Articles Tagged ‘wine picks’

TASTING NOTES: David Lawrason raises a toast to Merlot, that great forgotten grape

Merlot has become the great forgotten red grape since being mercilessly panned in Sideways. David Lawrason believes there may be a resurrection in the offing

Illustration by Kyle Brownrigg

Once a wine hits mainstream success, it tends to fall out of favour with wine critics, sommeliers, and even some winemakers themselves. This has been the fate of merlot, one of the world’s most widely planted red grapes.

When mellow merlot became so widely popular in the 1990s, the wine opiners began to look down their collective noses at it (it happened to chardonnay too).

This gave rise to a famous line in the 2004 Academy Award-nominated movie Sideways in which the lead actor threatens to leave a restaurant if his companion orders “a fucking merlot.”

Since that low blow, merlot has wallowed, bruised and dejected, in the shadow of pinot noir (the star of the same film) and, to some degree, syrah. Merlot is still out there on the shelves (so someone is buying it), but wine pundits continue to ignore it.

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WEEKENDER TO WINE COUNTRY: Suggestions for picture-perfect wineries in Prince Edward County

Time for a weekender to pretty Prince Edward County. Visit some picture-perfect wineries, taste-test their latest offerings, and revel in the burgeoning local wine scene 

BY DAVID LAWRASON

This story appears in the Summer edition of Ottawa Magazine. Buy the magazine on newsstands or order your online edition.

Field of dreams: A view over the vineyards taken from the wooden barn that houses The Old Third vineyard. David Lawrason has put a visit to the rustic Prince Edward County winery on his summer to-do list. Photography by Leeanne Munn.

Local wine fans, rejoice! Now, more than ever before, distinctive (and increasingly good) wine is available directly from wineries situated right on the city’s doorstep. The wine region of Prince Edward County is just an ambitious day trip — or a comfy weekend jaunt — away. And every year, the County produces an ever greater range of reliable wines. You, too, can finally do as Europeans have been doing forever — head to the country to buy your wine personally and oh so locally.

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TASTING NOTES: Argentinian wines are gaining elegance — and momentum — try these good-value picks from the LCBO

In the wake of the huge success of Fuzion, the versatile wine country strives to move beyond the bold malbecs that made it famous  By David Lawrason

A few years ago, Argentina’s bold malbecs swaggered into town, offering bags of flavour at unbelievably low prices. And they caught on like wildfire, with the now ubiquitous Fuzion — a malbec-shiraz blend priced at just $7.75 — becoming the largest-selling brand in LCBO history. With the LCBO shelves now bursting with dense (though often coarse and simple) malbecs priced under $12, it seemed that a visit to Argentina was in order to find out what’s on the horizon from the world’s fifth largest wine-producing nation.

With about 30 percent of Argentina’s vast, arid Andean vineyard planted with malbec, it’s obvious that this variety is not going away anytime soon. But there is a reservoir of upgraded malbecs — plush, creamy, and more complex wines that still offer great value in the $15-to-$30 range. These wines come from more narrowly defined regions, with differences in style based on vineyard altitude. Though Argentina is dragging its feet on the creation and marketing of appellations, within Mendoza (the country’s largest region, with over 75 percent of the production) the malbecs of higher Uco Valley areas such as La Consulta, Tupungato, and Altamira display a more floral character, better acidity, and greater elegance. Conversely, malbecs from medium-altitude Luján de Cuyo and the lower altitudes of Maipú tend to be dense, soft, very ripe, and a touch earthier.

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TASTING NOTES: Wine writer David Lawrason discovers some lesser-known reds on a trip to Spain

What reigns in Spain: Heart-warming Spanish values for the dead of winter

By David Lawrason

One of the great revelations on a recent trip to lesser-known wine regions of Spain was the value of the wines I encountered. At every price point, I found shockingly good wines selling for much less than wines of equivalent quality from France or California. Being known as a “value wine region” can be a double-edged sword, attracting the budget-conscious consumer but often, at the same time, pigeonholing a region as cheap or somehow incapable of producing top-quality wines. Spain continues to walk that thin edge, with many of its wines currently at the LCBO selling for $10 or less. That said, in my view, Spain has recently become much more focused on making fine wine.

Illustration by Alan King.

