Truly, I wasn’t happy with the closure of the Churchill Plaza store. It was convenient for east-enders who could either drop in easily on their journeys “to and from” or combine a visit with other shopping in the area. Fundamentally, it served people well. For many, the new store is a bit out of the way - a specific destination in and of itself. While I might have cruised the old store a couple of times a week, I’ve been to the new place less than once per week, each visit an intentional trip.
All that said, the new store on Great Northern Road is a huge step up from the one it replaced. Rather than being retro-fitted into a shopping plaza, it is purpose–built, far more spacious, bright, and ready to serve.
So, what does it have that the old store didn’t? Product, product, product. More than 2400 listings, mostly wine, can be found on the spacious shelves - more than double what was previously available. In the old store, sparkling wine was limited to 4 feet of shelf space. Now, just the Italian sparking wine, Prosecco, has 6 different listings, where previously there might have been two. Whereas the Churchill Plaza had just 8 feet of California wine, the new store has five times that much. So it goes for every region. As someone wise and envious has said, “So much wine, so little time.”
Clearly, there’s a lot more to choose from, and not just wine. For example, Arak is a spirit flavoured with anise or fennel, the middle eastern member of the Ouzo and Sambuca family. Arak Al Shallal, from Lebanon, is medium sweet. The custom is to serve it with water or ice, which turns the clear spirit cloudy. It sells for $24.10
Aguardente is Portuguese brandy. The Antiqua VSOPAguardente Vinica Velha is $35.95. With a minimum of five years in Portuquese oak barrels, it is characterized as being golden in colour with complex aromas of dried fruits and coffee and a velvety taste.
As for wines, some of those new to me include Conquista Malbec from the foothills of the Andes in Argentina. At $11.95, it is quite good, medium bodied with decent fruit and spice and tannin on the finish. Los Nevados is a fruity Cabernet Sauvignon from the same Mendoza region for $10.95. It has a complex nose with coffee and vanilla nuances, and carries sweet and powerful tannins. A good wine for steak.
The Jean Bousquet Malbec is an exceptional organic wine for just $11.80. It is very well structured, with good depth, persistent flavour, and even some aging potential.
From Chile, I noticed a Reserve Syrah, the Gracia de Chile for $13.60. Syrah is rightfully gaining popularity. This is a fine wine, showing ripe black berry with smokey and meaty overtones. PKNT Carmenere is a bargain for $10.95. Apparently the “PKNT” is for “piquante’ and there is a red chilli on the label, It has been described as peppery with dark berry fruit. (Carmenere is the lost grape of Bordeaux, but that’s another story.)
The Vintages section of the new store is also greatly expanded. Wine Consultant Elaine Mailhot-Montgrain will now have 350 to 400 listings, with changes twice a month, in contrast to the previous limit of 125 at any one time.
In Vintages are some of my favourite summer whites. The $13.95 Lugana di San Benedetto by Zenato in the Veneto region of Italy is fresh and juicy, with decent lemon and apple flavors. Another great Italian white is the Anselmi San Vincenzo for $14.95. It’s beautifully made with a long intense finish.
From New Zealand, I am intrigued by the “Crazy by Nature” Dry Flint Chenin Blanc - $18.95. This is a biodynamic wine – sort of organic gone Voodoo – but it perfectly expresses the grape – some lanolin, honey and beautiful crispness.
The Monte Antico red wine made the Wine Spectator’s “top 100” recently, making it a great deal for $15.95. It is a blend of Tuscany’s traditional Sangiovese with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chateau La Bouree over-delivers big time for $17.95. A gold medal winner in Bordeaux, it suggests strawberry, blackberry and cedar, with a dry finish.
On May 12, look for two wines from Croatia, both based on Plavac Mali, a close relative to both Italy’s Primitivo and America’s Zinfandel. One, Peljesac, is $11.95, while the other, Frano Milas, is $19.95.Milos is considered one of the area’s top producers, and his wine is polished and elegant with intriguing notes of pomegranate and thyme accompanying dark plum and cherry. Both are worth trying, just for their family connection, not to mention their quality.
Another feature of LCBO marketing is the LTO or “Limited Time Offer” program. Each month several products will be offered at reduced prices. Graffigna Reserva Pinot Grigio is a top-notch Argentinian white now $11.45. You save $1.50. California’s “Big House Red” is tasty, and at $10.95, you save two dollars this month.
You can find many of these wines near the Vintages section along with a copy of this article. Enjoy the new store, and happy hunting.