Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES April 1 Release

John Szabo’s Vintage’s Preview April 1: Decolonizing Wine, Reaching Critical Mass in Prince Edward County and a Tax Break for Canadian Winemakers (and Us)

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

The April 1 release, like last year’s, features the tired old theme of “Old World vs. New World.” I might have thought that the LCBO would be rather keen to “decolonize” their offerings given the prevailing thoughts of the day and move towards a more inclusive, less divisive merchandising strategy. But old attitudes die hard. “Old world and new world categories are as archaic as colonialism itself,” I say, to quote myself from my article from one year ago. “They’re also descriptively meaningless and an easy trap to fall into, as every wine student who plays the blind tasting game is well aware.” If interested in revisiting, you can find the full piece here. Otherwise, read on for our top picks from the release, which include many wines with multiple “alignment,” and categorize them into whatever world you please.

In happy news, a collective cheer was heard in wineries (breweries, cideries, distilleries) and restaurants around the country when a much-feared 6.3 percent  alcohol excise tax hike, set to come into effect April 1,was capped instead at 2 percent  by the federal government in their budget announcement on March 28. The hike might well have pushed perennially cash-strapped wineries over the brink. And for consumers while, according to the LCBO, a 750 ml bottle of wine would have increased by only five to 10 cents. Every bit helps.

And speaking of local wines, the WineAlign Crü enjoyed a comprehensive tasting of recent releases from Prince Edward County last week. The challenges of winegrowing in the region have stretched patience and pocketbooks since the first grapevines were planted in the mid-1990s, but there is now unquestionably a critical mass of quality wines, enough to put PEC firmly on the map of established regions in Canada. So impressed were we that we’ve assembled a curated case of 12 different bottles that narrate the current and future story of PEC. The case is now available for sale, and we encourage you to conduct your own virtual tasting tour of the County or tune up your palate for your next in-person visit with this collection of top winery addresses. Read on also for my article on the current state of PEC wines and the wisdom gained over the last quarter-century.

And for more in-depth reading, Michael brings us a special report on the wines of Austria, “The Tension of Opposites” following visits to reading-leading producers in the Danube Valley last year.

Still Old World vs. New World, Really?

From the WineAlign archives: “It used to be very common to hear wine experts refer to old world wines — those essentially from Europe — and new world wines — those from just about everywhere else — as almost two separate categories of wine altogether. It was a form of snobbism to be sure, a sort of wine colonialism, which implied a measure of sophistication and elegance in old world wines that was simply not found in the fruity, exuberant, boisterous, upstart new world wines. Imagine the common cinematic trope of the “ugly American” travelling through Europe on holiday, and you can start to see the picture of this world divided.

But old world and new world categories are as archaic as colonialism itself. They’re also descriptively meaningless and an easy trap to fall into, as every wine student who plays the blind tasting game is well aware.”

Read the full article from last year.

Tax Crisis Averted

A collective cheer was heard in wineries and restaurants around the country when a much-feared 6.3 percent  alcohol excise tax hike set to come into effect April 1was capped at 2 percent  by the federal government in the budget announcement on March 28. “It’s hard to get blood out of a turnip,” said Brenda O’Reilly, the owner of multiple restaurants and a brewery in St. John’s before the cap was announced. The alcohol excise duty is indexed annually to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and we all know where that has gone. Restaurants Canada estimated that the average casual dining restaurant would have paid an extra $30,000 yearly towards alcohol purchases, passing the increases on to diners in most cases.

“Canadian wine growers would have been extremely hard-pressed to absorb such a tax hike, when they face supply chain challenges and sky-rocketing input costs that cannot be passed on through price increases,” said Wine Growers Canada, the national voice of the Canadian wine industry, in a press release applauding the government’s backtrack. It was feared that the extra costs would have pushed already slim-margin, perennially cash-strapped wineries over the brink. Essentially a production tax imposed at the point of production and paid by the manufacturer, the excise tax “is compounded in its overall impact on the price a consumer pays for a bottle of wine [or beer, spirits and cider] by other taxes, mark-ups and fees imposed by distributors and retailers.” And while on the consumer side, according to the LCBO in an email sent to CTV news, a 750 ml bottle of wine would have increased by only five to 10 cents, every little bit helps.

Critical Mass: The Wines of Prince Edward County, Ontario

Explore the County with a WineAlign curated case of 12 different bottles that narrate the current and future story of PEC.Curated Mixed PEC Case

This past March WineAlign worked with the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association to organize a comprehensive tasting of current releases of 100-percent VQA wines from the Ontario wine region. From this tasting, 12 wines were selected by the WineAlign Crü to reflect the current state of PEC wines — and this case is now available for purchase.

