Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES November 4 Release

John Szabo’s Vintage’s Preview Nov. 4: Is it Okay to Gift Alcohol?

By John Szabo, MS with notes from Michael Godel, Sara d’Amato, and Megha Jandhyala

The theme of the Vintages November 4 release is “giftable wines.” Though, I wonder, is it socially acceptable now to give alcohol as a gift in light of the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction’s recent update to its Guidance on Alcohol and Health? “There is a continuum of risk associated with weekly alcohol use,” according to the guide. And: “No matter where you are on the continuum, for your health, less alcohol is better.” Essentially, the report concludes that any more than two drinks per week increases health risks, including cancers, heart disease and strokes. It’s a simple message, and governments, politicians and marketers like simple messages. But, as you might suspect, the data on which these recommendations were made is not so straightforward. Read on to learn what the “J curve” is and how it could mean that gifting a bottle of wine is not akin to handing over a death sentence. And in anticipation of that, the WineAlign Crü has curated an enticing list from the release that will be sure to put a smile on any recipient’s face, from timeless classics such as vintage Port and Chablis to more contemporary masterpieces from regions such as Mount Etna and the Adelaide Hills.

Michael Godel wrote a special two-part report about Sicily’s en primeur wines. To read his report, please click these links: Sicilia en Primeur Part One , Sicilia en Primeur Part Two.

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Challenging the “No Safe Level of Alcohol” Claim

Canada’s new stance mirrors the World Health Organization’s policy shift announced earlier this year as well. It states, rather bluntly: “No level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health.”

The WHO’s latest report continues: “Alcohol is a toxic, psychoactive, and dependence-producing substance and has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer decades ago – this is the highest risk group, which also includes asbestos, radiation and tobacco.” The conclusions are rather bleak, and indeed the top-level takeaway is that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. “The risks start with the first drop,” the report states.

But, as you might be hoping, there is evidence to the contrary, shoring up long-held beliefs about the health benefits of the so-called Mediterranean diet, which includes moderate alcohol consumption. Journalist Felicity Carter, reporting for Meininger’s from the International Scientific Congress in Toledo, Spain, in October, outlines some of the evidence that challenges the WHO — and Canada’s Centre on Substance Use — conclusions. It’s a subject that is understandably causing concern for the already embattled wine industry, which is seeing consumption trending downwards just about everywhere. The messaging that any alcohol consumption is harmful could see an accelerated downhill spiral, and further influence government policy, leading to even higher alcohol taxes, more restrictive advertising, and reduced availability.

The Toledo conference was entitled “Lifestyle, Diet, Wine & Health.” It was organized by The Wine Information Council (WIC) — a network of scientific, academic bodies and experts worldwide devoted to research on wine, lifestyle, and health aspects — and The Foundation for Wine and Nutrition Research (FIVIN). The purpose of FIVIN is to research, appraise, and compile scientific information on the possible health effects of moderate wine consumption in the framework of the Mediterranean Diet.

The congress convened several high-profile scientists to present the latest research on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. “We need to spread a more balanced view of the evidence about light to moderate drinking,” said Worm Nicolai, chair of the Wine Information Council.

Prof Nicolai says the WHO’s “no safe level” recommendations are based on work done by the Global Burden of Disease collaborators, published in 2018. “They came to the conclusion that only zero alcohol is safe,” he said.

And yet, in 2020 the same authors used exactly the same data to “come to a different conclusion,” which is that the J-curve really exists. When the authors plotted the average drinks consumed per day versus relative risk of mortality from multiple studies, they discovered that the risk of dying actually goes down with a drink or two, below the baseline of teetotallers, before rising with higher consumption. The plotted line looks like the letter “J”, hence the J curve. The implication is that light-to-moderate levels of drinking actually provide a protective health effect — particularly on cardiovascular disease, the world’s leading killer. This would seem to be a rather important finding, but the WHO’s recommendations didn’t change in light of the new conclusions.

The “J Curve” from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

One of the high-profile scientists at the congress was Professor Curtis Ellison, author of the now-famous French Paradox story that aired on an episode of 60 Minutes in 1991.

