Do professional golfers hit the fairways on vacation? I wonder. Holidays can be odd for those of us who do for a living what others do merely for pleasure.
I do indeed drink on holiday, as I did over the past few weeks. What I don't do is make notes on every new vintage that crosses my lips because that would be "work" and that's where I draw the line. I only put pen to paper when stuff gets exciting. Herewith some highlights from the holiday tasting diary.
CedarCreek Platinum Chardonnay Block 5 2011, British Columbia
Score: 92 Price: $29.95
The Okanagan's cool 2011 vintage may have put pressure on late-ripening red varieties but it managed to yield lots of great chardonnay, a white variety that needs a chill to develop backbone. The wine is full-bodied and smooth, with brisk acidity framing layers of pineapple, candied citrus, smoke, jasmine tea and honey. Try it with grilled scallops. Available from the winery, cedarcreek.bc.ca.
Rivera Cappellaccio Riserva Aglianico 2006, Italy
Score: 92 Price: $17.95
Here's a big-value aglianico, southern Italy's regal and fashionable red grape. Full-bodied but agile, it dishes up cherry, herbs, earth and an aroma of old church wood. It would be splendid with roasted red meats or a cold-cut platter. $18.09 in Manitoba, $20.45 in Quebec.
Whitehaven Greg Sauvignon Blanc 2012, New Zealand
Score: 92 Price: $24.95
Big, bold but beautifully balanced, this is extroverted New Zealand sauvignon blanc in all its glory. Silky and round, it serves up punchy grapefruit and grass characters pulled in tight by vigorous acidity and a flinty, mineral-like edge. Serve it with zesty seafood or salads.
Cousino-Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Chile
Score: 91 Price: $15.95
The winery's been around since 1856 and this flagship reserve bottling, Antiguas Reservas, has been in production for more than 80 years. Given such roots you might guess the estate to be European, and given the wine's balance and structure, you might zero in on Bordeaux. Good guess, but there's a giveaway: the ripe, opulent fruit, a hallmark of Chile's dependably sunny climate. Full-bodied yet vibrant, this complex red strikes an ideal balance between fruit, herbal and toasty oak characters. It's like munching forest berries and mint around a campfire. Tremendous value and perfect for grilled steak or lamb chops. $21.95 in British Columbia, $16.50 in Manitoba, $18.95 in Quebec.
Fontaine du Clos Reflets de L'âme Vacqueyras 2011, France
Score: 91 Price: $20.95
From one of my favourite appellations in southern France comes this superbly savoury, meaty red. It's a cavalcade of dark berries, chocolate, black pepper, herbs and licorice. Try it with braised red meats. It should improve with up to 10 years in the cellar, too. Available in Ontario.
Louis Jadot Bourgogne Chardonnay 2011, France
Score: 90 Price: $19.95
One of the biggest names in Burgundy, Jadot bottles dozens of premium cuvées and super-luxe single-vineyard wines. This entry-level white speaks volumes about the quality. It's medium-full-bodied and remarkably plump for a large-scale blend, with a rounded profile and flavours of ripe peach, apple, vanilla and yeasty tang. The oak is well-integrated and acidity perfectly bright. A bargain chardonnay and versatile white for food, especially simply prepared chicken, veal or medium-weight fish dishes. $25.49 in Manitoba.
Brickyard Riesling 2012, Niagara
Score: 89 Price: $13.95
Brickyard is a new label from Moray Tawse, a Toronto financial-services executive whose Tawse Winery in Vineland, Ont., recently garnered Winery of the Year honours for the third consecutive year from Wine Access magazine's Canadian Wine Awards. What a well-priced beauty this is, off-dry but perfectly tuned with fresh, balancing acidity. It hails from Niagara's superb 2012 growing season and shows uncanny peach and green apple flavours on a light frame. It would pair well with light curries, smoked fish, sushi or a cheese course.
Jovly Chinon Cabernet Franc 2010, France
Score: 88 Price: $13.95
Loire Valley cabernet franc is a tough sell on these shores. Crisp and herbaceous, it tends to lack the heft most red drinkers are looking for. And most of the examples we see here are dreadful, reedy and thin. So, I was surprised by this bargain, new to Ontario shelves. From the central Chinon appellation, it's pretty ripe, with flavours of cherry and raspberry on a soft yet juicy texture. Serve it slightly chilled with fish or tomato based dishes.