Top 20 under-$20 wines of 2013

Top 20 under-$20 wines of 2013

Putting out a top list of wines is not so much an exercise of commendation as it is a look back at an amazing year of tasting and writing about wine.
Photo: michalzak/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

Last year I chose to highlight wines that fell into the under $15 niche.  A subsequent column focused on the $30 threshold as the next level to make picks for wines of the year. In retrospect that made it very difficult for wines in the consumer sweet spot, the $15-20 set, to make it onto either list. So, $20 is the over/under this time around.

Ontario is well represented here, taking up five of the 20 spots. If prohibitionist Canada, and especially Ontario would FreeMyGrapes and allow us to taste more than just a handful of Canadian wines produced beyond these borders, I have little doubt that other provinces would have made an appearance here, especially British Columbia.

Countries conspicuously missing are Italy, Argentina and the United States, whereas Portugal, South Africa and Chile are represented twice and Greece once. Value is always found in wines that are good and original, unfortunately the parts that are good are not always original.

Putting out a top list of wines is not so much an exercise of commendation as it is a look back at an amazing year of tasting and writing about wine. It’s a retrospective view, a compilation to sum up the pulling of words like taffy until they become something altogether more pliable and palatable. Just like the swirled, sniffed and tasted wines they describe. While tasting notes are so often chewed and spit out as amphibological waste, the process of formulating them is base and necessary to the culture. Without them we would all just be drinking.

The wine agents that move thousands of diverse wines through our provinces face Herculean tasks to get their wines to the public. It is through their generosity that I am able to taste so many in a calendar year. I’d like to thank Robin Sirutis and Julie Hauser of the Licensee program along with Kelly Taylor, Jim Sheridan, Douglas Webster and team for allowing me into their LCBO home to sample 1000′s more wines from the bi-weekly and shop on-line VINTAGES releases. Not to be forgotten are the many world-class sommeliers who give so much of their time to offer memorable wine experiences, no matter the effort required. So, thanks to all of you, here is my list of top 20, under $20 wines in random order, tasted and reviewed in 2013.

From left: MARÉCHAL BRUT CRÉMANT DE LOIRE, TAWSE ‘SPARK’ RIESLING 2009, CHÂTEAU D'ANGLES LA CLAPE ROSÉ 2012, CALITERRA SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVA 2013, and ANDRÉ BLANCK ET SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANC 2011

From left: MARÉCHAL BRUT CRÉMANT DE LOIRE, TAWSE ‘SPARK’ RIESLING 2009, CHÂTEAU D’ANGLES LA CLAPE ROSÉ 2012, CALITERRA SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVA 2013, and ANDRÉ BLANCK ET SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANC 2011

Sparkling

MARÉCHAL BRUT CRÉMANT DE LOIRE, Loire Valley, France (141077, $15.95, WineAlign)

Foams frothy forth alive and expansive out of a yeasty starter, spins lightly on its A16 axis and revolves tightly wound around a citrus spindle. A working class Marechal, real and made for the people. Perhaps not La Grande Illusion but a wine that will “show the common humanity present across these divisions.” About as good as Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling Loire Chenin Blanc can be and priced to fly.  89  Tasted April 2013  From: See the humanity in real value wine

TAWSE ‘SPARK’ RIESLING 2009, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery only, $18.95)

May just be that bottle of persuasive interrogation and torture to turn even the toughest hold-outs against Sparkling Riesling. A veritable homeland crush of signature grapes, put to a not so traditional test, emerge in piercing, capital dry scintillation. Sparks fly in Beamsville when winemaker Paul Pender and team, “the boy prophets walk it handsome and hot.” This sparkler does the E street shuffle and dances in the dark. The new deal in Ontario bubbles.  “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”  89  Tasted October 2013  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013  @Paul_Pender  @Tawse_Winery

Rosé

CHÂTEAU D’ANGLES LA CLAPE ROSÉ 2012, Languedoc Roussillon (Midi), France (323386, $15.95, WineAlign)

Goes classic holy trinity Midi in Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. Creamy, frosty and savoury in strawberry, rhubarb, balmy tarragon and shrubbery. Finishes with salinity pressed like a salt herring.  91  Tasted June 2013  From: Hot weekend wines and cool Chardonnay  @chateaudangles

White

CALITERRA SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVA 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile (275909, $9.95, WineAlign WWAC 2013 Judges’ Choice)

Great show savvy, really great show. Outright fast flint, white pepper, citrus and fresh herbs. Luscious texture, convincing up the middle and goes deeper than many. Grapey and succulent. Clean, concise winemaking.  90  From: He spits, he scores: World Wine Awards of Canada results  @Caliterra  @imbibersreport

ANDRÉ BLANCK ET SES FILS ROSENBOURG PINOT BLANC 2011, Ac Alsace, France (626606, $14.95, WineAlign)

High on lime citrus and heavy in stones, so much more so than in ’09 and ’10. Green apple in tart tonality, lean and mean.  Much juicier and riper to taste, with the faintest lees note to ground it firmly on Alsatian terrain ferme.  Love this designation. Same vintage release from a year ago.  89  Tasted July 2012  From: A paradox of wine accents  @drinkAlsace

From left: DR. HERMANN ÜRZIGER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2007, 2027 CELLARS RIESLING ‘FALLS VINEYARD’ 2012, ROSEWOOD ESTATES SÉMILLON 2011, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, and TE AWA CHARDONNAY 2010

From left: DR. HERMANN ÜRZIGER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2007, 2027 CELLARS RIESLING ‘FALLS VINEYARD’ 2012, ROSEWOOD ESTATES SÉMILLON 2011, DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, and TE AWA CHARDONNAY 2010

DR. HERMANN ÜRZIGER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2007 (313528, $16.95, WineAlign) clocks in at a mere 8 per cent abv and is a nasal microchamber filled with dry ice but taste it and be soothed by its unguent goodness. Minerals, spice and everything nice out of red sandstone, slate soil and just barely beginning to act its age. OK, it may be a touch disjointed but at $17 they are giving it away. I could drink it like wheat grass all summer long.  90  Tasted March 2013  From: Masters wines in purple, yellow and green jackets