Most of Spain’s quality red wine comes from the north, with Rioja being the best-known and largest region. As Bordeaux is to France, Rioja is to Spain — both having huge market presence and a deeply rooted tradition of aging wines a long time in barrel and bottle. But modern tastes have moved to fruitier, earlier-drinking wines, and while Rioja has embraced this trend to some extent, lesser-known regions such as Navarra, Ribera del Duero, Toro, Bierzo, Penedès, Priorat, Montsant, and Cariñena have moved faster.

Of those, Ribera del Duero (on the banks of the Duero River, which flows west into Portugal, where it becomes the Douro) is the best established, with some big-name houses, such as Vega Sicilia, Alion, Pesquera, and Aalto, commanding luxury prices. But elsewhere, countless small, new wineries are blooming on the arid steppes, many of them boasting young but well-travelled winemakers at the helm. In each of three small appellations I visited last fall — Rueda, Toro, and Bierzo — the number of wineries has grown from about a dozen to over 50 in the past decade. These new wineries are focused on the export market and are making very good wines styled for international tastes.

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WINE AND FOOD FESTIVAL PREVIEW: Expert David Lawrason on events to attend — and some don’t-miss wines

DAVID LAWRASON sits in as a panellist on the Ottawa Wine Challenge, rates the
competition, checks in on a speed dating meets wine tasting event, and highlights some don’t-miss wines to look for at the
Ottawa Wine & Food Festival

As the Ottawa Wine & Food Festival moves into the fabulous new convention centre, it also promises to take it up a notch this year. The festival, which now takes place over a full five days (Wednesday, Nov. 9 to Sunday, Nov. 13), offers up hundreds of wines. Indeed, more wines than one palate could possibly assimilate over such a short time frame. So check out the website, see which events intrigue you, and plan your tastings.

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TASTING NOTES: A sampling of fine pinot noirs to complement your turkey dinner

DAVID LAWRASON calls it his desert-island wine: versatile, light, and chillable. The added bonus? With Thanksgiving dinner hovering on the horizon, his beloved pinot noir is the perfect complement to turkey

Illustration by Jeff Kulak

Until the 2004 hit film Sideways exposed pinot noir to the masses, it was a wine suffering from rarefied self-importance — and priced accordingly. A 500-year reign as the only red grape grown in Burgundy created a mystique that the ornery, low-yielding, thin-skinned, heartbreak grape needed to suffer in cool climates and be grown in limestone-laced soils for its greatness to be evoked and appreciated. Burgundy’s top wine, Romanée-Conti, is the world’s most expensive red, a bottle selling for $10,000 on release.

But in the 1980s and 1990s, some daring Burgundy-inspired pinot pioneers began to gain respect for their efforts in cool pockets of Oregon, California, New Zealand and, yes, Ontario. Their top wines were exciting — and expensive (charging $50 a bottle was a bit of a stretch when their experiments didn’t quite pan out). Still, the New World winemakers persevered and succeeded, spawning the cult following uncovered in Sideways, which chronicled a pinot-swilling road trip through southern California. Since then, pinot has been on everyone’s lips. Versatile, light, refreshing, and chillable, pinot is my desert-island wine — as long as the food on the island is really good and includes rare red meats, all manner of poultry, grilled salmon, pasta, risotto, and any recipe incorporating mushrooms.

In recent years, pinot has gone even more global, expanding into cooler nooks of Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, and parts of Europe not previously on the pinot’s GPS. There are suddenly hundreds of “commercially priced” pinots out there. And so I offer a world tour of pinots under $25 — a survey of how pinot is doing from the perspective of a man who still believes that it’s the world’s greatest grape.

Amity Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir
$24 I Willamette Valley, Oregon I 89 points
Amity’s Myron Redford was an early ’80s pioneer in Oregon’s southern Willamette Valley, near Portland, and has stayed with a Burgundian footprint while some Willamette neighbours tilt toward a softer California style. This pinot noir is coarse and edgy, loaded with complex cranberry fruit inlaid with oak spice and barnyard notes. LCBO 124594.

Rosehall Run 2009 Cuvée County Pinot Noir
$21.95 I Prince Edward County, Ontario I 89 points
This cool limestone-laced region on Lake Ontario south of Belleville is North America’s newest stage for the pinot noir passion play, growing from zero to over 30 wineries in the past decade. This light, crisp, floral, cran-cherry-scented example embodies the charm, precision, and minerality of County pinot. Available through the winery only.

