Thursday, November 29, 2012

December 8th Vintages goes out with a whimper.

After the last two big buck, massive money, terribly taxed, wallet wrecking, dollar discarding delights (see, I can use alliteration to describe the Vintages features too), the December 8th release seems to be an afterthought unless you want some fizz. The good news is there are some really big quantities on order in this release because it’s the only one in December. The bad news? The majority of the big quantities are ‘who cares?’ kind of wines.
Like so many of the 2012 Vintages releases, the December 8th Vintages release is sadly lacking in excitement. The result is the LCBO ends the year with a whimper, not a bang.  The release merits  a VRSS score of 59. There are only 3 wines that are in my both my ‘have to buy’ category and my ‘within my budget’ category.
My Red Picks
Perrin Vacqueyras Les Christins 2010 - $22.95– Broken record time! The Southern Rhone, Vacqueyras, 2010, the Perrin boys – buy it. You’ll like it.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 - $19.95 – Nice wine, spicy, lots of cassis notes, hints of cedar.  Priced where the Wynn’s should be. Nice segue, if I do say so myself.
Wynn’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 - $24.95 – Always could be recommended on quality, its black fruit and hints of eucalyptus make it a natural for lamb chops,  but too costly.
Foncalieu Reserve du Crouzeau St. Gervais  Cotes du Rhone Villages 2010 $15.95 – Another reasonably priced CdRV from the amazing 2010 vintage, this one has the palate pleasing combination of full on fruit and an almost contradictory dryness.  According to the review, rich stew is called for. Failing his availability ladies  I suggest you try rich Bob.
Cuvelier de Los Andes $21.95 – a WoM so you can buy one, try one, then go back for more if it meets your fancy. With a rare prime rib this’ll be superb. Lots of black fruit and tannic enough to hold its own against the sanguine beef.
Susana Balboa Signature Malbec 2010 - $19.95 – From the queen of Argentine winemakers, this gets an amazing score from Tastings.  I don’t expect it will reach that lofty height in your glass but it will be very good and the two bucks you’ll save on the WoM might as well go in your pocket .
Ninquen Antu  Chilean Mountain Syrah 2010 - $16.95 – Chocolate and coffee and gobs of black fruit. Last couple of vintages I bought were overoaked with lots of heat on the back. Watch for that.
Bodegas Del Abad  Dom Bueno Mencia $15.95 – 92 points, 5 years to age to reach its prime. Worth a try but if you must open it, do let it breathe. See last release’s notes on Petalos for more on what to expect from the mencia grape.
Bodega LAN Crianza 2008 - $15.95 – Well priced, good quality. Bring on the post New Years diet tapas!
Domaine Clavel Bonne Pioche Pic St.Loup 2010 -$19.95 – A new one from the Languedoc that is going to be really food worthy if you’ve served up something in the ‘herbes de provence’ spectrum.
Zonte’s Footsteps – 2010 Sangiovese Barbera – Just because you’re in a place where you can grow some things and make wine from them doesn’t mean you should grow some things and make wine from them.  This wine might an example that.
The Whites
Lailey Unoaked Chardonnay -$14.95 – A good price for the pure expression of Ontario Chard fruit unencumbered by toasted hardwood.
Jim  Barry The Lodge Hill Reisling $19.95 – Excellent producer, from the Clare Valley so think cooler climate (for Oz, not for here)  and extra dry. Should age well.  Blind tasting against some from Europe and Niagara? Sounds like fun.
The Big Bucks
Elderton Ode to Lorraine 2009 –$39.95-  A cab/shiraz/merlot blend delivers a massive wave of black fruits that hits your palate with a Tsunami-like intensity.  Gee, without  hyperbole how would I describe some of these wines? In your glass, opaque; on your palate, oplaque. My own word for teethstaining, mouthfilling , viscous monsters.
Another pair of big Aussies – the 2008 Mitolo Serpico Cabernet at $57.95 will be an enormous glass of spicy, black fruited cabernet. Far less of the eucalyptus that you’d find in say a Coonawarra cab but look for some cedar notes if you can find them under that fruit. The Glaetzer Bishop is equally big but a shiraz, and from 2010 so it’s two years younger than the cab. Think black fruited soy sauce, maybe.  At $39.95, it’s much less expensive. Both these wines used to have/ still have a bit of a cult following. For sure the latter will need  some time to rest before you attack it.
Two reds from BC – Church and State’s Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 and Burrowing Owl Syrah 2009 are both highly priced and in some circles highly prized. I like them both but have a hard time with the QPR. Church and State has a pair of wineries now open so should you find yourself visiting Victoria and heading to Butchart Gardens, leave yourself time to visit the original  one just up the road from there.    The new Okanagan winery is home to an apparently spectacular tasting bar.  Burrowing Owl?  Better (financed) competition may have taken the bloom off that rose but it’s still very good.  Ageworthy? Not sure about either one.
Stonestreet Monument Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon - $49.95 – Just under my self-imposed ceiling, the reviews for this one read like it should cost many times this price. Watch for the local reviewers take on it – 94 to 96 points is hard to ignore but also hard to live up to!
J.Lohr Hilltop Vineyard Cab Sauv 2009 - $38.95 – Bigger brother to the Vintages Essential J. Lohr  Cabernet, this one’ll provide immediate pleasure and also age for a time. Is it four dollars better than the Stark Conde or one dollar worse than the Elderton blend? Only your palate will know for sure and it’s a somewhat expensive exercise to find out, but I think you’ll be happy with any of them.
Stark Conde Three Pines Jonkershoek Cab Sauv 2008 -$34.95 - a big, brawny cab from one of South Africa’s more respected producers. Has a fine pedigree and although this is a new product so is unfamiliar to me, I have had previous Stark Conde cab vintages and found them a pleasure with anything grilled or roasted.
Pietranera Brunello di Montalcino 2006 - $35.95 – Great price for a great vintage in Brunello.
Poggio Il Castellare Brunello di Montalcino 2006 - $47.95 – I’m not familiar with the producer but oh what a vintage this was. If you’re not sure about your palate but want to try a brunello, go for the one above.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Things we'll never see at the LCBO

