The huge Mediterranean Island of Sicily could be considered its own continent, or country for that matter. The diverse geography ranges from mountains to sandy beaches with huge expanses of vineyards, farmed fields and woodlands in between. Since antiquity, it’s been at the crossroads of civilization. It was the bread basket of ancient Greece. As well, the Greeks brought viticulture to the island over 3,000 years ago. Whether it’s the historic Valley of the Temples in Agrigento or Mount Etna that erupts regularly, and everything in between, it’s a kaleidoscope of culture, places and landscapes. And let’s not forget the sun and moderate climate for which the term “Mediterranean” is known the world over.
Nero D’Avola is the best known and most widely planted red varietal and is indigenous to the island. It yields wines of deep colour and flavour, with moderate structure, juicy acidity and soft-to-medium tannins. But Sicilian-based Cusumano winery has kicked things up a notch by combining the complex character of Syrah with the power of Nero D’Avola in its Benuara blend. Hailing from their Presti e Pegni estate in southeastern Sicily, its deep brooding colour takes us on a journey filled with delicious and exciting black fruits in the bouquet while providing a full body on the palate underpinned by fine tannins and a long finish. It ticks off all the boxes for what consumers are looking for in a red wine that overdelivers for the price of only $17.95. Yes, $17.95! Drinking well now, it has good aging potential should you wish to lay down a few bottles to see how it develops further complexity. The James Suckling panel taster, Zehun Shuai, rated it 91 points. Enjoy with your choice of assorted meats. But the smokiness of slightly charred calamari done on the BBQ makes an interesting counterpoint to smoky nuances of the wine.
2021 Cusumano “Presti e Pegni” Benuara Syrah Nero D’Avola LCBO # 597138, $17.95
Exploring must be in David Hall-Jones’ blood. His great-great grandfather, John Thomson, after which his Domaine Thomson winery is named, was responsible for mapping much of New Zealand in the 1850’s. This included the now famous Pinot Noir hotbed in the South Island, Central Otago. As an international businessman, his travels have taken him all over the world. Falling in love with Burgundy, France, he purchased vineyard holdings in the famous commune of Gevrey-Chambertin. A few years later, harkening back to his roots, he went on to explore Central Otago to find a prime location to establish a Pinot Noir only vineyard. In 2000, he settled on the area of Lowburn-Pisa Hills. The property is on the western shores of Lake Dunstan and faces northeast. (Remember, we are in the southern Hemisphere, so to get the optimal exposure to sunlight, one must plant vineyards facing in a northerly direction.) The vineyards are certified organic and biodynamic.
It's only logical that their premium entry level Pinot Noir, hailing from a single vineyard site, would be called “Explorer.” Bright garnet in colour, seductive aromas of cherries and berries, accented by mild spice and nut nuances, lead us into the realm of a flavourful, silky texture and a long finish.
Since New Zealand is famous for lamb, why not pair this wine with lamb kebabs plus a side of Tzatziki dip. Wine Orbit’s Sam Kim, a New Zealand respected wine critic, scored the wine with 93 points.
2022 Explorer Single Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir LCBO #19619, $31.95
The Penedes region southwest of Barcelona, Spain, is well known for its production of sparkling wine. The amounts are astronomical as it supplies millions and millions of bottles to parched throats and celebrants all over the world. Called Cava, by law it uses the traditional bottle fermentation method of Champagne to infuse millions of tiny bubbles into the final product. While the lion’s share of the business is controlled by a few gargantuan producers, well-known the world over, thank goodness there are many smaller producers who take meticulous care to produce sparklers that will have you doing a double take.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, a quality rosé Cava will add some colour to the special day of romance. Or any other day, if you prefer. Enter producer Castell De Sant Pau. Primarily using the indigenous Trepat red grape variety, the colour is a bright, pale pink. Fresh berries dominating the bouquet gently waft from the glass while we are captivated by a dry, lingering finish on the palate. And the perfect pairing? Tapas, of course. Wine & Spirits Magazine gave it 92 points. At $18.95, it’s unbeatable value.
