Buyer’s Guide to VINTAGES November 5 Release

John Szabo’s Vintage’s Preview November 5

By John Szabo, MS, with notes from David Lawrason, Sara d’Amato, and Michael Godel

Bag-in-box wines: Total Faux-pas?

I was asked recently whether I thought bag-in-box (BIB) wines are a good idea. My answer, after a bit of research, is a resounding yes. That is, at least, for eco-conscious consumers. Bag-in-box is the package of choice.

According to International Wineries for Climate Action, wine packaging and transport to market accounts for more than 40 percent of climate emissions from its member wineries — by far the biggest contributor to a wine’s carbon footprint.

Glass bottles, the current packaging of choice for most wines, have been around for a few hundred years. Glass has the ideal properties of being totally inert, and able to limit oxygen ingress, the enemy of wine, and thus preserve a wine’s aromas and flavours. (But this depends on the type of stopper used, another subject altogether.) Glass is also reusable and infinitely recyclable.

But the hard environmental reality is that most glass bottles in North America end up in landfills. According to a 2018 US Environmental Protection Agency study, only a quarter of glass containers used for consumer goods in America are recycled. Canada is no better.

There’s also the fact that making new glass bottles is extremely energy-intensive, while the energy requirements for recycling glass are also whopping.

The relatively heavy weight of glass bottles, up to a kilo or more empty for the stupidly heavy “icon” bottles, and their inefficient shape (lots of wasted space in packing), equate to high carbon emissions during transport. At the 2020 Porto Protocol Climate Change Conference, climate change expert Dr. Richard Smart cited Australian studies on wine carbon emissions from the vineyard to the end consumer. The research indicated that, “export of wine in glass bottles, their transport and limited recycling had the largest carbon footprint (68 percent).”


Wine bottles also break. And they’re in severe short supply worldwide — just ask any winemaker hoping to buy supply to bottle their current vintage. It seems to be a sign that change is due.

In the final analysis, glass bottles earn the worst score out of all available packages, beating out plastic PET bottles, Tetra Paks and aluminum cans as the packaging of choice for climate-destroyers. Bag-in-box, it turns out, is the most environmentally friendly. The format has long been popular in Scandinavia, thanks to its eco values as well as convenient size and shape. In Sweden, for example, 59 percent of all wines sold come in a bag-in-a-box. An analysis by Sweden, Norway, and Finland’s liquor monopolies, shows that wines in boxes, pouches, and Tetra Pak cartons have the lowest carbon footprint per litre, as does the analysis done by the Dear Group, a company based in Denmark that sources and distributes BIB wines.

Source: The Dear Group

Source: Alko (boxed wine not featured but calculated at 70 g CO2 e/L)

BIBs are also convenient, easy-to-carry, usually contain a generous 4 litres (just over 5 standard bottles), and the vacuum packaging and spigot mean that your wine won’t oxidize as rapidly once you’ve cracked the box – the bag collapses as wine is drawn out, limiting direct contact with oxygen – as it would in a partly finished bottle. There’s also of course the value equation: less packaging per liter and more efficient shipping add up to far less cost per liter of wine, a savings that can be passed on to consumers.

Where BIBs start to lose their luster is for wines destined for long-term ageing. For wines designed to age more than a couple of years, glass is still the container of choice, even if it’s becoming an environmental faux-pas. Unlike glass, the materials used to make the bags (also pouches, cartons) are not fully oxygen impermeable. Over time, oxygen works its way through the material, making the effective shelf-life of wines in such packages much shorter than wine in a glass bottle no matter what the closure.

But technology has advanced significantly, with more oxygen-impermeable bag materials, denser spigots that allow less oxygen in, and importantly, filling technology that limits oxygen ingress when the bags are first filled with wine. Nevertheless, most manufacturers recommend consuming BIB wines within a year or so of filling, and once opened, within about a month. The usual storage recommendations also apply — high temperatures will degrade wine in BIB as it does in glass.

Bottom line: for young, everyday wines that you plan to consume within a few months — i.e. the majority of the wine consumed around the world — bag-in-box is the way to go.

Part of the stigma around buying BIB in the past was certainly the quality of wine they contained: usually bottom-of-the-barrel sort of stuff. At home growing up, there was often a BIB in our fridge with some faux-German schloss name and an image of a make-believe castle, probably a blend of local and international juice bagged up nearby. Even my inexperienced palate could discern that this was not the world’s finest. In those days the association of BIB and bad wine was clear. No serious producer would touch that type of packaging.

