Top 10 under-$15 wines for 2012

as seen on canada.com

The past 12 months have been good to wine consumers in Ontario. I would be hard pressed to remember a time in recent memory when so many good value wines were available on such a consistent basis.

The under $15 niche success can be attributed to many things. A sweeping renaissance in wine making has taken hold across the globe, from the vineyard to the stopped bottle. Manifested in the Old World, we are seeing an unprecedented ability to offer wines at this price. New World locales like Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand can match the quality, but as a general rule, the $15-20 range is their sweet spot.

What I am most pleased to note is the increased quality in Canadian wine, especially from Niagara, in the under $15 zone. Lead by the likes of Fielding EstateVineland Estates13th Street and Mike Weir Wines, finding quality releases that won’t break the bank gets easier with every passing vintage.

More than anything, the ability to taste 1000’s of wines by the generous efforts of Ontario agents, trade commissions and through local events has allowed us to uncover the gems. A year-end set of props has to go out to David Churchill and team for setting the table every week for to sample 1000’s more wines from the bi-weekly and on-line VINTAGES releases.

Here are my top 10, under-$15 VINTAGES released picks for 2012.

1. The grapes: Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Pinheiro and Jaen

Where: Portugal, Dão

Encostas De Penalva 2009 (293423, $14.95) is downright Joycean in unusual intelligence, sensitivity and character for a blend from a Portuguese cooperative. Soft perhaps, but nary a bitter deterrent mars this cup of crushed raspberries. A young artist’s deep portrait of Dão colour, forged of surreal fleshy extraction, verbose and flamboyant.  90

2. The grape: Nero D’avola

Where: Sicily, Italy

Morgante Nero D’avola 2010 (40816, $14.95) burnishes purple to black in sheen, perfume and vim. Like incandescent charcoal.  Welling hematoma of Aussie licorice, baking spices and lingonberry. Maxes out Nero D’avola’s ability to defend itself against all food comers. Even pancakes and pigs in a blanket.  It should be noted that a second sample was corked.  90

3. The grape: Albariño

Where: Rias Baixas, Spain

Pazo Pondal Leira Albariño 2011 (115816, $15.95) may sport the hue of Cava and indicate bubbles spinning around like a frotteur but its “gotta have no illusions” about itself. A hint of seltzer in a sparkling, platinum hue swirls to honey and paraffin. Acts and looks sharp yet remains in balance.  90

4. The grape: Sauvignon Blanc

Where: Loire, France

Domaine De La Colline Sauvignon Touraine 2010 (169656, $12.95) is the workday done sun-downer few Sauvignon Blancs can match for IVR* assurance. Eglantine and apple tisane. Bony and blanched shallot driven by the Loire’s rocky truffeau, with a smokey persimmon fini glacé. 88

5. The grapes: Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault

Where: Rhône, France

Delas Frères Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône Rosé 2011 (224964, $12.95) offers up strawberry, rhubarb and cream with a savoury accent. Subtle pale, pink, see-through hue and warming humidity. Great value here. Rosie you’re all right. “Looks like it’s me and you again tonight.”  88

6. The grapes: Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot

Where: Tuscany, Italy

Perta Zingari Toscana IGT 2008 (224228, $13.95) from the VINTAGES August 6, 2011 release deals value in quarto from varietals Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot. An unusual blend from the Maremma coast for sure but throw me down in the snow if it isn’t unmistakably Tuscan. Iron, leather, pure snappy, fennel fruit and tannic tang are all there. Primary yes, but what more can you ask from $14? Held up 24 hours later for a second go round.  88

7. The grape: Sauvignon Blanc

Where: Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Mike Weir Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (686972, $14.95) swings from the left side like its brethren on that side of the Gironde. A game built on concentrated gooseberry juice, tangy green fruit and a streak of chippy acidity. Sneaky long and straight down the fairway.  88

8. The grape: Pinot Blanc

Where: Alsace, France

André Blanck et Ses Fils Rosenburg Pinot Blanc 2011 (626606, $13.95) is your weekend summer refresher, your sundowner, your all-purpose white. Oily, mineral-driven, long, acidity at its PB best, full finish. For appetizers, salads and mains. Versatility be thy name.  88

9. The grape: Garnacha

Where: Catalayud, Spain

Filón Garnacha 2010 (280602, $14.95) is actually a bit of a misprision because of its black fruit character. Re-enacts Tuscan IGT and the most modern of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Tar, asphalt, bitter chocolate and sanguine Kirsch and very, very ripe fruit. Grand oak and tons of wine at $15.  88

10. The grape: Melon De Bourgogne

Where: Loire, France

Michel Delhommeau Cuvée Harmonie Muscadet De Sèvre-Et-Maine 2010 (164624, $12.95) scatters nether and beyond the stereotypical need for oysters pairing. Light as the sky, “a free man in Paris…unfettered and alive.” Like I said before, it offers up more complexity, flesh and sea bone than its brethren. Courts shrimp, sparks smoked chicken and even ventures into baby back rib territory. On the card at Barque.  88

Honourable Mention

The grapes: Alvarinho, Arinto and Loureiro

Where: Vinho Verde, Portugal

Casa Do Valle Grande Escolha 2011 (276220, $14.95) while unmistakably Portuguese Vinho Verde, this could be a ringer for Greco di Tufo or Viognier. The long visit to the haberdashery at once wears baking spice, Mezzogiorno mangia cake at Christmas and then white rose, honeysuckle Hermitage. Lofty comparisons for sure but this exceptional IVR* treacle is a chef mastered sweetbread of a double “V.”  89

Good to go!