“If I could do it again, I would be an expert from the start instead of a beginner,” says Tim Kuepfer of Broken Stone Winery, which he established in 2009.

His comment reflects tongue-in-cheek on the steep learning curve of making wine in Ontario’s Prince Edward County. But the curve has been successfully flattened over recent vintages. The challenges of winegrowing in this marginal area have stretched patience and pocketbooks since the first grapevines were planted in the mid-1990s. Growers have faced known unknowns — and unknown unknowns — as abundant as anywhere I’ve seen on the planet. But the patent quality of a recent lineup of wines tasted at WineAlign headquarters vindicates the Quixotic folly of the early pioneers and reflects a maturing industry growing in confidence and competence. It now appears sufficient wineries have moved beyond the beginner stage to collectively produce a critical mass of quality wines, enough to put PEC firmly on the map of established regions in Canada. And the next steps are fine-tuning techniques, re-focussed specialization, and continued exploration of sub-regional differences, all the while shifting from running on passion and a prayer to operating a business.

Read the full article and purchase a case.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide April 1: Whites and Sparkling

L'Ormarins Brut Rosé Cap Classique Sparkling Rosé 2016

L’Ormarins Brut Rosé Cap Classique Sparkling Rosé 2016, Traditional Method, Western Cape, South Africa
$25.95, John Hanna & Sons     
Sara d’Amato – Dedicated to the promotion and production of Cap Classique style wine, L’Omarins rosé, made predominantly from pinot noir, is a sure-fire value in this VINTAGES release. Vibrant and zesty with typical leesy charm and a ready-to-drink, lightly perfectly mature character.

Muddy Water Growers' Series Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Muddy Water Growers’ Series Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Waipara, New Zealand     
$24.95, The Living Vine Inc.
John Szabo – Not your typical NZ sauvignon to be sure, this outlier may polarize, but I love the style. It has those stylish ‘sulfides’, (natural) sulfur-containing compounds that give an appealing flinty-smoky profile, adding depth and complexity. Drink or hold up to 3-4 years. Tasted March 2023.

Domaine Jacky Marteau Sauvignon Touraine 2021

Domaine Jacky Marteau Sauvignon Touraine 2021, Loire, France                  
$15.95, Appellation Wines
David Lawrason – Lots here under $16 for sauv blanc fans. Bright and zesty with a sense of unadorned purity and simplicity that I like in Touraine sauvignons. The nose is all lime, green apple, basil and some elderflower. Mid-weight, sleek and shiny with sly sweetness, but fine Loire acidity as well. Chill well.

Pierre Sparr Grande Réserve Pinot Gris 2020

Pierre Sparr Grande Réserve Pinot Gris 2020, Alsace, France       
$21.95, Du Chasse Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason – This shows a classic ripe, perfumed Alsatian ‘gris’ nose of well integrated peach/nectarine, linden flower and honey. It is soft, notably sweet and warm, providing a real sense of cushion. The flavour intensity is impressive.  Chill well.

Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2021

Loimer Grüner Veltliner 2021, Kamptal, Austria  
$24.95, Le Sommelier Inc.
David Lawrason – Despite the minimalistic label this is a generous gruner with a ripe nose of yellow plum/pear, a touch of fennel and wildflower/honeysuckle. It is medium-full bodied, sweet-edged and a bit soupy yet still essentially dry and lively. Loads of flavour. Chill well.
John Szabo – A lovely ’21 Grüner from Loimer, a terrific vintage for Austrian whites to be sure, delivering both ripeness and freshness, and in this particular case, a beguiling mix of mustard greens and kale and chlorophyll, alongside lime and kefir lime, and more usual citrus-grapefruit notes. It just keeps revealing layer after layer of flavour, remarkable for a wine at this price. Drink or hold 2-4 years.
Megha Jandhyala – Margan’s entry-level Hunter VaFrom Loimer, a biodynamic producer based in Langenlois, this is a flavourful grüner veltliner, creamy and fleshy yet filled with verve and vitality. I like the long, grapefruit-inflected, slightly grippy finish.

