Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES September 9 Release

Vintage Matters

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

September is upon us and the local harvest is around the corner. Some have already started. Spare a thought for Ontario vignerons—Ontario is the feature region in the Vintages Sept. 9 release—as they’ve been through a lot this summer. Plenty of rain—too much rain—and high humidity presented numerous challenges, especially relentless weed growth and disease pressure that made it an exhausting summer. This will be one of those “vintages of the winegrower,” separating the diligent and hyper-attentive grape growers from those less so, in a year where there was no margin for error. By next year, we’ll get a clear(er) sense of who the top Ontario growers are, and their wines may well be excellent.

Meanwhile in this release you can relive the great 2019 Niagara vintage through Hidden Bench’s superb Estate Riesling (183491, $24.95), the National Wine Awards of Canada’s 2023 winery of the year, or Cloudsley Cellar’s refined and classy Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir (11665, $34.95), or the very short crop (down nearly 50 percent) but generally excellent 2022 vintage with Vineland Estates’ classic old vines Niagara Escarpment St. Urban Vineyard Riesling (38117, $22.95). Beyond Ontario, there are plenty of excellent wines to recommend, many of which highlight the fact that vintage does indeed matter. Read on to find out why—and it’s probably not what you’re thinking.

And lastly, but importantly, Michael and I have some valuable reporting on Italy to share. Michael brings us his top picks from the latest Barbaresco releases from the Nebbiolo Prima tasting and winery visits we attended earlier this year, and I report in-depth on the recently official Unità Geografiche Aggiuntivi, additional geographic units, or simply “UGAs” of Chianti Classico, which this historic appellation into 11 distinct zones along communal, geologic and cultural boundaries. Sara’s and my Wine Thieves podcast will feature a three-part series on Chianti Classico including an in-depth interview with Alessandro Masnaghetti, the mapmaker who drew up the new UGA borders. Be sure to watch for that in the coming weeks.

Vintage Reports: Not Always a Linear Equation

Many of the recommendations in this release highlight the reality that vintage does indeed matter, especially as worldwide weather patterns continue to grow more erratic. It’s really a terrible time to be in the business of agriculture of any kind, but grapes, and the wines they produce, are particularly sensitive to, and dependant on, the weather.

It’s not all bad news, however, depending on your perspective. Take the 2021 vintage across France, for example, generally panned by the trade after a string of warm and sunny vintages. Multiple spring frosts lowered yields significantly across the country, as much as one-third less than in 2020 in regions like the Loire Valley and Burgundy, which is undeniably bad from a grower’s perspective. Then a generally cool, stormy summer followed, also exhausting for winegrowers, requiring a constant battle against weeds and disease, like in Ontario this summer. But, on the positive side for wine drinkers, some would hail 2021 as a “return to normal.” It’s easy to forget that just 20 to 30 years ago, clouds and rain were the norm, not the exception, and that ripeness in cooler regions was always hard to achieve, demanding low yields to allow grapes to fully ripen.

A case in point is Jean-Max Roger’s Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre 2021 AC Loire, France (65573, $33.95), a much more “classic” vintage than the opulent 2020, declared at 12.5 percent alcohol v. the 14 percent in 2020. Both are excellent, but I love the stony tension of the 2021, the way the grapes “simmered” rather than boiled to ripeness, reaching full flavour development (no green pepper) at a much lower sugar level. It’s textbook Sancerre, that is, if the textbook were written in 1994. Ditto the Domaine Hamelin Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru 2021 AC Burgundy, France (391805, $41.95), a throwback to the days of lean, ultra-mineral and fruit-backwards Chablis the way I remember them when I was studying the classics back in the 1990s and early 2000s. By and large, 2021 is a vintage to celebrate classical freshness and moderate alcohol levels, a welcome back to zesty, mouthwatering wines.

Even in reliably warm and sunny climates like the Mediterranean, seemingly negative weather patterns on the surface can have a positive effect. Try the magnificent Vassaltis Santorini Assyrtiko 2022 PDO Santorini, Greece (#33859, $69.95) for an example of how a high-yielding, cool year by Santorini standards resulted, perhaps counter-intuitively, in one of the finest vintages of the last decade. In Santorini, sun is the rain, the main viticultural hazard, whose relentless heat dries out grapes, and results in often pitifully low yields which, in turn, can produce overly astringent, hard wines as producers struggle to extract any juice at all with aggressive pressing. But in 2022, nearly two months of continuous cool north winds, sufficient moisture, and a harvest that started about two weeks later than average meant that plump, juicy assyrtiko, could be harvested fully ripe at lower potential alcohol, pressed more gently, and fermented into wines of marvellous finesse and elegance.

