Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES February 17 Release

France Featured, South Africa on Sale, B.C. on Watch

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

VINTAGES February 17 mid-winter release is short on heavy hitters but supplies some very good value wines within its regional French feature, and a few elsewhere. While shopping for these wines at my local Kingsway LCBO store in West Toronto, I spied some crazy sell-offs of premium South African wines.  And this week, thoughts go out to B.C. with the official announcement of decimating winter kill losses in the Okanagan. While Canada’s best wine show goes on at the 45th Vancouver Wine Festival launching next week.


France Featured

Regional French wines are among my favourites when shopping for value and authenticity. Forget the crus of Bordeaux and Burgundy and the top houses of the northern Rhone, as they are increasingly rare and unaffordable. I am always delighted to find less expensive examples, usually from small family estates or domains that provide regional veracity at $25 to $40. In many cases these properties have been making wine for decades or generations and have long figured out how to get the most from their less-famous and less-expensive patches of terroir. And that experience is largely in the expert assemblage of different vineyard parcels, allowed grape varieties, and cuvées. In fact, the balance achieved in French wine, through assemblage, is the very thing, in my view, that keeps France on first.

Château de Montfaucon is a prime example from the southern Rhone, dating back to the 12th century as a fortification on the right bank of the river. Fast forward through generations of aristocracy (or not) to the 1990s when it was acquired by Rodolphe de Pins, former winemaker at Domaine de Vieux Telegraphe across the river in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, who also worked a stint at Henschke in Australia. This release offers an impeccable, basic Côtes du Rhône grenache-led five-variety blend that has seen no oak ageing. (There are handful of Montfaucon Lirac reds from a previous release still in VINTAGES.) Château de Nages from Costières de Nîmes is another southern Rhone property offering more consistently available value as a VINTAGES Essential.

Bordeaux is also a playground of value-based blends (recent Bordeaux reports by John and Michael) especially if you go to the less famous right-bank merlot-based wines of the Cotes de Bordeaux appellation. It was created in 2009 to tie together Premieres Côtes de Blaye, Côtes de Castillon and Côtes de Francs — three of my favourite appellations for approachable yet rich reds. Château Bourdieu No. 1 is from a large 180-acre property in Blaye that dates to the 15th century, now environmentally farmed by multi-generational Albert Sweitzer Vineyards. It is merlot-dominated but contains a dollop of energizing malbec. Solicantus Melodie du Sol is another Blaye property on this release offering real charm and pleasure. And Fontaine de L’Aubiers 2016 Medoc is a bargain for a typical left-bank cabernet-sauvignon–dominated Bordeaux.

From Burgundy, Domaine des Terres Gentilles is a 53-hectare property near Aze in the southerly Macon region, better known for its bargain chardonnays — thus, the good price for this rather rustic, authentic and age-worthy pinot noir. Closerie des Alisiers is by Chablis-raised Stephen Brocard, who founded a negociant business in the Cote d’Or’s Marsannay to produce a range of white and red Burgundy — again with authenticity and surprising structure at the heart of the white aligoté offered this week.

South Africa on Sale

While shopping for the February 17 release at the LCBO flagship store at Bloor and Royal York in Toronto, I noticed a swath of those red “On Sale” cards in VINTAGES’ South Africa section. In recent years WineAligners have been chronicling the great quality and value coming out of the Cape wine lands, especially in the hands of the next generation making higher-end terroir-driven wines from less well- known regions like Swartland. VINTAGES buyers have bought into these wines too, bringing together a great collection of some of the best that South Africa offers. 

But Ontario consumers, it seems, are not buying in. That could be due to unfamiliarity, lack of perception of quality, or perception after years of indoctrination that South African wines should be cheaper. Some may harbour political reservations as well. Or is it just a sign of our tough financial times? Whatever the reasons, it has resulted in big price cuts on some excellent wines.

For the following deals, a bracketed WA (WineAlign), DL (David Lawrason) or MG (Michael Godel) rating means the wines are reviewed and searchable on our database.