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2019

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2019, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario   
$24.95, Mark Anthony Group
Megha Jandhyala – Potent, taut, and focussed, this Bench riesling exemplifies balance in the context of an off-dry wine. As captivating as it is by itself, I think it would make an excellent accompaniment to intensely flavourful, spicy, and subtly sweet foods like Indian and Thai cuisine.
John Szabo – Arch-classic Niagara bench riesling, also a superb vintage, yielding wines of excellent precision and vibrant acids, and pitch-perfect balance. This winery rarely gets it wrong. Drink or hold 3-7 years.

Skouras Salto Wild Yeast Mavrofilero 2021

Skouras Salto Wild Yeast Mavrofilero 2021, PGI Peloponnese, Greece            
$23.95, Kolonaki Group Inc
Michael Godel – A fun and intriguing twist on white wine for those who want to take a little step outside the box. Tight, taut, lean, salty and intense. And now grilled calamari is on the brain.

Radford Dale Vinum Chenin Blanc 2021

Radford Dale Vinum Chenin Blanc 2021, Stellenbosch, South Africa
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – As a signature this wine is bloody spot on for Stellenbosch and carries the torch for how a sustainable winery goes about making the most getable white wine imaginable. The real varietal deal.
John Szabo – I’d say mission accomplished here, a really sharp value representing the Cape faithfully. Drink or hold 2-4 years.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a ripe, expressive, and winsome chenin blanc, the fruit of old-bush vines growing in the foothills of the Helderberg Mountain in Stellenbosch. Classic, balanced, and full of character, it represents excellent value at under $20.

El Enemigo Chardonnay 2020

El Enemigo Chardonnay 2020, Mendoza, Argentina
$27.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits         
Sara d’Amato – No doubt a modern and warmer expression of chardonnay but one done with care and high-quality oak. Dry, rich and expressive with a notable stamp of place. A great foray into Argentinian whites.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide April 1: Red

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Coonawarra, South Australia
$47.95, Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits                
David Lawrason – The price has elevated but this remains a solid, classic cabernet sauvignon, from the region in Australia many would argue makes the best cabernet. Me too. There is cohesion, power and authenticity that I really love, with evenly dealt blackcurrant, subtle menthol, florality, fresh herbs and chocolate.  It is medium-full bodied, fairly dense yet smooth with precision and vibrancy.
John Szabo
– Another firm and stately, well structured, lively and juicy vintage for this modern classic by Wynns, for years underpriced but now in a more appropriate range (sad as that is!). Cellar another 2-4 years for a more silky, complex expression or hold deep into the ’30s; should be another classic.
Sara d’Amato – A collectable find, this wine of serious pedigree has been produced since 1954 and is crafted from Wynn’s top-quality fruit grown in its terra rossa vineyards. Taught but not astringent, polished and poised with lofty black fruit and a sophisticated tannic definition. Take advantage of the few remaining 2019s because the 2020s are about to come into market. Megha Jandhyala – This is a dense and velvety, yet sprightly cabernet sauvignon, offering a plethora of flavours, including lush dark fruit, herbs, spice, vanilla, and dark chocolate. There is such harmony, potency, and elegance here!

Silkwood Estate The Walcott Single Vineyard Shiraz 2018

Silkwood Estate The Walcott Single Vineyard Shiraz 2018, Pemberton, Western Australia
$24.95, Thompson Vintage Trade Ltd                
David Lawrason – From the cooler Pemberton region in the very southwestern corner of West Australia, this shows pale (for shiraz) colour. It has a lifted nose of red fruit flecked with fresh herbs/greens, white pepper and subtle oak spice. It is medium weight (less dense than most shiraz) and almost pinot like. The heat is up there, the tannins are quite fine and dusty. And there is a red-soiled minerality on the finish.

Castello Di Radda Chianti Classico 2019

Castello Di Radda Chianti Classico 2019, Tuscany, Italy
$21.95, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel – Such a professionally composed and pragmatically styled Chianti Classico, of fresh sangiovese tones specific to these lower hills of Radda.

Domaine Brunely Vacqueyras 2020

Domaine Brunely Vacqueyras 2020, Rhône, France
$23.95, Origin Wine And Spirits
David Lawrason – From a family enterprise, this blends 50% grenache with 30% syrah and the rest comprising three grapes. This accounts for the aromatic complexity, with herbal, peppery and subtle meatiness around the strawberry/ cherry fruit. It is medium-full bodied, quite supple but powered by warm alcohol. excellent acidity and quite fine tannin. The length is excellent.

