‘The Twelve Wines of Christmas’

Issue #21 December 2020 

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me: a Cabernet from Califor-nia.

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me: Two nice Merlots and a Cabernet from Califor-nia.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Three Pinot Noirs, Two nice Merlots, And a Cabernet from Califor-nia.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me: Four old Bordeauxs, Three Pinot Noirs, Two nice Merlots, And a Cabernet from Califor-nia.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me: Five….Sauvignon…Blancs…… Four old Bordeauxs, Three Pinot Noirs, Two nice Merlots, And a Cabernet from Califor-nia.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me: Six Rhones a breathing, Five….Sauvig-non…Blancs……, Four old Bordeauxs, Three Pinot Noirs, Two nice Merlots, And a Cabernet from Califor-nia.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me: Seven Temp-ra-nillos, Six Rhones a breathing, Five…..Sauvig-non…Blancs……,Four old Bordeauxs, Three Pinot Noirs, Two nice Merlots, And a Cabernet from Califor-nia.

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me: Eight corks a popping, Seven Temp-ra-nillos, Six Rhones a breathing, Five…..Sauvig-non….Blancs……, Four old Bordeauxs, Three Pinot Noirs, Two nice Merlots, And a Cabernet from Califor-nia.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me: Nine Barolos ageing, Eight corks a popping, Seven Temp-ra-nillosSix Rhones a breathing, Five….Sauvig-non….Blancs……, Four old Bordeauxs, Three Pinot Noirs, Two nice Merlots, And a Cabernet from Califor-nia.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me: Ten Zins a zinning, Nine Barolos ageing, Eight corks a popping, Seven Temp-ra-nillosSix Rhones a breathing, Five….Sauvig-non….Blancs……, Four old Bordeauxs, Three Pinot Noirs, Two nice Merlots, And a Cabernet from Califor-nia.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Eleven Malbecs melding, Ten Zins a zinning, Nine Barolos ageing, Eight corks a popping, Seven Temp-ra-nillosSix Rhones a breathing, Five….Sauvig-non…Blancs……, Four old Bordeauxs, Three Pinot Noirs, Two nice Merlots, And a Cabernet from Califor-nia!

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me: Twelve Champagnes a bubbling, Eleven Malbecs melding, Ten Zins a zinning, Nine Barolos ageing, Eight corks a popping, Seven Temp-ra-nillosSix Rhones a breathing, Five….Sauvig-non…Blancs……, Four old Bordeauxs, Three Pinot Noirs, Two nice Merlots,

And a Cabernet from Califor-nia!

My apologies if that was a bit weird. Did I just ‘Jump the Shark’? In fairness, I got down to the cellar before you arrived and after a little sampling, I thought some seasonal music might be a good idea. 

So now that we’ve (I’ve) done some seasonal singing. Let’s do some sipping. 

Welcome back to the cellar.

In the spirit of never shying away from trying something new, our first red comes to us from a place we’ve never ventured to on our wine travels; Mexico’s largest winery, located in Baja California. There was a time when we used to say about Mexico, “don’t drink the water!” Well we certainly wouldn’t say that about this popular wine. 

L.A. Cetto Petite Sirah 2017
Petite Sirah, France
750 mL bottle  |   VINTAGES#:  983742

L.A. Cetto Petite Sirah 2017 features you guessed it, Petite Sirah. Actually, this grape is named Durif after Francois Durif, the French botanist who discovered it. What he discovered was a chance cross-pollination between Sirah and another promiscuous French grape called Peloursin. Their little frolic in the nursery created a delicious result that has become a popular varietal for wineries all over the world.

And don’t be fooled by the ‘Petite’ in the name. There is nothing the least bit diminutive about this grape. On the contrary, it’s a full-bodied tannic heavyweight!

It’s dark, dark ruby in the glass with wafting plums and raspberries. And it’s silky on the tongue with luscious, meaty flavours of dark, ripe berries and perhaps hints of licorice and pepper. Any wine that conjures up that many adjectives must be good.

Plus, the price point makes it taste even better.

Now it’s time to get to our second gift; a very nice white from Provence in the south of France. And it comes in a unique and elegant bottle that just looks like a present.

Let’s open it. 

Château Miraval Blanch 2018
Grenache Blanc Blend, Italy
750 mL bottle  |   VINTAGES#:  561241

Chateau Miraval Blanc 2018 is a combination of two grapes; Grenache Blanc and Rolle. Rolle (also known as Vermentino) hails from Provence and found in abundance on the Italian Riviera. 