Barwick 2010 White Label Pinot Noir
$15.95 I Pemberton, West Australia I 88 points
Great value! This far-flung cool corner of southwest Australia is very promising, if barely on the global pinot radar. This offering is light-to-mid-weight, fairly smooth and juicy, with classic pinot cran-cherry fruit, tobacco smoke, and underbrush character. Tannins are fine; there is some heat. LCBO 215194.

Hahn 2008 Pinot Noir
$18.95 I Monterey County, California I 88 points
New commercial-scale plantings in Pacific-cooled Monterey County are delivering better value than such established California regions as Carneros, Sonoma Coast, and Santa Barbara. This charming easy-drinking pinot packs complexity and richness with generous oak mocha, cranberry-sour cherry jam, leather, and meaty notes. LCBO 226555.

Lenswood Hills 2010 Pinot Noir
$17.35 I Adelaide Hills, South Australia I 88 points
Pinot was considered folly in hot Australia until the emergence of cooler sites in Tasmania, the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, and the forested slopes in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs. This energetic, tense light red blasts classic cran-cherry fruit with floral, cinnamon, and pine forest. It’s zesty and a touch green, with gritty and juicy acidity. LCBO 215095.

Stoneleigh 2009 Pinot Noir
$19.95 I MARLBOROUGH, NEW ZEALAND I 88 POINTS
New Zealand is becoming a world leader with pinot noir, especially in the under-$25 category. This is a generous, complex pinot, maturing and ready to go, with nutty, woodsy, and marzipan notes around cherry/raspberry fruit. It’s medium-to-full-bodied with a sweet-and-sour palate. The length and complexity are very good to excellent. Drink over the next 12 months. LCBO 54353.

Bouchard Aîné & Fils 2009 Bourgogne Pinot Noir
$16.95 I Burgundy, France I 87 points
Under $20, most basic burgundy (called bourgogne) is scrawny and tart. But the generous, warm 2009 vintage has packed in good ripeness and weight with sour cherry fruit fitted with cedary spice and wood smoke. It’s mid-weight, a touch sweet, and juicy, with peppery spice and some new oak tannin and resin. LCBO 665406.

Cono Sur 2010 Pinot Noir
$10.95 I Central Valley, Chile I 87 points
Chile is warm for pinot noir, but Cono Sur, a large and innovative winery, has taken it under its wing, designing a separate winery just to make it. It’s not graceful, but few deliver better pinot character so cheaply, with vibrant cranberry, cherry, cinnamon, and green herb flavours. LCBO 341602.

Cave Spring 2009 Pinot Noir
$17.95 I Niagara Peninsula, Ontario I 86 points
Ontario’s cool climate and limestone-based soil are more like Burgundy than any place in the world, so expect classic cool-climate, high-acid, low-alcohol wines with cran-raspberry fruit. This is a pale, light prototype with herbs and some toasty oak. Quite complex and accurate for the money, if sour-edged. LCBO 417642.

TASTING NOTES: Mark the change of seasons with a return to heartier fall reds. Ottawa Magazine’s picks for “autumn in a glass”

DAVID LAWRASON previews the LCBO’s newest additions.

As summer turns to fall and green leaves change to red, so do wine fans shelve their green wines of summer in favour of heartier autumn reds. So we bring you a selection of highly recommended, brand new reds at the LCBO, noting some interesting trends as we go.

But first, a trend within the LCBO itself. A breath of fresh air — actually a stiff wind of change — is blowing through the selection process. This year, for the first time, there was a mass one-time infusion of new Australian wines (I wrote about the month-long promotion in Ottawa Magazine’s May 2011 edition, now available online), with similar campaigns slated for other wine-producing countries in the months ahead. But, most importantly, many new, well-chosen, good-value labels are popping up on LCBO shelves on an almost weekly basis. Someone at HQ is buying well — almost having fun, it seems.

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TASTING NOTES: A reinvigorated Aussie wine industry

In a push to reinvigorate their fortunes around the world, the Aussies are de-emphasizing the industrial-strength brands they’ve become known for and promoting new varietals and blends from specific regions and single vineyards — a rejuvenation that’s front and centre in May’s LCBO promotion of new Australian labels. BY DAVID LAWRASON

Illustration by Chantal Fournier

Diehard fans of australian shiraz may still be tippling their favourite potion oblivious to the fact that Australian wine has increasingly fallen out of favour in recent years. Wine fashion is as fickle and as furious as a brush fire, and Aussie sales at the LCBO (and around the country, for that matter) have been spiralling downward for over two years as Australian wine prices remained at a high point, creating a value vacuum that has quickly been filled by Argentina, Chile, and South Africa. Australian brands have also suffered from the backlash against huge industrial-strength brands with cute critter logos and sweet and blandly similar flavours. However, when I visited Australia recently, I discovered that a cleansing is underway. Indeed, there is a strategy to de-emphasize bigness, avoid cuteness (although sometimes Aussies just can’t help themselves), and promote new varietals and blends from specific regions and single vineyards. These themes of rejuvenation are front and centre in a special LCBO May promotion of over 30 new Australian labels. Put away your corkscrew — they are all screw cap!

