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Nine Ontario sparkling wines that are twice as good as champagne for half the price

Nine reasons to skip the champagne and buy Ontario sparkling wine this holiday seasonI will not be buying champagne for my New Year’s celebration. You can’t beat French bubbly for ostentatious luxury, but for great value and taste, my money is on Ontario sparkling wine at half the price. Niagara and Prince Edward County share the same climate, limestone-based soils and grape varieties as the Champagne region of northern France, so the conditions are ideal for homegrown bubbly. What Ontario lacks are the old vineyards and multiple generations of winemaking experience. However, a crew of talented Canadian winemakers, including French-trained Jean-Pierre Colas of 13th Street and Frédéric Picard of Huff Estates, are now making non-vintage bruts and sparkling rosés using a classic French technique known as méthode champenoise. These bottles are on LCBO shelves now, along with a few longer-aged, vintage-dated bubblies. I tasted two dozen of them and was exceedingly impressed by their taut, mineral-driven elegance. Here, my picks for ringing in the New Year like a locavore.

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David Lawrason’s Weekly Wine Pick: a delicious Californian red from an unexpected grape

Weekly Wine PickTrentadue 2010 La Storia Petite Sirah

$23.95 | Alexander Valley, California | 93 points
Petite sirah is a black grape variety that has lurked on the fringes of California’s fine wine scene for generations. Its wines are powerful and sturdy but often one-dimensional, so it’s largely used as a blending variety, often bolstering red zinfandel. But occasionally—when harvested from very old vines—it can soar on its own. In this excellent example, some of the vines are over 100 years of age.

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Nine essential wines for all your holiday feasting needs

Holiday Wines
Preiss-Zimmer Vieilles Vignes Riesling
PAIR WITH FISH
Preiss-Zimmer Vieilles Vignes Riesling
$19 | Alsace | 90 points
When smoked salmon, trout or even herring shows up as a first course , bold, refreshing riesling is just the thing. This one is lean, with honeyed peach, spice and petrol. Vintages. LCBO 292193
Pair with Geoff Kitt’s latkes and smoked trout » 

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David Lawrason’s Weekly Wine Pick: a fine red from France’s killer 2009 vintage

Weekly Wine PickE. Guigal 2009 Crozes-Hermitage

$24.95 | Rhône Valley, France | 92 points
One of the big wine stories of the year has been the flood of excellent 2009 reds from around France’s Rhône Valley. The ripe and healthy vintage gave the syrah- and grenache-based reds an extra nudge toward ripened perfection, resulting in richer fruit and better balance. Again and again, wines that cost $20 to $30 have performed like superstars, and this is a great example.

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David Lawrason’s Weekly Wine Pick: a brooding winter red from an award-winning B.C. winery

Weekly Wine PickNk’Mip Qwam Qwmt 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

$28.95 | Okanagan Valley, B.C. | 91 points
Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced In-Ka-Meep) is an ultra-modern winery partially owned and operated by the Osoyoos Indian Band in the arid desert of the south Okanagan. Since 2002, Randy Picton, a former B.C. forestry worker who went to wine school in Penticton, has been making eyebrow-raising wines, eventually earning Nk’Mip a no. 2 finish for the title of top winery in Canada, and tops in B.C., at the 2012 Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards.

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David Lawrason’s Weekly Wine Pick: an impressive Italian blend at a great price

Weekly Wine PickZenato 2009 Rosso

$11.25 | Veneto, Italy | 89 points
The hills of Veneto in the vicinity of Verona are home to fresh, light valpolicella on one hand and powerhouse amarone on the other, with all manner of blends and tweaks in between. This wine is one such experiment, from a mid-size family company making very modern, polished wines near the shores of Lake Garda. It’s a very effective and careful blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and corvina, the main local grape of the region—and it’s a stupendous value.

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David Lawrason’s Weekly Wine Pick: a barely fermented Ontario red that’s worth the “nouveau” fuss

Weekly Wine PickGeneration Seven 2012 Nouveau

$11.95 | Niagara-on-the-Lake | 87 points
This year’s crop of beaujolais nouveau bottles arrives today at the LCBO (it is the third Thursday of November, after all), but there’s really no compelling reason to rush out and grab an armload of the barely fermented 2012s. I quickly sampled the nouveaus from France, Italy and Ontario on Tuesday at the LCBO tasting lab, and this context showed just how average “nouveau” wines can be. The beaujolais in particular were scratchy, starchy and thin, perhaps due to a rather wretched 2012 season in France. In Ontario, however, the 2012 vintage was spectacular. Add the fact that Château des Charmes (which makes Generation Seven) is an experienced grower of gamay (the beaujolais grape), and this one becomes the natural choice.

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David Lawrason’s Weekly Wine Pick: a serious California Zinfandel

Weekly Wine PickSeghesio 2010 Sonoma Zinfandel

$29.95 | Sonoma County, California | 91 points
Californians like to think of fruity, rich zinfandel as their signature wine, but few pay it real respect. Many zins nowadays are too sweet, too chocolatey and too soupy. The Seghesio family specializes in serious and structured zinfandel, and sells a range of bottles from single vineyards, anchored by this larger-production Sonoma County wine.

