Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES August 19 Release

Mining the Obscure for Value

By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato, Megha Jandhyala and Elsa Macdonald MW

With John away visiting wineries in Quebec and Michael in Washington, we welcome Elsa Macdonald to our tasting cru this month. Elsa is one of a handful of Masters of Wine in Ontario. She has also found a place on our National Wine Awards judging roster.

With each Vintages release, the LCBO sends us an advance spreadsheet of all the wines so that we can arrange sample tastings via the importing agents and Ontario wineries. When I scanned the spreadsheet for the August 19 release I saw that many were under $20, and feared a very average batch. And there are some average wines, which we have not tasted.  But as the tasting of almost 60 wines proceeded over two days, I kept finding very educational and high-quality wines that were not expensive. They tend to be from the more obscure grape varieties and corners of the wine globe.  

The seed was planted when I encountered an Argentine malbec with a whale’s tailfin (also called a fluke) rising behind a vineyard. Mendoza does not have whales, not even a lake of any size. Neither does Cafayate in the northern province of Salta. I saw Rio Negro on the label, but this river is not whale worthy either. So, I wondered if it just might be from the new, remote region in Patagonia on the Atlantic coast. Google search and voila. You can read my tasting note for Wapisa Malbec below, but suffice to say that I noted a freshness and energy in this malbec quite different from the malbecs from those higher and drier, whale-less regions.

Then there was a white grape variety from Greece that required a Google search as well. I had heard of savatiano, but hadn’t the foggiest idea what to expect. I discovered that it is obscure largely because it rarely appears as a solo variety on labels, being low in acidity so usually blended with higher acid varieties. And as Megha Jandhyala points out below, it is often the base of retsina. But in this instance old savatiano vines have conjured up a very solid, dry white with more dimension than expected.

Torre Zambra Incastro Bianco Madia was another head-scratching label. The only word I recognized was Bianco. But my goodness what an interesting wine. It is from an organic, historic family property called Torre Zambra in Abruzzo. Specifically from a district called Villamagna, which thanks to a red wine from the De Cerchio family became one of the smallest DOCs in the world at just 85 hectares. But that applies only to its red wines made from montepulciano. The white, called Incastro, is a blend of three varieties — pecorino, passerina and trebbiano, and does not qualify as Villamagna, thus wearing the broader, regional Terra di Chieti moniker.

I scampered down another rabbit hole when blanked by a red called Tros De Mas Vilella. This is from a small, organic family property around a farmhouse (mas) and cellar in Penedes that can trace its origins to Roman times. This kind of lineage is not uncommon in Mediterranean Europe but still continues to amaze me. But that was not all. The varieties in this blend are cabernet sauvignon and rare native sumoll, so back I went to Google. Sumoll is a rare but rebounding Catalonian grape with the same youthful astringency of cabernet. Thus, the blend, and a very intriguing, successful wine that you can add to your cellar for pennies.

There were several others I could prattle on about, but from here we turn it over to our tasting notes, and let Sara, Megha and Elsa join in with their picks. For those who might not have seen our July newsletter, we are now ordering the wines by ascending price to help you zone in on your price bracket.  Fair warning however, most this month are cheap and great value.

Whites & Sparkling

Torre Zambra Incastro Bianco Madia 2022

Torre Zambra Incastro Bianco Madia 2022, Terre Di Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy 
$17.95, Marchands Des Ameriques Inc.
David Lawrason – This intense and intriguing white is from a blend of organically grown pecorino, passerina and trebbiano on an historic family property in Abruzzo (see above). It is very lifted, floral and tropical with impressive, almost aggressive, flavour intensity. It is vegan friendly so try bold Mediterranean salads with feta, onion, tomato, etc.
Megha Jandhyala – If you are looking for a wine to serve with tangy, spice-infused vegetarian/vegan cuisine, this refreshingly zesty, unabashedly expressive, vegan-friendly white blend from Abruzzo is a good option. I like the vivid flavours of grapefruit, melons and lemons, and the subtly sweet, vibrant palate.
Sara d’Amato – An inviting blend of pecorino, passerina and trebbiano, all local white favourites from the hilly, valleyed region of Abruzzo in southeastern Italy. Mineral incarnate, this sustainable, organic and vegan certified assemblage features flavours of lime, grapefruit zest, starfruit, white peach, almond and lemon blossom. An undeniable value with appealing retro packaging.

