By Peter Rod
Last June I wrote about several Old World wines from the LCBO that I felt offered good value. I promised then that I would do the same for the New World and here, finally, I keep that promise, even if long overdue.
Once again I’ve tried to focus on wines whose prices are as low as possible ($15 or less) while still articulating fair varietal and regional character, don’t appear overtly manipulated, and provide as many of the elements of quality as possible: balance, intensity, complexity, and length.
Note: This Part II in a series by Peter Rod. For his top picks of Old World value wines at the LCBO, go here
Wine buying, as we know, is a very personal experience. I don’t imagine for a minute that I know what you drink now, or the style of wine you like. Instead I use my years of experience sampling wines from around the world to search for those that strike me with a sense of purity, elegance, distinctiveness, or gulpability (that’s drinking, not guilt).
I like wines with attitude, but not wines that bite back too hard. I like wines that change in my glass – wines that taste better on day two. I also like wines that don’t demand food, but are perfectly happy beside the right dish.
Wines at all price points should be balanced, have adequate acidity, and offer pure and expressive fruit character. I also get excited when a simple wine offers something a little different – something a little funky that adds complexity but doesn’t go as far as being flawed.
Descriptors such as barnyard, nail polish, or tar can sound initially quite offensive but often add that little je ne sais quoi to a wine. Overly sterile wines are boring. As esteemed Rhone producer Michel Chapoutier once said, “fruit is to wine as disco is to music”.
In other words, if all music is disco then it becomes boring very quickly. Wines need more than citrus, cassis, or Morello cherry to be truly exciting. After all, getting fruit aromas out of a grape can’t be that hard can it?
Just like the world’s great perfumers use ingredients like cat poop, beaver secretion, whale vomit, or deer gland to make the rarest and most expensive eaux de parfum on the planet, so, too, do the unusual, unexpected smells in wines make them more unique and appealing, at least to me.
So with all that in mind, here are my tasting notes for a range of wines I’ve sampled over the past few months. I chose not to score these wines as I feel the notes should be adequate to guide you in your search for the delicious and affordable.
Please note: I have not listed the vintages for these wines because I find wine styles at these price points are generally quite consistent. Furthermore vintages change regularly in the LCBO and sometimes vary from store to store so I have chosen not to include them. For the record all vintages were either 2015 or 2016.
Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay Adelaide Hills: Lemony, dry, brisk acidity, stony palate, subtle oak and alcohol well in check. Hints of crème fraiche and nutmeg. Cool climate, new world reminiscent of some Chablis. $14.95
Fleur du Cap Chardonnay — Very bright nose with hints of reduction, which blows off quickly. Lemon peel, tart green apple and light toast. Quite bright, fresh, and tangy with a strong emphasis on primary citrus and tree fruit with mouth-watering acidity, pleasant leesy, reductive flavours and a long finish. Avoids being too much of anything which plagues too many inexpensive New World Chardonnays. Instead it’s vibrant, fresh, and food friendly. $12.95
Cigar Box Pinot Noir Old Vine, Central Valley, Chile — Deep ruby. An interesting nose of red fruit compôte, basil, menthol, pomegranate, cranberry and composting leaves. Clearly very ripe as alcohol is a little warm, but the palate is appealingly fruity and feels quite velvety. Hint of bitterness, which does not linger in the medium finish but in fact adds a nice edge. Very subtly sweet with some pepper and clove spice. Quite a lot here for the price. $12.75
Nugan Second Pass Shiraz — Overtly alcoholic nose with dried dark plum, dried cherry, bitter chocolate, licorice, and attractive barnyard and cured meat notes adding complexity. Dry, medium-bodied with lovely grip and subtle oak influences. Nicely balanced with moderate acidity, grape skin tannin adding structure and a warm slightly boozy finish. Nothing fake, candied or sugary about this wine. Quite impressed. $13.95
Jean Bousquet “Organic” Cabernet Sauvignon Tupungato, Valle de Uco, Argentina — Deep purple. Slightly shy at first but opens with time. Soya, cedar, roasted red pepper and dark berry. Hint of toasted cumin. Medium body with semi-firm tannins, slight bitterness, which lingers but nicely bone dry – no excess RS cover up. Short plus finish. Great with grilled meats, or sautéed rapini and mushrooms. $15.30
Santa Carolina Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Valle Centrale, Chile — Deep ruby. Very inviting nose with loads of cassis, menthol, and the varietal typical green bell pepper ‘green-ness’. Touch medicinal and smoky. Medium body, dry but quite fruit-forward. Balanced acidity – quite succulent. Less tannic and relatively short finish. $13.95
KWV The Vinecrafter Cabernet Sauvignon — Typical deeply hued ruby, no shortage of South African character and ripeness. Moderate intensity dominated by dark spiced prune and crème de cassis with a touch of pungent earthy wood smoke and menthol. Also a hint of intriguing cured meat adds complexity. Medium body with some slightly green astringency but manages to avoid strong bitterness. Lots of dried herbal flavours on dried dark berry. Acid is nicely succulent, alcohol and 7g/L sugar both nicely integrated. Short finish really gives away the price but still remarkable value. $9.95
Astica Merlot Malbec — Initial nosing suggested this was yet another generic, mass-produced red wine but as is sometimes the case, 10 minutes of patience in the glass and a more interesting wine starts to emerge. There are still some indications of heavy crop load judging by the subtle green leafy notes, but pleasant wood smoke, menthol, mushroom, dark cherry, and dark chocolate add some complexity. This wine is very easy-drinking with medium to full body, soft tannins, and juicy acidity with no excess residual sugar. Lots of red berry flavours with some of the tobacco and smoke notes carrying through to the palate. Relatively short finish but none of the cheap wine bitterness. I suspect this is a masterfully ‘crafted’ wine with plenty of winemaker tricks but the result is quite impressive for the price. $8.45
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.