While merchants know the holiday season means shoppers are more inclined to spend, these picks are proof that a lower price doesn’t mean lesser quality
Feeling festive yet? Your local wine merchant hopes so. We’re into that bustling stretch when stores stock up on splurge-worthy offerings. The spirit of grand gestures hangs in the air. Fat wallets will be on the prowl, and visions of plummy holiday profits dance in the heads of liquor-board executives.
In recent weeks I sampled many newly released wines priced well north of $100. Not surprisingly, most were excellent. Are they worth the money? If you have to ask, I suppose your answer is no. But let me offer some crude math that I find instructive and heartening. Several wines that I also previewed – side-by-side with the trophy bottles – were pretty tasty, too, yet they cost half the money or much less. That’s wine for you. You don’t always get what you pay for, unless you’re paying for rarity and bragging rights.
So, I’m leading off with a few exemplary heavy hitters for the Porsche owners and real-estate tycoons among you. But for the sake of variety, and for wallets as thin as mine, I offer several selections in the lower double digits. I don’t know about you, but saving money always puts me in a festive mood.
Dominus 2012, California
SCORE: 96 PRICE: $318
This is the cult Napa red made by Christian Moueix, the French winemaker who oversees production at, among other estates, famed Château Petrus in Bordeaux. So, a genuflection may be in order. Full-bodied yet not in that often-thick Napa way, it sits high in the palate, offering notes of currant, cedar, spicebox, minerals and fine-grained tannins. It’s one for the cellar, to be sure. I’d like to taste it again in about 15 or 20 years. Available online in Ontario at www.vintagesshoponline.com, scarce quantities in British Columbia at $339.99, $317 in Quebec.
Shafer One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, California
SCORE: 95 PRICE: $139.95
Big, succulent and ripe, with layers of cassis, chocolate and raspberry that give way to an intriguing savoury-earthy essence suggesting tobacco, cedar, charred wood and spices. Remarkably, it hides its 15.3-per-cent alcohol well. Marvellous. Drink it now or cellar for up to 20 years. Available in Ontario at the above price, $130 in Quebec.
Sassicaia 2013, Italy
SCORE: 95 PRICE: $212.95
Arguably Tuscany’s most iconic red, Sassicaia has had both great and not-so-great vintages over the years. I’d place this in the former category. Elegance rather than show-stopping weight has always been the aim at this estate, and that quality comes through here. Sweet, aromatic cherry is joined by baking spices, leather and tobacco. There’s a dried-foliage, evolved character coming through as well, and that’s nice. A subtle, connoisseur’s red, to be sure. Lovely now, it should evolve gracefully for a decade or more. Available in Ontario at the above price, $206.75 in Quebec.
D’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz 2012, Australia
SCORE: 94 PRICE: $54.95
One of Australia’s most coveted reds. Full-bodied, rich and chewy, with gummy blackberry and blueberry fruit backed by a peppery kick and juicy acidity. There’s a welcome chalky grip for structure, too. Drink now or hold for up to 15 years. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $59.78 in Manitoba, $50 in Quebec.
Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2015, New Zealand
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $24.95
Lean and complex in a come-hither-and-I’ll-tell-you-secrets way. This is top-drawer Marlborough sauvignon blanc, with a flinty essence wafting over gooseberry, grapefruit, lemongrass and hay notes. Silky yet simultaneously tight and crisp. Available in Ontario at the above price, $29.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $27.05 in Quebec, $31.28 in Nova Scotia.
Domaines Schlumberger Kessler Riesling 2012, France
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $27.95
A high-end, grand cru dry riesling from Alsace, a region that excels with this noble white grape. Medium-bodied and fleshy, it comes across with nuances of apricot, tea and lime zest. And if you want to experience the true, textbook essence of what wine connoisseurs describe as minerality, give it a whirl. Available in Ontario at the above price, limited quantities at $29.60 in Quebec.
Stratus Red 2012, Ontario
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $44.20
Stratus’s 2012 Red is a virile, structured blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec and tannat. Niagara’s superior 2012 growing season no doubt helped give the wine a succulent, almost syrupy, dense core of blackberry-like fruit and cassis with a delectable hint of prune. And there are hints of cocoa and underbrush for good measure. Velvety in the middle, it shows sturdy, grainy tannins and is lifted on the finish by a saline-like tang. Decant it now or cellar it for up to seven or eight years. Available in Ontario.
Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2010, Ontario
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $39.95
It comes from a very good year, and the wine, now six years old, has evolved as it should. This top red cuvée from Niagara’s Henry of Pelham displays ample concentration, with notes of cassis, rich dark chocolate and graphite set against chalky, sticky tannins. There’s also a soupçon of leafy maturity peeking through, yet it remains impressively fresh and worthy of at least five more years in the cellar. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $49.95 in Manitoba.
Prevedello Asolo Superiore Extra Dry Prosecco 2015, Italy
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $16.95
Pioneering Toronto restaurateur Franco Prevedello was always exacting when it came to putting food on patron’s tables. He also takes pride when putting his name on a bottle of wine, clearly. He makes this superior bubbly in his hometown of Asolo in northern Italy, and it’s a standout compared with many proseccos in its price range. Delectably creamy and round, it offers up notes of pear and apple, with aromatic floral overtones and perfectly tuned acidity. Available in Ontario.
Xavier 100% Côtes du Rhône 2012, France
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
A dense, ripe style, with sweet, dark, chewy fruit, licorice, provençal herbs and cracked pepper. A crowd-friendly red that should also make the connoisseurs at your table happy. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Château Roc de Levraut 2014, France
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $13.95
Full-bodied, silky and polished before it turns satisfyingly dry. Concentrated and creamy blackberry and plum notes combine with dark-chocolate and espresso flavours and an earthy essence. A big-bargain red Bordeaux. Available in Ontario.