LCBO Vintages release – February 18, 2017 (WVN 256)

This theme may be monotonous to readers but, as an advocate for the value buyer, I remain a disappointed LCBO customer.

To elaborate: it seems that $20 is the new $15.00 when it comes to Vintages offers.   Many readers report that they balk at paying more than $20 for a bottle of wine, unless the occasion warrants going upwards for a very special bottle.  When we have a release that doesn’t well cater to the value buyer with a budget we underservice a segment of the market that is notably large (sorry, I have nothing but anecdotal data to support this claim).

This weekend’s release features almost 60 wines – more than one-half – priced over $20.00, with another 20 wines priced at $20.00.  I foretold an escalation in prices when the Canadian dollar went south a couple of years ago but I think it would be fitting for the LCBO team to make a concentrated effort to explore more widely the market that still flourishes below $20.00 per bottle.  Three wines in my selection fall in this zone and amply demonstrate the potential that exists in this segment of the market.

France, Midi – AOP Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Syrah/Mourvèdre/Grenache 2013

Bertrand is a leading proponent of the Midi, and is a maker of wines across several appellations in this complicated zone of France. His wines are of consistent quality and value and over the years he has become a popular supplier to the Vintages team.  Les Aspres has ripe, intense red and black fruit with some savoury notes, spice and garrigue on the nose and palate. This wine is a full-bodied, very drinkable blend with a rustic personality and the potential to further develop into a finely-balance delight over the next two years.  Serve with stews or grilled red meats.

Dry, red wine – $18.95 per bottle

France, Champagne – AOC Champagne Laherte Frères Ultradition Brut NV

Laherte is a small grower-maker in the Vallée de La Marne region of Champagne, known for its unique Champagnes, all vinified in oak.  The character of the wines is consistently earthy with a fullish texture.  The very dry blend is dominated by Pinot Meunier with some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir added to complete the blend. It has an intense and persistent mousse, bright and assertive acid, modest brioche and citrus, brown apple and spice with a mineral backbone.  It is complex and fresh.  Great value.

Extra dry, Sparkling wine – $48.95 per bottle

Argentina, Mendoza – Dominio del Plata Benmarco Uco Valley Malbec 2013

This is a full-bodied wine with concentrated fruit and excellent structure.  It is made from fruit grown on high-elevation vines and shows delightful brightness that is pleasing especially given the fullish, fleshy texture of the wine.  This wine is advertised as unfiltered and unfined and this low-intervention treatment, along with the cool zone origin of the fruit, explains the freshness.  There is black and red fruit, spice, herbs, a very slight oaky character.  The tannins are soft and smooth, the acid is lightly tart and the finish is long.  Buy some for the barbecue season.  This wine will develop further over the 3 to 4 years.

Dry, red wine – $18.95 per bottle

Australia, Victoria – Fowles Stone Dwellers Strathbogie Ranges Shiraz 2013

This is a delightful, fruit-forward cool-climate Shiraz with plenty of zip and style.  It shows the classic elements of Syrah/Shiraz – blackberry fruit, black pepper and slight minty-ness on the palate.  The body is full but not flabby and the overall structure is one of harmony and precision. The finish is long.  If you like Old-World style Syrah, this is the Aussie Shiraz for you.

Dry, red wine – $19.95 per bottle

Australia, Tasmania – Jansz Premium Cuvée Sparkling Wine NV

Here we have a finely-tuned traditional method sparkler made in a lean style with taut acid, lemon, honey, biscuit, smoke and minerals – all tied into a fine package at a very attractive price. This is a very good substitute for entry-level Champagne.

Dry, sparkling wine – $26.95 per bottle

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2017.

LCBO Vintages release – February 4, 2017 (WVN 255)

This weekend’s Vintages release is arguably the overall best-value release we have seen in a long time.  There are plenty of exceptional wines across all price points but the coverage in my sweet spot (under $25 per bottle) is particularly noteworthy. We also have a run don’t walk wine.  The first in a while…

British Columbia, Okanagan Valley – Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut Sparkling NV

Consider this wine as a great value sparkler for your Valentine’s Day dinner.  It is a made in the traditional method with 24 months of lees ageing in the bottle before disgorgement and shows fine complexity and character for the price. This wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris and it has a refined mouth feel with citrus and apple fruit, firm minerals and crisp acid.