2027 CELLARS RIESLING ‘FALLS VINEYARD’ 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (294041, $18.95, WineAlign)

In contrast to brother Foxcroft, this is the more serious vineyard in my estimation. Falls compresses less limestone chalk and instead thunder rolls out glacial boulders. Here there is less grass, herbs, citrus and sea, but rather garrigue blanc, the windswept plain studded with gorse and deeper, sweeter, earthly purity.  91  Tasted October 2013  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013   @2027Cellars

ROSEWOOD ESTATES SÉMILLON 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177758, $17.95, WineAlign)

The leader of the pack. The honey is uncanny. From an earlier note: “is frighteningly honeyed and its blatant acidity brings out all the right zest notes in the seafood. Major (three times) cropping from a “disease control vintage” by Orwinski who “knows the vineyard. It really is his home.” He’s still chanting “drop the crop!” in his sleep. The citrus and soda are glaring, exciting and invigorating in ’11, as is the aforementioned honey, the trump card keeping the Sémillon from being confused for Riesling.  Fascinating study.”  91  Tasted twice, May 2013  From: Showcase Showdown: Rosewood Sémillon  @RosewoodWine

DE WETSHOF LESCA ESTATE CHARDONNAY 2012, Wo Robertson, South Africa (355438, $18.95, WineAlign)

This is exactly what I come to expect and hope for in calcareous, gravel and clay Cape Chardonnay. Robertson study in balance, fortitude and anxiety. Palpable proof of De Westhof’s self-professed attitude towards “site-specific vineyard management and wine-making.” Really pretty white flowers, citrus in C minor and piercing acidity. Proficiently ripe, toasted without tempting caramel and really well-judged. All in for $19. No ifs and or buts.  91  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas

TE AWA CHARDONNAY 2010, Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand (301135, $18.95, WineAlign)

Gives off a good dose of char but in a Penderish way with knowledge that it will dissipate, integrate and elevate this stony ‘River of God’ into a fine, swirling eddy of hard bop goodness. Gorgeous green enamel Ngaruroro meandering to gold. Oleic, alluvial consistency, with a sense of creamed corn, barren straw and built of a gravel verve, taking risks like a Sonny Rollins riff.  91  Tasted February 2013  From: A march of French grapes to dinner  @TeAwaWinery

MARC BRÉDIF VOUVRAY 2011, Ac, Loire, France (685362, $19.95, SAQ $19.55, 10267809, WineAlign)

Indicates grapevines grown of a mineral-rich terroir, like land left after the draining of a lake. Travels into the Loire Valley’s heart of darkness but also shows some increased honey in ’11, fattening the ever-present lemon drop, candied peel, ginger and stony goodness. Chenin as a man in pink pajamas. There is just no worthy value adversary to this tight, racy and wondrous Vouvray.  91  Tasted July 2013  From: Alternative wines for the August long weekend  @ProfileWineGrp   @LoireValleyWine

Reds

BOUTARI NAOUSSA 2008, Pdo Naoussa, Greece (23218, $12.95, WineAlign)

Like other Xinomavro shows that combination of pure fruit and ancient wisdom. Juicy and rustic at the same time, erupting in cherry and a lava flow of hot rocks. There is leather, dry spice and sun-dried fruit. Already bricking like Sangiovese, as if rustic Vino Nobile Rosso. There is simply no earthly reason not to drink this every night for the rest of the summer.  89  Tasted July 2013  From: A midsummer night’s chill red wine  @boutari

QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU RED 2009, Doc Dão, Portugal  (546309, $13.95, WineAlign)

Simple, straight cut, hedonistic Dão pleasure from winemaker Manuel Vieira and the Sogrape Vinhos’ empire. Nothing wrong with that except that at $14 it feels like stealing. An evincive blend of 50 per cent Touriga Nacional, 20 Tinta Roriz and 30 Jaen. Red and black fruit, mineral tension, somewhat gritty but lush in plum, licorice feel and flavour. Really good stuff.  89  Tasted November 2013  From: Twelve days of wine for Christmas  @winePortugalCA

LAILEY VINEYARD WINES CABERNET MERLOT 2011, VQA, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (winery only, $15)

Speaks the language of vinous accommodation. Abundant very berry fruit if less knotty and peculiar and more accessible than most Niagara Bordeaux blends. No bones about it, languid Lailey in mind of its own wonder. Could drink it straight from the tap.  89  Tasted October 2013  From: Top wines shine at Taste Ontario 2013  @Laileywinemakr

TSCHARKE BAROSSA GOLD MARANANGA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia (289884, $15.95, WineAlign)

This is really good stuff. Tight attack, bold and tannic, brimming with figgy black fruit, dark chocolate, spirit cake and white pepper. The oldest Barossa Neoproterozoic Schist and Siltstone rocks impart piercing minerality as if the Marananga were blasted out of a cannon.  Tests any Napa Cab under $50.  89  Tasted January 2013  From: Iconic wines, affordable prices  @tscharkewines

VIA CHILCAS SINGLE VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($17.95, 309757, WineAlign)

From the Maule Valley, is graced by amazing freshness and vigorous, new wave energy. With an imagined dragon’s foot securely planted in the ancestry of Chilean wine, this radioactive red is a portal to the industry’s future. Roasted and brewed, in espresso yes but mocha, no. “Welcome to the new age, to the new age.”  91  Tasted September 2013  From: A Chile wind is blowing  @ViaWines

ANETO RED 2009, Doc Douro, Portugal (314930, $19.95, WineAlign)

Reminds me of the deepest, earthbound southern French reds, like Minervois or La Clape. Stygian and shadowy, the Aneto’s rusticity is borne of xistous terra, baking spice and dried fruit. Puts on her make up for prevailing balance in a show of hydrated, in vogue, darling pretty maturity. She can “heal my aching heart and soul.”  91  Tasted January 2013  From: Super Bowl wine prediction: Red 49ers over black Ravens  @liffordwine

