December 24, 2008




All recommendations are linked to the LCBO database enabling you to do an instant store search for current inventory.

2008 Best Value Wines
LCBO Sale Friday, December 19th
Ontario Winners from Wine Awards Canada

Congratulations, the days are finally stating to get longer. I started trying to sort through the thousands of tasting notes made in 2008 in order to find my top wines. It didn’t take long for me to realize what an incredibly daunting task this is. How do I designate a “top” wine. Is it the highest score; the best value; the one I simply personally liked the most (regardless of score); the best of its type; etc.?  While I realize that there are just too many top wines to just designate a single one as “the” best, I decided to make a stab at it.

When it comes to the Best Value Sweet Table Wine for 2008, the choice was relatively easy. Of the 130 sweet table wines (click here) released in Vintages in 2008, a total of 40 had a Recommended status (click here) of which 13 (or 10%) were Best Buys (click here). The number one choice in terms of quality and price comes from Austria’s Burgenland: Lenz Moser 2006 Beerenauslese Prestige (93025) at $16.95 per 375 ml bottle rated *** (out of three stars). It’s loaded with noble rot the name given to Botrytis cinerea, a special fungus, which helps create wines such as classic sweet French Sauternes and German Trockenbeernauslese. Light yellow colour, the bouquet is very sweet and spicy with honeyed, lemon meringue pie notes. On the palate, it’s rich, very sweet and spicy with tangy, Seville orange marmalade and lemon meringue flavours and a lingering, honeyed-caramel finish. Some 250 cases of 6 were released on October 11th and it’s still available in Vintages.

In case your local LCBO outlet doesn’t have it, then search out the almost as delicious Weingut Willi Opitz 2006 Cuvée Beernauslese (71274). This is now a real bargain - it has recently fallen in price from $21.95 to just $17.00 per half bottle. It has a very high **+/*** rating and was released August 16, 2008. Here is my tasting note: Very light yellow colour. Spicy, sweet, complex, Seville orange marmalade nose. Very sweet, well balanced, honeyed, ripe apricot jam and Seville orange marmalade flavours with a lingering finish. Both are terrific alternatives to icewine.

My definition of sweet table wine excludes fortified wines, such as Sherry, Madeira, Port, etc. It includes Sauternes, Icewine, all sweet “table” wines from Germany, Austria, Italy (including Moscato d'Asti), etc. It seems that a "dessert" wine is determined by national traditions and regulations. It varies by country. One might think that dessert wines (nicknamed pudding wines in the UK and stickies in Australia) are all sweet wines typically served with dessert. Despite the name, these wines are often best appreciated alone, sometimes with cheese, fruit or bakery sweets. There appears to be no simple definition of a dessert wine. In the UK, a dessert wine is considered to be any sweet wine drunk with a meal, as opposed to the white fortified wines (Fino and Amontillado Sherry) drunk before the meal, and the red fortified wines (Port and Madeira) drunk afterwards. Thus, most fortified wines are regarded as distinct from dessert wines, but some, such as Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, are regarded as honorary dessert wines. In the United States, a dessert wine is legally defined as any wine over 14% alcohol by volume, which includes all fortified wines - and are taxed more highly as a result. This dates back to a time when the US wine industry only made dessert wines by fortification, but this classification is outdated now that modern yeast and viticulture can produce dry wines over 15% without fortification (sweet German dessert wines can contain half that amount of alcohol). While the LCBO database provides a short list of dessert wines, there is no such listing for sweet table wines. Our searchable FBTI database indicates that there were 130 such releases in 2008.

With respect to sparkling wines, there were 58 sparkling releases in Vintages this year.  The top buy was the zesty ripe melon flavoured Codorniu Reserva Raventós Cava Brut (521773 • V) a ** steal at $14.95. Made in the Méthode Traditionnelle, the 300 cases of this tasty Spanish sparkler released on August 2nd disappeared almost immediately. On Friday, December 19th the LCBO made the choice for my 2008 Best Value Sparkling easy by reducing the price of my best buy pick of the 2008 Vintages Gift Catalogue. The ever-reliable sparkling duo from Spain – Codorniu Cava Gift Pack Pinot Noir Brut & Raventos Reserva Brut (6379 • V), which is now only $24.95 (previously priced at $33.95) is The latter has a light pink colour with dry, well-balanced, gently plummy flavours with fine effervescence. The latter is dry, crisp and light bodied with ripe lemon finish. It is available in some 100 Vintages outlets.

In terms of fortified wines, of the 23 Sherries appearing in Vintages in 2008, my 2008 Best Value Sherry is the extremely sweet Osborne Pedro Ximenez 1827 Sweet Sherry (47944 • V) at $17.95, rated at **+. It has a deep ambering brown colour with a golden yellow edge. The bouquet is lovely, sweet and honeyed with intense fresh-baked raisin pie notes. It’s just delicious on the palate with spicy, very sweet, fleshy, rich, raisin pie flavours followed up by a long, lingering, coffee-caramel finish. Of the 250 cases released on October 11, 2008, it is still available in some 60 Vintages outlets.

