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Red, Red Wine: Go-to choices on the regular list

As temperatures drop, thoughts often turn to warmer wine choices. Vin tells us what to look for
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The early fall weather that we have been experiencing has me thinking “red”. As things cool off, a flavourful wine with dark fruits and decent body just seems like a warmer choice than a chilled white or rosé.

With that in mind, I thought it was time to look at some of the reliable, reasonably-priced red wines that populate the regular list shelves of the LCBO. Good choices abound, however, and so these recommendations are just a few of the wines that I have found deliver admirably.

With Pinot Noir, I like Chile’s Cono Sur Bicicleta, $12, for its purity of fruit, and I enjoy California’s Mirassou, currently $2 off at $12.95, for its warm dark cherry flavour. Most appealing at the moment, however, is another Chilean, The Cigar Box Pinot Noir, $12.95, as I find it has a little more “oomph”.  Hand-harvested, old-vine fruit is featured with fine tannins and some vanilla spice.  It may not be a typical Pinot Noir, but it is really enjoyable.

Baco Noir is a hybrid grape, a cross between a European varietal and a native North American grape. Ontario is one place where it is still grown commercially. Henry of Pelham has actually made a specialty of this grape, with three different levels appearing at the LCBO. The Family Reserve is in Vintages at $24.95

On the regular shelves we can find both the Old Vines example at $19.95 and the “everyday” release at $15.95. The latter has very good cranberry/cherry fruit supported by some nuance of smoke and leather. I like the way a satisfying sweet-and-sour cherry note really brings grip to the finish. It will pair admirable with red meat, from steak to ribs.

For an entry-level Australian Shiraz, the Deakin Estate 2017, $10.95, is good. It has some of that dark-fruitcake character we can find in Shiraz, but it isn’t overly jammy.  There are touches of chocolate and vanilla, and perhaps even a tinge of licorice on the palate. Another good wine with red meat.

Kicking it up a couple of notches, the Peter Lehmann Portrait Barossan Shiraz 2017, $3 off at $16.95 through September 15, has real structure and depth to accompany the taste. Back in the 1970’s it is said, winemaker Peter Lehmann was instructed by his employers to renege on a handshake deal with growers for the purchase of their grapes. Instead, Lehmann said, “to hell with them” and walked away from his job, purchased all the grapes himself, and the Peter Lehmann brand was born.

The wine is plush and ripe with a core of dark plum fruit robed in oak-inspired sweet vanilla spice, along with a light sense of coffee or chocolate. A very good buy, and capable of being cellared. 

The range of Italian wine is immense in both price and quality. Two well worth trying are the Fantini Farnese Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017, $8.90, and the Carpineto Dogajolo Rosso Toscano IGT 2016, currently $3 off at $13.95.

The former was a “Best Buy” in the Wine Spectator magazine recently, with an “88” and a recommended American retail price of $11. Medium bodied, it has a good balance of cherry-like fruit and acidity and would be a great “House Red” 

The latter is predominantly an impressive blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. The balance is judicious with good fruit morphing into a dry finish with a touch of earthy spice. It should be perfect with pasta. I tried a similar Vintages blend at the same price point, but decided that while it was very tasty, it was so fruity it wouldn’t work nearly as well with food. 

One of the most popular categories today is Malbec from Argentina. Santa Julia Reserva Malbec 2017, $2.50 off at $11.50, has reviews of 90 from Decanter, the Wine Enthusiast, and Robert Parker. Placing it at #10 on their “Top 100 Best Buys for 2018”, the Wine Enthusiast explains: “Nose of ripe red and black fruits such as cherries, plums, and blackberries. Notes of vanilla, chocolate, and snuff. Medium-bodied flavor, with soft tannins and balanced acidity with a fruity and spicy finish.”

Not to be overlooked from Argentina is Bonarda. There are actually none on the regular list, but the La Posta Estela Armando Bonarda cycles though Vintages regularly and is in ample supply at the Great Northern Road store. The 2017, $15.95, is yummy -smooth and harmonious with warm fruit. A great wine by itself, or with your favourite pizza.

There are so many other types of wines to consider, including, of course, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel from California and good French, Spanish, or Portuguese reds, not to mention South Africa and other regions of Italy, and more from our own Canadian vineyards. Perhaps we will need to have a “Go-To Reds: Part Two”!

September 14 Vintages Release


Ambo Pinot Grigio 2018, $13.95 from the Friuli in northern Italy is new to the, we learn that “a pretty floral nose and fresh aromas of pear, green apple and pink grapefruit” are replicated on the palate, and “the fresh juice flows easily with a nice zesty finish.” – 88.