Without getting into the details of Ellison’s arguments — which he bases on certain study flaws, the inaccuracies of extrapolating data, inappropriate combinations of populations in some studies — or the faulty assumptions underlying meta-analysis and author bias when selecting studies to be included, his bottom-line message draws the same conclusions as those of the revised Global Burden of Disease collaborators. Specifically, that the scientific data clearly indicate there is a J-curve. “The dangers of moderate drinking are being exaggerated,” he concludes.

Then there’s the WHO’s failure to acknowledge the difference between relative risk and absolute risk. An extra drink per week surely does increase the relative risk of a negative health outcome, in the same way that going for a swim in the ocean increases your relative risk of getting eaten by a shark, or getting on an airplane increases your relative risk of dying in a plane crash. Stay onshore or on the ground, and your risk is zero. But going for a swim or getting on a plane are still rather safe things to do in terms of the absolute risk of dying (1 in 264.1 million for death by shark when considering only those U.S. citizens who frequent beaches, for example, according to Wikipedia). Yet the WHO’s simplistic message does not take this into account.

Identifying alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen, up there with radiation and asbestos, is also a central point of the WHO’s position: “The risk of developing cancer increases substantially the more alcohol is consumed.” But again, this is based on relative risk. As South African oncologist Dr. Justus Apffelstaedt points out, only about four percent of cancers reported worldwide are deemed to be alcohol-related. “Of these, the vast majority were caused by heavy drinking. It is only heavy drinking that stands out for the most common cancers.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week for men, while for women, eight drinks or more per week is considered heavy.

So why do governments continue to demonize alcohol in a manner that resembles the attack on smoking? (NB: There are no studies to my knowledge that show that a moderate amount of smoking is good for you). The problem is that the messaging is complicated. Prof. Ellison believes that, since governments have had to deal with the fallout from alcohol abuse, talking about potential health benefits sends a mixed message. Saying “don’t drink” is just easier. But he continues at the congress: “Health policy should not be based on paternalism, but on evidence.” Four percent is not zero, so there is risk. But citizens should make their own choices about what level of risk is acceptable, and government authorities should equip them with the full range of information currently available in order to do so. Anything less becomes a “nanny state.”

Messaging is also complicated by the fact that the J-curve isn’t one-size-fits-all. “We don’t see the J-curve everywhere,” says Professor Giovanni de Gaetano, Head of the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, IRCCS Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed Pozzilli. According to Gaetano, it exists for myocardial infarction but not for atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm). “We showed that there were differences between women and men. The effect of higher doses was very different, so the beneficial effect in women disappears more quickly.”

Nationality and age also seem to matter, says Gaetano. A 40-year-old woman with no cardiovascular risk has nothing to gain from moderate drinking. And although the J curve is found everywhere, French and Italian people can apparently drink more safely than Germans or Swedes, he says, which appears to reflect consumption patterns, that is, bingeing vs. regular light drinking.

Similarly, Cancer risks are not evenly distributed either. Risk depends on who, and what type. A study presented by Dr. Apffelstaedt, for example, concluded that drinking even a small amount of alcohol could lead to a recurrence of breast cancer.

So, in short, while there’s ample evidence that shows heavy drinking is very bad for your health, there’s also plenty to support the health benefits of moderate consumption for most people, most of the time. But the messaging is deemed too complicated to reveal the nuances. Everyone should determine their own level of acceptable risks with all of the evidence at hand. The WHO, and Canada, and other governments around the world are not putting everything on the table. And while they surely have the best interests of the collective in mind, setting up wine consumption as a binary do-and-die choice is just not true.

Professor Gaetano sums it up nicely: “People who drink with moderation and regularity may continue to do it with taste, pleasure and, especially, culture.”

If the gift recipient on your list consumes wine with taste, pleasure and culture, it’s very likely okay to send them a special bottle this holiday season.