DOMAINE MANOIR DE CARRA JULIÉNAS 2010, Ac Beaujolais, France (290981, $19.95, WineAlign) The pearl finally puts some funk into “an otherwise empty room.” Dandy, candied peony, cracking good, cinnamon scented and jammy in Rhôneish behaviour. More structure than most.  Beaujolais’ daughter.  91  Tasted May 15, 2013  From: Go Gamay Go

THE FOREIGN AFFAIR THE CONSPIRACY 2011, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (149237, $19.95, WineAlign)

Kissed, re-passed over and threatening to push boundaries as if it were singing “if I could stick a knife in my heart, suicide right on stage.” This Ilya Senchuk beauty may only be ripasso but I like it. Eases my pain and my brain. Excellent verve and honed of a rock star’s capacity to be loved, with tart, red and black fruit in waves, tar and charcoal. Svelte balance in fruit, alcohol, sweet and sour. This is THE vintage for this wine. Ten plus years lay ahead for a long affair and it will be rewarded with praise in future tastings.  92  Tasted April 2013  From: ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll’ (but I like wine)  @wineaffair

JOURNEY’S END SHIRAZ 2007, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (337642, $19.95, WineAlign)

Initiates serious sanguine Stellenbosch intimacy with dusty black cherry and black pepper. Hard to break, like the Northern Rhône, or even Syrah-heavy Châteauneuf-du-Pape but swirl and she will open up. Meaty, gamey, anise, metal-mineral fruit. Hedonistic and certainly clothed in heavy coat but there is an underlying velvet dignity here, though it has not yet shed its bacon baby fat. I would follow this highly complex and intriguing South African for five to 10 years. Already a few years in and not nearly at its peak.  Has ancient experience in its blood.  92  Tasted September 2013  From: Free my Canadian grapes and other love songs  @JourneysEndWine

Good to go!

Alternative wines for the August long weekend

Barque Smokehouse Cuban Corn
PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

as seen on canada.com

A word of advice if I may. Grab hold of the coming long weekend and put it in your pocket. Take full advantage of the time you have with family and friends. Eat corn. Local ears will never be as tender, sweet and perfect as they are right now. If Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are your go to grapes, by all means, enjoy them. The caveat comes now; just one more whisper of unsolicited wisdom to consider. Try something new.

Canadians will be sharing meals in larger groups so in many cases, a single bottle of wine will not suffice. Why not engage in a grape showdown? Open two wines of the same grape but from different producers or regions. So much can be learned from the comparison, most notably your preference so you will know what to buy next time around. Here are seven alternative wines to look for this coming August holiday long weekend.

Clockwise from left: Marc Bredif Vouvray 2011, Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2011, Rolly Gassman Riesling 2009, Greenlane Riesling Old Vines 2011, Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2011, Tawse Cabernet Franc Laundry Vineyard 2010, and Domain Capmartin Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh 2011

The grape: Chenin Blanc

The history: Native to the Loire Valley in France and cultivated world-wide but is most notably and commercially successful in South Africa

The lowdown/showdown: Loire versus Stellenbosch. Two polar opposite and conflicting styles, both representative of place and the versatility of Chenin, especially in dry styles such as these

The food match: Barque Smokehouse Cuban Corn

Marc Bredif Vouvray 2011 (LCBO $19.95, 685362, SAQ $19.55, 10267809) indicates grapevines grown of a mineral-rich terroir, like land left after the draining of a lake. Travels into the Loire Valley’s heart of darkness but also shows some increased honey in ’11, fattening the ever-present lemon drop, candied peel, ginger and stony goodness. Chenin as a man in pink pajamas. There is just no worthy value adversary to this tight, racy and wondrous Vouvray.  91  @ProfileWineGrp   @LoireValleyWine

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2011 ($17.95, 231282) has an extended stay on the lees to thank for its impressive level of complexity. Works near-dangerous toasty oak to great advantage. Elevates Chenin to skillfully reckoned, barrel fermented Chardonnay status. Snug and spicy, viscous, charged and rising into a golden stratosphere. A bit furry and furtive in movement. Would be enriched by luxuriant food.  89  @KFwines  @WOSACanada

The grape: Riesling

The history: No longer an idiosyncratic Alsatian or German wine. Whether from Marie-Thérèse, Louis Rolly and Piere Gassmann in Alsace or Dianne Smith in Vineland, Riesling is incredibly versatile

The lowdown/showdown: Aromatic Alsace or Piercing Niagara?

The food match: Summer Corn Chowder

Rolly Gassman Riesling 2009 (328898, $20.95) has entered secondary life which only emphasizes its semi-dry mien. Mineral peach tang and non-taxing, petrol beach buoyancy are met by nectarine pith and ambient nut.  By George, this is quintessential, basal Alsace. “There’s one for you, nineteen for me.” Complex impressions cuz’ he’s the gassman.  90

Greenlane Riesling Old Vines 2011 (351486, $22.95) cracks the mineral whip, froths lime into foam and atomizes stone fruit into sweet and sour heaven. Wants to be semi-dry but never quite goes there. Walks a fine line, a tightrope actually. Up there with Charles Baker and Thirty Bench for sheer madness.  91  @GreenLaneWinery

The grape: Cabernet Franc

The history: Loire Valley reds are the benchmark but tell me this isn’t the most important varietal to grow in Ontario

The lowdown/showdown: Two consumer-friendly versions, both made by farmers working in natural and sustainable ways. One shows off the ambient climate of the Twenty-Mile Bench, the other the long tempered growing season of the Lincoln Lakeshore

The food match: Parlour Yaletown’s The Big Prawn Pizza

Featherstone Cabernet Franc 2011 (64618, $16.95) from David Johnson and Louise Engel is girl-next door pretty, perfumed by violet and mid-summer red berries. American oak lends a whiff of tobacco and spice.  Modern and tarried in capacious extraction yet unencumbered by the oak. Not overly chewy, unctuous or layered but just right.  88  @featherstonewne

