BY DAVID LAWRASON
This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec print edition of OTTAWA Magazine
The results of the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada were announced in late September. It’s a competition that focuses on value, with wines judged in three price categories (under $15, $15 to $25, and $25 to $50). They are further split among grape varieties and country categories, but the crucial tallies are the best values in the three price categories — and many of the notable wines are currently available at the LCBO.
I could simply have listed my personal best values for this article, but it is always fascinating to see what is revealed through blind tasting by several experienced tasters. And when those results line up with my personal assessments, all the better. So here I present some great values — double-checked, as it were, by a panel of peers. The selections, ratings, and comments are my own.
One final note before turning you loose on these libations. Blind tastings are focused on quality; i.e., purity, balance, complexity, and depth of flavour. Personal preferences are not what judges are asked to express. You, of course, are completely free to like or dislike what you please. I ask only that as you read each review, you try to decipher whether it is a style you prefer. If you do, you should be very happy indeed. And even if you don’t, these might win you over.
Pinot gris joins the impressive value of Cono Sur’s Bicicleta range. Tasting more like opulent, ripe pinot gris than slim, simple grigio, it offers ripe honeyed peach and caramelized onion flavours. Quite fleshy and soft, but intense. Chill well. LCBO 341602.
This is 100 percent barbera — a high-acid Piedmontese variety — aged six months in oak. The nose is youthfully grapy, plumy, and floral, with some oak resin and vanilla. It’s mid-weight, smooth, fresh, and very fruity. Impressively drinkable, with easy tannin and fresh acidity. Age it one year. Chill lightly. Vintages Essentials LCBO 72348.
The Jacob’s Creek Reserves offer great value, power, and sophistication. Shiraz Reserve also scored big in the awards. This ripe, full, yet quite elegant cabernet is loaded with dark chocolate, mint, tobacco, and peppery aromas and flavours. It’s full-bodied, fairly dense, and smooth — a touch sweet — but the tannins are polished. Best 2015 to 2020. Grilled red meats. LCBO 91751.
This blend of 80 percent sangiovese and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon is not heavy, but it carries impressive flavour depth and character for the money, with lifted red currant/warmed tomato, savoury herbs, some meatiness and earthiness. It’s light- to mid-weight, fresh, a bit tart and juicy. A little chilling might be appropriate. Savoury poultry, Italian sausage. LCBO 361501.
Villa Ponciago 2012 Beaujolais-Villages
$14.95 / Beaujolais, France / 89
This fine estate-grown gamay captures the finesse and earthy/foresty nuances common among the better Beaujolais Crus. It’s not all about grapy/berry fruit and flowers, but there is fragrant sour cherry and strawberry along with the dried leaves. It’s light and fresh, and the textural elegance is a surprise at the price. Chill lightly. Ham, charcuterie.
Buena Vista 2011 Pinot Noir
$24.95 / Carneros, California / 91 Points
The historic Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma Valley is now owned by Boisset of France. This is a quintessential California pinot from the cool Carneros region above San Francisco Bay. It’s mid-weight, warm, juicy, and firm, with fragrant cran-red-cherry fruit, toast, cinnamon, and fresh herbs. Great vibrancy and intensity. LCBO 304105.
Cusumano 2013 Syrah
$11.95 / Sicily, Italy / 89 Points
One of the great syrah values at the LCBO and a category champ at the 2014 World Wine Awards of Canada. Lovely lifted spiced plum, pepper, floral, and lightly caramelized aromas follow a mid-weight palate that balances richness and freshness. Bring on more Sicilian syrah! LCBO 145490.
Pascual Toso 2012 Limited Edition Malbec
$15.95 / Mendoza, Argentina / 90 Points
This full, smooth, and dense young malbec is cloaked in new oak spice and dark chocolate, but there is plenty of malbec mulberry fruit. It’s supple and classy, achieving finesse despite its size. One of the better offerings for current drinking. A winter sipping red that is great with grilled meats. LCBO 162610.
Here is a mid-weight, well-structured, fresh pinot blanc that is very likeable, if not showy — and few wines under $9 are this likeable. Expect white pear, almond, and fennel flavours. Chill lightly. This can be an all-purpose sipper and is perfect for casual dinners featuring white meat. At this price, it’s a house wine shoo-in. LCBO 565820.
Domaine Laroche 2012 Chablis St. Martin
$24.95 / Burgundy, France / 90 Points
This is a classic thirst-quenching Chablis (unoaked chardonnay) with a complex floral, apple, lemon, waxy, and vaguely herbal aroma. It’s light-bodied, taut, and mouth-watering, with a slightly stony, lemony finish. And it’s authentic Chablis — delighted to the see a screw cap used here to preserve that character. Chill well. Shellfish. LCBO 289124.
Wyndham Estate 2013 Bin 222 Chardonnay
$12.95 / South Eastern Australia / 89 Points
Great value, showing far more complexity and structure than expected at the price. Light smoky oak nicely integrates with apricot, butter, fennel, and herbs. It is medium-weight, firm, and focused, with excellent length. No sense of the sweetness that dulls many wines at this price. LCBO 93401.