Dry, sparkling wine – $28.95 per bottle

France, Loire Valley – AOP Bourgueil Domaine les Pins Cuvée Les Rochettes 2014

I think the red wines of the Loire Valley are the most under-rated value wines on the face of the planet. The best wines are made with Cabernet Franc, a grape that is usually blended with other varieties and is rarely vinified and bottled on its own, except in one other place where it prospers – Niagara.  These reds are bright and fresh with expressive fruit, brilliant acid, sleek, elegant tannins, modest alcohol and a WOW factor that usually elicits gasps of pleasant surprise. Les Rochettes is a Cabernet Franc classic with the elements we seek, along with a light green herbal character which is often found in wines from this cool zone. Excellent value and a fine match for roast rack of pork.

Dry, red wine – $17.95 per bottle

Italy, Piedmont – DOC Monferrato Rosso Prunotto Mompertone 2014

Monferrato is a lesser denominazione in the Piedmont zone which is perfect for the value seeker:  good regional pedigree, not overly-appreciated by the serious collector and appealing character in the glass. This wine is a blend of Barbera and Syrah – curious, but it works. This is a wine to enjoy now and over the next year or two – it has ripe red and black fruit, a slight oaky character and a mouth feel that is round and easy with light, tart acid and soft tannins. The Mompertone is great value and will be a fine wine for late spring outdoor entertaining.

Extra dry, red wine – $18.95 per bottle

South Africa, Paarl – WO Paarl Avondale Jonty’s Ducks Pekin White 2015

South Africa is home to many wines that stand on their own as single-variety champions.  It is also a place know for blends that you will rarely find anywhere else.  Consider the Pekin White: it is a blend of Chenin Blanc combined with Rousanne, Muscat de Frontignac, Viognier and Semillon.  The wine has been vinified in a combination of stainless steel and oak with extended lees contact in both cases.  The result is a complex wine of surprising character at a price that makes Pekin White the first run don’t walk wine in a while. This is an aromatic delight with immense flavour complexity, fine structure and a fleshy texture that will please.  For the story of Jonty’s ducks check this video:

Dry, white wine – $15.95 per bottle

South Africa, Stellenbosch – WO Stellenbosch Rustenberg RM Nicholson 2014

We had a Rustenberg Merlot in the last release; this time around we have a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from the same maker. There is black fruit, herbs, mint and spice on the nose and palate along with round tannins and bright, juicy acid.  The finish is long. This is a fruit-forward, full-bodied, intense wine with a structure that will support ageing for the next 5 to 7 years. This wine is made in a style that will appeal to lovers of Old World wines.

Extra dry, red wine – $19.95 per bottle

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2017.

LCBO Vintages Release – January 21, 2017 (WVN 254)

After stumbling out of the gate into 2017 a couple of weeks ago, the Vintages team has hit its stride this weekend with an attractive release that has many wines to please the value buyer. Here is my selection, a pretty good one, if you want my humble opinion.

Ontario, Niagara – VQA St. David’s Bench Château des Charmes Gamay Droit 2015

This wine was recommended when it last appeared in September 2016 and I still think it is a worthy value so here it is again. This unique Gamay clone yields a ripe, juicy medium-bodied wine, meant to be enjoyed now and over the next few years. The fruit is rich and round with cherry, plum and raspberry accompanied by some light herbs and bright, juicy acid. The tannins are soft and light in weight. The finish long. This is a wine to buy now for barbecue season.

Extra dry, red wine – $17.95 per bottle

Argentina, Salta – Colomé Calcahaquí Valley Torrontés 2015

Torrontés is a grape that can yield highly variable results, especially in the hands of the wrong winemaker. The poor versions are often flat and soapy, while the best Torrontés wines exhibit expressive aromatic and floral character that delights the senses. This wine is one of those delights. It comes from vines grown at some of the highest elevations in the mountainous Salta region. These cool-zone conditions deliver bright fruit, brilliant aromatics and zesty acid. There is plenty of citrus fruit on nose and palate, firm minerals and an elegant mouth feel. The finish is long with lingering minerals. Exceptional value!

Extra dry, White wine – $15.95 per bottle

Argentina, Mendoza – Viña Cobos Felino Malbec 2015

Here we have an intense, full-bodied, well-structured Malbec that will appeal to all. It is loaded with concentrated, ripe fruit – plum, blueberry and black currant, along with some modest oak character, spice and earth notes. The structure is notable with assertive acid and finely-grained tannins. This a great wine for stews and roasted red meats.