Tawse Cabernet Franc Laundry Vineyard 2010 (130997, $31.95) assures us of several things. First, 2010 was a gift for making idiot-proof Cab Franc in Niagara, Second, the Lincoln Lakeshore is one of three obvious and essential CF locales in Niagara. Third and most important, properly adjudicated new oak can elevate CF to the upper reaches of the cool-climate troposphere. While not as masculine or bovine like brother Van Bers, Laundry’s got black cherry, tar, coal, herbs and a peaceful, grilling feeling. Essential CF from winemaker Paul Pender.  92  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Parlour Yaletown Ahi Lettuce Wraps

The grapes: Gros Manseng, Arrufiac and Petit Courbu

The history: From Maumusson in southwestern France, Domaine Capmartin produces 12 wines, which roughly divide into 65% Madiran reds, 20% Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh whites, and 15% Côtes de Gascogne reds and whites

The lowdown: For something bull and full-bodied, unique and completely different,

The food match: Parlour Yaletown’s Ahi Lettuce Wraps

Domain Capmartin Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh 2011 (328617, $15.95) is built upon 80 per cent Gros Manseng plus 10 each of the other two (Arrufiac and Petit Courbu).  Though 80 per cent of the juice ferments in tanks, the remaining 20 that spends time in oak barrels adds histrionic weight and structure. Philosophically elevated in brix and alcohol yet sweet talks dry. Akin to cool climate Chardonnay made in a restrained oak style. Vivacity, rigor and passion here, dissing the notion of simple sipper. There are notes of lime zest and ginger and the wine is both tight and tingling . Also possessive of an earthy morel-ness. Steal it. Give it a whirl.  90

Good to go!

Good time wine and a beer for Father’s Day

Barque Smokehouse Beef Brisket PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

as seen on canada.com

But we’ll get together then, dad
We’re gonna have a good time then

Father’s Day demands an obvious directive to reconnect but what does dad really want on Sunday? Maybe he wants to watch the U.S. Open down the stretch or just sit in a chair in the garden. Dad might want company while he works on an old car or maybe he’d just like to take a nap: “Some daddies like to camp out with you and the dog.”

The connection between fathers and their kids is immune to the pressures of a marketing-driven day. Dads have it easy. A good father can do no wrong in the eyes of his children. Unconditional love is a beautiful and immaculate thing.

How about this Twitter challenge from @Stratuswines:

So here goes:

Dad 1933 is a fountain of youth at 80-years-old. Kind, gentle and soft-spoken. Never has been heard a disparaging word by anyone who has known or come into contact with him. Structured, balanced, has aged gracefully and still has the legs to offer pleasure for many years to come.  100  @mgodello

Wine is easy, wine is fun. Picking up a special bottle can offer a kid in the candy store experience. Go for two and the opportunity presents to share one and leave the other in dad’s cellar. Here are seven can’t miss choices, to bury a bone for later enjoyment and to raise a glass to dad.

Clockwise from top left: Melville’s Ginger Beer, Donatien Bahuaud Vouvray Les Grands Mortiers 2012, Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Sori’ Paitin Barbaresco 2008, Paolo Conterno Barolo ‘Riva Del Bric’ 2008, and Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay 2011

Melville’s Ginger Beer (334797, 4×275 mL, $9.95) from the Innis & Gunn Brewing Company is just what dad ordered, especially if he’s Scottish, played 18 in the morning and is now watching a good Scot like Martin Laird win the US Open. Or anyone else who fancies a Shandy for that matter. Light in alcohol (4.1 per cent) yet full-bodied and ginger-tinged in a provocative and pungent way. Gingered yet fruit-driven, full of pep, pop and hopping flavour. Late afternoon revivalist beer.  90  @MelvillesLager

Donatien Bahuaud Vouvray Les Grands Mortiers 2012 (140889, $15.95) from the VINTAGES June 8, 2013 release tasted May 3, 2013. Brings on good, clean soda fun. Dry entry, off-dry continuum and great sweet finish. The blind pilot has got classic Loire smells of “paint or pollen, brick in your mortar.” Verve, acidity, tight lemon swath and spirited length.  90  @ProfileWineGrp

Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (186171, $29.95) from the VINTAGES June 8, 2013 release tasted May 3, 2013. Travels that MOR station road, in an Eagles Hotel or John Mayer Queen kind of way, but for uncomplicated dad, that’s OK. Cool, California, “dark desert highway” night scents, like colitas and creosote. A warm, Sonoma Cabernet that will have you “looking for the sun that Neil Young hung.” Vanilla, fresh berries, lit herbs, balancing acidity and moderate (13.9 per cent) alcohol conjoin for extended play.  90  @duckhornwine

Sori’ Paitin Barbaresco 2008 (106591, $32.95) from the VINTAGES June 8, 2013 release tasted May 3, 2013. Always offer great value, even if its modernity pressures an approachability bordering on femme fatale. Classic attributes by way of tar, roses, tannin and musky animal funk meet a fruit embarrassment of riches. Big for Sori, Shirley, surely. Ready and willing to pair with slow-smoked brisket.  91  @MarkJJacoby

Paolo Conterno Barolo ‘Riva Del Bric’ 2008 (172783, $38.95) from the VINTAGES March 16, 2013 release tasted twice, February 8th and April 30th, 2013. From young vines, is rousing and lofty for under $40. Seamless woven tapestry of pheromone and punch. Esculent sweet cinnamon cherry, pipe smoke, orange blossom and rose floral. Succulent, long and leggy.  Piedmont for a psalm.  91  @liffordwine

Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay 2011 ($59.95, Charton Hobbs, 2010, 709717, $57.95) tasted with Dennis Cakebread at Stock Restaurant, Trump Hotel, June 3, 2013. Night harvested, whole cluster pressed and aged in 1,2 and 3 year-old barrels. “We’re not working for big and buttery,” notes Cakebread and it shows. A medium-plus toast that is void of resin and sinew allows for a mineral, acidity and orchard fruit driven Chardonnay, augmented by a far easter, a gust of green mango, lime and capsicum.  Near-kindred spirit to Paul Pender’s Robyn’s Block 2010. Shaken, not stirred on its lees, well-refined and certainly in balance. Will age gracefully.  92  @CakebreadWines

Marchand-Tawse Volnay 1er Cru 2011 ($65, Vinifera) tasted May 6th at Modus Restaurant blends fruit harvested out of a tempestuous growing season from parcels at the lower end of the Villages. “Lots of substance,” notes Marchand and unmistakably Volnay, in brut strength and firm backbone. Just bottled two weeks ago, the Pinot is not so much in shock but more like in hysteria. Wild and unruly, this will abandon the rock and hard place when it settles into its viking skin.  92  @pasmarchand

Good to go!