But in recent years, I’ve seen a growing array of premium appellation wines in the BIB format, driven by groups such as the Scandinavian liquor monopolies, but also by the burgeoning demand of eco-conscious consumers who also value quality in the glass. The number of producers and distributors shifting to premium BIB wine grows daily, doing brisk business in Europe, the UK, Australia and the US, among other countries, though cracking the Canadian market has been a challenge. In Ontario, we’re woefully behind the trend.

Premium Appellation wines distributed by The Dear Group, Denmark

BIB at The LCBO lists fewer than 60 wines in BIB format, overwhelmingly inexpensive varietal wines of unknown provenance containing three or four liters, all under $50. Most are packaged by local wineries, likely international-domestic blends. While the carbon savings still applies (shipping bulk wine into the country is even less carbon costly than shipping from source in BIB), if these have been your exclusive exposure to BIB wines, you can be forgiven for thinking it’s all rubbish. Your options are currently limited.

Really, it should be the LCBO’s business to encourage the import of more sustainably packaged wines, as the Scandinavian monopolies have done now for years. But if change can’t be driven from the top down, perhaps it can be driven from the bottom up. It’s up to us consumers to demand sustainable options that also satisfy in terms of quality. The wines are out there. We need to see them on our shelves — in a box.

In the meantime, you might think twice about that thick glass bottle piled up in a landfill, and how much carbon was emitted when it was made and shipped and brought home to your table.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide November 5: White & Rosé

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2018

Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2018, Vinemount Ridge, Niagara, Ontario
$39.95, Stratus Vineyards
Michael Godel – Always spooned in an off-dry style while the acids and sugars have had time to get to know one another. Many likes for the succulence and the attention commanded yet there are parts unknown, undiscovered and unresolved. The mystery vintage.
David Lawrason – Year after year this leads the riesling charge in Niagara. So classy, now maturing with medium yellow-gold colour. It has a lifted, complex nose of peach/apricot, petrol, candle wax, honey and lemon. It is medium weight, glossy and smooth but cut by excellent acidity and minerality.
Sara d’Amato – This riveting riesling is memorably nervy with notes of petrol setting in on the citrus dominant nose. Polished with great depth of flavour and concentration, surely due in part to this naturally low-yielding vintage.

Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2019

Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2019, Sonoma County, California
$29.95, Mark Anthony Brands
David Lawrason – Relatively good value in the bloated world of full-on California chardonnays, sporting all the expected fruit and barrel complexities while showing some finesse. Generous ripe peach/banana fruit, hazelnut, vanilla fudge and nutmeg. It is medium-full bodied, creamy with key acid underpinning and a lemony, spicy finish.

Domaine La Bazillère Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2020, Loire Valley, France
$14.95, Profile Wine Group (Barrique)
David Lawrason – Superb value!  This is notably ripe and smooth, with a richness from the vintage uncommon in Muscadet, and it works so very well. The nose shows bright yellow apple/pear fruit, a touch of lemon and hay. It is medium weight, fairly creamy with good acidity and a hint of spritz.

Garcés Silva Boya Sauvignon Blanc 2022

Garcés Silva Boya Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Coast Zone, Valle de Leyda, Chile
$15.95, Sylvestre Wines and Spirits
John Szabo – Crunchy, fresh, green and vibrant, this is genuinely cool climate sauvignon, well made, lively and saline, not far off from a lick of lime, salt, and tequila. It delivers as much, and indeed more, than many similarly styled but more expensive examples, so sharp value in the category. Drink now.

Château De L'escarelle Les Deux Anges Rosé 2021

Château De L’escarelle Les Deux Anges Rosé 2021, Coteaux Varois En Provence, France
$24.95, Vinexx
John Szabo – Rosé recommendations in November? Unusually warm autumn aside, this is no simple, easy-sipping patio wine, but rather one that’s satisfying and flavourful, even with the stuffing to gain with time, another 2 or 3 years in the cellar. The inland Côteaux Varois AOC is know for it’s more structured and edgy rosés, here with fullish palate expanded by generous 13.5% alcohol.
Sara d’Amato – Salty and mineral, this blend of grenache, cinsault and syrah is sure to take your troubles away, at least momentarily. Château de l’Escarelle is one of the largest properties in the Coteaux Varois en Provence with 100 hectares of vines planted that back on to the foothills of the La Loube mountain. Crafted with obvious attention to detail and now, organically certified.

