January 9, 2009




All recommendations are linked to the LCBO database enabling you to do an instant store search for current inventory.

January 10, 2009 Vintages Release
Sales at the LCBO
Upcoming Events

Welcome to the New Year. I was curious to see how many wines in last year's first Vintages release were under $14. The answer: 18 of the 85 items on release (excluding the 9 ISDs) or 21% of the first January Vintages release of 2008.  For tomorrow's release designated as the Vintages Smart Buys release there are 113 items on release. Only 13 are below $14 or just 11.5% of the first January Vintages release of 2009 - just half of what it was last year. In spite of the recession, it would seem that Vintages still believes that it can try and increase profits by up-selling customers. In addition, there are more ISDs than last year - 13 to be exact. This is something that Vintages executives claimed would be reduced/phased out last year.

Unfortunately, most of the least expensive Vintages wines are not cheap, at least when quality enters into the equation. There are, in fact, much better, widely-available values on the LCBO "general list". For bargain hunter's let me recommend three white that actually represent great value:

From Argentina, Cristobal 2008 1492 Verdelho (81182) at $12.95 from Mendoza. It rated *+ (out of ***+ stars). It has a pale straw colour and attractive, youthful (still slightly leesy) ripe lemon nose. On the palate, it's dry, crisp, youthful, medium-light bodied, ripe lemon-melon flavours with a surprisingly intense, lingering, hazelnut-tinged finish. Unoaked and great for seafood. Made from Verdelho, a grape originally grown in Portugal (mainly Madeira and the Douro Valley) and now also found in Australia and Argentina. Ready to drink – try with seafood.

Also from Mendoza is a real best buy: Catena 2007 Alamos Chardonnay (801571) at $13.95, which rated a very respectable ** (very few wines at this price level achieve two stars). Very light yellow in colour, the nose is lovely, complex and intense with slightly smoky, vanilla-tinged, ripe lemon-lime purée fruit. On the palate it is fairly dry, quite well structured, creamy and medium bodied with caramelized pear flavours that show good length. It's a wide-appeal, ready-to-drink sipper with fine versatility.

From German, there's delicious sipper: Moselland 2005 Insignum Riesling Kabinett (72355) at $13.95. It rated *+/**. Light straw in colour, the nose is sweet and honeyed with fairly intense, ripe yellow plum notes. On the palate it is sweet, spicy, medium-light bodied, rounded, ripe melon-lemon flavours with a lingering, crisp finish. An easy to drink crowd pleaser that is perfect for Sunday brunch.

If you enjoy Burgundy, don't miss Henri de Villamont 2006 Bourgogne Chardonnay (525121) at $19.95. It rated **. Very light yellow in colour the bouquet shows fine complexity with slightly spicy, ripe lemon and buttered toast. On the palate it is dry, medium bodied and harmonious with gently toasty, pear and ripe lemon flavours with a lingering, slightly buttery finish. This is much better than the 2004 released on September 30, 2006 at $16.95.

Moving on to the reds, it's challenging in the under $14 cheap and cheerful department. The best bet might be Chateau Ksara 2006 Reserve du Couvent (443721) at $12.95, which rated *+. This blend of 40% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Franc and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon has a very deep intense purple colour and has a spicy, sweetish, plummy, ripe strawberry nose. On the palate it's fairly dry, well balanced and very slightly sweetish with spicy, juicy, ripe black cherry and slightly smoky, sandalwood flavours followed up by a lingering, cedar-clove finish.

If you are willing to pay a bit more, there are some really terrific buys.  From Italy, Poggio Bertaio 2005 Stucchio Sangiovese (95166) at $17.95 rated **. This 100% Sangiovese was aged in French oak for 12 months and has a deep intense purple colour. The nose is quite classic with intense, ripe, plummy, Sangiovese nose with some sandalwood notes. On the palate it is dry, quite intense, and mouthfilling with plummy, dried red cherry and sandalwood flavours and a long lingering finish. This is what fine Sangiovese is all about - don't miss it.

Gems from Australia include Pillar Box Red 2006 (685941) at $17.95, which rated **/**+. This blend of 50% Shiraz, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot has a very deep intense purple colour. The nose is very spicy with intense, ripe plum nose and baked cherry notes. On the palate it's dry and nicely structured with spicy, juicy plum and ripe cherry flavours followed up by a lingering, vanilla-cedar finish. It's drinking nicely and represents excellent value.

My best buy of the release is Watershed 2004 Shiraz (73767) at $19.95, which rated a remarkable **+/***. It has a very deep intense purple colour and seductive, intense, cedary, spicy, ripe, plummy, black cherry nose. On the palate it is dry, well-structured and medium-full bodied with delicious, very faintly smoky, plummy, ripe black cherry flavours with a lingering, cedary, high acid, mocha-coffee finish. A terrific ready-to-drink value.

