Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES February 3 Release

Bordeaux Futures & Features, Chile and Argentina

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

This week’s Vintages release puts Chile and Argentina in the spotlight — an unusually robust feature with 25 releases, more than 25 percent of the total. Timing couldn’t be better to help these two struggling nations. The bleak economic and industry reports coming out of South America can be interpreted, selfishly, as good news for consumers. Argentina’s skyrocketing inflation and weak currency makes export prices look good while soft demand is putting downward pressure on Chile’s export prices. The (simplified) net result in the short term is a raft of good wines at attractive prices. And it’s not only the value. The stylistic and varietal range on offer in the release is equally exciting, from light and zesty criolla and pinot to sturdy red blends, it’s a good time to give the wines of South America another look, as our enthusiastic reviews indicate. 

Elsewhere, last month the WineAlign Crü crashed the LCBO’s annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux taste-and-buy event at the ROM (the LCBO has never invited the trade) featuring the 2021 vintage. The vintage can be summed up as a return to a “classic” style, the way Bordeaux used to be in the 1980s and 1990s. Reds are variable, with some lovely, elegant wines for fine drinking over the mid-term. Whites are generally excellent, one of the finest vintages in memory. Prices overall are mostly down on 2020. I tasted through about 50 wines, mostly left bank (Médoc and Graves), and grouped the best into Recommended and Highly Recommended categories. And lastly to round out our Bordeaux coverage, Michael and I report independently on a September 2023 visit to Bordeaux, where we crossed many famous châteaux off the bucket list and discovered a sea of excellent quality/value mostly everywhere else. Read on for recommendations galore.

(Note: David Lawrason was off this weekend in Ottawa hosting the Canada’s Great Kitchen Party Canadian Culinary Championships — congratulations to Jasper Cruickshank of Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar in Whistler, B.C., who took top honours. The Wine of the Year goes to Rosehill Run’s 2020 St Cindy Pinot Noir.)


Breadth and Value From Chile And Argentina

This week’s Vintages release puts South American heavyweights Chile and Argentina in the spotlight — an unusually robust feature with fully 25 releases, more 25 percent of the total. The timing couldn’t be better to help these two struggling nations.

Argentina, as you’ve likely heard, is going through an economic meltdown, with inflation running at a staggering annual rate of 211 percent. And here I was complaining about the price of eggs in Canada.

And over in Chile, judging from multiple producer accounts during last fall’s annual Chilean wine fair, the wine industry is currently facing a significant downturn, with double-digit reductions in both domestic and international demand. Some producers are reporting sales declines of an alarming 30–40 percent, especially at the lower end, and many are even contemplating the drastic measure of abandoning vineyards.

I tasted through more than a dozen of the Chilean and Argentine offerings and found several to get excited about. And it’s not only the value. The stylistic and varietal range on offer is equally exciting, from light and zesty criolla and pinot to sturdy red blends. It’s a good time to give the wines of South America another look.

Jump directly to our release recommendations.

Bordeaux Futures and Features

In January, Sara, Megha, Michael and I attended the annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux LCBO walk around taste-and-buy event at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, part of a North America-wide UGC tour. The 2021 vintage was featured exclusively, with some 80 producers showing their wares. It’s not a very conducive environment for detailed note taking, but the event does provide an opportunity to gain a comprehensive overview of the vintage and pick out the top performers. I tasted through about 50 wines, mostly left bank (Médoc and Graves), and have grouped the best into Recommended and Highly Recommended categories. The wines are available online now from the LCBO, and will arrive sometime in 2024 (exact date TBD; check with the LCBO).

Bordeaux Vintage 2021

A word about 2021: In a nutshell, it’s a return to a more “classic” style, the way Bordeaux used to be in the 1980s and 1990s. Reds are highly variable, but with some lovely, elegant wines that will provide for fine drinking over the mid-term. Whites are generally excellent, one of the finest vintages in memory.

Yields were down quite significantly at some châteaux from a confluence of atmospheric challenges (frost, hail, rain, mildew, cool, gloomy days, you name it), but despite the limited quantities produced, prices overall are mostly down on 2020, thanks to the mixed reviews of the vintage and dampened enthusiasm from the trade.

Fans of the ripe and robust trio of 2018-2019-2020 vintages will find the ’21s comparably light. Alcohol levels are down by about a full degree on average, closer to 13–13.5 percent compared to the recent spate of 14-plus–percent wines.