Next time someone asks me what I want Santa to bring me for Christmas, I'll just send them here and tell them "I want  the LCBO to do things like this."

BP, don't you know there is no Santa Claus.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

November 24th release - We're in the home stretch - bring the big, big, bucks

Well here we are, November 24th. I know there’s still one more release to come in 2012 but as far as I’m concerned, if the year’s Vintages releases were a horse race, this pre- Christmas release would represent the home stretch to the finish line. I can hear the call now,  “In the lead, it’s Don Mechor on A Chile Breeze, followed closely by  One Big Napa Cab just in front of his stablemates Another Big Napa Cab,  Still Another Big Napa Cab and Biggest Buck Cabby… now here comes The Old Gaucho and Ozzie Oz on the outside as the Canadian horse, Options from Niagara, falls off the pace. As they pound toward the finish, French Fizz surges ahead by a tongue, and speaking of tongues,  Hard Licker in a Beret is gaining ground,  followed closely by the Wee 18 yr old Scot. And as they cross the line the winner is, and the winner is???  It’s just too close to call in a 3 way photo finish among jockeys Mark Up atop ‘Already High Retail’ , Mort Axes riding ‘Ungawdly High Tariffs’  and Hans Offamy-Wallet aboard ‘Conspicuous  Consumption’!”  
Speaking of the latter, again this year the first 25 bottles in this release  have an average price well over $100 each.  I looked at them, dreamt of the lottery and quickly turned the pages to the more plebian choices. If price was no object, the VRSS would be way up there. But price really is an object,  so we’re back to another mediocre 59-64 point range release. However, there are some excellent wines priced in the mid-twenties (and a few even less) that should receive your consideration. I've sorted them in the order I'd buy 'em in both the regular release and the Big Buck but not the biggest buck categories.
Domaine  Grand Veneur Clos de Sixte Lirac 2010- $22.95 Lirac is one of the less appreciated Villages among  the Cotes du Rhone Villages. This is from a great vintage and from a terrific producer, Alain Jaume, as well. This might even be down in price from last year I think. (Gasp, terrific wine, terrific vintage,  terrific producer, down in price – good thing I am sitting down!)
Pierre Amadieu  Romane Machotte Gigondas 2010 $23.95 – I’ll be buying  the Lirac and the Gigondas for sure! The Lirac might be slightly more approachable for immediate consuming, the Gigondas is built more for the long term if you can keep your hands off it.
Rust en Vrede  Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. At $24.95, a superb South African producer and region. Well priced at $24.95 for what I expect to be a big, full cab.
Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – Always very good. Hits the sweet spot on my palate for SavvyBlank. Where are those scallops?
Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay $14.95 – Can’t go wrong here. Oaky enough to give you splinters, it’ll be buttery but the fruit shines through and the price is right.
Canonica a Cerretto Chianti Classico Riserva  2007 - $18.95. Well priced Riserva from a great vintage. Could be a good option too I hope!
Small Gully ‘The Formula’ Shiraz 2007 –$18.95 – Still wildly popular in Ontario, the ’06 sold out a few times over. This wine is like the energizer bunny, it just keeps selling and selling!
Ballast Stone Shiraz 2009 – $18.95- From  the Fleurieu Peninsula  of the McLaren Vale, this is a Shiraz  that lets you  taste its proximity to the ocean. Well priced, expect lots of black fruit and some real saline notes of to me, nori to others,  olive tapenade.
Volpaia Chianti Classico 2009 At $23.95, I’ll search out the Cerretto first and hold this one in reserve (not in Riserva, yuk, yuk,)
