LCBO Vintages release – December 12, 2105 (WVN 227)

May your holidays be sparking!
May your holidays be sparking!

This is the weekend of the last release of calendar 2015 and once again it is a holiday season blockbuster – big and expensive.

This weekend is also the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the WVN and its successor, TWR.

When I wrote the first newsletter in December 2005 I had no idea I was starting something that would go on for the next ten years. In the meantime, thousands of readers have followed my postings and many comment on how much they appreciate my recommendations. I am flattered that I seem to get most reader comments when I miss a release due to travel (to the point that I now try to manage my guilt and post my tasting notes wherever possible when on the road). I don’t let the guilt get to me: if I charged readers for my musings it might be a different story, but I always remind myself I give this stuff to you, gratis.

From day one my interest has been to make the complex simple without dumbing down the subject. I believe I have been successful on this front. We have lost some energy on the commentary front for the past year or so but fear not my commentary will return in the new year. I have been busy on many volunteer and teaching activities and these have interfered with my writing but I plan to reverse this pattern and return soon to sharing my personal views on the wide world of wine.

Now for the wines.

First I must report an error in the last post: the recommended Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc was not an AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Rather, the wine I recommended was a simple AOC Côtes du Rhône from Beaucastel. This wine has the character that approaches that of its highly elevated sister but it sells for about one-third the price of the Cru. I apologize for any confusion for those readers who take my musings to the LCBO and ask their local product consultant for things I recommend. This was clearly a case of inflated identity, but forgivable when one considers the quality of the recommended wine.

On to the final report for 2015. Sparkling wines are an important part of holiday celebrations and there are two wines I recommend on the list below, neither from France.
The remaining wines are more pricey than usual which may be fitting given the elevated price of the typical Vintages selection at this time of the year… value still abounds in my selections.

Ontario, Niagara – VQA Beamsville Bench Hidden Bench Rosomel Vineyard Fumé Blanc 2013

I consider this cuvée to be the most appealing of all the Hidden Bench wines. It has the hallmark concentration, taut acid, and flinty minerality that most H-B wines show – a reflection of the careful grape growing and attention to terroir that vigneron Harald Thiel has pursued from the start. This is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, fermented slowly in barrel before blending. The bright and concentrated citrus and green apple fruit is accompanied by smoky aromatics and a mouth filling texture. This wine can be consumed now but I have found a few years in the cellar enhances the complexity of the wine and allows the smoky oak to soften.

Extra dry, White wine – $27.95 per bottle

France, Southern Rhône – AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages Domaine des Aphillanthes Vieilles Vignes 2012

This is a very fine wine, made by a small family operation and is not your everyday AOC CdR Villages. It is a bright, fruit-forward, concentrated wine with smooth, ripe texture and a fullish body. It is made from 100% Grenache which explains the elevated alcohol (15% abv). There has been some use of oak in the maturation stage but it is subtle in its influence. The fruit is bright, red berry-cherry, tannins are modest and soft and the acid is bright and crisp. Classic.

Extra dry, red wine – $ 29.95 per bottle

France, Bordeaux – AOP Médoc Château Pierre de Montignac 2009

The Vintages team has excelled during 2015 when it comes to sourcing exceptional value Bordeaux reds. This is another example, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This wine shows some early development with surprising complexity and structure for the price. It has red and black fruit, earth notes, chocolate and spice on the nose and palate. The tannins are firm and well-integrated and the acid is juicy and fresh. Serve with grilled red meats.

Extra dry, red wine – $29.95 per bottle

Italy, Lombardy – DOCG Franciacorta Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Prestige Brut NV

Franciacorta is a traditional method sparkling wine that rivals many grower Champagnes for its quality and character. We rarely see Franciacorta in Ontario which is a pity. The problem is the denominazione is small in acreage (about 10% the size of Champagne) and most of the wine is consumed domestically in Italy (only about 10% of production is exported). The Prestige cuvée is a blend dominated by Chardonnay with some Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. The nose and palate show brioche, citrus, and brown apple. The mousse is creamy, the acid is precise and assertive and the overall effect is refined and elegant. The finish is long and crisp. This wine is every much as good quality as any Champagne selling at twice the price.

Extra dry, sparkling wine – $39.95 per bottle

California, Sonoma County – Gloria Ferrer Méthode Traditonelle Sonoma Brut NV

Here we have another good-value alternative to Champagne to consider for your holiday gatherings. This is a perennial TWR favourite made from fruit grown in the cool Carneros zone of Sonoma County. It is bright, zesty and full-bodied with reasonable complexity and delicate mousse. Similar to the Franciacorta this wine has a notable elegance that will please. The finish is long. Great value, even if it is more expensive than last year (remember the drop in the Canadian dollar…)

Dry, sparkling wine – $33.95 per bottle

In addition to the sparkling wines I list above there are two others you may wish to consider. These are available at the LCBO and are AOC Vouvray Château Moncontour Tête de Cuvée Brut Vouvray (Dry, sparkling wine – $17.95 per bottle) and VQA Twenty Mile Bench Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2009 (Dry, sparkling wine – $29.95 per bottle). Both of these are racy wines with sharp-edged acid, bright citrus aromas and flavours and some brioche – which adds complexity but does not diminish the fruit. Check for availability.

That’s it for 2015.

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hanakuh. Have a  happy holiday, whatever celebration you enjoy.

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2015.


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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