Buyers Guide to VINTAGES – Jan 6th, 2018

Solid scores for honest whites, reds and sangiovese snowflakes
By Michael Godel, with notes from John Szabo and Sara d’Amato

Michael Godel

Michael Godel

The winter holiday break is behind us so, among other things, it means the time is now to get down to the business of searching for new bottles of honest wine. Wines that satisfy at some necessary level, inter alia, to avoid oaky embarrassment and hopefully fulfill basic sipping and food pairing needs. What we seek are bottles of quality and value from the first VINTAGES release of 2018, of those that avoid being lost in aught or cast into a dull, scattered void.

Two years ago Dr. Michael Apstein penned an article for Decanter titled “Is dry January beneficial?” It’s a terrific scientific read from the Boston-based gastroenterologist/wine writer on how the body absorbs alcohol. Apstein basically tells us that drinking wine with food at a moderate pace is not a terrible thing. In point of fact he says there’s no science to support the practice of “giving your liver a rest, nor does it make sense physiologically. The liver can metabolize a small and steady amount of alcohol without difficulty.” I travelled with Dr. Apstein in Piemonte last July and in Tuscany back in February. We’re all different and his message is quite straightforward. Wine consumed on a regular basis, in moderation and with food is your friend. Know your own body.

That said, tell me you’re not looking for a January cure. A cure for what ails, a respite from depressing news, a way to get through winter’s second and third trimesters. I know some of you are sad at losing loved ones, perhaps some of your favourite rocks stars or wholly annoyed with those who are. Many are stupefied, depressed and angry at the news, inane tweets and the lack of response by governments on so many issues that matter. Regardless of which camp you’re in, look me in the eye and tell me a good, honest, proper and satisfying bottle of wine won’t help.

The simplicity of honest wine is a beautiful thing. A vine grows and produces grapes. That fruit is picked and ferments itself with help from yeast it just happens to carry in its luggage. Time passes and wine is made. No one had to invent it. The most basic example of shit happens. With a little help from a farmer and a winemaker wine can become something very special. Choosing which examples will pass your test is less than automatic and takes many years of trial and error, but eventually the equation reaches a tipping point. This is where putting your trust in palates you align with raises the probability factor for success.

Drinking great wine in January is a contiguous must for any self-respecting wine lover but after the bank-rolling of the holiday season who can afford Champagne, classified Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Barolo, Brunello or Chianti Classico Gran Selezione? Fear not for alternative whites and reds are coming your way. John, Sara and I have unearthed some tidy values for chenin blanc, godello, fiano, vidal and riesling. We’ve also tasted, assessed and dropped solid scores for grenache and tannat blends, malbec, sangiovese, pinot noir and carignan.

The alberese of Bindi Sergardi

The alberese of Bindi Sergardi

Speaking of sangiovese, John and I spent a solid week this past September tasting through a great number of sangiovese in the esteemed region of Chianti Classico. I have reviewed many of those wines and if you’d like to gain an idea of where the region’s wines are at I encourage you to read some of those reviews. Some examples are from Badia A Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2015, Bibbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2014, Bindi Sergardi Chianti Classico La Ghirlanda 2015, Podere Campriano Chianti Classico 2014, Tenuta Carobbio Chianti Classico 2014, Castello Di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2015, Fattoria Di Fèlsina Chianti Classico Riserva Rància 2013, Fontodi Vigna Del Sorbo Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2014, Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico 2015, Luiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2014, Mazzei Chianti Classico Riserva Ser Lapo 2014, Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva 2013, Rocca Delle Macie Chianti Classico 2015, Val Delle Corti Chianti Classico Riserva 2014, Villa A Sesta Chianti Classico Il Palei 2013 and Volpaia Chianti Classico 2015.

We’ll be heading back to Tuscany in a month’s time to taste as many sangiovese as is humanly possible over the course of a week’s foray into all things Anteprime 2018. This will include the wine regions of Chianti, Montecucco, Morellino di Scanzano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico. The uninitiated will wonder and ask how this is accomplished. How do you taste so many wines of the same ilk and differentiate from one to the next? The answer is really quite simple and straightforward. The sangiovese of these regions and especially Chianti Classico are like children. They are all different. They are snowflakes.

Three of these snowflakes are available on the January 6th release. Two are from Chianti Classico and one beauty is from Morellino di Scanzano. We’ve also got white recommendations for the Western Cape in South Africa, Bierzo in Spain, Italy’s Campania and the Niagara Peninsula right here in Ontario. The southern Rhône Valley, Côtes Catalanes, Languedoc-Roussillon and Southwest France are noted, as are reds from Mendoza, Argentina and Marlborough in New Zealand.

Don’t forget, January also means it’s time once again for Niagara Icewine Festival. This year the festivities will take place between January 12 and 28. Please click here for more information. Your Discovery Pass is your key to three weekends of wine and culinary adventures at wineries across Niagara. Or, gain full access with the Everything Icewine Experience.

