The year-end list. Why? To “free the individual from the collective.” To ponder, speculate and formulate a narrative. To create the sociological, world of wine equivalent of splitting the atom. To celebrate the triumph of laic heterodoxy and the arrogance of modernity. To seek purity from beneath the massacre caused by an avalanche of contrived wines. In anthropological terms, “to make a housecleaning of belief.”
For the great majority, $25 is the threshold rarely exceeded when shopping for a bottle of wine. If a solid, honest to good bottle can’t be had for less, grape dismissal rears its ugly head and the switch turns to beer, or worse, rail booze mixed with sugar and/or chemical bitters. Oh, the drab humanity of it all.
But a great wine can be had for less than $25 and once found should be exalted and purchased by the case. The category of reds and in less instances whites, need company. This is where Sparkling, Sherry and even Dessert wines seek the embrace of an open mind and a willing palate. Spread the wealth, into glasses filled, from methods and styles unknown.
You will note that this list is filled with such rare animals and not just from the calculations in ferment, but from places unexpected, far off, of gestalt, historical significance and of the ancients. Places like Naoussa and Santorini in Greece, Montilla Moriles from Spain and Alsace, France.
These 15 wines are (almost all) culled from VINTAGES releases. I tasted countless other terrific under-$25 examples in 2014; local, parochial, from beyond Ontario’s borders and abroad. For the purposes of what the Ontario consumer needs to know and for what serves them best, restricting the bulk of the list to what is available in LCBO stores (or in many cases, what was and will again, as a newer vintage, be released), these 15 wines are not hard to find.
So yes, this is an ode, a nod, shout out and props to our faithful and loyal provider, the LCBO and truer to the point, VINTAGES, the fine wine and spirits division of the Ontario monopoly. The supply chain for great wine is alive and well, despite the efforts required to sift through the chaff, to separate it from the proverbial wheat. The gems, though oft-times hidden, can be unearthed. The diamonds will time and again be scooped from the rough and the cream will also rise to the top. Cliché is a by-product of wine life in Ontario.
What stands out and above is the contribution made and presented by the winemakers and vintners in this province. Six out of my 15 choices are from Ontario. The attitude that Ontario wines are too expensive and do not offer good value as compared to similar wines from Chile, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, Germany, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand is rubbish. My decision to include six such beasts drives the point. Many excellent wines are available at the u-$25 price point.
Here are my wines of the year that came in under $25. Some are sold out, many are not. Find them before the year is out.
Toro Albalá Fino Del Lagar Electrico, Do Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $14.95, 500ml, WineAlign) From Recently tasted here, there and everywhere, November 24, 2014
The winery was founded in 1844 and in 1970 Toro Albalá became the first commercial Montilla producer in the classic Solera method, from (estate-grown) Pedro Ximénez vines. This is unfortified Fino, at a naturally achieved alcohol of 15 per cent, from an average age of 10 years. It’s so dry, like a desert you could walk for astral weeks, as if it should be measured in negative residual sugar. Like pure almond extract paste, bones in the sand and the essence of pulverized, powdered nuts, void of moisture. The chalky-white Albariza soils of the Moriles Alto subzone are hardwired into its Akashic, astral Electrico plane. This Fino ventures in the slipstream, between viaducts of dreams, “where immobile steel rims crack.” Impossibly long finish. Tasted November 2014 @MontillaMoriles
Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (231282, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 21, 2014 Release
Always a diamond cut above its like-minded and similarly priced peers. Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc has the most wonderful smell of bleeding, oozing metal and the bitten into stones of many tree fruits, in bittering nobility. Not to mention the pith of citrus and the pits of tree nuts. Though currently in a sulphurous, reductive state, with age this will seek and find an earthen, honey bronzed gorgeousness, in say five to seven years and live in sweet CB infamy until 2025. For a wine that crosses oceans to arrive in your tasting glass, at $18 it represents the finest value in Chenin just about anywhere on the planet. Terrific length. Chenin meets Montrachet. Tasted May 2014 @KFwines @WOSACanada
Artichoke and Fiddleheads
PHOTO: Michael Godel
Boeckel Brandluft Riesling 2012, Alsace, France (392928, $17.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES November 8, 2014 Release, Big release, bigger wines, November 7, 2014
From a northern part of Alsace, southwest of Strasbourg comes this epitome of Dry Alsace Riesling, stone cold stoic and bereft. The impossibility of this style is what Alsace does with impunity and propriety; gaseous and aerified without petrol or vitriol. But it will condense and go there after five years time. The quality is excellent for the price, from a limestone and silica lieu-dit just this side short of Grand Cru. Citrus would be the wrong descriptor but it does act like an exuding of citric acid. So stark and beautiful. Such a mineral expression in every fighting sense of the argument. Like chewing on rock salts and dehydrated limestone, the second tablet then dropped into the glass. A famous wine merchant in London sells this for $25 CAN. In Ontario, this is a must purchase by the case. Tasted October 2014 @drinkAlsace