Buyer’s Guide November 4: White

Domaine Skouras Cuvée Prestige Moscofilero Alepou 2022

Domaine Skouras Cuvée Prestige White 2022, Peloponnese, Greece 
$16.95, Kolonaki Fine Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – Sharp value alert! It’s a blend of native moschofilero and the ‘alepou’, or ‘fox’ biotype of the roditis variety, fresh and fragrant, fruity and inviting, a wine to chill, crack and enjoy – no time to waste. 
Sara d’Amato – Why not add a less conventional white such as this mountain-grown blend of roditis and moscofilero to your aperitif rotation? With lemon and lanolin leading the charge on the palate, this racy and refreshing find may just give you a taste for exploring the indigenous grape varieties of Greece and beyond.

Bachelder L'ardoise Niagara Chardonnay 2021

Bachelder L’ardoise Niagara Chardonnay 2021, VQA Niagara Peninsula
$24.95, Lifford Wines & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Megha Jandhyala – The L’ardoise is an accessible and affordable introduction to Thomas Bachelder’s illuminating range of Niagara chardonnays. Artful use of oak and lees-influence lends the wine textural richness and nuances of flavour without detracting from its delightful core of delicate, fleshy orchard fruit.
Michael Godel  – It’s a good name. Fine vintage here, of ripe fleshiness and crisp piques. This lingers to gift a well-thought out, designed and formulated style of Niagara chardonnay.

Skouras Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2022

Skouras Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2022, P.G.I. Peloponnese
$25.95, Kolonaki Group
Megha Jandhyala – For those who appreciate assyrtiko, here is a chance to try a focused and balanced example from the Peleponnese. I love the gentle salinity and flavours of citrus fruit and zest, as also the vibrant acidity that seems to permeate its rounded palate.

Tomich Woodside Vineyard Chardonnay 2021

Tomich Woodside Vineyard Chardonnay 2021, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
$25.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc
John Szabo – Clean and vibrant, pure and fruity chardonnay from the coolish Adelaide Hills, supremely well-crafted and also well-priced to be sure. Drink or hold short term – it’s delicious right now.

Peter Nicolay Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett 2021

Peter Nicolay Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett 2021, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany
$26.95, The Case For Wine
Michael Godel – Quite the famous Mosel vineyard. Great energy, lots of fruit, tons of verve and length for kilometres.

Rapaura Springs Reserve Pinot Gris 2022

Rapaura Springs Reserve Pinot Gris 2022, Marlborough, New Zealand
$28.95, Vinexx
Sara d’Amato – This pinot gris loaded with personality caught my palate this week. Anything but neutral, this very well-balanced off-dry style features a little tropical bounce in its step, shows very good concentration, offers juicy acids and an engaging flavour profile. Easy to pass by if you’re looking for a Marlborough sauvignon blanc but this gris from the well-established, family-owned estate of Rapaura Springs is worth seeking out.

Domaine Papin Vincent & Damien Clisson 2018

Domaine Papin Vincent & Damien Clisson 2018, Muscadet-Sèvre Et Maine, Loire, France
$38.95, Barrique Wine Imports Ltd. (Profile)
John Szabo – This wine will make a Muscadet believer out of you, that is, if you have yet to be disabused of the notion that the region produces only thin, tart, simple  whites. This is fleshy and densely packed with minerals, ageing slowly, from the granite-rich Clisson Cru, a zone yielding backwards wines (in a good way), drinking well now, though surely comfortable for another half dozen years in the cellar.
Sara d’Amato – Well worth the detour, Clisson is a cru designation within the appellation of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine planted atop a granite fault in the massif Armoricain whose wines are required to age on their lees for a minimum of 24 months. Papin Vincent & Damien’s 2018 tastes younger than its years in bottle and is a textural marvel with ethereal acidity and chalky minerality equipoising light viscosity and lofty lees on the palate.

Alain Geoffroy Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru 2021

Alain Geoffroy Beauroy Chablis 1er Cru 2021, Burgundy, France
$45.95, Ex-Cellars Wine Services
John Szabo – A terrifically fresh, stony and classically-styled Beauroy, with genuine concentration, depth and length. Beautifully crafted from a vintage that I suspect will prove to be one of the best, or at least most “classic,” of the last decade. Drink or hold 3 to 5 years without concern.