When it comes to Port, it’s a bit more challenging. After reviewing the 43 Vintages listings priced from $14.95 to $89.95, my 2008 Best Value Port actually turned out to come from the LCBO General List. W&J Graham’s 2003 Late Bottled Vintage Port (191239 • GL) at  $16.45, with $1 LTO to January 4th. It rated ***. Bottled in 2008 (L082271 appears on the back label), it has an extremely deep intense dark purple colour. The nose exudes sweet, warm Damson plums, cherries and chocolate. Rich and mouthfilling on the plate, it’s loaded with roasted plum, ripe black cherry and honeyed, vanilla-milk chocolate flavours. Great today and capable of evolving nicely over the next five years.

Table wines are another matter. Dealing with whites first, I had 117 best buy whites (to see the list click here) in this year’s 884 Vintages listings, which includes 114 in-store discoveries (29 tasted). My 2008 Best Value Vintages White is Chateau des Charmes 2006 Chardonnay Musqué (640516 • V) at $16.95, which rated **/**+. This estate bottled 100% Chardonnay Musqué (clone 809) has a pale straw colour and fairly complex, intense, slightly spicy, ripe apple-tinged, lemon meringue nose. On the palate, it is dry, medium bodied and surprisingly well structured with slightly spicy, ripe lemon-melon flavours along with a lingering, very slightly toasty finish. A total of 168 cases were released in Vintages on March 15, 2008 and it’s still available in about 48 Vintages outlets.

A personal favourite from Portugal’s Ribatejo is the somewhat idiosyncratic Quinta da Alorna 2006 Reserve White (81505 • V) at $17.95, which initially scored **/**+ and recently updated to **+ at a subsequent tasting. This terrific blend of tank fermented Arinto and barrel fermented in new French oak (on its lees for three months) has a light yellow colour. The bouquet is complex, slightly spicy and rather toasty with lots of ripe lemon-melon notes. It’s dry, harmonious and well structured with ample ripe pear-lemon-melon flavours followed up by a lingering, slightly toasty finish. A total of 150 cases were released on November 8th and it’s still available in about 30 Vintages outlets.

Moving to red wines, I had 143 best buy reds (to see the list click here) in this year’s 1,970 Vintages listings, which included 304 in-store discoveries (only 45 tasted).  My 2008 Best Value Vintages Red is the incredible South African 2007 Café Culture Pinotage (72710 • V) at $13.95 released on August 2nd. The 200 cases had one of the fastest Vintages sell-throughs on record with almost everything disappearing in just a few days. Loaded with smoke, coffee, cherry & mocha flavours, it initially scored **+/*** and was updated to *** at a subsequent tastings. Click Here for background on this wine. The good news is that this top gold medal winner is coming back to Vintages in mid-February at the same price. So make sure that you don’t miss it.

LCBO Friday, December 19th Sale
There are 32 items on last Friday’s sale. As per usual, nothing was announced to LCBO customers. Click Here to see the list.

Wine Awards Canada
2008 Ontario Award Winners

To see the winning wines sorted by type Click Here
To see the winning wines sorted by winery Click Here

Our compilation of awards from all four competitions is now complete: 20 from Cuvée (gold awards only), 72 from the Ontario Wine Awards, 73 from the All Canadian Wine Championship and 112 recently announced awards (representing 44% of the total) from the Canadian Wine Awards. Awards were down and totaled 300 awards, which translates into 272 award-winners with only 27 items or 10% receiving multiple awards. This year only one wine Pelee Island 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon received a medal in three of the four competitions: a gold, a silver and a bronze. Only two wines Niagara College 2006 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay and Jackson-Triggs Proprietor’s Grand Reserve White Meritage received two golds. What is always surprising is the lack of consensus. Unfortunately, many of the better wines were not entered because producers feared receiving low scores - ie. a bronze medal for their highly priced, icon brands. Also, keep in mind that most of the best award winners are no longer available. Obviously, there is no point entering a wine if it will no longer available when the results are published many months later. Also, as these competitions tend to be expensive and can be tied in with requisite advertising, some well-known producers refuse to participate.

To help readers, I will be publishing some of my own recent tasting award winners next week. You can be assured that these wines are available and that the awards come from a reliable, consistent palate as opposed to the diverse palates of a mystery panel. To see last year’s feature on the 2007 awards Click Here

Merry Christmas


Quest for Value

Life is sometimes stranger than fiction. I don’t remember how many wine fans have commented about the light, sometimes watery, character of some brands of Italian Pinot Grigio. It’s extremely popular, one brand happens to be the #1 selling white wine in Vintages! Carrying the torch was a gift pack blue magnum of D’Aquino Pinot Grigio delle Venezie (49650) at $28.95. It appears on page 10 of the LCBO 2008 Holiday Gift Guide. We were supposed to be tasted in the LCBO lab on October 10th but it didn’t show up.