Extra dry, red wine – $19.95 per bottle

France, South West – AOC Madiran Château Peyros 2011

For the second release in a row we have a Madiran, this time made in the modern style. Modern in this case means the winemaker has intervened to tame the rustic tannins and thus soften the wine so it is ready for early consumption. This wine is an appealing blend of Tannat with Cabernet Franc, a combination that delivers bright, juicy texture along with expressive red and black berry fruit, garrigue and herb notes. This is an amazing-good value wine.

Extra dry, red wine – $16.95 per bottle

South Africa, Stellenbosch – WO Simonseg-Stellenbosch Rustenberg Merlot 2014

Ever since the entertaining movie, Sideways, many wine lovers – including me – stutter over Merlot when they think of Miles and his extreme distaste for the grape. This said, I believe the Rustenberg should erase any doubts: Merlot makes a fine wine when the fruit is carefully nurtured and the winemaker lets the fruit speak, unadorned. In fact, I think Stellenbosch does Merlot as well as any region in the world, Old or New. The fruit is intense, the acid is juicy, the tannins are round, the body is medium-plus in weight and the finish is long. Structure, balance, brilliant palate expression: this wine has a lot going for it!

Extra dry, red wine – $19.95 per bottle

 à bientôt…

Copyright © W. John Switzer 2003 – 2017

A new look…

Happy New Year to all readers!

I hope 2017 is successful and fulfilling for all and hope also that the uncertainties we fear today turn out by year-end to have been the source of false worries.

As it is early in the new year this is the time when many of  us vow to turn a new leaf to improve our health, our wealth or our outlook. With this in mind I thought it would be a good time to introduce a new front face to The Winesights Reader.  I adopted the WordPress platform in 2010 when I launched this blog site and decided it was time to check out the WordPress Themes page to introduce some new life to my blogspot.

This is what I came up with…

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2017.


LCBO Vintages release – January 7, 2017 (WVN 253)

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

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2017.

Special edition – holiday sparkling wines (WVN 252)

As the holidays approach we think of sparkling wines as a way to make special the celebratory occasions we share with family and friends.  There are several great value sparklers currently available at the LCBO and I highlight a small handful below that get the TWR nod. None will break the bank and all will be delightful.

All the wines I list will be found in the Vintages section except for the Victoire which is on the LCBO General List.

France, Champagne – AOC Champagne 1er Cru Marc Hébrart Brut Blanc de Blancs NV

Hébrart is a récoltant-manipulant operation which means this family makes wine from fruit it grows on its own vines. The house is known for approachable wines of some intensity and this wine follows that style. It has brilliant acid, brioche on nose and palate, firm minerals and lime, green apple and some toasted almond notes. The finish is long with lingering citrus.

Extra dry, sparkling wine – $48.95 per bottle

France, Champagne – AOC Champagne Gardet Cuvée Saint Flavy Brut Tradition NV

I reviewed this wine in August 2016 (WVN 243) and it is now back for the holidays. This may the value star of this small group of wines.  It is precise, fruit-forward and refreshing. The character is youthful with wonderful citrus aromas and flavours, modest biscuit notes and a flinty minerality of the mid palate. If you didn’t stock up in the summer you have another chance.  Run, don’t walk… now! This wine will move quickly.

Extra dry, sparking wine – $42.95 per bottle

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

Consider Franciacorta a perfect substitute for Champagne when we want something different but with the character of a high quality traditional method sparking wine. It seems we see this wine once a year at this time and it is worth stocking up on… This one is intense and refined with fresh aromas of citrus, brioche, hazelnut, followed by flavours of yellow apple, lemon, brioche and peach.  The acid is crisp and the mousse is creamy.  The finish is long and clean.  This will please your guests, most of whom will find Franciacorta to be a new experience.

Extra dry, sparkling wine – $39.95 per bottle

France, Champagne – AOC Champagne Victoire Brut Prestige NV

This is a straightforward entry-level Champagne which is very fine value with lots of citrus and green apple, modest biscuit on the nose and palate and precise, crisp acid.  The finish is long and clean.  This wine is lighter in body than those listed above and thus would be a perfect aperitif wine.

