LCBO Vintages release – March 18, 2017 (WVN 258)

This weekend’s release delivers a number of fine values and this nice turn of events has prompted me to add a couple of wines to the traditional WVN roster of five recommended high-value wines. Enjoy!

France. Midi – AOC Minervois Chateau de Sérame Minervois Reserve du Château 2010

The Minervois appellation is one of my favourites in the Languedoc region.  The wines generally have more structure than those from most other zones in this part of France – partly because many vines are planted at elevations high enough for some night-time cooling and – because of an appellation-wide focus on quality in the vineyard and winery, both. Ch. de Sérame is a negociant blend of Mourvèdre (37%) with Grenache, Syrah and Carignan.  This assemblage provides a substantial body and firm texture that give much more interest than often found in the fleshy, ripe, fruit-rich wines from the Midi. The fruit is concentrated with blueberry, plum, and black cherry notes. There is a rustic character with evolving notes of chocolate and savoury elements along with herbal aromas that define the place.  This is an excellent wine.

Extra dry, red wine – $16.95 per bottle

France, Rhône – AOC Côtes du Rhone Guigal Blanc 2015

Guigal is an old-reliable maker whose wines run the gamut from northern Rhône super premium estate wines to everyday wines made from bought fruit grown in the south. This white is a delightful demonstration of the entry-level Guigal effort: light, floral aromatics. expressive fruit, fleshy mouth feel, crisp acid and a long finish. This is an elegant wine that would be a fine accompaniment for Easter dinner or patio dining late in spring.

Extra dry, white wine – $19.95 per bottle

France, Southern Rhône – AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape Château La Nerthe 2013

Château La Nerthe – the château

Château La Nerthe is a true 18th century building reminiscent of the great buildings of Bordeaux wine country. This is unusual in the Rhône, if not throughout most of non-Bordeaux France, but, so too, are the wines of La Nerthe. The winemakers at La Nerthe have been blessed by the benevolence of the Richard family, who purchased the property in the 1980’s, who permit careful vineyard management and attentive, precise wine making; these elements combine to define the elegant and noble wines made at this place. This wine is a beauty and may be the best in many years: it has bright, delicate red and black berry fruit, noble structure with medium weight, crisp acid and velvet tannins and a long finish.  This wine will develop further with time in the bottle – give it 10 years, but drink now it you can’t wait. If you question why this wine makes my list, consider the quality I describe and consider that another great wine of the appellation, Château de Beaucastel (also housed in a true château), sells typically at $90 per bottle.

Extra dry, red wine – $52.95 per bottle

Italy, Veneto – DOC Soave Classico Pieropan 2015

Without checking my notes I don’t think I have recommended a Soave since I began writing these notes in late 2005: “never say never”, they say. Many Soave wines are insipid with little character nor structure.  They are made for immediate consumption with over-cropped grapes and in the process have done damage to the reputation of the zone, damage that is under repair with stricter regulations and a more granular system of classification that distinguishes better sub-zones from the rest. Pieropan is an example of the effects of these positive interventions with oodles of fruit, juicy acid, firm minerals and a light salinity reflecting the limestone substrate in the zone. Citrus, stone fruit and honey dominate the nose and palate.  The finish is crisp and clean.

Extra dry, white wine – $18.95 per bottle

Italy, Tuscany – DOCG Chianti Classico Borgo Scopeto 2013

This is a classic Classico. It has red cherry fruit, grainy, dry tannins and oodles of crisp acid. For the price you shouldn’t expect complexity but what this wine lacks on that front it makes up in refinement. Match  with pasta in tomato sauce and you have a match made in heaven.

