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.


LCBO Vintages release – November 26, 2016 (WVN 250)

As the holiday season looms it’s a good time to seek out some good-value sparkling wines.  The Vintages team has delivered this weekend with a couple that meet the test, one from France and the other from South Africa. Neither is Champagne but both are made using the traditional method so they deliver the complexity and character of the more expensive bottle at an attractive price.

The remaining wines in this weekend’s selection have an all-Iberia character. Stock up!

France, Loire – AOC Vouvray Domaine de Vaugondy Méthode Traditionelle Brut NV

This wine is made with the Chenin Blanc grape and it is full of precise citrus fruit with honey and pear notes on the nose and palate.  The acid is crisp and the mousse aggressive (this is good…) and persistent. The mid palate has a flinty mineral character and the residual sugar (12 g/L) is sufficient to soften slightly the edginess of the acid. The finish is clean and long.  This is an excellent first-course wine but it will also be a good match for your turkey.

Dry, sparkling wine – $17.95 per bottle

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

I used this wine in a sparkling wine class I taught earlier this fall and several experienced palates mistook it for a Champagne (!). This wine is similar to the Vouvray in many ways – citrus fruit, oodles of bright acid, persistent mousse, firm flinty minerals – but it has spent more time on the lees so it has a distinctive brioche character on the nose and palate. This along with less residual sugar and some more complex flavours elements – green apple, spice and a slight earthiness – all lend this wine for more serious food matching across the full holiday palate:  roasts of red meat, tourtière, turkey, holiday desserts and cheeses, etc.

Extra dry, sparkling wine – $18.95 per bottle

Spain, Galicia – DO Rîas Baixis Quinto de Couselo Barbuntín Albarino 2014

This wine comes from the damp maritime zone of Galicia and is a perfect match for seafood – both fleshy and shell, alike.  It is made with the Alabriño grape and is ripe with a slight fleshy mouth feel and lots of citrus, apricot, honey and spice. It has elevated acidity and a saline minerality.  The finish is long and ripe. This would be a perfect match for a traditional old world fish dinner on Christmas Eve.

Extra dry, white wine – $17.95 per bottle

Spain, Rioja – DOCa Rioja Barón de Ley Reserva 2010

This is an exceptional value, well-made older Rioja which still shows youthful character with emerging development to lend complexity in the glass. It has black cherry fruit, dusty tannins, spice, juicy acid and just enough smoky oak to add complexity.  The body weight is medium and the overall structure and balance is pleasing. This wine is perfect now but will develop further with a few more years in the bottle.

Extra dry, red wine – $21.95 per bottle

Portugal, Dão – DOC Dão Quinto do Mondego 2010

From the northern reaches of Portugal comes this fine red made with a blend of indigenous Portuguese grapes dominated by the always reliable Touriga Nacional. It is rich with ripe red and black cherry-berry fruit, spice and slight wet earth notes. The tannins lend a firm feel on the palate and the acid is bright and crisp.  There is a bit of oak lending complexity but not enough of the wood to diminish the assertive, tangy fruit. For its price this is a finely structured wine that has the potential to develop further over the next 3 – 5 years.

Dry, red wine – $19.95 per bottle

 à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2016.


LCBO Vintages release – November 12, 2016 (WVN 249)

There are some special wines on this weekend’s list, so the prices are a bit higher than the TWR norm. No apologies will be given – these are wines for occasions so buy a few bottles and put them aside.  They will prosper with time.

Ontario, Niagara – VQA Beamsville Bench Hidden Bench Terroir Cache 2012

This is a serious Bordeaux blend which has had some time in bottle before release.  It will develop further but can be enjoyed now (with a couple hours in a decanter before serving – if you are so inclined). As is the case with all wines from Hidden Bench this is a concentrated wine with fine structure and character. Ripe berry fruit dominates on the nose and palate and while there has been extended time in oak – the barrels were a combination of new and old – the wood adds complexity without diminishing the intense fruit.  The acidity is high, the tannins are firm and assertive and the body is full.  The finish is long.  I encourage ageing for at least three years so the tannins and wood become more fully integrated.  This is an exceptional value.

Extra dry, red wine – $38.00 per bottle

Australia, Western Australia, Margaret River – Evans & Tate Metricup Road Chardonnay 2014

This is a cool-zone Chardonnay with oodles of fruit and crisp acid.  Citrus, tree fruit and tropical fruits abound, along with flinty minerals, spice and modest oak. The body is medium weight and the alcohol comes in at 13% – very finely balanced.  The finish is long and clean.  This is a pleasing, understated wine that will go well with roast turkey.

Extra dry, white wine – $22.95 per bottle

France, Southern Rhône – AOC Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2014

Coudoulet seems to be a regular offering at this time each year. It is one of my favourite reds and while it is designated as a Côtes du Rhône it routinely punches well above the weight of the appellation.  This is a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault, showing great fruit expression with red and black berries and some savoury notes, garrigue and spice. The acid is bright and juicy and the tannins are modest but lend texture and shape on the palate.  The finish is long and bright. Buy a few bottles and enjoy over the next 3 -5 years.

Extra dry, red wine – $29.95 per bottle

Italy, Piedmont – DOC Barbera d’Alba Paolo Conterno Bricco 2014

Barbera is a widely-planted Italian grape and is known for its bright, fresh fruit, low tannins and elevated acidity.  These wines are not known for their complexity but have great appeal. These characteristics make wines made with this grape wonderful companions for food.  The Paolo Conterno Bricco delivers and at a very good value price.  Serve with pastas or grilled pork.

Extra dry, red wine – $19.95 per bottle

Italy, Sardinia – DOC Torbato Sella & Mosca Terre Bianche Alghero 2014

Torbato is a little-known grape variety, native to Sardinia, that almost reached extinction until resurrected by the maker of this wine, Sella & Mosca.  It is related to Malvoisie, a grape used in the Roussillon zone of France for blending in sweet wines known as vins doux naturels.  This is an aromatic wine with pear and apple on the nose and palate and a flinty mineral backbone. There is fine complexity on the palate with honey, light oak and pineapple and mango, accompanied by light acid and fleshy texture.  This is an unusual wine made only by Sella & Mosca.

Extra dry, white wine – $16.95 per bottle

There is one additional wine on offer this weekend that I write about every time it appears: VQA Beamsville Bench Cave Spring CSV Riesling.  It is from the 2014 vintage and sells at $29.95 per bottle. For my palate this is the best Riesling made in Ontario. It is stunning and shows wonderful sugar/acid balance.

 à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2016.