A Winter Search for New LCBO Wines
February is a very slow month for new arrivals on the LCBO’s General List, but there is a smattering of new blends from warmer climes in California, Spain and the south of France that deserve a look. Normally our intrepid Steve Thurlow would be handling the comings and goings through his monthly Top 50 overview but he is on leave after travels in Western Australia and New Zealand.
In his place, I took a lonely walk through the Queens Quay store on a very quiet Tuesday morning to look for new wines. I only met two other people – both wine agents checking out the shelf positioning of their brands. The new listings are usually identified with a bright lime green shelf card. A couple I thought were new just because I hadn’t seen them before.
The California section showed the most new faces, perhaps because it is getting juiced up for a big California promotion set to unleash on March 3. A total of 52 California wines are set to be reduced in price from $1 to $2. I don’t know about you, but these are rather piddling price cuts. The LCBO really needs to re-think their idea of “sales and promotions”. Where are case discounts, buy six for the price of five, new limited time only brands? They did a great job introducing a spate of new Australian wines over a year ago. Why not keep that idea going? There is more to promotion than posters and press releases.
I will return to California, but it was a pair of new reds from the south of France that really caught my eye. Laurence Feraud 2010 Plan Pegau $14.75, is a bold new initiative from a respected producer in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Grenache is the basis of her Domaine Pegau and she has used some declassified grapes from Pegau vineyards, plus some from Costieres de Nimes. Think of it as a very good Cotes du Rhone with both charm and decent structure. Likewise, Laurent Miquel L’Artisan Languedoc 2010 ($13.20) offers very good value in a well-made syrah-grenache blend that captures the essential ripe dark fruit and tarry character of southern France. Laurent Miquel is a bright new name on the horizon for good value French wines.
Back in California, cheap red blends are running amok with smarty-pants concept labels. Names like Kitchen Sink, Red Revolution, Cardinal Zin and Cupcake may provide moments of mirth, but is anyone going to cling to these wines for long? (Cardinal Zin might hang around until a new Pope is sworn in).
There is another name however that is equally detached from wine, but the wine is actually quite good. And if you are fan of musician Dave Matthews you won’t be able to resist The Dreaming Tree 2010 from North Coast fruit ($16.75). This is actually a nicely composed, earnest wine – which I would expect of the erudite, cool and layered Mr. Matthews. (PS, the other California wines mentioned above are a pass, although Red Revolution is not bad for a party red).
Also from California, Ghost Pines Winemaker’s Blend Chardonnay 2010 makes debut on the general list after success as an occasional listing at Vintage. Ghost Pines is a mid-priced line by E & J Gallo. I find the wines have a certain traditional, full flavoured honesty to them, without trying to be too slick or subtle. This chardonnay is rather full blown, a touch sweet, and very complex.
So what else is new? From Spain, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and stuffing of Faustino VII Tempranillo 2010 from Rioja, Spain. At $12.65 it offers considerable flavour depth and authentic, warm hearted if rather coarse Spanish character. It is interesting that it spends ten months in oak barrels, and can still be delivered to our shores offering good character at under $13. From the Ribera del Duero region, Bodegas Portia Ebeia Roble 2010 is a new, quite soft and chocolaty 100% tempranillo owned by the same Groupe Faustino. Both are head and shoulders better than a sweet, soupy, dull Spanish red called China Shop “Like a Bull” at $12.95. This wine is ill conceived in every way and deserves to fail.
From Australia, Fifth Leg Old Dog New Tricks Shiraz 2011 is not exactly brand spanking new, but it is at least re-packaged and re-issued, from a vintage that was among the best ever on Australia’s far left coast. It’s a more refreshing, slimmer take on Aussie shiraz, but nor does it wimp out.
And finally to get you through those long cold February nights there a couple of new ports. Noval Fine Tawny Port offers all kinds of cuddly warmth and complexity in a very smooth, spicy style.
And if you want to dip your toe into the world of aged vintage port without selling the farm, try Sandeman Vau 1997 Vintage Port, available is 375mL at only $11.90. It’s a bit of a barn burner in the alcohol department but the flavours are excellent and long.
VP of Wine
Steve Thurlow will be back next month with new additions and substitutions to the Top 50 Value Picks at the LCBO. In the meantime, remember to check this link before you go value shopping: Top 50 Value Picks at the LCBO