Current LCBO Sales
Unfortunately the Vintages Holiday Sale: 71 items (December 8 - January 3) Vintages Holiday Fizz Sale: 18 items (December 15 - January 3) are now over. The following sales, however, are still in force:

Current January 2009 LTO & Bonus AirMiles Offers
Click here to see the combined list of 252 items
Click here to see the list of 129 LTO items
Click here to see the list of 123 Bonus AirMiles items
(Offers valid until February 1, 2009)

Vintages Insiders Direct Sale
To see the list of 160 Vintages items on sale click here
(through Vintages V-Mail only)

January 5th General List Sale
To see the list of 54 General List items being delisted click here

January 5th Final Delist Sale
To see the list of 77 General List items being delisted click here

Coming Up
Henry of Pelham Winemaker's Dinner
On January 14th, the Globe Bistro and the Henry of Pelham Winery well present this five-course dinner with matching Henry of Pelham wines including their Riesling Icewine and a feature from the Speck Family Reserve To see the menu click here. Held at Globe Bistro - 124 Danforth Ave., starting at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $125 per person. For reservations call 416-466-2000 or email info@globebistro.com for more information.


2008 Best Value Wines
LCBO Sale Friday, December 19th
Ontario Winners from Wine Awards Canada

Congratulations, the days are finally stating to get longer. I started trying to sort through the thousands of tasting notes made in 2008 in order to find my top wines. It didn't take long for me to realize what an incredibly daunting task this is. How do I designate a "top" wine. Is it the highest score; the best value; the one I simply personally liked the most (regardless of score); the best of its type; etc.?  While I realize that there are just too many top wines to just designate a single one as "the" best, I decided to make a stab at it.

When it comes to the Best Value Sweet Table Wine for 2008, the choice was relatively easy. Of the 130 sweet table wines (click here) released in Vintages in 2008, a total of 40 had a Recommended status (click here) of which 13 (or 10%) were Best Buys (click here). The number one choice in terms of quality and price comes from Austria’s Burgenland: Lenz Moser 2006 Beerenauslese Prestige (93025) at $16.95 per 375 ml bottle rated *** (out of three stars). It’s loaded with noble rot the name given to Botrytis cinerea, a special fungus, which helps create wines such as classic sweet French Sauternes and German Trockenbeernauslese. Light yellow colour, the bouquet is very sweet and spicy with honeyed, lemon meringue pie notes. On the palate, it’s rich, very sweet and spicy with tangy, Seville orange marmalade and lemon meringue flavours and a lingering, honeyed-caramel finish. Some 250 cases of 6 were released on October 11th and it’s still available in Vintages.

In case your local LCBO outlet doesn’t have it, then search out the almost as delicious Weingut Willi Opitz 2006 Cuvée Beernauslese (71274). This is now a real bargain - it has recently fallen in price from $21.95 to just $17.00 per half bottle. It has a very high **+/*** rating and was released August 16, 2008. Here is my tasting note: Very light yellow colour. Spicy, sweet, complex, Seville orange marmalade nose. Very sweet, well balanced, honeyed, ripe apricot jam and Seville orange marmalade flavours with a lingering finish. Both are terrific alternatives to icewine.

My definition of sweet table wine excludes fortified wines, such as Sherry, Madeira, Port, etc. It includes Sauternes, Icewine, all sweet “table” wines from Germany, Austria, Italy (including Moscato d'Asti), etc. It seems that a "dessert" wine is determined by national traditions and regulations. It varies by country. One might think that dessert wines (nicknamed pudding wines in the UK and stickies in Australia) are all sweet wines typically served with dessert. Despite the name, these wines are often best appreciated alone, sometimes with cheese, fruit or bakery sweets. There appears to be no simple definition of a dessert wine. In the UK, a dessert wine is considered to be any sweet wine drunk with a meal, as opposed to the white fortified wines (Fino and Amontillado Sherry) drunk before the meal, and the red fortified wines (Port and Madeira) drunk afterwards. Thus, most fortified wines are regarded as distinct from dessert wines, but some, such as Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, are regarded as honorary dessert wines. In the United States, a dessert wine is legally defined as any wine over 14% alcohol by volume, which includes all fortified wines - and are taxed more highly as a result. This dates back to a time when the US wine industry only made dessert wines by fortification, but this classification is outdated now that modern yeast and viticulture can produce dry wines over 15% without fortification (sweet German dessert wines can contain half that amount of alcohol). While the LCBO database provides a short list of dessert wines, there is no such listing for sweet table wines. Our searchable FBTI database indicates that there were 130 such releases in 2008.

With respect to sparkling wines, there were 58 sparkling releases in Vintages this year.  The top buy was the zesty ripe melon flavoured Codorniu Reserva Raventós Cava Brut (521773 • V) a ** steal at $14.95. Made in the Méthode Traditionnelle, the 300 cases of this tasty Spanish sparkler released on August 2nd disappeared almost immediately. On Friday, December 19th the LCBO made the choice for my 2008 Best Value Sparkling easy by reducing the price of my best buy pick of the 2008 Vintages Gift Catalogue. The ever-reliable sparkling duo from Spain – Codorniu Cava Gift Pack Pinot Noir Brut & Raventos Reserva Brut (6379 • V), which is now only $24.95 (previously priced at $33.95) is The latter has a light pink colour with dry, well-balanced, gently plummy flavours with fine effervescence. The latter is dry, crisp and light bodied with ripe lemon finish. It is available in some 100 Vintages outlets.

