Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Saturday September 1, 2007 Vintages Release

The release to kick off September features Pinot Noir, in all its forms and tastes from a variety of countries. There is also a mini-release of wines from Austria, 5 whites and two reds. I’ll give you the lowdown on the Pinot Noirs, focus your attention on a couple of Austrian’s you gotta try; and then we’ll check out another 18 wines from around the world.

Pinot Noir … We start this report off by looking at the Heartbreak Grape, so named because the grape itself can break, and has broken, the heart of many a grower, a winemaker or a wine drinker. It’s finicky in the field, tough in the cellar and volatile in the glass; but when you get a good one, supposedly, it’s better than sex (or so I have been told). The granddaddy of all places for Pinot is in Burgundy, France, where the world looks for the best and for comparison (i.e.: how does yours stack up next to a Burgundian Pinot?) Some countries don’t even try to measure up, while others continually try to better the best. So let’s start our look t Pinot there …

First up, I’ll hit you with an absolute stunner, if you’re like me it’ll take a lottery win for you to buy one, but what the heck, best I tell you in case it does happen: Bouchard Volnay Caillerets 1er Cru Ancienne Cuvee Carnot 2005 ($86.95 - #43240), every Pinot should be this good; great red fruit driven – cranberry, strawberry, raspberry with sweet nuances of chocolate – fine tannins, wonderful mouthfeel … a hint of earthiness – I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say if you can pick one up do so. Now that we have that stellar Burgundian out of the way its time to move on to ones that are more affordable. Albert Bichot 2005 Pinot Noir Bourgogne Vielles Vignes ($18.95 - #43331) represents good value for a quality Pinot. Raspberry and licorice on the nose; light cedar and red fruit on the palate – this one’s also chillable; if you dare. Finally, from France, somewhere in-between the two above, we have Pierre Labet 2005 Beaune Clos Du Dessus Des Marconnets ($42.95 - #661298) … a delicious and enticing nose of red licorice, cherry and strawberry, followed by bright red fruit in the mouth and fine tannins. There is also that telltale earthiness that seems to be ever-present in good quality Pinot (but just because it’s earthy doesn’t mean it’s good – a little bit of a catch-22 here when it comes to the Heartbreak Grape).

So what is the rest of the world doing with Pinot Noir? First, we check in with New Zealand: Shepherds Ridge Vineyard 2004 Pinot Noir ($24.95 - #586099) – the nose has that telltale earth along with red fruit and cinnamon, the palate is more friendly with strawberry, raspberry fruit and a touch of vanilla from the wood … the lengthy finish ends this one off on a high note. Hotter climates don’t usually do Pinot justice, because it’s a cool climate loving grape; hot climates tend to tone down the earthy and pump up the fruity aspect … California Pinot, like the Kenwood 2005 Pinot Noir ($20.95 - #943225) is plumy and red fruit dominated with some mild earthiness and cedar mixed in for good measure. Good acidity and a hint of tannin round this one off nicely. Who woulda thunk Chile would jump on the Pinot bandwagon with any kind of success; well they have and the nose and taste are just what you’d expect from this hot climate. Cono Sur 2006 Vision Single Vineyard Pinot Noir ($15.95 - #689992) is a jump up in both price and quality from the general list version (though the Cono Sur 2006 Pinot Noir is delicious and great value at $10.10). Cherries and strawberries greet the nose … red fruit and beets in the mouth, smooth and smoky going down. The Bio Bio Valley in Chile has one of the coolest climates in the country, therefore the Pinots are more what you’d expect from classic Pinot at a fraction the price: Porta 2005 Select Reserve Pinot Noir ($15.95 - #38836) has a red fruit and rhubarb nose that conceals those telltale earthy tones, but they’re there. The palate is strawberry and cranberry with an easy-drinking, no-nonsense style … quite tasty and good value.