Descendientes de J. Palacios Petalos 2010. $23.95 From the Biezo region of Spain and made from the Mencia  grape. As I’ve said in the past, if you want the label on your bottle of wine to impress someone, this is the wine for you. The label is Beyond stylish. But it’s also so much more than just a label.  Contents wise, and YMMV, Mencia is Pinacherah to my palate. Hints of Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Syrah are all there. The first vintage I had was spectacular. The last couple of years’ have been harsher and less fruit forward. I laid one down last year. Hmmm, perhaps it’s time to try it and let you know how it fared.
Cicchitti Limited edition Malbec 2008 – Into the $20’s for a Malbec but I like this one. Best served with something dead and red on your plate.
Big Bucks
I refuse to even review the first 18 pages or so of this Vintages release.  The wines there are priced so far out of my league that I just have to laugh. However, there are a few smaller big bucks ones (sort of like jumbo shrimp, I guess)  further back. These ones may be flying slightly under the radar but they also manage to provide wine greatness and slip in under my (feeble attempt to maintain a) $50 ceiling.
Paul Hobbs Crossbarn 2008 - $38.95 – Almost 40 bucks but among the better Cab buys in the release. Not as age worthy as the big boys on the first 20 pages or so but over the next few years this’ll be a great addition to any cellar.
Massena 11th Hour Shiraz 2006 - $48.95 – and should be drinking impeccably right now but is expensive. If you’re going to spend this much for an Aussie, you might consider the Terlato and Chapoutier in the previous release for three dollars more.
Domaine La Roquete 2010 – $46.95 - From the Bruniers of Vieux Telegraphe fame, this has increased in price at an alarming rate over the last 5 years. The ’05 was superb at less than $35. That said, this is still a smoking wine and I mean that in both the quality and the mesquite-y sense of the word. Look for the smokey nuances combined with lots of fruit on the palate.
Ascheri Pisapola Barolo 2007 – $42.95
Cascina Cucco  Ceratti Barolo 2007 -$39.95
Citille Di Sopra Brunello Di Montalcino - $39.95 – These last three all need to be taken to a quiet, cool dark place and forgotten for a number of years. And then, maybe five Christmases from now, go find them, pick one and consider pulling the cork. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy Imbibing One and All!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Vintages November 10th release - Ka-ching!

Nov 10 Vintages release - Festive Finds and Piedmont's progress. If it wasn't for alliteration, could the LCBO describe their vintages releases?
This one is usually among the bigger and often  better releases of the year so let’s see what 2012 holds for us. My first thought? If nothing else many of these prices  prepare you for even more sticker shock to come in the next release! That said, I did manage to find some sub $17 wines for your Christmas house warming party, sudden guests,  or to accompany simple grilled meat  and salad when you can’t face more rich food. There are also some sub $30 wines that’ll look, and more especially, taste good in any cellar. As well, I have succumbed to the siren song of a few of the entries in the Big Bucks section. Many of these latter ones are admittedly well over my own self imposed $50 ceiling but for those of you with the urge to splurge,  here they are.
This release scores well on the VRSS – largely because of the big buck options that are leading me down the road to temptation – coming in at a new high of 75 points.
**Cathedral Cellars Brut 2009 $16.95 –335 cases -  From a very high quality, well priced South African producer of big reds and chardonnays.
**Cave de Lugny Brut Rose Cremant de Bourgogne $16.95 - 349 cases– Gold medal winner – think fizz at ¼ to 1/3 the price of  Champagne and without the ageworthyness.

