Top Ten LCBO Ontario Wines (November 27, 2006)
One of the ironies of the liquor board system is that you won't find the best Ontario wines on LCBO shelves. You have to go to the wineries or shop on line for home delivery at www.winerytohome.com to get your hands on the really good stuff the wines that people talk about at dinner parties.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, small lots of wine don't find their way into Vintages stores; and second, the wineries make more money by selling the wine out of their own stores.
From time to time you do get some of the top-flight VQA wines coming through Vintages, and there are some gems on the general list, but in the final analysis you're better off driving to Niagara, Lake Erie North Shore, Pelee Island or Prince Edward County and rooting around the winery's own store.
So don't go looking for the Charles Baker Riesling 2005 (made at Stratus), Closson Chase Pinot Noir 2004, Norman Hardie Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, or other Ontario icon wines at LCBO outlets. You can only get them in fancy restaurants or at the winery door.
Having tantalized you with those hard-to-get wines, what is really good that's available through the LCBO, at Vintages or on the general list?
Peninsula Ridge Fumé Blanc 2004 is an oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc currently available at Vintages ($24.95, Vintages #8102). This is the nearest wine I have tasted to a white Graves in Ontario. Winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas makes first-rate Chardonnay too.
Cave Spring Cellars' top-of-the-line wines are bottled under the CSV designation. The Chardonnay and the Riesling are consistently good. Currently available at Vintages is the Cave Spring CSV Chardonnay 2002: Straw colour; minerally, rich, spicy nose, reminiscent of Chassagne-Montrachet; spicy caramel flavour; full-bodied, beautifully balanced toasty flavour with a clovey finish, great length. ($30, Vintages #529941) Angelo Pavan's CSV Riesling 2003 has a bouquet of spring flowers, lime and grapefruit, with lively acidity and a mineral note ($30, Vintages #566026).
Two of the best buys on general release at the LCBO are the two Rieslings made by Vineland Estates. Brian Schmidt's Vineland Estates Riesling Dry 2005 has a minerally grapefruit and lime flavour, very crisp and clean with great length. A real bargain at $12.95 (LCBO #167551). Vineland Estates Semi-Dry Riesling 2005 at the same prince (LCBO #232033) has the same flavour profile but with the added touch of honeyed sweetness. Think the difference between a QbA German Riesling and a Spätlese.
Château des Charmes held back some of its 2002 vintage and have recently released small parcels of wine. Currently at Vintages is Château des Charmes St. David's Bench Merlot 2002 ($24.95, Vintages #453431). This wine could be mistaken for a St. Emilion in a blind tasting (rich blueberry and cedar flavours with good balancing acidity). Château des Charmes has a French take on its whole portfolio, which is not surprising, as Paul Bosc studied winemaking in France and made wine in Algeria before emigrating to Canada.
Meritage is a California-coined term for a Bordeaux-style blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. I tasted Lakeview Cellars Meritage 2002 ($15.95, Vintages #016980) in April 2004 and at that time I found it well made but locked in its tannic shell. With thirty months' more bottle age it has blossomed into a remarkably good wine for the price, with rich blackcurrant and dark chocolate flavours. A real bargain at the price.
There are still some bottles of Jackson-Triggs Proprietor's Grand Reserve Merlot 2002 available at Vintages ($23.95, Vintages #563197). The wine is dense ruby in colour with a nose of cedar, vanilla and blueberries. It's full-bodied, firmly structured with ripe fruit flavours. The tannins give it structure but are mellow and soft.
Pillitteri Estates Vidal Icewine 2004 comes in the 200 mL format as well as the usual 375 mL bottle. The colour is copper-bronze with a spicy, honeyed nose. It's very rich and concentrated with well-balanced tropical fruit flavours kept from being overly sweet by racy acidity. ($25 for 200 mL, Vintages #401448; $34.95 for 375 mL, Vintages #37007.)
Magnotta offers very good value for lovers of Icewine. Magnotta Riesling Icewine 2003 at Vintages sells for $39.95 (Vintages #996421), significantly less than other producers' Riesling Icewine. Its colour is copper-bronze with a nose of dried figs and honey. Full-bodied and generous on the palate, it has a rich flavour of oranges, figs and honey; unctuous with great acidity. It reminded me of a mature Tokaji from Hungary.