Austria (Mini-Release) … Austria is a side-feature this release with a total of seven new wines filling the Austrian void on the shelves. In my opinion only two of those wines do the country proud. Dr. Unger 2005 Gruner Veltliner Oberfeld Classic ($19.95 - #951756), a little more expensive than the other Gruner in the release, but if you’re gonna drink Gruner best make it good. Pear aromas dominate the nose, a sweet pear flavour mid-palate and very dry finish. We’ll go from one extreme to the other, Lenz Moser 2004 Prestige Trockenbeernauslese ($19.95 - #729657 – 375ml) is a stunning sweetie: peach, apple, petrol, apricot and sweet maple syrup on the nose with a taste of honeyed apricots and papaya … Prost!

Italy (Sparkling) … I just can’t stay away from those Astis, they’re just so darn good and tasty. Gancia 2005 Modonovo Asti ($15.95 - #46581) a nose of peachy Muscat grapeyness and a peach ginger ale taste; low alcohol (9%) is a trademark of this wine and so is the pleasant finish.

California (White) … High alcohol is back with a vengeance in both reds and whites. Last release it was a 15.5% red, this release check out the 14.3% in the St. Francis 2005 Chardonnay ($22.95 - #317131) – banana, peach and mango are there on the nose with tropical fruit and a touch of oak on the palate … the alcohol is hardly noticeable on either the nose or taste, so watch out.

California (Red) … Speaking of watching out, the Duckhorn Vineyards 2005 Decoy ($41.95 - #41343) is mucho pesos, but yummy. Black cherry, chocolate and pepper aromas give way to sweet red fruit, vanilla and chocolate in the mouth. Fans of Zinfandel are gonna love Zig Zag Zin 2004 ($19.95 - #39982) with its rum, plum and cherry cola nose; plumy, jammy with hints of strawberry and a cola-like finish … crowd pleasing and very enjoyable.

Argentina (White) … Argentinean wine is cheap, excuse me, inexpensive, and worth it; they are turning themselves into a value-region for both reds and whites. This Lurton 2006 Chardonnay Reserva ($13.95 - #591743) has soft butter and tropical nuances on the nose, mango, pineapple rind and some butter in the mouth – quite delicious and well worth the price.

Argentina (Red) … As mentioned, there are plenty of value wines coming out of Argentina, you might not feel that $19.95 is a value-priced wine, but considering the Kaiken 2005 Ultra Malbec (#50849) can sit around in the cellar for the next 5-7 years - by 2012 this wine is gonna look like a steal. Woody, oaky, coffee, licorice and black fruit are all in the nose; while black fruit, black licorice and a mouth-drying tannin backbone hold this wine up for the long haul.

Chile (Red) … These days I see the prices of Chilean wine starting to run the price gamut – some bottles are excellent value (see the Pinot Noir from Porta in this report) while others are tasty but pricey. Gran Araucano 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($32.95 - #675579) falls into the latter category. Lush chocolate and sweet red fruit smoothness with vanilla and cinnamon undertones – and there’s some sweet cherries hiding in there too.

New Zealand (White) … Tired of Sauvignon Blanc yet? Some folks are starting to feel that way, but with the racy, zingy, grapefruit and lemon freshness of this Matua Shingle Peak 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($17.95 - #32854) with it’s hit of fresh mowed lawn and a taste of pink grapefruit, hay and grass – this is perfect savvy b. at an affordable price … the long lemony finish also helps.Germany (White) … Here’s something special for you aged Riesling fans – a Riesling you don’t have to sit on to get those great petrol aromas and flavours because Schloss Schonborn has sat on it for you. Their 1997 Riesling Spatlese ($23.95 - #43349) is heavy on the petrol aromas; in the mouth it’s an absolute taste treat with apples, peaches, honey, petrol, hints of floral, good sweetness and an incredible length.

Australia (Red) … Australia is always good for a couple of reds to recommend in each release. This time it’s the Pretty Sally Estate 2004 Shiraz ($29.95 - #37176) with its full-on white pepper nose and its strawberry, chocolate and sprinkling of white pepper flavours … interesting. But for my money ($25.95 of it at least) Torbreck 2005 Woodcutter’s Shiraz (#927533) is a real winner worth picking up. One of my favourites from last year, winemaker David Powell ups the ante with his 2005 version. The nose is blueberry, blackberry, sweet cherry and pepper. The mouth is just as expressive with cherry, licorice, strawberry and spice. The finish is lengthy and full of black cherries, a keeper for another 5 years at least. And with Parker doling out the 90’s to this winery like a sailor on shore leave looking for a good time gal you know it’s gonna fly off the shelves, so get in line early.