It was a year to treat sensitively in the cellar to protect the delicate fruit. Those who got it wrong produced hard, over-extracted and often woody wines, the kind that will likely never come around before the fruit fades. Those who got it right produced beautifully balanced, perfumed, silky, elegant reds. St. Julien and Margaux were particularly successful, though there are some terrific buys in less vaunted appellations like Moulis, Listrac and Haut-Médoc.

The best whites of Graves and Péssac-Léognan are supremely fresh with succulent acids and vibrant, ripe but fresh fruit. There are some stunners on offer, though here, the generally tiny quantities mean that prices are pretty steep.

Special Report: Bordeaux Wishes and Classified Dreams & Buyer’s Guide For 2021 Futures and Top Current Vintages

By John Szabo

The majestic château of the Left Bank fuel the Bordeaux dreams of wine connoisseurs worldwide. The turreted, romantic renaissance castle of Pichon Baron with its grey slate roofs and white limestone walls, the neo-Palladian masterpiece of Château Margaux, the singular Oriental design of Cos d’Estournelle and its monumental 17th century Zanzibar portal, the elegant Tuscan-style tower at Château Lagrange… all conjure flights of aristocratic fantasies and fine-wine reveries.

The splendid architecture of the region reflects its prosperity over the past 400 years as the source, and gateway, for all wine exports from southwest France.

The wines, of course, are also among the finest in France, and the world, unsurprising given the near limitless resources at the disposal of the top one percent of Bordeaux estates. To visit any one of these tops many bucket lists. But you’ll need an appointment. Nobody drops in unannounced.

Last September, I spent ten days touring and tasting through the region, making a significant dent in my own bucket list. With many wineries showing the exceptional trio of vintages 2018-2019-2020, quality was universally high, and mid-90s scoring wines almost routine. Add in some terrific 2015s and 2016s, and even 2011s that are starting to drink beautifully now, and the list of recommended wines runs as long as a 19th century Russian novel.

But it’s not all about the classified growths and their near untouchable wine prices. For more grounded wine lovers, Bordeaux has much to offer. Remember that the Left Bank 1855 classified growths number about 60, while the greater Bordeaux region counts some 6,000 wine producers. In such a vast amount of wine can be found some of the world’s best cabernet and merlot red blends, along with sauvignon-semillon white blends, that don’t require re-mortgaging. Languishing as so many properties do in the shadows, yet with access to vast expertise and information-sharing with neighbours, not to mention a string of excellent vintages, and the quality-pleasure-price quotient of many of the wines is jaw dropping.

And the so-called second wines of the top château, usually from younger vines or lots that don’t make it into the grand vin — or, more rarely, from vineyards entirely separate from those used for the top bottlings — are fertile hunting grounds for relative value today more than ever. Vast improvements in vineyard management and winemaking technology and acumen have had both a positive ripple up and ripple down effect on a château’s entire portfolio.

Click here to read the full Bordeaux report.

Buyer’s Guide February 3: Chile & Argentina

Secreto Patagónico Rebel Pinot Noir 2022, Patagonia, Argentina
$16.95, Kylix Wines
Michael Godel –  As musically cool climate as it gets for pinot noir — and so come to Rebel with an expectation to find salinity, freshness and tart acidity.
Megha Jandhyala – Supple red fruit, delicate floral aromas, and subtle spice coalesce in this bright, refreshing pinot noir from the cooler Patagonia region in southern Argentina. At this price, I would buy a few bottles to serve as an aperitif in warmer months. 

Calcu Tiny Blocks Gran Reserva Cabernet Franc 2020, Colchagua Valley, Chile
$14.95, Don Ackerman’s Wines & Spirits
John Szabo – Quite a sharp-value cabernet franc from Chile (with 3 percent petit verdot and 2 percent carmenère), in the quartz/granite-based coastal mountain range in the Colchagua Valley near Marchigüe. Calcu’s vineyards are divided into 166 small blocks, hence the cuvée name. Fruit density is impressive in the category, dark and ripe, yet the wine retains the tobacco and evergreen character of the variety. Ageing in oak barrel leaves only subtle traces, with fruit extract more than sufficient to handle it; tannins are pleasant granular and ripe, and acids balanced and fresh. The finish lingers impressively, too, exceeding expectations at the price. Drink or hold 3–4 years without concern.