Vignobles & Compagnie Les Sources De Montmirail Gigondas 2018

Vignobles & Compagnie Les Sources De Montmirail Gigondas 2018, Rhone, France
$35.95, Tocade                
David Lawrason – From the leading village in the string of AOPs at the foot of the range of tooth-shaped Dentelles de Montmirail, Gigondas is considered the most complex and elegant, as most of its vineyards are at higher altitude. This is really lovely with showy, complex and maturing aromas of strawberry/cherry, licorice, pepper, leather and underbrush.  It is almost silky in texture, underpinned by some heat, firm acidity and fine tannin. A class act to enjoy now.
Michael Godel –The price is a pittance for this quality of cellar-worthy, gratifying and impressing wine. Expect to pay two or even three times this cost for the equivalent excellence from places like Bordeaux, Piedmont and Tuscany.
Sara d’Amato – An engrossing and upbeat Gigondas that has remained fruitfully red in the face of 5 years of bottle age. Ripe, candied red fruit, ash and rosebud with mineral and botanicals in the mix give the palate wide appeal. Complex and texturally engaging with excellent length. Ready to enjoy. Megha Jandhyala – Just over $35 is a decidedly reasonable price for this compelling Gigondas. It is concentrated, yet elegant, with almost sirenic notes of lush, ripe red fruit and garrigue. I would cellar a bottle and enjoy it in a few years, when it has developed even more intriguing nuances of age.

Martinez Lacuesta Gran Reserva 2010

Martinez Lacuesta Gran Reserva 2010,  Rioja Alta, Spain
$48.95, PV Wine & Spirits Agency                
David Lawrason – Now drinking at prime, this elegant Rioja from a great vintage is showing its age with considerable oak resin, dried barnwood, vanilla, tobacco, and a vaguely cheesy/parmesan note. But the fruit remains resolved with dried cranberry and cherry with a floral note. It is medium-full, quite elegant, warm and refined. Tannins are still in play.
John Szabo
– A complex and compelling Rioja Reserva, made with evident ambition and care. Drink or continue to hold until the end of the decade.
Michael Godel – Here is classic and opulent Rioja, well-aged, lifted and wildly aromatic, drinking in prime time. Experience, class and grace. That is the beauty of Rioja.

Firriato Santagostino Baglio Sorìa Nero d'Avola/Syrah 2015

Firriato Santagostino Baglio Sorìa Nero d’Avola/Syrah 2015, Sicily, Italy
$21.95, Profile Wine Group
Sara d’Amato – An undeniably bold and seductive Sicilian blend that holds nothing back. Peppery and botanical, crunchy yet voluminous, this salty, black fruit driven find aged for a short while in American oak is perfectly suited to an intimate soirée or hearty fare.

Château Tanesse 2018

Château Tanesse 2018, Côtes de Bordeaux Cadillac, Bordeaux, France
$21.95, Sylvestre Wine and Spirits                
Michael Godel – Quite stylish for a place of origin that produces only 105,000 hectolitres of reds. Great value in highly authentic Bordeaux.
John Szabo
– Polished, maturing right bank Bordeaux, with an appealing range of earthy and dried black fruit/plummy flavours, dried flowers and herbs, though surely not yet at full maturity – there’s still some freshness on offer. A nice mouthful for the money. Drink or hold 3-5 years.
Sara d’Amato – A merit-worthy, gently aged Bordeaux that won’t break the bank, Château Taneses’ 55-hectare property is planted to 52% merlot, 40% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cabernet franc and 3% petit verdot. There is still a good deal of tightness and energy to this 2018 and you’ll find flavours of graphite and mineral in tandem with the concentrated black fruit. A fine acidic balance gives the wine verve and lift. While the tannins are still grippy, they are no match for a bit of salty protein or a short time in a decanter.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a fragrant, balanced Bordelais blend from Cadillac, a village on the right bank of the Garonne, between Bordeaux and Langon, that often offers good value. It is concentrated and firmly structured, with finely integrated oak flavours.

Domaine de La Madone Le Perréon Beaujolais Villages 2021

Domaine de La Madone Le Perréon Beaujolais Villages 2021, Beaujolais, France  
$18.95, MCO Wines & Spirits
Sara d’Amato – Despite a challenging 2021 vintage that began with a bout of frost damage, La Madone’s Beaujolais-Villages is clean and crisp. The fruit left hanging was well-ripened with warmth from abundant sunshine and produced a naturally concentrated wine exhibiting flavours of tart pomegranate and cherry along with anise, lavender, and pepper. An engaging find in time for spring that does best with a slight chill.

al and tonic, intensely flavoured beyond the mean at this price. Length is exceptional. The sort of wine to pull out with the cheese board, to enjoy slowly, in small sips.

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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