Above average rainfall is also part of the excellence of the 2022 Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay from the Hemel-En-Aarde Ridge in South Africa’s Walker Bay Region (32933, $48.95), a classy and stony, sophisticated wine, uncommonly firm and sharp, with no shortage of mineral, non-fruity character. Tasting this wine blind, you’d be hard pressed to place it in sunny South Africa, even if the Hemel-en-Aarde is a genuinely cool(ish) place to grow grapes and yields the country’s best chardonnay and pinot noir (see also Tesselarsdal’s excellent pinot noir in this release; 32934, $67.95). In generally warm dry climates, “above average” rainfall can be a very positive thing.

Of course, while nobody wishes hardships on grape growers anywhere on the planet, apparent adversity can yield excellent results in the glass. It’s something to keep in mind as you read those vintage reports so eager to draw linear conclusions between too much, or too little rain or sun or crop levels or whatever calamity is the click bait of the year.

Buyer’s Guide Sept. 9: White

Pablo Claro Special Selection Chardonnay 2021

Dominio De Punctum Pablo Claro Special Selection Chardonnay 2021, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain
$16.95, The Living Vine Inc.
John Szabo – This Demeter-certified, unusually aromatic chardonnay offers loads of apple and apple blossom aromas and flavours with excellent purity and drive, a richly-extracted palate, and highly impressive concentration—hard to believe this delightful wine is under $17 a bottle. I can’t think of too many wines/regions that can compete with this. Drink or hold 2–4 years.

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2022

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2022, St. Urban Vineyard, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario
$19.95, Vineland Estate Wines Ltd.
Megha Jandhyala – Here is a well-priced, Niagara Bench riesling – refined, subtle, light-footed and delicately sweet. With a sense of freshness and notably low alcohol (just 9.5%), it is sure to please a wide range of palates.

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2019

Hidden Bench Estate Riesling 2019, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario  
$24.95, Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits
David Lawrason – A classic vintage returns. When last tasted on Canada Day it lifted the umbrella off of a family deck gathering. This is intense, edgy and powerful dry with very lifted and immediate aromas. It is very firm, mouth-watering and intense with a stony finish and excellent length.

Biblia Chora Areti White 2020

Biblia Chora Areti White 2020, Pangeon, Macedonia, Greece      
$30.95, Maitre De Chai Selections
John Szabo – Biblia Chora is the project of Vangelis Gerovassiliou and Vassilis Tsaktsarlis, two of Greece’s most talented winemakers, established a quarter of a century ago in Macedonia. Areti is a pure assyrtiko, Santorini’s great white variety, though in this part of the country yielding a more fruity, less salty wine, even if smoky-flinty character is on full display alongside typically firm texture and high flavour density. Students of wine should taste this next to the Vassaltis Santorini in this same release for a fascinating side-by-side terroir comparison.

Jean-Max Roger Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre 2021

Jean-Max Roger Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre 2021, Loire, France
$36.95, Connexion Oenophilia
John Szabo – The 2021 vintage marks a return to a more classic vintage for Roger’s Les Caillottes Sancerre, after the opulent and ripe 2020 version. Both are excellent, but I especially appreciate the vibrancy and tension, and apparent stoniness, on offer in this example, the succulent acids and the transparent, crystalline nature. An arch-classic throwback to cooler times. Drink or hold into the 2030s without a stretch.
Michael Godel – These cuvées are the Loire Valley darlings of the Ontario market – consumers intuit their quality and understand their worth. This is a vintage for the people, for all people, even those who think this is too much to spend on a bottle of (white) wine.
Megha Jandhyala – I love the poise and stony elegance of this sancerre and how subtle, yet compelling it is, with a deceptive intensity and delightful saltiness. Vibrant acids seem to encapsulate the silky, rounded palate. There is so much here for the money!

Domaine Hamelin Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru 2021

Domaine Hamelin Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru 2021, Burgundy, France
$45.95, Connexion Oenophilia     
John Szabo – What a subtle, subdued, very stony wine! It’s like limestone dust mixed with lemon juice and spring water. The absence of fruit will divide the crowd, but fans of the genre will find a great deal of happiness. I’d suggest another year or three in the cellar for this to come into its own—there’s no fear of losing fruit, since there isn’t much to start with.
David Lawrason – This is a classic, firm, riveting! What I expect from Chablis whereas some recent examples are seeming ripe and loose, due to climate warming I presume. This has the green apple, citrus, sourdough and certain parmesan cheese note I like in Chablis. And minerality of course.
Sara d’Amato – The steep, stony, south-facing slopes of Beauroy have provided the necessary sunshine to ripen this rather rich expression of Chablis. An exercise in texture, this oily, mineral-tinged chardonnay exhibits a lofty-leesy character that adds appreciable volume to the palate. A touch decadent for this northern Burgundian outpost but it is remarkably balanced by racy acidity that further contributes to its intensity. I’m sold.
Megha Jandhyala – Rich, yet tight and balanced, this premier cru is all about intense, pure, clear fruit and mineral tones. I love the complexity, concentration, and cohesion here, and the impressive length.

Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2022

Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2022, Hemel-En-Aarde Ridge, South Africa
$48.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – Produced by long-time Hamilton-Russell employee Berene Sauls from vineyards in the genuinely cool Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, source of the country’s best chardonnay (and pinot noir, too; see Tesselaarsdal’s pinot also in this release), this is a classy and stony, sophisticated wine, uncommonly firm and sharp, with no shortage of mineral, non-fruity character. Drink or hold 3–5 years at least—I believe this has the stuffing to go quite deep.
David Lawrason – Yet another dramatic South African debut. Founded in 2015, this winery is by Berene Sauls, who worked with nearby Hamilton Russell for many years.  It is a brilliant, mineral driven, taut and riveting chardonnay with classic yellow apple/pear, lemon, sunflower seed, flint and subtle barrel works. 
Michael Godel – Berene Sauls and her Tesselaarsdal estate dates to 2015 in the Hemel-en-Aarde shared by her former employer and original benefactor Hamilton Russell Vineyards. Balanced and carefree, this vintage sets this chardonnay towards a course of a lifetime. 
Megha Jandhyala – This is a beautifully integrated and immaculately balanced cool climate chardonnay from Hemel En Aarde Ridge in South Africa, worth the premium price. For me, this wine is all about texture – it is intriguingly bright and taut, yet rich and rounded, all at once, and it holds one’s attention through a long and enduring finish.

Vassaltis Santorini Assyrtiko 2022

Vassaltis Santorini Assyrtiko 2022, Santorini, Greece      
$69.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
John Szabo – By Santorini standards, 2022 was a generous and cool vintage, with nearly two months of continuous cool north winds from June on and a harvest that started about two weeks later than the mean. These are, perhaps counter-intuitively, very good things for the island, where heat and often pitifully low yields result in overly phenolic and hard wines. The balance of the vintage is on full display here, unusually bright and even fruity, with an ease and refinement on the palate—a Santorini of marvellous finesse and elegance and notable salinity. Best 2024–34.
Sara d’Amato – Now that the kids are back in school, it’s time for a splurge-worthy toast with a glass of this premium assyrtiko in hand. Harvested from three estate vineyards, this is perhaps Vassalitis’ most terroir-expressive bottling made using whole bench press and gentle lees stirring in stainless steel for seven months. It leaves a rather opulent, age-worthy impression of the variety with a lasting presence on the palate. An oak-free bombshell. Pick up a bottle for now and a couple more to tuck away over the next 4–8 years.
Megha Jandhyala – This is an exceptional assyrtiko, certainly not inexpensive, but worth the splurge for its fascinating texture, intriguing salinity, and complex, intricate flavour profile.

Buyer’s Guide Sept. 9: Red

Château De Tréviac Corbières 2020

Château De Tréviac Corbières 2020, Languedoc, France      
$17.95, Connexion Oenophilia
David Lawrason – Tréviac has always been a dependable example of Corbieres, the large AOP that offers some foresty, sappy rusticity. Here it is layered with blackcurrant fruit, pepper and licorice. Quite complex, sturdy and structured for the money.
Michael Godel – Vintage in and vintage out the Treviac delivers essential and invigorating Corbières quality at a more than fair price. Warming red wine and again, quite impressive considering the cost.

Rustenberg Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Rustenberg Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Simonsberg, Stellenbosch, South Africa
$19.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel – An ode to the great Western Cape reds out of decades that came before. Age over a decade’s worth of time or drink some juicy and fresh juice now, without regret.

Cave Spring Estate Grown Cabernet Franc 2021

Cave Spring Estate Grown Cabernet Franc 2021, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment        
$20.95, Cave Spring Cellars
David Lawrason – When Niagara can turn out cab franc like this at $20, the grapes future as a commercial success in Niagara is assured. It’s a mid-weight, balanced and approachable with raspberry fruit nicely infused fresh herbs and subtle oak. Not too rigid, not too loose.
Michael Godel – A bit more earthy and Escarpment soil driven cabernet franc from specialist Cave Spring and so while savoury it’s yet another winner and bloody well right representative for the Beamsville Bench.

Cave de Tain Héritiers Gambert Nobles Rives Crozes Hermitage 2021,

Cave de Tain Héritiers Gambert Nobles Rives Crozes Hermitage 2021, Rhône, France
$23.25, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits  
Sara d’Amato – A delectable entry point to the reds of the northern Rhône, this juicy syrah showcases a distinctive pepper-tinged edginess and fragrant notes of wildflower and anise. Made by the cooperative of Cave de Tain, the largest landholder on the hill of Hermitage, their Crozes-Hermitage is from a more value-oriented, lower lying appellation. Both satisfying and impactful with a very approachable price tag.

