Even cooler Cali pinot
Terrific deluxe meritage from Two Sisters
A cool California chardonnay
Pinot grigio beats chardonnay!
Frame-up: The Beer Store, beer tax and beer prices

LCBO Release Highlights

Vintages November 22 Release


The focus this release is on Premium Products. There are certainly a few diamonds available - and priced accordingly - but at least there are a few diamonds in the rough as well.

Even very rich people can have a problem with expensive wine - it's not that they can't afford it, but they object to paying five or ten times the price of a very good $30-50 wine for something that is, for most, not five to ten times better. Certainly palate sophistication is an issue: some people who love wine just don't appreciate the subtle nuances of flavour and complexity that are the hallmarks of fine wine. To further muddy the waters, the same vicissitudes of personal taste are at work at the top end - you may love Dom Perignon and think it's absolutely worth four times as much as a standard champagne, but, even though you are a fan of robust reds, you may turn your nose up at a $100 Barolo that's had rave reviews and find yourself saying it's "not my style" as you reach for a Napa cab.

There are a couple of things you can do to ensure you'll enjoy an expensive wine you've taken a chance on. First, give in to the "placebo effect" that you probably suspect might be lurking around: you automatically prefer the more expensive model and are convinced it's better. This phenomenon has been scientifically documented in a British study. Subjects were given the exact same wine (a cab, FYI) at different times and asked to note how enjoyable or pleasurable they found it. The prices they were told ranged from approximately C$5 to C$90 and "most described the 'higher-priced' wine as much more enjoyable." Subjects weren't just asked what they thought, they underwent MRI scans of their brains, which "showed that the increase in pleasure was real, even though the products were identical." In this regard, I'd suggest buying a famous name with a nice label - it will impress your guests, and yourself.  Famous wines like the top Bordeaux and Champagnes have risen disproportionately in price lately - mainly due to newly rich Russians and Asians who, being new to wine and loaded, gravitate to "the best". So maybe go for "wine famous" labels instead - i.e., known to oenophiles but not on the same level of popular fame as, say, Dom Perignon.

Second, read a number of different tasting notes about the wine(s) you are interested in. If it still seems like wine you'd enjoy, go to a big Vintages store and ask the product consultant for advice, making sure you let him or her know a few examples of wines you like a lot so they can work out the one you're most likely to enjoy. If the product consultant gushes about a particular wine and tells you it's been a big hit and that they're running out, that will play into the placebo effect as well: you really will feel special when you take it home and open it. And remember, no-one at the LCBO is on commission so there's no benefit to them for steering you a certain way.

For this release, I'll introduce a new orange special: ** GOOD PREMIUM VALUE **. This will indicate a wine that, even though it's expensive, represents good value in terms of quality/price ratio. Normally I refrain from calling any wine over $20 good value as a big percentage of wine drinkers will not even consider spending more than that under any circumstances, and there are always good wines available under $20.

The Sparkling Wines
Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad. $37.95
Catalonia, Spain
The nose isn't too appealing - dark and muted, but it's a pleaasant surprise on the palate. The mousse is gentle and even a bit creamy, and there's smooth integration of the white fruit flavours, and some almond and biscuit notes. Reasonably full bodied and good length on the finish. 88 points.

The White Wines
Flat Rock Cellars Nadja's Vineyard Riesling 2007. $19.95 ** GOOD VALUE **
VQA Niagara
Lovely muted nose with fresh aromatic notes as well as some lemon and lime. Fresh, smooth and even exciting palate with lots of lemon-lime. Rather light bodied, nicely dry and fresh and a very pleasant finish. This is riesling Niagara style, but a little more complex and interesting. 88 points. 

Stratus White 2005. $44.00
VQA Niagara
Rich but confusing nose: the gewurz is a minority of the blend, but there's just enough to throw off floral aromas over the hint of toast and white fruit. It's fresh and fruity on the palate, which really defies categorization - there's smoke, white fruit, marzipan, lemon and more vaguely tropical flavours. This blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, gewurztraminer, semillon and riesling will keep you on your toes. Lovely. 89 points 

Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2006. $22.95
Sonoma, California
Pleasant nose, but a little heavy on the oak - lots of toast. Smooth and slightly round on the palate, which has white fruit. Perfectly decent cali chard, but I expected a little more oomph from this typically excellent producer. 86 points. 

