Engaging and affordable white wines

"... I present thirteen white wines from around the world that offer elegance, interest and (in some cases) excitement ..."

available from October 1, 2016

Travel in late August and early September forced me to miss the September 17th Vintages release, and limited my tasting opportunities for this release scheduled for October 1. I selfishly took advantage of that limitation, and indulged my preference to review just the white wines, given the limited time.

I want to be a little careful with the term “preference”, for I know that I drink more red than white wine, so it’s not that I necessarily “like” white wine better than red. (Though if you twisted my arm …) But I find that when I taste a broad selection of wine, as I get to do with these releases, there is usually more variation in character among white wines than red wines, and often a higher enjoyability quotient, at least when we are talking about commercially available wines at consumer-friendly prices. This is partly due to the structure of white wines — generally higher in acid and lower in alcohol than reds, and certainly extremely low in tannins, and so much easier to taste and evaluate “en masse”. But it’s also a function of the fact that there is usually less winemaking “makeup” disguising the grapes, so the widely differing character of the grapes is more often allowed to shine through into the glass. If you throw out those still-awful examples of sweet, over-oaked west coast Chardonnays that are happily losing ground, I think you are more likely to find elegance and refinement, as well as more youthful drinkability, than with a collection of similarly priced red wines.

And so here is my selection. I ruled out several really good Merusaults because I wanted to keep the price under $30, with one exception being the Champagne, which is a great relative value. But I ended up with thirteen wines, varying in price from $14.95 to $29.95 (the Champagne is $61.95), that have interest, charm and sometimes excitement.

The roster includes two sparkling wines, a fine Champagne and a very good Cap Classique from South Africa. The table wines include a semi-sweet Chenin Blanc from Côteaux de Layon, three very different expressions of Riesling from Germany, Niagara and Alsace, three diverse Chardonnays from the Okanagan, Chablis, and the Pays d’Oc, and four thrillingly different wines from different regions and grape varieties: an Arneis from the Langhe in Piemonte, a Melon de Bourgogne from Muscadet in the Loire, a Garganega from Soave in Veneto, and a Muscat from Hungary. All in all, an exciting opportunity for Wine Discovery at very affordable prices.



Vintages #439232 • $61.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 92/100
This is a fine Premier Cru vintage Champagne from 2004. It is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from two villages in the Montagne de Reims region. Showing medium straw, with glints of yellow, the nose is complex with lots of freshness — apple, pear and lemon fruit — with hints of white chocolate and caramel, slightly spicy, and a light herbal note on the edge. There is also a hint of bruising to the apple, which shows just a little more on the palate. Acidity is high, the wine is dry and crisp, with the acidity piercing the lightly creamy texture, and carrying freshness through to the crisp, lingering mineral-laden finish. This wears its age very lightly — a real treat.
Tasted Sep 20, 2016 • ALTO VINO (Agent)Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review


AVONDALE ARMILLA BLANC DE BLANC 2009, Méthode Cap Classique, WO Paarl, South Africa

Vintages #451930 • $29.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 90/100
Avondale is an organic grower and winemaker from South Africa, situated on the slopes of the Klein Drakenstein Mountains in Paarl. While I have some familiarity with their table wines, this is my first taste of their sparkling wine — a Cap Classique or traditional method wine. It is straw-yellow in hue. The nose features bright apple and lemon fruit, a hint of bruising on the apple, with brioche and blanched almonds. The wine is just off-dry, richer on the palate than the nose suggests, but the creamy texture doesn't disguise the underlying firm acidity that leads into a crisp and lingering finish. Very well-made (and well-priced) wine.
Tasted Sep 20, 2016 • RARE EARTH WINES (Agent)Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review



Vintages #456129 • $27.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 91/100
Cöteaux du Layon is an AOP in the Anjou area of the Loire valley that produces sweet wines from Chenin Blanc. The wine is medium yellow with highlights of gold. On the nose you will find honey and beeswax, with ripe and fragrant apricot, peach and orange fruit (partly fresh, and part suggesting apricot jam and orange marmalade), and just a hint of ginger and spice that suggests botrytis. The wine is medium sweet (with 56 grams of residual sugar), high acidity that balances the sweetness, and modest alcohol. The palate is complex and nicely textured, with the honey, beeswax and fragrant fruit replaying and lingering into a luscious finish, but always balanced by the firm acidity. We don't see much wine from the Cöteaux du Layon in Ontario, and I highly recommend taking advantage of this opportunity. A fine value indeed.
Tasted Sep 27, 2016 • MRLECAVISTE (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review



Vintages #670752 • $23.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 91/100
This is an excellent Mosel Riesling, selling at a terrific price. The wine is light straw-yellow in hue. A mineral-rubber note (the early stages of Riesling petrol) starts strong, but doesn't hide the perfumed apple, lemon-lime and honey. The wine is semi-sweet, with high underlying acidity that is softened by the residual sugar, allowing the palate to be rich without losing its laser-like focus. The fruit becomes honeyed on the long finish, eventually drying as the acidity and a hint of stony minerality surface and linger. Great value.
Tasted Sep 27, 2016 • WINEONLINE MARKETING COMPANY LTD (Agent)Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review