RED

De Bortoli Deen 2008 Vat 4 Petit Verdot
$14.95 • Riverina, Australia • 89 points
Petit Verdot is a Bordeaux grape that doesn’t ripen well in Bordeaux. But sunny Oz gives full reign to its floral violet and blackberry aromas and gives its searing acidity a comfy home. It’s full-bodied and quite lush, yet sinewy, with firm, juicy blackcurrant acidity and ample dusty, slightly green tannin. Here’s one for the cellar. Best 2013 to 2018. LCBO 222265.

Kangarilla Road 2008 Shiraz
$18.95 • McLaren Vale, South Australia • 89 points
Shiraz remains Australia’s signature red, but growing regionalism and single vineyard wines prove it is not a one-trick pony. Maritime McLaren Vale, virtually a suburb of Adelaide, makes the smoothest, juiciest examples. This has a fragrant nose of black cherry/blueberry, pepper, chocolate, and a touch of tobacco character. For drinking anytime. LCBO 212738.

St. Hallett 2008 Gamekeeper’s Shiraz Cabernet
$14.95 • Barossa, South Australia • 88 points
Barossa is perhaps the best-suited place on the planet for blending two of the world’s most noble grape varieties. This is full-bodied, creamy, and soft, with classic Barossa dark cherry/prune fruit and a cascade of menthol, chocolate, pepper, and clove nuances. A 2-D barcode on the neck tag leads you to the Lehmann website for more information. LCBO 212670.

Barwick Estates 2009 White Label Pinot Noir
$13.95 • Western Australia • 87 points
The label does not specify the Pemberton origin of most of the fruit, but this enclave deep in Australia’s cool southwest is worth watching. This is a bargain pinot with lifted sour cherry fruit, evergreen, gentle wood smoke, and clove. It lacks the finesse of more expensive brethren but packs authentic flavours well beyond its price. LCBO 215194.

WHITE

Cooralook 2008 Pinot Gris
$14.95 • Victoria • 90 points
Both light Italian-inspired pinot grigio and rich Alsatian pinot gris are hot in Australia right now, especially in cooler Victoria. From the latter camp, this pinot gris is rich, ripe, and complex (one-third aged in neutral oak for added texture), with ripe pineapple-apricot, honey, and wildflowers. It’s full-bodied, warm, and very spicy, with excellent length. LCBO 212712.

Xanadu Next of Kin 2009 Chardonnay
$14.95 • Margaret River, Western Australia • 89 points
Overblown, over-oaked Aussie chardonnay has taken a beating in the global market. The style is changing radically, and cool Margaret River leads a new generation; this is a bargain example. Expect toasted almond, pear, vanilla, and flecks of green cedar. It’s mid-weight, taut, zesty, and dry, with a very spicy, mouth-watering finish. Excellent length. LCBO 212647.

Yalumba Y Series 2010 Riesling
$14.95 • South Australia • 89 points
German Lutheran settlers made riesling the most widely planted white grape in Barossa and neighbouring Eden Valley north of Adelaide. This is a full-bore style, with apricot, spearmint, and typical riesling petrol. It’s quite full-bodied, with a touch of sweetness, but the finish is dry, sparked by lime and minerality. LCBO 212753.

Devil’s Lair 2010 Fifth Leg Semillon Sauvignon
$15.95 • Margaret River, Western Australia • 88 points
Bordeaux-inspired semillon/sauvignon white blends are a signature of Margaret River south of Perth, where the Indian Ocean-cooled climate accentuates crisp, refreshing greenness not unlike New Zealand sauvignon. This has subtle lime, nettle, and passion fruit, as well, with good weight and richness. LCBO 212613.