Famille Perrin Réserve Côtes Du Rhône Blanc 2022, Rhone Valley, France
$17.95, Charton Hobbs
Elsa Macdonald MW – This Cotes-du-Rhone white is a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne ripened enough to deliver ripe peach flavours that are somehow savoury.  This idea combined with the intriguing texture and weight makes this one not to miss.  A whole lot of character for $18

Papagiannakos Old Vines Saviatiano 2022

Papagiannakos Old Vines Saviatiano 2022, Markopoulo, Attica, Greece  
$18.95, Majestic Wine Cellars
David Lawrason – Savatiano is a low acid white grape widely planted in central Greece, often blended with assyrtiko and other varieties. This old vine iteration shows a quite lovely linden florality with peach and yellow plum fruit. Some lemon blossom as well. It is medium weight and fairly glossy but driven by excellent acidity, minerality and even some zesty CO2.
Megha Jandhyala – Here is an opportunity to enjoy a well-made, pure savatiano, a Greek variety best-known for the key role it plays in retsina. The fruit of 50-year-old, dry-farmed vines, Papagiannakos’ savatiano has a delightfully rich and glossy texture, with balanced acidity and notes of stone fruit, citrus zest, and white flowers.

Quinta Da Pedra Alta Branco 2021

Quinta Da Pedra Alta Branco 2021, Douro Valley, Portugal      
$20.95, Buyers & Cellars Wine Purveyors Inc
David Lawrason – The grape varieties in this zesty, mineral-driven white are local rabigato and gouveiro.  It has a fairly reserved but intriguing nose of pear, green olive, banana peel, lemon and a touch of yeastiness. It is light to mid-weight, spry and juicy — not nearly as heavy as the nose projects. Great summer drinking.

Monemvasia Laludi Moschofilero 2021

Monemvasia Laludi Moschofilero 2021, Peloponnese, Greece
$20.95, Celebrity Wines and Spirits Inc.
Sara d’Amato – For those who haven’t had the opportunity to taste this aromatic Greek variety
widely planted in the Mantinia region of the Peloponnese, known as moschofilero (mo-sko-FEEL-err-oh), here is a classic, invigorating example that won’t break the bank. Dry with notes of lemongrass, wet stone and orange blossom. Modern, fresh and widely appealing.

Nederburg The Anchorman Chenin Blanc 2021

Nederburg The Anchorman Chenin Blanc 2021, Western Cape, South Africa
$22.95, PMA Canada     
Megha Jandhyala – Partially fermented in barrels, stainless steel tanks, and amphorae, the Anchorman is an engaging and expressive chenin blanc. There is plenty of flavour and textural allure here, especially for the price.

Foris Pinot Gris 2021

Foris Pinot Gris 2021, Rogue Valley, Oregon
$22.95, DB Wine & Spirits Inc.
Sara d’Amato – This pinot gris has a spring-like aromatic quality with notes of rose and lily of the valley. Wishful drinking may help slow the coming of cooler seasons. Elegant, pure, clean and dry in style, this Rogue Valley find reveals subtle complexity in the glass and impressive length.

Charles Baker B Side Riesling 2020

Charles Baker B Side Riesling 2020, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario      
$24.95, Stratus Vineyards
Megha Jandhyala – This is a well-priced, concentrated, Ontario riesling, just off-dry, with tart acids. It should pair well with all kinds of spicy cuisine.
Elsa Macdonald MW – Niagara Peninsula Riesling has long been a favourite of mine not only because I love what I find in the glass but also because the variety represents a great opportunity to discover the unique character of where it is grown.  Given ‘B Side’ is sourced from across the peninsula, it acts as a complement or introduction to Charles Baker’s single vineyard examples and demonstrates how he delivers expressive, delicious Rieslings time and time again.


