We Have Lift-Off!

Issue #23 February 2021 

Before we make our way down to the cellar for this month’s wine session, I’d like to suggest we step outside for a moment and look to the sky. (Don’t worry, I’ll make sense of this shortly). 

As of last April, there were around two thousand satellites up there in continuous low Earth orbit with another 600 hurtling around further in space. Also orbiting about 400 kilometres above us and circling Earth every 93 minutes, is the International Space Station. And 54 million kilometres away is Mars, which NASA plans to reach with astronauts in 2030. Why am I lost in space?

February 20, 1962 John Glenn lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida

Well this month in 1962, John Glenn was launched into orbit from Cape Canaveral on the east coast of Florida, (in ’63, it was renamed, Cape Kennedy). 

John Glenn in orbit.

He was the first North American to boldly blast off to an altitude of 260 kilometres, where he completed three trail-breaking orbits of our planet in a mission that lasted just under five hours.

I remember it well. When Captain Glenn lifted off that day in February, it just so happened to be my sixth birthday. He instantly became a hero to millions and certainly to me. 

John Glenn with his space capsule, ‘Friendship 7’

So with that courageous and important beginning to human space travel in mind, let’s get back down to earth and meet three affordable wines that are absolutely made of the right stuff.

Welcome back to the cellar.

Our wine travels this month launch with a tasty tongue twister from the Alsace region of France. It’s a Gewurztraminer. A sommelier once helped me wrap my mouth around that 5-syllable monster with this pronunciation hint. Turn the ‘w’ into a ‘v’ and make the miner, meaner. Then it should sound something like this; 


Who knows what it will sound like after you’ve finished the bottle. 

Anyhoo, here it is. Is it me or does that look a little like a rocket on a launch pad?

Pierre Sparr Grande Réserve Gewurztraminer 2018
Alsace, France
750 mL bottle VINTAGES #747600

This Grande Reserve Gewurzt is luscious and fragrant with citrus scents of grapefruit and kiwi. It’s full of flavour and not sweet but mid-dry; making it a perfect match for meals with a kick, like Indian lamb curry or spicy chicken Phad Thai. 

But it certainly doesn’t need a single morsel of food to give it reason for being. Pierre Sparr Gewurztraminer’s refreshing qualities make it a perfect sipper before supper.  

Now our orbit around the wine world is pausing over Spain. In particular, over the Castilla-La Mancha region to the south and east of Madrid. The land of the man of La Mancha, Don Quixote.

Way down there somewhere amongst the vineyards, castles and windmills is the Bastida family winery and from it comes this rich and full Alceo Tempranillo. 

Alceo Tempranillo 2017
Castilla-La Mancha, Spain
750 mL bottle | VINTAGES #18768

Alceo Tempranillo 2017 sits in the glass like a deep, dark sea of tranquillity. It has inviting aromas of leather and cinnamon spice with flavours of dark cherries, and ripe blackcurrants. 

It’s dense and full-bodied and would be out of this world with barbecued chipotle seasoned burgers.  

John Glenn’s very first orbit around the earth passed directly over South Australia’s Barossa region and very likely the Eden Valley. The home of our next red.

Mountadam Vineyards was created by the late David Wynn.  Wynn was one of the shooting stars of the Australian Wine Industry and the first to recognize the potential of the cool, elevated area of the Eden Valley to produce Australian wines of great elegance and structure. 

The vineyard was named after David Wynn’s son, Adam.

Mountadam Vineyards Five-Fifty Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Barossa, South Australia
750 mL bottle | VINTAGES #18006

This tasty cab has scents of plums, blackcurrants and herbs. It’s rich and dense with dark fruit intensity. And it’s smooth with a lasting finish that makes you want to start all over again with another sip. Thanks to David Wynn and his son Adam. This is wine is definitely a Wynn Wynn.

When the bad puns start happening, you know it’s time to get out of the cellar. So let’s lift off from our chairs and look forward to meeting again in a month. That’s about one tenth of the time it would take to get to Mars. 

But before we part, let’s raise a glass to all of the intrepid space travellers and interstellar trail blazers. And with special thoughts for those who never made it back.

We’ll see you in March. Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer. 


‘This guy’s been inside for too long’

Issue #13     April, 2020

Seems to me, the cellar is as safe a place as any to wait for COVID-19 to run its course. While this month it’s certainly not a great idea to encourage visits to the LCBO, but it’s definitely worth mentioning, they do deliver. 