Earlier this week, the Toronto Star let the cat out of the bag: those beautiful big blue magnums had been pulled off the shelves because some of the bottles sold at various LCBO outlets turned out to be filled with water. It would seem that the stainless steel filing lines and/or tank at the winery were filled with a cleansing water solution that inadvertently ended up in the bottles. This meant that an undetermined number of cases were filled with this solution vs. wine. Unfortunately, the lot numbers did not indicate the time of bottling meaning that it was impossible to determine which cases were sound.

Moving on the my continuing quest to find great seasonal values, let me shine the light on Germany, which produces easy-to-drink, user-friendly wines perfect for the festive season. For connoisseurs, from the Pfalz comes a ** (out of three stars) Recommended Best Buy Lingenfelder  2007 Riesling Kabinett  Freinsheimer Musikantenbuckel (87593) at $18.95. A total of 199 cases were released in Vintages on November 22, 2008 and there is still stock on the shelves. Pale straw in colour, the nose is very attractive with slightly spicy, honeyed, ripe melon fruit. On the palate it is very stylish with delicious, slightly honeyed, just off dry, tangy, medium to medium-light bodied, gently juicy, ripe melon flavours and a lingering crisp finish. With only 10.5% alcohol it is delicious just by itself.

Proving that German wines don’t have to be expensive to be tasty is a very pleasant, everyday white that goes for only $10.50 - Baden 2007 Gewurztraminer (336735). It is estate bottled by Badischer Winzerkeller, which is one of Germany’s largest coops with a membership of some 25,000 small independent winegrowers. It rated *+ (out of three stars) and is Recommmended. It is very bright light yellowi n  colour with a spicy, honeyed, baked lemon-melon nose with some faint hints of ginger. The taste is very pleasant which is just off-dry and light bodied with spicy, ripe lemon-melon-apricot flavours followed up by a crisp clean finish. It shows good versatility. Try with appetizers, baked ham, poultry or just by itself. It will also go well with spicy Thai cuisine and has a convenient screwcap closure.

Ontario Best Buys
Whites Dry & Sweet

While 2007 is acclaimed by some critics as being the “greatest ever”, Riesling was a bit problematic because of extreme heat resulting in an occasional lack of phenolic ripeness. In general, have preferred the 2006 vintage. The least expensive Chateau des Charmes 2006 Rieling is their VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake white label. It has a classic, slightly turpy, dry, mineral-driven nose. It is very dry, medium-light bodied with schisty, ripe lemon flavours followed up a very crisp, mouth-watering finish. A real refresher that would marry with appetizers, cream soups and, especially, seafood. Unlike the sweeter Baden Gewurztraminer, this white is more of a food wine and less of a by-itself sipper. It rated *+ (out of three stars) Recommmended status and is available on the LCBO General List (61499) at only $12.45.

Another destination white is the just-released estate bottles black label Chateau des Charmes 2007 Aligote  (284950) a VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake which is also available on the General List at $13.45. It has dry, bright, very slightly nutty, ripe lemon-melon flavours with a crisp finish. This would be a fine match for oysters and other seafood dishes.ripe lemon-melon flavours with a crisp finish. This would be a fine match for oysters and other seafood dishes. It rated *+ (out of three stars) Recommmended status.

The gold medal winning Chateau des Charmes 2006 Late Harvest Riesling (432930) at $19.95 per half bottle is one of the best value dessert wines in Canada. Some 224 cases were released in Vintages on September 27, 2008 and it is still widely available at the LCBO. When I tasted it, I gave it my highest *** rating. The nose is lovely with honeyed, sweet, lemon-tinged, Seville orange marmalade notes. On the palate it is sweet but balanced with vibrant, intense, albeit harmonious, Seville orange marmalade, fresh melon and ripe lemon flavours along with a lingering citrus-tinged finish. For the price it doesn’t get much better than this!

Chilean Bargain
I recently sat down and blind tasted Santa Alicia 2007 Chardonnay Reserve (414474) with my friend Pooch Pucilowski who runs the annual California State Fair judging in Sacramento. Coming from the Maipo Valley, it was extremely tasty but it didn't have the typical characteristics that one normally associates with Chardonnay. It has a refreshing, white peach-melon nose. Dry, bright and tangy on the palate, the very lively, peachy, Anjour pear flavours seem to be somewhat Sauvignon Blanc inspired. There is a pleasant nuance of vanilla on the lifted bright finish. A real crowd-pleased at a very reasonable price of only $10.95. It rated *+/** (out of three stars) Recommended-Best Buy status.