Bougrier Pure Loire Rosé De Loire 2022

Bougrier Pure Loire Rosé De Loire 2022, Loire Valley, France      
$16.95, Intra Vino Inc.
David Lawrason – The Rosé de Loire appellation allows a blend of varieties, in this case cabernet franc, local grolleau and gamay. The nose is surprisingly generous with pretty red currant, grapefruit, crabapple and some florality It is light to medium bodied, smooth and very well balanced without being sweet.
Elsa Macdonald MW – Even as the sun is setting on summer, enjoy this savoury, dry rose that’s showing regional character with its combination of Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Grolleau varieties.  Fresh and delicious.


Rio Madre Graciano 2021

Rio Madre Graciano 2021, Rioja, Spain
$14.75, Christopher Stewart Wines & Spirits
Sara d’Amato – Graciano through and through with that prized musk and spicy flavour profile. It is tannic and bold with an abundance of wildflower, black pepper and dried herbs. The black fruit on the palate is still tightly wound and needs a bit of air to unwind. Highly structured yet wild and characterful.

Glen Carlou Cabernet Sauvignon 2020

Glen Carlou Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Paarl, South Africa         
$16.95, M.Andrew Fine Wines, Beers & Spirits
David Lawrason – There is a lot of wine here for $17 — again so typical of South Africa in the value department. It is a deeply coloured, rich and swarthy cabernet with very ripe fruit and herbs liberally doused with oak resin, some tarry smoke and spice. It is not an elegant wine, but it is well proportioned in its bigness.
Elsa Macdonald MW – South Africa is not normally the first place I would look for a Cabernet Sauvignon but this example delivers a clean, fruit driven example with respectable structure and a great value for $17.

Petrichor Cabernet-Merlot 2020

Petrichor Cabernet-Merlot 2020, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
$17.95, Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits  
David Lawrason – This is a lighter weight Niagara cab-merlot that successfully doesn’t try too hard. It’s a natural and balanced expression of the region in a good vintage, with fairly generous, typical cab-merlot aromas. It is fresh, juicy and carries very good length. Chill lightly.

Herdade São Miguel Colheita Seleccionada Tinto 2020

Herdade São Miguel Colheita Seleccionada Tinto 2020, Alentejo, Portugal
$17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.      
David Lawrason – This is an open knit, juicy and engaging young red from southern Portugal. The nose is nicely lifted with red fruit and leafy coniferous notes. It is medium weight, fresh and lively. You might want to age it a year or two, but aeration and a light chill will bring satisfaction now as well. Excellent length.

Wapisa Malbec 2020

Wapisa Malbec 2020, Rio Negro, Patagonia, Argentina
19.95, DB Wine & Spirits Inc.     
David Lawrason – This great buy is from the new, burgeoning, cooler climate region near the Atlantic coast and mouth of the Rio Negro River. The nose is lifted and fragrant with mulberry/blueberry fruit, mint, chocolate and lovely spice. It is fairly dense but not heavy, with a fine acid line and some minerality. Really like the balance here.

Famille Perrin Les Cornuds Vinsobres 2020

Famille Perrin Les Cornuds Vinsobres 2020, Rhône, France
$21.95, Charton Hobbs   
Sara d’Amato – A coller appellation from the southern Rhône but from a warmer vintage, this
2020 Vinsobres clocks in at a relatively modest 14% and features a characteristically strong
presence of syrah that makes up 50% of the blend, with the remainder grenache. It showcases
strong regional character with notable richness and texture from well-ripened tannins. Nicely balanced, drinking well now but hold another 3-4 years.
Elsa Macdonald MW – I seem to have selected two wines from Perrin as my favourites in this release – perhaps a testament to their long history and deep knowledge of regional varieties and styles.  Vinsobres is a relatively new appellation, and this is a good example to discover it!