France (Red) … The Rhone brings us another delicious wine, this one made from 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. Les Vins de Vienne Visan la Tine 2005 ($26.95 - #33837) – a seriously sweet red fruit smelling nose leads to flavours of cherries and plums with good acidity and drying tannins in the finish.

Italy (Red) … I’m a big fan of Valpolicella – all kinds of Valpolicella. And Valpol comes in three basic levels as far as I am concerned: beginner (Valpolicella); intermediate (Ripasso) and advanced (Amarone) … this release features an intermediate and advanced expression of this wine. Luigi Righetti Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso 2005 ($17.95 - #575787) a nose of sweet fruit and spice leads to a more complex palate with cinnamon, black fruit, peppers, raisinniness, spiciness, some oak and fine tannins. A wine that should hold for the next few years. The advanced candidate is the Speri Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2003 ($62.95 - #38950) – a bruiser of a wine (alcohol 15%) … a deep nose of cherry, raisin, brown sugar, raspberry syrup and blueberry … the palate follows suit along with rum and raisin nuances.

Portugal (Red) … For $18.95 you can pick up Sogrape Callabriga Vinho Tinto 2004 (#43635) a delicious wine brimming with white pepper, blueberry, spice, vanilla, cola, black and red fruit … a little stewed fruit on the palate joins all the above – smooth, yet with good acidity and tannins to keep it drinking well for another few years.

Spain (Red) … Our final stop on our tour of the world of wine is Spain. Torrederos Tinto Crianza 2001 ($18.95 - #40808) has plums, blackberries, white pepper, licorice, spice and nutmeg. The finish is smooth and elegant with a bit of chocolate and tannin. A buck less and a few flavours short, but still nice, is the Valle de Salinas Crianza ($17.95 - #664763) – currants and black fruit make up the majority of the nose; ripe strawberry, oak and spice dominate the palate; a good tannin structure finishes it off.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Saturday August 18, 2007 Vintages Release

Whoa Nelly, look out, it’s the annual Chilean wine release at Vintages; the time of year when I can literally hear my wallet groan as I see how wide I can open it trying to pull out every last bill. Chile is my go to country for value for quality wines … this year there are some wines that rise well above the twenty dollar mark, which signals to me that Chile knows their wines are under-priced for the value we’ve been getting; they’re also realizing that they can raise those prices to match the quality; makes me wonder how much longer we’ll be seeing those great values and referring to Chile as a value-destination at the LCBO. But for now it’s time to open your wallet and prepare to be amazed at what $15 or less will get you.

Chile (White) … Chile reminds me of Joe Cocker. Joe has a way of covering songs that are familiar to you, yet somehow he manages to make them his own (think A Little Help From My Friends or You Can Leave Your Hat On). Chile is the Joe Coker of the wine world – they take other country’s styles and mimic them to the point where they either make them their own or improve upon them. Take the Veramonte 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva ($13.95 - #602649) – the nose is lifted straight from New Zealand savvy b’s: grassy, grapefruit and gooseberry – heavy on the citrus; yet the taste is grapefruit and hay, which softens the citrusy notes and leaves room for a nice long finish. Casa Lapostelle 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($13.95 - #396994) is soft on grassy with hints of lemony freshness on the nose, while the taste is mainly orange blossom, clean, light on acidity and is quite simply an easy summertime sipper. It seems that everyone is interested in making wine in Chile: California’s renowned Kendall-Jackson has sunk a few dollars here and opened Calina; their 2006 Chardonnay Reserva ($15.95 - #640912) is easy drinking with tropical fruit, pineapple and lemon – with a good lengthy finish. Very Nice.