Simi Chardonnay 2006. $23.95  ** GOOD VALUE **
Sonoma, California
Beutifully muted nose that's both fresh and lemony and shows delicate hints of the oak treatment. Smooth and rich on the palate, there's lots of ripe fruit, including lemon and apple. The oak is a little more obvious here, with some woodiness and a surprising puff of smoke towards the finish, which lingers nicely. 89 points. 

Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2006. $21.95
Casablanca Valley, Chile
Bold and lemony nose with some nutty notes. Fairly full on the palate, which has good lemon fruit. Good acidity, nice finish. 87 points. 

Vina Maipo Reserva Especial Sauvignon Blanc 2008. $17.95  ** GOOD VALUE **
Casablance Valley, Chile
Fresh and fruity nose with some herbaceous/grassy notes. Fairly full oand rich on the palate, which has good acidity and light lemon/lime fruit. Good finish. 87 points. 

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007. $33.95  ** GOOD PREMIUM VALUE **
Marlborough, New Zealand
Here's NZ sauv blanc at its best and one of the country's most reliable names. The farily subtle nose is dominated by the herbacious notes, but ripe fruit is there too - lemon drops and a hint of tropical. Rich and smooth on the palate, which has a pleasant play of the grassy, lemony notes and the richer tropical fruit notes. Good lingering finish. 91 points. 

Louis Sipp Pinot Gris 2005. $19.95 ** GOOD VALUE **
Alsace, France
Here's a nice change from pinot grigio: its more sophisticated French cousin. This feels fully Alsacian as there's a richly aromatic nose with a nice play of fruit flavours and even a hint of raisin, suggesting it will be off-dry. Indeed on the palate it is similarly rich and more off-dry than dry. There's a great finish with cooked apple notes: break out the pork chops. 87 points. 

Bouchard Pere & Fils Mersault Les Clos 2006. $52.95
Burgundy, France
Lovely muted minerally nose with ripe white fruit and some lemon. Super fresh and clean on the palate, which has a muted elegance - vague white fruit, vanilla and oak hints and a really terrific, lingering complex finish. 90 points.

Domaine de la Mandeliere Chablis 1er Cru Mont-de-Milieu 2006. $33.95
Burgundy, France
Nice bit of butterscotch on the minerally nose - and very little in the way of fruit - which is classic chablis. Good fresh acidity on the fairly full palate, which has more mineral notes, a hint of lemon and a good, fresh, but muted finish. 88 points.

Domaine de Prieur Savigny-Les-Beaune Blanc 2006. $26.95
Burgundy, France
Big fresh nose with yellow plum fruit and mineral notes. Clean, fresh and smooth on the palate, which has a hint of vanilla over muted lemon fruit. Lovely long finish. 88 points.

Domaine Sylvaine Bailly Quincy Beaucharme 2007. $21.95
Loire Valley, France
Lovely fresh herbaceous nose with lemon notes. Smooth and lemony on the palate. Light, bright style with a little minerality too. Muted but pleasantly ripe fruit. 87 points.

Anselmi Capitel Croce 2005. $25.95
Veneto, Italy
Lovely yellow-gold colour. Rich nose with even hints of late harvest richness. Peach fruit and some oaky notes of low-key vanilla. Fresh yet rich on the palate, and very zippy acidity leading to a lingering finish of peach. This is made of 100% Garganega. It could be a Soave, but apparently the producer "prefers to distance himself from the appellation," according to the Vintages notes. This certainly beats a typical Soave. 88 points. 

