The LCBO released a “summer trends” report this week showing what historically have been popular items during the warm months. Not surprisingly, white and rosé wines surge in popularity, and overall all wine sales in general increase by nearly 10% for a total last year of more than $440 million.
Not to be outdone, California reds enjoy the most summer sales in the Vintages section, ostensibly for grill masters looking for a proper pairing with burgers, ribs and steak. This week’s release may see an additional boost to that category as the feature is the historic Judgement of Paris, when California swept the blind tasting back in the 70’s.
We’ve picked a few Cali Cabs we think are worth a sip or two, but the commanding price tags of most of the selection mean that many can’t make it onto this list – we just have a hard time justifying the value.
This week’s Top 20 ranges from $15 – $60, representative of a pretty good range for easy summer sippers through to celebratory bottles when you’re looking to break out the good stuff for anniversaries and graduations.
Jackson Triggs “Entourage” Grand Reserve Brut, VQA Niagara Peninsula, ON 2011
Made in the traditional method with a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this sparkler is bright and fresh but seductively flavourful with lovely citrus and stone fruit with flakey pastry notes. A very generous bubbly that should be front and centre at your upcoming graduation and wedding celebrations, with a price tag that fits a crowd to boot. 90 points.
Cave Spring “CSV” Riesling, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ON 2013
The showcase wine for Cave Spring, coming from the namesake vineyard, there’s a certain poise here, as one would expect of a top tier wine from an iconic Riesling producer. Lime, pink grapefruit and pine fill the nose, while the palate is exciting and energetic with tangerine and all kinds of citrus, along with the ever-present rocky mineral note. That vibrant, pinpoint acidity is tempered by a slight off dry touch for delicious drinking. 89 points.
Fielding Pinot Gris, VQA Niagara Peninsula, ON 2014
The pretty nose of soft stone fruit and talcum powder aromas develops into a lovely palate of creamy peach and melon with vibrant acid boosting the freshness and adding energy. Pair with grilled seafood, summer pastas or prosciutto. 89 points.
Flat Rock Cellars “Unplugged” Chardonnay, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, ON 2014
We fear we’re starting to sound like a broken record with this wine. The Unplugged was last released in February, but is back for another round. Its easy availability works just fine for us as it’s always a top scorer with tangy green apple, citrus and mineral notes combining with a slightly creamy texture and unbeatable price. In fact, this time it was tried next to a Chablis at double the cost with very little distinction between the two. 90 points.
Fielding “Red Conception”, VQA Niagara Peninsula, ON 2013
Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Cab Sauv and Merlot were all vinified separately and then blended for an easy drinking and enjoyable red. A dusty nose of earth, spice, fig and black pepper. Medium bodied on the palate with bright red fruit, licorice, fresh asphalt and spice flavours. Soft tannin and balanced acid. Try this with beef burgers or simply grilled steak. 89 points.
Thirty Bench Red, VQA Niagara Peninsula, ON 2013
A Bordeaux blend that’s a touch heavier in Merlot over Cabs Franc and Sauv, rich, smokey aromas of red and black berries and spice come through on the nose, with flavours of black berry, clay and toasted spice dominate the palate, though there’s lovely hints of herbs lying just underneath. Medium bodied with well integrated tannin, drink this with steak tartar, aged cheese, or rare-grilled meats. 89 points.
Megalomaniac “Pink Slip” Rosé, VQA Niagara Peninsula, ON 2015
Pouring Double Bubble pink, it’s surprisingly earthy on the nose with chalky mineral and cran cherry notes. Vibrant acid offers mouthwatering crispness while flavours of tart rhubarb, sweet strawberry and mineral come through on the palate. 88 points.
Montgras “Antu” Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley 2013
Antu consistently shows great value for money, and here this Cab dresses to impress as well. 2013 was a cooler vintage in Chile and this shows more savoury notes of smoked herbs and toasted spice alongside the black fruit. The palate is smooth and plush with ripe field berry, licorice and spice flavours. 90 points.
