Buyer’s Guide to Vintages March 30th Release

Stars Aligning for Ontario Wine, plus Cabernet Value?
by David Lawrason with notes from Michael Godel, John Szabo and Megha Jandhyala

As winter turns to spring the planets are aligning nicely for the onward and upward promotion of Ontario wine. Events are busting out all over. Last week several winemakers returned home after taking Manhattan at a trade fair attended by New York media and sommeliers. Saturday saw the return of Cuvee, a large consumer event in St. Catharines where winemakers don and pour their finest (John, Michael and Megha were in attendance). Upcoming April 12 is the kick-off for the virtual Grapes for Humanity auction, featuring collaborative bottlings by Ontario’s most highly regarded winemakers in the “From the Heart Micro Lot Project.” That same night Stratus Vineyards debuts two amphora-aged wines during a dinner at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics in Toronto. A week later, on April 15 is the annual Taste Ontario trade tasting at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Toronto features no less than 65 Ontario wineries. 

John explains how we select the wines for our Exchange cases.

All this would seem hard to eclipse, yet on April 8 the heavens will align to etch a path of almost total midday darkness directly over the Niagara Peninsula, drawing tens of thousands to wine country and causing the wineries to break out both viewing and tasting glasses. The world will stand still for a while, and hopefully the stars will shine at about 2:10pm, as we toast the heavens.

If I were to raise one wine to this stellar occasion, it would be a Niagara riesling that we Aligners tasted from Vintages March 30 release. Thirty Bench 2020 Small Lots Steel Post Riesling from a 40-year-old vineyard on Beamsville Bench is pinpointing Niagara’s maturation into a first-class wine region. I encourage you to try a bottle for yourself, whether for eclipse toasting or not.

Cabernet Sauvignon Value?

Elsewhere in this release there is a global slate of inexpensive cabernet sauvignons, as featured on the cover of Vintages magazine. I suspect this will be a popular release given that cabernet is the world’s best-known red grape. This familiarity nudges people’s decision-making. And they will be further wooed by the modest prices.

But of course, cabernet, as a value proposition, is all over the map, because it is grown all over the map, although not always successfully in terms of quality. 

In the places where it reaches grandeur — Cru Classé Left Bank Bordeaux, Napa Valley, and arguably Bolgheri in Tuscany — it can also reach heavenly prices that are not part of a value discussion, except as art and trading pieces. And results from attempts to make very inexpensive versions from these places are often underwhelming — especially in California where they are now using sugar to Botox the gaps in weak, green unbalanced “value-priced” cabernets.

There are other regions in the world where cabernet is capable of greatness too, but historical market pricing tempers expectations, while increasing value. My list includes three maritime regions in Australia – Coonawarra, Margaret River and Langhorne Creek. Elsewhere, Chile’s Pacific-facing Andean foothills have the right stuff, as does Colchagua. And over in South Africa, Stellenbosch, also not far from the coast, is a classic terroir for this grape. So, if you are really looking for cabernet values on this release that’s where the nuggets lie.

There are other places where very good cabernet is possible, but more marginal and variable due to climate conditions. Canada, with its shorter growing season is a classic example, in both Ontario and BC. New Zealand is another cool climate where cabernet only ripens well in the far north on Waiheke Island and the Bay of Islands. On the flip side, Mendoza, Argentina certainly achieves ripeness but often pushes into clunky overripeness. And all over the Mediterranean similar over-wrought-ness and baking is common (although there is a good Greek version this time out).

So here are our picks from this release, with a note that Sara has been away with family for most of March, returning in time for the next release April 13.

Something to consider.

Buyer’s Guide March 30: Sparkling

Pongrácz Cap Classique Rosé, Western Cape, South Africa
$22.95, PMA Canada
Megha Jandhyala – With warmer weather around the corner, this well-priced, pretty, coral-toned sparkling rosé is a versatile addition to outdoor get-togethers. Made in the traditional method, it is fresh and firm, with only a hint of sweetness, delicate toasty notes, and refreshing flavours of citrus fruit and tart summer berries

Buyer’s Guide March 30: Whites

Frey Riesling Kabinett 2018, Rheinhessen, Germany
$21.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.     
David Lawrason – This very pretty riesling is showing the classic peachy, florality and tenderness I enjoy from the Rheinhessen. Generous, fresh, pure and somewhat sweet but the CO2 and acidity balance this summer garden sipper.

Enrico Serafino Grifo Del Quartaro Gavi Del Commune Di Gavi 2022, Piedmont, Italy
$24.95, Majestic Wine Cellars
Michael Godel – From the Alta Langa sparkling wine specialist and a really fine iteration of Gavi. The house can seemingly do no wrong, not with bubbles, nor Barolo, Barbaresco and judging by the finesse and balance in this Grifo del Quartaro, the acumen also applies to cortese.

Max Ferd. Richter Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett 2022, Mosel, Germany
$31.95, Family Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – Many next generation winemakers are choosing sites where Trocken examples can be made at the highest level, but Bruaneberger will not fade into the past anytime soon. Richter’s is spot on, correct and still fashionable Kabi that maintains space in today’s riesling concept.
Megha Jandhyala – This is an exquisite kabinett from the Mosel that will please both those open to a foray into rieslings that are not dry and connoisseurs of this style. Stony and mineral, yet opulent, it is saturated with an array of ripe citrus fruit and tart orchard fruit and the intoxicating perfume of honeysuckles in full bloom. I love the concentration, focus, and impeccable balance of this wine.