As you know, I had planned to go organic for this get together, but due to the circumstances I’m not going bloody anywhere. As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. So, we’ll have to discover some excellent organic wines when times are healthier.

Meanwhile, at risk of having you think ‘this guy’s been inside for too long’, I thought for this month’s get together we should all hunker down and pour a glass of whatever we fancy, (I’m two sips into a tasty Rhone blend that we got to know back in the January issue),

Château Saint-Louis La Perdrix L’envol 2018
750 mL bottle | VINTAGES#: 10514

and let me take you on a trip I took in 1968 to one of the world’s great wine regions, when it was just becoming known as such; Napa Valley.

Welcome back to Jim’s Affordable Cellar.

Peace and love transforms San Francisco

It was the late sixties. hippies had descended on San Francisco and my parents, who were wine appreciators, decided we should descend on Napa.  My sweet Aunt Muriel (mom’s sister) lived there; 4,000 kms away from Toronto and in those days, about two hours north and east of San Fran.

Aunt Muriel’s home was a cottagey place with a lemon tree in the backyard. Maybe it was an orange tree. Cut me some slack, I was 12. Anyhow, she was just off the main road that ran through Napa; Highway 29. Now it’s also referred to as the St. Helena Hwy.

Napa had been developing as a wine producing region since the 1800’s but with the arrival of the Mondavi family in 1934 and in subsequent years with the ideas of the eldest Mondavi son Robert, Napa would become the next great region in the world of wine.


The Mondavi’s were one of the first Napa growers to remove their field blends and plant Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as other popular, French grape varieties.

In 1962, following Robert Mondavi’s trip to the best wineries in Europe, the Mondavi winery began emulating some of their production techniques. Soon, other California vintners followed their lead and began aging their wine in small, French oak barrels.

As you know, I’m a big fan of California Cabs, so a big shout out to Robert for making that possible.

Robert Mondavi broke away from the family business (the Mondavi’s had purchased the Charles Krug winery in 1943) to set up his own operation down the road in the valley. And in 1966 he released his debut vintage of Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon.

First vintage of Mondavi’s Cabernet Sauvignon

Then it was “follow the leader” time in Napa. Because soon other producers jumped into the Cab with him and started producing their own Cabernet Sauvignon.

Back to our trip. At the time we went there, Napa was home to a couple handfuls of wineries situated along Highway 29. Today there are more than 400 punctuating this small and beautiful valley.

The valley is 30 miles long and five at its widest.

Back to our visit with Aunt Muriel. One day (don’t worry, I’m getting to the point of this story) my parents decided we should visit a couple of new wineries they had heard about. Some parents, on a family vacation, would take their kids to an amusement park. We went to the wineries.

The tasting room at Mondavi with views of ripening grapes.

I remember sitting in a spacious room with mom and dad. It opened onto a wide terrace with panaramic views out to rows and rows of lush vines. We were at the Robert Mondavi winery. It had just opened two years earlier.

We must have been in a tasting area. I was probably having some vintage ginger ale or root beer, while my parents sampled wine. No doubt they tried a Cab but I bet they also had Mondavi’s signature Fumé Blanc.

You see Fumé Blanc was actually Sauvignon Blanc. However, Sauvignon Blanc wasn’t popular in California at the time, so Mondavi made it a whole lot different by changing it a little. He oak-aged it and renamed it Fumé Blanc. It was a huge success.

Well whatever my parents were sampling, I think for them, it was just being there in the early days of an important new winery, that mattered most.

The iconic entrance to the Mondavi Winery

A man probably in his fifties, (he seemed old to me) walked towards where we were sitting. He had a roman nose, a confident smile and carried himself like he owned the place. He slowed his pace and with a smile simply said, ‘Welcome’. Then he was on his way.  Like most 12 year-olds, I didn’t really pay much attention to the man. But in later years and certainly, now, I wonder if perhaps he did own the place. Could it have been that it was Robert Mondavi welcoming us, to the house of Mondavi?

I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to think that just maybe while sipping on a ginger ale, I met one of the iconic pioneers of the California wine industry. Robert Mondavi. He was born in 1913. He died in 2008.

Robert Mondavi

So I think it only fitting that we take a moment to admire a bottle of Mr. Mondavi’s Cabernet Sauvignon. I just so happen to have one on a shelf here in the cellar. Dusting it off for this issue is a treat for me and a tribute to him.

