Thirst Impressions: Big Wines… Small Prices

Another year begins and with it comes a bunch of new wines to look forward to enjoying. The LCBO always starts the year off right by giving us its release of “Smart Buys”, inexpensive wines that take the sting out of the post-Christmas blues of having little (or no) money. This year’s release has a few really good bargains.

Here are some of the  deals that are part of the Smart Buy release. My favourite red is the Vina Robles 2008 Huerhuero Red 4 ($17.95 – #0261628) a meaty, juicy, peppery blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Mourvedre from Paso Robles, California. It is a BBQ-ready wine you can pick up now and even sit in the cellar for a bit (****1/2). For the other U.S. wines, you have to head up the coast to Washington for the Charles & Charles 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah ($14.95 – #0258178). This one has a playful label which foreshadows the fun wine inside. It is smooth and downright enjoyable – look for the black American flag and the two “rockers” in the corner.

It’s not just new world wines that take centre stage in the Smart Buy release. The French and the Italians provide some interesting options. Perrin & Fils 2009 Peyre Blanche Cairanne Cotes du Rhone-Villages ($17.95 – #0650960) is a very good wine with all the markings of a cellar dweller over the next three quarters of a decade. Sweet spice, black cherry, raspberry are all part of this smooth, supple and succulent sipper (****+). My final recommendation from the Smart Buys is the Vignamaggio 2009 Ripa delle Mandorle ($15.00 – #0677930), good red cherry, vanilla with a little cocoa – this one’s real tasty (****+).

Another $15 wine that is not part of the focus but should be is the Trivento 2009 Amado Sur Malbec/Bonarda/Syrah ($15.00 – #0037036), it’s a smooth supple wine made from what should be the next big grape out of Argentina, the Bonarda. It may be only 15 per cent of the blend, but it sure adds to this juicy wine full of vanilla, spice and lovely red fruit.

By the end of January, you’ll find that Australia is on the menu at the LCBO and it’s good if you’re a lover of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and interesting Aussie blends. Shiraz fans should really dig the Jim Barry 2009 The Lodge Hill Shiraz ($24.95 – #0998476). It is not your average Aussie fruit bomb.This one shows some real finesse and elegance (****+). Those of you who prefer the big fruit, big flavour and big fun of a generous Aussie Shiraz should gravitate towards the Sister’s Run 2009 Shiraz ($15.95 – #0222018) – this one is everything you expect from Australia’s signature grape (****+). Those who’d like something a little different from Down Under will like the Torbreck 2009 Cuvee Juveniles ($29.95 – #0723940) a Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro (aka Mourvedre) blend that’s full of chocolate, blackberries and plum along with good acidity and spice. One of the juiciest versions of Cabernet I have ever wrapped my tongue around comes from Wakefield (2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, $17.95 – #0744235), a consistently great drinking Cabernet that made this relatively young winery famous. It has blackberry, cherry, chocolate and juicy as all get out (****+). Do yourself a favour and pick up a few bottles because if you don’t you will wish you had.

Four other wines that make the grade in late January come from the US, Chile, France and right here at home. Vineland 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($16.95 – #0551168) is full of exotic fruit and with a mineral sensation, is a real standout. It is a Sauv Blanc that’s deliciously balanced (****+). There’s plenty to get excited about from our neighbours to the south. The most interesting is the Loredona 2009 Pinot Noir ($16.95 – #00057620), a floral and cherry nose leads to a raspberry, cranberry, cherry palate with a little of that earthy spiciness on the finish that makes it most definitely Pinot Noir, but also most definitely Californian (****+). The Chilean, is a Cab from Concha y Toro, 2009 Serie Riberas Gran Reserva ($14.95 – #0256693). I can’t even begin to tell you what a value this wine is at under $15. It will blow your mind with its dark fruit with a hint of mint and rich chocolate. There is even some cassis, blackberry and vanilla that pop out. If the Syrah from this line ever makes it to Vintages, I would suggest you pick that one up too – it’s even better. For now, pick up a few bottles of the Cab (****1/2). Another great French wine is The Domaine de Cristia 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape ($42.95 – #0067678). It is one of those wines that makes you realize why the French were on top and are likely to stay there with its plum, chocolate, fig, blackberry jam, and red licorice on the finish (****1/2).

Enjoy the bargains at the LCBO.