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES January 6th:

White wines

Tussock Jumper 2017 Chenin Blanc, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($12.95)

John Szabo – Tough to go wrong with this solid generic chenin blanc from SA. If you’re seeking a simple, fruity, mid-weight, unoaked white wine without artificial or extrusive flavours, this is as good as any in the price range. Pineapple-white peach-green apple fruit dominates.…

Michael Godel – Tussock jumper, as in a rhinoceros in a sweater, a bit of fun, nonsensical addendum to an otherwise fine and appropriate South African chenin blanc. This sits on the sugar pear fruity side of the spectrum, away from hyper-salinity and simple enough to enjoy for pre-festivity reasons. This most excellent value-based white would make for good decisions in the new year and it comes with a tart citrus finish.

Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc 2017Calamus Estate Winery White Night 2014

Calamus Estate Winery 2014 White Night, Ontario ($13.95)

Sara dAmato – If the holidays have you tapped out, here is a charming find from Calamus Estate winery whose deep space observatory is a landmark in Niagara. A surprising amount of flavour has been coaxed out of this primarily vidal blend with a dose of chardonnay adding warmth. The wine has developed unexpectedly unveiling a honeyed, beeswax character that brings to mind a fine, perfectly evolved Vouvray. 

Abad Dom Bueno 2015 Godello, DO Bierzo, Spain ($14.95)

John Szabo – Northern Spanish variety Godello continues to attract interest with an increasing number of tasty examples like this, which delivers both interest and value in a tidy package. The wine is attractively floral-fruity-herbal and very lively, with, succulent acids and marked salinity, driving additional desire for sips. Length, too, is impressive in the price category.

Abad Dom Bueno Godello 2015Janare Fiano 2016Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2016

Janare Fiano 2016, DOP Sannio, Campania, Italy ($16.95)

John Szabo – Here’s a solid value, flavourful Campanian white from Benevento province with a little more fruit than the mean for the variety, in the ripe, yellow-fleshed spectrum. It’s a little less smoky and mineral than the best examples from Avellino, but I appreciate the character on offer for the money. I’d serve this at the table with roasted white meat, for example, to mirror the wine’s pleasantly toasty-oxidative character.

Sara dAmato – La Guardiense created the Janare label as a “zonation” experiment with the intent to promote awareness and preserve indigenous grape varieties within specific micro regions. The rolling hills of Sannio are home to the myth of the “janare”, covens of women that cast spells against their enemies while protecting their own. An excellent witching hour sipper that will revive the palate with notes of ripe, juicy peach, crunchy sea salt and a lingering perfume of lime blossom.

Michael Godel – Few cooperatives get things just right as Janare does in this nicely salty smooth fiano. Honeysuckle joins lemon then repeats to taste with generous lemon curd and  rock salt texture. Like sucking on a gelid cube of lemon sprinkled with the dehydrated crust of the sea. Very clean and ying-yang satisfying.

Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2016, St. Urban Vineyard, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($19.95)

Michael Godel – By now the St. Urban Vineyards vines are as old as 37 years, a fact in longevity and experience never lost on this archetypal Niagara Escarpment riesling. The nose is quite waxy, lemon-scented and vaguely sweet-fruity. It will go complex and curiously fascinating into the petrol and honey with more early unction, like 2012 but even more, akin to 2010.

Red wines

Courtois La Source Côtes du Rhône 2015, Ac Rhône, France ($14.95)

Michael Godel – A steal of many proportions this Côtes-du-Rhône, first with its speed out of the fruit gate and second by its sheer, juicy nature. Delivers a swift grenache kick straight from the source and some peppery power by syrah. All for $15.

Aydie l’Origine 2014 Madiran, AP Southwest, France ($14.95)

John Szabo – It’s rare to come across an age worthy red at under $15, but leading Madiran producer Chaâteau d’Aydie does just that with this dense, dark, spicy and reductive-peppery example. The palate is firm and tannic, attractively herbal, with some purple flower notes to add interest – this has solid complexity for the money. Decant and serve with salty protein if drinking this year, or leave in the cellar for another few years without bother – this also has the stuffing to improve the age.

Michael Godel – The purple darkness of tannat is modernized by fruity and savoury cabernets in this silky Madiran. With acidity set to high and tannins relatively low this should be consumed young and best alongside some salty protein. Pretty good value in any way.

Courtois La Source Côtes du Rhône 2015Aydie l'Origine Madiran 2014Zuccardi Serie A Malbec 2016

Zuccardi Serie A 2016 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($16.95)

Michael Godel – The Argentina Series challenges the ubiquity of malbec with an intent that focuses on quality in the face of over saturation. That it succeeds is simply a case of gathering high quality fruit and letting it merge and meld with little to no agenda. Ripeness is a given virtue but the rest is magic without adulteration. And so you get a touch of mineral ambiguity and slaty-salty abstraction. In other words, something singular in the face of sameness.