A famous wine like Kanonkop 2020 Pinotage has been reduced by $14 to $43.45. David & Nadia Chenin Blanc 2021 (MG 93) is down $10.25 to $41.75 while Catherine Marshall Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc 2021 (WA 91) is down $14.20 to $33.65. The extraordinary Wildeberg Semillon 2021 (WA 95) has been reduced by $13 to $30.85. The intriguing if controversial Radford Dale Black Rock Syrah 2019 (DL 95) is slashed by $12.50 to $29.45.

There are other important South African wines listed but not yet reduced, like Leeu Passant Old Vine Baron Cinsault 2020 (WA 94) $99; Ken Forester The FMC Chenin Blanc 2021 (WA 94) $62.95; Boschendal Elgin Pinot Noir 2021 (MG 91) $59; a David & Cynthia white blend called Artistargos $39.25; and the Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2022 (DL 92) $68.95. In the global firmament these wines are not overpriced. 

They will not be in wide circulation at VINTAGES, but bargain hunters have never minded the hunt. And if you want a great value intro this genre, try the Great Heart Red and White Blends on the February 17 release.

British Columbia on Watch

Earlier this month B.C. wine authorities delivered the devastating news that the Okanagan Valley’s 2024 vintage will essentially be a no-show (98% crop loss) due to a polar vortex event the third week of January that saw temperatures in Kelowna hit -29°C. This is cold enough to freeze the trunks of the less winter hardy vinifera vines on which the valley has come to rely. Vineyards thus affected would need to be replanted, meaning reduced supply in coming years, not just this season. 

Temperatures in the south Okanagan hovered in the -25°C range, which is still cold enough to freeze buds for this season but may spare trunks and not require replanting. It all depends on variables like exact temperature, lake moderation, topography, vine age, etc. The extent of the damage will become more clear this spring, but with a similar event reducing the 2023 crop by more than 50 percent, conversations are already under way about having to import grapes, either from the U.S. or Ontario, to keep the B.C. industry afloat this year. This is a tragedy, striking a region at the very apex of its development.

Meanwhile, Vancouver is gearing up for the 45th running of the Vancouver International Wine Festival next week. Most in the know count it as Canada’s greatest wine show with dozens of seminars, grand tastings and themed dinners at local restaurants from February 24 to March 3. Over the years other Canadian cities have tried to duplicate its success, but to no avail. There are 149 wineries from 17 countries, with almost half (71) being from Italy, the theme country this year. 

At one point I was signed up to attend this year after a long hiatus, but I had to change plans a few days ago. I am really unhappy about this because VanFest is a blast — so many people there for a common cause to learn, network and enjoy the world of wine. I had planned to attend seminars that included, ironically, The Sustainable Future of B.C. Wine, Golden State Vineyard Visions, La Dolce Vita and the Global Cru. Plus, the terrific all-hands-on-deck Thursday, Friday and Saturday tastings at the Sails, aka the grand harbourside Vancouver Convention Centre. If you can drop everything and go for a couple of days, or all week, I strongly recommend it. Go to for all the details.

Meanwhile, here are the WineAlign Crü’s picks from the VINTAGES February 17 release, arranged by style in ascending price order. Michael Godel was traveling to research an upcoming book on Chianti Classico, and so was not able to taste this release.

Buyer’s Guide February 3: Whites

Cantina San Paolo Fiano 2022, Campania, Italy
$15.95, WineOnline Marketing Company
David Lawrason – Of several notable white grapes in southern Italy, fiano is the most likely to impress with lifted aromas and a freshness that goes against the grain in this hot area.  At $16 you need to test drive the variety here. Aromas border on tropical with banana, orange and fresh minty herbs. A bit oily on the palate in a pleasant way. It is well balanced and delivers more character than expected at the price.

Closerie Des Alisiers Bourgogne Aligoté 2022, Burgundy, France
$22.95, Connexion Oenophilia
David Lawrason – Aligote is an allowed variety in Burgundy, although production is small. This is a very good example with ripe yellow apple/pear fruit, lemon blossom and subtle bready character. It is medium weight, crisp yet there is some creaminess as well. The length is excellent. A fine chardonnay or pinot gris alternative.
Megha Jandhyala – If you have been curious about Bourgogne’s “other” white variety, try this fresh and flavourful aligoté. Historically relegated to secondary status in the region, the variety is increasing in significance in the face of warming temperatures. I like the crisp orchard fruit and zesty lemon flavours this wine displays and its refreshing finish.