Castel De Sant Pau Cava Brut Rosé Sparkling LCBO #36065, $18.95
On February 2, the spotlights on celebrity groundhogs: Ontario’s Wiarton Willie, Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam or Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil. Peeking out of their burrows, if they see their shadow, it means winter will continue for six weeks. No shadow means an early spring. Either way, there’s plenty of time to enjoy a flavourful Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State’s Columbia River growing region.
Nicole Walsh is the star winemaker of Skyfall vineyards who spent nearly two decades honing her skills while working for California’s iconic Bonny Doon Vineyard. As a respected leader in the Women Owned Winery Movement, she is a winemaker in pursuit of making wines true to terroir that showcase the quality of Washington State’s grapes. The name Skyfall references the rugged boulders scattered around the vineyard of the same name. They look like meteorites that have fallen from the heavens. The bold, colourful label shows Mother Nature emerging from the natural environment. This is the same as Skyfall wines emerging from Washington to express all its elements, from each vintage’s weather to the thousands of years of geological history. An intriguing blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah, the subtle upfront fruit emphasizes blackcurrant, plum and cedar notes supported by soft tannins while finishing off with a balancing, refreshing acidity.
Lamb is rich and fatty. It’s also slightly sweet. Skyfall Cabernet Sauvignon’s acidity and tannins will cut through the fat, keeping it from coating one’s palate, while the tannins help balance the subtle sweetness. The wine's fruit flavours will complement the richness of the meat beautifully. Try cooking the lamb with rosemary and thyme. These pungent, earthy notes complement Cabernet Sauvignon’s natural qualities and are certain to enhance the dining experience.
2020 Skyfall Washington Cabernet Sauvignon LCBO #26508, $18.95.
Any mention of the Black Forest conjures up images of that famous chocolate layer cake made with real, not “ersatz” whipped cream, and cherries, which is infused with Kirschwasser, a tasty clear eau-de-vie distilled from cherries. Then there’s Black Forest ham, which no respectable dinner table or Kaiser bun should do without—but don’t dare forget your favorite mustard to add a little zip to your lip. Then there are cuckoo clocks, a major industry of the Black Forest region, which tourists take with them all over the world to help them tell time in an entertaining manner.
But between the dark evergreen forests and the Rhine River lies a huge expanse of vineyards identified by the Baden appellation. With 8,500 hectares, it is Germany’s largest and southernmost wine region. Bordered by France’s Alsace on the west, and Switzerland to the south, it is part of the Allemanisch language group. Only the Rhine River separates them physically. They all share a common Germanic dialect, cuisine, culture, and preference for dry wines. No wonder Baden has the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants outside France. Germany is the third largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world with 11,700 hectares; and Baden, in turn, is Germany’s largest production area with one half the acreage.
The Koenigschaffhausen-Kiechlinsbergen Winery has extensive southern-facing, steep vineyard holdings on the Kaiserstuhl, an extinct volcano in southern Baden. It has been named “Best Pinot Noir Producer in Germany” by the critics several times for a reason. Ontario consumers may savour their Steingrüble single vineyard Pinot Noir from the outstanding 2019 vintage, now available at LCBO Vintages. At $18.95 it represents excellent value. With low yields and up to one year of oak aging, we have a characterful dry red with spicy, berry fruit flavours gently lingering in the bouquet and on the palate. Oh, and do pair it with a baked Black Forest ham.
2019 Koenigschaffhauser Steingrueble Trocken Pinot Noir LCBO #460410, $18.95.
Dunkel is the German word for dark. Barley is the grain that is commonly used in brewing. In the malting process, the barley is soaked in water and allowed to sprout, converting the grain’s starch into sugars. It is then kiln dried providing the source of sugar and soluble starch for fermentation. The higher the temperature, the darker the malt. Malt contributes to the flavor, color and mouthfeel of the beer. It is interesting to note that a huge proportion of specialty malts used by the world’s quality brewers are sourced from the Weyermann company in Bamberg, Germany. Is it any coincidence then that their “Munich” dark malt is the key ingredient in the Munich-based Hofbräu brewery’s Dunkel or dark lager?