**GRAY MONK UNWOODED CHARDONNAY 2011 $19.95 223 cases of 12 from the Okanagan. Look for pure fruit, unencumbered by a preponderance of nasty wood. Turkey this Christmas? Try this!
**CAVE DE LA VIGNE BLANCHE MACON VILLAGES 2010 - $15.95 – 299 cases of 12. Should be a terrific inexpensive white option over the holidays.
DOMAINE DE RIAUX POUILLY FUME 2011 249 cases $21.95
PAZO PONDAL LEIRA ALBARINO 2011 299 cases – Spectacular review and score (95 points) for an acquired taste for $15.95 – It has to be worth a try. Expect a perfumy nose suggesting  pit fruits and a very light on the palate wine. The palate leads more to apple and pear with citrus hints.  I’m not a huge fan of it on its own but it’ll accompany seafood or chicken satays nicely.  

THORNE CLARKE BAROSSA SHIRAZ  2010 1498 cases $21.95 – Can never go wrong with this one. Big and bold, it just says Australia.
WAKEFIELD JARAMAN CABERNET 2010 447 cases $25.95 from a very good producer.
VASSE FELIX CAB MERLOT 2010 334 cases –$24.95 more Bordeaux than  OZ.  Not so ‘in your face fruity’ but still, you do have to think 2003 Bordeaux.
SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK SHIRAZ 2010 $24.95 1024 cases of 6 – A very nice Shiraz, but I prefer the Thorne Clarke shiraz option.
HOGUE RESERVE CABERNET 2007 $29.95 250 Cases - If you enjoyed the recent release of the Hogue Genesis, try this. It’s got all that and more! Yes my bias to Washington St. wines is showing here and it should really just be $25. If you’re not going to hold it for more than a year or two this is a better buy than either of the big buck options from Washington St. in my humble opinion.
Two 2009 Argentina Cabs in a sub $20 duel – LUIGI BOSCA VS KAIKEN ULTRA CABERNET  – The Kaiken has a slight lead on points but also is a couple of $’s more. For immediate to short term future consumption, you can’t go wrong with either one paired to a rare rib roast. Over 800 cases of each.
FAIRVIEW SHIRAZ  2009 $16.95 – South Africa does Shiraz and Syrah oh so well. Fairview manages to match quality and price very nicely.
**DOMAINE DE LONGUE TOQUE GIGONDAS 2010- $29.95 199 cases – Hmm, the Gigondas or the Vacqueyras? Maybe both!
**PIERRE AMADIEU LA GRANGELIERE VACQUEYRAS 2010 - $19.95 399 cases – Fruitier and less tannic (usually) than the Gigondas but longer lived than a Cotes du Rhone Villages.
LA FERME DU MONT  PREMIERE COTES COTES DU RHONE 2009 $15.95 – Right in its drinking window.  Good vintage, good wine  and well priced for a party.
CLOS LA COUTALE CAHORS 2010 - $15.95 – An OK French Malbec (or is that an oaky French Malbec?).  Makes for  an interesting comparison to the single vineyard LA POSTA FROM ARGENTINA at the same price point in this release.
DA VINCI CHIANTI 2010 -$16.95
**BERONIA RIOJA 2007 $18.95**- 1970 cases - Annually a dandy wine at a pretty good price. I checked the past recommendations to get a price history.  In previous releases, the wine leapt up to $19.95 after being previously listed at $17.95. This vintage has split the difference and come back to $18.95. Could it be that the LCBO is actually listening to us? Doubtful,  but the correctives will continue if they deserve them.
BARON DE LAY GRAN RESERVA 2001-$29.95 400 cases - Lots of age on this one for those of you who like their wines with less primary fruit (so smokier, prunier and more leathery).