The Red Wines


The most "premium" wines of all are aged reds. The finest of these run to thousands of dollars a bottle. But it is possible to get the special aromas and flavours that take five, ten or more years to develop at a more reasonable price. Rioja, for example, is always a good place to look...
Hermanos Pecina Senorio de P. Pecina Gran Reserva 1998. $55.95
Rich and complex nose of cherry fruit and secondary notes like leather and a bit of smokiness. Full and rich on the palate, which is super smooth. Lots of cherry fruit, acidity and tannins in great balance. Cherries, tobacco and leather notes swirl around, all nicely integrated and leading to a lovely lingering finish that stays with you even after it’s finished: makes you really want more. 92 points.
The Reserva, a year younger, is also pictured. Read more about these Riojas here

Stratus Red 2005. $44. ** GOOD PREMIUM VALUE **
VQA Niagara
A stunning seven different varietals in this one: all the Bordeaux grapes plus syrah and gamay. Rich and fairly full nose, which is not immediately obvious. Good dark red berry fruit. Tannins and acidity are both high and there's a good line of ripe fruit from that hot summer running through. Not much in the way of secondary notes, however: it still feels young. The hint of tobacco towards the end of the long finish suggests there's more to come. This is among the best and most elegant reds in Niagara. 89 points.

Berenger Howell Mountain Bancroft Ranch Merlot 1996. $98.95 ** GOOD PREMIUM VALUE **
Napa, California
Here's a great opportunity to shell out for that rarity, an aged Californian. At 12 years of age this is a mature wine. The nose is initally off-putting, but it soon improves to reveal lots of darker secondary notes and big berry fruit. On the palate the fruit is California ripe and rich - cherries and berries - very full bodied and not really the least bit "aged" tasting. Great berry fruit finish - "like one of those berry blast drinks", I noted. Ideal now, but could certainly age further. 92 points.

Gran Lurton Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. $20.95 ** GOOD VALUE **
Mendoza, Argentina
Very Old World nose on this one, with dark notes of underbrush and cherry/berry fruit. Nicely full and rich on the palate, which puts you right back in the New World. Secondary notes are not too evident, but it's complex enough and the tannins and acidity are high but well balanced. 88 points.

Montes Alpha Syrah 2006. $22.95
Colchagua Valley, Chile
Rich and bold nose of dark berry fruit and big oak notes. This all follows through onto the palate, which has lots of vanilla and smoke. Nice smoky finish too. Great if you love oak. 87 points.

Oyster Bay Merlot 2007. $17.95 ** GOOD VALUE **
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
A real crowd pleaser here - a good full bodied merlot with a reasonably rich nose: ripe cherry/berry fruit and some earthiness. Smooth and pleasant on the palate, this is an easy drinking wine. 87 points.

The volume of wine at this tasting was high, so I skipped large chunks of some sections (sorry Australia, sorry Cali). I hurried through Burgundy too. I did scribble that the Domaine de la Vougeraie Gevrey-Chambertin Les Evocelles 2005 ($63.95) was “beautiful” and that the Duvergey Taboureau Nuits-Saint-Georges 2005 ($41.95) was “lovely”, and moving down to the Rhone Valley, I gave Domaine de la Colline Saint-Jean Vacqueyras 2004 ($25.95) a check mark, so that’s particularly good too. 

Chateau Beauregard 2005. $67.95
Bordeaux, France
This Pomerol is from a very good year. It's rich and ripe on the nose, with plenty of dark berry fruit and some earthiness. Very dark palate, but incredibly smooth even though it's decidedly not overly fruity. Terrific notes of licorice and cigar dominate over the muted fruit. You could drink this now, but it will certainly be better in a few years. 89 points.

Chateau Cote de Baleau 2005. $38.95 ** GOOD PREMIUM VALUE **
Bordeaux, France
Lovely nose of ripe berry fruit, but quite muted. Fresh on the palate. Tannins and acidity are high, and there's a great swirl of tobacco, licorice and red berries on the palate. Lovely fruity finish that's fresher than expected too. 89 points. 

Chateau Fombrauge 2005. $?
Bordeaux, France
Rich and dark nose with plenty of tobacco over the dark berry fruit. The full bodied palate has lots of ripe fruit, but it's somewhat muted. Tannins are very powerful still so this one needs some more time for sure. 88 points. 

Chateau Gaudin 2005. $36.95 ** GOOD PREMIUM VALUE **
Bordeaux, France
This one from Pauillac struck me as very much in the style of that austere corner of Bordeaux. The nose is rich and slightly oaky, with not a great deal of fruit. Very austere and tannic on the palate, and quite full bodied. Very dry, and there's good ripe fruit there, and if you store a few bottles, it will come more to the fore as the tannins calm down. Lovely smoky finish with dark plum and cherry notes. This needs more time in the cellar and would certainly reward patience. 89 points. 