Fattoria La Pupille Morellino di Scansano 2015, DOCG Tuscany ($17.95)

Sara dAmato – One of the formidable women of Tuscany, Elisabetta Geppetti has been producing in the coastal region of Morellino for 30 years now. Over the past several decades she has not only managed to produce an impressive portfolio of wines but also five children. With Elisabetta’s daughter Clara now in the fold, the family business continues to thrive producing great values such as this juicy, expressive, tender Morellino that offers a pleasantly musky authenticity.

Michael Godel – Elisabetta Geppetti’s 2015 sangiovese is so righteous and proper, at once dusty, salumi cured and then irreverent, deep and earthy. This is drawn from great mineral clay and it shows, as a Morellino with purity and honesty. There is great plum and sour berry fruit but also this pervasive baking spice acting as a terrific follow foil to the roasted and charred meaty notes that came before. Really chewy and dares to be tried again and again.

Fattoria La Pupille Morellino Di Scansano 2015Villa Trasqua Chianti Classico 2013Momo Pinot Noir 2015

Villa Trasqua Chianti Classico 2013, DOCG Tuscany ($17.95)

Sara dAmato – Terroir is particularly expressive in this organically produced Chianti Classico from Villa Trasqua, an indulgence at this price point. A sophisticated find that showcases carefully grown sangiovese at the peak of ripeness. Despite its lightly grippy tannins, it is a pleasure to drink right now.

Michael Godel – Trasqua’s from the Hulsbergen brothers (Alan and Sven) out of an idyllic, naturally rippling and undulating Castellina in Chianti bowl is 100 per cent sangiovese. I have to admit to fully agreeing with Sven when he tells me “you can drink this with red sauce.” I did in fact retroactively follow up on this and tasted it alongside one prepared by him at the estate. The round, soft yet structured CC was, for the vintage and the pasta a perfect match. It’s that simple and you should try it, on a Monday night, as we did, in Chianti Classico, or anywhere else.

Momo Pinot Noir 2015, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand ($19.95)

John Szabo – Biodynamic producer Seresin’s second label is always sharp value, and if you’re seeking a proper light, tart red fruit and sandalwood-scented pinot under $20, this is it. I like the crunchy acids and the saliva-inducing herbal-savoury character, not to mention the well-above average complexity on offer in a genuine cool climate style. Best 2018-2021.

Michael Godel – This is nothing but lovely juicy pinot noir with nary a moment of tension or bitterness. This is pressed lightly and with nothing but love in mind. Really nice stuff for the gentle in us.

Domaine Lafage Cayrol 2014 Vieilles Vignes Carignan, Igp Côtes Catalanes, Languedoc-Roussillon ($19.95)

John Szabo – 2018 may not be the year of carignan, but the number of great examples from Mediterranean climates (southern France, Chile, etc.) seems to be on the rise. This is a prime example from old vines, fleshy, lively, balanced, fruity-herbal and spicy, with a real lick of schistous minerality that brings to mind blood, iron and scorched earth. Length and depth and excellent, especially in the price category, too.  Best 2018-2024.

Michael Godel – Cayrol is deeply hematic and ferric old vines carignan from schisty soils in the Côtes Catalanes. What a formidable attack this delivers with warm fruit bathed in mineral and a cool, mentholated streak running right through. It separates the palate from the structure but boy if this isn’t something other. Would like to see it come together after a year or two. I can see the holes filling in and the overall texture evolved as one unified entity.

Domaine Lafage Cayrol Vieilles Vignes Carignan 2014Castello di Bossi C. Berardenga Chianti Classico 2013Alain Jaume Clos De Sixte Lirac 2015

Castello di Bossi C. Berardenga Chianti Classico 2013, DOCG Tuscany ($22.95)

Michael Godel – This is very indicative and loyal to the more than excellent 2013 vintage, with rusty, ropey, curative and variegated red fruit mixed with leather, cedar and sweet tannin. Castelnuovo Beradenga is perfectly represented, Chianti Classico too and the drinking zone is right here, right now.

Alain Jaume Clos de Sixte Lirac 2015, Ac Rhône, France ($25.95)

Michael Godel – A ringer for Gigondas this Lirac but with penultimate appellative meatiness and game. This just smells like a well-aged piece of meat ready for the grill. The berries are rich, tart and even a bit dry-concentrated with formidable, tight-grainy tannin. Big red with plenty of fruit from the outset and age ability ahead.

Here’s to wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2018 and of course, one filled with great wine.

Good to go!

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.

Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


Pérez Cruz Pircas De Liguai Cabernet Sauvignon 2013