Finding Value over $20
By Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo MS
Last week David Lawrason highlighted some of the best money could buy in this upcoming release for under $20. This week we focus on some higher priced offerings.
At these price points, we know that your expectations run high and so do ours. Wines recommended at this level tend to be excellent examples of classic styles and varietals that are characteristically representative of their region. However, they must be more than that to achieve top marks. They must excel in the categories of complexity, structure and finesse. Let it be known that our scores are not impacted by price although scores tend naturally to be higher at these price points. For example, when a wine achieves a score of 88+ at under $20, you can bet we are screaming at you to check it out. At the upper echelons of price point, more of these high scores should be expected.
What makes a wine worthy of a hefty price tag? There is no debate that a great wine costs more to make, as much as the bargain hunter in us would like to believe otherwise. There are more and better quality wines available now at low prices, in particular, from such regions such as Portugal, Argentina and Chile. However, great wines, more often than not, cost more.
Here are just a few reasons why. First, labor costs are higher. Consider, for example, how labor intensive it is to maintain an organic vineyard without the wave of a chemical wand, the work that is required to bury vines and uncover them as is done in the high quality production of Prince Edward County wines, or, how in the upper Cru Classé of Bordeaux’s left bank, an individual is assigned to manage every row of vines. A Bordelaise winemaker once told me of Chateau Margaux: “On brosse les dents des vignes” referring to the painstaking detail that goes into maintaining each vine. Triple sorting, manual de-stemming of grapes and small lot punch downs by hand are a few of the labor-intensive techniques that may go into the production of a fine wine.
In addition, better quality grapes involve lower yields in the vineyard, which impact the quantity, quality and thus the price significantly. The use of high quality, new oak barrels for long periods of time, uniquely designed amphorae, or the use of a new fleet of concrete eggs can also lead to an increase in cost. You will see below that we have highlighted for you some of these special techniques.
Due to the high quality and limited production of our top picks, many of our $20+ recommendations are in short supply. As such, some of these wines fall into what the LCBO used to call “ISD” (In Store Discovery) and is now referred to as FSE (Flagship Store Exclusives). Technically these wines offered in limited quantities are part of the VINTAGES bi-monthly releases. The listings can be found both in the VINTAGES catalogue and online. As the name suggests, these wines are available only in select stores. This category is often overlooked and, not surprisingly misunderstood, but there are some real gems to be found.
Without further ado, the best bets for your cellar, for good friends and for yourself:
Charles Baker 2012 Picone Vineyard Riesling, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($35.20)
John Szabo – Not to be shown up by the Germans, Niagara, too, has its special sites, like the cru-worthy Picone vineyard and its 35 year old riesling vines. Baker’s interpretation is crackling, sinewy, as mineral as they come. And thanks to riesling’s dark shadow, you’re getting one of Ontario’s best wines for under $35. If it were labeled chardonnay, nobody would blink at double the price.
Sara d’Amato – Often, slightly warmer years like 2012 produce more interesting and age-worthy rieslings in Niagara and here is a spot-on example. The clay-limestone soils of the small but mighty Picone vineyard are uniquely suited to this finicky varietal. Only free-run juice, not pressed, is used to make this consistently memorable wine.
Von Hövel 2011 Scharzhofberg Saar Riesling Auslese ($48.00)
David Lawrason – This 21 acre estate was taken over by 7th generation winemaker Max Schatzi in 2010, who began immediately to convert the site to organic viticulture. This is not cheap, but it is a gorgeous, precise example of late harvested Saar riesling. Sweet of course but ultra-refined with lacy acidity and such tenderness. Love the ripe apricot, melon, honey and floral aromas and flavours.
John Szabo – As I never tire of saying, German Riesling is one of the world’s greatest values. Period. Here’s an unimpeachable bottle of poetry from one of the country’s greatest vineyards, the majestic Scharzhofberg, in auslese ripeness (late harvest, medium-sweet) for under $50. Laughable. The depth of flavour on a 7% alcohol frame is nothing short of astonishing. I’d like to see this again in another half dozen years. Best 2020-2030.
Buena Vista 2013 Chardonnay, Carneros, California ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Since being taken over by Boisset of Burgundy Buena Vista wines are indeed striving for finesse and layers. This is a quite rich, elegant and complex chardonnay with lifted very toasty, nutty, slightly caramelized\fried onion aromas, with honey and corn in the background. Quite exotic.
Vidal Fleury 2012 Condrieu, Rhône, France ($49.95)
Sara d’Amato – We rarely see whites of the northern Rhône in Ontario much to shame. This 100% viognier offers a lush texture and notes of peaches and cream. Unfined, produced using wild, indigenous yeast in small lots, and after, spend 12 months on their lees. Available in limited quantities as a Flagship Store Exclusive.
Beringer 2013 Luminus Chardonnay, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, USA ($39.95)
John Szabo – In the oft over-priced world of Napa chardonnay, here’s an example that shines for far fewer dollars than most. This has nothing to do with the blowsy, woody Beringer wines of yore – it’s far more “luminous”, truly enlightened, lively, and well balanced, from one of the cooler pockets of the Napa Valley. There’s genuine length and depth here, too. Best 2015-2021.