San Pedro 1865 Tayú Pinot Noir 2020

San Pedro 1865 Tayú Pinot Noir 2020, Buchahueico, Valle Del Malleco, Chile   
$23.95, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.
Megha Jandhyala – The 2020 Tayu (which means “ours” in Mapudungun) is not only a delicious and distinctive wine, but it also represents an opportunity to support and celebrate a collaborative partnership between Viña San Pedro and several indigenous families in the community of Buchahueico. The Mapuche, or “people of the land”, have a profound connection to the earth and the project is based on their knowledge and traditional approach to nature.

Tros De Mas Vilella 2019

Tros De Mas Vilella 2019, Catalunya, Spain
$23.95, Thompson Vintage Trade Ltd
Sara d’Amato – From a traditional family run property located in in La Bisbal del Penedès at the
foot of the Rotllat hills. The assemblage features 50 percent sumoll, a rare indigenous variety that is close to extinction, with the remainder made up of cabernet sauvignon. Aged in large 400-litre French oak barrels and amphora, this organic find features a great deal of refreshment, firm tannins and complex tertiary flavours. A collectors’ find at a modest price.
David Lawrason – The varieties here are cabernet sauvignon and native sumoll, a rare but rebounding grape with the same youthful astringency of cabernet. The nose here is lifted and fragrant. It is mid-wight, quite firm, juicy and sinewy with tannin grit. Consider for the cellar after trying a bottle with lamb.
Megha Jandhyala – The Tros De Mas Vilella represents a chance to try an unusual variety indigenous to Penedès that is now seeing a resurgence in popularity. A certified organic, single-vineyard blend of sumoll and cabernet sauvignon, it has a vibrant, open, expressive nature, with notes of fleshy red fruit, accompanied by spicy, woodsy aromas and a subtle floral scent.

Estate Papaioannou Agiorgitiko 2019, Nemea, Greece
$26.95, Kolonaki Group
Elsa Macdonald MW – Given they are lesser known in Canada, Greek reds often offer great value and opportunities to discover new flavours and textures from their autochthonous varieties and stellar growing conditions.  Lithe on the palate this Agiorgitiko offers an intriguing, savoury, red fruit profile with a stimulating acidity.

Rodney Strong Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2020

Rodney Strong Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Alexander Valley, California
$34.95,, Mark Anthony Group
Megha Jandhyala – As fall and cooler weather approaches, this Rodney Strong has a lot to offer for those looking for a classic, comforting California cabernet sauvignon to savour. It is approachable, flavourful, balanced, and, moreover, relatively well-priced for the region and category.

Davis Bynum Pinot Noir Jane's Vineyard 2018

Davis Bynum Pinot Noir Jane’s Vineyard 2018, Russian River Valley, California
$34.95, Mark Anthony Group         
Megha Jandhyala – From well-known producer Davis Bynum, this is a particularly balanced Russian River Valley pinot noir – silky and rich yet supported by an undercurrent of acidity and fine tannins. Delectable flavours of red cherries, raspberries, forest floor, and pepper, all in perfect consonance with notes of barrel spice, only add to its appeal.

The Calling Pinot Noir 2021

The Calling Pinot Noir 2021, Monterey County, California
$39.95, Trajectory Beverage Partners
David Lawrason – This is a seriously good pinot noir with more structure, complexity and depth than I expect from Monterey. The nose is nicely lifted with classy red fruit, fine herbs, slightly toasty oak and forest floor. It is light to medium bodied, fairly firm with a good acid line and moderated alcohol.

And that is a wrap for this edition. We will be back in two weeks to review VINTAGES Sept 9 Release, returning to twice monthly publications as we follow VINTAGES release schedule.

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
Sara’s Selections
Megha’s Picks
Elsa’s Excellent Choices

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