Château Magnol, Haut-Mèdoc, Bordeaux 2012
Already turning garnet, the nose shows toast, sweet spice, leather, fig and roast coffee bean. The palate is mid-weight with well integrated tannin and flavours that are leaning more toward leather, smokey, woodsy notes, with a touch of black berry at the core. A nice sipper with roast beef, but don’t hold it for long. 89 points.
Lucashof Forster Elster Riesling Kabinett Feinherb, Gutsabfullung 2014
Don’t let the off dry moniker dissuade you: this is a terrifically energetic and fresh Riesling where the sweetness is cut by the racy acid. Notes of steel, ripe peach and flint come through on the nose and palate with a pleasing apple jelly finish. 89 points.
Fratelli Povero Terre deal Conte Roero Arneis, Piedmont 2014
Arneis is a delicate white grape that’s grown primarily in the Roero region, just north of Alba in Piedmont. It’s slowly making a return to popularity after reaching near extinction in the last few decades. Known for its pretty orchard fruit and fennel notes, this shows a mostly neutral nose of chalk and mineral thought the palate adds faint stone fruit, pear and subtle white floral flavours. Creamy yet delicate this would be a great pairing for seafood risotto or roast chicken.
Pieropan Soave Classico, Veneto 2014
Organically grown from vines up to 60 years old, the wine is then aged on its lees for a year before bottling, giving the finished product a creamy feel. Flavours of poached apple and pear with a tangy citrus finish, try this with grilled scallops in a lemon butter sauce, vegetable quiche or baked ham. 89 points.
Banfi Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany 2010
A perrenial favourite, this inviting red shows aromas of salty meat and ripe dark fruits on the nose, while the palate is plush and smooth with black tea, potpourri and salted licorice notes. 90 points.
Ruffino Ducale “Oro” Riserva Gran Selezione Chianti Classico, Tuscany 2010
Ruffino only makes the Oro in top vintages, and 2010 is considered one of the best of the last 50 years. Mostly Sangiovese (the grape of Chianti), about 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is added to the blend and aged 3 years (a year longer than required by law) in a mix of oak, stainless steel and concrete vats. Licorice, red fruit, clove and brandied cherry come through on the nose with spice and crab-cherry flavours on the palate. Full bodied with fine firm tannins, there’s lots of interest and complexity, if a bit New World with the sweet oaky notes. 90 points.
Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, Tuscany 2010
A creamy palate of toasted spice, leather, dark plummy fruit and woodsy notes. Well integrated tannin and fresh acidity, this offers lots of intrigue and would be dynamite with eggplant Parmesan, grilled ribeye or game ragus. 91 points.
Casual de Ventozela Loureiro, Vinho Verde 2014
Here’s a fun summer sipper at a happy price. Aromas and flavours of tinned fruit cup and even a bit of fresh celery, this is best enjoyed poolside on hot summer days. 88 points.
Heitz Cellar Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California 2014
As far as the heavy hitting, iconic (and really, really expensive) Cali Chards go, this one, at 50 bucks, is a bargain. Bright and fresh with notes of candied apple, kumquat, gooseberry and pineapple pound cake, there’s a terrific balance between richness and elegance. 90 points.
Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California 2013
Pouring dark, inky purple, this is full bodied with chunky, grippy tannin and dark flavours of macerated blackberry, fresh earth, black licorice, peppercorn and spice. This power and firm tannins suggest it would be best to lay down until it’s 5th birthday, but if you can’t wait go for a long decant and pair with rare meats. 90 points.
William Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast, California 2013
This may not have the elite pedigree of Napa, but for our money, this is what will make it to the dinner table. Ripe, sweet red and black berries mixing with mocha on the nose, while the palate is juicy and firm with chunky tannins and loads of sweet ripe fruit. A crowd pleaser with wide appeal. 89 points.
Belle Glos “Oeil de Perdrix” Pinot Noir Blanc Rosé, Sonoma Coast, California 2015
$30 for a rosé is quite the statement of confidence in a market flooded by excellent $15 pink wines. Perhaps riding off the nearly-rabid popularity of the Belle Glos Pinot Noir (red) which has a cult like following, maybe the wine makers are hoping this will follow suit. However, this is quite good, with a mid-weight, structured, creamy palate offering flavours of white cranberry, mineral and yellow grapefruit. 90 points.