See the humanity in real value wine

Glass of red wine PHOTO: FONS LAURE/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

There is no secret that Canadians and especially the wine consumer from Ontario, desperately want more choice. We want private wine shops that can specialize in niche products. We want all Canadian grapes to be granted passports to travel freely from province to province. We want access to real wines made by passionate human beings. We don’t want plonk.

Twice a month I taste through in excess of 100 hundred wines scheduled for release through VINTAGES, the fine wine and spirits division of the LCBO. On some days the wines, as a group, seem merely “better than dough.” On other days they cause one or more of my colleagues to say things like “this is the worst red wine day of my life.” The public knows that we have lagged for many years in wine retail. The public is ahead of the LCBO think tank on this.

Fortunately, or not, depending on how bright a side of life you look, more often than not I can look through and beyond the barbaric fringes and pick out a few primitive, unfettered warriors from the monopolistic offering. Once in a while the sea of humanity reveals itself and many wines shine, express their terroir, their somewhereness, their completeness. Here are nine estimable examples ready for immediate enjoyment, now in a store near you.

Clockwise from left: Delas Frères Saint-Esprit Cotes Du Rhône Rosé 2012, Le Gravillas Plan de Dieu Cotes Du Rhône Villages 2010, Marechal Brut Crémant De Loire, Domaine Des Aubuisières Cuvée De Silex Vouvray 2011, Domaine Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2010, Château Lyonnat 2006, Château La Grange De Bessan 2009, Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko 2011, and Bonaccorsi Viognier 2010

Delas Frères Saint-Esprit Cotes Du Rhône Rosé 2012 (224964, $13.95) is all sun and strawberry, almond and grapefruit tree scents after dark, so much spirit in the night. Salinity, markedly well-made and Muga-like. “Stand right up now and let it shoot through you.”  87  @HHDImports_Wine

Le Gravillas Plan de Dieu Cotes Du Rhône Villages 2010 (264648, $14.95) is simply a ton of wine for $15. That said, it takes extraction to the maximum and is yet blessed with a graceful level of gravitas. I wouldn’t want to drink too much of this, or any other similarly concentrated and heavily fruit- endowed Rhône but there is enough mineral and tar character to keep Le Gravillas honest.  88

Marechal Brut Crémant De Loire (141077, $15.95) foams frothy forth alive and expansive out of a yeasty starter, spins lightly on its A16 axis and revolves tightly wound around a citrus spindle. A working class Marechal, real and made for the people. Perhaps not La Grande Illusion but a wine that will “show the common humanity present across these divisions.” About as good as Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling Loire Chenin Blanc can be and priced to fly.  89

Domaine Des Aubuisières Cuvée De Silex Vouvray 2011 (57042, $17.95, SAQ, 858886, $17.60) speaks sedimentary cryptocrystalline vernacular to narrate its Loire Chenin Blanc story by way of a ripe apple and blooming rose style. Off-dry and dehydrated by the chert, that defining, dusty silex soil. There should be land-driven $18 wine available, always and everywhere.  89  @LoireValleyWine

Domaine Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Gris 2010 (21253, $19.95, SAQ, 913897, $22.85) returns the storied Alsatian to top form after a confounding ’09. Cool climate, perfervid pear considers dressing up in lime-spiked papaya but chooses to turn on its heel to put on a sequin-dotted silk dress. Spot on, shimmering scintillant.  90  @drinkAlsace

Château Lyonnat 2006 (243774, $19.95) built upon 85 percent Merlot, 11 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and four percent Cabernet Franc has ancient and learned Right Bank morphology written all over its sweet, scorched earth perfume. Has entered the zone, in toasted cedar and grilled beef on the bone integration but caramel and kindling are just around the corner. Get in while the coals are smoking. Reminds me of the good oak days.  89

Château La Grange De Bessan 2009 (321331, $19.95) is a poster child for affordable, humanistic Médoc, Left Bank, hyped vintage Bordeaux. Mutton on the reductive nose does not impose a run and hide. Purple flowers, parquet smoke and dark chocolate co-mingle with iron, calcium and limestone. Meat-friendly, complex, well-structured.  90  @BordeauxWines

Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko 2011 (74781, $21.95) must be a fairy tale, a Boucles d’or narrative of structure and complexity from the first swirl and sniff. Airy, saline, built of rich, gold guts. Perfectly ripened orchard fruit and fresh-squeezed grapefruit. Taste it and there’s a joyous dance, a kefi bursting inside, like great Champagne but minus the bubbles.  92  @KolonakiGroup

Bonaccorsi Viognier 2010 (318121, $23.95) from Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon is bottled, golden Californian sunshine, rich, unctuous and tanned. Will be accused of being obnoxious, bellicose, even Sisyphean, but she and I don’t care. Spicy, candied yellow apple, sappy, honeysuckle scent meets an efflux of buttery cashew, like toasted Chardonnay crossed with aged Chenin. Grand Cali Viognier.  91  @jbonaccorsi

Good to go!

