Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES February 8th, 2020

New Value Ratings Elevate South America

By David Lawrason with reviews by John Szabo and Michael Godel

In our last newsletter Sara d’Amato announced that WineAlign reviews will now include a value rating from 1 to 5.  It sounds as though the rating should be based on a pure mathematical formula comparing price to score. And certainly, that is the framework.

But as each critic is coming up with his or her own scores we feel the calibration of the value rating should also be individual. The numbers – as always when it comes to wine – are opinions and guides, not scientific fact, which has always been the Achilles heel of numeric wine ratings.   We trust you will look for each of us to be consistent with our individual value ratings, and that you will come to know our ranges. Then align or not.

New Value Ratings

One benefit of this new tool is more easily identifying value trends. In this release a trend emerged with glaring clarity. For me, the reds of South America are rating four and five stars with regularity. It is not that some particular fondness for South American reds is punching up my ratings.  It’s because the winemaking and quality in South America is outstripping the price dictated by the historic (but now outdated) perspective of the global marketplace.  So take advantage now before prices begin to rise.

I first went to Chile 30 years ago, when the first export-oriented producers were beginning to show their potential. Compared to the oxidative “traditional” wines being consumed domestically they were fruit drenched, fresh and quite pure if not very sophisticated. At roughly the same time I attended the first trade mission of domestically inspired Argentine wines to Toronto and it was the worst tasting I have still ever experienced.

But the quality level in both Chile and Argentina (and Uruguay) has improved tenfold in a generation while the pricing in the market has not. Whether you like them and embrace them is entirely up to you. But given the value of the half dozen examples on this release you are being offered a fantastic financial opportunity to explore.  And in the heart of winter the more robust style is particularly fulfilling.

I found myself contemplating all this when I attended a trade tasting in mid-January featuring Escudo Rojo of Chile’s Maipo Valley.  We don’t see Escudo Rojo a lot in Ontario, which is surprising given that this property is owned by Baron Philippe de Rothschild, with all the marketing muscle, resources and pedigree attached to one of the leading houses of Bordeaux.  More surprising was the quality of the 2018 Cabernet below (90 points) at the $17.95 price point.  My value rating 5 out of 5!

As I tasted through a range of eight Escudo Rojo wines with Bordeaux-trained winemaker Emmanuel Riffaud he provided a detailed history of the property (founded 1999) and all the work going into making the wines. They are now rolling out more expensive wines – including a new Gran Reserva, and an untasted, unnamed, still-in-barrel super-premium that will invariably be compared to Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.  But by far their most important wine is the basic Escudo Rojo Cabernet Sauvignon being released Saturday at $17.95.

I have been in enough winery presentations to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to “telling the story”. There was lots of verbiage in this presentation that I had heard before, most of earnest if hardly original, but I perked up when I heard that this inexpensive cabernet goes through three sortings to capture the best ripened and most healthy berries, and reject “residual vegetal matter”.  One happens via multiple harvests within one parcel – a field ripeness triage as is practised in harvesting Sauternes. A visual sort happens when the grapes come down a conveyor belt in the winery. And then there is a final optical sort through a computerized system that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This type of attention to detail is going on throughout South America.

We present our South American picks in a group below, then move on to some whites and reds from other parts of the world.  With a reminder we were only allowed by the LCBO to preview about 50% of the wines being released Saturday.

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Arboleda Carmenère 2017 

Buyers’ Guide February 8th: South American Reds

Catena Lunlunta Old Vines Appellation Malbec 2017, Mendoza, Argentina ($22.95)
John Szabo – Nicely perfumed, especially floral Malbec here from Catena, with a well-measured dose of wood influence, just enough to perfume without overwhelming. It makes a strong argument for Mendoza malbec, especially the region of Lunlunta in Maipú in the epicenter of production. Drink 2020-2025
David Lawrason – The aromatic lift and flavour intensity are very impressive. Lots of concentration as well. It is full bodied, a touch sweet, almost silky in texture, with some alcohol heat and excellent length. Almost the perfect example of modern commercial winemaking. Made for BBQ/roadhouse cuisine.…


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And that’s another round. We will be back in two weeks with our take on the February 22nd.  Hope you are enjoying some lovely reds to help you through the deep of winter

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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Lawrason’s Take
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