Chile (Red) … Get out the calculator this is gonna cost you. If you’re a fan of Chilean reds I’ve picked out five that I think are good value and good representation of their varietal. Chilean Merlot is where I cut my teeth on reds, so I have a soft spot for them. At $13.95 you can’t beat the Anakena 2005 Reserva Merlot (#37960) with it’s pepper, red fruit and chocolate aromas … they follow through on the palate adding dusty tannins that have a tendency to dry out the mouth; there’s some ageability here and at under fourteen bucks it’s a steal; pick up a couple at least. Cono Sur 2006 Vision Merlot ($17.95 - #928291) is what I’ve come to expect from Chilean Merlot. Great colour, smooth flavours (coffee, red fruit and sweet oak) … this is exactly what Chilean Merlot should be. The straight Cabernet Sauvignons being released this time out are pricey and/or just not worth it, but Chile does so many other grapes well that you don’t have to focus strictly on Bordeaux varietals. Check out the Chocolan 2004 Syrah Reserve ($14.95 - #38513) with its peppery, red fruit spiciness and easy drinking style, this one’s smooth and delicious, more Shiraz than Syrah, but who’s keeping score of that anymore. Awhile back, Chile realized they were growing Carmenere right alongside their Merlot and that’s why their Merlots weren’t as smooth as they could be (Carmenere ripens later than Merlot, so when they were harvested and made together they left the wines with green unripe flavours). Since that realization Chile started harvesting the Merlot and Carmenere at different times and figured they would turn Carm into their signature grape – in the way Sauvignon Blanc was New Zealand and Shiraz was Australian. They’re still experimenting with it, trying to get it just right and some producers are getting the hang of dealing with this grape. In Situ 2004 Winemaker’s Selection Carmenere ($13.95 - #37952) has a great spicy-vanilla and cinnamon nose that follows through in the mouth along with some black fruit on the tongue and a red fruit finish. My notes say “wow” – hope yours do too. And it’s not just straight varietals that the Chileans are working well with; why not try an interesting and tasty blend from Montgras, 2005 Quatro Reserva ($13.95 - #50641). This is a wine made from 4 grapes, is firm with black fruit, vanilla, cinnamon and a touch of mint in the background. An oaky finish rounds this one off, and don’t forget the chocolate that flows through on the palate. Even after you’ve paid for it at that price you’ll feel like you stole it – so buy a few, it’s a good feeling.

And now it’s on with the rest of the show:

California (White) … A nutty, oaky, vanilla infused nose along with almonds, pineapple, mixed greens and buttered toffee make this offering from the Gallo Family – their 2004 Laguna Vineyard Chardonnay ($29.95 - #544981) a delicious high alcohol (14.5%) treat.

California (Red) … Speaking of high alcohol, Newton Vineyard 2004 Napa Valley Claret ($30.95 - #37994) is one of those wines you just have to respect; a high octane (15.5%) blend of Merlot (56%), Sauv (25%), Petit Verdot (9%), Syrah (8%) and Franc (2%) – chocolate and plum dominate with elegant finesse not usually seen in a wine with this kind of alcohol heat … goes down so easy that you’ll be surprise at the biting headache you have the next morning.

Argentina (White) … Grape varieties don’t get much more rare around these parts (I mean Ontario) than Torrontes, and wines don’t come around this deliciously enjoyable and at such a reasonable price often either: this Alta Vista 2006 Premium Torrontes ($12.95 - #37127) is cheap as chips and pretty much just as tasty. A rose petalish sweet nose gives way to apples, floral notes and rose petal tones in the mouth – more Gewurztraminer-like than anything (if you’re looking for a comparison). Pears and kiwi also show up on the palate – making this an extraordinary value in a patio sipper for the summer. The pleasantly long finish makes its value seem even more of a winner.

Argentina (Red) … Malbec is to Argentina what Carmenere is to Chile (i.e.: signature grape variety). The Trivento 2005 Reserve Malbec ($12.95 - #974469) is a perfect example of the wine and provides yet another reason for the Argentinean love for red meats. Red fruit and spicy flavours, good mouthfeel (almost creamy upon entry) and unpretentious. Excellent value.

