LCBO Vintages release – March 17, 2012

Featured in this weekend’s release is a cross-section of wines from Spain, organized by grape variety and matched with fitting foods from Spain. For me the quality of the photography in the Vintages catalogue outstrips the quality and value of the wines: if you can’t be good…look good. This said, one very fine feature wine makes the list this week.

The release also features some icons, at iconic prices.  If you are running low on Opus One, Château de Beaucastel, Château Montalena Chardonnay or Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon, this is the time to replenish your supplies.

Despite the number of icons, in this release, the overall depth of quality was fairly low. The wines I do recommend are the best values – and they would be standouts even in a release loaded with values.

Ontario, Niagara – VQA Twenty Mile Bench Flat Rock The Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2010

This is the kind of wine I wish we saw from Niagara on a more consistent basis: concentrated and complex, at an accessible price.  Ontario wines are on the uptick but still too many deliver varietal correctness without depth of flavor.  If I have a complaint about this wine it would be the oak treatment is a bit excessive for my palate.  The oak is matched with intense, ripe fruit character: lemon, mango, pineapple and secondary elements of vanilla, spice and toast.  The body is firm and the overall structure is attractive.  The finish is long. Well done!

Extra dry, white wine – $24.95 per bottle

Austria, Kamptal – DAC Kamptal Bründlmayer Kamptaler Terrassen Grüner Veltliner 2010

This wine will be a perfect match for your next Wienerschnitzel dinner: plenty of crisp acid, ripe, spicy fruit and a taut mouth feel that will balance nicely with the rich texture of the white meat. There is lemon, green apple, and white pepper spice on the nose and palate. The palate has a distinct mineral backbone throughout and the finish is medium-long.  Elegant and refined, this wine is a beauty.

Extra dry, white wine – $19.95 per bottle

 South Africa, Western Cape  – WO Western Cape Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut Sparkling Wine

The Graham Beck Brut is one of the old reliables in my book.  It consistently delivers bright citrus fruit, chalky minerals, creamy mousse, crisp acid and a long finish…all for under $20.00 per bottle.  It doesn’t have much yeast/brioche in the nose but for this price you can’t expect a long period on the yeast (this wine typically sits in the cellar for 15 – 18 months before disgorgement). Buy a case….it will go fast.

Extra dry, sparkling wine – $18.95 per bottle

France, Southern Rhône – AOC Vacqueyras Jean-Marie Arnoux Vacqueyras 2009

This is very-attractively priced wine for the maker and the appellation.  It is an intense, complex wine with bright, ripe fruit, herbs and black pepper on the nose and palate.  It has very good structure with appealing acid and firm tannins complementing the concentrated black berry and stewed plum fruit.  This is a full-bodied wine with ageing potential for the next 5 – 7 years.  If you want to replenish your cellar with a perfect winter-food match wine then pick up several bottles of this Vacqueyras.

Extra dry, red wine – $21.95 per bottle

Spain, Rioja – DOCa Rioja Baron de Ley Gran Reserva 2001

Yes, this wine is from the 2011 vintage.  Very old-style Rioja, this: lots of rustic, smoky, old wood. Lots of spicy, red cherry fruit.  Lots of signs of a mature wine: earthy, cedar and tea leaf notes.  There is plenty of juicy acid and the body is medium in weight.  This is an all-rounder that delivers exceptional quality, structure, harmony and depth for the price.  Buy a few bottles for the big dinners coming up on your social calendar.

Extra dry, red wine – $29.95 per bottle (Spain feature wine)

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2012.


LCBO Vintages release – September 17, 2011

It’s mid-September already.  The air is cool and for some of us the furnace has started to come on.  Frost is forecast in some areas north of Toronto and the grape harvest is literally just underway.  Rain seems to be holding off so the vintage in Ontario is looking to be a good one.  Cross your fingers…

This weekend’s Vintages release is notable for the noble wines regions it covers: Bordeaux; Oregon Pinot Noir faces off with Burgundy; and some new wines from New Zealand are introduced.  This is an expensive release with 37 wines out of 107 priced at $30.00 or above. Remember, value wines come at all price points and I recommend a couple that will be good Collector’s Items.

There are also some wines listed in the catalogue for this release which have been previously released but which are not selling well.  The prices have not yet been reduced but it is evident that the summer releases have suffered: they were big and vacations and economic gloom had a negative effect on sales velocity.

Lead times on releases are long and the LCBO sometimes gets caught when economic conditions turn south quickly.  It will be interesting to watch how the holiday season unfolds.

