Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES January 6 Release

Bargain Releases and Winter Fun with Wine
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo, Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato

For those who have made a New Year’s decision that their relationship with alcohol still includes wine bargains — especially under $20 — the January 6 Vintages release offers rewards. I personally escorted a friend — who insists on bargains — to an LCBO flagship store on Saturday to consult on a mixed case. I even carried said case to her car.

The WineAlign Crü assembled January 4 at World HQ to taste through about 40 wines on this release — with thanks to participating importers and Ontario wineries for responding so quickly with samples — when 2024 had barely dawned. 

For those who may have received a WineAlign subscription for Christmas and are reading this newsletter for the first time — welcome. And an explanation.

We approach importers and Ontario wineries represented on each Vintages release asking for samples of the wines we want to taste, that we think will be of most interest to you. Some agents deliver samples, but most authorize us to purchase their samples at Vintages and invoice for reimbursement. We critics independently offer a quality score, review and value rating out five stars for each wine we taste.


Many wines in this release that are under $20 or under $30 were recognized as five-star values! And value is the key pillar of this exercise. We are not expecting excellent or outstanding quality (over 90 points) in this price range, which would indicate notable complexity, depth and sophistication. But hopefully we will encounter purity (absence of faults), wines that are faithful to their grape(s) and place and have some sense of balance.

We lay out our picks below, and you can jump there now. But first we offer several opportunities to have some fun with wine in the deepest depths of a Canadian winter, in chronological order.

Winter Fun with Wine

The annual Niagara Icewine Festival kicks off Saturday January 13 with the Cool as Ice Gala at the Niagara Parks Power Station in Niagara Falls. There is a unique, almost dystopian glam vibe to this event, that includes an optional long walk through a marvelous tunnel to emerge on the shores of the Niagara River below The Falls. Dozens of wineries are pouring (and not all icewine), and the food stations are lavish. The gala kicks off a week of special events and tastings at Niagara wineries. Full details, how to purchase tickets and travel arrangements can be found here.

On Monday January 15 you can catch a new wine documentary called SOMM: Cup of Salvation at the Paradise Theatre on Bloor Street West in Toronto. “From the team that made the SOMM documentaries, Cup of Salvation is a sweeping film that follows a father and daughter as they set out to revive the ancient grapes of their homeland in Armenia” while navigating the political turbulence of the region. The Paradise Theatre is owned by Niagara vintner Moray Tawse, and the adjacent Blue Door Wine Shop is selling wine to accompany the screening. Tickets for the 6 p.m. or 9 p.m. showing are available here.

On Saturday January 20 WineAlign resumes So You Think You Know Wine, the Zoomable blind tasting wherein we WineAlign critics challenge each other to name grape, county, region, age and price of four wines, while you taste along with the very same wines at home. It’s fun, it’s embarrassing, it’s educational. A second edition airs February 10 ahead of Valentine’s Day. We’ll be sending our more details in the next few days.

And finally, consider taking in the at the Canadian Culinary Championships Feb 2–3 in Ottawa. The finale of Canada’s Great Kitchen Party brings 10 top Canadian chefs — who won in their cities in 2023 — together for a three-event showdown. The first event is the Mystery Wine Pairing night on February 2, with chefs challenged to create a dish to match one Canadian wine I have selected. The wine will be tasted blind by the chefs and guests. A “New Ontario Winery Showcase” will be pouring at the Friday Mystery Wine event and at the Saturday Grand Finale, as well. More info and tickets here. WineAlign subscribers get a $25 discount to the Mystery Wine Pairing event with promo code WINEALIGN24.

Don’t forget to have a look at recently published articles by WineAlign Crü members John Szabo and Michael Godel. John discusses the excellent 2019 Brunello di Montalcino vintage and suggests you stock up on as many as you can afford. Michael does a deep dive into Collio DOC and why it should be celebrated on its 60th anniversary.

January 6 Release
Our recommendations are arranged in ascending price order. Wines only available or in Vintages flagship stores are indicated.

Buyer’s Guide January 6: Whites

Kew Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2019, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada
$14.95, Arterra Wines Canada      
David Lawrason – Kew Vineyards has a reputation for making ageable whites, and if you shift the parameter to Alsatian pinot gris, this older release starts to make sense. It has generous, ripe, honeyed peach and wildflower aromas. It is quite full bodied, rich, just off-dry and mellow.