Buyer’s Guide February 3: Reds

S. Sebastião Tinta Roriz/Syrah 2021, Lisboa, Portugal
$13.95, Family Wine Merchants 
David Lawrason – Huge value here in a supple blend of syrah and tinta roriz (tempranillo) coastally grown near Lisboa. The nose shows very pretty, floral, cran-cherry fruit with oregano, pepper and wood spice. It is medium weight and nicely energized with some sweetness easing its passage. Tannins are dusty dry. The length is very good.

Tombacco Aglianico Del Beneventano 2021, Campania, Italy
$14.95, Stem Wine Group Inc.
Sara d’Amato – From its stylish label to its thick, tannic core, this aglianico delivers plenty of rustic charm. Well ripened and voluminous, there is also a great deal of aromatic intrigue from lavender, licorice, and a mixed bag of botanicals. An inexpensive intro into this expressive southern grape variety.
John Szabo – Tremendous value in a genuinely dry and savoury-fruity, medicinal and complex southern Italian red. Complexity outstretches the plausible at $15. The only drag indeed is the heavy glass bottle, so much less popular these days in a world of carbon consciousness.

Coutada Velha Signature Red 2022, Alentejo, Portugal
$14.95, Epic Wines & Spirits
David Lawrason – Excellent value at $15 in a full, robust, southern red. Wanted more depth, but at the price not an issue. It is a deft blend of cabernet sauvignon with local aragonez and trincadeira.  It is open knit, warm and evenly balanced with modest acidity and tannin.

Kir Yianni Cuvée Villages Xinomavro 2020, Macedonia, Greece
$17.95, Kolonaki Group Inc
John Szabo – Kir Yianni’s entry Naoussa xinomavro is a properly pale, also firm and savoury red, though not shy on strawberry fruit, much like swarthy nebbiolo, Drink now with salty protein, or cellar a half-dozen years for a fully savoury experience.

Cusumano Benuara Tenuta Presti E Pegni 2021, Sicily, Italy
$17.95, Family Wine Merchants
Sara d’Amato – An alluring blend of syrah and nero d’avola to brave the cold days ahead. Clean and modern, this dark, cassis-fruited assemblage is freshened by an inherent salinity and firm, but not astringent tannins. A solid value with a peppery syrah-dominant finish.
David Lawrason – Cusumano has planted several French varieties, none more successful than syrah. This 70% syrah/nero d’avola blend is deeply hued with complex fuit, pepper, smoked meat and fine wood detail. It is full bodied, dense and firm with considerable heat (14%), granular, grippy tannin. Lots of stuffing under $20.
Megha Jandhyala – This inky blend of syrah and nero d’avola is enticing and delicious, with a delightfully peppery finish, and at under $20 it represents excellent value. I really like its rich flavour profile and dense but balanced palate.

Château De Montfaucon “La Côte” Côtes Du Rhône 2019, Rhône, France
$21.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
David Lawrason – This estate lies on the right bank of the Rhone River, best known for its lovely Lirac. This less expensive edition blends 50% grenache, 38% syrah and three other varieties. It is mid-weight, mellow and warming with classic Rhone pepper and garrigue around the plummy fruit. nicely even and lively, with dusty tannin. The length is very good to excellent.

Château De Nages Héritage Costières De Nîmes 2021, Rhône, France
$22.95, Profile Wine Group (Du Chasse)
Sara d’Amato – A whole lot of wine for the price, this recent incarnation of Gassier’s Héritage is from the cooler vintage of 2021 and is an organic blend of 60% grenache, 25% mourvèdre, and 15% syrah. Notably concentrated yet very well balanced, at 14.5% alcohol the warmth is palpable it is cooled by a minty and mineral sensation that refreshes the palate. A highly perfumed, decadent treat with lovely contrasts.