The Insider 2010 White by Knappstein
$14.95 • Clare Valley, South Australia • 87 points
Tim Knappstein is the best-known winemaker in Clare — a unique, cooler region an hour north of Adelaide. The area is famed for riesling, which is combined here with aromatic gewürztraminer. Riesling dominates the palate, with intense lime, avocado, and mineral flavours softened just a bit by gewürz’s spice and melon fruit. It’s zesty and long on the finish. LCBO 212746.

TASTING NOTES: Ontario’s top chardonnays take Manhattan


By David Lawrason

In an office tower above Times Square this past spring, a wide-ranging selection of Canadian chardonnays was poured for the assembled wine press and pundits of New York City. It was all part of a promotional expedition by Canadian vintners called Seriously Cool, the follow-up to a similar exercise in 2010 at the London Wine Fair, where our wines were a hit with surprised Brits who were barely aware that Ontario made chardonnay, let alone top-notch wines that resemble white burgundy.

Ontario’s generally coolish climate and the limestone-based soils that rim Lake Ontario in Niagara and Prince Edward County echo the terroir of France’s great chardonnay region. Local observers have been aware of this for over 20 years, and now, as Ontario’s vineyards mature and winemakers gain more experience, the quality and body of good work is exploding. In January, 100 Canadian chardonnays (including a handful from B.C.) were poured blind for Ontario pundits in a screening exercise to decide which would go to New York.

Fifty-four wines earned a ticket, almost half of them from Ontario’s 2008 vintage — a cool year that sewed in the acidity to complement the minerality that is a signature in Ontario. Almost 65 percent of the 2008s made it through. From the riper, softer 2007 wines, nine of 17 got the thumbs-up, while the 2009s mustered only seven passes out of 24 entries, perhaps because many showed some youthful awkwardness. Several older “library” vintages and a pair of sparkling chardonnays are also making the trip.

There was no requirement that the wines be currently available to consumers in Ontario, but I have selected some of the most exciting New York-bound wines that are available at Vintages or by ordering from the wineries. The average price of the wines is about $35, which may sound outrageous, but please consider that this is also the average price of lower-end white burgundy, and the quality is generally on par. It may be shocking to think that Ontario can be, and should be, playing in this sandbox, but Mother Nature has dealt us the wherewithal.

Closson Chase 2008 Chardonnay
$34.95 • Prince Edward County • 91 points
Winemaker Deborah Paskus is an Ontario chardonnay specialist making County and Niagara versions. Three of her wines are bound for New York. This is a full-on, rich yet vibrant chardonnay with full extraction and layers of flavour driven by low-yield fruit and long aging in new French oak barrels. Look for toasty peat smoke, caramel, and peach pie aromas. Length is excellent. Very impressive. www.clossonchase.com.

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FROM THE PRINT EDITION: Celebratory wines make the end of winter just a little more bearable

ONTARIO SPARKLERS

The cold, dark lingering nights of late winter may seem to offer few incentives to celebrate to the tune of French Champagne. That’s why DAVID LAWRASON recommends that you forget the champers and pop less expensive sparklers from Ontario, a province that understands cold.

Illustration by Julia Tiller

How about a flute of racy bubbly after a day on the slopes or an end-of-season skate on the canal? Or while nestling by the fire with a plate of shrimp and smoked salmon. A handful of wineries in Prince Edward County now have sparkling wine on stream and there is a growing attention in Niagara as well. The cool climate and limestone riddled soils of the Lake Ontario basin are outstanding for serious sparkling wine made from Champagne’s main grapes — pinot noir and chardonnay. (I predict Ontario will become globally famous for such wines within a generation.) Yet there is also a sense of fun and adventure at play, with new techniques (see Hinterland below), new grape varieties (see Angels Gate), new styles (Huff Vidalescco), and even new “crown cap” closures (Flat Rock). Unfortunately, acquiring these wines is not always as simple as running out to the LCBO; nor may you want to venture to the wineries themselves on a blustery winter weekend. But wineries can, and do, deliver if you order by phone or through their websites, and they would be delighted and surprised to hear from you.

ANGELS GATE 2008 ARCHANGEL SAUVIGNON BLANC SPARKLING
$20 / Beamsville Bench / 89 points
Part of an adventurous new line of varietal bubblies by Angels Gate, this engaging sauvignon blanc successfully catches herbal sauvignon nuances among honeyed grapefruit, guava, and white flowers on the nose and palate. It’s light-bodied, frothy, and semi-sweet, but built on solid acidity. Chill well and serve with spicy canapés. www.angelsgatewinery.com

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