Wine Picks: Money Well Spent
Eating & Drinking

Wine Picks: Money Well Spent

Delectable wines that won’t break the bank
By David Lawrason

Illustration: Stéphane Denis

SO 2009 HAS BEEN ROUGH. But it is still the season to be merry, by giving and enjoying a good bottle of wine or three. The great news is that this year, it’s okay not to spend big. In fact, sales of very expensive wines have been slow at the LCBO this year, and it could be more than a slap-on-the-wrist reprimand. I belong to the camp predicting that the glory days are over for iconic wines with triple-digit price tags, perhaps for the next 10 years or even a generation. There are several reasons. First, many rarefied, and sometimes fossilized, wines are clearly overpriced, given the quality in the bottle. Second, wine buyers are better informed and more courageous than ever before, and there is now more status in the smart purchase of a less expensive, undiscovered, or simply delicious wine. And third, there is so much excellent wine priced at under $50 that it really isn’t necessary to spend $100, $200, or more to impress with wines that only prove your heart is where your wallet is. Here is an excellent-quality selection from the Vintages November releases, the Essentials program, and a couple of general listings that score 90 points or better based on quality factors such as complexity, balance, and flavour concentration. So it can still truly be “best of the season.”


Cloudy Bay 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
$29.95 •  Marlborough, New Zealand • 90 points

One of the world’s most recognized sauvignons is finally continuously available at the LCBO. Many others have matched its quality, and it remains pricey within the genre. However, its price has come down, and it is very good, the new vintage showing reserved peppery, lime-grapefruit, celery, and green pear aromas. It’s mid-weight, steely, crisp, and juicy, with excellent length and a stony finish. Vintages Essentials 304469

Léon Beyer 2007 Pinot Gris
$16.15 • Alsace, France • 90 points

Léon Beyer is a classicist among Alsace houses, crafting hefty, dry wines with aging capability. This one shows surprisingly deep colour and a rich nose of honey, yellow plum, wildflowers (mustard), and candle wax. It’s full-bodied, smooth, and almost creamy, with some fruit sweetness and a dry finish. Very good to excellent length. Deserves a rich meal of pork, ham, even holiday turkey. LCBO 165241

Sonoma-Cutrer 2007 Russian River Ranches Chardonnay
$24.95 • Sonoma, California • 90 points

This sleek chardonnay epitomizes Sonoma’s cooler-climate take. Very classy from a winery so specialized in this variety that it is among the top-selling chardonnays in U.S. restaurants. It has power and elegance, with a complex nose of pear, buttermint candy, light smoke, and nutty character. A wine that shows chardonnay’s true potential. Vintages Essentials 608653


Altaïr 2004 Sideral
$24.95 • Rapel Valley, Chile • 91 points

This blend of cabernet, carmenere, and merlot is from a sensational high-end winery devoted solely to bordeaux-style blends. (Its portfolio has just two wines.) It’s very lifted and seductive, with cassis, menthol, juniper, leather, and mocha aromas and flavours. Very smooth, sweetish, and easygoing, with all kinds of warmth, sweetness, and power. Great fruit core that Chile so regularly delivers. Vintages 660837

Beringer 2006 Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
$39.95 • California • 90 points

Still a bit pricey, but if you can forgive California’s excesses over the past decade, try this very tasty, supple cabernet with well-integrated spice, mocha, herbs, and ripe blackberry fruit aromas and flavours. It’s full-bodied, quite sleek, and fairly dense, with some chewy tannin. California styling all the way. Excellent length. Best 2010 to 2015. Vintages Essentials 352583

Errazuriz 2007 Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon
$17.85 • Aconcagua Valley, Chile • 90 points

Chile is on such a quality/value roll! This is a lovely, exuberant cabernet with blackcurrant, juniper, toast, sawdust, and licorice on the nose and palate. It’s quite full-bodied initially — smooth and succulent — then dries up a bit on the finish amid youthful tannin and slightly green juniper/pine notes. Bring on the lamb. Very good to excellent length. LCBO 335174

Kenwood 2007 Pinot Noir
$21.95 • Russian River Valley, California • 90 points

Sonoma’s Russian River Valley is a fine region for pinot, and this is an elegant, well-balanced example that will appeal to everyone in the room (who’s not expecting Aussie shiraz). Lovely poise, with well-harmonized raspberry-cherry, spice, and herbal flavours. It’s mid-weight, with a hint of sweetness, but fine acidity, tannin, and earth take hold to keep it even. A pinot for every occasion. Vintages 943225

Richard Hamilton 2007 Gumprs’ Shiraz
$18.95 • McLaren Vale, South Australia • 90 points

This deep black-purple shiraz has a terrific, very ripe nose of plum-prune, licorice, woodsmoke, pepper, and green cedar sawdust. It’s dense, taut, and rich, with considerable smoke, coffee, and black licorice. Missing only a bit of length to be outstanding. All for under $20. Vintages 600122

Tawse 2007 Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc
$29.95 • Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Peninsula • 90 points

Tawse did well at the 2009 Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards, with its Wismer Vineyard Cabernet Franc taking gold. From sandy soils on the lake plain, this wine is light but elegant and exciting, with black raspberry, oak vanilla/mocha, and vaguely leafy/tobacco-like aromas. Medium-weight and elegant with excellent focus and length. Vintages 130997

Fontanafredda 2008 Briccotondo Barbera d’Alba
$15.75 • Piedmont, Italy • 89 points

Not quite a 90-pointer, but at this price, dive in. It’s a charming, silky barbera that’s very fragrant, with floral peony-lavender scents and ripe plum-cherry fruit. Six months in French oak has embellished it with subtle vanilla and spice. The tannin is very soft, the alcohol is in check, and the finish is brisk and refreshing. A great buy that should work nicely with the holiday bird. Vintages Essentials 72348

Reprinted from the December 2009/January 2010 issue. Prices current at that time.