There are many fine wines to choose from in this release with good value at all price points. My recommendations are the following wines:

Austria, Kamptal – DAC Kamptal Rabl Reserve Vinum Optimum Grüner Veltliner 2009

This is an intense and ripe version of the defining white grape of Austria. There is lime, honey, green apple on the nose.  The palate is rich and ripe with a fullish mouth feel.  It shows flavours of lemon and lime, green apple and steely minerals.  The acidity is high making this wine a perfect match for roast rack of pork or grilled garlic shrimps. The finish is long and clean.

Extra dry, white wine – $19.95 per bottle

New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough – Dog Point Chardonnay 2008

Yes, Marlborough winemakers can make white wines with grapes other than Sauvignon Blanc.  Here we have a perfect example of the case: a cool-climate Chardonnay with Old World character. This is a concentrated, elegant wine which show complexity and structure to compare with the best Burgundy might offer, at a very good price. It has tons of fruit, modest oak, flinty minerals and juicy acid with a long finish.  This wine is pricy but it should be considered as a special occasion dinner wine – how about turkey at Thanksgiving?

Extra dry, white wine – $39.95 per bottle (New Zealand feature wine)

Portugal – Vinho Regional Alentejano Terra d’Alter Reserva White 2010

If the last wine was for a special dinner, I suggest you consider this wine as the white for your holiday season open house. This is a blend of Viognier and a variety indigenous to Portugal, Arinto. Arinto is a versatile grape which displays high acidity.  It is age-able and takes on additional complexity when carefully aged in wood.  Combined with Viognier, Arinto delivers a blend which is appealing as a sipper: aromatic, light/medium bodied, with reasonable complexity, ripe mouth feel and a crisp finish.  Buy a case.

Dry, white wine – $13.95 per bottle

Chile, Colchagua Valley – Emiliana Winemaker’s Selection Syrah/Mourvèdre 2007

If you like the character and value of wines from the southern Rhône, this is a wine you should try.  It has deep ruby colour, black fruit, soft tannins, herbs and garrigue, bright acid, light toast and black pepper: everything you would expect of a sound Côtes du Rhône. This will be a good match with roast leg of lamb.

Extra dry, red wine – $18.95 per bottle (Organic)

Australia, South Australia – Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

James Halliday considers this to be one of the top value Cabs from Australia, made to deliver finesse in the glass. This is another intense wine – this seems to be a theme this release – with dark fruit, cassis, smoke, and chocolate on the nose and palate. It is full-bodied with crisp acidity and grippy tannins that need time to evolve.  This wine will age well for the next 5 -7 years.  Serve with a crusty prime rib of beef.

Extra dry, red wine – $24.95 per bottle

The runners’-up this week are both from France.

France, Southern Rhône – AOC Lirac Domaine Grand Veneur Clos de Sixte 2009

We rarely see Lirac in Ontario – a fact that makes it hard to sell, as it has low consumer recognition.  That’s too bad as these wines are great values (Lirac is a cru…) and have great appeal when served with Mediterranean foods.  This wine is made by a fine producer who also is known for quality Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines made in a traditional style. You will find another dense wine with a full body, ripe fruit, juicy acid, lean tannins and an overall balance that is surprising for the price. Serve with a beef stew, loaded with root vegetables.

Extra dry, red  wine – $23.95 per bottle

France, Loire – AOC Pouilly-Fumé Domaine de Congy Cuvée les Galfins 2009

This appellation lies in the shadow of it sister appellation from the Central Vineyard of the Loire Valley, Sancerre.  This is too bad as Pouilly-Fumé has a distinct smoky character that reflects the effects of the calcerous soils of its origin.  This edition is complex with melon, citrus fruit, honey and some herbaceous character on the mid-palate.  The is another wine with concentrated flavours and it should age well for the next 3-5 years.

Extra dry, white wine – $24.95 per bottle

This week I suggest two Collector’s Items, both of which have holiday celebration written all over them and both of which are good values from France.

France, Champagne –AOC Mareuil-sur-Ay 1er Cru Mark Hébrart Brut Blanc de Blancs

This wine is made by one of the growers followed by Terry Thiese, an importer (and writer) who specializes in what he calls “farmer fizz”.  This is an exceptional wine, made with exceptional fruit and sold at an exceptional price. It is a bubbly which should be bought now for the holidays. You will find a full body, bright, green fruit, assertive mousse, plenty of lees and a precise character that is distinct and memorable.  Very special!

