Today's Vintages release of 90 items is totally bereft of any celebratory January 25th Robbie Burns Day libations for next Wednesday's praise to the haggis. It is a shame that last October's LCBO massive flood of the market wasn't better spread out. Did we really need 22 new Vintages selections plus another 31 new LCBO whiskies from around the world, including two Japanese "Single Malts" all at one time? Luckily, National Post readers can still get the full list of featured best buys from my Web site.
Of the handful of new whites presented today, I have four buys, all under $20. From British Columbia, a reliable performer is Gray Monk 2004 Pinot Blanc (321612) at $15.95. Light straw colour, the nose is gently honeyed with ripe, apricot-tangerine-citrus notes. It is fairly dry and unoaked with lots of easy-to-enjoy ripe melon flavours that show good length. Sourced from vineyards in both in both the northern and southern sections of the Okanagan Valley, it is well structured with 13.1% alcohol and would be perfect with poultry and seafood dishes.
More austere and yet very delicious in its own right is an excellent version of a classic oyster wine from the Loire. If shellfish are on your horizon, make sure you bag a couple of bottles of Château de Chasseloir 2004 Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie (642637) at $13.95. Look for a bright, slightly chalky, lemony nose, which is followed up by tangy, fairly-light bodied, crisp, ripe lemon-melon flavours and a sliver of complexity from the lees aging (sur lie). Drink it soon while it is still fresh and lively.
Another winner from France, this time from Alsace, is the attractive, easy-to-drink Gustave Lorentz 2003 Riesling Medaille d'Or (641639) at $16.95. It comes with fresh, ripe lemon-melon aromas, which lean in a honeyed, floral direction. It is not a gangbuster, but dry, medium-light bodied and well balanced with clean, ripe melon-lemon flavours - again, perfect for seafood.
The best buy white comes from the Pays d'Oc region - Laurent Miquel 2004 Viognier Nord Sud (673236) at $16.95. Unlike the previous whites, this one has seen its share of fine French oak. A portion was barrel fermented for adding complexity and toasty flavours, while the balance was kept in stainless steel thereby boosting fruitiness. The result is terrific - a nose loaded with fruit and very lively, well-structured, gently spicy, honeyed, intense ripe melon flavours followed up by a lingering, cedary finish. Great for white meats and pasta in cream based sauces.
Moving on to the reds, as this release is called "the adventurous life of Syrah/Shiraz", here are my findings of some 20 on offer. First, it ends up being pretty much ending up as Australia vs. France with a tip of the hat going to Chile, South Africa, California and Portuguese contenders.
First from Australia, comes one of the best buys of the release Tyrrell's 2003 Rufus Stone Shiraz (542100) at $19.95. Given its terrific quality, it seems that the price must have been messaged down from $23.95 to land this substantial Vintages 1,310 case order. It has a very deep intense purple colour and is surprisingly smooth despite the whopping 14.5% alcohol. On the palate it has spicy, well-structured, concentrated, juicy, ripe plum and cassis flavours and a lingering cedar-chocolate finish. This South Australian McLaren Vale effort is fine today, but will still evolve over the next 18 months. Don't miss it.
South African wine fans need not fret. KWV 2000 Cathedral Cellar' Shiraz (561142) at $16.95 hits the target with a somewhat rustic, ready-to-drink, fairly robust, roasted plum and coffee flavoured effort from the Western Cape. A perfect roast beef partner, especially if accompanied by some horseradish. Meanwhile at only $12.95, Saxenburg 2003 Guinea Fowl' Shiraz/Cabernet/ Merlot (694364) offers fine, solid, fairly gutsy, slightly smoky, peppery, dried plum and chocolate flavours that can definitely benefit from another year of aging.
From French Rhone, the traditional home of Syrah come four selections, all offering divergent styles. My personal favourite was Delas Fréres 2003 Les Launes Crozes-Hermitage (701359) at $22.95, even though one of the bottles sampled was a bit problematic. I loved the nose, which was very complex and meaty with slightly smoky, spicy, plumy, red currant notes. The spicy, very dry, gently juicy, ripe plum and blueberry flavours had a solid, tangy finish.
A second bottle of Cave de Sarras 2000 Cuvée Champtenaud' Saint-Joseph (673145) at $22.95 showed very well with solid, complex, ripe plum, sandalwood and licorice flavours. As for the rather tasty, ripe, juicy, cherry flavoured Domaine des Sénéchaux 2003 Châteauneuf-Du-Pape (677922) at $31.95, it just seemed too light for the money. Much less expensive and more straightforward is L'Ostal Cazes 2003 Circus Shiraz (673202) at $14.95. This Vin de Pays d'Oc is fairly juicy with ready-to-drink, plumy, ripe cherry flavours.
A nice surprise from Portugal was the very decent, solid, juicy but well structured, dried red cherry flavoured Joao Portugal Ramos 2004 Syrah (998682) at $20.95. Finally, from California's Los Carneros region of Sonoma is Cline 2002 Syrah (955435) at $27.95, which showed lots of depth with intense, plumy, ceday flavours and a lingering, bitter chocolate finish.
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