Domaine Cordier Père et Fils 2012 Mâcon Fuissé, Burgundy, France ($29.95)
John Szabo – Burgundy is frequently skewered for its poor value quotient, but the savvy know that there are plenty of brilliant values as soon as you step off the Route des Grands Crus. The town of Fuissé in southern Mâcon has enviable terroir, and the Cordier family coax out it’s best. Yes, fine white Burgundy for under $30. Best 2017-2022.
Thirty Bench 2013 Red, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($24.00)
Sara d’Amato – An underpriced, stunning red which from a high achieving winery at this year’s National Wine Awards. This knockout Bordelaise blend delivers both power and elegance along with enticing notes of smoky herbs and spicy black pepper.
David Lawrason – Thirty Bench was named Best Small Winery in Canada (under 10,000 cases) at the 2015 WineAlign National Wine Awards, partially because winemaker Emma Garner snagged medals across a range of wines, including a bronze for this wine. It’s a nervy, juicy Niagara red from a cooler vintage that avoids the greenness and sourness of many others. It has lifted aromas of cedar, currants, tobacco and graphite. It’s not at all heavy but flavour concentration is very good to excellent.
John Szabo – A classic cool climate Bordeaux-style blend done very well, showing the touch of a gentle, deft hand. It’s not for nothing that Thirty Bench earned the inaugural Best Performing Small Winery award at this year’s nationals. This is all elegance and class at a rare price. Best 2015-2023.
Cakebread 2011 Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA ($162.95)
Sara d’Amato – Cakebread can do magnificent work with cabernet sauvignon making it elegant, polished and playing up its complexity. Here is an open and revealing wine, not masked by over treatment and showing off ingredients of superb quality. The cooler vintage adds to the wine’s refinement and dimension with notes of wild, dried herbs and acids that peak out from behind the fruit.
Cantina Del Pino 2010 Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy ($37.95)
Sara d’Amato – In the shadow of its more renowned neighbor, this Barbaresco is testament to the appellation’s undervalued nature. This offering easily rivals the complexity and structure of your average Barolo with great intensity and potential longevity for much less of a price.
John Szabo – If, like me, you liken Piedmont to Burgundy (similar philosophy-obsession of expressing vineyards through a single grape), the former can be considered great value. This “village”-level equivalent from various vineyards averaging 40 years old is a perfect example, in perfect sync and harmony, from a cracking vintage. Best 2017-2025.
Mocali 2009 Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy ($44.95)
David Lawrason – One of the great joys of Brunello is that its long ageing at the winery renders it ready to drink. Add the lushness of 2009 vintage and the efforts of one my fave small Brunello producers, and this is a winner. This is very fragrant, tender yet intense Brunello to enjoy right now- so elegant, supple yet not at all blowsy. The tannin is well fitted. Excellent to outstanding length.
Poggio Bonelli 2011 Poggiassai ($31.95)
David Lawrason – Available only in Vintages Flagship stores, this is a very impressive modern Tuscan red from sangiovese and 25% cabernet sauvignon grown on a classic 81 ha estate near Siena. It has a lifted, very engaging nose of blackcurrant, coffee, sage and cured meat, with underlying green olive/caper notes. It’s medium weight, fairly juicy and tender, with a certain vibrancy. Very Italian! Excellent to outstanding focus and length.
Castello Di Gabbiano 2011 Bellezza Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($39.95)
John Szabo – $40 Chianti you say? This is every bit as good as any Brunello, which start at $40 and move quickly up in price. While not exactly classic sangiovese (it reminds me more of old school Spanish Rioja), this is a big, bold and impressive wine to be sure, with terrific complexity and length. Best 2015-2026.
Finca de la Rica 2011 El Nómada, Rioja, Spain ($24.95)
David Lawrason – From a south facing vineyard near the village of La Bastide, “The Nomad” is a smart, tense yet delicious young Rioja, made from 90% tempranillo and 10% graciano, aged 16 months in French oak. It shows nicely concentrated and ripe currant/berry fruit integrated with pine/herbal notes, gentle oak and savoury notes. I like tension, juiciness and depth here.
Domaine Durieu 2012 Lucile Avril Châteauneuf du Pape, Rhone, France ($44.95)
Sara d’Amato – An offering that should go straight to your cellar. A finely crafted Châteauneuf-du-Pape that is built to age and needs time for its tannic toughness to soften up.
Château La Bienfaisance 2010 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux ($39.95)
David Lawrason – The excellent 2010 vintage strikes again. This is a nicely fragrant, complex St. Emilion with a sense of elegance and precision. Classic Bordeaux cedar currant/raspberry, tobacco, wood smoke and foresty aromas are very attractive. It’s mid-weight, firm and well proportioned – a bit on the light side. Not quite ready yet thanks to its firmness, but its showing fine promise.
We return next week with fall offerings (already!) as we move into what is best when the air becomes crisp. At that time we will be deep into sorting out our top international picks at the World Wine Awards of Canada that begin on August 27th. We are pleased to have some of Canada’s top palates from coast to coast with us in Toronto to help with this enormous task. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @WineAlign #WWAC15 for live updates of the awards.
From VINTAGES August 22nd, 2015
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 22, Part One – Super Values Under $20
Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!
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