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A sommelier’s list of the top five best-value Old World wines that you can buy at the LCBO

LCBO wines

By Peter Rod

In all my years as a sommelier, wine programs consultant, and wine educator the one question I get asked by consumers and students most often is what wine I drink from the LCBO. In other words, what is the ‘house’ wine chez Peter?

Well the short answer is I don’t have one because my goal is to taste as many of the roughly 14 million commercial wines produced on this planet before I kick the proverbial bucket. Unlike some of my colleagues or friends who buy a particular wine by the case, I tend to max out at 3 bottles and even that is a rarity. I estimated some years ago that between what I drink, what I assess in class, and what I sample at tastings, I’ve probably had roughly 15,000 wines pass between these lips in the more than 30 years I’ve been doing this. 15,000 down, 13 million plus to go …

I’m perpetually in search of the biggest bang for my buck at the provincial monopoly. After all, the mark up is so exorbitant on some wines that one must dig deep to find real value. Wines that sell for 2 euros on the shelves of a small European corner store bloat to Cdn $10 or $12 a bottle by the time they reach us.

wines LCBO
Duoro Valley

So how does one determine what real value actually is? Isn’t it possible that the best value wine at the LCBO is actually a $75 French Bordeaux that behaves more like a $300 version? I suppose if I had the chance to drink all the $75 bottles on the shelf, I might be able to answer this question but instead I focus my search on wines that fit comfortably into my weekly budget.

The less money I can spend the better, and it’s still possible to find entirely delicious and well-made wines for less than $12. When you empty as many bottles as I do each week, you need to find value options.

When I started out in this business in the 80s, I remember drinking at lot of Bulgarian Gamza and Chilean Cabernet. Back in those days, I didn’t need to hand over more than $5 or $6 – entirely necessary for a young university student aiming to keep enough in the bank account for beer, KD, and oatmeal.

Peloponnesus wine region in southern Greece.

Nowadays, especially outside of Europe, it’s all but impossible to find wines under $10 that aren’t overtly fake and dominated by oak dust, sugar, high alcohol, and odd tingly acid. These wines are the ketchup of the wine world – entirely necessary for some occasions but hardly a fine expression of the potential of noble vitis vinifera.

They are sweet, boozy, and artificially fruity and smell of mocha, coffee, and candy. Appetizing for some but hardly appealing for others like me in search of authentic expressions of the grape variety these wines are made from and the place where they were grown.

I like wines where the last ounce tastes just as good, or better, than the first sip; wines with delicacy, character, balance and purity. Wines that sit comfortably beside food and wines that don’t give me a head or stomach ache!

Gerard Bassett.

Gerard Bassett, OBE, MS, MW was one of the great sommeliers in wine history. His criteria for measuring wine quality consisted of five key factors: balance, complexity, length, definition, and appearance. It is fair to expect a very expensive wine will offer all of these factors. Great value wines, however, should provide as many of these factors as possible at the best possible price.

So with all that in mind, here is my short list of five high value European wines currently available at the LCBO.

Amatore Bianco IGT Verona, Italy $10.30 – a delightful, dry, flavourful, and energetic white for warm summer days.

L’Orangeraie Rosé Pays d’Oc, France $10.80 – Dry, light and pretty rosé with citrus, floral, and savoury Provençal herb character.

Radio Boka Rosé Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain $9.35 – Richer, fruitier rosé with pomegranate and strawberry while appealingly dry enough.

Bacalhôa Foral dos Quatro Ventos Douro, Portugal $9.35 – A deeper, richer red with dark berry, plum, fine silky tannins, and remarkable complexity for the price.

Greek Wine Cellars Apelia Agiorgitiko, Greece $16.20 (1500 ml) – Currently, my favourite red and by far the least expensive of the bunch. Zesty cherry, tomato, and wood spice that opens to lush velvety fruit and juicy acidity after aeration. The fact that it comes in magnum is either nicely efficient or entirely dangerous.

Note: Peter intends to follow up this list with a look at New World values

About Peter Rod

Peter A. Rod is a 30-year veteran of the food and drinks business. Currently, Peter is program coordinator and professor of wine programs at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College, and part time instructor for the Wine and Spirits Education Trust at Brock University. Before that he was curriculum department head and sommelier instructor with the International Sommelier Guild.

He has held management positions in fine establishments such as The Windsor Arms Hotel, Inn and Tennis Club at Manitou, C Restaurant, Raincity Grill and Biffs. He worked for a combined 12 years for Mission Hill Family Estate and 13thStreet Winery as brand ambassador and sales consultant. Peter is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree in Education at Queen’s University and holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Hospitality Management from University of Guelph.

He is also an Associate of International Wines and Spirits from the WSET, a certified wine educator through the Society of Wine Educators, a fellow of the OHI and was named top sommelier in western Canada in 1997 and in Ontario in 2006. Oh and please don’t ask him what his desert island wine is.