Weingut Hammel Liebfraumilch Pfalz 2017, $15.95, is a medium-dry blend from Germany’s Pfalz region. “Liebfraumilch” is a nod to the milk of the Virgin Mary, and the semi-sweet blend of Riesling and other German grapes has always been easy to drink. Vintages calls it “honeyed and very pretty, with tropical fruit, lemon, melon and stone fruit.”

Tahbilk Marsanne 2018, $17.95, from Australia hails from a reliable producer that often celebrates lesser known French varietals. James Halliday says “Tahbilk knows Marsanne like the back of its hand…Honeysuckle and straw on the bouquet, then pear and Granny Smith flavours bound by citrusy acidity.” He included it in his “Top 100 Wines of 2018.”


Casa do Homem Rosé 2018, $13.95, from Portugal, is a new listing featuring indigenous Portuguese grapes. Vintages tells us to expect a wine that is “elegant and fresh, with lifted acidity running under red berry and pink grapefruit tones.” 

Biscardo Rospasso 2018, $15.95, from Italy<s Veneto, is produced from 100% free-run Pinot Noir, so top-notch juice. Expect it to be smooth and harmonious with strawberry/cherry elements and a good mineral note on the finish from the volcanic soils in which the fruit was grown.

Marquis d’Aqueria Tavel Rosé 2018, $19.95, is from the very heart of Rosé country in France, and is said to offer “intensely fresh, concentrated strawberry, raspberry and watermelon flavors. It’s juicy yet invigorating and mineral…It’s a structured, penetrating wine that will gain depth and complexity through 2022 and serve well in the colder months with game or poultry.” – Wine Enthusiast – 93.


Chateau du Ballandreau Cuvée Excellence 2015, $15.95, is from a vintage that was rated very fine across the region in Bordeaux. “This wine has ripe black fruits that are now softly integrated into the spice and mature tannins. Richly textured, the wine is rounded and almost ready to drink. Wait until 2020.” -90 Wine Enthusiast.

Creekside Red Tractor Cabernet/Merlot 2017, $17.95, is a Vintages “Wine of the Month”. The fruit is said to be sourced from a handful of premium Niagara vineyards, and the wine spent a year in oak prior to release. Vintages tells us to expect dark fruit, chocolate and smooth tannins.

Buena Vista The Legendary Badge Petite Syrah 2016, $17.95, should be a treat from California. According to, it is “full bodied by the pound, quite thick, a touch sweet and warm (14.5%) with quite firm, slightly green tannin typical of the variety. Quite meaty on the finish with a dusty feel. - 88*. In other words, it is exactly what I would hope for from this varietal. Bring it on. 

Fabre Montmayou Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, $18.95, from Argentina, should be very satisfying. In recent months, several different wines from this property have been released, and they sell quickly. It has attractive blackcurrant and red currant and a bit of bell pepper, with “a serious tannin structure and a long dry finish of some complexity,” according to James Suckling. Decanter raves, “Gorgeous example of Cabernet Franc. Youthful with potential to explode with floral perfumed notes, cassis and clove. Great depth. Its harmony saves it from becoming truculent, but protein is needed.” – 96.

Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, $49.95, lies on the western side of the Napa Valley. It may seem a little pricey, but it delivers. With a suggested price of $44 in the States, the $50 price here is definitely acceptable. The story is that, of a bundle of 60 cast-off Cabernet Sauvignon cuttings was simply stuck in the ground with absolutely no water ever applied, 58 of the vines lived. From that original bundle, we are now enjoying this intriguing and pleasing deep, red wine.

With several reviews in the 90’s, this wine ticks all the boxes. A deep core of dark fruit is enhanced with mocha notes and is bathed in definite but manageable tannins. It is all there, and it makes you stop and think as you enjoy the on-going finish.

Jeb Dunnick calls it plump rounded and sexy (obviously a Reubens fan!), while calls it an overachiever in the vintage with an ”extra kick of volume.”

Note: It is not slated for the Sault, but I am sure it can be ordered in for those who would appreciate it!

Big Lake Cabin

Recently opened on Queen Street, more or less across from Precious Blood Cathedral is Big Lake Cabin. Chef Brennan Cummings is justifiably excited about the new café which specializes in small plates for sharing.  The affordable menu is intentionally limited, but the food is prepared with great craftsmanship, and it’s delicious.

It is opened during the day all week until 4, but it only serves wine, currently, on Thursday and Friday after 4 and then all day on Saturday. On Thursday and Friday, it closes for an hour at 3, re-opening at 4.

Between 4 and 6 on Thursday through Saturday, they have “Après”, offering a two-item cheese/charcuterie board and a glass of wine for $20.

For a casual dining experience, check it out. I am sure you will be happy and impressed.