It’s Black Friday but wine gifts come at a price

<em>Photograph by volff, Fotolia.com</em>

Photograph by volff, Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

It’s an American thing. Black Friday shopping deals will attract major crowds south of the border but in Canada, not so much. Studies show that only one in 10 Canadians will get off the couch and leave their basements for this day of discount shopping. The reverse will apply to Boxing Day.

Related – More from the VINTAGES November 24th, 2012 Release

Ontarians are just as likely to hit their local LCBO in search of wine gems for the coming holiday season. The current VINTAGES release is front loaded with lavish, iconic, red and “black” wines. The spotlight is on the big boys, especially Cabernet Sauvignon nearing and often breaching the centurial dollar mark. Behold eight more wine gems for your gift list.

The grapes: Corvina e Corvinone, Rondinella and Barbera

The history: From north-east of Verona, on the hill that separates Montorio from Valle d’Illasi

The lowdown: More substantial, almost unwieldy than most other Valpolicella in the price range

The food match: Coffee Brined Chicken

Musella Vigne Nuove Valpolicella Superiore 2009 (205757, $15.95) races forward pell-mell, spewing tar, ash and black tea exhaust. The fruit component is dark, black plum seeping in its own reductive juices. Chewy, persistent and gathering speed. Top quality normale Valpo.  89

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Amounts to 88% Cab primarily sourced from vineyards located in the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Sonoma Valleys

The lowdown: Pseudo-supermarket brand gets it right in ’09. $20 Cab south of the 49th

The food match: Smoked Chorizo Sausage, brisket quinoa fritters

Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (990440, $22.95) is a solid deal, nothing overly serious, just the sum of all it should be from California and parts thereof. Currants, berries, mint, Cassis, roast beef and oak-driven milk chocolate fill this bottle. Packs enough stuffing for smoking.  88

The grape: Shiraz

The history: Oz outfit from the Great Dividing Range in the Grampians region of Victoria

The lowdown: Winemaker Dan Buckle fashions “cool climate” Shiraz from eastern granite slopes of Mount Langi Ghiran

The food match: Roast Duck, potato, orange, fennel, watercress salad

Mount Langi Cliff Edge Shiraz 2006 (287235, $28.95) rips off a ringing riff that teeters but never quite goes over the edge. Perhaps it still has not found what it’s looking for but it’s got Victoria’s ’06 funk. Spicy wood gets right into your nose then coffee, sodium, charcoal game and black currant all add notes. A very good price for a complex wine.  91

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: A legendary bottling returns to top form after a decade long falling out

The lowdown: Hyperbole like “epic,” “classic” and “best ever” surround this Napa Valley Cab

The food match: English Cut Braised Short Ribs, red wine reduction, red pearl onions

Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (193763, $99.95) is a flat out brilliant composition by the voice of one who once “traded love for glory.” This Cab reverts back to its singer-songwriter, Napa Valley pioneering form. The ’08 is a crooning balladeer intent to hold out its best in a graceful lucubration of layered, dark fruit, restrained restlessness and a vision of long life. Put the Dunn away and look to be rewarded 15+ years on with as good a California Cabernet as you will ever taste.  96

The grapes: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Counoise

The history: The house that Jacques Perrin built is the most famous in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The lowdown: Can’t say I’ve ever been this blown away by such a young Beaucastel

The food match: Braised Veal Brisket, smashed parisienne potato, brussels sprouts, truffle oil

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (711317, $89.95) enters no confected, over-extracted or OTT danger zones. The most floral Beaucastel, a doffing of Stoechas Avignon and the omnipresent Rhône garrigue. Persimmon and lavender share time imparting the wine with fumes from les galets roulés of the argilo-calcaireous vineyard beds. Basic hedonism here from such an extraordinary, complex and balanced blend.  95

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc

The history: Arguably the most iconic Cab-based Super Tuscan from “the place of many stones”

The lowdown: Down $7 in price from vintages going back to ’05, this ’09 has scored as high as 98 (James Suckling)

The food match: Grilled Bisteca Fiorentine (Tuscan-style Porterhouse Steak)