Emiliana Novas Stellar Selection Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Carignan 2021, Maule Valley, Chile
$17.95, PMA Canada
John Szabo – A highly appealing red blend from Emiliana’s organically/biodynamically-farmed vineyards in the Maule Valley, highly drinkable and satisfying all in all, best over the next 1-2 years to capture the fruit and vibrancy.

Finca Feliz Tesoro Criolla Grande 2022, Mendoza, Argentina
$21.95, Egovino Wine Agency
John Szabo – Criolla is the Argentine name for the grape otherwise known as país in Chile and mission in California. The vines were among the first — actually now a family of related grapes — brought to the Americas by Jesuits in the 16th century. Criolla performs best in a light, crunchy, quaffable style, as here, though this example also has a sweet edge to the red fruit flavours. Chill lightly and drink over the next year. 12.7 percent alcohol.
Michael Godel – Criolla is Argentina’s answer to French gamay or Sicilian frapatto and yet many of the vines are old, gnarly trees that any normal-sized human can walk under or rest beneath in the shade of a hot desert day. Not the most complex, but if you have never tried the fresh and clean qualities that result when this grape is grown at elevation, it’s high time you did.
Megha Jandhyala – Here is a chance to try an offbeat variety that we do not often see at the LCBO. Light-footed, fresh and fruity, Bodega Clément’s Tesoro Criolla Grande is nothing if not approachable and easy to like, with its simple, clean flavours of red berries and cherries, lively acidity, and imperceptible tannins. I would enjoy it over the next year, while it is still youthful, chilled lightly.

Santa Carolina El Pacto Agreement No. 1 Limited Production Cabernet Sauvignon 2021, Cachapoal Valley, Chile
$17.95, Charton Hobbs
John Szabo – Cabernet was the first wine, the first “agreement” (“Pacto”) in the Sant Carolina El Pacto range, each designed to be a unique representation of grape and place. This cabernet is from the Cachapoal-Andes Valley south of Maipo, from Totihue to be specific, crafted in a relatively crunchy and fresh, more medium-bodied style with minimal oak impact. A sharp value all in all, best from 2025–32 or so.

Alpamanta Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc 2020, Mendoza, Argentina
$38.95, The Living Vine
John Szabo – The Burgundy-style, sloping shoulder bottle for this Bordeaux-style blend is already an indication of stylistic intentions — that is to say, a more supple, perfumed example, ripe and silky. I like the drinkability. It’s not a wine of massive density or concentration but should continue to evolve positively over the next 3–5 years.
Sara d’Amato – Alpamanta farms organically and biodynamically and, according to the Wines of Argentina association, is “the first natural wine producer of Argentina.” Sourced from relatively young vines planted in Ugarteche in southern Luján de Cuyo that show great promise, this cleanly made, stylish assemblage features a compelling lightness and brightness without sacrificing complexity and length.

Buyer’s Guide February 3: White & Sparkling

Attems Pinot Grigio 2022, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
$19.95, Mark Anthony Group
Megha Jandhyala – If you are looking for an inexpensive white wine that is versatile and widely appealing, this ripe but fresh pinot grigio from Attems is a good choice. I like its clear and uncluttered flavour profile — all tender stone and orchard fruit, with a hint of honeysuckle — and its pleasantly rounded, fleshy palate.

Castell De Sant Pau Cava Brut Rosé Sparkling, Spain
$18.95, Family Wine Merchants
Sara d’Amato – At under $20, this traditional method Cava made from 45-plus–year-old trepat and garnacha vines is an undeniable deal in this Vintages release. Aged 12 months on lees with no dosage, this dry, clean and subtlety elegant find is sure to please widely.

Domaine Chevallier Chablis 2021, Burgundy, France
$32.95, Carto Wines
John Szabo – Back to a classically-styled Chablis here in coolish 2021, a ,throwback to vintages of the 1990s with fine concentration and length. Ready to enjoy or hold 3-5 years.

Buyer’s Guide February 3: Red

Terres Secretes Les Préludes Mâcon 2022, Burgundy, France
$19.95, Vinexx
Sara d’Amato – This southern Burgundian appellation is now better known for its white wines based on chardonnay but this gratifying gamay signals that there are some gems to be found among the reds of the region. Despite the wine’s abundance of fruit, its vinification included a hot maceration resulting in a relatively deep colour. Supple, peppery and floral with a refreshing finish of good length.

Bethany First Village Grenache 2020, South Australia, Australia
$24.95, Kylix Wines
Michael Godel – There is a grip about this 2020 but also grace because it harmonizes elements to ignite the senses. Really well priced for quite complex Barossa grenache.