Extra dry, sparkling wine – $41.95 per bottle

France, Bordeaux – AOC St.-Ėmilion Grand Cru Château Fombrauge 2008

When we think of the lofty prices now sought for fine Bordeaux wines we forget there are still some very good wines, offered at (premium) prices that most of us can afford when we want a special bottle.  This is a very good example, made at a chateau with roots dating from the late 17th century. The estate has received considerable investment over the past twenty years and is now producing very good wines across a range of Merlot-driven cuvées. Here we have a good example of how important it is to know the history and evolution of chateaux, both on the up-tick and on the down-tick…This is a balanced, well-structured wine with ripe, juicy red fruit, a full body, vanilla, toast and chocolate.  The finish is long.  Cellar for the next 7 – 10 years.

Extra dry, red wine – $45.00 per bottle (Bordeaux feature)

The next release will feature Syrah and Shiraz from around the world, along with wines for Thanksgiving. Watch for it on Saturday October 1.

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.

Matches made in the glass

I have been doing a great deal of teaching this winter and there is one area where students have shown special interest: the domaine of food and wine matching.

One of the reasons for this interest is obvious:  my students need to understand the principles, and be able to apply those principles, if they are to pass their exams.  The other reason is, many of these students are front-line staff in upscale restaurants and they need to be able to advise their clients on the wines that will best match their entrée selections – happy customers make happy servers…

Most students understand the classic matches:  Sauternes with stilton cheese, Bordeaux red with prime rib, smoked salmon and Champagne, etc., but they don’t know the rationale for these matches.  Step outside the bounds of the classics and they are generally stumped.

The students I work with are not unique.  Most wine lovers have a small repertoire of food and wine matches they rely on – and the converse: food and wine mis-matches they avoid – but they often don’t have enough experience to go beyond the boundaries of their narrow range of proven matches.

As I teach this material I have found it best to assemble some simple rules to help guide me – and my students – through the amazing realm of matching possibilities.  The goal is to expand our horizons by experimenting and hopefully, in the process, conclude that food and wine, properly matched, can enhance the enjoyment of both.

First, some simple rules:

  • Match the body and/or richness of the food with the body of the wine (such as beef stew with a full-bodied, tannic Aussie Shiraz)
  • Combine food with wines that share the same flavour intensity (try spicy Mexican food with Argentinean Malbec, or spicy Asian food with a pungent Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc)
  • Acidic foods should be served with acidic wines (pasta in tomato sauce matched with a young Chianti Classico)
  • Match sweet foods with sweet wines (such as crème brulée with a chilled glass of Icewine or a Vin Doux Naturel made with Muscat)
  • Chewy meats should be matched with high-tannin wines to allow the protein to soften the tannins (beef brisket with Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Salty foods (olives, certain cheeses, oysters, salted nuts) should be matched with sweet or acidic wines to enhance the food flavours (for instance, stilton cheese and Port, oysters and Muscadet)
  • Pair oily/fatty foods with acidic wines (e.g.  Wiener Schnitzel with Riesling, grilled salmon steak with Grüner Veltliner)

These are some simple rules and they work!

There is a theme to the rules: match weight of food with weight of wine, match intensity of food flavour with wines of similar flavour intensity. Once you have achieved this level of matching refine further to balance texture (e.g. chewy or oily), and other elements such as acidity and sweetness.

Acidity in wines triggers saliva flow and this effect creates the juiciness I describe in many wines. One of the most notable effects food can have on wine is the match one gets when a high-acid wine such as a dry Riesling is properly paired with juicy roast chicken (where acid and fat trump a possible flavour intensity mis-match) or with grilled cold-water salmon (where the acid nicely reduces the fatty character of the fish). Proper matches such as these open doors to wine lovers and even inexperienced tasters begin to appreciate wines that they might otherwise consider too acidic.

if you don’t believe me, try this simple experiment:  open a bottle of extra-dry Riesling that is chilled but not too cold.  Have your entree standing by (for example a filet of grilled trout with some lightly-boiled baby potatoes au beurre).  Sniff, swirl, slosh and swallow a sip of the wine on its own.  Note the juicy freshness of the citrus aromas and flavours.  Note also the intensely-high acidity in the glass and the juices released by your saliva glands.  Clearly this is not a patio sipper wine.  Now tuck into your filet of trout with another sip of the wine.  Now note how much softer the wine is – and how much the flavours and texture of the fish are enhanced by the combination of the crisp and assertive wine and the juices in your mouth.  Sheer bliss!

Here’s another way of looking at matching.  This table provides a picture of the possibilities:

In my scheme green boxes represent the perfect match, an orange box means you should proceed with caution and avoid at all costs where you see a red box.  Note the versatility of sparkling wine (here I refer to a quality traditional method sparkler such as Champagne, Cava, a Crémant from France, or New World delights like the Gloria Ferrer in the last Vintages Release.

I hope this little primer helps you work through the complexities of matching.  More importantly I hope it gives you some cues for your own experimentation.


