1.Chateau des Charmes Pinot Noir 2015 Estate Grown % Bottled VQA NOTL, +454967, $16.95 LCBO: A nifty young wine, with some forest floor (mushrooms, earth) to complement the red fruit (strawberries are suggested). Estate grown and bottled. Good written notes on the back label are spot on. Just under subtle oaking, with a moderate intensity of medium flavours. Ready to drink now. Cork closure, 13% ABV. Quality/Price rating is 89 points by Dean Tudor of Gothic Epicures.
2.Chateau des Charmes Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2016 VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, $14.95, +81653 LCBO: A consistent wine, year in and year out, my fave Ontario chardonnay at this price point. The label has more info, stressing a lighter body and more fruit finish for 2016 (orchard fruit) with some buttery nuanced complexity from the barrel fermentation, and with a longer finish. Aged in oak for 9 months. The palate is just as rich as previous vintages, but with slightly less alcohol and RS=7 g/L. Cork closure, keep it around for awhile. 13% ABV. Quality/Price rating is 90 points by Dean Tudor of Gothic Epicures.
3.Henry of Pelham Family Estate Chardonnay 2015 VQA Short Hills Bench, $19.95, +268342: slated for Vintages release November 25 [but now available online and at the winery], this bottling continues the tres elegante Burgundian character of earlier years. Some ripeness, pleasant balance of oaking and fruit, integrated style in place, wood integration produces some creaminess in the finish. Overall balance of fruit and wood, vanilla, modest spices. 13.5% ABV, cork closure, BF in 90% French oak (25% new), BA for 8 months. Tasted October 25, 2017. Quality/Price rating is 90 points by Dean Tudor of Gothic Epicures.
4.Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux Brut Blanc 2015 AOP Sud de France, +438838, $19.95 Vintages: from Haute Vallee de l'Aude in Languedoc comes this excellent under $20 Cremant derived from Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, indigenous Mauzac, and Pinot Noir. The nose is textbook white: flower, pepper, honey, green apple, biscuit; the mousse is excellent and full. Long dazzling finish. Hand harvested with disgorged bottles (Cremant). 12.5% ABV. Good comparison with the late lamented Saumur Brut which was delisted by the LCBO in the spring. Quality/Price rating is 91 points by Dean Tudor of Gothic Epicures.
5.Gerard Bertrand Terroir Saint Chinian 2015 +370247, $17.95 Vintages: the last vintage here was 2011 at $1 less. Bertrand has a Terroir series embracing the range of Sud de France wines. Here it is older vines in a schist area of Languedoc, specifically syrah and mourvedre. Expect black fruit all over the place (even black olives, mocha and garrigue). The "f" word comes to mind: full, fat, fleshy, fabulous at this price. One third of the wine is aged for nine months in barrel, the rest matured in vats and then blended before bottling. 14% ABV. Quality/Price rating is 90 points by Dean Tudor of Gothic Epicures.
6.Cloudline Pinot Noir 2015 Willamette Valley Oregon +159970 $26.95 Vintages: Domaine Drouhin introduced the Cloudline label in 2002. It proved a very popular alternative to its more showy siblings, and serves as a second label for the Domaine. Certainly it is very affordable. Lots of approachability with its fruit forward elegance. Earthy with "black and blue" fruit tones. Nutty with mocha nuances. 13.5% ABV. For travellers to Quebec, the 2016 is now at SAQ. The back label of this 2015 sample bottle was entirely in French...Quality/Price rating is 89 points by Dean Tudor of Gothic Epicures.
7.Luigi Bosca Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Mendoza, +128629, $19.95 Vintages: black fruit dominates this substantial wine. Made from older vines (50 years old). Ageing in new French oak barrels for a year, still needs time to resolve despite 4.5 years of age. 14.1% ABV, a hefty thick wine that dominates. Best for carnivores? You decide. Quality/Price rating is 90 points by Dean Tudor of Gothic Epicures.