Extra dry, sparkling wine – $39.80 per bottle

This will be the last posting from the desk of TWR for 2016.

I wish all readers a happy Christmas season and for those don’t celebrate Christmas all best wishes for a restful end of the year.

May 2017 bring health, happiness, fulfilment and prosperity to all.

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2016.

LCBO Vintages release – December 10, 2016 (WVN 251)

This weekend marks the last Vintages release of 2016 and thus the last before the Christmas and New year’s holiday celebrations.  There are some 160 distinct products offered in this release and if it isn’t the largest release ever, it must be close to this lofty achievement.

As fits the LCBO release pattern this last release of the season may also be the most expensive of the year. This, of course, creates challenges for the value buyer, especially if their budget is constrained by other holiday demands.

TWR comes to your rescue and I list below my biweekly handful of fine values, with an eye to seeking the best matches for your holiday meals.

Enjoy (and shop early)!

Ontario, Niagara – VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake Château des Charmes Old Vines Cabernet/Merlot 2012

I generally believe Ontario is not very good at red Bordeaux blends – there are some exceptions but these are among the super-premium producers who only make these wines in years where there is enough heat to ripen the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Otherwise we end up with wines that are thin, green and not what one wants.  The 2012 vintage in Ontario was hot and this wine is a testament to what heat will do for this blend: it is ripe with intense black fruit – cherry, blackberry and cassis – herbal notes and the character one would seek from that special part of France that is Bordeaux.  While the fruit is still bright, there are signs of development with savoury and earth notes on the nose and palate. The structure is very fine with assertive tannins which are showing soft character, juicy acid and a fullish body with a long finish. This is an exceptional value from a long-time local maker of solid wines.

Extra dry, red-wine – $21.95 per bottle

France, Burgundy – AOC Mâcon-Bussières les Clos Joseph Drouhin 2014

Call wines from the Maconnais poor person’s Burgundy and you diminish this fine effort from an under-rated, high-value zone; in fact, this is a wine from a very small named village where almost all fruit grown is purchased by Drouhin. I always find whites from the Macon full of bright, taut acid and this wine delivers. It has modest oak treatment so the fruit still shines but on a bed of toast, spice and light vanilla. The palate is concentrated with yellow apple, lemon and leesy notes.  The finish is long, crisp and clean. Buy a few bottles – this is a great value.

Extra dry, white wine – $20.95 per bottle

Australia, Victoria – Tahblik Nagambie Lakes Marsanne 2015

Marsanne is a mainstay white grape in the Rhône valley, best found in blends in the great crus of the northern Rhône.  Tahlbik has become a successful proponent of this wonderful grape and grows exceptional fruit on old vines in cool central Victoria. This is a correct version of Marsanne with flesh on the palate, modest alcohol, tree fruit and citrus aromas and flavours.  This version has a some pleasing tropical and spice notes which lend complexity and overall appeal. As with all Marsanne wines this Tahblik will evolve into a more complex and interesting wine but it can be enjoyed now with food or as an aperitif.

Dry, white wine – $17.95 per bottle

Australia, South Australia – Wynns Coonawarra Estate Chardonnay 2015

This is an unoaked Chardonnay which will remind many readers of a reductive Chablis: brilliant acid, citrus and tree fruit, along with no wood treatment. It is clean, crisp and linear with expressive fruit, modest alcohol and exceptional balance between the elements: fruit, acid and alcohol.  This is a beauty and will be a wonderful accompaniment to a juicy turkey.

Extra dry, white wine – 17.95 per bottle

Italy, Piedmont – DOCG Gattinara Traviglini 2010

Gattinara is a wine made from the noble grape of Piedmont, Nebbiolo, the same grape used in the great wines from the region: Barolo and Barbaresco.  Gattinara comes from a zone further north than its more esteemed cousins and cannot be compared with these more expensive and sought-after wines.  While Gattinara shows the floral aromatics and flavour profile of the Nebbiolo grape it does not have the heft and structure we would expect from say, a Barolo.  Now that we have positioned this wine a lesser version of the Piedmont style, let’s give it its due: it is full of red cherry fruit, savoury notes and leather, all befitting its early-stage development. It has an elegant character with medium-weight body, lean acid and firm, sleek tannins.  The finish is long.  This will be a good match for roasted red or white meats.

Extra dry, red wine – $29.95 per bottle

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2016.