à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.

LCBO Vintages release – February 19, 2011

This weekend was the occasion of another Vintages release – two weeks just flies by, doesn’t it?

The feature wines this weekend were made with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.  We also saw wines for Passover and gold medal winners made in Ontario.  It was quite a diverse selection of features but it was a little light on quality and value.  This fact, aside, there were some nuggets amongst the rubble and I give you my picks, below…

Despite my comment about this release being light on quality and value,  we still have a reasonably solid set of fine wines to choose from in this release, many of them good values.  As a result, once again I have my A-list selections and a short list of B – wines that almost equal the A’s for quality and value.

First the A’s…

British Columbia, Okanagan Valley – VQA Okanagan Valley Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Proprietor’s Grand Reserve Shiraz 2006

This is a single parcel wine from the Osoyoos Lake Bench with 12 months of oak aging on its resume. The colour is deep, brooding ruby and the nose has some wonderful elements of spice, black cherry and violet.  The palate is concentrated and balanced with juicy fruit, medium acid and dry, dusty tannins.  Flavours of black cherry, stewed plum and vanilla dominate.  Match with a beef stew loaded with root vegetables.  I’m pleased to report his wine is priced by Vintages at $2.00 less than its BC price.

Extra dry, red wine – $24.95 per bottle

Germany, Franken – QmP, Würzburger Innere Leiste Bürgerspital Silvaner Kabinett Trocken 2009

Here we have a correct Silvaner in every way – an intense floral, fruit-forward nose; a palate with  bright acid and ripe stone fruit; a long finish.  There are white flower, honey, ripe melon, lime and ginger notes on the nose and palate, a backbone of stony minerals and a very slight spritz. This wine is distinctive and memorable – a classic for the varietal. Look for the flagon-shaped bottle (known as a Bocksbeutel).  Very food-friendly, this wine.  Serve with charcuterie or grilled veal chop.

Dry, white wine – $18.95 per bottle

New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough – Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Spy Valley is a source of sound, well-made, value wines. This Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect example of the type. The nose and palate are intense and pungent: citrus, grass, gooseberry, white pepper – a great, complex combo.  The acid is crisp and juicy, the minerals are sleek and the finish is long and clean.  This is a very good wine for summer barbecue planning, at a very good price.

Extra dry, white wine- $15.95 per bottle

Italy, Tuscany – IGT Toscana Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Tenuta di Castiglioni 2008

The only feature wine on my A-list, this is a concentrated blend of Bordeaux grapes with a small portion of Sangiovese.  The colour is deep ruby, the nose has red cherry, herb and plum.  The palate is medium-bodied with flavours of plum, black currant and leather.  The mouth feel is juicy with medium acidity, and grainy, concentrated tannins.  This is a well-structured wine which will accompany grilled red meats to a “T”. Excellent value.

Extra dry, red wine – $21.95 per bottle (Cabernet Sauvignon feature wine)

California, Carneros – Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs 2005

This wine is a cool-climate stunner and is the first run-don’t–walk wine in a long while. I don’t know where to start so I’ll just throw out words that describe the pleasure: concentrated, biscuit, medium-full weight, citrus, chalky minerals, creamy mousse, juicy, intense, long finish…you get the drift.  This is an exceptional value and is a buy-the-case selection.  Celebrate with this wine on its own or serve at special family meals.  It will go with anything.

Extra dry, sparkling white wine – $24.95 per bottle

This week’s B-list (almost A’s…):

Ontario, Prince Edward County – VQA Prince Edward County Rosehall Run Cuvée County Pinot Noir 2008

One of the better wineries in PEC, Rosehall Run makes some very fine Cuvée County wines.  This is a light P-N with a red fruit-forward nose and spice, cherry, cranberry and earth on the palate. Well-balanced and elegant.  Ontario feature wine (Extra dry, red wine – $19.95 per bottle.)

Austria, Lagnereserve – Leth Vineyards Steinagrund Grüner Veltliner 2009

Citrus, lemon and white flowers abound on the nose and palate. This is a delicate, spicy, juicy and peppery wine – all true to the expectations of any Gruvee fan. (Dry, white wine – $16.95 per bottle.)

France, Southern Rhône– AOC  Côtes du Rhône-Villages Rasteau Château Goudray Cuvée Excellence 2009

Rasteau is a reliable appellation for round fruit and herbal aroma and palate expression.  This one delivers, from an excellent vintage. I suggest cellaring for a year or two.  (Dry, red wine – $15.95 per bottle).

The next Vintages release will be out on March 5, 2011.  At that time wines from Argentina and Chile will be featured along with wines from northern Italy.  We’ll see you then.

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.