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waters on wine

Ian Hongell is chief winemaker at Torbreck, which has long been a collector's darling.SVEN KOVAC

Rising temperatures and longer days are sure signs of the changing season, though I’m still hanging on to my scarves and sweaters. The long-range forecast I’m following right now calls for ongoing robust and rich red wines.

The good news is there’s been a bounty of serious red wines hitting shelves in the final weeks of winter, including a gratifying red blend from trailblazing Barossa winery Torbreck made by its new chief winemaker Ian Hongell.

The son of a Barossa Valley grape grower, Hongell dreamed of being a winemaker as a child, making his first wine in a bucket when he was just seven years old. He joined Peter Lehmann Wines in 1998 and worked his way into the top winemaking position before moving to Torbreck in December, 2016.

On the strength of rare and limited wines, such as RunRig and the Laird, Torbreck has long been a collector’s darling. Our first look at Hongell’s efforts is the larger volume and more accessibly priced Torbreck Vintners Old Vines Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre 2017.

It’s ripe, rich and refreshing, just the sort of wine that the Australian category needs to recapture the success it enjoyed with Canadians in the 1980s and 1990s. There’s always something new to discover in Australia and elsewhere, as this selection of well-made and enjoyable reds to enjoy with the last gaps of winter can attest.

Baron de Ley Reserva 2014 (Spain)

Rating:90 /100

PRICE: $21.95

Established in 1985, Baron de Ley is an estate winery located in Rioja Baja. With an estimated production of three million bottles, this is the winery’s most dependable label, which makes its standout quality all the more startling. This attractive Rioja Reserva delivers classic oak derived character, with a core of ripe red fruit. Ready to drink. Available in Ontario and Quebec at the above price, $34 in Nova Scotia.

Black Sage Vineyard Shiraz 2016 (Canada)

Rating:88 /100

PRICE: $31.95

Once part of the Sumac Ridge portfolio, Black Sage Vineyard has carved out its own entity as a stand-alone label. Shiraz is one of the brand’s strongest suits, offering an intense and full-bodied expression of the grape. Look for pepper and dark fruit flavours complemented by herbal and vanilla notes. Nicely layered, bright and smooth, this red is ready to drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, $32.99 in British Columbia,

Burrowing Owl Athene 2016 (Canada)

Rating:91 /100

PRICE: $44.95

Nearly equal parts of syrah and cabernet sauvignon are co-fermented to create this effective and enjoyable estate bottled red from Burrowing Owl. This is dry, medium-bodied and flavourful, with a mix of ripe red fruit flavours that gain complexity from oak-derived cedar and herbal notes. It’s drinking nicely now and will continue to do so for the next four to six years. Available in Ontario at the above price, $46 in Manitoba.

Clos LaChance Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (United States)

Rating:90 /100

PRICE: $29.95

Clos LaChance is a family owned winery located in Hayes County, roughly 30 minutes south of San Jose, Calif. Cabernet sauvignon is the most widely planted variety in the winery’s 60-hectare vineyard. A blend of cabernet with merlot and petit verdot, this appealing red is ripe and concentrated, with a core of dark fruit, cocoa and fragrant herbal notes. It’s ready to drink now and over the next two to four years. Available in Ontario.

Cloudline Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2018 (United States)

Rating:88 /100

PRICE: $26.95

Fruity and accessible styles of pinot noir are always in demand. An entry level label from the Drouhin family’s winery in Oregon, Cloudline doesn’t have the character or complexity of the more premium range. But the core of sweet berry flavours, pretty floral accents and smooth texture make this truly enjoyable right now. Available in Ontario at the above price, $35.98 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $24.95 in Quebec.

Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Campo Ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino 2017 (Italy)

Rating:89 /100

PRICE: $23.95

Made entirely from sangiovese, this fragrant and fresh red displays the perfume and red fruit character common to the grape variety. Bright acidity, youthful tannins and lean body make for an intense red that needs a meal to show its best. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $21.90 in Quebec.

Quails’ Gate Estate Winery The Allison 2017 (Canada)

Rating:88 /100

PRICE: $24.99

A new addition to the Quails’ Gate lineup, this blend of syrah and cabernet franc is named for the family that first settled the land that the Kelowna, B.C., winery calls home. The grapes were grown further south in Osoyoos, near the Washington border. A mix of spice, fruit and chocolate notes mingle in the glass, with some youthful tannins that suggest this would be best enjoyed with a meal. Drink now to 2023. Available direct through

Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (United States)

Rating:92 /100

PRICE: $59.95

Part of Jackson Family Wines, best known for the Kendall-Jackson and La Crema labels, Stonestreet is a premium winery located on a 2,225-hectare estate in the Mayacamas Mountain Range. To my taste, Alexander Valley cabernet is every bit as exciting as anything from Napa. This splurge-worthy red is ripe and fragrant, beautifully balanced and complex. It’s appealing in its youth and promises to develop nicely over the next six to 10 years should you have the patience to wait. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.

Torbreck Vintners Old Vines Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre 2017 (Australia)

Rating:91 /100

PRICE: $24.95

Barossa Valley icon Torbreck is synonymous with full bodied and flavourful red wines. The 2017 vintage is the first with Ian Hongell serving as chief winemaker, which makes this early release red a welcome sign of what’s to come. This character-filled red blend – mostly grenache with 10 per cent shiraz and 25 per cent mourvèdre – reveals attractive fruit and spice notes, with impressive freshness, concentration and depth. Drink now to 2028. Available at the above price in Ontario, $28.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.

Torres Salmos Priorat 2015 (Spain)

Rating:91 /100

PRICE: $39.95

Ripe, complex and smooth, Salmos is a terrific introduction to the compelling wines made in Priorat. A blend of grenache, carignan and syrah yields a dry, flavourful red with spice, meaty and mocha notes adding interest to the core of ripe dark fruit Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario, various prices in Alberta, $45.99 in Manitoba.

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