Thirst Impressions: Piedmont or Bust

Bailly Lapierre Reserve Brut

As usual, we’ll look back at a few releases before we sample the newest bottles on Vintages’ shelves. The October 13 release had one for those of you who like sparkling wine but aren’t big fans of the price of Champagne. Head a little south of Champagne to Burgundy for the Bailly Lapierre Réserve Brut Crémant de Bourgogne ($17.95 – #991562). Crémant just means sparkling and any sparkling made in France outside of Champagne will have this moniker. A lot of these wines are made in the same traditional method as Champagne, with their secondary fermentation in the very bottle you buy it in, but without the prestige of that high-priced northerly region. Wines outside the region can be incredibly affordable for those who have Champagne taste but a ginger ale budget and all without sacrificing taste. This bubbly adds a couple of extra grapes to the traditional blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay found in Champagne, namely Aligote and Gamay, but keeps those delicate little bubbles. Lively and crisp with apple, pear and citrus flavours and aromas along with the typical biscuitiness found in good traditional bubbly. Great to have a few bottles on hand for the holidays ahead, or just to have on hand for an every-day occasion (****).

We’ll kick it up a notch from the light and frothy flavours to something with more heft with a few from the October 27 release where the focus was on Bordeaux and California. We’ll start with something from the much maligned region of Bordeaux, but this is still one of the leaders in the world of wine, and these two excellent values show it can still produce quality at reasonable prices.  Chateau de L’Estang 2009 ($18.95 – #191551) with its smooth satisfying vanilla-cherry, is a simple Bordeaux that you’d be pleased to serve any time (****+). The Chateau Lestruelle 2009 ($18.95 – #295840) shows more complexity in the glass than its counterpart adding cinnamon, blackberry and spice to its vanilla-cherry backbone (****+).

Langmeil Blacksmith Cab Sauv

Those looking for something more robust need look no further than the Langmeil Blacksmith Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 from Australia ($24.95 – #644039). It has all the goods of Cabernet Sauvignon with the typicity of Oz: chocolate, plum, black cherry and well-spiced – this one is full flavoured in the mouth (****+).

Moving on to the newest additions to the shelves at Vintages, the November 10 release was all about premium wines and other  wines of Piedmont, Italy. Dig a little deeper, you can find some really good bargains among the high-priced spread. Starting in Argentina with a perennial favourite: Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95 – #135202).This is the 2009 version and it really delivers the goods of an Argentinean Cab (as usual): blackberry, chocolate, dark berries with nice ripe tannins and vanilla, smoke and spearmint all make an appearance on the finish (****).

Leave the spearmint behind and add a dollop of straight-on mintiness with this always good Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon: Montes Alpha 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95 – #322586), dark fruit and subtle spice on the nose with lots of dark fruit on the palate; along with the aforementioned mint (****). The Kaiken and Montes are part of the same company’s portfolio – making wine on both sides of the Andes – and they are doing a great job in both places.

For those who need a Shiraz to celebrate the holiday season, look no further than its homeland – no, not France (that’s Syrah), I’m talking about a big, ballsy, no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners Shiraz. The Saltram 2010 Mamre Brook Shiraz ($24.95 – #0032227) is inky black, rich, spicy and packs a wallop of fruit, while adding the tell-tale black pepper flavours (**** ½).

Speaking of going home, you Malbec fans who think Argentina is the first place to showcase this grape, think again. Home for Malbec, as one might suspect (as with most other famous grapes), is France – Cahors to be exact, in the southwest part of the country. Here Malbec has reigned supreme for centuries in a tannic, inky format that took years to develop and shuck its harsh bitter flavours for big black fruit. Today, Cahors winemakers still keep some of those traditions, but they have abandoned the massive tannins (because their wines get to market sooner) for riper tannins and more upfront fruit. Clos La Coutale 2010 Cahors ($15.95 – #286385) is a great way to get to know France’s version of Malbec without breaking the bank. Rich in fruit and chewy of tannin, this $16 gem could just as easily sit in your cellar over the next seven years as it could sit at your table tonight (with a little decanting, of course).

Finally, if there is one must-have wine to try in this release, it’s this one. Get a bottle of one of the more unique wines to come into the LCBO in recent memory. The Albarossa grape from Piedmont is a cross between the famous Piedmontese grapes of Nebbiolo and Barbera. One brings the acid and spice, the other brings the fruit to the party, proving that it was a worthwhile crossing. Together they have made a lovely and unique wine brought to us by the folks at Banfi (a long-respected name in Italian wine). Get your hands on a few bottles if you can, because there is only a limited amount of the Regali La Lus Albarossa 2008 ($24.95 – #291578) – the first time it’s been in Vintages, but hopefully not the last. This wine delivers lovely raspberry and strawberry notes to the nose and palate, while adding a little cherry, tobacco and spice on the tongue. There’s no way this wine will disappoint, or stick around long on the shelf, plus it has a lot of talking points when you put it on the table.

Have a great holiday season. If you’re looking for more wine choices, check out my blog at for my weekly wine recommendations. And as always, drink responsibly.