Vintages Buyer’s Guide November 5: Red

Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno 2018

Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno 2018, Tuscany, Italy
$89.95, Trialto Wine Group
John Szabo – Sette Ponti’s 2018 Oreno is a massive wine for the vintage, weighing in at 15% alcohol. I love the rich dark fruit profile, sumptuous and plush, the relatively sleek and slippery tannins, nicely polished and composed, and the balanced acids, neither short nor excessive. Depth, concentration, and overall appeal are excellent. Best 2024-2032.
Michael Godel – A stroke of strength, pillar of passion and varietal standout beyond IGT compare. There are crunchy acids that persist with vitality and succulence, followed by a swath of tannin and so much quality chocolate all over the finish. Let this rest, please, for five years if you can resist the temptation.
David Lawrason– A modern beauty super-Tuscan with such perfectly ripened blackberry/cassis fruit couched effortlessly by subtle oak spice, lifted rosemary/basil, cedar and tobacco. It is full bodied, almost creamy and elegant, with firm but not green tannin, graphite and herbality on the finish.

Tedeschi Lucchine Valpolicella 2021

Tedeschi Lucchine Valpolicella 2021, Veneto, Italy
$17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
John Szabo – Delightfully simple, classic, crunchy, fresh Valpolicella the way it was meant to be. I like the fresh red cherry, the currant and raspberry flavours, vibrant, lively, and oak free. Chill and enjoy now.
Michael Godel – A light, bright and airy Valpolicella, all about freshness and thinking about the immediate now. Not a wine to lay down but simply enjoy, with fresh pasta, red sauce or no sauce, just some parmigiana and off you go..
David Lawrason– This is a great little buy in a lighter weight, fresh and balanced Valpolicella. No great complexity, depth or gravitas but it is a straightforward presentation of red cherry fruit, pretty florality, subtle bay leaf and a touch of minerality. Textbook.

Saumur Champigny Lieu Dit Les Poyeux 2018

Saumur Champigny Lieu Dit Les Poyeux 2018, Loire, France
$19.95, Vinexx 
John Szabo – This is a nicely gravelly and savoury Saumur-Champigny, displaying the dark fruit ripeness of the vintage, alongside more typical herbal-savoury notes. I wouldn’t call it a classic example with such a degree of ripeness and the large scale, though there’s plenty of substance, and it should continue to evolve over the next 3-5 years. Length and depth are excellent.
Michael Godel – This silly amazing value by Cave Robert Marcel is indeed a reference point for the appellation, dry as it gets, pure, fluid and so beautifully franc.

Marchand-Tawse Côte D'or Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2019

Marchand-Tawse Côte D’or Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2019, Burgundy, France
$31.95, Burgundy Direct Ltd.
John Szabo – This is a very pretty, elegant and floral Bourgogne from vineyards scattered in the Côte d’Or. The palate is sleek and refined, with light, gently grippy tannins and succulent acids, and very good depth and length overall. Polished and sophisticated, well-made wine; drink or hold into the mid-’20s. Tasted twice in November 2021 and November 2022, with similar impressions.
Michael Godel – Now a matter of energy, acidity and pulse in what is most certainly a lively pinot noir. Showing its stripes with full fruit force and ready for all comers. Juicy as the proverbial Bourgogne flesh it was meant to be.

Ferraton Père & Fils Le Parvis Châteauneuf-Du-Pape 2020

Ferraton Père & Fils Le Parvis Châteauneuf-Du-Pape 2020, Rhone, France
$59.95, FWM Canada 
John Szabo – Le Parvis 2020 is a rich and heady, highly concentrated but not heavy, indeed rather sleek and well-proportioned Châteauneuf from Ferraton, with arch-classic baked red fruit, savoury wild herb and black pepper character. Texture is smooth and silky, voluptuous and verging on opulent, while length and depth are excellent. This is delicious and satisfying now, though of course no rush; should hold late into the decade even if long term cellaring is not a necessity.

Château Mayne-Vieil 2016, Fronsac Bordeaux, France
$19.95, Terra Firma Wines
John Szabo – Mayne Vieil, one of the reference producers of this sharp value appellation, has produced a plump, very ripe but also structured Fronsac here in the excellent 2016 vintage, a pure merlot from old vines. Since last tasted in April of 2020, it’s still showing marvellously, deeply fruity, sleek and polished with velvety tannins integrating nicely, the small yields evident in the sheer extract and concentration. It should still hold late into the decade without concern.

