Steve’s Top 50 Value Wines from the LCBO – January 2011 – Winter Warming Red Values

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Now that the holidays are over, our wine buying shifts to winter warming reds and, with budgets tight, inexpensive wines are in vogue. Not to worry, there are many inexpensive wines on the shelves that offer good quality, thus great value.  So follow my advice and you will save a few bucks per bottle and get just what you need.

If you continue reading past my wine picks, I share one of my best moments in 2011 and some wishes for 2012.
The three reds below really over-deliver, but all the wines on my Top 50 Value Wines list are safe bets.

Castillo De Monseran Garnacha 2010, Carinena, Spain $7.95

A delicious un-oaked, simple yet exuberantly fruity red with aromas of plum and raspberry fruit plus a hint of white pepper and cranberry jelly. The palate is full and juicy with some sweetness and soft tannin, which is most noticeable on the dry finish. Chill lightly and enjoy with burgers, sausages and ribs. Very good length. It is on sale until Jan. 29 so stock up for the coming months. It has been on the Top 50 list for months but is even better value right now.

Castillo De Monseran Garnacha 2010

Alvar 2008 Cabernet Merlot 2008, Ontario VQA $12.45

This is a delicious, flavourful, structured wine made from 60% cabernet franc, 30% merlot, 10% zweigelt. The nose shows delicate aromas of red berry fruit with a hint of tobacco and some beet notes. The mid-weight palate is velvety smooth and very fruity with crab-apple jelly and raspberry tea flavours and nice balancing acidity and grippy tannins and a notion of elegance. Very good length. Try with roast or grilled red meat. It is also on sale until Jan 29 so save $1.50 and buy some now.

Alvar 2008 Cabernet Merlot 2008

Ogier Heritages 2009 Cotes Du Rhone, France $12.95

The price has just been permanently reduced on this wine by $2, making it even better value since there are many $30+ Chateaneuf-du-Pape that this will best. It is mid-weight juicy, fresh and fruity. Expect aromas of red cherry with some floral and nutty complexity and a touch of white pepper. Soft fruity palate with enough tannin and acidity for structure and some nice white pepper spice for excitement. Very good to excellent length. Try with roast pork or poultry.
Ogier Heritages Cotes Du Rhone 2009

January Top 50 Values List

There are about 1,500 wines listed at the LCBO that are always available, plus another 100 or so Vintages’ Essentials. At WineAlign I maintain a list of the Top 50 LCBO and Vintages Essentials wines selected by price and value – in other words, the best least expensive wines. The selection process is explained in more detail below, but I review the list every month to include newly listed wines and monitor the value of those put on sale for a limited time. There are six new wines on my Top 50 list this month. I describe three above. Here are the other three.

Pelee Island Cabernet Franc 2009, VQA Ontario $10.45

An excellent well priced Ontario cabernet franc, mid-weight and lively with the bright fruit well balanced by mature tannin and lemony acidity. The nose shows some delicate raspberry and cherry fruit aromas with some earthy and jammy tones. It is very vibrant on the palate; it almost has an Italian feel, with the berry fruit persisting well on the finish. Try with rack of lamb or juicy sausages. Very good length. Sale price lasts until Jan. 29.

Pelee Island Cabernet Franc 2009

Montgras Carmenere Reserva 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile $10.95

This is a full bodied juicy red wine with ripe fruit aromas of blackberry with blackcurrant, dark chocolate and fresh spearmint tones. There is excellent lemony acidity to keep it light with soft tannin evident on the finish, which is quite minty. Very good length. Best 2012 to 2015. Try with grilled red meats or hard mature cheese. On sale until Jan 29.

Montgras Carmenere Reserva 2010

La Puerta Syrah 2010, Famatina Valley, Argentina $7.90

This is fresh lively and juicy red with the fruit well balanced by soft tannin and good acidity. The nose shows aromas of black cherry fruit with smoke and black pepper spice. It is full bodied but not heavy with the ripe fruit toned by some earthy character. Try with bbq meats. Best 2012 to 2014. It has unfortunately been discontinued at LCBO hence the price reduction. As I write, about 1000 bottles remain, so don’t hesitate on picking up a few before it’s all  gone.

La Puerta Syrah 2010

Great moments in 2011 and wishes for 2012
Best wine related experience in 2011

Graham Beck WineryI am often asked to name my favourite wine. That’s an impossible question to answer since I have so many favourites, however when asked recently by friends what my best wine experience was in 2011, I was able to think of one.

I travelled frequently last year to many parts of the wine world, so selecting just one experience was difficult. However one evening in November was especially memorable when I visited the Graham Beck Estate in South Africa with 24 Canadian friends.

Beck Game ReserveWe started the evening at the winery with a structured tasting of their wines, led by cellar master Peter Ferreira, that included their Cap Classique sparkling wines plus several whites and reds. After this somewhat formal event, we departed the winery in 4X4 vehicles to traverse the Graham Beck Game Reserve, glimpsing zebra and antelope through the twilight, on our way to the next venue. This was a hut deep on the reserve, close-by a small lake, where we were to enjoy an open-pit fire braii (barbecue) under the stars accompanied by more wine.

As the oil lamps flickered, it was easy to imagine how people in the Cape in centuries past, had enjoyed simple well prepared food and wine, without electricity, in the outdoors. We were miles from the nearest road so the night sky was brilliantly lit by more stars than many had seen in a long time. Conversation was animated and you could tell that everyone there was enjoying an unforgettable evening.

The wines served would all sell for less than $20 in Canada, if they were available here, yet they were perfect for the food, the mood of the group and the venue. None could be described as awesome, but the evening was not about evaluation and worshipping the wine, it was about the simple pleasure of enjoying wine in great company with good food. Every one of the Graham Beck Game Reserve range of wines served that night was enjoyable.

I will return to South Africa in November 2012 with some more Canadian friends and am already dreaming of another unforgettable experience. Maybe some of you would like to come along? Go to for info.

My wine wish for 2012

I have been hoping for a long time that Ontario’s antiquated alcohol retail system will change. The current government knows that the LCBO is not the best financial model for the people of Ontario; it could collect more money from alcohol sales without the LCBO. However I don’t think much is likely to happen in 2012 because there is no will to take on the public sector unions and I am told that few votes hang on the issue; but we might see some tiny moves toward privatization, who knows. So here is a more realistic wish.

I wish in 2012 that the wines of South Africa will become more popular in Ontario. There will be an increasing selection of wines in the $12-$20 price range available from the Cape at the LCBO; so let’s hope that wine lovers buy these, thus encouraging the LCBO to offer a greater selection in the future. South Africa produces very good shiraz and sauvignon blanc with cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay in support. What you can get for $15 is frequently better than similarly priced wines from the northern hemisphere. Watch the reviews at for guidance and experiment a little. You will not be disappointed.

How I Chose the Top 50

I constantly taste the wines at the LCBO to keep the Top 50 list up to date. You can easily find my all Top 50 Value Wines from the WineAlign main menu. Click on Wine => Top 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database.

Every wine is linked to WineAlign where you can read more, discover pricing discounts, check out inventory and compile lists for shopping at your favourite store. Never again should you be faced with a store full of wine with little idea of what to pick for best value.

The Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.


Steve Thurlow