After sipping his way through 500 wines, a refreshed David Lawrason pronounces on global grape developments and trends — and recommends some new wines (some trendy and good; others just plain good) available at the LCBO this fall
Every year I review about 500 LCBO and Vintages Essentials wines for Toronto Life magazine’s Eating and Drinking Guide. The tasting, which takes up much of the summer, provides a fascinating glimpse into the ever changing world of what we like to drink here in Ontario, as well as current and emerging trends.
Foremost, we are cheapskates in these post-recessionary times. I have never seen so many wines under $10, under $9, under $8. Argentina’s $7.45 Fuzion got the ball rolling, and it is sucking prices downward — not just in Argentina but in the entire under-$20 wine category. This worries those trying to make money in the wine business and could mean falling quality in the longer term, but for now, the quality under $10 is quite good — at least from Argentina, South Africa, Chile, and the south of Italy. But while Argentina is the current value leader, with its malbecs, syrahs, and the emergence of some interesting whites, I predict it will be overtaken by Mediterranean Europe in the near future.
In terms of global style trends, inexpensive chardonnay is on the downswing and is being replaced by pinot grigio, which is not only spilling its banks in northern Italy but flowing freely into southern Italy and virtually every New World region. In warmer climes such as Argentina, California, and South Africa, pinot grigio is absorbing new life and better fruit than the style Italy has been rendering. Veneto and Friuli should be nervous.
There are no strong trends in terms of red wines. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and shiraz still own the marketplace and have become truly global wines, with pinot noir spreading rapidly, if a couple of years behind. For cabernet, no one is doing it better at all prices than Chile (which is also producing much improved carmenere). For shiraz, look to Australia, of course, but for value, try South Africa. For pinot noir, New Zealand is the leading New World region, with Ontario’s cooler-climate style ready to break through.
The final global trend emerging in 2010 is the penchant for multiple grape blends among whites and reds. This is exciting stuff, as it gives regions and winemakers a blank canvas to create something new — or at least create their own signature. (Ontario wineries are embracing blends in a big way.) And if the best thing about wine is its diversity, we are witnessing the most significant change since the invention of varietal wines 40 years ago.
Here are some new wine highlights at the LCBO this fall. Some illustrate the trends; others are simply good-quality additions to your repertoire.
Big House 2009 White
$10 • California • 88 points
This is a creative blend of five varieties led by aromatics viognier, muscat, and Italy’s malvasia, plus a dash of Austria’s gruner veltliner. It has a fragrant, muscat-like nose of fennel, lavender, star fruit, and musk perfume. Medium-full, smooth, a touch sweet, and very flavourful. Keep it well chilled. LCBO 173286
d’Arenberg The Stump Jump 2008 Lightly Wooded Chardonnay
$13.95 • South Australia • 88 points
From one of the oldest estate wineries in South Australia, this is a blast of tropical pineapple-mango fruit with a dusting of lemon wax, clove, and toast from light barrel contact (not fake wood chips). It has bracing lemony acid and quite intense flavours that run to excellent length. LCBO 173302
Domaine Lafage 2009 Côté Est
$12.50 • France • 88 points
This very aromatic, zesty, and bright white is from the Roussillon region in the southeast corner of France near the border with Spain. It is a blend of local grenache blanc, chardonnay, and marsanne. Expect lifted floral lavender, licorice, yellow plum, and spearmint notes. It’s mid-weight, taut, and juicy, with a squeeze of lemon. Mouth-watering and enticing. LCBO 179838
St. Urbans-Hof 2008 Urban Riesling
$14.95 • Mosel, Germany I 88 points
This listing from Nik Weis of the Saint Urbans-Hof winery in the Mosel finally brings a gutsy riesling to the general ranks of the LCBO. It’s slim, off-dry, and very fresh, with grapefruit, honey, and apricot. Lovely sweet-tart tension. LCBO 184051
Tilia 2009 Torrontes
$12.95 • Argentina • 87 points
Torrontes is a muscat-like grape variety that is emerging as a unique signature white for Argentina. Expect a blast of tropical fruit, licorice, and lemon set in a fairly full but lively palate with a touch of spritz. There is a sense of sweetness, but lemon and herbs dominate the finish. Use with sweet-and-sour Asian dishes. Due for release in late October or early November. LCBO 186403
Boutari 2009 Moschofilero
$11.95 • Macedonia, Greece • 86 points
Moschofilero is a native aromatic white on the ascent. This new listing has a lifted, muscat-like nose of lavender, anise, and banana-pineapple fruit. A touch grainy and peppery, it is medium-weight, crisp, tart, and spicy, with a dry, stony finish. LCBO 172387
Lake Chalice Cracklin’ Savie
$15.95 • New Zealand • 85 points
Something new under the southern sun — a lightly sparkling, non-vintage-dated sauvignon “savie” blanc with a honeyed kiwi and green pepper nose. It’s light-bodied and fresh, if a bit dilute, with typical sauvignon lime and grapefruit citrus. Good length; clean and balanced. LCBO 177782
Lapostolle Casa 2008 Carmenere
$15.95 • Chile • 89 points
Carmenere quality is leaping forward in Chile as the greenness is tamed and its richness is allowed to show through. This dark, vibrant red oozes very ripe cassis-blueberry fruit with accents of earth, dried pine, and leather. It’s very smooth, refined, and almost airy in texture — remarkable winemaking with this sturdy tannic variety — yet it has acid and sinew on the palate. Due for release in late October or early November. LCBO 168740
Vinhos Borges 2007 Meia Encosta
$9.95 • Portugal • 88 points
This new listing is surprisingly refined, given that it is from a region historically known for rough, tannic reds. Lovely blackberry-plum jam is well integrated with cedar, chocolate, and forest notes. It’s mid-weight, smooth, and a bit tannic on the finish. Very good depth for the money. LCBO 179408
Hob Nob 2008 Pinot Noir
$12.95 • France • 86 points
This new, modernized style of pinot from Pays d’Oc in the south of France relies heavily on sweet cocoa/mocha flavours atop ripe black cherry for much of its appeal. It’s mid-weight, with some sour tension, yet quite smooth and soft, with just a dusting of tannin. Very agreeable, if not at all classic French pinot noir. Enjoy now through 2012. LCBO 184069
Tini 2008 Sangiovese Di Romagna
$9 • Italy • 86 points
This new listing and good everyday-drinking value is from Emilia Romagna, the unsung northern neighbour of Tuscany. For the money, it has a very generous nose of cherry, rhubarb, peppery spice, and salami. It’s medium-weight, open-knit, and fleshy, with some heat and tannin. An ideal pizza wine. LCBO 179432
$13.95 • Ontario • 86 points
This new blend by Allan Jackson — the Jackson formerly of Jackson-Triggs — is a theoretically odd quadrupling of pinot, cabernet, merlot, and gamay, but it is a realistic expression of regional Ontario red wine that isn’t trying too hard. It has charm, freshness, balance, and very little tannin (for which Ontario reds are notorious). It’s light-bodied with red pinot-gamay cranberry-currant-dominated fruit. Oak is way in the background. Chill and enjoy with casual meals. LCBO 197152