Les Hauts de Pontet Canet 2005 $69
Bordeaux, France
This is the second wine of the classed growth chateau Pontet-Canet. The richly dark nose packed with cherry fruit will have you thinking further south, It’s dry, smooth and very fruity on the palate, which is quite light in colour. Tannins are very evident still and there are great tobacco notes.  88/89 points

Chateau Taillefer 2005. $59.95 ** GOOD PREMIUM VALUE **
Bordeaux, France
Rich and fruity nose - but dark. Cherries, blackberries and earthy notes. Beautifully smooth on the palate, even though it's still very tannic. Cigars and muted red fruit. With a couple more years of aging (or even five), this will be fantastic. Nice plummy finish. 90 points. 

La Croix de Beaucaillou 2005. $57.95 ** GOOD PREMIUM VALUE **
Bordeaux, France
This is the second with of the famous Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou and it beats the best efforts of most wineries. Lovely rich fruity nose of ripe cherries and blackberries. Smooth and fresh on the palate, but tannins are still mouth-puckeringly high. The acidity is good and the fruit is ripe and clean, and nice tobacco notes are developing under towards the smoky finish. This will age beautifully. 90 points. 

Alain Hudelot Noellat  Chambolle Musigny 2005. $76.95
Burgundy, France
Light and fresh but muted nose with dark berry fruit. Super light and elegant on the palate, which is full of ripe red berry fruit. Not much in the way of secondary notes but the tannins are beautifully smooth and there’s a lovely finish. 89 points. 

Domaine de la Vougeraie Gevrey-Chambertin La Justice. $61.95
Burgundy, France
Slightly cooked on the nose, but it’s smooth and elegant on the palate, which has lots of ripe fruit, tobacco notes and hints of earth. Good finish. 88 points 

Domaine Taupenot-Merme Gevrey-Chambertin. $66.95 ** GOOD PREMIUM VALUE **
Burgundy, France
Muted but lovely nose of ripe red berry fruit with a bit of earth. Super smooth and accessibly fruity on the palate, which has a solid core of ripe cherry fruit. Oak notes adding complexity and darkening things to round this out into a terrific burg. There’s even a beautiful, delicate finish. 91 points.

Terra D’Aligi Tolos Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2004. $29.95
Abruzzo, Italy
Lovely and rich, if slightly cooked, nose on this one. Lots of big ripe fruit on the palate. Acidity and tannins both high, but well balanced. There’s good oak integration giving some darker complexity yet keeping it smooth. Nice finish. 88 points. 

Campomaggio Chianti Classico 2004. $21.95
Tuscany, Italy
A very dried-fruit nose here with some floral notes too. Good acidity on the palate, which is less fruity than expected. There are some notes of lemon zest as well as ripe cherry fruit and it’s medium bodied. Nice finish. 87 points. 

Isole e Olena Collezione de Marchi Cabernet Sauvignon 2001. $72.95
Tuscany, Italy
Rich nose of  slightly cooked dark red fruit. The palate is smooth and rich and altogether more intense, with rich ripe red fruit – blackberry, blueberry, cherry. Acidity and tannins are both elevated and the oaky notes give a nice earthy complexity. This is aging nicely. 90 points. 

Juan Gill Monastrell 2006. $16.95  ** GOOD VALUE **
Jumilla, Spain
There’s a rather candied nose of jammy fruit, but don’t let that put you off. It’s sharper and leaner than expected on the palate and there’s good interplay of earthy and fruity notes. You get more than you think you’re gonna get with this one. 87/88 points. 

Vallobera Crianza 2005. $19.95 ** GOOD VALUE **
Rioja, Spain
Very rich and fruity nose with rich red cherry fruit and spicy notes. Smooth and fruity on the palate – nice tannins, acidity and some nice chewy cherry fruit. Fresh and lingering finish on this fine young Rioja. 89 points. 


To check availability near you, copy the wine name and paste it into the product search window in the top left corner of this page. It is always a good idea to check online and, if the inventory shows fewer than five bottles, call to confirm.



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