Masi Costasera Riserva Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2015

Masi Costasera Riserva Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2015, Veneto, Italy
$75.95, Authentic Wine & Spirits Merchants
John Szabo- Intense, complex and complete, this is a fine vintage for Masi’s standard-bearing Amarone Riserva, with maturing flavours in the classic genre. The palate is broad and thick, mouth filling and mouth-coating, with genuine concentration and length. While certainly tasty now, this will continue to improve in the cellar over the next decade and hold well beyond.

Perez Cruz Grenache 2020

Perez Cruz Grenache 2020, Maipo Andes, Valle De Maipo, Chile
$15.95, Charton Hobbs Inc.
John Szabo – This is a tasty value from Perez Cruz, a pure grenache from the Maipo Andes Estate with well-rounded, generous palate and impressive flavour concentration in the price category to be sure. Classic grenache red fruit (strawberry-raspberry) flavours mingle with typical Maipo minty-herbal character, forming a very pleasing overall impression. Drink or hold short term.
Sara d’Amato – Although we rarely see single varietal bottlings of Chilean grenache in Ontario, there is growing interest for wine made of this drought-resistant, sun-seeking grape. Chile has proven its adeptness with other Rhône varieties such as syrah and carignan so it’s no surprise that grenache does well here too, especially in the warm, dry climate of Maipo at the northern end of the country’s Central Valley. A cheerful and well-priced expression of grenache that is brimming with inviting flavours of licorice and candied plum.

Bachelder Les Villages Bench Pinot Noir 2020

Bachelder Les Villages Bench Pinot Noir 2020, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario
$34.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Sara d’Amato – A reserve blend from barrels of Bachelder’s best single-vineyards from the limestone-rich ridge known as the “Bench”. Made with a light-handed touch using indigenous yeast and aged in largely neutral barrels. An excellent entry point to the wines of local terroir hunter, Thomas Bachelder
Michael Godel – Put six months into a Bachelder and expect an explosion of fruit flavours. Drink this like you would an appellative Côte d’Or, meaning over dinner with something raw and something rare.

Fossil Point Pinot Noir 2018

Fossil Point Pinot Noir 2018, Edna Valley, California
$27.95, Vinexx
David Lawrason – New to Ontario, from the tiny Pacific-tempered Edna Valley on the Central Coast, this packs more complexity, structure and depth then I expected from the price. The nose lifts nicely with cran-cherry, red rose, fine spice and forest and these flavours push through on the palate with purpose and poise without falling into California sweetness.

Invivo Central Otago Pinot Noir 2020

Invivo Central Otago Pinot Noir 2020, New Zealand
$27.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
David Lawrason – This is a re-release of a pinot with great exuberance, lift and complexity, a journey through red fruit orchards, forest berry patches, an Asian spice market and a BBQ joint. It is very intense, generous and juicy with all kinds of flavour.

Renato Ratti Marcenasco Barolo 2018

Renato Ratti Marcenasco Barolo 2018, Piedmont, Italy
$70.95, Halpern Estates
Sara d’Amato – Ratti’s Barolo Marcenasco has been produced since 1965 from a single vineyard “cru” in the La Morra sub-zone. This ethereal expression from 2018 is remarkably inviting despite its youth with generous floral aromas, a keenly balanced palate and memorable length. Dive in today or delay the gratification for another half decade or more.

Stags' Leap The Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Stags’ Leap The Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Napa Valley, California
$125.95, Mark Anthony Group
Sara d’Amato – A cabernet to be reckoned with, emphatic but not aggressive. A polished expression made from fruit grown on well-drained volcanic soils, with a sophisticated oak treatment. Memorably perfumed with slowly revealing aromas and flavours that build to a captivating crescendo. 

Vintages Buyer’s Guide November 5: Fortified/Other

Vito Curatolo Arini 5 Anni Superiore Dolce Marsala, Sicily, Italy
$18.95, The Case for Wine
David Lawrason – Silly good value you can’t afford not to try. It is sweet (dolce), but many of the world’s greatest wines are sweet.  Aged five years this has an intriguing nose of apricot jam, honey, almond/pistachio maturity, and a touch of earthy/burlap oxidation. It is very smooth, creamy and sweet, but maintains delicacy and tenderness. Chill just a bit. 

Southbrook Canadian Framboise

Southbrook Canadian Framboise (375 ml), Ontario
$19.95, Vinexx
John Szabo – A consistent essence of raspberry, Southbrook’s Framboise is a leader, and has lead the category for as long as I can remember. This bottling is particularly intense. Sip or use in cocktails. 

That’s all for this report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

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Szabo’s Smart Buys
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