Cloudy with showers, more wine expected

Barque Smoked Miami Beef Rib PHOTO: JILL CHEN/FREESTYLEFARM.CA

as seen on canada.com

This one’s for the floodwaters ravaged and oppressed in cottage country and to a much lesser extent, the city dwellers, this morning’s sunshine respite notwithstanding, faced with a few more days of wet April doom and gloom. There is always wine to cheer you up. County in the City presented by Wine Align  is a must not miss event tonight at the Berkeley Church.

For the rest of you keeping score at home, here are five sure bet $20 wines guaranteed to get you through the last week of April showers.

From left: Clos De Nouys Demi-Sec Vouvray 2011, Huff Estates Pinot Gris 2011, Clifford Bay Pinot Noir 2010, Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2011, and Eos Estate Winery Petite Sirah 2011

The grape: Chenin Blanc

The history: From one of the oldest Loire wine-making estates (Pierre Chainier) in the Vouvray A.O.C.

The lowdown: Loire Chenin Blanc ranges from dry to sweet and creamy sparkling. This is designated semi-dry but it tends dry because of a strong limestone mineral component

The food match: Basque Pintxos

Clos De Nouys Demi-Sec Vouvray 2011 (322669, $19.95) has already begun to stun in citrine and a petrol whiff plays the stage while the other aromas wait in the wings. Earthy for a white wine, a vin tuffeau-jaune if you will, no doubt imparted by the creamy, calcareous-argillaceous limestone soil. Sweet pear and the stuff of almonds lurk in the shadows. To taste there is little cloying danger and even a touch of cheese rind. It’s really quite dry, like Großes Gewächs German Riesling, but its balance is impeccable.  91  @imbibersreport

The grape: Pinot Gris

The history: Prince Edward County born and bred proprietor Lanny Huff teams with Burgundy born winemaker Frédéric Picard

The lowdown: Really a white and sparkling specialist (though they do grow Merlot), Huff’s Pinot Gris is a character study unlike any other PEC peer

The food match: Agedashi Tofu

Huff Estates Pinot Gris 2011 (134221, $19.95) initiates contact in a fusty, gamy way, not unlike some of my favourite reds in Montalcino and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But this is Alsatian-styled Pinot Gris we’re talking about here. Fortunately a huff and a puff blows the dank aside and it gets peachy in West Indies pepper sauce after that. Lots of piquant character in this Prince Edward County charmer.  90  @HuffEstatesWine

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: From the eponymous body of water at the eastern entrance of the Cook Strait and the Tasman Sea, separated by the White Cliffs from the more famous Cloudy Bay

The lowdown: From grapes grown in the Awatere Valley, this is essentially cool climate Pinot Noir and it shows

The food match: Barque Smoked Miami Beef Rib

Clifford Bay Pinot Noir 2010 (309500, $19.95) with its bright lights, big acids is spanking, aromatically clean. Raspberry fruit driven, big barking red dog, tart balanced (13.5 per cent abv) and full of pluck and punch. Would go nicely with the Barque of smoked meats.  89  @cliffordbaywine

The grapes: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tannat

The history: The Wildass line of wine from Stratus Vineyards seems to say “always look on the bright side of life.”

The lowdown: Laid back brand in appearance from J.L. Groux and team but this assemblage is no couch potato

The food match: Whole-Wheat Penne, spring greens, sausage

Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2011 (86363, $19.95) is a trailing vine of sweet ever-bearing, toffee coated candy strawberry. A wolf steppin‘ out of its Niagara comfort zone, reminding me of a red wine made by The Foreign Affair, in dried fruit (not jam) as if it were made in the appassimento method. It’s simply J.L. coaxing maximum concentration from vines in a balanced vintage and frankly this is better than most Veneto Valpolicella at the same price. This Wildass is “like a true nature’s child,” born to be wild.  89  @Stratuswines

The grape: Petite Sirah

The history: Also known as Durif, a black-skinned variety developed by Dr. Durif, a French nurseryman living in the south of France in the late 1800’s

The lowdown: California has embraced the grape and although it remains much maligned, when acidity and balance play their part, it can be so much more interesting than Cabernet Sauvignon, especially in Paso Robles

The food match:  Beef Shanks braised in red wine

Eos Estate Winery Petite Sirah 2011 (317677, $19.95) is certainly Cabernet-like with its rich berry fruit forward first step but it never goes over the top. The alcohol (13.9 per cent) remains in check, it’s minty and eucalyptus cool and white pepper gives it good bite. Exotic, smokey edge.  90  @EOSwinery

Good to go!

The best wine releases of 2012

PHOTO: STEFANO TIRABOSCHI/FOTOLIA.COM

Wine is best celebrated with family and friends and the holidays present so many opportunities to share a glass. Pulling corks (or twisting caps) substantiates purchasing choices made in previous years. Last year I noted on, “a quick reflect back on a year of plasmic vials once voluminous, now in condign as a commitment to memory. ”

The current season’s pours have the palaver or promise and the eviglio of accumulation to thank for the opportunity. The VINTAGES releases of 2012 perpetuate this promulgated philosophy. The year’s buys have migrated to the cellar, to wait there in abstemious behaviour of maturation. They too will one day climb the steps to a welcoming table, set with family and friends.

Here are my favourite under and over $30 wines of 2012.

Under $30 VINTAGES released wines

Under $30 VINTAGES Releases

1. The grapes: Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah

Where: Côtes du Rhône, France

Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuveé Maximilien Cairanne 2010 (286336, $21.95) is extraordinary for the appellation. Pitch purple, world-class milk and dark chocolate swirl, creamy silk. The stuff of recent phenomenon, where rocks, dreams and raspberries are crushed and scattered like cake bits over the loam.   91

2. The grapes: Garnacha, Carinena and Syrah

Where: Montsant, Spain

Celler Besllum Besllum 2008 (283515, $15.95) of Cubist Picassan, “cut up, Maria,” heavenly body struts its stuff as an enchantress with an alluring Spanish, violaceous visage. A black cherry, carboniferous quartzite Popsicle for Mr. Jones.  “We all want something beautiful.”  90