The folks at Miraval hand-pick these grapes. (By the way, the owners of this winery are Brad and Angelina). My guess is they probably aren’t doing any of the hand picking. At any rate the winemakers have converted those grapes into an extroverted and sunny quaffer with lots of tropical fruit and herbal aromas. 

Any turkey would be thrilled to be accompanied by this beauty.

In 1963 the cardigan clad crooner Andy Williams, recorded a song that would become quite a popular Christmas tune. ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ has become synonymous with our twelfth month but every December I have another version of that song in my heart. It’s the Most Cabernet Time of the Year.

So with that, here is our third present. A Cabernet from Argentina.

Navarro Correas Seleccion de Parcela Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina
750 mL bottle  VINTAGES#:  15125

I think there’s something about the round, richness of a good Cab that for me just belongs in this season alongside a lit fireplace, a grilled peppercorn steak and pretty much anything sung by Sinatra. 

Enter Navarro Correas Seleccion de Parcela Reserva, what a mouthful that is. But fitting because this tasty wine is also quite a mouthful.

It sits dark and invitingly in the glass. Cassis rises and flavours the air. It tastes of black cherries with a subtle dark chocolate that lingers. This cab takes on slightly more robust qualities than perhaps the velvety richness you find in California. But it’s a very nice Cab indeed. I’m hearing Andy Williams with every sip.

Well, it appears to be time to push in our chairs around the old oak tasting table and ascend from the cellar once again. I think there’s a good chance Christmas Vacation is on. I might just have a glass of that Petite Syrah while I watch.

This brings us to the end of another year of our monthly visits; a tough year in many respects, but one that ends with a twinkle of hope for a healthier, happier 2021. Let’s remember our courageous front line workers who are putting themselves in harm’s way to help make that happen.

I look forward to continuing our journey through the vineyards of the world in January. Until then, as always keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.

Happy Christmas.


‘When the French wine industry was brought to its knees by an aphid.’

Issue #14     May, 2020

May is here and we have yet again emerged from the cold war, otherwise known as winter. Meanwhile, as we continue in the battle against Covid-19, easy access to the wine shelves of the LCBO remains a little ways off.  And finding the wine you’re looking for can still be a bit like finding toilet paper. That said, in this issue, we’ll get to know a red, a white and as always, an under the radar wine with the hope they are indeed findable. But I’m confident if anyone can find them, we can.

Welcome back to the cellar.

While we are all dealing with these unsettling times, I thought you might be interested in hearing of another time, when the French wine industry faced a daunting and uncertain future.

It was the mid-19th century when it was attacked and devastated, not by a virus, but by a tiny sap-sucking, aphid.


The little insect is known as Phylloxera. Ugly little bugger, but let’s call him Phyl. Well, little Phyl proceeded to lay waste to the grapevines of Europe, South Africa, and New Zealand. And he left in his wake, considerable economic collateral damage. It was what became known as The Great French Wine Blight.

France has many of these Stone Phylloxera Crosses. They mark sites where the pest first appeared.
They were covered with religious symbols and inscriptions to ward off the infestation.

Here’s how it happened. In the 1860s, botanists in Victorian England began importing American grapevines. Phyl had never been overseas so he hopped a ride. Back in America he only liked to munch on the leaves of grapevines, but in England and then more so in France, he developed a voracious appetite for not just the leaves but the roots of indigenous vines. As you can imagine the results were catastrophic. Grape growers became so desperate in France, one of the measures taken was to bury a live toad under each vine to draw out the “poison”.

In time (about 30 years) the wine industry figured out that if they grafted French vines onto American rootstocks Phyl might just revert to his less destructive ways and wouldn’t have the munchies for the vine’s roots.   

A French vine grafted onto an American root stalk.

The short story is, it worked. For the most part, Phyl lost his appetite. Had American rootstock not been available and ingeniously used the way it was, there would be no wine industry in Europe or most places other than Chile, Washington State, and most of Australia. Oddly enough, California had an outbreak of Phylloxera in the 1980’s. But today, all is well again and lucky for us we get to enjoy wine from all over the world thanks to some brilliant biologists and viticulturists of the past.

Now I know what you’re thinking. When is he going to talk about some wine from this century?  Okay. Here we go.

Due to the availability challenges mentioned earlier, I’ve decided to put a bug in your ear about three bottles that are part of the LCBO’s Essentials list. These wines are usually always available so there shouldn’t be any lunch-bag letdown when you get to the store.

Spain suffered greatly in the great wine blight, (as we now know, there was nothing great about it) but it’s eventual recovery made way for this very nice red from Rioja.

Beronia Reserva 2015 steps just over the $20 threshold but that extra $1.95 investment pays great taste dividends.