Simonnet Febvre Fourchaume Chablis 1er Cru 2019

Simonnet Febvre Fourchaume Chablis 1er Cru 2019, Bourgogne, France
$50.95, Mark Anthony Group
Michael Godel – The largest and arguably one of the finest Right Bank Premier Crus is Fourchaume. As silty and salty as it is rich and creamy. All this adds up to a great mouthful of Chablis.

Bachelder Wismer Wingfield Chardonnay 2020

Bachelder Wismer Wingfield Chardonnay 2020, VQA Twenty Mile Bench
$54.95, Lifford Wines & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Megha Jandhyala – Thomas Bachelder’s premium, single vineyard Ontario chardonnay is concentrated and complex, with a long, focused finish. What I find especially fascinating about it though is its texture – there is a duality of roundness in one moment, turning into a sense of movement and directness in the next that is both confounding and captivating.

Buyer’s Guide November 4: Red & Fortified

François Villard L'appel Des Sereines Syrah 2020

François Villard L’appel Des Sereines Syrah 2020, Vin De France
$22.95, Woodman Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – Villard makes a delicious entry-level syrah that opens the gate to more from the northern Rhône with its fresh dark fruit, black pepper, floral-violet and meaty character, impressively complex at the price. It easily outperforms its official station as a simple Vin de France. Drink or hold short term. Megha Jandhyala – Sourced from young vines growing in granitic soils in the Northern Rhône, this is a thoroughly delicious, alluring syrah at an equally tempting price. I love how fresh, open, supple, and flavourful it is, full of pepper, fruit, and delicate floral notes.

Château De Corneilla Pur Sang 2020

Château De Corneilla Pur Sang 2020, Single Vineyard, Côtes Du Roussillon
$22.95, Louis Charles Agency
Megha Jandhyala – This sustainably grown, ready-to-drink red blend from the Roussillon is juicy, inviting, and simply delicious, with a sense of freshness and brightness, despite its plushness. I really like the expressive flavours of ripe, tender fruit and garrigue, and the pretty top note of violets.
Michael Godel – Convincing in that the place is up front, the syrah talks its varietal talk while overall the mineral elements are what sing with greatest clarity. Lovely wine, all in.

Ambrogio E Giovanni Folonari Chianti Classico Riserva Nozzole 2019

Ambrogio E Giovanni Folonari Chianti Classico Riserva Nozzole 2019, Tuscany, Italy
$24.95, The Case for Wine
Sara d’Amato – A notable value in this release, this Chianti Classico Riserva sourced from Greve-grown fruit is a pure and clean expression of the style made with a very light-handed touch. Not hot, heavy, or showy, this harmonious, well-balanced red is not holding back and is ready to drink.

Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône 2020

Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône 2020, Rhône, France
$32.95, Charton Hobbs
Sara d’Amato – I can assure you that there is no need to hesitate in spending $33 on a bottle from the modest appellation of Côtes du Rhône in the case of Beaucastel’s 2020 Coudoulet. From a curious vintage whose drought stress yielded freshness through arrested development of the vines, this highly aromatic blend led by grenache and mouvèdre (a grape that fared particularly well this year) is more of a baby Châteauneuf with its fine-grained textural appeal, expansive flavour profile, and excellent concentration.
Megha Jandhyala – Though labeled “Côtes du Rhône”, this Southern Rhône blend is sourced from the Coudoulet vineyard that lies just east of Beaucastel’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape vineyard. Layered, balanced, and juicy, brimming with delicious, ripe fruit, herbs, and spice, it represents a chance to try a “baby Beaucastel” at an approachable price.
Michael Godel – Consistency and passion – these are the calling cards of Coudoulet for Beaucastel. The DNA, styling and effect are all in line with that archetype of a Rhône blend. The 2020 is thankfully modest and restrained, alcohol moderate and fruitful as need be in a most substantial way.