In the glass, it’s deep, shimmering copper colored. A lush tan head lasts all the way to the last quaff. Rich aromas of sweet caramel and light toffee burst forth with a solid punch of spicy Munich malt. The silky smooth and seductive caramel and spice flavours lead to a perfect balance between malty sweetness and hop bitterness. Is it any wonder that Beer Consumer Magazine gave this brew a 97 points rating? Until January 28, beer lovers may enjoy a 50 cent saving per bottle found in the imported beer section of your favorite LCBO outlet.
Hofbräu Dunkel 500ml LCBO # 415950, Regularly $3.55, now $3.05 until January 28.
Ever since the corkscrew made its debut and was first patented in 1795 in the UK, the Bag-in-Box format may be the best invention yet created to enjoy wine in an uncomplicated way. We are lucky that Radio Boka Tempranillo is one of only 9 imported BIB formats available at LCBO retail stores. No wonder it’s one of the leading brands in the whole local BIB market segment! Containing 100% Tempranillo red from Spain’s Valencia region, it’s enjoyable, it’s uncomplicated; and it’s a great value containing the equivalent of four 750 ml bottles. The contents will stay fresh for several months - as if that’s really going to happen! This is due to the advanced packaging of the airtight bag inside the box combined with its pouring spout technology keeping air out and preserving the quality inside. The Toronto Star awarded it the highest rating of 92 points of all the imported Bag-in-Box formats available at the LCBO. Both the bouquet and medium body evoke notes of dark fruits, and berries with well-integrated, smooth tannins.
As we hunker down for the next few months of winter, Radio Boka Tempranillo Bag-in-Box is perfect for pouring, as the opportunity presents itself, a few glasses before cozying up to watch your favorite TV program or stream a movie. Renting a cabin in some winter wonderland with some friends for skiing? Snowmobiling? Ice fishing? Hockey? Snow shoeing? It’s the perfect format for enjoying a quality glass of tummy warming red once you come inside into the warmth to socialize and recap the day’s activities.
Radio Boka Tempranillo 3 Liter BIB LCBO # 491118, $42.95
Pour it into your glass and give it a whirl. The aroma is unmistakable with floral, spicy notes leaning toward lychees and rose petals – a benchmark bouquet if there ever was one. We are talking about the universally admired, yet not-so-easy to pronounce Gewürztraminer grape. Repeat three times – geh-werts-trah-mean-er. See, not so difficult, and it’s really easy to enjoy. Translated from the German, it means the spicy grape from Tramin, where it is supposed to have its origins. Tramin, a picturesque wine growing village in German speaking part of northern Italy is known as Alto Adige in Italian and Süd Tirol (South Tyrol) in German. It used to be part of Austria until the end of the First World War after which it was ceded to Italy as a reward for fighting on the Allied side. We will skip delving further into the politics any further. Pale yellow in colour, the taste is slightly off dry with refreshing spicy melon flavours and a lingering finish. This version of this grape hails from Germany’s Baden region, across the Rhine River from France’s Alsace, another hotbed of Gewürztraminer. With wanting to control the calories somewhat after a holiday week of celebrating, lighter tasting classic pairings would include Quiche Lorraine, onion tart or avocado salad.
2021 Baden Gewürztraminer LCBO #336735, $15.95
But let’s do it properly. Remove the capsule, unwind the wire hood, gently manoeuvre the cork out, with a small pop, PLEASE. Be gentle, to avoid expelling the precious liquid and bubbles captured inside. While still wines wait well behaved in the glass until they are consumed, one cannot but be mesmerized by the steady, rising stream of pinpoint bubbles in a quality sparkling wine. Then, there’s the gentle ping as one glass touches the other followed by a mandatory toast. Nothing like the tingling and tickling on the tongue as the bubbles bounce around making contact with the palate’s nerve receptors. Drink solo to celebrate New Year’s, or pair with food. Almost anything goes with sparkling wines – oysters, caviar, and any other seafood, lighter dishes including Asian or Indian dishes. Now that we have gotten your interest in sparkling wines in general, we need to recommend a specific sparkler available not just during the holiday season at the LCBO, but year round.