Sassicaia 2009 (480533, $179.95) the raven brunette is anything but sappy or syrupy yet is impossibly viscous. Hints at ripe berries growing in the crags of maritime gravel and the most expected hits of sanguine, animal musk. A huge wine in the making, the adolescent hunter Sassicaia off-roads up a steep incline to go tell it on the mountain of tannin. Disappears into parts unknown and will only reappear as a mature adult. Look to 2025 and it may say “the perspective to say the very least, changes only with the journey.”  96

The grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot

The history: Tenuta dell’Ornellaia was founded in Bolgheri (1981) and only Massetto, “wink-wink, say no more,” is a more famous Super Tuscan

The food match: Grilled Bisteca Panzanese (Bolgheria-style Porterhouse Steak)

Ornellaia 2009 (722470, $189.95) is more approachable than the unparalleled 1998. A silky smooth and velvety texture puts super-ripe fruit at the forefront. While that ’98 rocked my world, this vintage offers immediate gratification, less dominating hard lines and edges. The balance is impeccable but the acidity is tempered, like the finest chocolate. The window is open now, though it may soon close, to drink beautifully for the next five years.  94

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: In a class of two (along with Shafer’s Hillside Select) of Napa Cabernet neither garagiste nor Barnett, Harlan Estate or Screaming Eagle

The lowdown: Certainly not an act in search of a circus, the ’08 Insignia demands a star’s salary

The food match: Bison Rib-Eye, king mushroom, juniper and thyme demi-glace

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2008 (710400, $224.95) teases with immediate gratification then turns inward upon itself to hide from a volcano bursting of hot lava. The stoic resistance keeps the Insignia safe from the fiendish, dark mark mountain of UFO tannin. “A real rock and roll molest.” Checking out the wine’s black hue in the raised glass is a sight to behold. The pitch conceals a deep well of pure raspberry distillation, roasted meat, yew and rosemary. The wine’s lines are like architectural strokes of genius, currently too hot to handle.  94

Good to go!

Ultimate cooking for 800 is no E3 Expo or Chelsea Bun party

Ultimate Firsbee Layout. Photo: Nick Cheng

My alter ego cooks for a living.  Every year since 1995, on the first weekend of June in Fergus, Ontario, I assume my position as caterer to upwards of 800 Ultimate Frisbee players. Fergus is a quaint and upscale hamlet in Wellington County on the picturesque Grand River, just upstream from the Elora Gorge.

http://blogs.canada.com/2012/06/05/ultimate-cooking-for-800-is-no-e3-expo-or-chelsea-bun-party/

This past weekend my catering team set up shop in the Fergus Sportsplex Community Centre kitchen to serve two breakfasts, one banquet supper and many snacks to 600. Do you remember two Chelsea FC players engaged in a cook-off this time last year? This cooking is not that. This is no Chelsea bun party. It’s no E3 video game simulation. Ultimate cooking is trench warfare. Good thing I’ve a few War Horses to see me through the barb.

Fergus

The Gender Blender Co-ed Ultimate Frisbee Tournament was realized by two former teammates, Dan Berman and Mark Evans. They brought me on board to feed the masses and coincidentally, one week before that first event back in ’95, I tore my ACL, effectively ending my Ultimate playing days. Let’s hope Chelsea FC’s Mr.’s Barry, Lampard and Cahill will heal better than I did and grace their pitch once again next season. I cooked that first Gender Blender for 125 on crutches. Here is my team from 1997.

Zoydz at Gender Blender 1997

In 2004 Karen Hood, Dilhan Kuru and Giles Deshon took the reigns and we grew the event to 600. In 2008 a man named Blue took the helm with his company, The Ultimate Experience. Two years ago we catered to 800 players. This year the number was 600 because many teams did not return after the rain deluge of 2011. In 2013 we could be cooking for 1000. Blue will soon announce that the 19th Gender Blender will be the last. Great teams from the past will come out of the woodwork to participate. It will be a special weekend.

Gender Blender 2012

This year’s dinner menu:

Warm Barque Smokehouse Brisket and Pulled Chicken Sandwiches
Cole Slaw, two ways
Stuffed, Roasted Peppers, brown rice, chick peas, feta, carrot, oven-dried tomato, greek oregano
Due Penne, italian sausage, chicken/brisket bbq demi-glacé and tomato, caramelized onion
Hearts of Romaine Salad, green beans, broccoli, carrot, cucumber, balsamic vinaigrette
Green and Red Lentil Salad, tofu, corn, peppers, italian parsley

Not unlike that other great Canadian outdoor sports gathering, the Taylor Cup Pond Hockey Championship, Gender Blender is a beer fest. So, what does a caterer pop open after 14 hours at the stoves? Rosé of course!

Delas Frères Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône Rosé 2011 (224964, $12.95) shows consistent with last week’s note. “Offers up strawberry, rhubarb and cream with a savoury accent. Subtle pale, pink, see-through hue and warming humidity. Great value here. Rosie you’re all right. “Looks like it’s me and you again tonight.”  88

 

Good to go!