Australia (White) … This release seems to be filled with high alcohol wines; the Olsen Wines 2004 Big Fella Chardonnay ($21.95 - #34884) is well named. It’s a wine for those who love their Chardonnays heavily staved – solid wood nose and taste with no subtlety what so ever, except for maybe a little vanilla. You’ll be glad to know that there is some tropical fruit in this one; but it doesn’t appear till the very end. Hold onto this one and allow it to integrate … should be delicious in a few years.

Australia (Red) … The Aussies took Shiraz/Viognier blends from the French and adopted it as their own … considering the Aussies could mention the blend on the label and the Francaises could not makes it look like the idea originated in Oz. The Six Foot Six 2004 Shiraz/Viognier ($17.95 - #41244) is an excellent example of how Australia has absconded with this blend and made it their own. The interesting story behind his wine only makes it more interesting.

New Zealand (White) … Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say New Zealand? Most will respond with Sauvignon Blanc, so a tasty Chardonnay should come as a bit of a surprise to many; but the producer should not. Kim Crawford 2006 Unoaked Chardonnay ($19.95 - #991950) is loaded with pineapple, tropical fruit and banana peel on the nose; tropical fruit, kiwi and lemon-lime on the palate. There’s an apparent sweetness on the finish, but it’s mainly due to good fruit characteristics and a steady seam of acidity. Pay attention to that great lingering finish. If Dire Straits had been Kiwis they might have sung “I want my Sa V B” … and you get another dandy in this release: Te Kairanga 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($21.95 - #32805). Not at all typical of the Savvy B’s that come out of this part of the world; good sweet fruit like passionfruit and golden plums along with good clean acidity, floral notes, orange blossom, grass, hay and cat’s pee in the mouth (I’d never let my cat do it but we let the Kiwis, go figure).

France (White) … From the Rhone comes Chateau de Nages 2003 Blanc Cuvee Joseph Torres ($21.95 - #912386) with its vanilla and honey cake nose along with some soft oak, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla – lushness in the mouth with an unstoppable finish … not bad for a wine made from 100% Rousanne grapes.

France (Red) … Out of 12 French reds being released none seemed to grab my attention until I got to the Midi and Rhone regions, then suddenly my tastebuds came alive and the French could do no wrong. Chateau Paul Mas 2005 Clos Des Mures ($18.95 - #642546) livened me up with blackberries, cherries and spicy oak … rich tannins with blackberries and currants in the mouth, this should last a few years in the cellar. Domaine Le Haute Marone Gigondas 2004 ($26.95 - #33845) has ripe, bright cherries and cranberries on the nose with a dry mouth finish and the same fruit as found on the nose … quite good if a bit pricey – but definitely cellar worthy. Finally, easy drinking never tasted so good as Les Deux Anges 2006 Sablet ($17.95 – #674069); soft red fruit, cherries, pepper and spice in a Beaujolais style that’s built for summertime ease. Serve either chilled or at room temp – this one is beautiful.

Italy (Red) … Wine nuts love bottles. A bottle can tell you a lot about a producer: what they think about their wine and the care they put into making it. A good heavyweight bottle goes a long way to telling the consumer “we care”. Umberto Cesari 2003 Liano Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon ($32.95 - #660530) comes in a ‘we care’ bottle and proves it. Good fruit on the nose with plums, black cherry, chocolate and some tannin heft; this one screams out “Stop BBQing and feed me already.” Don’t like shelling out $33 for a bottle, try Mazzei Belguardo Serrata 2004 ($21.95 - #594887) – the nose is very inviting while the mouth stays closed – for the moment. Sweet scents that are jammy and peppery with spice, blackberries, currants and black pepper. Rich in the mouth with dusty-dry tannins … decant, open early or lie it down – this one’s will reward, especially at that price. Something to drink now would be nice, and the Apollonio Salice Salentino Rossa 2001 ($16.95 – #45807) fits the bill. Already 6 years old this red is quite consumable with whatever you throw on the grill. Blackberries, licorice, raisins and plums greet the nose; while black currants, plums and cinnamon stick kicks around in the mouth … some good tannin structure proves it will survive another few years, if you want to let it hang around.