Beronia Reserva
Rioja, Spain
750 mL  bottle  VINTAGES#:  50203

This Beronia is a delicious blend led by the wonderful Spanish black grape called Tempranillo; the primary grape of the Rioja region. Full-bodied and brooding like the expression of a matador lurking in the shadows, it tastes of black cherries, blackberry, black pepper and smoke.

Beronia also has two other even more price conscious siblings worth checking out, but we’ll get to them in the future. So much wine, so little time.


La Chablisienne Les Vénérables Vieilles Vignes Chablis
Burgundy, France
750 mL  bottle VINTAGES#:  215525

Since in this issue we’re remembering France’s great triumph over Phylloxera, I couldn’t resist pulling out a bottle from France’s great Burgundy region. Granted, La Chablisienne is a tad less affordable but it’s a whole lot of beautiful. And with what we’ve been going through, we deserve it, damn it!

La Chablisienne is a Chablis produced from old vines so it’s more concentrated with flavour. It comes from the most northern part of Burgundy where the cool climate produces Chardonnay grapes with more acidity and less fruitiness.

That said, Chablis and certainly La Chablisienne gives you a purity of aroma and taste that is second to none. I’ve loved this wine for years and it always rewards me for coming back to it.


Porcupine Ridge Syrah
Coastal Region, South Africa
750 mL  bottle VINTAGES#:  595280

For our under the radar choice this month, we’re going to a country that is hiding in plain sight; South Africa. Porcupine Ridge Syrah comes to us from the Boekenhoutskloof Winery.  That’s a mouthful. As is this Syrah.

It’s medium-bodied and earthy with smokiness and pepper and hints of espresso. Perhaps, this Syrah isn’t as robust as its Australian cousin Shiraz, but for sure it’s a food-friendly Porcupine that loves to cuddle up with a grilled hamburger or a sirloin.

That brings us to the end of our visit down here in the cellar. But before we leave the old tasting table and go our separate ways for another month of crafts, bread-baking, and Zoom-togethers, let’s have some wine and remember a song that was way ahead of its time when released in 1985. The artist was the great Aretha Franklin. The song, ‘Who’s Zooming Who’.

See you in June. Until then, let’s keep all our courageous and dedicated health care providers and first-responders in our hearts.

And as always keep your glass of wine close, and your friends even closer. But for now, keep them at least a hockey stick away.


“The time of year when vintners see what their grapes are made of.”

Issue #6   September, 2019

For most wineries in the northern hemisphere, September ranks as the month of months; the one that perhaps matters most in the creation of wine. This is the time on the calendar when many varieties of grapes come of age and are harvested before the north’s cold air and too much rain douses hopes of future greatness.

For the vintners and the wine makers, each September as they see their grapes go on to their next stage in life is kind of like parents watching their grown children go out into the world to see what they might become.

So, for this issue I thought it fitting we profile three wines made with grapes that were picked from the vine at this very special time of year.

Welcome back to the cellar.

This month we’re going to Spain, France and Italy as we taste and toast wine’s defining month. September. As you know, each time we get together we get to know an ‘under the radar’ selection from the cellar; a wine we might not consider because of where it’s from or because it’s made with a grape we’re not familiar with or maybe because it just has a darn ugly label.

Well this one you may not consider because of something else; its price. Not how high it is, but how low. This bottle is dirt cheap. $7.95. But don’t let that make you think it’s bad. 


Toro Bravo Tempranillo Merlot,
DO Valencia, Spain
750 mL bottle  |   LCBO#:  635755

Toro Bravo comes to us from Spain. It’s a blend of two tasty grapes; Tempranillo and Merlot which gives it a tasty, medium-bodied smoothness. Let’s not kid ourselves, for $7.95, it’s no Chateau Rothschild but it ranks up there with a lot of wine at twice its price. Toro is deep ruby and slightly transparent. Wisps of earthiness and black berries rise to your nose. And it tastes of ripe plums with a tease of chocolate.

Bravo to the makers of this Toro.


Falchini Vigna a Solatio Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2017
750 mL bottle  | VINTAGES#: 480665

Any time of the year is a good time to go to Tuscany, but this month Tuscany has come to us here in the cellar. This beautiful Tuscan white wine features the region’s Vernaccia grape. It’s produced in the Italian hill town of San Gimignano and since the Renaissance, has been considered one of Italy’s finest whites. I concur.

It’s buttery yellow to look at, like the first ray of sunlight after a storm. And it’s light, crisp, and super-smooth. This Vernaccia is a quencher with flavours of green apple and a hint of lemon; a perfect drink to close out the summer with. Sorry about that. Let’s try this. A perfect drink to extend the feeling of summer. That’s better.


