The first Vintages release of each year is usually labeled as the annual best value release. This is fitting as there is a high probability that budgets are exhausted after the holidays and the best way for the LCBO to generate traffic is with a value theme.
Forget about the value label for a moment and let’s look at what has happened in this year’s Smart Buys release: we have some 90 wines on offer – a much smaller number than the norm; the wines are generally lower-priced than the typical release, across all regions; most importantly, the quality is sadly mixed. This latter point begs for me a big question – who bought these sorry bottles? Value is measured not by cost alone!
There are many agents who carry exceptional wines that fly under the radar and thus don’t get the time of day from the Vintages team. These are wines that excite and are true value wines. The problem is they are unknown to consumers and Vintages buyers alike and thus will be high-risk buys for the LCBO. Too bad: the consumer loses once again.
This said, I can recommend four high-value labels in this release. Hopefully 2017 will pick up momentum from this slow start…
France, South West – AOP Madiran Château Bouscassé 2009
For all those who seek a true heart-friendly red wine this is the one for you. Made with the Tannat grape, Madiran has been found to be the best exemplar of the drink red wine for your health legend. This wine is made by Alain Brumont who is considered to be the leading light in the appellation. Because of the intense tannins, these wines are best after some considerable bottle-ageing. This 2009 is now hitting its stride and while the tannins are still forceful, they are well-integrated into the structure of this wine. The black bramble fruit is still fresh and concentrated, the acid is assertive, the body is full and developing elements of earth and forest floor lend complexity. This is a big wine which seeks roasted red meats. While not for everyone, this is Madiran at its classic best.
Extra dry, red wine – $21.95 per bottle
Italy, Tuscany – DOCG Chianti Classico San Vincenti 2012
This is a best-buy Chianti Classico. For more money you may get greater complexity but for lovers of tart, cherry fruit-laden, dusty Chianti Classico this is the wine for you. It shows some signs of development but is fresh and well-structured with a few more years of life to go. Enjoy with Friday night pasta dishes in tomato sauce.
Dry, red wine – $17.95 per bottle
South Africa, Stellenbosch – WO Stellenbosch Clos Malverne Reserve Pinotage 2013
Pinotage is the signature black grape of South Africa and unfortunately most of the Pinotage we get in Ontario is full of rubbery, green fruit. This wine shows what the grape can do and should be explored by sceptics if only to better understand what lovers of this variety rave about. Like the Madiran, above, this wine is a full-bodied, hairy beast with intense black fruit, plenty of tannic/acid structure and complexity to spare. It has spent time in oak, so there is smoky character to accompany the savoury, tar notes that are part of the Pinotage gene pool. The finish is long and tannic. Try it with roasted or grilled red meat. You may like it.
Extra dry, red wine – $17.95 per bottle
South Africa, Coastal region – WO Coastal Region Man Free-Run Steen Chenin Blanc 2015
If Pinotage is the signature black grape of South Africa, then Chenin Blanc (or, Steen as it is known locally) is the signature white grape. This edition is a bone-dry, lean and expressive wine that will be a perfect match for food – try with a veal roast. Intense green apple, lemon, and hints of honey dominate the nose and palate. The body is bright and loaded with razor-sharp acid and the finish is long and clean. Bright and brilliant!
Dry, white wine – $13.95 per bottle
Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2017.