Portugal (Red) … Quinta De Ventozelo 2003 Touriga Nacional Tinto ($19.95 - #657452) is a wine for those who dig port. Touriga Nacional is one of the grape varieties that goes into port, so the flavour profile only makes sense. You’ll find black fruits all the way through, both nose and taste with port-like flavours of raisins, plums, chocolate and cherries. This one’s delicious, decently priced and could age a few more years. I really liked this one.

And for dessert … Depending how you like your dessert – dry or sweet. Sherry drinkers should jump at another chance to buy Gonzalez Byass Nutty Solera Oloroso ($12.95 - #35204) not only is it a bargain, but very tasty, and this is coming from a non-Sherry drinker. The nose is rich with almond, raisin and marmalade smells. While the ‘nutty’ from the name follows through in the mouth: walnuts, almonds, cinnamon and orange marmalade with a bit of peel. Its medium-dryness keeps this one from being bitter. Finally, some euphoria from France: Euphoric Muscat De Rivesaltes ($21.95 - #40618) a tasty little gem that has grapiness and pears on the nose; and in the mouth sweet white grape juice with a splash of lemony freshness.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Saturday August 4, 2007 Vintages Release

This time out Vintages is taking us to Spain – or, more appropriately, they’re bringing Spain to us, with a selection of Spanish reds, whites, sparkling and dessert wines. Of course a trip through the wines of Spain must include Sherry, and there are two in this release; but I am going to forego the Sherries and instead focus in on some of the amazing dessert wines being offered. I’ll start with the aperitif (sparkling), move to the whites then reds and finish off with the sweet stuff – then I’ll move on to the other 19 wines from around the world that are worthy of your hard earned cash.

To me Spain has always been a good value region for wine … their price points have always been phenomenal for what you get; and they have a system in place where “reserve” wines are actually reserve: in this release alone you’ll find wines from as early as 1998 some 2002 and a number of 2003, and many for well under thirty bucks – so let’s get right to it.

Spain (Sparkling) … The only sparkler in this release, Segura Viudas Lavit 2003 Brut Natura Cava ($14.95 - #277269) is fresh and lively with an almost sweet-like fruit palate and dry pleasant finish. This is a perfect orange juice mixer for those lazy Sunday mornings or on its own later in the evening.

Spain (White) … With 6 whites to chose from in this release, and some that look very interesting, including a 1996, which remains fresh even 11 years on, the real Spanish treasure is Martin Codax 2006 Burgans Albarino ($17.95 - #945063) … made from the Albarino grape. The problem with some old world wines is even when they put the grape on the label you don’t recognize it. One look at this bottle and you’ll want to shy away from it, as the label is probably one of the cheesiest I’ve seen in a long time – but forget the outside and concentrate on what’s IN the bottle. The nose has wonderful upfront peach and apple aromas – and those flavours follow right through on the tasty palate with a good long finish. I’d say it’s a must try, even if it’s just to say you’ve had a wine made from Albarino.

