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The best... for Christmas?

Halloween displays are already packed away and Christmas offerings are on out at LCBOs
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This past week I received the Vintages catalogue for the October 30 release, as well as the “Winter 2021” edition of Wine & Spirits magazine (available at the Cambrian Mall Shoppers Drug Mart) and online a release from the Wine Enthusiast. In every instance, the focus has pushed us to the end of the year.

It seems to me that the two magazines normally used to have their “Top 100“ issues published a month or so later down the road. The results are also in from the Decanter World Wine Awards for 2021, and so there is a lot to take in.

As for Vintages, it is already into the “Holiday Spirit”… and I am not referring to Hallowe’en. Any dedicated displays of sale items have been dismantled, and in their place, we now find special gift packages for the festive season. Unfortunately, most of these tend to be ‘same old’; that is, the very same producers trotting out the very same wines (in a new vintage, probably) that they have been promoting year after year after year.

To be fair, while it might come across as ‘tired’ to me, I have to acknowledge that there are new drinkers every year, and for many consumers adjusting their tastes, these gift packages may be a brand new world for them.

I enjoy pouring over all the lists, but it is often a search for the proverbial needle in the haystack, as the great majority of the wines identified are never seen in our stores. With the “Top 100”, I can also expect to find few wines at a price that I am likely to pay. Still, it’s great to find that a wine like the Charles Baker Riesling 2019 from Niagara, the Wine & Spirits Top Best Value Canadian white wine, is still available in some stores (not here) as well as from Stratus Vineyards.

Giving it a 93, the reviewer explained that “it excels in its clarity, energy, and fresh feel, with crunchy green-apple flavours whisking over a firm, stony base.” At $19.95, it is terrifically appealing.

Often, when I do recognize a wine in these lists, I will discover that the vintage doesn’t correspond to what we can find at the LCBO. Most of the time, the producers are very consistent from year to year, and so, if I find a 2018 when the vintage scored was a 2017, I am still ready to give it a whirl.

When the Vintage scored is later than what we have had in our stores – for example, a 2019 while we have had the 2018 on our shelves, it’s all good. For example, the terrific Luciano Arduini Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2019 is a Decanter gold medal winner is supposed to be concentrated and integrated, with “ notes of dark berries. Lingering and lovely”. The 2018 has basically sold out in Ontario, but that just means we can expect this gold medal winner to appear on our shelves in the next 6 months or so. 

The same principle applies to Washington State’s H3 Red Blend. It’s another W&S Top Value, and the 2018 should be here eventually, selling for about $20.

From time to time a “Best Buy” can be found on our general list. Portugal’s Silk and Spice Red 2019 is #2 on the Wine Enthusiast list. The price suggested for the U.S. is $13, but until November 7 it is $10.95 ($2 off) at the LCBO where we are told that the wine is “ soft, supple and approachable, dry, with plum, jammy and spicy flavours

Decanter gave a gold medal and a score of 96 to the Mazzei Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2019 from Tuscany. Right now, we have the 2018 in our stores, which carries a 92 from the Robert Parker team. Enjoy this one now until the 2019 arrives. In England, the wine retails for £25. Here it is $25, a difference in our favour of $17! Bright fruit, leather, and spice will characterize this wine. 

Other wines identified that we can find include #20, Chile’s Gato Negro Sauvignon Blanc, #25 Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Pinot Grigio from California, and #61, Monte Antico, a popular Tuscan red blend. All are less than $16.

These award lists can point us towards some enjoyable purchases, but we must remember that thousands of other wines were never considered. In the case of Top 100 lists, there would be countless wines that the magazine’s tasters never experienced.

With the Decanter World Wine Awards, it is similar. While the judging is scrupulous and fair, it is only wines that have been submitted by producers that are assessed. Thousands of wineries won’t participate. Those with already excellent reputations may not want to risk jeopardizing what they have worked hard to establish. It can become a matter of risk versus reward. Bottom line –there are oodles of other terrific wines. If they don’t appear on one of these lists, it doesn’t mean a thing.

I noticed that in the Canadian red wine category, Decanter listed nine gold medal winners. Each was from British Columbia, none from Ontario. I don’t know how many Ontario reds were submitted, but if you were an Ontario producer, you would have to be very confident about your wine’s chances: otherwise, would you participate?

Turning to the October 30 Vintages Release, the catalogue is peppered with excellent values at all price points. If your intention is to give wine as gifts, it could be a good time to start your shopping. Still, we can probably expect another three releases before Christmas.

On this release, the most expensive wine we are receiving is the Pickett Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 from Napa, hitting the shelves at $100. Vintages tells us to “expect a ripe, rich wine, with plenty of juicy dark cherry, cassis, toast and chocolate tones and effortless poise."

On October 30 it is Italy that provides us with some of the best options in the plus $50 category, with three Barolos, the great Nebbiolo–based dry red from Piedmont. Monica Larner of admires the Ascheri Barolo 2016, $49.95 which in 2022 will be just entering its long “drinkability” phase of about a dozen years. She tells us that “the wine opens to dried cherries and blackberries with balanced background tones of spice, tar, leather and ash. These ethereal tones add to the elegance and depth of the wine.” – 92

Also attractive from Tuscany is Mazzei’s Castello Fonterutoli Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2016, $59.95. This wine earned a 97 back in 2019 from the Decanter World Wine Awards, which stresses further how the awarding of medals and the release of wines don’t always line up. ‘Gran Selezione’ is the highest official category for Chianti Classico wines, the ‘Classico’ referring to wines from the heart of the Chianti district.

