Drinking well for less – Sault Ste. Marie News

As we barrel into winter and close in on the year-end festivities, I am acutely aware of the temptations merchants put before us. While the LCBO is encouraging us to treat ourselves and to be generous in our gifting, it is a lot of pressure when we find ourselves beset with inflation, and everything costing significantly more. 

Maybe it’s time to step back and recognize that, when it comes to wine, there are good values at every price point, and even more important, good wines that are fairly inexpensive. 

Over the summer, the LCBO was awash with Rosés; they still populate a lot of shelf space, but we are starting to see them put on clearance, and that means about a 20 per cent drop in price. The fact is, Rosés are not just for warm weather sipping. Lighter ones can readily be substituted for white wines, while those with more complexity and flavour can work with dishes where a lighter red with good acidity is usually enjoyed.  

Mas des Bressades Cuvée Tradition Rosé is a good example of one with more oomph. The LCBO says that “this one is characterful, vibrant, and filled with generous strawberry, cranberry, raspberry, herbs and garrigue” – garrigue being the impact of wild herbs such as rosemary when resins get caught up in the winds and brush onto grapes on the vine. Originally $16.95, it is now $13.70.  

The catch, however, is you would have to order it online. That is not a big problem. When you place an order, though, have your cell phone handy, as they will send you a code which you have to enter to complete the sale. Spend $50, and shipping to a nearby LCBO store is free. I have found that orders come fairly quickly, though it may get a little jammed up at this time of year.  

There are other wines that are also worth ordering, and so reaching $50 won’t be difficult –and you don’t have to drink them all at once! 

S de la Sablette-Coteaux Varois Rosé, is down from $16.20 and sells for $12.65. It is lighter in style, clean and crisp with impressions of cranberry raspberry and citrus. It, too, needs to be ordered in. You can order as few as one bottle of a wine, and combine different wines together to reach the $50 threshold.  

Currently, on the shelves, you can find Radio Boka Rosé from Spain at $8.45 and La Vielle Ferme Ventoux Rosé from France at $12.95. The former is deeper in colour with a heavier impact, while the latter has more finesse. 

There are plenty more Rosés at higher price points, but there, too, you can pick out values. Seek and ye shall find. 

In whites, a wine that regularly appears on American “Best Buy” lists – and which usually retails here for less – is Italy’s Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio, currently $2 off at $12.95. The Wine Enthusiast scored it 88, writing, “this bright white opens with aromas of white spring flower and white stone fruit. On the refreshing palate, crisp acidity accompanies Granny Smith apple, tangy saline and a hint of white almond.” 

In Vintages, from Germany’s Mosel, the Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling 2021 is $2 off through November 27 for $14.95. It is in the traditional sweeter style (43 gm. Sugar per litre) but has that classic acidity on the finish which balances it off perfectly. 

Certain producers have always delivered good value at lower prices. Chile’s Cono Sur is a good example. Their wines, white or red, generally are “true to type”, delivering the character one usually expects with the grape in question. They have an organic Chardonnay at $14.95, and a Viognier for $12.05, In addition, at the Second Line store you can find their Tocornal Sauvignon Blanc in a litre and a half bottle for $15.95 – that’s the equivalent of $8 a regular 750 ml. bottle.  

The Chardonnay will be mellow with golden apple notes with a medium body, and the Viognier – a grape associated with the Rhone in France – has good aromatics of peach and orange blossom, with flavours suggesting nectarine, pineapple and citrus. Both are dry with no more than 5 grams of sugar per litre.  

Just as some producers can be counted on for good inexpensive wines, the same holds true for some countries. Spain, Portugal and Italy are good examples. Portugal has Vinho Verde, a white wine with a bit of spritz on the finish. They are crisp with significant acidity and may be better enjoyed in the summer months. Dry as the impact may be, some carry around 15 grams of sugar per litre – which will take off some of that edge.  

You could compare the Aveleda Vinho Verde, $12.95, with the Quinta da Aveleda, $13.95, which has only three grams of sugar per litre, and see which you prefer. 

In Vintages, from Spain, you can find both the Ontañón Vetiver Viura, $15.95 and the Cuatro Rayas Vendemio Nocturna Verdejo, $13.95

Of Verdejo, a grape rarely seen outside Spain, the Wine Folly site explains, “Verdejo makes subtle-yet-stunning white wines with flavours of lime, Meyer lemon, grapefruit, grass, fennel, and citrus blossom. It’s often likened to Sauvignon Blanc but really, it deserves its own category. Unlike most whites, Verdejo continues to improve over several years of bottle-aging, where it gains a rich texture and flavours of toasted Marcona almonds, supported by sparkly acidity. The bitter flavours of grass and fennel come in on the finish and almost make the wine taste crunchy.” 

The Viura is the typical white grape of the Rioja. The Ontañón is given five months in oak and a further six months of bottle aging prior to its release. Expect a good, rounded texture and impressions of tropical fruit accompanied by a nutty note along with smoke and spice on the crisp finish. 

From Italy, try the Provolo Soave Veneto, $9.90. The writers at winealign.com gave it an 87 and were surprised by its depth, considering the price. Other reviewers really enjoy this bargain. It combines 20 per cent Chardonnay with 80 per cent Garganega, the white grape of the Veneto. Initially, you can experience flavours suggestive of green apple and honeydew melon, but as it opens up, you may also think of pineapple. On the finish, there is a slight impression of salinity and almond.  