Yalumba The Y Series Riesling 2021, Vegan, South Australia, Australia
$14.95, Family Wine Merchants
David Lawrason – Yalumba is established as a white wine specialist in Australia and the character delivered here at $15 is remarkable. It is a bold, fulsome yet dry riesling with all kinds of tropical fruit, flint and a touch of petrol.
Sara d’Amato – We don’t see a great deal of Australian riesling on the shelves of the LCBO, especially at this price, so here’s a rare opportunity to taste a classic example of South Australia’s relatively dry, aromatic style. An invigorating wine, nervy, salty and stony with aromas of green apple, passion fruit and lime. Best enjoyed in its youthful condition.

Château De La Grange Vieilles Vignes Côtes De Grand Lieu Muscadet 2021, Sur Lie, Ap, Loire, France
$13.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
David Lawrason – Solid, dry and firm muscadet with a lot of character — aromas of fennel, tarragon, yellow apple even saffron. It is light to medium bodied and lively with very good to excellent length.

Zenato Colombara Soave Classico 2022, Doc, Veneto, Italy
$16.95, The Case For Wine
John Szabo – The Colombara UGA (cru) is based mostly on basaltic soil, here from the 2022 vintage clearly ripe and tropical, a pleasant sipping wine and well worth a look over the near term.
David Lawrason – Lovely aromatic expression here with classic peach/apricot, honeysuckle, vanillin, gentle jasmine and tea. It is a light bodied, tender, fresh and fragrant with fine balance.

Aslina Chardonnay 2021, Wo Western Cape, South Africa
$22.95, Gradwell Wine Agency
David Lawrason – Aslina Wines was founded by Ntsiki Biyela, South Africa’s first black woman winemaker. This is a solid, partially oaked spicy and almost stony chardonnay with a generous complex nose that borders on tropical. Very complete.
Michael Godel – Gentle and subtle chardonnay. Predicated more on acidity and Western Cape terroir. Well balanced and clearly created by a hand of deft touch. Could drink this every day.

Avondale Wines Anima Chenin Blanc 2019, Paarl, South Africa
$38.95, The Case For Wine (online and flagship stores)
Michael Godel – Anima is Johnathan Grieve’s top drop in chenin blanc, with most of his other varietal fruit being destined for the Cyclus and Jonty’s Ducks blends. Hard to find more reserve-style richness. Not many South African chenin blancs like this one and that’s saying a lot.
Sara d’Amato
– I love the subtle maturity and soulful character demonstrated by this largely barrel fermented chenin blanc with hints of honeycomb and roasted pineapple on the palate. Rich and generous, this white is just shy of opulent and is sure to satisfy on wintery nights.

Buyer’s Guide January 6: Reds

Nieto Senetiner Malbec 2021, Mendoza, Argentina
$14.95, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – Here’s a classically styled, firm and savoury malbec: authentic, honest and well balanced. I like the earthy-minerally-gravelly forward — and oak- and fruit-backwards — nature of the wine, and the drinkability of it all. Truly a sharp value, ready to drink or hold another year or three.

Domaine De La Madone Le Perréon Beaujolais Villages 2022, A.C., Beaujolais, France
$18.95, MCO Wines & Spirits
Sara d’Amato – Demonstrates the aromatic potency of a Cru Beaujolais at the price of a Beaujolais Villages, this delicately spicy, peppery and upbeat gamay is not burdened by oak or tannic grip. Ready-to-drink with a great deal of charm and wide appeal.

Tapiz Alta Collection Malbec 2020, Mendoza, Argentina
$19.95, DB Wine & Spirits     
David Lawrason – This is a collaboration between winemakers from Mendoza and Pomerol in Bordeaux — a 100 percent single vineyard malbec from the Uco Valley. Presents a compact, complete and balanced vision at a fair price, packed with ripe blackcurrant/mulberry, fresh herbs and pepper, and with modest oak.

Farmer’s Leap Random Shot Shiraz 2020, Padthaway, South Australia, Australia
$16.95, Gradwell Wine Agency
David Lawrason – This showcases the lifted minty/eucalyptus/peppermint character of Padthaway and neighbouring Coonawarra. There is also cassis, cranberry, pepper and vanillin. It is almost creamy smooth.