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
750 mL bottle  |   VINTAGES#:  255513

This beauty was a gift to me from my son and daughter and their very significant others. In terms of price, it doesn’t even come close to meeting our under $20 criterion of affordability. But in terms of taste, it’s a silky smooth, bounty of cassis and blackberry with aromas of cedar bark. Thank you, Robert Mondavi.

Well that’s about it for our one year anniversary of meeting here each month. Granted this get together has been a bit of a rambling detour. I hope you didn’t mind travelling back to Napa with me but at the least you got a taste of some of the history behind this great wine region.

We’ll get back to scouring the shelves of the LCBO when it’s safe to do so. Maybe that won’t be too far off. Let’s keep our corks crossed.

See you back here in the cellar in May.

Until then, let’s keep all our courageous and dedicated health care providers in our hearts. As always keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer but for now, keep them on FaceTime.


“I like Italy, France and Bulgaria in June, how about you?”

Issue # 3     June, 2019

You’ve likely heard the great old tune made famous by Judy Garland that begins with the words, ‘I like New York in June, how about you?’ Well, for this month’s edition of Jim’s Affordable Cellar, I like Italy, France and Bulgaria in June.

Welcome back to my cellar for your monthly introduction to three wines I like for the aromas and flavours they have but also for what they don’t have. A big price.

However, this month I can’t resist breaking my own ‘Under $20 Rule’ to tell you about a fourth bottle; a pricey old favourite of mine currently available in Vintages at the LCBO. Or as we like to say, the LikBo. So, on to the wine.

Let’s start with the red for this month. It hails from Italy’s south and features the grape variety Aglianico. This is the third power-grape of Italy. Certainly as worthy as it’s more heralded brothers, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. Aglianico is often referred to as Italy’s Barolo of the south. Okay, enough set up. Let’s talk about Nativ Rue Dell’Inchiostro Aglianico.

Firstly, there are soft aromas of leather, like a worn saddle in a spaghetti western with distinctive black currants and prunes. Then, there’s a flavourful and smooth taste of ripe cherries and currants.


Campania, Italy
750 mL bottle | VINTAGES# 631606

It’s mighty and velvety, mouth-watering and darned good with a long good-bye that leaves you wishing it wasn’t gone. This was released a couple of weeks ago at the LCBO, so it will be gone fairly soon.  As a retired ad writer, I hate to say this, but hurry, act now!

Now for this month’s bottle of white. The Rhone Valley in France is one of the world’s wine utopias. Of course, the famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape calls the Rhone home. But this valley is also home to the Perrin family. And they happen to produce some high quality, modestly-priced wine. Here’s a good example: Famille Perrin Reserve Cote Du Rhone Blanc 2017 (could the name be any longer?)

If you could pour sunlight, it would be like pouring a glass of this Cote Du Rhone. Light and fresh. It has aromas that are soft and floral, with peaches and melon.

The taste is slightly citric and crisp, but refreshing and understated. Just a nice, simple white wine for any old time you want a nice, simple glass of white wine.


Rhône, France 
750 mL bottle | VINTAGES# 948059

As is our monthly custom, now we go to a place that perhaps some of us wouldn’t normally find ourselves when we’re looking for wine. Over here in the cellar, this is my ‘Under the Radar’ section. This month we have a Cabernet Sauvignon from Bulgaria. Here, they’ve been making wine for a heck of a long time.

Bulgariana 2015 is a deep cherry colour in the glass. Rich wafts of tobacco, ripe cherries and raspberry fill the air. It tastes a little smoky and spicy and tannic. You can feel it on your teeth.

This is a robust, old world wine. I would say unrefined but unmistakably tasty. It takes you to a farm house in the Thracian Lowlands of southern Bulgaria, sitting around a worn kitchen table with a topped-up short glass in front of you.


 Thracian Lowlands, Bulgaria
750 mL bottle | VINTAGES# 419390


As I mentioned earlier, I couldn’t resist mentioning an additional wine this month. It’s a real beauty; only appearing on the shelves of Vintages a couple times a year.

St. Francis is what I would call a classic California Cab. Rich, smooth and jammy. And if you might feel guilty about spending a little more on a bottle, this one is certainly worth the guilt trip.


Sonoma, California, USA
750 mL bottle | VINTAGES# 671164

That’s it for the June edition of wine picks from Jim’s Affordable Cellar. I hope you have a chance to try some of these suggestions. And I look forward to having you back to the cellar in July.  

Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.