At $14.05Fazi Battaglia Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi DOC, has been a mainstay at the LCBO. In its characteristic amphora-shaped bottle, the wine is fresh on the nose, with notes of apple, pear, and a hint of anise. On the palate, a tangy and mineral impact precedes a pleasant almondy finish. 

When it comes to red wines, again there are bargains to be had. I have mentioned Italy’s Fantini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo red wine, a Wine Spectator “Best Buy”. 

The suggested price in the States was $11, while here we pay $9.60. Made from the fruit of vines 25 to 50 years oldthe wine is a deep ruby in colour and has persistent flavours reminiscent of tart cherry and plum with a slight sense of vanilla. It has a satisfying body and balance. A definite winner.  

Fantini also makes a Sangiovese at the same price as well as a Chardonnay and a Pinot Grigio for $9.50 and $10 respectively. 

From Spain, we have the Marqués de Toro Mencia 2020 at $13.95. Referring to the Wine Folly website, we learn that Mencía has aromas suggestive of strawberry, raspberry, black licorice, pomegranate and cherry sauce. It has a deep red colour with subtle hues of violet towards the rim of your glass. On the palate expect peppery flavors of sour cherry, red currant and pomegranate. Where it grows in Spain can add a subtle taste of crushed gravel or granite-like minerality in the texture, which can give it a peppery note. A Spanish wine guide scored this wine 91+ and wrote of “aromas and flavours of earth, fresh and raisined fruit, oak spice, black pepper, underbrush, and dark chocolate.” 

Portugal is a source of many sound, inexpensive reds made from grapes native to the Iberian Peninsula.  From the Duoro region, we have the Vicente Faria Animus$13, a blend of Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo in Spain) and Touriga Nacional. The winery tells us the wine demonstrates a sense of “red fruit, purple plums, cedar and wonderful tannins”. They say it is good for current drinking, and yet can age for another 10 years. Not bad for 13 bucks! 

JP Azeitão Red from the Setubal Peninsula is a blend of Syrah, Castelao and Aragonez (yet another name for Tempranillo.), and is currently $1 off at $8.45 until November 27. (Pretty good when you learn that it is on sale in Newfoundland for $14.18!) It is plush, suggestive of wild berries and strawberries and wild cherries integrated in a soft tannic structure, according to the winery.   

Silk and Spice Red has also made the top 100 Best Buys this year with a score of 90 from the Wine Enthusiast. It blends Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouchet, Baga and Syrah. Tastings.com  observes a “deep purple colour. Aromas and flavours of fleshy red plum, cinnamon, aromatic barks, and orange zest with a round, vibrant, dryish medium body and a smooth, interesting, medium-long finish manifesting notes of black cassis, fennel, and black tea with light oak flavour. An old world red with an alluring array of spicy aromatics.”  

The common theme with these Portuguese reds is that they tend to be primarily blends of native grapes, they are full-flavoured, and they are juicy with soft tannins. Another common element is a higher-than-average level of sugar, which contributes to the softness. The winery for the JP Azeitaõ claims 5.7 grams per litre, but the LCBO’s lab says 9. The Animus has 12, and the Silk and Spice has 17! The wines don’t taste sweet, but the sugar eases the tannins and helps with the harmony. 

Believe it or not, we can find values in the U.S.A. Concannon Pinot Noir is on clearance. Retailing for $21 in B.C. at Everythingwine.ca, it is selling here for $12.85. It is light to medium-bodied, as you might expect with a Pinot Noir (The Queen of Wines!), but it has ample Pinot Noir flavour, with classic cherry and earth notes and a warm spice accent of cinnamon and clove. It is a smooth and supple wine and would be a good accompaniment to roast chicken or baked ham. 

California’s Apothic label, part of the Gallo stable, offers several different reds but they can be fairly high in sugar, in the 14 to 15 grams per litre range; however, the Apothic Dark, $2 off at $14.95, has only 7 grams. Its blend includes Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel and comes across as a dry wine with flavours of plum, blackberry, and blueberry with chocolate and coffee nuances. You will notice medium tannins and a smooth finish.  

There are, of course, many, many good value wines. If you decide to search out any of these, you can also chat with staff in the stores who can aim you towards values that they find appealing, too.  

Back to Collab  

Mark Pistor and Nick Pappas have really been opening things up, thanks to the cooperation of Marynissen Estates Winery. Working with young wine-makers developing their own styles and labels with small-batch production, they are producing some very intriguing wines. They may not be “unique” necessarily, but they are distinctive. 

Divergence is the baby of Jeff Moote, formerly a chemical engineer before turning to winemaking. His 2021 Sauvignon Blanc, $28 underwent both stainless steel and barrel fermentation, with the barrel portion spending five months on the lees. 

This is not at all in the style of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, but instead has a very round and smooth palate and more orchard fruit (peach?) flavours along with citrus towards the end. A classy, nuanced wine. 

Skinny Dipping ‘orange’ wines pursue the practice of fermenting white wines on their skins. Nick Pappas gave his 2021 Gewurztraminer, $19.95, 10 days of skin contact. Again, not a typical “Gewurz” with prominent lychee impressions. Instead, we have a dry, richly textured ‘orange’ wine with orange peel notes. Seven months in stainless steel have allowed for terrific character and extraction. 

These are just two of the fascinating wines evolving from the project. I will fill you in on more at a later date. Visit Collab Wine & Beverages to learn what is available and to make a purchase.