**LE VIEUX DONJON CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE 2010 $53.95 –149 cases of 12 so be ready for a fistfight! Always exceptional. With 2010 being a terrific vintage, I expect nothing less than that.  I’ll need to get a couple to keep my vertical going – even though they’re over my $$ limit.
**RENATO RATTI MARCENASCO 2007 $49.95 –229 cases  A spectacularly good Barolo. I committed oenological infanticide on a bottle of the 2005 just so I could share it with my brother and sister in law in BC. It was a big, multilayered spectacular example of the Nebbiolo grape.  I wish I’d kept it longer!
**TWO HANDS BELLA’S GARDEN 2010 – 499 cases of 6 - $64.95 Picking an Australian Shiraz could be a difficult sell, but if the WS decides to reward many years of patient, consistent, Top 100 placements, this could be a good  pick for their Wine of the Year this year. Other wines may have scored higher this year, but have they exhibited such consistent excellence over time? Not many of them!
**DOMAINE DU VIEUX TELEGRAPHE TELEGRAMME 2010 199 cases $46.95 – Named for an old telegraph tower erected in the late 1800’s this estate has a long storied history. Many consider the Vieux Telegraphe to be among the Rhone equivalents to a Bordeaux Premier Cru. Certainly it is among the top half a dozen locations in the Southern Rhone’s best appellation, Chateauneuf du Pape.  The pricing on their top wine ‘La Crau’ has escalated crazily in the last few years. In 2006, I bought bottles of the 2004 release of La Crau in the $40’s at most. Now it’s around $80! Segue alert! In the mid eighties, the success of the Brunier family led them to  buy up another estate in the appellation (now called la Roquรจte) and to also produce a second label for VT, Telegramme. The latter is sold at a reduced  price from La Crau, but is still pretty highly priced for CNdP. While very good, Telegramme is produced from younger vines from the same vineyards as La Crau. Younger of course depends on your perspective. These younger  vines are all at least 20 years old. It is a very nice wine and to buy the ‘first’ release of it in Canada holds some cachet I suppose. However, it is in 4th place on my BIG BUCKS list, and I haven’t yet reviewed the Nov.24th release to see what temptations await me there!  Ahhh, so many wines, so few dollars!
**FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA DIRECTOR’S CUT CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010 - $34.95 449 cases of 12  – After looking at the previous 4 wines,  the ‘Price –Quality’ equation  tips slightly in your favour here. Well as much in your favour as it can ever be when shopping at the LCBO. Lamb? Beef? On its own? It’s excellent.
TERTULIA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2007 $33.95 199 cases From the H3 Vineyard in Washington St., this one is an unknown quantity to me. The review reads like it’ll be a sophisticated midweight cab  with mature fruit and herbs but not a fruit bomb. Too bad it’s not 4 bucks less. For those  4 bucks a bottle, I’ll stick with the known, if somewhat simpler, Hogue Reserve.
CORTE PAVONE Brunello di Montalcino 2006 -$49.95 449 cases of 6 – Spectacular vintage in Brunello and all of Tuscany really, given a 96 point score by the post WS version of James Suckling, this one is to be laid down and avoided for a few years at the very least.
JONATA TODOS RED 2008 $59.95
DIAMANDES DE UCO GRAN RESERVE $39.95 – 498 cases of 6 - Huge-mongous, yes I said huge-mongous,  malbec for that, served oh so rare, Christmas Prime Rib roast.
ABBONA BAROLO 2004 $47.95
TERLATO AND CHAPOUTIER LIEU DIT MALAKOFF -999 cases of 6 $51.95 – My opinion is that this is a funny one for the Vintages team to sell. It’s a terrific wine and is universally praised  for its level of  sophistication. Think of it as a wine  labeled from OZ but actually travelling incognito from a hot year in the Rhone. On the plus side, it’s a single named vineyard offering. The stickler is that it’s produced in Central Victoria and not the McLaren Vale or Barossa. As a result,  I can see it going on sale in a few months due to lack of interest. Previous vintages released here have suffered that fate and I think the same’ll happen here.  In  the $40’s it was a hard sell. Over $50? I don’t think it’ll move. Look for it to be marked down to $37.95 sometime next year.