LCBO Vintages release – January 21, 2012

This week’s Vintages release features the wines of Australia.

I have been waiting for this release.

Why?  To see how the LCBO responds to the emerging flight from the wines that put Australia on the map: the low-priced blockbusters known for their high levels of alcohol, their ripe, almost sweet fruit and, their intense concentration. Well, I am disappointed to see more of the same in this feature.  There are a couple of elegant wines with the sort of character and structure that shows Australian wines at their best; unfortunately they are priced beyond the value threshold I can recommend

Decanter.com routinely conducts reader surveys and a recent poll yielded the following results:

There’s a move toward more elegant Shiraz in Australia, but our panel tasting experts still gave top marks to some big, full-bodied wines. Is this the style of Shiraz we want from Down Under?

  • Yes. That’s what the best Aussie reds are all about (257 vote, 25%)
  • No. The cooler-climate regions in Victoria or high-altitude ones like the Adelaide Hills are making superbly elegant Shiraz (481 vote, 46%)
  • I’ll stick with the Rhône. I’ve never had an elegant Aussie Shiraz (308 vote, 29%)

The United Kingdom is the largest importer of Australian wines, and if the Decanter poll reflects a largely-English response, then clearly there are some challenges ahead for makers of traditional –style Aussie reds. I have more about Australian wine prospects below.

The sub-feature wines in this release are made with lesser-known grapes such as Mencía, Monastrell, Petit Verdot and so on.  I select two wines from this feature.

The wines I have selected this release are all value wines, even though prices are above $20.00 per bottle.  The list is shorter than usual: this release seems to have hit a mid-winter wall.

Canada, Quebec – La Face Cachée de la Pomme Neige Première Ice Cider 2009

I think this wine represents a first for this Newsletter: a fruit wine.  This is a special wine in our home and has become a favourite after-dinner glass for my wife.  The reason this wine stands out is its unusual complexity (unusual for an apple wine, that is), its crisp acid and its lean sweetness. Neige is made from the frozen juice of a blend of pressed ripe apples, a procedure that delivers concentrated flavours and a delightful balance of sugar and acids.  Flavours of apple pie, lemon and orange dominate.  The finish is very clean and precise. Buy a case if you can find one.  Otherwise you will have to do what we do: travel to La Belle Provence periodically to top up your cellar.

Medium sweet, fruit wine – $24.95 per bottle (375 mL)

France, Languedoc– AOC St.-Chinian Hecht & Bannier 2009

Here we have a fine blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, assembled by a team of two young negoçiants who have built a reputation for blending some exceptional wines across several Midi appellations.  This is a rich, complex beauty that shows concentrated black berry fruit, spice, smoke, chocolate, mint and garrigue. The mouth feel is bright and taut, due to generous acid and grainy tannins.  This is wine you can enjoy now but it will evolve nicely over the next 5 – 7 years. Serve with game or lamb.

Extra dry, red wine – $23.95 per bottle

Spain, Bierzo – DO Bierzo Descendientes de J. Palacios Pétalos 2009

This is a classy wine made in the rapidly-emerging, small region of Bierzo, located in the north-west corner of Spain.  This wine is made in a biodynamic environment and is considered to be one of the exemplars of the potential of the grape variety, Mencia.  Mencia makes wines that are medium in weight, acidic and which show black fruit and green leafiness.  Pétalos is intense with flavours of ripe plum, herbs, smoke and spice.  The acid is bright and the tannins are firm and not distracting.  There is a fine minerality throughout the palate and the finish if long and crisp. Drink over the next 3-4 years.  Serve with a rib steak.

Extra dry, red wine – $22.95 per bottle (Discovery Network feature wine)

Spain, Rioja – DOCa Rioja Rioja Gran Reserva Beronia 2001

This gran reserva is a classic, made in the evolving modern style of Rioja.  This means it is fruit forward with modest oak effects on the nose and palate. As a gran reserva this wine has spent a minimum two years in cask and another 3 years in bottle.  It is now ready to consume.  You will find a supple wine with bright fruit, round tannins and plenty of tertiary elements such as leather, and tobacco notes on the nose and palate.  The palate has an elegant feel with an harmonious character: fruit, acid, tannins all pulling in the same direction.  Serve with a roast of beef.

Dry, red wine – $32.95 per bottle

Australia, McLaren Vale, South Australia – Pirramimma Petit Verdot 2008

This wine has become a Vintages favourite, with three releases in the past 15 months. There is a simple reason for these repeat performances: it is a very fine demonstration of how Australians can make an elegant, big wine. The fruit is bright, complex and ripe, the acid is juicy and the tannins are assertive but well-balanced.  The alcohol is 14%, lower than you might expect, given the ripeness, but in perfect harmony with the weight of the wine. This is a structured beauty with a long finish.  This Petit Verdot will go well with stews and grilled meats.

Dry, red wine – $26.95 per bottle

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2012.

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Author: John Switzer

I am wine writer, educator and tour guide. From 2005 to June 2014 I published a bi-weekly newsletter, the Winesights Vintages Newsletter (WVN). This Newsletter was closed in July 2014 when the Government of Canada put in place the onerous administrative requirements of Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation. The legacy of WVN continues on this blog spot where I post wine-related articles as well as reviews of a small selection of best-value wines from each bi-weekly LCBO Vintages release. I hold the WSET Diploma, I am a WSET Certified Educator, I teach in the WSET program at the Independent Wine Education Guild in Toronto where I am the past Director of the WSET Diploma program. Since 2010 I have been a judge at Decanter World Wine Awards on the Rhône panel and I am a member of the Society of Wine Educators.

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