Yalumba Samuel's Collection Bush Vine Grenache 2021

Yalumba Samuel’s Collection Bush Vine Grenache 2021, Barossa, South Australia
$26.95, FWM Canada
John Szabo – Described as a “modern wine from old vines, light-bodied and vibrant” on the label, I’d say that at 14 percent alcohol it’s a little more robust than light, but in terms of finesse and delicacy, silky tannins and fruity flavours, this hits the mark beautifully. I love the typical grenache strawberry pie flavours, the seamless texture, the delicious savouriness, and the lingering finish with genuine density and concentration without heaviness. I’d suggest enjoying over the near term with a light chill to emphasize the fruit and “light-bodiedness.”

Alta-Yarí Gran Corte 2020

Alta-Yarí Gran Corte 2020, Gualtallary, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina
$32.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants   
David Lawrason – Gran Corte is an opaque, dense blend of cabernet franc (60%) malbec and cabernet sauvignon. It puts on a very impressive aromatic display of blackcurrant/blackberry, violet, fresh cedar/evergreen (from the franc), chocolate pepper and spice. It is full bodied and very well structured. A whopper with some class.

Cloudsley Cellars Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir 2019

Cloudsley Cellars Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir 2019, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario
$34.95, Cloudsley Cellars   
Sara d’Amato – A pinot noir that is pure joy and elegance—an absolute pleasure to drink now. Characterful with delicate tannins, exhibiting flavours of crancherry, tilled earth, and dried sage with nicely curbed acidity. Pour this blind for your out-of-town guests.
Megha Jandhyala – Appealingly reductive, with flavours of tart red cherries and berries, this is a chance to try a complex and gracefully evolving Bench pinot noir. I like the judicious and skillful use of oak here. Savour it now or cellar it for a couple of years and taste it when it has unfurled further.

Aurelio Settimo Barolo 2017

Aurelio Settimo Barolo 2017, Piedmont, Italy 
$57.95, Profile Wine Group (Vin Vino)
Michael Godel – The ultra traditional and classic work of Tiziana Settimo and her family for a Barolo to age long into the decade and beyond. Would wait another year or more before seeing this begin to show its best.

Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir 2022

Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir 2022, Hemel En Aarde Ridge, South Africa
$67.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason – This is a delicious, elegant yet generous pinot from Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven on Earth). Intense aromas of red cherry/strawberry also show red rose, spice, dried herbs and some earthiness. It is medium bodied, smooth, warm and fleshy — quite rich, warm. Very impressive.
Sara d’Amato – A premium pinot with a thought-provoking story that can easily stand its ground beside similarly priced examples from Burgundy and Oregon. A former employee of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Berene Sauls, is the founder of Tesselaarsdal, named after her hometown in the heart of the Overberg. She is a descendent of the freed slaves who were made the beneficiaries of the land by East India Company settled by Johannes Tesselaar in 1810. Unadorned by heavy winemaking, the fruit seems to ripple across the palate along a bed of fine-grained tannins. You may want to keep a few bottles on hand for the holidays given its versatile nature and crowd-wowing capacity.
Megha Jandhyala – Made by winemaker-owner Berene Sauls, this is premium pinot noir from a region known to have a talent for producing the variety. It is captivating in its poise and complexity, intricately layered, with a fleshy yet lithe palate and a riveting finish.

Buyer’s Guide Sept. 9: Sparkling and Rosé

Litorale Val Delle Rose Vermentino 2022

Litorale Val Delle Rose Vermentino 2022, Maremma Toscana, Tuscany, Italy
$18.95, Charton Hobbs         
Sara d’Amato – It’s hot outside, again, but I’m happy to report that there are still wines in this fall release that will quench your thirst and are uncomplicated and easy-drinking. This well-priced vermentino fits the bill with accessible purity of fruit that is unencumbered by heavy winemaking. With a touch more dimension than expected at this price, there is some glossy viscosity to be found on the palate as well as engaging flavours of ripe stone fruit and elderflower.

Kew Vineyards Chardonnay Cuvée Sparkling 2016

Kew Vineyards Chardonnay Cuvée Sparkling 2016, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
$23.95, Arterra Wines Canada Inc.
David Lawrason – This is remarkably flavourful and complex for under $25. It is showing classic chardonnay apple, honey and shortbread. Light-bodied, barely off-dry, tender and fresh. Great value.

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
Micheal’s Mix
Sara’s Selections
Megha’s Picks

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