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David Lawrason’s Weekly Wine Pick: a new spin on Rioja

Weekly Wine PickPalacios Remondo 2011 La Vendimia

$14.95 | Rioja, Spain | 89 Points
If you have not tried the wines of Alavaro Palacios, Spain’s modern viticultural wunderkind, here is a great opportunity at a great price. The scion of a Rioja winemaking family, Palacios is most famous for bringing once-obscure regions like Priorat and Bierzo into the limelight. He has made over his Rioja wines as well, infusing a delicious, fruit-driven drinkability without making them too sweet or oaky.

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David Lawrason’s Weekly Wine Pick: a cabernet lover’s cab from Jack London’s vineyard

Weekly Wine PickKenwood 2009 Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

$37.95 | Sonoma Valley, California | 91 points
The French have a great term for certain wines that draw you contemplatively into their world: vins de meditation. Kenwood’s Jack London Vineyard Cabernet has always drawn me in that way, summoning a powerful image of the Call of the Wild author writing away in the cabin atop the hill where this vineyard was first planted in the 1860s. The wine itself has this kind of outdoorsy, tough ambiance as well—I strongly suspect it fuelled some of his evenings at the desk.

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Nine wines to build an unbeatable cellar, chosen by our critic David Lawrason

I recently spent an evening with my cousin pouring over-the-hill wine down the sink, about 10 bottles in all. We tasted each one first. The New World reds were cooked into a raisiny, composty glop. The higher-acid Euro and Canadian wines, including a cheap 1981 Bordeaux, were dried out. I pronounced them all deceased. The cull cleared my cousin’s wine rack of special occasion bottles she’d been given over the years. Being sentimental, she couldn’t bear to drink them, even though most were under $20 and never meant to age. There is no sure-fire formula for selecting age-worthy wines. However, buying more expensive and concentrated wines will help—the more full bodied a wine, the longer it will keep. That means caber­net sauvignon and its Bordeaux-style blends, syrah and its Rhône family and many native varieties from Italy, Spain and Portugal are good bets. Your job is to be adventurous and willing to open them. Wine is made to be enjoyed, not hoarded.

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David Lawrason’s Weekly Wine Pick: a light, woodsy pinot noir from New Zealand

Weekly Wine PickSacred Hill 2011 Pinot Noir

$18.95 | Marlborough, New Zealand | 88 points
Pinot Noir is the most autumnal of red wines, often described as having the scent of forest floor, dried leaves and mushroom—at least, that’s how pinots from  Burgundy are usually described. The expanding universe of New Zealand pinot noirs, on the other hand, have more obvious raspberry and floral scents. This recent LCBO listing is an exception, finding a nice seam between the New and Old World character.

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David Lawrason’s Weekly Wine Pick: a Spanish white for sauvignon blanc lovers

Weekly Wine PickMania 2011 Verdejo

$13.95 | Rueda, Spain | 89 points
The small, sleepy town of Rueda lies in the arid highlands northeast of Madrid. Like the equally somnolent Chablis in France, Rueda sits on chalky soil, which makes for terrific white wines. But Chablis was discovered centuries ago, and Rueda only recently—resulting in a land rush and several new ultra-modern boutique wineries. This bottle from Bodegas Félix Lorenzo Cachazo, a family that helped create the Rueda appellation, embodies what the excitement is all about. It’s a great buy at $14.

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David Lawrason’s Weekly Wine Pick: a classic bordeaux from the killer 2009 vintage

Weekly Wine PickChâteau St. Georges 2009 St-Georges St-Émilion

$34.95 | Bordeaux | 90 points
Bordeaux was once the last word in fine red wine, but the rest of the world has overshadowed it for a while now. The very ripe 2009 vintage, however, might just put it back on top, and many great wines from the region are set to be released this fall in Ontario. This one’s from a consistently fine château near St. Émilion that has been making wine for centuries. It will educate first-timers to bordeaux’s subtle charm, and please those who have been drinking the classics for years. For the quality presented, the price is a fair one.

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The New Guard: the best of the bunch from the LCBO’s fall release

David Lawrason Portrait

(Illustration: Jack Dylan)

Fashion is fickle, even in wine. There are occasional stampedes toward trendy brands: Argentina’s Fuzion and Australia’s Yellow Tail went the oenological equivalent of viral. And then there are deeper changes in taste over time. Two such seismic shifts have occurred over the last few years. The first is an acceptance of blends. The word is freighted with negati­vity because the cheapest wines are often thrown-together blends. However, some of Europe’s best wines have always been blends, and vintners elsewhere are starting to craft new fusions. The second change is a taste for lesser-known appellations. Languedoc in France and Sicily in Italy are challenging the market supremacy of overpriced wines from Bordeaux and Tuscany. In the New World, regions like Paso Robles in California and Leyda in Chile are taking on icons like Napa Valley and Maipo—and the newcomers are often more affordable. I’ve sifted through the LCBO’s massive fall infusion for the best of both trends.

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