Mission de Picpus Malbec 2016
Southwest, France
750 mL  bottle   |   VINTAGES#:  10573

For our red this month, we get to meet an absolute treat. Mission de Picpus from the often-overlooked Cahors region of France, in the southwest. Here Malbec thrives, as it does in Argentina thanks to an abundance of sun and heat.

Back to Mission de Picpus. When its grapes were harvested approximately three Septembers ago, they definitely were on a journey to greatness. In the glass, it’s inky and opaque. Like you’re holding a dark secret. But the secret is out well before it gets to your mouth. You sense ripe fruit and an earthy intensity in the air. It’s a big, bold, full-bodied taste sensation of black cherries and black raspberries. Grab this one fast. Like a September sunset, it won’t last long.

That’s it for this month. And remember, while you’re sipping your fave wine over the next few weeks, raise your glass to the wine makers and the pickers who are out in the vineyards right now gathering the grapes for future vintages. For us to enjoy.

See you back in the cellar in October. And until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.


“Three tasty wines that don’t play hard to get.”

Welcome back to the cellar.

The last few months I’ve profiled a number of wines released specifically in Vintages

at the LCBO. Often these bottles only stay on the shelves until they’re gone. Perish the thought but they can be sold out before you have a chance to get home from work, go to the gym, make some dinner, do the laundry, and peruse this newsletter.

One of my loyal visitors to the cellar each month got me thinking perhaps I should highlight some bottles you don’t have to race out for because they are always available at the LCBO. So this month as is our custom I’ve set out a red, a white and an under the radar choice but relax because these wines you can mosey out for and pick up when you’re good and ready. After all, the purpose of this newsletter is not to raise your blood pressure.

Now on to the wine because while you don’t have to be in a hurry to find these bottles, I’m anxious to tell you about them.

I happily discovered this month’s red a couple of years ago. It stood out firstly on the shelf, because it’s a Gran Reserva (Spanish wine must be aged at least five years in the bottle or barrel to earn this designation) for under $20. And secondly, in my glass.

It’s real tasty. Monasterio De Las Vinas is a tribute to the Cistercian monks who built their monastery in the 11th century and began making wine.


Cariñena, Spain 
750 mL bottle | VINTAGES 82024

This Spanish beauty is a full-bodied blend of three grapes that get along great together; Garnacha, Tempranillo and Carinena. For me, it’s a blend that deserves full credit for its silky smoothess.

Monasterio also treats you to aromas and rich flavours of ripe raspberry and juicy plums with subtle wafts of ash from a fine cigar.  

Casas del Bosque Reserva found its way into the cellar this past month when I was looking for a Sauvignon Blanc that just for a change, was from someplace other than New Zealand.  

Chile answered the call with this inexpensive reserva. It’s pale yellow in the glass with aromas of soft grapefruit and melon rising to greet you. Flavours of kiwi and lemon are instantly refreshing and soon you discover it’s not just a glass of wine. It’s a cool, soft citrus shower for the palate.


Casas del Bosque Reserva Sauvignon Blanc
Casablanca Valley, Chile
750 mL bottle | VINTAGES#:  974717

This wine comes to us from a Chilean valley called Casablanca. When you’re having your first sip remember what Humphrey Bogart said in the classic 1942 film, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” At the very least it will be the beginning of a glass of very nice white wine. Here’s looking at you kid.

And now it’s ‘under the radar’ time; when we throw caution to the wind and get to know a wine or a grape that perhaps we wouldn’t normally choose or think to try.

For years, I was ignorantly guilty of perceiving Riesling as nothing more than a sweet German wine not to be taken seriously. But oh how wrong I was. On two counts.

Riesling can be sweet and sparkling but it can also be as dry as an Alberta afternoon in July. And while Germany is known as the home of Riesling, so is France. In Alsace, their wonderful, wine producing region to the northeast.


Alsace, France 
750 mL bottle | VINTAGES# 11452

Here is Willm Reserve Riesling. In the glass it glows like sunlit straw. It has an earthy, grassy, granny smith apple fragrance that somehow reminds me of a lemon Fruittella. Anyone not familiar with Fruittella? It’s a tart, chewy candy that’s way too easy to eat.

Willm Reserve has soft citrus flavours. It’s zesty and tangy and quenchingly dry. Beautiful with spicy food and just as great late in the afternoon by the lake.

There you have them. Three always available, always enjoyable choices from

Jim’s Affordable Cellar that you won’t have to break any speed limits to secure.

Hot August days are coming. See you back here in the cool cellar a month from now. Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.


“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.