Spain (Red) … Out of the 17 reds being offered up this release I’ve managed to cull it down to my top five “value for taste” selections, and one that’s bubbling under. Let’s start off with my surprise of the release: Cellar Pino Sacra Natura 2005 ($21.95 - #30171) … a surprise because usually I shy away from organic wines – and to say this is the best organic wine I’ve ever tired doesn’t say much about the wine; but considering I was ready to recommend it before I knew it was organic is saying something. Simple, easy drinking, dusty tannins with good red fruit throughout. Next up, the Emina Vinho Rojo ($18.95 - #993220) is from one of those up-and-coming regions, so now’s a good time to get on the bandwagon before there’s no more room to squeeze yourself on. Good plum, blackberry, dark fruit, oak-spiciness and nice integration of tannins – this is one tasty little bugger and the price of Emina won’t make it feel like you’ve been given an enema (that was too easy – couldn’t resist). Here’s one that I thought was worth every penny because it’s tasty now, but has some longevity for the cellar: Finca Sabreno 2003 Crianza ($19.95 - #40360) – pick up a few bottles and try it occasionally over the next 5 years. Julian Chivite 2001 Gran Feudo Vinas Viejas Reserva ($20.95 - #948067) is a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that has been aged 18 months in barrel from a number of old vines (the Temp and Garn at least). Already 6 years old, this wine has staying power to go at least another 6 – where else but Spain could you get a wine of this age and quality for twenty bucks; red fruit, cedar, sweet tobacco notes and some spiciness that makes it great to drink now but given time it’ll smooth out into something even better. From the Vintages Essential library, be sure to check out the Torres Gran Coronas Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva ($18.95 - #36483) – always available and always good value, with its rich tannins, black fruit and drink-now-or-hold-ability for later enjoyment. Finally, from one of, if not the, top producer in Yecla, comes Castano Coleccion 2004 ($22.95 - #35493) – the value for dollar is definitely there as Castano consistently puts out incredibly good wines. Their lower-end (or entry level) wine, Hecula, comes close to selling out the day of release (scant few can be found in the system) and this one should too. Look for a great nose that lures you in, followed by dominant dark fruit tastes.

Spain (Dessert) … The ultimate pleasures in this release are the Spanish treasures called dessert wines. One’s a sweet port-like red; the other is pure Spanish gold. Castano 2004 Dulce Monastrell ($25.95 - #35501) with its port-like nose of plum, chocolate and rich black cherry compote … not as thick as port, but just as delicious. The ultimate dessert tine is the Cellar Pinol 2005 Josefina Pinol Vi Dolc Blanco ($24.95 - #39867) whish is outstanding in both value and taste … and is like nothing you’ve had before. This is truly an “oh no” wine, because it is just so darn tasty you could find yourself drinking the whole bottle very quickly but beware the next morning you might just become a worshiper of porcelain. The packaging is as unique as the wine itself – a 500ml square bottle – inside you’ll smell and taste dates, figs, tropical fruit, apricots, apples, pears and raisins; succulent and devilishly sweet. A long finish lingers in the mouth. Then there’s the analogy to Spanish gold, which comes from the golden-amber colour. If you buy only one bottle this release it should be this one.

But let’s say you wanted something else, not dessert wine, and not from Spain … let’s take a look at those other winemaking countries of the world and see what else is available this fine August Saturday.

France (Sparkling) … It’s from France but it’s not from the Champagne region so it’s called “sparkling wine made in the methode traditionnelle” … this beauty from Alsace: Pierre Sparr Cremant D’Alsace Rosee Brut ($19.95 - #39016) is made from Pinot Noir grapes, is pink and loaded with strawberry, raspberry flavours. This one’s big on fruity and a delight in the heat of summer.

Chile (White) … I’ve always stressed Chilean wines and value – and yet again they deliver. Miguel Torres Santa Digna 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($12.95 - #177444) a savvy b. made in the New Zealand style – all citrus on the nose and palate, a pink grapefruit finish, with good length; all at an excellent price.

Chile (Red) … I think where Chile really delivers is in the red department, not always ageable, but always good value in a drink now style (meaning over the next 3 years or so – though that is starting to change). Two good reds are being released from the same producer: Ramirana … the 2004 Gran Reserve Syrah ($18.95 - #41715) and the 2005 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.95 - #41467). The Syrah has a good nose, but a better taste: chocolate, red fruit, spice, plum and pepper. Good length and smooth. Even better, and worthy of a couple of years in the cellar, is the Cab Sauv. Sweet smell of red fruit and chocolate which follows through on the taste … this ones yummy and very-Chile … if you’re a fan of their reds this is another fine example you’ll love and at $14.95 how can you pass this one up.