Rosewood Select Sémillon 2013, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (winery, $18.00,WineAlign) From Taste Ontario’s polarity of personality, October 8, 2014
After tasting Rosewood’s ’12, I urged the region’s cultivation of the great white wolf variety. Then the winter of 2014 happened. Rosewood’s vines were wiped clean off the map, erased like a child of parents who never met. The ’13 Sem is the last Mohican and its 12.5 per cent alcohol (down two from ’12) is a fitting, subdued and graceful epitaph to an amazing Beamsville run. This final cut is lean, stark, raving mad. So very savoury, tannic and built to linger for longer than most. The Rosewood honey is in hiding,”far from flying high in clear blue skies,” but like all memorable vintages of this wine, it will emerge in time. This Sémillon asks, “and if I show you my dark side, will you still hold me tonight?” Yes is the answer, and not just because she is the last one. Terrific curtain call. Tasted October 2014
Rockway Small Lot Block 12 150 Riesling 2012, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada (372441, $18.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES July 19, 2014 Release, Release the summer wine, July 17, 2014
Noticeably dry but also earthy/funky. Struck match and plowed earth. As it settles into its skin and your consciousness it develops body, depth and acidity. Grows and expands, reaches heights you thought it would not. The vintage works wonders for the Twenty Mile Bench and this block has expansive stuffing to take it long, not to mention the earthy complexity to see it change and evolve. It may go through a disturbing, unusual phase but be patient and set one aside for 15 years from now. You will be amazed what honey and deep geology it discovers and uncovers. Tasted June 2014
Vineland Estates Elevation St. Urban Vineyard Riesling 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (38117, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES December 6, 2014 Release, The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014
Who has not waited for Elevation to hit out of the 2012 vintage? Straight up it must be noted that this will rank over and above the best from the St. Urban Vineyard. The ’12 Elevation will not only find long-term success among the great values in Bench Riesling, it will go down as one of the best ever, at any price. The vintage impart is a natural for this wine. At the moment it is the most primary of all because of the layers that texture bring. The Elevation will go thirty years and climb higher and higher into the stratosphere, gaining flesh and personality. The already seamless gathering of fruit and mineral is palpable. And still a reminder, the price is $20. This is a Schmidt gift to Ontario, for anyone and everyone to be one of the lucky ones. To purchase in increments any less than a case may be considered a crime against Riesling. Tasted November 2014
Nugan King Valley Frasca’s Lane Chardonnay 2012, King Valley, Victoria, Australia (288191, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES June 7, 2014 Release, Australian rules VINTAGES, June 4, 2014
The toast in this Victorian charmer comes across in a mild-mannered, spoken word way with a simmering, buttery bass line. The fruit is high but the rhythms are delicate and even-keeled. More white flowers than your average Australian Chardonnay, brighter, with more grace and more beauty. She’s a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket eating angel cake. Still firm towards the back-end with citrus zest and mouth-watering acidity, she’s “fast and thorough and sharp as a tack.” Finishes with a long and persistent held trumpeting line. “Na,na,na,na,na,na.” Tasted May 2014 @PMA_int
Katogi & Strofilia Averoff Xinomavro 2008, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (249615, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 11, 2014 Release, From VINTAGES for Thanksgiving, in wine and with song, October 10, 2014
It’s not that every Xinomavro is infallible but every Xinomavro is worth exploring. The Averoff is classic; smoky, rich plum meets cherry intensity, tannic and textured, layered, like old school Pinot Noir. Liqueur of Naoussa terra firma, rocks and sweet beets. Balance of earth, wind and fire, fun funky and moving. Shares the spice of life so “let this groove, light up your fuse, alright. Let this groove, set in your shoes.” Parts unknown gather to subvert the uninitiated and make them move to Greece. Tasted October 2014 @katogistrofilia
Thymiopoulos Vineyards Yn Kai Oupavós Xinomavro 2010, Unfiltered, Naoussa, Greece (360750, $19.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES January 20, 2014 Release, From Super Bowl XLVIII wine odds, January 30, 2014
Magnificent Macedonian, built upon the unheralded yet stalwart variety Xinomavro. Pure, sweet-smelling gardenia and the refuse of ancient rolling stones express every bit of sun and wind-swept, low bush vines goodness. Purposefully and thankfully unfiltered, so that all the delicious sweet and sour cherry and great biting but sweet tannin are left in. Purity, good sugar/alcohol heights without oak corruption. Earth possessive of mythic undercurrent, sage, wealth of knowledge, sweet anise and hyssop. Scents of game on the grill. Amazing complexity and length. While tasting this Xinomavro it made me “feel so hypnotized, can’t describe the scene.” Get your rocks off to the Greek. Tasted January 2014 @thymiopoulosvin
Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $21.95, WineAlign) From Take them home, County wines, May 20, 2014
