I have a “love-hate” reaction to the LCBO’s initial Vintages releases of the New Year. The theme of the release for Jan. 5 is “Smart Buys 2019”.
Having tugged at our emotions with tantalizing – but more expensive – wines in the Holiday Season, tempting us to “go for it” with libations we might otherwise tiptoe past, the LCBO craftily does a 180 degree turn as we de-compress, and offers us a deluge of wonderfully good and very reasonable options as we flip the calendar to 2019.
I love the great values they lay out before us. I hate having to choose.
My focus in selecting wines to recommend is always value, and generally, wines in the $18 to $20 range, and under. I know, the price-point keeps creeping up. But then, that goes for everything.
50 years ago, a really terrific house might have cost you $60,000. At that time a decent bottle of wine might have cost a few dollars, but you were probably earning between five and ten thousand dollars, or less. Back then, it wasn’t rare to find teachers spending their summers filling grocery shelves and slinging cases at the Beer Store. Times change. Prices go up, but a bargain is still a bargain.
On the January 5 Vintages Release, there are oodles of them.Castillo De La Mota 2015, $12.95, from Rueda in Spain is a “Sleeper”. Made from Verdejo, a white grape rarely seen outside Spain, this charmer offers significant ripe citrus fruit along with traces of melon and anise. Refreshing, it will be perfect with seafood that is just lightly seasoned. winealign.com gives it a respectable 88.
From the province of Marche up on Italy’s Adriatic Coast comes De Angelis Pecorino Offida 2016, $15.95, proud bearer of 2 out of 3 glasses from the Gambero Rosso publication. Organically produced, the grapes were harvested in the early, cool morning and fermented as soon as possible to preserve freshness. The result is a lush and creamy white with intimations of brioche and citrus – Gambero Rosso suggests hints of bitter orange.
France’s Loire region is known as a producer of Chenin Blanc, but in the area around Touraine, the varietal of choice is Sauvignon Blanc. Domaine Jacky Marteau Sauvignon Touraine 2017, $15.95, is ripe with ample lemon-lime fruit and really expresses the Sauvignon Blanc character. From Decanter we are told to expect “an attractive and concentrated [wine] with grassy aromas and ripe fruit. Pear and minerals on the palate.” – 88.Austria’s Grüner Veltliner is a white that is starting to earn the recognition it deserves. Stylistically dry and crisp, the grape’s better examples have some depth and balance. Rabl Langenlois Grüner Veltliner 2017, $16.95, is substantial, structured and lively, offering spiciness and delicate peppery notes on the finish. The Wine Enthusiast references ù.hints of salty yeast and bright fresh lemon.” - 89
New Zealand is the source of the Matawihi Pinot Gris 2018, $17.95, which offers us a luscious take on the grape which can also present itself as “Pinot Grigio”. This example is fresh, juicy and pungent, with nuances of grapefruit and orange zest, along with a mineral note and fine length.
With fruit gathered from vineyards in California’s North Coast and Central Coast regions, the Tom Gore Chardonnay 2016, $19.95, has balance and classic proportions. The winery attributes pear and apple characteristics to the North Coast fruit, and more tropical elements to the Central Coast contribution. That the fruit comes across so well speaks of good wine-making. With less than 4 grams of residual sugar there is no reliance on topping up the sweetness here. It doesn’t need it. A dollop of Sauvignon Blanc nudges the acidity gently, and an almost 50/50 combination of oak and stainless steel fermentation contributes to the excellent integration of flavour.
Turning the page to red wines, there are even more plentiful bargains to get us salivating.
The Crusher Pinot Noir 2016, $14.95, is a new addition to the Vintages shelves from California’s Sebastiani group, which also markets the Aquinas Pinot Noir found on the regular shelves at $19.95. It earns full marks from the Wine Enthusiast for being big-bodied and sporting “vibrant black-cherry and coriander flavors.” They go on to say that it is “big bold, and complex at the same time.” - 91From Mount Benson, a relatively new region on South Australia’s Limestone Coast comes the Norfolk Rise Vineyard Shiraz 2017, $14.95. This wine has been crafted for instant appeal. It has heady aromas of spice and cedar, which are followed by juicy, ripe red fruit balanced by savoury herbal notes, with the result being a highly quaffable red ideal for stews and casseroles.
Geografico Ferrante Governo All’Uso 2016, $14.95, is a Tuscan wine made by adding a small amount of dried grapes to the new wine in order to start a second fermentation – not too dissimilar to the technique for making Ripasso. Vintages says that in this case the result is “a supple, savoury evocation of ripe cherry, currant, sweet herbs and vanilla.” Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Cecchi, a winery in Umbria to the east of Tuscany, presents its La Campana Montefalco Rosso 2016, $14.95, a blend of Sagrantino and Sangiovese and Merlot. On its own,Sagrantino makes some big and brooding wines that can age and age. Here, the blend gives us a harmonious combination of plum, cherry and herb. Though there is just 15% in the blend, this may be a good introduction to Sagrantino, giving you a sense of where further explorations of the grape will lead you.Writer Jeb Dunnick calls Spain’s Tarima Monastrell 2016, $14.95, a terrific value scoring it 91. Vinissimus, a site specializing in Spanish wines, shares this: “On the nose it exudes notes of fine wood, coffee, caramel, very juicy ripe fruit, very refreshing mineral and balsamic notes, a spicy background along with aromas of honeycomb and Mediterranean plants... It exhibits a remarkable richness of aromas with excellent blending. On the palate it is oily, intense, medium-bodied, its persistence is truly remarkable and the aftertaste is extremely long, with a reappearance of the caramel notes. To drink again and again, and to say again and again: a very complete wine.”
Chapoutier’s wines are produced bio-dynamically, which puts them in as close a harmony with nature as can be imagined. Another indication that tells us that Chapoutier is especially attentive to detail can be found in the fact that the wine labels have these little bumps on them…they are printed in Braille!
The Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2017, $15.95, is medium-bodied, carrying smooth tannins and soft acidity, with “hints of spice, red berries and underbrush” -88-91 –robertparker.com.
While it exceeds the ceiling I mentioned at the start of $20, I continue to really like the Ravenswood Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel 2016, $21.95. The depth, the integration, the totally incorporated flavour of this wine make it something against which I measure all other Zins I might try. It is a high standard, even for more expensive wines. It is smooth and lush and very, very long. Ravenswood suggest that it will age up to 10 years. It is the total package. While they suggest serving it with turkey, salmon, or chicken, I would be leaning towards leg of lamb or a beautiful strip loin. Love it.
One wine on the general list that has just come out with its 2016 vintage is Mouton Cadet, $16.45. It is predominantly Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in support. This wine provides the perfect argument for giving many young red wines a chance to breathe before serving them. When first opened, it came across as a bit angular, with tannins jostling with the fruit. After showing it some air for few hours, it was as if we had taken fine sandpaper to a piece of wood – all the rough edges have been smoothed off, and what is left is all pleasure. This too, is a very good wine to serve with beef, or even pork ribs.
There you go. Lots to choose from, and I haven’t told you about the many other gems on the release, such as Chile’s Montes Sauvignon Blanc, $14.95, Argentina’s Gata Flora Torrontés, $15.95, or San Raffaele Pinot Grigio, $15.95 in white wines, or 12 E Mezzo Primitivo, $14.95, and I Balzi Rosso, $15.95 from Italy or Solà Fred, $17, from Spain in red.
Oh, the hardship! So many wonderful wines. What difficult choices! Go Get ‘em!
Happy New Year!