3. The grape: Petite Sirah

Where: Alexander Valley, California

Trentadue La Storia Petite Sirah 2010 (291047, $23.95) is massively concentrated out of the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, as if it were packed with five centuries of the Italian American experience. Manages 14.9% alcohol with George Bailey-esque, heady grace. Tasted blind I commented, “if this is under $30 it’s an outrageous deal.” “Well whaddya know about that!!!. “ 92

4. The grape: Riesling

Where: Clare Valley, Australia

Pewsey Vale Riesling 2011 (686600, $19.95) shimmers an iridescent emerald-green on gold patina. Cracks like a whip straight in your face with lemon, lime and slate than lowers a sledgehammer of petrified wood. Snake-like Sasak fruit tang and acidity “goes dancin’ in,”  “builds that power” and lingers long after its skin has been shed.  91

5. The Grape: Sangiovese

Where: Tuscany, Italy

Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2008 (285510, $28.95) is a wow wine. Viscous, sweet nectar, full on concentrated berries and polished rocks au jus. An opus dei call to vinous holiness and sanctity. Rapturous feeling of punch drunk love falls over me after sipping this noble Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile).  92

6. The grape: Chenin Blanc

Where: Loire Valley, France

Marc Brédif Vouvray 2010 (685362, $19.95) perches high atop a parched, molecular hilltop. Bread starter nip promises stuffed pastry filled with friable, early harvest apples. Wonderful, classic and dehumidified Vouvray.  91

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

Where: Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Lulu Island Meritage (277566, $23.95) just sounds like an Aussie moniker when in fact it hails from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Maybe the most lustrous B.C. red I have ever laid eyes on. Hard not to forbear a crush on its purple profile, hued like a $100, Single-Vineyard Argentinean Malbec. A bit reductive due to its infantile youth but this is appurtenant to the samphire, currants and peppery Merlot scents. Less weight buoys the palate. Bites back in the end. Follows varietal rules of proportion vis-a-vis the dry martini. Massive CVR** complexity from this massif assemblage.  91

8. The Grape: Cabernet Franc

Where: Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Hinterbrook Rosé 2011 (275818, $16.00) is simply brilliant. Top Ontario Rosé to date. Goes well beyond descriptors like “playful” and “quaffable.” A four-day Cabernet Franc cold soak was the ticket to serious pink success, the choice of grape an engineering master stroke. Hinterbrook’s dark side of the moon. Moody, ambient, rich in tone, lyric and extended play. Rosé needs some mystery and here it is.  ”There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.”  91

9. The Grape: Riesling

Where: Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany

Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009 (0197186, $21.95) races out of the nuss pit with peerless Bergweiler CVR** Spätlese speed. The late harvest drupe is so focused you would never know how sweet the middle ground really is. Never struggling against circumstance, it slides effortlessly into Spätlese orbit. Searching and finding the German Riesling dream. Sonnenuhr vineyard is here and “the time is right, for racing in the street.”  91

10. The Grape: Chardonnay

Where: Casablanca Valley, Chile

Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2010 (738393, $17.95) will be your best IVR* bet for Chardonnay day on May 26. Wild yeasts make cause for a weird resemblance, reminiscent of February’s Furmint. Delicate, expressive and unusual, the mint flint, brioche and smoked pineapple effect leads to thoughts of Blancs de Blancs. A little malo just might turn this into good bubbly!  89

Over $30 VINTAGES released wines

Over $30 VINTAGES Releases

1. The grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault

Where: Southern Rhône, France

Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (700922, $53.95, SAQ 10817461, $50.50) will dare you to claim any better value from the storied appellation. “Da price boss, da price!” Like I’ve landed on Fantasy Island where Châteauneuf is flowing and it’s always affordable! Kirsch galore, a Rhône cat, sensuous and gorgeous. Goldfinger garrigue, with herbs and acidity so alive and purring. Approachable now, the heavenly structure will see the Donjon through 2025.  94

2. The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

Where: Napa Valley, California

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

3. The Grape: Syrah

Where: Northern Rhône, France

Delas Frères Francois De Tournon Saint-Joseph 2009 (17525, $33.00) is both militaristic and the stuff of gushing Renaissance literature. Serious Syrah and foxy, Faerie Queene.  Cardinal colour, striking and dreamy. Augustinian diplomat meets allegorical fantasy. Crushed berries, truffles caked by earth, sol de la foret. Built of elegance and power, “such endlesse richesse, and so sumptuous shew.”  92

4. The Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot

Where: Napa Valley, California

Dominus 2008 (212381, $145.95) solicits riposte for parry, to buy or not to buy. The omnipotently voluptuous one resides in a tramontane locale, beyond reach and also the pale. A shocking parade of profound, hyper-purple personality. Even if it suffers “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune“, a lucky man this Dominus, “all dressed in satin,” “nor woman neither.” Colour field shockingly crimson and amarinthine, textured with rich and layered brush stroke, as if Red on Maroon. A Lama, “the flowing robes, the grace, bald…striking.” To me this ’08 leans more Ornellaia than Pétrus.  97

5. The grapes: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignan

Ridge Lytton Springs 2009 (982413, $46.95) will live in infamy like the ’92 and ’99. Immediate waft of freshly shucked vanilla bean. Ambrosial, earthy, briary fruit. Precise distillation inclusive of 23% Petite Sirah results in an impossibly lambent cordial. Not to mention you gotta love that Draper perfume. Open the magazine in 10-15 years time for the best read.  93

6. The grape: Nebbiolo

Where: Piedmont, Italy

Gemma Giblin Riserva Barolo 2005 (185025, $36.95) has begun to brick at the edges. Mouth rosewatering acidity binged by sour cherry and shellac. Wisp of Monte Cristo and withered rose only Barolo can smell of.  This Gemma is beautiful like a turning season, like something you know won’t last. For now and no more than two to three more years.  92

7. The grapes: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Counoise

Where: Southern Rhône, France

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

8. The grapes: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon

Where: Bordeaux, France

Château Carbonnieux Blanc 2008 (581033, $59.00) is possessive of febrile gooseberry imagination. Blows sweet peach and apricot in and out of the glass in alberge de tours waves. “Hungry like the wolf” and his lycopersicon esculentum. A white PL for the ages.  92

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

Where: Tuscany, Italy

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

10. The Grapes: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara e Altri Vitigni

Where: Veneto, Italy

Remo Farina Le Pezze Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2008 (171587, $33.95) underwhelms as a no kicker. Needs no Euro hype nor boozy heft to make itself understood. Modish mocha java speaks fluent huttish, communicating by lingua franca vernacular to the initiated. “Goopta mo bossa!“  92

Good to go!