8.Fess Parker Pinot Noir 2014 Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley +209858 November 25 Vintages, $64.95: lots of bright red fruit such as raspberries and strawbs, with spicy-toast woodsy points and some vanilla and pepper, finishing off at 12 months in 1/3 new French oak. Definitely the "f" word: fruit forward, fat, fleshy, French oak, from the F Block of 18 year old vines. A whopping 14.1% ABV may still need to be tamed despite its quaffability. Juicy-jammy California wine all the way. Quality/Price rating is 91 points by Dean Tudor of Gothic Epicures.
9.Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Dundee Hills 2014 Oregon +961284 $52.95 Vintages November 25: both black and red fruits are in play here, with clear definitions of black cherry, plum, dark cherry, black berry, and a Burgundian balanced sensibility with some earthiness. Long fat finish, capable of a decade or more in aging. Gravity flow, French oak barrels. 14.1% ABV but no hot finish. Quality/Price rating is 92 points by Dean Tudor of Gothic Epicures.
10.Vinha do Cais Ribeira Douro Reserva 2014 +523639 Vintages $13.95: a fine wine from the vineyards of Barao de Vilar in the hills of Douro Superior. The red blend contains tourigas nacional/franca/barroca plus tinta roriz. The wine is named after one of the top 31 streets in the world for walking (Conde Nast). The wine is a little dense right now and needs to open up, despite three years in bottle: I did a double decant over three days and – bingo – great fruit, soft aromas, fat/fleshy/fresh/fruity flavours, at a marvelous price. 13.5% ABV. Quality/Price rating is 91 points by Dean Tudor of Gothic Epicures.
11.Maynard's Port Wine Encyclopedia, Vol. III, $49.95, +516963 LCBO Gift Purchase:
this is a great introduction for tasting port, a sort-of tutorial. And very useful for a Christmas gift in that price range (it is actually five dollars cheaper than last year's vol. II). Here are six of the Van Zeller family's Barão de Vilar's fine Ports for this sampling set. They have been in the business of port for 16 generations (since 1652); the LBV concept was originated by them in 1954. The six tubes are 60 mL each: 12 ounces in total. Just perfect for 2 – 3 persons, say about $18 each, for that educational experience and fun. There are notes on the inside of the box (which looks like a book), and if you want more, there is always Wikipedia. The first three may not seem much like a bargain (white, ruby, tawny) but the latter three are bargains in this context (reserve tawny [10-20 yrs, 40-year old tawnies, plus a Colheita 2006 single vineyard). There are tasting notes provided (the tawnies regularly get over 90 points or gold medals just about everywhere) as well as suggested pairings with food. Unfortunately, the food pairings are difficult since the quantity of wine is so small: by the time a couple have tasted and enjoyed the ports, there is little left but the aromas. But it is worth a shot if you go at it alone. One suggestion: the package will cost a bit more, but it may be appropriate to just keep the ports on the dark side by dropping the white port and adding a 20 year old or LBV in addition to the Colheita, a sort-of comparison with all the tawnies. White ports are about $17 a full bottle, but Colheitas are twice that. My fave, of course, was the 40-year old tawny, with its complicated nose, nuttiness, and dried fruit tones on the palate. Kudos all round, better than volume II. Quality/Price rating of the package is 92 points by Dean Tudor of Gothic Epicures.
12.Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay 2016 California, +369686 Vintages Essentials $19.95: a killer wine winner in the USA since 1982, the KJC is now at Vintages Essentials, although given that the brand is sixth in US sales by dollar values (sells for $12.10USD on average) and should be selling equally well here in Canada, it ought to be a General List wine. This month (Nov 5 – Nov 25) it is also an LTO with $2 off each bottle (=$17.95). Time to load up, for it's been 95% barrel-fermented and exploits a creamy palate and finish. All chardonnay from Monterey (47%), Santa Barbara (30%), Mendocino (22%) and Sonoma (1%) is done up sur lie and aged five months in older French and US oak with 11% of it new. Good integration of off-dry tropical flavours on the mid-palate with vanilla and cream, followed by slight oak nuances in the finish. A key example of a winemaker's wine blend: consistent from year to year. With a plastic cork there is no need to store – drink as you buy. Quality/Price rating is 88 points by Dean Tudor of Gothic Epicures.