Australia (White) … You can go years without seeing a Verdelho come through the LCBO and in this release we see two, both from Australia no less. It’s worth checking out the First Creek 2006 Verdelho ($16.95 - #37358) over the other guy’s … good apple and pear nose with pineapple, tropical fruit, orange blossom on the palate and a good clean finish. This release also sees one of my favourite Australian producers, Nepenthe, come out with their 2005 Tryst Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon ($15.95 - #39115). Parker gave it a 91, which will be enough for some people; the nose is fresh and lively with bunches of citrus as the taste shakes hands with your tongue in a friendly grapefruit, lime way; the taste can appear sweet, but that’s due to the good balance of acidity and fruitiness. This is tasty and great for summer sipping right now.

Australia (Red) … As with the whites there are two good Australian reds in this release. Juniper Crossing 2003 Shiraz ($18.95 - #34231) is as easy as Sunday morning … typical Aussie Shiraz with its fruit-bomb nature and sit around the BBQ friendliness. For a little more longevity you’ll want to pick up the Magpie Estates 2005 The Fakir Grenache ($21.95 - #39644) – rich jammy red fruit with some black cherry and blackberry … the pleasant tannins and acidity should bring this wine through the next few BBQ seasons.

Germany (White) … You know I’m not lying when I say Riesling is the perfect summer wine, and it can be made so many ways: puckeringly dry or syrupy sweet and many ways in-between. The Germans have perfected Riesling in all its ways, and here’s another beauty for sitting in the backyard and sipping while in a hammock or just around the table soaking up some rays. Schloss Schonborn 2004 Riesling Kabinett ($18.95 - #928184) is so tasty and enjoyable … creamy smooth fruit flavours full of apples and pears, a little bit sweet with enough acidity to keep it brisk. I would even sit on it for 5 or more years and let it develop the typical petrol aromas and tastes, right now this one is lovely – and sure to get better.

California (Red) … Beringer 2005 Third Century Pinot Noir ($23.95 - #43786) Pinot Noir is not a wine for everybody’s tastebuds, mostly due to the “earthy” or “dirty” taste the wine imparts on many people. New World Pinot from hot climates foregoes the earthiness for more fruity flavours, making Pinot more accessible to the masses. This is one of those. Rich and fruity, easy drinking with stewed fruit characteristics. There is still a touch of earthy, but it is far from prominent. Good flavours of strawberry and black cherry with good length and a fresh fruity finish should make this an easy recommendation especially for those who don’t like Pinot as a rule. More typical California wine comes in the form of Toasted Head 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95 - #686824); red and black fruit, a touch of white pepper on the nose while through the mouth there’s lots of good red fruit dominant flavours. Delicious, easy drinking and everything you’d expect from a Cali-Cab, but at a reasonable price.

South Africa (Red) … My one complaint against many South African wines is that typical tarry-leathery nose and taste, most people have smelt, or tasted, it and wondered “what the heck is that” as they gag the wine down. It’s here in this Swartland Winery 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot ($15.95 - #37580) with “Serengeti” written on the label, but this one doesn’t end that way. The finish is surprisingly smooth and fruity and makes up for the harsh beginning – luckily the harsh beginning also mellow with some time open and aeration. Great BBQ companion for now and over the next few years.

France (Red) … From Bordeaux comes this 2003 Chateau Coucy ($28.95 - #46516) something to drink now or hold for the next few years … oaky dusty tannins with plenty of dark fruit flavours. And from the Rhone we have a whale of a wine in the Cellier de Marrenon 2004 Orca III ($18.95 - #33886), red fruit and supple strawberry flavours with some short-term cellar-ability, say up to 3 years.

Italy (Red) … Last, but not least, a couple of Italian wines make the grade in this release. A Tuscan red, Colognole 2003 Chianti Rufina ($16.95 - #974501) strawberry, plum and pepper with good follow thru and some ripe tannins … good price and something to age 5 years with excellent results. And then we have the Soprano special from Sicily – Mazzei 2005 Zisola ($24.95 - #30080) with the big purple fingerprint on the label (all they need is the mug shot on the back label). Sweet in the mouth with lots of red fruit, licorice, vanilla and cherry – a yummy wine that’s been receiving good accolades - an easy recommendation.