A woman wrote me recently to say that she and her husband had just watched the documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage, which is about the Canadian rock trio Rush. In one scene on the DVD, lead singer Geddy Lee orders a wine called Jonata. The woman, a big Rush fan, couldn't find the wine here and wanted to know if it was worth buying direct from California and privately shipping it here. "It's quite pricey," she said.
Yes, it is. How about $50 (U.S.) for the least expensive in the lineup - if you're lucky enough to score a bottle or two from the tiny quantities produced. Some of the wines cost $125.
Jonata is a venture by two wealthy American businessmen, Charles Banks, a Santa Barbara money manager, and Stan Kroenke, a Denver real-estate developer who owns the Colorado Avalanche hockey team. Kroenke may be better known south of the border as the owner of the Denver Nuggets basketball franchise and as the husband of Ann Walton Kroenke, heir to part of the Wal-Mart fortune.
Banks and Kroenke rocked the collector world a few years ago by buying Screaming Eagle, the Napa estate that makes the most sought-after and one of the most expensive wines from California, costing $500 a bottle on release (and much more if you can find someone to resell it to you).
The Jonata wines, from the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, are superb. Robert Parker, the U.S. critic who makes the Earth move among collectors, has sung the label's praises. So it's with glee that I was able to inform my reader that two Jonata wines are to be released today in Ontario through Vintages stores - at a price, $59.95, that even humble non-rock stars might consider reasonable given the cachet.
The wines are part of a big spotlight on pricey California offerings released today at the LCBO. Jonata quantities are stunningly limited, though. The winery makes between a few hundred and 1,000 cases of most selections. So if you're reading this early in the morning, lace up your Nikes and scurry to a big store before it opens. And give a shout out to long-haired Geddy Lee if you see him in the lineup.
Jonata Todos 2006, California
SCORE: 94 PRICE: $59.95
A blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, petit verdot, cabernet franc and viognier, this is an impressive mouthful. Weighing in at 15.2-per-cent alcohol, not uncommon with big reds from Santa Ynez, it's lavish but well structured. There's concentrated fruit here, but it unfolds with savoury layers. For me, it brought to mind roast beef with chocolate sauce, with good acid and spice on the back end and integrated tannins. It should cellar well for a decade. Serve it with beef, duck or game.
Jonata Corazon de Jonata 2005, California
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $59.95
Essentially the same wine as above, which changed its name with the 2006 vintage, this offering contains merlot and sauvignon blanc instead of cabernet franc and viognier. More tannic and angular than the Todos, it shows a charred, espresso quality along with spice on the finish. Serve it with beef or lamb.
Dominus 2007, California
SCORE: 95 PRICE: $119.95
From the name behind Bordeaux's Château Petrus, Christian Moueix, this benchmark Napa blend dishes up minerals and funky sweat in a way few of its California brethren do. Graphite, cedar and leather combine with a core of blackcurrant. Try it with rare beef or lay it down for two decades.
The Ojai Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2005, California
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $47.95
From Santa Barbara County, specifically Santa Maria Valley, it walks like a classic syrah from France's northern Rhône Valley. Dark fruit and a hint of licorice are delivered on a seamless frame, with a subtle whiff of bacon. Chunky and satisfying. Serve it with hearty stews.
Mission Hill Quatrain 2006, B.C.
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $44.95
Mostly syrah and merlot, this red blend from the Okanagan Valley puts out bitter chocolate, plum and cherry. It has lots of oak, but it's starting to integrate nicely with the fruit. Rare lamb chops might go nicely.
R. Stuart & Co. Big Fire Pinot Noir 2008, Oregon
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $23.95
Medium-bodied and jammy, showing subtle cinnamon and earth and crisp acidity on the finish, this is impressive pinot for the money. Try it with seared duck breast.
Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, California
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $15.95
Lots of concentration here at a reasonable price. Made in a fruit-forward, crowd-pleasing style, it reveals plenty of berry and vanilla supported by chewy tannins. Almost too ripe, but still satisfying. It would pair well with pork.
Grands Vins Villa Ponciago Beaujolais-Villages 2009, France
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.95
From the near-perfect 2009 growing season in Beaujolais, it delivers the essence of the gamay grape. Light, chewy, cherry-like and floral, it's exceedingly fresh and almost too young. A year in the cellar could add to the charm. Incidentally, the Ponciago estate was taken over in 2008 by the Henriot family, which owns the respected Burgundy labels Bouchard Père et Fils and William Fèvre. This is a red that would pair well with fish, pork and lots of vegetarian fare. It's available in Quebec for $16.95 and by special order in British Columbia and Alberta for $22.99 through www.woodmanwinesandspirits.com.
Bollini Pinot Grigio 2009, Italy
SCORE: 86 PRICE: $16.96
This straightforward but satisfyingly balanced pinot grigio has notes of spiced pear and gunflint. It's nice on its own or with shellfish.
Eagle Rare Single Barrel Aged 10 Years Bourbon, Kentucky
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $49.95
This is my kind of bourbon, long-aged and spicy, with a core of candied orange and vanilla and a woody flavour that lingers on the long finish. Bottled at 45-per-cent alcohol.