LCBO Vintages release – February 1, 2014

This weekend’s Vintages release features wines from Australia.

Australia continues to face challenges in its wine sector.  The decanter.com website reported last week that Australian wine exports dropped some 6% by volume in 2013 from 2012 with a decrease in the value of exports of just under 5%.

The source of the decreases in export volumes came from Australia’s leading markets, the UK, US, Canada and China.  The latest full year data from the LCBO indicated a drop of sales volume of over 6% for Australian wines in the 2012-13 operating year. This was a chunk of an overall decline in Australian imports into Canada of 4% year-over-year.

The decline in volume exported to China was the first since 200 and is explained by newly-implemented austerity measures which have had wide effects on other segments including Cognac and Champagne.

A further indicator of troubles is the recent news that Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) halted share trading on the Sydney Stock Exchange in advance of announcing a major shortfall in earnings against its earlier forecast.  Reasons for the shortfall include significant marketing costs incurred in China, shortfalls in US demand and inventory write downs in the USA.  TWE is the third largest wine company in Australia and has a portfolio of leading brands including Penfolds, Wynns, Rosemount and Lindemans.  In late 2013 TWE announced a write down of A$160 million related to unsold inventory in the USA.

Australia is a living example of the fickle nature of the global wine industry, particularly at the lower end of the price spectrum.  Hopefully the focus on premiumization of wine brand Australia will gain traction and a new steady state will be established for its wine sector.

In the meantime, the Vintages team has done a fine job with the selection for this weekend’s feature.  Two white wines from the feature get my nod.

The quality/price equation was not strong in this release but I was able to find exceptional values.

There are a couple of additional values I should highlight.  The first is a white port in the Vintages section: Cálem Lágrima White Port – Sweet, fortified wine – $15.95 per bottle.  If you have never tried white port buy a couple of bottles and enjoy this spring and summer as an aperitif, served on ice with tonic. Sublime.

The second is in the General List, Lanson Black Label Brut Champagne – Dry, sparkling wine – $43.95 per bottle (on sale at $10.00 off the regular price until February 2). This is a lighter weight Champagne with elegance, complexity and tart acid.  It’s a great value at $43.95.

Australia, Hunter Valley, New South Wales – McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2006

This wine is already 7 years old and is just starting to hit its stride.  Semillon is a grape known for its age ability and known for its hallmark character when aged: honey, toast, waxy texture and brilliant, sustaining acidity (when made in Hunter Valley).  This wine is a stunner and has wonderful complexity and structure.  It is full of dried fruit flavours, citrus, white flowers and toast, all sitting on a flinty mineral backbone.  The balance is exceptional and the alcohol weighs in at a light-ish 10.5%. This is a beautiful wine which will continue to evolve for the next 5 – 7 years.  Buy a few.

Extra dry, white wine – $19.95 per bottle (Australia feature wine)

Australia, Western Australia –Robert Oatley Signature Series Riesling 2012

Riesling is a grape that does well in a number of zones in Australia and this one from the Great Southern area of Western Australia is a very good example of the type. Great Southern is a cool and wet growing zone, with cool currents originating in Antarctica providing the main influence on local climate.  This wine is made by the Oatley family, founders of Rosemount and Southcorp, the holding company that has ultimately morphed into Treasury Wine Estates. This very dry Riesling is another low-alcohol beauty with aromas and flavours of stone fruit, citrus and herbs.  It is rich with taut acid and there is a fine mineral character on the mid-palate. The finish is long and crisp.

Extra dry, white wine – $17.95 per bottle (Australia feature wine)

Spain Rias Baixas– DO Rias Baixas Pazo Pondal Leira Albariño 2012

The texture of this wine is a delight.  It has a light body, stony minerality and a supple mouth feel combined with bright, crisp acid – an exceptional combination. There are aromas and flavours of lemon, peach and spice – very fresh.  The finish is long.  But some bottles and hold until you can enjoy them late on summer afternoons on the patio.

Extra dry, white wine – $16.95 per bottle

France, Southern Rhône – AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Maximilien 2011

Cairanne is one of my favourite villages in the southern Rhône.  It is a small zone and almost always delivers plush, juicy reds with wonderful red and black berry fruit – classic for the region – at generally good value prices.  This wine is a bit more expensive than the norm but it earns its position with a solid blend of Grenache, Mourvédre and Syrah to deliver a wine with stuffing and structure. There is plenty of concentrated berry fruit, garrigue, spice and firm tannins.  Serve with stews and grilled meats.

Extra dry, red wine – $22.95 per bottle (Organic)

South Africa, Paarl – WO Paarl Glen Carlou Petit Verdot/Tannat 2009

This is an unusual blend but I would give this wine two-thumbs-up if you are looking for a true heart-friendly red wine. Tannat is the grape of AOC Madiran from south west France and which is credited with the highest correlation with longevity (you will, of course, remember my review of the Wine Diet in WVN 29 in February 2007). Tannat is a tough-skinned grape which is known for its density, dark character in the glass.  It blends well and is best when aged in oak.  If you want a full-bodied wine to accompany your next roast of beef this is the wine for you.  It has oodles of dark fruit, plenty of complexity, firm tannins, juicy acid and a long finish.

Extra dry, red wine – $21.95 per bottle

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2014.

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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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