. That said also toned musculature, grip, finesse of tannins. 

Domaine Guy & Yvan Dufouleur Les Gollardes Savigny-Lès-Beaune 2018

Domaine Guy & Yvan Dufouleur Les Gollardes Savigny-Lès-Beaune 2018, Burgundy, France     
$63.95, The Case For Wine           
John Szabo This is a properly earthy and savoury, gravelly and minerally pinot from Savigny, with firm, grippy texture and high genuine flavour extract. I like the darker fruit profile, in a sense more Côte de Nuits-like, though consistent with the warm and ripe 2018 vintage across the region. Best from 2023-2030 or so – I would like to see this with a bit more age and savoury character.

Penfolds Bin 138 Shiraz/Grenache/Mataro 2018

Penfolds Bin 138 Shiraz/Grenache/Mataro 2018, Barossa Valley, South Australia
$49.95, Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits  
David Lawrason – Penfolds is so consistently delicious and classic it makes a can’t miss gift.  This is full bodied, dense and weighty yet still balanced within this largesse, with brooding black fruits, herbs and mincemeat flavours never wavering.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a complex and concentrated old-vine GSM blend with layers of ripe, plump blackberries and black raspberries, dried savoury herbs, and subtle notes of violets and spice. Richly flavourful, supported by firm tannins and juicy acids, it is dense, warm, and full-bodied, even opulent, but balanced.

Juniper Three Fields Shiraz 2019

Juniper Three Fields Shiraz 2019, Margaret River, Western Australia
$26.95, Vinexx
Sara d’Amato – A sophisticated, slow-sipper that should be given time in glass to fully unveil. Dark fruit, fig and iron on the palate are backed by firm acidity and fine-grained tannins. A widely appealing style that should please equally both fans of ‘syrah’ and ‘shiraz’.

Niepoort Vintage Port 2019

Niepoort Vintage Port 2019, Douro, Portugal
$135.95, Le Sommelier Inc.  
David Lawrason – This will make a statement that you expect your relationship with the recipient to be long lived. From leading producer Dirk Niepoort this is rich, thick yet so refined. What power and poise! The tannins are certainly present and gritty, but not hard. Easy to taste through them and enjoy the cavalcade of flavours.
Megha Jandhyala – This vegan-friendly port is a field blend harvested from vines that are on average 80 to 100 years old. It is rich and concentrated, yet elegant, with notes of ripe black cherries, blackberries, subtle spice, chocolate, caramel, and an enthralling perfume, reminiscent of trampled violets. The palate is in exquisite equilibrium, the finish enduring.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide October 22: Adventurers’ Choice

Zenato San Benedetto Lugana 2021

Zenato San Benedetto Lugana 2021, Veneto, Italy
$19.95, The Case For Wine
John Szabo – Another fine vintage, indeed a particularly riveting one for this arch classic white from the shores of Lake Garda, reflective of the cooler, fresher season. I love the white flowery nose, the succulent lemon, the white peach and firm apricot flavours on offer. A wine to drink or hold short term – the joy here is in the freshness and liveliness.
Michael Godel – As solid as a morainic Lugana rock without fail, vintage after vintage and really just a pillar of salt in the Zenato world.
Megha Jandhyala – With subtle but lucid notes of citrus and orchard fruit and delicate white flowers, there is a sense of precision and clarity to this gently captivating Lugana. The palate is supple, with a hint of sweetness, lifted by zesty acids.

Gia Coppola Orange Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Gia Coppola Orange Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Lake County, California
$39.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
David Lawrason – This is a crown capped, very hazy orange wine made by skin contact fermentation of sauvignon blanc. It has an intense, herbal tea, ginger, stemmy and raw pumpkin flesh character (the perfect pour for Hallowe’en). It is intense, sour and bitter, wears it colours with authority.

Domaine Lafage La Grande Cuvée Rosé 2021

Domaine Lafage La Grande Cuvée Rosé 2021, Côtes Du Roussillon, France
$29.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
Megha Jandhyala – This delicate, coral-coloured rosé is refreshing and succulent, infused with pink grapefruit, strawberries, and red cherries. I especially like the subtle mineral notes on the finish.

Yering Station Village Pinot Noir 2020

Yering Station Village Pinot Noir 2020, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia
$25.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo – From the Yarra Valley’s first registered winery (1838), Yering’s 2020 “village” pinot made from a representative blend of sites offers a level of quality, complexity and pedigree that is rare in the price category to be sure. I love the fine-grained texture, the refined, light tannins, the succulent acids, and the deceptively lingering finish. Drink or hold 2-4 years.
Michael Godel – As earthy as it is fruity, of light scorch and peat-sweet compost juxtaposed against raspberry and plum. A touch smoky, almost rubbery in that land over grape kind of way.
David Lawrason – Pinot lovers are by definition adventurous, and this a bargain peak into the fascinating world of Australian pinot, from a great winery that helped pioneer the Yarra Valley. The nose shows terrific cranberry-sour cherry fruit, classic Aussie eucalyptus, and barrelling. It is very smooth and almost glossy, but not sweet.

Xanadu Djl Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Xanadu Djl Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Margaret River, Western Australia
$26.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.  
John Szabo – This is well-made, appealingly minty-herbal cabernet very much in the Margaret River style, with supple texture, velvety tannins, and balanced acids on a medium-full-bodied frame. I like the energy on offer – a pleasure to sip now, or hold 4-6 years without concern, likely longer in a good cellar.

Garcés Silva Catalino País 2019

Garcés Silva Catalino País 2019, Coronel De Maule, Secano Interior, Valle Del Maule Valley, Chile
$19.95, Sylvestre Wines and Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel – The idiom defined by gamay-like beauty is what makes país so special and ultimately drinkable. Sweet red berries with just a pique, tweak or tang, softly spoken and perfect for a Tuesday night.

Emiliana Signos De Origen Pinot Noir 2020, Casablanca Valley

Emiliana Signos De Origen Pinot Noir 2020, Casablanca Valley, Chile
$44.95, PMA Canada
Megha Jandhyala – From an organic, biodynamic producer based in the Casablanca valley, this is a vegan-friendly pinot noir that represents good value. Herbal and cheerful, with notes of underbrush and playful red fruit, it is fresh and firm, with excellent length.
Michael Godel – A wine of origin, sign of the times, ode to a place and a pinot noir that tells tales of richness, purity and elasticity.

Hahn Winery G.S.M 2020

Hahn Winery G.S.M 2020, California
$21.95, Andrew Peller Import Agency
Sara d’Amato – If you’ve grown tired of big cabernets and bold zinfandel from California, here’s a real treat from Hahn Winery – a Rhône style blend based on grenache, syrah and a dash of mourvèdre. A notable value, this peppery, floral and spicy red is delightfully invigorating. 

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

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