Three classic reds from Italy; Steve’s Top 50 Value Wines from the LCBO – May 2012

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Italy makes some very classy wines with their fruit driven by vibrant acidity, and just enough tannin for balance and grip on the finish. Wine is made throughout Italy, mostly to be enjoyed with food since Italians are not into quaffing wines on their own, as much as they do Australia and California. Three Italian reds caught my eye this month for offering value with some old world class. They are all at the LCBO and all are great value, as is every wine on my Top 50 Value Wines list. There are five wines that are new to the list since last month. Read past the next three reds to find more bargains and then continue to read why I think Italian wine is so popular in Ontario, and to discover how the Top 50 is systematically selected.

Three Reds from Italy

Masi Serego Alighieri Possessioni Rosso 2009, Veneto $13.95 (was $14.95)
This is an elegant sophisticated red wine at a great price. It is made from corvina and sangiovese grapes matured in large cherry-wood barrels. Expect soft complex fragrant aromas of blackberry fruit with spice, leather and jammy notes. It is riper and bolder than is usual due to the vintage, with the plum and berry fruit nicely supported by tannin leading to a long lingering finish. Excellent length. Best 2012 to 2015. Try with roast duck or hard mature cheeses.

Farnese Casale Vecchio Montepulciano D’abruzzo 2010, Abruzzo $9.90
This very classy Italian red for under $10. The complex nose shows black berry fruit, toffee, plum jam with mild oak spice, hints of vanilla and a touch of mocha. It is very smooth on the palate with the clean bright fruit well balanced by soft acidity and soft tannin. Very good length. Best 2012 to 2015.  Try with roast game or roast beef.

Bolla Valpolicella 2011, Veneto $9.95 (was $11.95)
This is a classic lightweight Valpolicella, light ruby in colour with a firm dry finish and a soft fruity palate; it should appeal to pinot noir lovers. Expect aromas of dry cherry with raspberry tones and a hint of warm spice and cranberry jelly. It is lightweight with soft dry fruit, well balanced with good to very good length. Best 2012 to 2014. Try with pizza or tomato based sauces.

Masi Serego Alighieri Possessioni Rosso 2009 Farnese Casale Vecchio Montepulciano D'abruzzo 2010  Bolla Valpolicella 2011

April 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.

New to the Top 50

Trius Riesling Dry 2010, VQA Niagara Peninsula $12.95 (was $13.95)
This is a fine wine with good extraction and balance and shows just how good  inexpensive Niagara riesling can be. Expect aromas of melon with beeswax, mineral and floral complexity. The palate is dry but very full with lots of fruit and very good length. It is elegant and stately with a zesty finish. Try with cheesy sauces, sautéed seafood or white meats.

Osborne Santa Maria Cream Sherry, Jerez, Spain $10.40 (was $11.40)
This is such excellent value for a classic cream sherry from Spain with abundant aromas, great depth of flavour and excellent length. The noise shows baked apricot with honey, biscuit and candied orange aromas. The palate is well extracted and very rich and just sweet enough without being cloying. Focus is well maintained on to the finish which is very long and balanced. I often enjoy with a quarter of a fresh orange squeezed on ice as an aperitif or at the end of the meal with ripe blue cheese and walnuts.

Little Yering Chardonnay 2009, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia $10.95
A well priced lean lively chardonnay with lots of juicy fruit and gentle oak treatment. This is not what you would expect in an Aussie chardonnay of old. Aromas of lemon, ripe apple and white peach lead to the juicy yet taught palate. Very good length and extremely food friendly. Try with creamy pasta sauces, white meats and seafood. This product is discontinued at the LCBO but there are still over 4000 bottles in stores so enjoy at the 25% discounted price while it lasts.

Lurton Les Fumées Blanches Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Vin De France $10.95 (was $11.95)
This is still one of the top French white wine values at LCBO. The nose shows fresh hay, green apple, melon with mineral notes. Midweight creamy, soft and well balanced with gentle acidity and very good length. Try with delicately flavoured lemon doused white meats or seafood.

Trius Riesling Dry 2010Osborne Santa Maria Cream Sherry Little Yering Chardonnay 2009 Lurton Les Fumées Blanches Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Why is Italian wine so popular in Ontario?

A large proportion of the province’s population does have an Italian heritage, which accounts for some of the preference for Italian wines. We do also have many restaurants serving Italian cuisine from the ultra exclusive to the downright simple to cater to a wide range of budgets and dining preferences. However I believe the popularity of Italian wine is mostly due to the wide selection of inexpensive, very drinkable and usually food friendly red wines.

Italy makes some great red wines at prices to suit all. I drink a lot of Italian red wine since its mostly food friendly and it is with food that I do most of my wine drinking. Unfortunately many of the Italian whites that make it into our restaurants and that are found on store shelves are overpriced and lacking in flavour and structure. Yet they too are popular, mostly because they are served well chilled and drunk on their own. Chardonnay went out of fashion due to too much oak and sauvignon blanc does not appeal to a wide audience. So pinot grigio has filled a void in the market.

I am constantly puzzled by the success of many Italian whites, but popular they certainly are. Ten years ago it was rare on my travels around the world to find pinot grigio outside of Italy. Now it seems every winery in the world has jumped on this popular wine that hails originally from Italy.

Another Italian white I have been told recently by many importers is the inspiration for the next big thing in white wine in Ontario; moscato. Some moscato will come from Italy but most from everywhere else in the world. Soft, slightly sweet, mildly bubbly and brimming with aroma and flavour and low in alcohol, they are all loosely based on Moscato d’Asti, from Piedmont in NW Italy.

There are about ten new moscato wines that are all about to hit the patio’s of Toronto. The marketing seems to be aimed at young female non-wine drinkers, so maybe this genre will grab their attention and tempt them to try other wines. Who knows. It was yellowtail that got us drinking shiraz and Fuzion showed many the merits of malbec. Maybe moscato can be a route back to riesling? Now that would be worthy achievement.

In addition to the three reds above from Italy there are another ten wines from Italy in theTop 50; so Italy takes 26% of the list. And there are hundreds more at WineAlign.

Getting Your Feedback

Before value wine shopping remember to consult the Top 50, since it is always changing. If you find that there is a new wine on the shelf or a new vintage that we have not reviewed, let us know. Moreover if you disagree with our reviews, tell us please why we got it wrong and if you think our reviews are accurate, send us some [email protected] since it’s good to hear that you agree with us.

How I Chose the Top 50

Top 50 Value WinesI 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