Thirty Bench Steel Post Vineyard Small Lot Riesling 2020, Ontario, Canada
$33.95, Andrew Peller Limited
David Lawrason – This is simply one of the best riesling vineyards in Niagara, now going on 40 years on prime Beamsville Bench terroir. It has a lifted, complex nose of petrol, beeswax, honey and fresh apricot. It is light to mid-weight (11.2 percent alcohol) firm and dry — almost austere, but very racy. Great acidity, minerality and length. More years to come.
Megha Jandhyala – I would not miss an opportunity to try this superb, age-worthy, single vineyard expression of Ontario riesling. It is compelling, complex, and focused, with bright acidity and radiant fruit flavours, while the finish is utterly captivating.
John Szabo – Another terrific Niagara riesling from the excellent 2020 vintage, this has a beautifully steely nose, stony and tight, but with underlying orchard fruit, apples, green and yellow, daffodils and other florals, wet limestone and sweet herbs, attractive and engaging. Flavours linger and reverberate on and on. Lovely, balanced wine, ready to go, or hold a decade.

Buyer’s Guide March 30: Reds

Blaauwklippen Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Stellenbosch, South Africa
$25.95, Colio Estate Wines  
David Lawrason – This offers impressive lift, complexity and structure for the price. Also, some iron-like minerality typical of Stellenbosch, but nicely fitted amid classic blackcurrant, fresh mint/shrubby greenness and background oak. It is full bodied, fairly dense and energized.  

CedarCreek Cabernet Merlot 2020, British Columbia, Canada
$29.95, Mark Anthony Group
Michael Godel – Top quality, clean and workable vintage for the Bordeaux blend captured at peak and holding really well a few years forward, with a few more to go.

Leeuwin Prelude Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Western Australia, Australia
$28.95, Terra Firma Brands      
David Lawrason – Leeuwin is a marquee, pioneer of the Margaret River in Western Australia. It is their less expensive offering but packed with value for cabernet purists — slim and juicy with good acidity, warm and tannin. Aromas and flavours are classic black and red currant, violet, dried herbs and some mint/eucalyptus. Tannins are a touch green and bitter but overall approachable.

Château La Bastide Optimée Corbières 2018, Languedoc, France
$27.95, Grape Expectations Wine Agency      
David Lawrason – This compelling, suave and mature blend of 80 percent syrah and 20 percent grenache has reached a state of grace. The nose wafts ripe dried cherry, prune, licorice, cedar and leather. It is full bodied, dense and very smooth with very fine tannin.
John Szabo – A super ripe blend of 80 percent syrah and the balance in grenache (15 percent alcohol declared), this is a broad and substantial wine from the deep south of France, with supple, silky tannins and creamy acids, lending a generous, voluptuous texture. Even the high alcohol is well integrated into the ensemble, and length is excellent. Well worth the price; drink or hold into the early 2030s.

Vinosia Santandrea Taurasi 2017, Campania, Italy
$30.95, Majestic Wine Cellars
John Szabo – Showing beautifully now, this Taurasi has an uncommon degree of polish and refinement. I like the floral dimension, the ripe red and black fruit flavours, the sweet herbs, the overall complexity in a comfortably medium-full-bodied expression. Drink now or continue to hold until the end of the decade.
Megha Jandhyala – The allure of this Taurasi is in its simultaneous approachability and depth. Generous, sinuous yet relatively easy on the palate, it is saturated with notes of dark plums and blackberries, layered over subtle tones of sweet spices and dried flowers. At just over $30, it is also very reasonably priced, making it a great choice for those who are curious about this iconic appellation.

Saurus Barrel Fermented Pinot Noir 2021, Patagonia, Argentina
$31.95, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – Pretty and delicate pinot noir here, floral and perfumed, from southern Argentina, impeccably made, sleek and attractive. Drinking well now, or hold until the end of the decade.

Great Heart Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Stellenbosch, South Africa
$38.00, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.  
David Lawrason – This is a big, ripe, open-knit and almost sweet-edged cabernet with candied blackcurrant fruit, licorice, mint and a subtle tarry/mineral note. Medium-full bodied, a touch sweet, balanced by warming alcohol and fairly soft tannin. Fruit generosity and depth are the key to its success.
Megha Jandhyala – Here is an opportunity to enjoy a delicious wine and support a commendable initiative while doing so. The Great Heart label focusses on sustainability in a holistic sense, aiming to protect the natural environment and empower staff.

Mazzei Zisola Doppiozeta 2018, Sicily, Italy
$45.95, Roy+Co. Selections Inc.
Michael Godel – Nero d’avola should rightly act this way. A confident and precise wine, moderate of alcohol, swelling with character, lengthy and just tannic enough to see this drink well for many years ahead.

Rocche Costamagna Rocche Dell’annunziata Barolo 2019, Piedmont, Italy
$64.95, Glencairn Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – Tasted a cask sample blind at Nebbiolo Prima in January 2023. Now the first look, a year later, this time with knowledge of producer and MGA.  No change in attitude or viewpoint because the signs and portents are everywhere in this crazy value 2019 Barolo.
Megha Jandhyala – If I were looking for a premium red wine to add to my cellar this week, this single vineyard Barolo from La Morra is the one I would choose. Possessed of dignified yet undeniable beauty and power, it is just beginning to mellow and resolve and should be ready to enjoy in a couple of years, though it will continue to evolve over the course of this decade and the next.
John Szabo – I first tasted this impressive wine during Nebbiolo Prima in Alba last January, the annual tasting of new releases, and now a year later, it continues to shine, and looks to be coming into its drinking window a little earlier than originally expected. A finely detailed and complete wine, not to mention exceptional value in the premium category, best from 2026-2038 or so.

And that’s a wrap for this release. It was completed while on a short journey west to Oregon’s Willamette Valley then the Okanagan Valley. Returning just in time for the Oregon-Washington Trade event in Toronto on April 8 — Eclipse Day. Hope to see you there, with shades on.

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
Megha’s Picks
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s Smart Buys

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