Mastroberardino Irpinia Aglianico 2021, Campania, Italy
$25.95, Profile Wine Group (Du Chasse)
Sara d’Amato – Wines made from aglianico can often be tough to enjoy in their youth due to their grippy tannins, leathery mouthfeel and emphatic black fruit, yet this example is already verging on inviting with a juicy character, delectable salinity, and revealing a great deal of fruit after short time in the glass. From the most influential family of the Irpinia DOC, Mastroberardino is known for having reinvigorated the region through modernization and a focus on local grape varieties.

Château Cantenac Sélection Madame 2020, Bordeaux, France
$31.95, AMV-Whiz Trading Ltd.
Sara d’Amato – Almost entirely merlot grown on sand, gravel and blue clay, the “Sélection Madame” cuvée is a special selection by proprietor Nicole Roskam-Brunot, presented as an in homage to her upbringing on the estate, with a nod to her father. Notably expressive of this right bank appellation, the palate features a traditional, upright demeanor, and silky tannins along with flavours of plum pudding, red cherry, and raspberry. Accessible but not pandering.

Kitma Biblia Chora Areti Agiorgitko 2016, Macedonia
$36.95, Le Maitre de Chai
John Szabo – Biblia Chora is one of the leading estates in Macedonia, northern Greece, establish by two of the country’s leading winemakers, Vangelis Gerovassiliou and Vassilis Tsaktsarlis, a quarter century ago. Areti is the premium range, and the red is crafted from pure agiorgitiko, a medium-full-bodied wine with velvety texture held firm by vibrant acids. Loads of character for the money. Best now to 2030 or so.
Michael Godel – Fascinating look at an older red from Greek Macedonia with varietal agiorgitiko richer and thicker than many. Sometimes fruit and wood do come together to exult a grape and place.
Megha Jandhyala – The Areti is an opportunity to try a rich but elegant, gracefully ageing indigenous Greek variety. I love the fullness and generosity of fruit here, the well-managed oak influence, the overall concentration, and the long-lasting, captivating finish.

Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet Nouvelère Crozes Hermitage 2019, Rhône, France
John Szabo – Bold and concentrated wine of high quality, impressively dense and long lasting, a very ripe, but very compelling northern Rhône syrah best 2026-2036. It has the buttressing and weight to withstand time.
Megha Jandhyala – This is a rich, seductive syrah, sourced from vines that are at least 50 years old. I find it complex, authentic, and full of character, with notes of ripe berries, pepper, and garrigue, and a hint of something wild and meaty. Worth the slightly premium price, it is already delicious but can easily be cellared for another 3-4 years.

Stratus Merlot 2020, Ontario, Canada
$45.20, Stratus Vineyards
Sara d’Amato – Single-varietal merlot may not often feature in my top picks but Stratus’ version rarely fails to excite especially in a treasure of a vintage like 2020. What’s even better is that Stratus now uses lightweight, refillable bottles.

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, California, Usa
$59.95, Corby Spirit and Wine Limited
John Szabo – Kenwood’s premium Jack London ranch vineyard, first bottled in 1976, sits about halfway up Sonoma Mountain on the east side on red volcanic soils, where it enjoys the cooler morning sun and afternoon see breezes. The excellent 2019 vintage, with 16% merlot and 3% syrah blended with cabernet, is showing exceptionally well at the moment, a highly polished and complete, supple and succulent wine. Another 3-4 years in the cellar will surely see positive development. Or hold into the mid-’30s without concern.

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2021, Tuscany, Italy
$75.95, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel – A vintage quite proper for Bordeaux varieties within a context that requires both ripeness and acidity to be captured. Not forgotten is the constantly engaging perfume of Guidalberto, yet another reason to imagine the many possibilities and transformations that lay ahead. Tasted three times.

Isole E Olena Cepparello 2020, Tuscany, Italy
$179.95, Halpern Enterprises
Michael Godel – The Covid vintage. Insists Paolo de Marchi: “A wine like this is really the result of the viticulture.” An accommodating Cepparello, purity of sangiovese, rounder as a vintage, something that old and new buyers of this IGT will be drawn to, for early gratification and also long a life ahead. The following 2021 bottled last Spring will be Paolo de Marchi’s last finished vintage at Isole e Olena.

That’s all for this report, see round the next bottle. 

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.

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

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