In terms of fortified wines, of the 23 Sherries appearing in Vintages in 2008, my 2008 Best Value Sherry is the extremely sweet Osborne Pedro Ximenez 1827 Sweet Sherry (47944 • V) at $17.95, rated at **+. It has a deep ambering brown colour with a golden yellow edge. The bouquet is lovely, sweet and honeyed with intense fresh-baked raisin pie notes. It's just delicious on the palate with spicy, very sweet, fleshy, rich, raisin pie flavours followed up by a long, lingering, coffee-caramel finish. Of the 250 cases released on October 11, 2008, it is still available in some 60 Vintages outlets.

When it comes to Port, it's a bit more challenging. After reviewing the 43 Vintages listings priced from $14.95 to $89.95, my 2008 Best Value Port actually turned out to come from the LCBO General List. W&J Graham's 2003 Late Bottled Vintage Port (191239 • GL) at  $16.45, with $1 LTO to January 4th. It rated ***. Bottled in 2008 (L082271 appears on the back label), it has an extremely deep intense dark purple colour. The nose exudes sweet, warm Damson plums, cherries and chocolate. Rich and mouthfilling on the plate, it's loaded with roasted plum, ripe black cherry and honeyed, vanilla-milk chocolate flavours. Great today and capable of evolving nicely over the next five years.

Table wines are another matter. Dealing with whites first, I had 117 best buy whites (to see the list click here) in this year's 884 Vintages listings, which includes 114 in-store discoveries (29 tasted). My 2008 Best Value Vintages White is Chateau des Charmes 2006 Chardonnay Musqué (640516 • V) at $16.95, which rated **/**+. This estate bottled 100% Chardonnay Musqué (clone 809) has a pale straw colour and fairly complex, intense, slightly spicy, ripe apple-tinged, lemon meringue nose. On the palate, it is dry, medium bodied and surprisingly well structured with slightly spicy, ripe lemon-melon flavours along with a lingering, very slightly toasty finish. A total of 168 cases were released in Vintages on March 15, 2008 and it's still available in about 48 Vintages outlets.

A personal favourite from Portugal's Ribatejo is the somewhat idiosyncratic Quinta da Alorna 2006 Reserve White (81505 • V) at $17.95, which initially scored **/**+ and recently updated to **+ at a subsequent tasting. This terrific blend of tank fermented Arinto and barrel fermented in new French oak (on its lees for three months) has a light yellow colour. The bouquet is complex, slightly spicy and rather toasty with lots of ripe lemon-melon notes. It's dry, harmonious and well structured with ample ripe pear-lemon-melon flavours followed up by a lingering, slightly toasty finish. A total of 150 cases were released on November 8th and it's still available in about 30 Vintages outlets.

Moving to red wines, I had 143 best buy reds (to see the list click here) in this year's 1,970 Vintages listings, which included 304 in-store discoveries (only 45 tasted).  My 2008 Best Value Vintages Red is the incredible South African 2007 Café Culture Pinotage (72710 • V) at $13.95 released on August 2nd. The 200 cases had one of the fastest Vintages sell-throughs on record with almost everything disappearing in just a few days. Loaded with smoke, coffee, cherry & mocha flavours, it initially scored **+/*** and was updated to *** at a subsequent tastings. Click Here for background on this wine. The good news is that this top gold medal winner is coming back to Vintages in mid-February at the same price. So make sure that you don't miss it.

LCBO Friday, December 19th Sale
There are 32 items on last Friday's sale. As per usual, nothing was announced to LCBO customers. Click Here to see the list.

Wine Awards Canada
2008 Ontario Award Winners

To see the winning wines sorted by type Click Here
To see the winning wines sorted by winery Click Here

Our compilation of awards from all four competitions is now complete: 20 from Cuvée (gold awards only), 72 from the Ontario Wine Awards, 73 from the All Canadian Wine Championship and 112 recently announced awards (representing 44% of the total) from the Canadian Wine Awards. Awards were down and totaled 300 awards, which translates into 272 award-winners with only 27 items or 10% receiving multiple awards. This year only one wine Pelee Island 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon received a medal in three of the four competitions: a gold, a silver and a bronze. Only two wines Niagara College 2006 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay and Jackson-Triggs Proprietor's Grand Reserve White Meritage received two golds. What is always surprising is the lack of consensus. Unfortunately, many of the better wines were not entered because producers feared receiving low scores - ie. a bronze medal for their highly priced, icon brands. Also, keep in mind that most of the best award winners are no longer available. Obviously, there is no point entering a wine if it will no longer available when the results are published many months later. Also, as these competitions tend to be expensive and can be tied in with requisite advertising, some well-known producers refuse to participate.

To help readers, I will be publishing some of my own recent tasting award winners next week. You can be assured that these wines are available and that the awards come from a reliable, consistent palate as opposed to the diverse palates of a mystery panel. To see last year's feature on the 2007 awards Click Here

Merry Christmas