Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The 500 Best-Value Wines in the LCBO 2015

The 3rd and 4th editions of  Rod Phillips’ book The 500 Best-Value Wines in the LCBO were reviewed earlier in this blog and I found the new content in this recent release worth the purchase. On my way through I gained an alternate perspective of LCBO practises as well as a grading of many new products most of which are already on LCBO shelves. From an earlier review: "The writing style remains relaxed and concise. There's no flamboyancy in either the early chapters, written for someone new to wine, or in the tasting notes for each of the wines... ".   

The section 'How I Describe The Wines' details the author's approach that avoids reference to specific fruits, spices and florals arguing 'very few people can distinguish these flavours in wine'.  This is one aspect to which I don't subscribe. A large portion of my tasting dictionary is based on the local fruit, spices and florals experienced growing up in Ontario, travelling across the provinces and to wineries in other countries. Tasting notes in the Book use words such as 'well textured', 'dense', 'full-bodied', 'smooth', 'tannic', 'well structured', etc., I call these the 'mechanics' of a wine. They are the structure and framework on which the scents and flavours are borne. In my opinion one supports the other and wine is not completely described without a balance of both. 

My wife recently asked about a new wine* brought home to try. "There's something about this wine that lasts - not fruity but smooth and full in the mouth - it's different" she said. I sipped from my glass with the followup "I'd say it's similar to the subtle sweetness and smoky density of the Australian liquorice we sometimes have". Her response surprised me - "now that you say it I can see it, feel it, smell it!"   (*Argentinan Vina Alicia Paso de Piedra Malbec 2010.)

In this example I knew my audience. If I had said the same thing in a public tasting group I likely would have heard a few snickers. If I had stayed with 'smooth, full-bodied and well textured' it likely would have brought puzzled looks from my wife still trying to understand the missing elements in the wine just tasted. Tasting is using each of our senses and then using our ability to describe enough aspects to reach understanding - communicating.

Communication styles vary and can be different if attempting to find common ground among a wide audience. Perhaps this author's view, an international wine judge and award winning journalist, has found common ground. North American tastes and aromas could be completely out of context in eastern countries. Words such as 'well textured', 'dense', 'full-bodied', 'smooth', 'tannic', 'well structured', etc., the  'mechanics' of a wine, may be more easily assimilated than scents and flavours based on 'Mac apples, Bosc pears, Damson plums' or could that be 'Mango. Papaya, Kiwi and Quava'. Words communicate. If it works, as it does for hundreds of critics, then their notes have been effective. A professional critic knows his audience and modifies his language for best clarity.

I'd also amplify another observation brought forward in the Book. That's an increase in prices suggesting 'a dollar or more' for wines on the General shelves. Since I purchase, mostly below $20, labels released by Vintages, I also find increases but more frequently in the 20 - 30% range. Well known wines that are $18.95 at the winery become $26 in Vintages. Customers with the means accept these uplifts as reasonable levies to help a cash strapped Provincial government. Prices go up to solve a current shortfall but seldom come down when the urgency has gone. Those without income flexibility often find quality no longer available at their price point. Avoiding plunk, or 'crap' as one journalist summarized, is becoming difficult.

Another difference is the Book's claim that one vintage is as good as another. I find each vintage has its own story. At the lower price point there's an opportunity for varieties to be blended and for lower grades of grapes to constitute much of the wines at this level. Each vintage can be highly dependent on varying quality in wide areas of a wine region. Individual wineries can negotiate with their buyers for 'new' entry level labels based on annual availability of marginal crops. Be sure to check the vintage before you purchase.

Consistent referral to the Book will help break the habit of buying the same ole stuff while, hopefully, not bringing home plonk. Whether wine consumers want to break from current tastes and habits is an open question. Once a Leaf always a Leaf! to use a local sports sentiment.

My use of the Book is to explore 'new' wines, of which there are 60 reds and 31 whites, in particular those blends or grapes hoping to broaden my tasting experience.  The plan is to taste selections in the next few weeks in Part 2 of The 500 Best-Value Wines in the LCBO 2015. 

As always, just my opinion,

Ratings Summary:
96-100 Extraordinary
90 - 95 Outstanding
86 - 89 Interesting to Excellent
80 - 85 Drinkable to Enjoyable
70 - 79 Uninteresting to Simple
60 - 69 Unpleasant
50 - 59 Unacceptable

5  Stars        It’s hard to imagine better quality (94-100 points).
4 ½  Stars     Excellent quality (90-93 points). 
4 Stars         Very good quality (87-89 points).
3 ½ Stars    Good quality (85-86 points).
3 Stars    Well-made wine but without distinction (82-84 points).

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