The wine is described as “delicious” and having a ”beautifully harmonious and complex palate” with a “tender texture” and perfectly pitched tannins.” Decanter suggests that “it will make many red wine devotees swoon!”

From France, Chateau Mont-Redon Chateauneuf-du Pape 2017, $53.95, has a ”complex expansive bouquet…impressive depth as well as energy on the palate, offering sappy black raspberry, bitter cherry, and spice cake flavours; an undercurrent of juicy acidity adds lift and back-end cut.” Josh Raynolds, – 94-95

In the $20 to $25 range, there are wines for every taste. For those who like their reds emphatically fruity, there’s California’s Meiomi Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, $24.95. This is even sweeter (20 grams of sugar per litre) than the popular Pinot Noir with 17 grams. (The Pickett mentioned above has just 2 grams per litre!) Vintages suggests “rich cassis and…sweet spices on a velvety frame.

No other “dry” red wine on this release comes close to Meiomi’s 20 grams, but there are other rich-tasting wines awaiting. According to Sam Kim of, Australia’s Auld Strawbridge Shiraz 2017, $22.95, is “magnificent”, has a “gorgeous bouquet” and a “sumptuous palate that is wonderfully textured and expansive.” – 95

Halos de Jupiter Cotes du Rhone 2019, $18.95. Critic Jeb Dunnock says it is a “fruit-forward pleasure bomb” with “loads of ripe red and blue fruits, some classic Southern Rhone peppery herbs…and a plush rounded mouth-feel that’s already a joy to drink.”  – 90-92.

Italy’s Puglia gives us Alchymia Primitivo 2018, $19.95 which writer Luca Maroni scored a heady 98. Vintages says it “shows ripe red and dark fruit framed by sweet spices and oak, with good structure and complexity.”

Spain’s Borsao Berola 2017, $18.95, is a Garnacha (Grenache) blend which is “smooth, expansive and appealingly sweet, offering cherry-vanilla and boysenberry flavours and a well-judged oak spice flourish. Closes supple and long.” Josh Raynolds – 91.

San Pedro 1865 Tayù Pinot Noir 2019, $19.95 is the product of a project the Chilean winery has engaged in with the native Mapuche people. It is a wine of “tremendous character, with notes of spices, herbs, black fruits, and earth… [It] exhibits a lot of complexity on the nose, while the palate is severe in tannins and juicy in deep and fruity flavors” Patricio Tapia, – 98.

In whites South Africa’ Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2020, $19.95, is a must try from one of the Wine & Spirits magazine’s Top 100 Wineries of 2021.It offers “terrific quality relative to price” and “enchanting aromatics of pear, white peach potpourri and fynbos (South Africa’s version of garrigue)…The palate has pure fruit, bright acidity and a pithy finish,” – – 93.

Chile’s Santa Carolina Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2018 $18.95, has “impressive freshness with zesty lemons and yellow grapefruit, as well as gently savory bread and biscuit complexity” – 91

Germany’s Loosen Bros. Dr. L. Riesling 2020, $15.95, is perennially popular in Vintages and regularly features in the top values in the wine magazines. Vintages tells us that the 2020 is ”a juicy wine, with lemon, apple, peach and touches of tropical fruit alongside the pure minerality that's such a defining characteristic of the Mosel.”

There are also bargains under $15.

Chateau Du Grand Caumont Cuvée Tradtion Corbières 2019, $13.95, from France’s Languedoc took gold in a regional  tasting. According to vintages it is “fresh, lithe and expressive, with suggestions of earth, black cherry fresh herbs and spice.”

From Mexico’s Baja region, the L. A. Cetto Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, $13.95 is made from vines that are almost 25 years old, which suggests very good quality is possible. Vintages tells us that it is big in every respect – fruit, ripeness and flavour. We are accustomed to seeing this winery’s Petite Syrah, and so we now have a chance to see what else it can offer.

I have been impressed by the Grand Reserve wines made by Jackson-Triggs here in Niagara. Currently, we don’t have any available in our local LCBO stores, but you can find some of them at our Wine Rack stores. As well, if you purchase six bottles online from Arterra, they will ship to the post office for free. If you can’t find the wines locally, this is a sensible option.

The 2019 Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Pinot Noir, $25.95, catches your attention for all the right reasons. A silky entry evolves with light persistent tannins into more of a velvet effect, and the cherry and spice flavours have a distinctive, layered and growing presence – clean but subtle, tasty, and persistent. The wine tugs on your senses, gently urging you to sip again, again, and again.

The companion 2019 Grand Reserve Chardonnay, $20.95, is equally impressive, with excellent rich fruit. The impression of oak and Meyer lemon is accompanied by a sense of clove or nutmeg spice. The initial effect has a creamy quality which transitions to a crisply tart note at the finish.

The 2020 Grand Reserve White Meritage, $25.95, is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The term “Meritage” a blend of “Merit” and “Heritage”, was coined initially to identify wines made in California in the style of Bordeaux, but without infringing on any proprietary rights.

The two grapes mentioned are the main components of white Bordeaux. In this case, the Sauvignon Blanc provides floral and musk-like notes on the nose and grapefruit flavour along with tropical notes such as mango and guava. The Semillon contributes to the texture bringing a silky, lanolin-like smoothness and creaminess. The texture shifts at the end to a more tart and crisp conclusion, as we expect with Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is distinctive, and it should intrigue fans of Sauvignon Blanc.

Check these out at the Wine Rack – if you can’t find them there, ordering a mixed 6 pack from Arterra is worth it.

There are many more good wines on the Oct. 30 release, and many others will join them on Nov. 14. So, start your Holiday shopping!