There's an adjective generally shunned by wine connoisseurs that's commonly used in the wine parlance of regular people: smooth. The word makes some keeners bristle, I think, because good wine is supposed to be texturally complex, with a backbone of acidity or astringent tannins or both. It's not meant to go down easily, as light beer is.
Think of food as an analogy. Good cooks generally work hard to achieve a range of textures. They don't run their fried chicken through a blender to make it easy to chew.
Smooth wine is like smooth jazz: adult Pablum.
But a wine can, in fact, be smooth as well as texturally interesting. It's simply a matter of degree. I caught myself jotting the word down several times when I tasted Peller Estates Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, a delicious red from Niagara-on-the-Lake. Many other words came to mind, too - and that was key. From the great 2007 growing season, it was pressed from fully ripened grapes, enabling winemaker Lawrence Buhler to coddle it deftly with a considerable amount of creamy oak through extensive barrel aging. Though initially velvety, the wine gets a lift from mouthwatering acidity, spiciness and fine-grained tannins on the finish.
And it recently earned a much bigger accolade than "smooth": the Warren Winiarski Trophy for best cabernet sauvignon at International Wine & Spirit Competition in London. The prize is named after, and sponsored by, the man who made the famous California cabernet at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars that beat some of Bordeaux's finest at the landmark Paris Tasting of 1976 that pit California against France. Though open to all international cabernets, the recent IWSC face-off this year was dominated by expensive entries from Australia. (Past winners include the Penfolds Bin 707, a $200 gem from Down Under.)
The first Canadian winner of the Winiarsky trophy, the $38 Peller wine that I first tasted last summer, was released last month at the LCBO in Ontario, where a small supply remains, and is currently still available direct from the winery (www.andrewpeller.com). Most wines below were released recently through Vintages stores in Ontario.
Peller Estates Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Ontario)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $38
This one is full-bodied, succulent and smooth. Notes of vanilla, chocolate and cedar complement a core of blackcurrant, with just the right amount of toasty oak to match the fruit. It would pair well with steak.
La Crau de Ma Mère Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007 (France)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $46.95
It's big, it's ripe, it's beautiful. The balance between fruit and savoury notes is perfect, like berries that have been macerating in herbs, licorice and freshly roasted coffee. This is a showy Châteauneuf style and ever-so-slightly prune-like from oxidation, but fans of the appellation should love it. Braised meat would be a fine match.
Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2007 (Australia)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $34.95
Full-bodied and concentrated, hinting at plum and chocolate, this is an excellent Bin 28 vintage that delivers a solid kick of peppery spice and - for a warm-climate Australian red - impressive mouthwatering acidity. Great for rare beef, venison or lamb.
Fetish Wines The Watcher 2008 (Australia)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
Full-bodied and milky in texture, this shiraz from the Barossa Valley brims with chocolate, plum, blackberry and vanilla characters, lifted by black pepper. Great for the money and a fine partner for lamb chops. It ranked 61 on Wine Spectator magazine's Top 100 list of 2010.
The Pairing Pinot Noir 2008 (California)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $32.95
Big for a pinot, this red from the Santa Rita hills is decidedly New World in style, with forward fruit hinting at plum jam, chocolate and raspberry. A creamy texture gets lift from crisp acidity and subtle astringency in the fine-grained tannins. My pairing for this Pairing: seared duck breast.
Château Lamargue Cuvée Aegidiane 2006 (France)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $18.10 in Quebec
There's a supple softness to this full-bodied red from the Costières-de-Nîmes, but also a spine of astringent tannins and an invigorating dollop of herbs and crisp acidity on the finish. The flavours hint at dark berries, plum, beef bouillon and coffee. It would be splendid with saucy red-meat dishes such as braised lamb shank. Available only in Quebec.
Gaja Sito Moresco 2008 (Italy)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $53.95
I have liked this red from one of Italy's iconic producers better in past years, but there is still much to recommend this vintage. Bone-dry, this blend of nebbiolo, cabernet and merlot dishes up classic Piedmontese flavours of cherry and tar, with a nuance of pencil lead. Mostly, I like the feeling as it goes down - warm and penetrating, almost like a brandy or grappa. It would pair nicely with grilled salmon or mushroom risotto.
Segal's Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Israel)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $21.95
Lean for a cabernet sauvignon, it's medium full-bodied, with a core of berries that vaguely seem dusted in talcum powder. Solid acidity would make it more versatile at the table than heavier cabs, good even for roast chicken or vegetarian fare.
Lone Kauri Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (New Zealand)
SCORE: 85 PRICE: $14.95
A relatively straighforward kiwi white, but nicely balanced, with lean flavours of grapefruit, citrus rind and herbs. Good for salads.