HENRY OF PELHAM ESTATE RIESLING 2013, VQA Short Hills Bench, Niagara Peninsula

Vintages #557165 • $17.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 89/100
While I have fond memories of several Henry of Pelham Rieslings from the early 2000s that were exhilaratingly austere and dry, they have followed the Niagara trend towards mostly off-dry Rieslings. But as this wine shows, they have done this with some care, and not gone over to the annoying (though sometimes pleasurable) sweet-tart wines that I suspect have little staying power. This wine is a light straw-yellow in hue, with a light note of rubbery mineral on the nose, followed by rich, waxy, honeyed notes, perfumed red apples and lemon-lime. It is off-dry, but the high acidity hides most of the sweetness. While the alcohol is very moderate, there is a richness and dried honey character that adds to the weight of the palate. The finish lingers and dries. Very good indeed — I'd certainly drink this now, but it can be cellared over the long term, with a real potential to evolve.
Tasted Sep 27, 2016 • HENRY OF PELHAM FAMILY EST. WINERY (Agent)Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review



Vintages #196741 • $16.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 88/100
This is a crisp fresh Alsatian Riesling from the Hunawihr Cooperative. The wine is light straw with glints of yellow. There is a slight honey and beeswax note on the nose, with lemon-lime and green apple fruit. The wine is dry, with high acidity, modest alcohol and a medium body — crisp, clean, vibrant. Stony, drying lemon-apple notes linger on the finish. Excellent value.
Tasted Sep 27, 2016 • CHARTON HOBBS INC (Agent)Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review



Vintages #377770 • $22.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 89/100
This Chardonnay is made from estate fruit, 40% fermented in French oak with the balance in stainless steel. The wine is medium straw, showing fresh apple and lemon fruit, white flowers, a hint of toast and an underlying stony minerality. The palate is dry, crisp and well-balanced — very approachable right now, but certainly worth cellaring over the short to medium term. I like the style, with just enough oak to generate a little heft behind the freshness. A very good value.
Tasted Sep 27, 2016 • HOBBS & CO. (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review



Vintages #185736 • $23.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 89/100
This is a fine base Chablis from Hervé Azo. It is watery white, with aromas suggesting dried herbs, stony minerality and sea shells, all fronting bright lemon-lime and green apple fruit. The wine is bone-dry, with high acidity, modest alcohol, and a crisp, chalky palate, slightly softened by a lactic texture. A saline minerality expands into the lengthy finish. A fine example, and delicious.
Tasted Sep 27, 2016 • ROUGE ET BLANC LTD (Agent)Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review



Vintages #390781 • $17.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 88/100
This is an unusual Chardonnay from the Pays d'Oc — 30% aged in wood, 70% in stainless steel on lees from Viognier. The wine is medium straw, with glints of gold. It is surprisingly aromatic (apparently from the Viognier lees): bright lemon, yellow apple, peach, lightly floral with peach blossoms, and a blanched almond nuttiness. The wine is dry, with brisk acidity, balanced alcohol, and some leesy creaminess on the palate. The flavours repeat in a more nuanced manner, and the finish is moderate but has a pleasant firmness. Good value in an aromatic take on Chardonnay.
Tasted Sep 27, 2016 • GLENCAIRN WINE MERCHANTS (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review



Vintages #455162 • $21.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 89/100
Arneis is a traditional white grape of Piedmont, specifically Roero and Langhe. The wine is mid-yellow in hue, with notes of lemon, yellow apple, melon and peach, with just a hint of blanched almonds. Bone-dry, with firm acidity and balanced alcohol, there is weight on the palate, and a creamy richness that suggests some aging on lees. The riper fruit flavours swell on the mid-palate, and recede into a lengthy citrus and stone-tinged finish.
Tasted Sep 20, 2016 • BARRIQUE WINES & SPIRITS IMPORTS (Agent)Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review



Vintages #456111 • $14.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 89/100
This is a convincing Muscadet. It is light straw, with simple lemon and green apple fruit, underlaid by an impression of stones and brine. The wine is bone-dry, with high acidity and modest alcohol — properly lean, but with a surprising firmness and weight that sets it apart from other offerings at a similar price. The stony, lemon and saline elements focus on the long finish. A very good value.
Tasted Sep 20, 2016 • BRAND NEW DAY WINES & SPIRITS (Agent)Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review



Vintages #277392 • $14.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 88/100
The wine is light straw with hints of yellow. The nose is pretty and fresh, with aromas of apple blossoms, lemon, red apple and a lightly herbal undertone. The wine is crisp and fresh, with modest alcohol, but some richness on the palate. Pleasant apple and lemon fruit centre the palate, with a crisp, stony finish. A very nice value in a basic Soave.
Tasted Sep 20, 2016 • CONNEXION OENOPHILIA (Agent)Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review



Vintages #416982 • $17.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 88/100
I don't come across a great deal of 100% Muscat still table wine — we usually see the grape in blends, and more commonly in sparkling wine and as the base for fortified wines — so it's interesting to try one when we get the opportunity. This wine is watery white, very aromatic, with aromas suggesting peaches, peach blossoms, white flowers, perfumed red apples, lemon, orange zest, and a hint of spice. The wine is very off-dry, with moderate alcohol and such bright acidity that the sweetness is delicate and nuanced. The fruit is pleasantly expressive on the palate, slightly honeyed, and grapy, and the aromatic elements linger on the finish.
Tasted Sep 27, 2016 • ANGYAL AGENCY (Agent)Find it at your nearest LCBOShare Review



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