Recently, I sat down with Michael Fagan, Manager of the Knowledge Resources Group at the LCBO, to chat about what’s new at the LCBO.
Michael is heavily involved in educating the public and employees with regard to the vast range of product found in the stores.
The LCBO is the biggest single buyer of wine in the world, and Michael informed me of efforts under way to bring in more styles of wine and varietals particular to different regions, and to do this at different price points.
In keeping with the tremendous range of wines on the shelves, a new initiative focuses on “Wine Style” to help us select unfamiliar wines.
For every wine, the shelf label identifies the type of grape, the general taste style, the name of the wine, country of origin, and how sweet or dry the wine will be. Download the LCBO’s mobile app and you can even scan the barcode for tasting notes and food pairings.
For both red and white wines, four simple Wine Style” categories have been created. Whites go from Light and Crisp, Off-Dry and Fruity, Aromatic and Flavourful, to Full-Bodied and Rich. The Red categories are Light-Bodied and Fruity, Medium-Bodied and Fruity, Full-Bodied and Smooth, and Full-Bodied and Firm.
Given the thousands of wines to choose from, it’s a good way to start, providing some indication of what to expect. The promotional material is available in magazine form – “Wine Shopping Made Easy” – or you can watch a video at lcbo.com/winestyles.
Michael said they wanted to come up with easy two-word descriptors to give a general overview. He said if you have a favourite wine, then that would be your category. For example, Fuzion Shiraz Malbec, $7.95, from Argentina is labeled “Full-bodied and Smooth.” If you’re a fan, then other wines in that category should be appealing to you.
We have to remember that this is a simplification, and that there can be real taste differences from one wine to the next, even in the same category, even in wines made from the same grape variety, even at the same price point.
For a simple experiment, compare the flavourful Cono Sur Viognier from Chile at $9.95 with the Baron Philippe de Rothschild Viognier from France at $10.95. Same grape, same price point, both described as “XD”, extra dry. Michael Fagan called the Cono Sur, “a great summer value”, and I agree. The Rothschild has good reviews, too, but is it the same? You decide.
I asked Michael what he thought the next new trend might be in wines, and he said that while Pinot Grigio has been very popular, we are starting to see more Pinot Gris. They are the same grape, but they tend to differ in style.
Pinot Gris wines follow the lead of Alsace in France . They are typically rich and full-bodied with a hint of sweetness. They have layered flavours of tropical fruit and spice, and are more robust with a firm mineral finish.
Pinot Gris tends to be more expensive than wines in the Pinot Grigio style, though there is one, the Bodega François Lurton at $11.95. This will be lighter in body, but still showing peach and honeysuckle and the suggestion of sweetness at the end.
One reason the prices can be higher is that they are occasionally aged in oak.
This is the case with two Niagara wines in Vintages, Angel’s Gate, $18.95, and Inniskillin oak-aged Pinot Gris at $19.95.
The effect changes in your glass as the wine warms up, going from mineral and lean to oilier and rich.
There are two un-oaked examples from New Zealand worth trying. “The Ned” is $14.95 in Vintages. Expect some pear on the nose, nectarine and apple pie flavours and a beautifully dry finish. The People’s Pinot Gris is $16.95 on the regular list. Pear is emphasized again, along with honey and citrus on the finish.
For a classic Alsatian Pinot Gris, try the Lucien Albrecht Reserve Pinot Gris at $15.95. This has the fruit, mouth-feel and finish that characterizes this approach.
Northern Italy sets the style for Pinot Grigio. They are light, clean, crisp and vibrant – perfect for the sweltering weather we’re experiencing. They can show some peach, but definitely citrus flavours. In fact, the top selling wine in the whole Vintages program is the Pinot Grigio, Santa Margherita, from the Alto Adige in northern Italy . It’s $16.95 here, but in the States it retails for $25! It would be great to compare this with one of the better Pinot Gris.
I am also a fan of the Graffigna Reserva Pinot Grigio , $12.95,from Argentina , which displays the typical zest of the Pinot Grigio style, but has a round, chalky minerality providing a very satisfying texture.
Changing gears, I have to tell you about Collingwood Canadian Whisky, $29.95. If you enjoy Bourbon or “ Rye ”, you will be impressed by this whisky made north of Toronto . It is very mellow and smooth with maple overtones – a most enjoyable sipping whisky. Michael Fagan suggested that the aromatics were as good as any fragrance for a man – and a lot less expensive!
He showed me how to get the aroma without the alcohol by splashing a little on your palm and rubbing your hands together. The alcohol dissipates, and you are left with very pleasant maple and butterscotch aromas.
Finally – a few of the Limited Time Offers until July 22.
Wolf Blass Red Label Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon - $12.95 (-$2) “Full-bodied and Smooth”. Wolf Blass was to wine in Australia what Robert Mondavi was to California –he promoted it tirelessly and successfully.
De Bortoli Vat 4 Petit Verdot - $13.95 (-$1.50) “Medium-bodied and Fruity”. You rarely see the Petit Verdot vinified on its own. It is usually part of the Bordeaux blend but this Australian is distinct.
Campo Viejo Crianza - $12.50 (- $1.50) “Full-bodied and Smooth”. I love Riojas. I think the wines sing of summer. This is the younger style of Rioja , Spain ’s most famous red, with cherry and cedarwood notes.
Fontanafredda Barolo = $24.85 (-$5) “Full-bodied and Firm”. Barolo is the great red wine of the Piedmont in northern Italy. Normally they will be $40 and much, much more. Fontanafredda is a respected producer, and this is a chance to try a big wine made with the Nebbiolo grape. It is dry with plum and anise characteristics, and very firm.