The Huff Chardonnay bent has seen a shift as strong as South Bay’s prevailing winds, away from the weight of barrel ferment to a clean, Chablis-like style. The ’10 might just have been the turning point and though they now make two versions, this ’12 is the cementing of the attitude. What is most amazing is that the texture, aromas and feel remain those of an oak-influenced wine. Huff manages the linear consistency without the need to encumber, toast or char the purity of its glade, glycerin and citrus fruit. Only Prince Edward County’s limestone soil can effect this kind of nine inch nails drive into Chardonnay without oak and only Huff can do it with this kind of elegance. A wine “less concerned about fitting into the world.” Do not miss this singular effort. @HuffEstatesWine
Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2011, Santorini, Greece (366450, $22.95, SAQ 11901091, $24.50, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES March 29, 2014 Release, On a wine and a prayer, March 24, 2014
A 100 per cent Assyrtiko from a 150 year-old, Cycladic Phylloxera sanctuary vineyard. Separates itself from other Santorini adelphoi by ageing 20 per cent of the inoxydable, ancient-minded grapes in French barrels. An Assyrtiko that can’t help be anything but stony, atomic driven goodness. Volcano flow and spew, with more texture than most, its elevated price a necessary reflection of a tertiary expertise. Elevated aromatics, locked in tight by the barrel and matched by extreme flavours, so primary, raw, powerful, relentless and grippy. A remarkable white wine that impresses with a sensation of mouth rope burn full of complex, seafaring knots, this Assytiko will age for 15 years in the cellar and develop into something ethereal. Will melt away in dreamy waves when it settles together. Myth will beget legend, legend will beget truth. Tasted March 2014 @KolonakiGroup
Roast Chicken, Potatoes, Swiss Chard
Photo: Michael Godel
Bordón Gran Reserva 2005, Doca Rioja, Spain (114454, $22.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES October 25, 2014 Release, Wine on company time, October 23, 2014
If it were so because of cryogenic preserved must or an accidental tipping and topping up into an unused barrel by recent vintage juice I would not be left hanging with mouth fully agape. Considering the amount of time this flat out delicious Gran Reserva saw in barrel, the mystery must somehow be explained, how it came to be so surprisingly modern and bright (for its age), especially at $23. But it has been seen many times before, with no greater example than the Montecillo 1991 GR that drank fortuitously well into the last years of the previous decade. This is the magic of Rioja. That said, there is some sinew and some raw character here as well – that’s the old school treatment and style talking. Red cherry fruit. Ripe fruit roasted, rested and now sliced, showing its perfectly cooked rare cut. Juicy and with sanguine notes still running through its grain. Wonderful old school yet bright Rioja. Riotous red wine with a calming aura of quietude. Tasted October 2014 @RiojaBordon @Eurovintage
Il Molino Di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva 2006, Docg, Tuscany, Italy (382945, $23.95, WineAlign) From the VINTAGES December 6, 2014 Release, The final 14 bargains of 2014, December 5, 2014
An ’06 Chianti Classico Riserva you say, pre-aged, delivered to the Ontario market and presented here in 2014, all in for $24? You can’t fool us. We’ve been duped too many times before. This must fall into the “too good to be true” category. The answer depends on which style of Chianti you prefer. This walks all the halls, plies the trades and hits the marks of the CCR ancients. Comes from a remarkable vintage, holding on but in true advanced, oxidizing and fruit diminishing character. Mushrooms and truffles abound, as does game in the early roasting stage. A note of Brett is here too, not over the top but its presence can’t be denied. Acidity speaks, as does bitter chocolate. This is not for all but all should have a go. Tasted November 2014
Riesling and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Pearl Morissette Riesling Cuvée Blackball Barrique 2012, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($25, WineAlign) From The pearls of Morisstte’s wisdom, May 26, 2014
When tasted in July of 2013 the ’12 Barrique had only been in bottle for three days so the musk was quite front and centre. Aged in foudres (neutral, old wood casks) it held much latitude at such a young age with notes of herbiage (mint, tarragon), nary a drop of residual sugar and a wholly unique type of dry acidity. “It will not always show this way,” commented Morissette. Tasted 10 months later I can say this. The ’12 Riesling Barrique avoids excessive malic and tartaric acid, not to mention any amount of volatile acidity. It is viable, vital and technically sound. “This is a wine that will take time,” pleads François . “I care about texture, not about varietal character.” Though perplexing and untamed, the wine has undeniable body and that noble bitterness in its unsung tang. It is the anti-Riesling hero, full of experiential conceit and needs to be revisited often, to see where it will go. Tasted July 2013 and May 2014
Hinterland Ancestral 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $25,00, WineAlign) From Godello’s guide to holiday effervescence
Just released today, the anterior sniff and first sip procure a sense of immediacy in declaration: This is Jonas Newman’s finest Ancestral to date. Amethyst methustos bled from Prince Edward County Gamay. If a continuing study on such sparkling wine were to be conducted in the méthode ancestrale diaspora, the anthropologist would lose time in the County. Say what you must about the method and the New World place, this elevates an old game, in fact it creates a new one. Strawberry is again at the helm with the sugar number high and balanced by three necessary portents of chemistry; low alcohol, savor and acidity. The finish is conspicuously dry, conditioning the palate to activate the phenotypic sensors. Hits all the right bells, traits, whistles and behaviour. Careful, it will make you want to go out and make babies. Tasted November 2014 on the card at
Good to go!