Everybody has been smitten by the colour pink and the rosé wines of summer, but a rosé sparkler is a beauty to behold in the glass. Light salmon in colour with shades of copper, the bouquet has subtle aromas of citrus and strawberry. The palate is lively with a steady stream of bubbles delivering notes of grapefruit and a pleasant yeastiness. Until Dec. 31 there’s a $5 limited time offer per bottle purchased, down from the regular price of $32.95. It’s the flagship brand produced by one of Ontario’s premiere Methode Traditionelle sparkling wine houses, Henry of Pelham. We are talking about Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut VQA.
Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut VQA LCBO # 217505, $27.95
With utmost respect to traditional Christmas favourites such as turkey, ham, or seafood, a hearty prime rib roast is the plated meat of choice by many a Canadian family. Of course, a full-bodied cut of meat chock full of proteins and marbled fats demands a full-bodied red wine to match. Making its debut at the LCBO as the December “Wine of the Month” is this Chilean blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon with a 40% addition of the iconic Carmenere grape.
An historic Chilean producer, Santa Ema’s vineyards are found from the shadow of the Andes mountains in the east to the Pacific Coast in the west throughout the Maipo River valley. It is one of the best known zones for production of world-class wines lending unique characteristics to the terroir of each wine. Since 2011, Santa Ema has been certified under the Chilean government’s Code of Sustainability. With a generous aroma of black cherries, subtle notes of tobacco and chocolate accent the long finish.
It’s outstanding value at $17.95, enjoyable now, or why not lay down a few bottles to savour over the next couple of years. The highly respected and often cited, Chilean Descorchados Wine Guide, awarded this wine 91 points.
Please enjoy responsibly with family and friends. We wish all of our customers Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas, or as they say in in Spanish in Chile, Feliz Navidad.
2021 Santa Ema Barrel Reserve 60/40 Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenere LCBO #34606, $17.95
It is estimated that there are 100 million bubbles in the average bottle of French Champagne. That’s a lot of pressure built up, from the secondary fermentation that takes place in the bottle for which the time honoured Methode Champenoise is responsible. The muselet, a French term, is the wire and metal hood that holds the cork in place. Then there is the punt, the indentation in the bottom of the bottle. This creates more surface area in the glass, again giving extra strength to the bottle since the pressure inside can reach a ballistic 90 p.s.i. All this is calibrated carefully by the producer, in our case, the venerable house of Taittinger.
A longtime favourite, and top selling Champagne brand in Ontario, Taittinger Brut Reserve is perfect for all those holiday celebrations. And, of course, finish with a big pop and usher out the old year while bridging the celebrations into the New Year. Champagne pairs with almost everything except red meat, so we will let you choose what to pair it with. Our favourite is Oysters Rockefeller. And then there’s an added incentive! It’s a $6 per bottle limited time price reduction through December 31.
Taittinger Brut Reserve Champagne LCBO # 365312, $ 69.80. (includes $6 off)
New Zealand’s Martinborough wine region, an hour or so northeast of the capital city, Wellington, is considered to be the North Island’s “Burgundy.” The emphasis here is quality over quantity considering the region accounts for only 1% of the nation’s wine production. Sheltered from the cold winds that batter Wellington, drive along serpentine and hairpin turning State Highway 2 through the Rimutaki Range, and you will know what we mean. Standing in the town of Martinborough and looking westward toward this range, it looks like three up-turned canoes side by side, which legend has it, belonged to Kupe, the legendary figure in the mythology and oral history of the Maori people.
The compact town of Martinborough is built around a centrally located quadrangle of streets. Vineyards surrounding the town are planted primarily with the signature varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. With some twenty-plus winery cellar doors within the town’s boundaries, it’s easy to maneuver them whether walking, cycling, or driving. Palliser Estate is a highly esteemed, pioneering, local benchmark Pinot Noir producer. It’s Pencarrow label, named after the vineyard of the same name, represents outstanding value. With a medium body and silky texture, the fragrant bouquet of ripe, red berry fruits invites us on to a flavourful finish with lingering notes of dark berries, a gentle smokiness and fine tannins.
Sam Kim, of Wine Orbit, awarded it 93 points. Pair with grilled teriyaki salmon skewers.
2020 Pencarrow Martinborough Pinot Noir LCBO # 692301, $29.95
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