Fill in the blank: Sex sells beer, luxe imagery sells spirits and (your guess here) sells wine.
I suppose that for some consumers the correct answer would be cute animal drawings. But in the fine-wine world, the correct answer is "numbers." Ever since the great American nose Robert Parker Jr. pioneered the 100-point scoring system in the late 1970s, people increasingly have been turning to digits to make their decisions for them. As retailers will attest, nothing makes cash registers ring like a score of 90 or higher.
The Vintages premium-products department of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario last week released a plethora of products under the 90-plus theme. The scores are quoted from a variety of national international sources, including Parker, Wine Spectator magazine and the estimable Burgundy taster Allen Meadows.
I assigned my own numbers to most of the Vintages items as well as to many additional and, in my estimation, exceptional products recently released in Canada. In keeping with the Vintages theme, the bottles that follow all deserve the adjective "excellent," which is what 90-plus means in the numbers game. I hope you'll agree.
Villa I Cipressi Brunello di Montalcino 2005 (Italy)
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $47.95
Modern and fresh-tasting for a Brunello, this succulent red shows a polished texture, with a core of berry-like flavour underpinning nuances of wood spice, chalky tannins and firm acidity. It's my kind of Brunello. The match: grilled, herb-crusted T-bone.
Domaine des Bosquets Gigondas 2007 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $31.95
I'm a sucker for Gigondas, one of the best-value luxury appellations in France. This one is velvety and intensely concentrated, with flavours of dark chocolate, plum, smoke and spice. James Molesworth of Wine Spectator liked it even more, awarding it 92, and I might have gone the extra point were it not for the slightly conspicuous heat attributable to its formidable 15-per-cent alcohol. Try it with braised red meats.
Navarro Correas Alegoria Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Argentina)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.95
Full-bodied and delectable, this red meshes tobacco with plum on a smooth texture. A bargain, it's great for grilled red meats.
Château Larrivet-Haut-Brion Blanc 2007 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $55
Pricey for a white Bordeaux but this is a model of elegant, herbaceous liveliness. Imagine fresh garden herbs sprinkled on a fruit salad of apple and lemon, a seamless texture and crisp finish. Pair it with poached or seared freshwater fish.
Domaine des Malandes Vieilles Vignes Montmains Chablis 2008 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $29.95
A premier-cru white Burgundy, this silky chardonnay displays shows ample ripeness, then summons goosepimples with its chalky, brittle, mineral-laced finish. Oysters on the half-shell would make a fine pairing. Allen Meadows tasted it in barrel and scored it 90-92. (It's customary to cite a small range when tasting an unfinished wine to account for potential changes after bottling.)
Domaine Vincent Paris Saint Joseph 2009 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $28.95
I love the juiciness of this northern Rhône Valley red. Classic syrah characters of licorice and game are framed by moderate, fine tannins and spice.
Laughing Stock Chardonnay 2009 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $26 in B.C.
Full-bodied and slightly buttery, this deftly oaked white shows ample tropical fruit, candied orange and good acid balance for freshness. Available in B.C. through www.laughingstock.ca and at specialty wine stores. It's also currently available in small quantities in Ontario at Vintages for $39.95. The excellent B.C. critic and wine-book author John Schreiner awarded it 88-90 points.
Andrian Pinot Grigio 2009 (Italy)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
Yes, 90 for a pinot grigio, but this is no pedestrian quaffer. Italy's northern Alto Adige region is rocking the white-wine world and this offering from the Terlano co-operative is a good example of why. Silky, with good weight, it's laced with flavours of pear, cantaloupe and spice. Serve it with grilled shrimp or scallops.
Mike Weir Sparkling Brut 2008 (Ontario)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $24.95
Big fruit flavour here and an attractively silky texture, with notes of lemon pie, stone fruit and bread dough. Chill it well before opening to tame its considerable effervescence.
Duggan's Brewery Sorachi Lager (Ontario)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $11.25/6-pack
Duggan's Brewery, a downtown Toronto gastropub, recently closed its doors, to the dismay of pint-sipping gourmets, but the suds live on, praise be. Owner Mike Duggan's excellent India Pale Ale as well as this new offering are being made at Cool Brewing in the city's west end and can be found at various restaurants as well as the LCBO. Made with Japanese-developed sorachi hops, which impart a distinctively lemony aroma, the new beer is light (at just 4-per-cent alcohol), crisp and slightly, deliciously bitter.
Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2007 (New Zealand)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $37.50 in Quebec
Full-bodied, toasty and brimming with tropical fruit and brown-butter flavours, here's a white with impressive fruit-oak-acid balance. Try it with grilled salmon.