David Lawrason

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Small-Batch Wonders: gorgeous red wines that won’t break the bank

This party season, skip the show-offy bottles for reds with a little more nuance (and a lot less sticker shock)

Small-Batch Wonders

As the holidays loom, Vintages stocks pricier wines to give and (hopefully) receive. It’s easy to impress with a $100-plus cult label from Bordeaux, Burgundy, ­Tuscany or the Napa Valley, and the wine will likely be excellent. But I can guarantee it will also be overpriced. Instead, opt for small-production wines from lesser-known regions. These five reds top out at $60 and will still demonstrate your discerning largesse.

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Pretty in Pink: six quality rosés to bring to the barbecue

Rosés are the thing to drink this summer—they’re dry, refreshing and a great match for the ’cue

Pretty in Pink: Rosés are the thing to drink this summer—they’re dry, refreshing and a great match for the ’cue

Now that rosé is fashionable, it’s time to raise a red flag. Pink wines require no aging, so they’re a cash cow for less reputable winemakers, who routinely use tricks (like blending red and white wines, using grapes that don’t make the cut for red wines, or adding sugar) to increase profit margins. The best, however, use quality red grapes to create dry, soft and elegant wines that are often paler in colour, with complex red fruit, faded rose, and spicy and earthy nuances that linger. Here are some classics.

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Spring Wine: five cool French whites that only taste like they cost a fortune

Spring Wine: five cool French whites that only taste like they cost a fortune

Spring dishes beg to be paired with delicate, aromatic and refreshing whites, and these days I’m looking to Europe to find them—especially into the corners of France, where modern techniques have galvanized local grapes with better brightness and definition while maintaining their nuances of terroir. Here, five of my favourite recent releases.

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From Riesling to Pinot Noir, here are five can’t-miss new wines from Australia

From Riesling to Pinot Noir, here are five can't-miss new wines from Australia

In the ’80s, Australia’s vintners created a wildly popular, new style of red wine with their plush, chest-warming shirazes from the hot Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. But Oz is far from a one-grape wonder, and all along other varieties have jockeyed for recognition. Their day has come as the world wakes up to lighter, fresher wines from cooler, higher altitudes and maritime climates. These new releases make the case.

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Shiraz-mataz: the LCBO’s best five syrahs under $20

The wine most likely to make you forget it’s February

Shiraz-mataz: the LCBO's best five syrahs under $20

Syrah, a.k.a. shiraz, is my winter wine—a seductive red with fiery pepper notes and warming ­alcohol. It is often an expensive wine, whether it’s a traditional and elegant version from the northern Rhône in France or a rich shiraz from Australia. But there’s much more range today, and the syrah landscape is broader, better priced and more dynamic than ever before. Here, my picks of the best syrahs under $20.

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Five biodynamic wines worth buying now

After years of trial and error by dedicated winemakers, biodynamic bottles are finally coming into their own

Five biodynamic wines worth buying now

Like organic wines, biodynamics are made of grapes grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Biodynamic producers then take natural, biological and holistic farming methods a step further. Early examples were often earthy (in a bad way), as well as sour and bacterial. But over the last decade or so, the best winemakers at some of the most prestigious vineyards have honed their practices and improved quality enormously, to the point where the wines not only measure up to their non-biodynamic counterparts, but often surpass them. Of the wines given a stamp of approval by Demeter, the international biodynamic certification body, these are some of my favourites.

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Best Wines: six top New Zealand vintages from the LCBO’s latest release

Flight of the Kiwis

The LCBO’s latest batch of New Zealand wines includes plenty of top-notch sauvignon blancs, which account for 70 per cent of the country’s output, plus a few other pleasant surprises. Here, the best wines of the bunch.

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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: 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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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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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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David Lawrason’s Weekly Wine Pick: a rich Ontario baco noir from an especially fulsome vintage

Weekly Wine PickHenry Of Pelham 2010 Reserve Baco Noir

$24.95 | Ontario | 90 points
For the next two weeks, the LCBO and Vintages are rolling out an Ontario wine promotion—punctuated on the 29th with an event called Taste Ontario—which provides a great window onto the advances being made with Ontario riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet franc. But one of my favourites remains this good ol’ Ontario baco noir, which is especially rich and fulsome in the hot 2010 vintage.

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Gamay Days: David Lawrason picks nine of his favourite gamays, from France to Niagara

(Illustration: Jack Dylan)

Gamay is often known as the grape that makes lowly beaujolais nouveau, the gassy juice that’s sold only weeks after the grapes are picked. However, top-notch gamay can be silky, fruity and rich, yet light—the perfect red for late-summer evenings. The best ones in the world come from 10 cru villages strung out along the slopes of Beaujolais, where 99 per cent of the vineyards are devoted to gamay. The 2009 and 2010 vintages from these appellations are excellent, and the LCBO has released some great buys under $20 at Vintages. Here in Ontario, winemakers plant gamay because it ripens early and ought to be a winner in our short growing season. In a tasting of gamays from Beaujolais, Niagara and Prince Edward County, however, I found our local editions were thin and joyless by comparison, likely due to cooler temperatures. The trick to buying good Ontario gamay, then, is finding a hot vintage; luckily, 2010 was warm and long, and it’s on LCBO shelves now. Here are my favourites, from France to Niagara.

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Casing Prince Edward County: five fabulous, under-the-radar wines

Prince Edward County
Exultet Estates 2010 The Blessed Chardonnay
Exultet Estates 2010 The Blessed Chardonnay
$35 | Prince Edward County | 90 points
Gerry Spinosa and his family planted their first vines behind an old cheese factory in 2004. Their ethereal chardonnay has already won two gold medals at the Ontario Wine Awards. The texture is delicate and silky; spicy oak, nutmeg and resin need a year of aging to integrate with the ripe peach and honey flavours. 1106–1112 Royal Rd., Milford, 613-476-1052.

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Nine vibrant, refreshing rieslings that make for perfect patio sippers

(Illustration: Jack Dylan)

There’s nothing quite like the crack of a crisp riesling on a bright spring evening. That bolt of vibrant, citrusy acidity, followed by a flood of peach, pear, honey and wildflowers. But wait, what’s that odd scent—is it flint? Or diesel fuel? Riesling disciples use the term “petrol” to describe its unusual aroma. Although I would argue for the grape’s virtues—as a versatile food wine and as the world’s best cellaring white—riesling has never gained a mainstream following. Not just because of its idiosyncratic bouquet, but because attempts to mass-produce it on the cheap have often resulted in limpid, overly sweet wines. Recently, however, better rieslings have made in-roads on wine lists across the city, thanks in large part to the excellent bottles produced here in Ontario. The LCBO also carries many refreshing, off-dry examples in the over-$15 range that make superb patio sippers and offer extraordinary value—just check out the point-to-price ratios on the following bottles.

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