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waters on wine

As the end of the year approaches, bottle shops stock more expensive and collectible wines to prepare for the holiday season. This year, the early emphasis is on noteworthy Australian reds and blue-chip bottles from Tuscany and other parts of Italy.

Many popular labels are being snapped up quickly, which means it pays to have a backup plan if you’re trophy hunting to restock your cellar or getting a jump on holiday shopping. There are many emerging stars hiding in plain sight on liquor store shelves.

The pedigree and age-worthy character of Rustenberg’s John X Merriman is no secret to devotees of South African wine. But outside of that relatively small sample in Canada, there are many who have yet to discover the allure of the wines coming out of the Cape winelands, from traditional estates as well as an exciting array of new wave producers.

In Chile, the carmenère has been a rags-to-riches success story as the variety that was long misidentified as merlot has finally carved its own distinctive character. Many of the most successful examples are coming from younger vineyards planted after trial and error helped winemakers figure out the best locations to grow this late-ripening variety. The best can be juicy and flavourful, with fragrance and finesse.

Closer to home, the ripe and pleasurable white wines coming from British Columbia and Ontario’s 2020 vintage have been truly exciting. This week’s recommendations include two satisfying examples from family-owned wineries alongside a united nations selection of wines to grab for now or in preparation for the festive season.

Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino 2016 (Italy), $54.95

Rating:93 /100

An age-worthy Brunello from an organic estate, this youthful example is tightly wound, with attractive structure and full-bodied character. The fragrant charm of sangiovese developed with aeration, offering cedar and floral notes. This needs time but is sure to offer tremendous enjoyment down the road. Drink 2025 to 2036. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.

Da Silva Vineyards and Winery Vinho Branco 2020 (Canada), $24

Rating:88 /100

Inspired by the field blends made in the Da Silva family’s native Portugal, Vinho Branco is an interesting and enjoyable white blend made in the Okanagan. A mix of white grape varieties and vineyards, this is fragrant and fruity with a hint of sweetness that adds to its allure. Drink now. Available direct through

El Esteco 1946 Old Vines Malbec 2019 (Argentina), $24.95

Rating:91 /100

This expressive old vine malbec comes from the Calchaquí Valleys in Salta, the northernmost wine region in Argentina. The vineyard was planted in 1946 with vines trained in the pergola style that was common at the time. A nicely layered and structured red, this is fresh, complex and complete. The elegant structure is enjoyable now and should age gracefully. Drink now to 2028. Available in Ontario at the above price, $43.99 in Manitoba.

Flat Rock Unplugged Unoaked Chardonnay 2020 (Canada), $17.95

Rating:88 /100

The new vintage of Flat Rock’s unoaked chardonnay really delivers. A vibrant and dry white wine with appealing pure lemon and apple fruit, this finishes with a slightly savoury edge thanks to aging on lees (the dead yeast cells left over from fermentation). Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario at the above price or $18.15 direct through

Michel Lynch Réserve Graves 2019 (France), $22.95

Rating:89 /100

This dry white blend from Bordeaux is made in a rich and rewarding style. Floral and toasty notes add interest to the mix of citrus, peach and apple notes. Barrel aging brings richness to the appealing texture. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario.

Pirramimma Petit Verdot 2017 (Australia), $29.95

Rating:88 /100

One of the oldest operating wineries in McLaren Vale, Pirramimma is one of a few producers in Australia to make a 100-per-cent petit verdot. The Bordeaux grape variety typically is used in small percentages to add colour and fragrance to red wines, but this crowd-pleasing full-bodied style shows it can be a star on its own. Drink now to 2027. Available at the above price in Ontario, $29.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.

Rustenberg John X Merriman 2019 (South Africa), $24.95

Rating:91 /100

Rustenberg’s Bordeaux-style red blend, John X. Merriman, is named in honour of a former owner of the Stellenbosch estate. This is a rich and intense red, with freshness, complexity and harmony that make it enjoyable now. The structure and core of fruit suggest this will develop nicely in the cellar. Drink now to 2028. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.

Torbreck Cuvée Juveniles 2019 (Australia), $29.95

Rating:92 /100

Cuvée Juveniles has long been a favourite in the Torbreck stable. Made in the manner of Côtes du Rhône, a blend of grenache, mataro (mourvèdre) and shiraz from old, unirrigated vineyards in the Barossa Valley (ranging from 40- to 150-year-old vines), this is fresh and fruity, produced without any oak aging. Medium bodied and flavourful, this is smooth and easy to appreciate. Drink now to 2027. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.

Torres Celeste Crianza 2017 (Spain), $21.95

Rating:90 /100

Celeste continues to offer an enjoyable style of Ribera del Duero red wine at a decent price. Made from tempranillo, this is offers characteristic ripe fruit and polished oak notes, which add to its mellow character. The gentle tug of tannins on the finish suggests this is best enjoyed with a meal. Drink now to 2027. Available in Ontario at the above price, $28.99 in British Columbia ($26.99 until Oct. 30), various prices in Alberta, $27.49 in Saskatchewan, $23.99 in Manitoba, $22.05 in Quebec, $30.99 in New Brunswick, $28.98 in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

Viña San Pedro 1865 Selected Vineyards Carmenère 2018 (Chile), $24.99

Rating:89 /100

A unique selling opportunity for Chilean wineries, the carmenère grape can be made into juicy and complex styles of wine like this. This robust reserve red offers succulent ripe fruit notes alongside the herbal and spice notes common to the variety. Drink now to 2025. Available at the above price in British Columbia ($19.99 until Oct. 30) and New Brunswick, $19.99 in Manitoba.

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