Extra dry, red wine – $18.95 per bottle

Spain, Conca de Barberà – DO Conca de Barberà Cor Nord Red 2014

Conca de Barberà is a small denominación located inland in Catalonia, long known for quality fruit but not until recently for wines locally made with that fruit. Cor Nord Red amply demonstrates the potential of this region with a combination of expressive, approachable character at an exceptional price. This wine is a blend of Garnacha and Syrah with a small amount of an indigenous variety. The body is full, the fruit is ripe and bright, the texture is soft with ripe grainy tannins and the acid is bright. The structure is notable at the price and the finish is long. If you want to go off-piste for an exploration, this is a safe wine for your travels.

Extra dry, red wine – $ 18.95 per bottle

Portugal, Dão – DOC Dão Adro da Sé Reserva 2012

Here we have a classic northern Portugal red – big fruit, structure that keeps on giving and a modest price. The fruit is intense and shows very deep ruby in the glass. The wine is a blend dominated by Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz and displays flavours of stewed plum, black cherry and blackberry.  The tannins are assertive and the acid is juicy. The wine has received oak treatment and this adds complexity but doesn’t diminish the assertive fruit. This wine will develop harmony with a couple of years in the bottle but can be enjoyed now with roasts and grilled red meats

Extra dry, red wine – $15.95 per bottle

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2017.

LCBO Vintages release – March 4, 2017 (WVN 257)

This weekend we have a fairly large Vintages release with many pricy bottles surrounding a handful of great values. My selections this weekend have a bit of a different road traveled character…

France, Champagne – AOC Champagne Delouvin-Bagnost Brut NV

Delouvin is a very small (6 hectares of vines) récoltant-manipulant known for expressive fruit in its wines.  This wine is fruity, for sure, with lots of brown apple and lemon with spice and honey on the palate.  Despite the ample fruit, this wine stands out for its racy acid, firm and persistent minerality and its intense brioche character on the nose and palate. There is a distinct earthiness which adds to the complexity but may be strange for those who are familiar only with the predictably sleek and elegant wines from the big houses.  This is true farmer-fizz and is an exceptional value.

Extra dry, sparkling wine – $44.95 per bottle

South Africa, Western Cape – WO Western Cape Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Sparkling Pinot Noir/Chardonnay Brut NV

For those value-seekers who want something sparkling that is more predictable than the Delouvin then you cannot go wrong by bringing home a few bottles of this old-reliable.  Nothing will surprise: the nose is bright with citrus and honey along with modest toasty brioche; the mousse is soft and creamy; the palate is crisp with lean acid, green apple, lemon and toast and the finish is medium-long and clean with lingering flinty minerals. Modestly-complex, this will please your guests as an aperitif.

Extra dry sparkling wine – $18.95 per bottle

South Africa, Stellenbosch – The Winery of Good Hope Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2015

This is a delightful wine with floral, honey, spice and pear notes on the nose and the palate.  It has a fleshy texture and a concentrated set of flavour elements. This wine fills the mouth and yet is not flabby – bright acid abounds from start to the clean finish. This is a wine for a roasted rack of pork or stuffed chicken breast.

Extra dry, white wine – $15.95 per bottle

Spain, Navarra – DO Navarra Proyecto Garnachas de España La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo 2014

This is a juicy, fullish red with modest structure that will please, especially when barbecue season hits its stride.  There is black and red berry fruit, spice, earth notes, enough acid to add juice and firm tannins that sit in the background until they come forward on the finish.  This wine calls for sirloin, leg of lamb or a big cheeseburger on the patio. Run don’t walk for this one.

Dry, red wine – $14.95 per bottle

Spain, Ribera del Duero – DO Ribera del Duero Vizcarra Senda del Oro Roble 2012

Lovers of Tempranillo should line up for Senda del Oro. For a wine from the 2012 vintage this is a surprisingly youthful wine with concentrated cherry fruit, spice and obvious but not-overdone evidence of oak aging.  The structure is sound with juicy acid and lightly grippy tannins. There is enough fruit and structure for this wine to evolve further in your cellar for the next 2 to 3 years but don’t hesitate to try it now.  This is a another wine that wants to be matched with roasted red meat.

Extra dry, red wine – $18.95

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2017.

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.