The Penniless Pensioner Drinks Cheap Red Juice

Header-image-StephenBy Robert K. Stephen (CSW)

(TORONTO, ON) – So you used to pay $25 for a bottle of wine and not think very much about it. But with your CPP and OAS replacing your paycheque, and most likely a meagre private pension payment coupled with a market ravaged RRIF or RRSP, you are beginning to think perhaps something a little less expensive will do you right.

So, instead of heading to the Vintages section of your LCBO, you head off past the nice wooden racks and display cases and end up in the general listing section. Let’s sample what you can get for $15 and under.

Here are eight wines, and understandably I will avoid Fuzion.

You can drink well under $15, but it takes a lot of looking and chatting with other penniless pensioners looking for that great el cheapo.

Dark and ruby coloured. Somewhat faint aromas of red cherry, black cherry, and cassis. There is just a bit of coffee and chocolate. Quite a mouthful of wine with graphite, tobacco, mocha, and blackberry on the palate. Not sophisticated, raw but not over tannic. Strangely tart. Short finish.

Best served with food as the rawness will be a bit stronger after one glass. (Les Jamelles, Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Pays d’OC, IGP, Les Jamelles, Marseillete, France, 13%, 750 mL, LCBO #245324, $13.95, Square Media Group 83/100).

Union Wines is a virtual winemaker that consistently delivers a solid quaffable product. The 2010 Union Red is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet (Franc or Sauvignon), Gamay Noir, and Pinot Noir. My thoughts are that there is at least 40% Gamay Noir as just a tad of juicy sourness is in the background.

Light purple in colour, it has rich and enticing aromas of bacon, chocolate, blackberry, watermelon with just a bit of Coffee Crisp chocolate bar. On the palate bramble, black cherry, dark chocolate, with some drag and raspiness. Not raw, not cheap, it behaves beyond its price point which is typical for my Union Wines experience.

A great house wine and party wine and terribly respectable with beef, pasta, pizza. As I have said before, Union wines disappear in this house, for an obvious reason, before they are reviewed. Imagine a winery boasting the wine critic was too busy enjoying the wine to review it. (Union 2010 Red, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Generations Wine Co Ltd, St Catherine’s, Ontario, 750 mL, 13.5%, LCBO #197152, $12.45, Square Media Group Rating 90/100).

Back to Les Jamelles, but now it’s a Merlot. Smoky if not juicy wafts of cherry, pine, chocolate, and blackberry on the nose. Tart and tannic on the palate, with a displeasing bitterness of unripe almonds. (Les Jamelles 2012 Merlot, Pays d’Oc IGP, Marseillete, France, 13.5%, LCBO #245324, $13.95, Square Media Group Rating 67/100). Perhaps suitable in a sauce for mussels.

The Spanish producer Beronia produces some remarkable wines. Can they exhibit quality below $15? Let’s try their 2011 Tempranillo.

Dark ruby coloured. High strung aromas of sweet red cherries, a hallmark of Tempranillo. There is also a bit of gutsy black cherry and pomegranate on the nose. A bit stern and austere on the palate. The fruit does not convert from aroma and we are left with a bland unremarkable wine on the palate. Short and boring finish all rather disappointing except for a smattering of cherries .Easy on the tannins.

A good wine delivers not only on its aromas but also on its taste. While this may be cheap it is hardly cheerful. (Beronia Tempranillo 2011, DOC Rioja, Bodegas Beronia, SA, Ollauri, Espana, 750 mL, 14%, LCBO #243055 $12, Square Media Group Rating 77/100).

My palate goes weary on this assignment. But, while wandering in the Spanish section, I see a real cheapo wine with a 90 Stephen Tanzer on the neck of the bottle. So like a fly trapped in a Venus flytrap, I grab it. A victim of the ratings game. I dole it out on a regular basis so it’s come back to bite me. A 90?

It is a red called Beso de Vino and has a cute bull downing a glass of red wine on its label. Disciplined aromatics of smoke, chocolate, and raspberries. No flash and no rawness. Equally disciplined on the palate with subtle smokiness and red cherries with mild tannins and a finish that builds in intensity.

If there is such a thing as an honest and unpretentious wine this is it. (Beso de Vino 2011, DOC Cariñena, Grandes Vinos y Viñedos SA, Cariñena, Spain, 750 mL, 13.5%, LCBO #231787, $9.95, Square Media Group Rating 88/100). A mix uncharacteristic for Spain. Syrah with very typically Spanish Grenache. Drink now. A good party wine that won’t break the bank.

Australian wine. Factories produce shiploads of it but it’s lost a bit of shine lately. D’Arenberg produces some great wines from McLaren Vale at terribly reasonable prices and they usually have cute names like The Custodian, Hermit Crab, or like this wine Stump Jump. As we like to say in wine lingo its GSM (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvédre). And, oh my goodness, it has a little sticker on the label Wine Spectator, 89 points, Best Value.

It’s got that rough and raspy aromatics that some of the cheaper red wines can exhibit. However some smokey red cherry intermixed with lavender adds a nice touch. Very nice core of pomegranate and dates like they are a bit shy and are afraid to let you know who they are. Cherry, dates, and figs on the palate with a nice mellow almost obsequious finish.

Pleasant and very well made, and I give it an 88. Drink now. Will suit a vegetarian pasta sauce with fresh Ontario tomatoes. And for you meatheads out there, a lamb burger topped with fried onions and crumbled feta cheese. In the ground lamb, which you should have ground for you, add grated onion, a bunch of coriander, and mint, with some ouzo and lemon juice. (The Stump Jump, 2001, Grenache, Syrah Mourvédre, McLaren Vale, D’Arenberg, McClaren Vale, Australia, 750 mL, LCBO #173295, 14.3%, $14.95, Square Media Group Rating 88/100).

LA Cetto wines from Mexico have been distributed in Ontario for years at rock bottom prices, even cheaper than in Mexico due to high local taxes on wine.

This Petite Syrah is purple in colour. Good black currant nose. Sweet blackberry, too, for that matter. High tannins take you aback, but also a big mouth-feel full of solid black fruit that fades very quickly. Not a badly made wine but very rustic with rough edges on the palate and that slight aroma of cheap bulk wine.

While not a good sipper, it suits good old spaghetti sauce over run of the mill pasta. (LA Cetto, Petite Syrah 2012, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, 750 ml, 13.5%, LCBO #983742, $11.95, Square Media Group Rating 82/100).

Let’s go to Tuscany for organic Chianti.

Black cherry in colour. On the nose, discrete sweet red cherry with a smattering of black plum juice. What could be simpler? Now down the hatch muted tannins. But there is not much of anything on the palate, which is s shame considering its pleasurable nose.

At best, I pick up a strange bit of custard, sweet and sour pork ribs, and a tiny tinge of sour cherry. (L’Antico di Burchino, 2012 Chianti DOC, Castellani Pontedera, Italy, 750 mL, 12.5%, LCBO #160457, $14.95, Square Media Group Rating 72/100).

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."Email Robert Stephen
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