Tawse Sketches Cabernet/Merlot 2020, Ontario, Canada
$22.95, Tawse
John Szabo – Impressive cabernet merlot from Niagara, a rarity to find this much ripeness and depth at what is ostensibly an entry level price, feature of the excellent 2020 vintage. It will be tough to reproduce this quality regularly, so worth snapping up while you can. Drink or hold up to 5 years.
David Lawrason – This NWAC silver medalist offers plenty of character and ageing durability, again thanks to this excellent Niagara vintage. It is medium weight (13%) firm and almost crunchy with some mid-palate flesh and slightly crusty tannin. Textbook varietal character for Niagara. Age it three to five years, it may hit ten.

Château Bourdieu No. 1 2019, Bordeaux, France
$23.95, Rouge et Blanc     
David Lawrason – From the right bank appellation of Blaye, this heavily merlot dominated blend (87%) includes dollops of cabernet sauvignon and malbec. It is sweetly fragrant with raspberry/blackberry jam, peony, tobacco and cedary spice. It is medium-full bodied, mellow and quite supple with some warmth. Ready to roll merlot.
Sara d’Amato – Epitomizing the affability of merlot, this fleshy, fulsome cuvée is based on some of the best parcels of the Schewitzer family’s sizable estate in Blaye that are on average 35 years old. Supple with generous spice and ready as soon as the cork is pulled.

Viña Casablanca Itera Seaside Journey 2021, Chile
$21.95, Charton Hobbs     
David Lawrason – This is unorthodox blend of 60% pinot noir, merlot, barbera and grenache intends to move the needle to lighter, fresh Chilean red. And it is highly successful with lovely fragrance, florality, juiciness and energy, without being sweet. Lifted rose, cranberry, raspberry and cherry mingle well, with subtle basil and spice.

Great Heart Red Blend 2020, Swartland, South Africa
$23.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Megha Jandhyala – The 2020 Great Heart red blend is supple and juicy, brimming with flavours of plump red and dark fruit, black pepper, rosemary, and lavender. Moreover, the Great Heart brand is collectively owned by employees of Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines and all proceeds are shared amongst them.

Creekside Iconoclast Syrah 2020, Ontario, Canada
$25.00, Trajectory Beverage Partners
Megha Jandhyala – If you are a syrah-aficionado, Creekside’s Iconoclast may intrigue you. Undeniably syrah, yet a distinctive expression of the variety, it is at once fresh and firm, and ripe and generous, abounding in perfectly ripe dark berries, pepper, sweet spices, and herbs.

Bertani Catullo Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2019, Veneto, Italy
$26.95, Mark Anthony Group
Sara d’Amato – Ripasso, Classico, and Superiore, this Valpolicella has as many titles as it can, describing a wine that benefits from an infusion of Amarone grape skins, is from the historic center of the region, and has a minimum alcohol level of 12% with proper aging in barrique. Yet the wine has an ease of drinkability due to notable balance and features juicy red fruit, an appealing salinity, and softened tannins. Drink up!

François Villard Mairlant Saint Joseph 2020, Rhône, France
$48.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits
Sara d’Amato – A classic Saint Joseph from Francois Villard whose origins are as a chef de cuisine and who now makes wine from across the northern Rhône. Showcasing his light-handed touch and a preference for freshness over power, this syrah features an abv of 13.5% despite a particularly warm vintage. Black pepper and garrigue are on display despite the ripeness of fruit and a meaty core. Expect a persistent finish and mid-term ageing potential.
John Szabo – A classically-styled northern Rhône syrah with textbook character and impressive complexity. I’d suggest another couple of years in the cellar to really reach full potential. It will be, and already is, a beauty.


Orleans Borbón Manzanilla Fina, Jerez, Spain
$13.95, Terra Firma Brands
Megha Jandhyala – If you are looking for a dry sherry, try this well-priced, flavourful manzanilla. It is silky and creamy, concentrated with flavours of almond essence, toasted bread, preserved lemon, and a delightful undercurrent of salinity. Pair this with olives and cheese or sushi!

And that’s a wrap for this edition. Please join us this Saturday, February 24 at 5:30 p.m, for the third winter episode of Think You Know Wine, wherein we humbled veterans try to rise from the February 10 thrashing delivered in the debut of our dear friend Megha Jandhyala. John returns in this space with the VINTAGES March 2nd Release.


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
Megha’s Picks
Sara’s Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys

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