Do you favour light-bodied wines with low alcohol? Wines that whisper rather than shout? Are you partial to crunchy textures and racy acidity? Then read no further; this column is for the other half.
I often hear the same refrains these days: “Who needs high-alcohol fruit bombs? I can barely finish a single glass of that stuff. Besides, what do you pair with monster-truck shirazes or zinfandels? Woolly mammoth stew?”
Never mind that this sort of sentiment is shared by restaurateurs with a penchant for serving gluttonous calorie-bomb dishes that often seem to involve piles of fatty game meat slathered with foie gras, bacon or truffles or all three, which to me is the edible equivalent of a 16-per-cent alcohol Barossa shiraz. But I digress. Yes, I do get it. Most days, my preference runs squarely toward the “elegant” side of the wine spectrum, to gossamer gamays and airy pinot noirs and flinty, nervy whites.
But it’s mid-February in Canada. Most of us are in the thick of monster-truck weather. Cravings change with the calendar. I pondered this recently after shovelling more cubic metres of snow so far this season with a shovel and blistered hands than the entire city of Toronto’s tractor-plow fleet (which I’ve been told exists but am unable to confirm based on the evidentiary record). If ever, this would be a time for rich, generously textured wines with snow-melting warmth. I’m talking cozy versus crunchy.
Despite the big flavours and voluptuous textures, the wines below happen to be well-balanced, and in some cases remarkably fresh and nuanced. What to serve them with? If you can’t source woolly mammoth sirloin and moose bacon from your local butcher, pair them with Netflix or the Oscars. Or with your Saturday Globe.
La Regola 2011, Italy
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $28.95
A super-Tuscan red blend of mainly cabernet franc with some merlot and petit verdot. Full, dense and meaty, with succulent dark fruit, baking spices and a Bordeaux-like graphite note. Drink it over the next 12 years. Incidentally, this wine is priced at €38.90, or about $58, on the Italian winery’s website and is listed at an average of US$50.52 on the popular Vivino wine-search website – which makes the Ontario price above (tax included) a steal.
L’Aventure Optimus 2015, California
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $81.95
Stephan Asseo, who founded this excellent Paso Robles estate after a 17-year winemaking career in his native France, is unafraid of high alcohol because he knows it’s a natural product of California’s sunny terroir. This blend of mostly syrah with cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot registers 15.1-per-cent alcohol, but there’s not much heat or medicinal burn poking through the meaty, massive frame. The wine hints at black currant, dark chocolate, roasted nuts and spices. Drink it over the next seven years. Available in Ontario at the above price, $73 in Quebec.
Girard Petite Sirah 2014, California
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $44.95
Dense, delectable and smoother than a jellyfish, this Napa red nevertheless displays substantial backbone, which is to say it’s no wimp. Plum and blackberry jam come together with well-integrated tannins. Drink it over the next decade. Available in Ontario at the above price and in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Manitoba direct from agent Vintage West Wine Marketing, vwwinemarketing.com.
Piattelli Grand Reserve Malbec 2015, Argentina
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $24.95
While most other malbecs at its price or lower are content to be smooth and supple, this one takes the dry, dusty road, and that’s a welcome thing. Ripe, at 14.5-per-cent alcohol, it’s refreshingly firm, with gritty tannins and notes of marinated cherry and cocoa. Could be cellared up to 10 years. Available in Ontario.
Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, California
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $39.95
A big, dark-chocolate bar of a wine studded with dried cherries and currants. If only more producers could turn out cabernets with the consistency and cellar-worthiness of Mondavi’s Napa bottlings. This 2015 comes with great density, silky, slightly sticky tannins and a mineral-like tingle on the back end. Approachable now, it should mature gracefully for another 15 years. Available in Ontario at the above price, $39.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $62.03 in Saskatchewan, $42.99 in Manitoba, $41.09 in Prince Edward Island.
Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2013, Australia
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $36.95
With the name Wolf Blass on a bottle of red, you know you’re in for a smooth ride. But this high-end bottling from McLaren Vale delivers much more. At its core it comes across like a fine boxed-chocolate bonbon, with cheerful, candy-like plum and chewy raspberry fruit infused with cocoa and vanilla as well as black pepper, licorice and smoke. Available in Ontario at the above price, $35.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $53.56 in Saskatchewan, $40.19 in Manitoba.
Camille Cayran La Réserve Plan de Dieu 2017, France
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17.95
Plan de Dieu means “God’s Plain” in French. In wine terms it refers to a recently christened denomination within the Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation. This may be a big red, at 14.5-per-cent alcohol, but it’s no oak bomb, aged instead in neutral concrete. Tight and dry, it comes across with cherry, pepper and Provençal herbs as well as a whiff of hot rubber. Classic southern Rhône red. Available in Ontario.
Sunrock Red Meritage 2016, British Columbia
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $30.49
A blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc from a steamy-hot vineyard in the south Okanagan. It’s full-bodied but not overweight, with deliciously sweet cassis answered by bright acidity and supported by gently chalky, dry tannins. Notes of cedar, smoke, spice and chocolate play in the background. Sweetly crowd-friendly but structured, serious and energetic. Available in British Columbia private wine shops and direct, greatestatesokanagan.com.
Leyda Single Vineyard Canelo Syrah 2015, Chile
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
Slightly sticky, fine-grained tannins hold together what tastes like dry-aged beef tenderloin wrapped in bacon and drizzled with plum sauce, only without the cholesterol. What’s not to love? Available in Ontario.
Domaine Alary la Jean de Verde Cairanne 2015, France
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $28.95
Tipping the scale at 15-per-cent alcohol, this red is certifiably ripe yet exhibits impressive firmness and tannic structure. Red berries and smoke are joined by a hint of raisin along with herbs and black pepper for lift. Drink it over the next eight years. Available in Ontario.
Merf Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Washington
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $19.95
Chunky and concentrated, this is soft and fleshy in the middle, with ripe currant and cherry-like fruit getting an assist from prune as well as vanilla, mint and toasty oak. Good, crowd-friendly cabernet for the money. Available in Ontario.
Join wine critic Beppi Crosariol and other Globe and Mail journalists this July aboard the Globe Portugal Cruise. For itinerary and booking information, visit globedourocruise.com.