Eight big time value wines

PHOTO: SHOCK, FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Anyone who has dared to venture into wine stores within a week of Christmas knows that the pickings accelerate quickly from slim to none.

Related – VINTAGES, December 8th, 2012 release

Sure, January will bring new releases, but a paucity of good value wine at any time, let alone late December is tantamount to scandal. Staring forlornly into barren cubicles and languishing in long cash-out lines is no way to go through the holiday season. There will be no excuse for getting caught having to serve sickly-sweet, mass-produced plonk to hopeful party guests. As my friend Bob repeatedly reminds me, “it’s not an option.”

The plenitude on wine shelves over the next four days will make the other 361 pale by comparison. Get out there and stock up on the year’s last wine offer. Here are eight big time values to seek out from the final December release of 2012.

Eight big time value wines

The grape: Viognier

The history: Hails from the Northern Rhône in the wines of Condrieu

The lowdown: Alamos is the high-altitude, value offspring line from Argentina’s Laura (@MalbecLife) Catena

The food match: Mahi-Mahi with Blood Orange, Avocado, and Red Onion Salsa

Alamos Viognier 2011 (507830, $13.95) is pretty fly for a white guy. I get Acacia blossom, nectarine and sweet cream. A Viognier to fool as to its origin and sure it sets out to “do that brand new thing” but this is no wannabe. Huge value from winemaker Felipe Stahlschmidt and brand manager Jimena Turner.  Pleased to tout the value for both its phrenic and copacetic manner.  87

The grape: Grüner Veltliner

The history: White Austrian varietal known for its crisp, bright character

The lowdown: One of the most magnetic white wine producers anywhere

The food match: Potato Rösti, horseradish cream

Domaene Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner 2011 (965368, $13.95) is bar none, the best value in its class. Buffet of exotics; mandarin orange, longan, rambutan. Simmering acidity, no bitter nut, pith or endgame. Not necessarily long, yet satisfying .  88

The grapes: Xarello and Riesling

The history: Traditional varietal from Catalonia, often used in the production of  Cava

The lowdown: Blended with 15% Riesling, the Xarello comes alive

The food match: Seared and Slow Roasted Salmon, crumbled chorizo, salsa verde drizzle

Terraprima White 2011 (303552, $17.95) shows off a pastel but vivid colour, sidled by scents of spring almond tree blossom and autumn arbequina olive. Riesling injection adds more verve in the mouth, indicated by lemon and lime concentrate. Will work all seasons for a Penedes siesta chill.  88

The grape: Chenin Blanc

The history: From dry to sweet, the Loire’s expression of Chenin seems limitless

The lowdown: This one leans far left, sapless, not socialist

The food match: Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup, caramelized apple, spiced pumpkin seeds

Marc Brédif Vouvray 2010 (685362, $19.95) perches high atop a parched, molecular hilltop. Bread starter nip promises stuffed pastry filled with friable, early harvest apples. Wonderful, classic and dehumidified Vouvray.  91

The grapes: Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera

The history: Salice Salentino tends sun-dried, caramelized and sometimes even burnt, but in a good way

The lowdown: Puglia has turned Salice Salentino into an international sensation

The food match: Smoked and Braised Beef Short Rib, dried fruit, carrots, thyme

Leone De Castris Maiana Salice Salentino 2009 (717959, $13.95) is full-bodied like its brethren and definitive of the dark-skinned Negroamaro. Appasimento-like raisin, Amarone quality, peppered by anise and finishing near oxy by sun-ripened tomato, black plums and stewed prunes. If long and slow braised beef convinces it to relax, it will work just fine.  87

The grape: Gamay

The history: From the vineyard of Les Vins Aujoux in the Côte Du Py

The lowdown: Cru Beaujolais, especially from Morgon, can be exhilarating stuff

The food match: Gamay Risotto, candy beets, white truffle oil

Jacques Depagneux Côte De Py Morgon 2011 (299925, $18.95) parlays Gamay in the prettiest purple package. Violaceous, like young and approachable Nebbiolo, or even Montsant. Hawkish and snappy in its play calling with a volcanic, mineral feel that elevates its game. “I’m glad I know you” Beaujolais, from it’s a wonderful life of Py.  89

The grape: Pinot Noir

The history: Unheralded (until now) winemaker Paul Battilana does his best Beaune impression

The history: Burgundy emerges as a limestone-influenced, light-bodied red in Prince Edward County

The food match: Turkey and Cranberry Pie with Sweet Potato Crust

Casa-Dea Pinot Noir 2009 (296210, $19.95) has won me over two years in a row as a top value Pinot Noir, not just in PEC, but in Ontario. Plush ruby robe, expertly extracted though it is so light on its feet. Less earth and clay than cousin Rosehall but this smells exactly as Pinot should. There is a minor note of fromagerie so consider pairing it so.  89

The Splurge

The grape: Petite Sirah

The history: Not to be confused with Syrah, this is the French varietal Durif

The lowdown: There is nothing remotely petite about this grape or this wine. Durif=énorme

The food match: Grilled Venison Loin, blackberry compote

Trentadue La Storia Petite Sirah 2010 (291047, $23.95) is massively concentrated out of the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, as if it were packed with five centuries of the Italian American experience. Manages 14.9% alcohol with George Bailey-esque, heady grace. Tasted blind I commented, “if this is under $30 it’s an outrageous deal.” “Well whaddya know about that!!!. ” 92

Good to go!