Château Vincens Origine Cahors 2019, A.C., Southwest, France
$19.95, Profile Wine Group (Barrique) (online and flagship stores)
David Lawrason  – This is surprisingly good for $20 — with structured, complex, clearheaded malbec definition and very good to excellent length. The nose shows cedar, anise/fennel, wood resin, chocolate and blackcurrant.

Christopher Michael Northwest Winemakers Pinot Noir 2022, Oregon, USA
$21.95, Rogers & Company    
David Lawrason – Conceived and priced as an easy-going everyday pinot noir, this shows a bright, pure nose of strawberry/cherry jam and cranberry flecked with baking spice and some vanillin. It is light to mid-weight, smooth, just a touch sweet and warm. Chill a bit.

Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Blend Cabernet Franc 2020, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada
$26.95, Andrew Peller Limited
John Szabo – Ripe and spicy, very much in the cabernet franc idiom, Thirty Bench’s blend from across the Peninsula is showing beautifully, a terrific Niagara vintage for reds. I like the mix of fresh red and black berry fruit, cherries to the fore, with polished, well integrated oak spice. Sharp value all in all; drink or hold another half-dozen years without concern.
Michael Godel – Both the 2020 Small Lot and Wild Cask labels deliver top-echelon varietal wines and so the question is: Can the Winemaker’s Blend live up to the level and hype? The answer is yes, especially at the price.
Sara d’Amato – From the excellent 2020 vintage, this cabernet franc is sourced from two sites in the Beamsville Bench and Creek Shores sub-appellations. Coming into its own now, with a graphite-led nose, bay leaf and raspberry emerging from the glass with a little air, the wine exhibits a pleasant dichotomy of broody and lively along with notable intensity and freshness. A solid value with gentle oak spice elevates the fruit without distracting from the wine’s marked sense of place.

La Nerthe Les Cassagnes Côtes Du Rhône Villages 2020, Ap, Rhône, France
$25.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits      
Michael Godel – The work of a top Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer, that being Château La Nerthe. An intoxicating perfume for a $27 red blend that also mixes fresh fruit with earthiness for great result.
David Lawrason – This is a basic Côtes du Rhone that’s really charming, with lovely aromas of spiced plum, fine dried herbs (garrigue) and very fine wood spice. Terrific flavour integration and textural plushness.
Sara d’Amato – La Nerthe is made by the same family who run Château la Nerthe in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and sources this blend from organically grown grenache, syrah and mourvèdre grapes that are an average of 40 years old. Co-fermentation in employed for a fermentation/maceration of up to 4 weeks, extracting more structure and depth of flavour than the norm for this appellation. Anise and violet, thyme, and savory rosemary complement the concentration of fruit on the lengthy palate. A notable value.

Château Des Places 2020, Sustainable, Ac Graves, Bordeaux, France
$26.95, Appellation Wines
Michael Godel – Hard to find quality Graves in Bordeaux at this price no matter the vintage but this one’s a steal at $27, with grippy tannins to finish and seal the deal.
John Szabo – Deeply-coloured merlot-cabernet sauvignon blend from the Graves, Château des Places’ top wine, clearly ripe with concentration above the mean, also complexity. I like the range of red and black fruit tied to damp earth and sweet baking spice (oak influence), everything proportionate. Good length and depth; best 2025–32 or so.

Bertani Amarone Della Valpolicella Valpantena 2020, Docg, Veneto, Italy
$57.95, Mark Anthony Group
Michael Godel – Arch classic in that vein of warming and full-bodied reds so richly deserving to call itself Amarone. A balanced Amarone that is surely definitive of the genre for a special part of these Terre di Verona, northeastern Italian, Veneto hills.

Buyer’s Guide January 6: Fortified

González Byass Nutty Solera Medium Oloroso Sherry, Jerez, Spain
$20.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – Another arch-classic bottling from González-Byass, medium-sweet as advertised, balanced by the pleasantly bitter-nutty-caramelized flavours of long, barrel ageing. Complexity is excellent in the category. Enjoy lightly chilled with cured ham and hard cheeses, or slow-braised game dishes with lots of matching umami. 

And that’s a wrap for this edition. Join us again in two weeks for our look at the January 20 release, which features wines from California’s Central Coast and Ontario cabernet franc.

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.

Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys

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