R. López De Heredia Viña Cubillo Crianza 2014

R. López De Heredia Viña Cubillo Crianza 2014, Rioja, Spain
$33.95, John Hanna & Sons
Sara d’Amato – This Crianza could very well have been labelled Gran Reserva given that it was aged for 3 years in American oak barrels. The Vina Cubillas vineyard, planted to an elevation of 410 meters, with vines that average 40 years of age, has often been vinified separately for a special cuvée to highlight vitality of the wine that emanates from this exceptional plot. Holding up remarkably well in bottle

Barón De Ley Gran Reserva 2016

Barón De Ley Gran Reserva 2016, Rioja, Spain
$34.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Megha Jandhyala -This is a refined and restrained gran reserva from Cenicero in Rioja Alta, already evolving and ready to drink but capable of ageing further for at least another half a dozen years. I love the symbiotic interplay between fruit and oak flavours on display here – supple red fruit are elegantly framed by measured oak-influence. Pairing opportunities abound with this wine and I would love to try it with traditional foods from the region, such as mushroom croquetas.
Michael Godel – Less concentration and structure means less wood influence and while this may not age forever it will make its graceful and quiet descent over a good 10 year’s time. A lovely Rioja from the Baron very much appreciated for its finesse.

Tornatore Pietrarizzo Etna Rosso 2020

Tornatore Pietrarizzo Etna Rosso 2020, Sicily, Italy 
$38.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc
John Szabo – From contrada Pietrarizzo on the north side of Etna, this is pure nerello mascalese vinified in concrete and aged in large wooden foudres. It’s a silky and refined wine, drinking well now, indeed very close to peak I’d say, savoury and sapid, nicely representative.
Sara d’Amato – If you’re a fan of pinot noir, here is a welcome, volcanic departure that is sure to charm even the toughest of critics. Etna-grown nerello mascalese is vinified in neutral vessels allowing its lively red cherry fruit, botanicals, and spices to take over on the palate. So well balanced that you won’t even feel the warmth from its 14.5% abv – drinker beware.

St. Hugo Grenache/Shiraz/Mataro 2021

St. Hugo Grenache/Shiraz/Mataro 2021, Barossa Valley, South Australia
$39.95, Corby Spirit And Wine Limited
John Szabo – St. Hugo is a premium brand in the vast Pernod Ricard portfolio, the GSM here is a grenache-heavy blend from vines up to 80 years old, with just a splash of shiraz and mataro (mourvèdre) in this vintage. Since its first release in 2012, the style has edged ever closer to one of finesse and fruit, the grenache portion now aged in only old, 500-litre puncheons and the shiraz, too, is made with a much lighter hand. It’s drinking very nicely. Serve with a light chill to maximize the pretty fruit. A lovely wine from an excellent vintage, one of the finest in the last 20 in the Barossa by many accounts.

Taylor Fladgate Quinta De Vargellas Port 2001

Taylor Fladgate Quinta De Vargellas Port 2001, Douro, Portugal
$46.95, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo – A magnificent single quinta port from Taylor’s celebrated Vargellas vineyard, one of the company’s, and region’s finest, in the portfolio since 1893. This 2001 is evolving marvellously now, tasted here out of 375 ml bottle, showing a rich and complex amalgam of red and black fruit, caramelized nuts and scorched orange zest, wildflowers and pot pourri, and much more in a highly complex ensemble. It’s a model of balance, sweet but not overly so, with such presence and staying power, a terrific value overall in the vintage port context, drinking well now but of course no rush — this would be comfortable in the cellar another 20 years, and in full 750 ml bottle, even longer to be sure.

Oreno 2021

Oreno 2021, Tuscany, Italy
$99.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Megha Jandhyala – An intense and arresting wine, this Bordeaux-style “Super Tuscan” is worth its premium price. I was struck by the balance and litheness of the full-bodied, enchantingly dark and dense palate. Mesmerising as it already is in its multiplicity and diversity of flavours, give it some time to unwind and mellow and it will develop even more complexity.

John Szabo, MS

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.

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

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