A Little Help from My Friends

Issue #28 July 2021

Recently I was sitting on the back patio in the late afternoon sipping a little, you know what, when one of the great songs of the late 60’s came up randomly on Spotify. 

A Little Help From My Friends was written by, you know who and came to the world’s ears in 1967 as the second track on the Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s album. 

A year later, the inimitable Joe Cocker presented his stirring, heartfelt rendition of the song that would build on its popularity and solidify its place in music as a rock classic.

JUNE 1: Album cover designed by art director Robert Fraser for rock and roll band “The Beatles” album entitled “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” which was released on June 1, 1967. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Well sometimes things happen for a reason, and sometimes they just plain happen. 

In this case, pure serendipity was at work. As you may have seen in last month’s issue I invited anyone who would love to sing to the hilltops (kind of tough from a wine cellar) about a wine they love, and to send me their notes. I’m thrilled that a number of you took me up on the idea. As I thought, I’m not the only one who loves to talk about wine. 

So here are some wine favourites and words from a group of wine appreciators that I affectionately think of as Jim’s Affordable Cellar Dwellers.

Welcome back to the cellar.

Our first recommendation comes from Steve in Toronto. He says, “Our neighbours recently brought over this Chenin Blanc from South Africa as a gift.  A few days later it was well chilled and ready for a warm summer day.”

Steve’s Pick: Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc
South Africa
750 mL bottle  LCBO#:  495507

Steve goes on to say, “I noticed on the label it had a rating of 93 from a Star wine critic. But I was pleasantly surprised by the aroma and taste; very light, refreshing, and understated, yet delicious. It’s dry, smooth and easy to drink, like the grapes decided to throw summer party for my taste buds. 

It’s well balanced and presents flavours of citrus. But they are subtle and it’s enjoyable to continue sipping to unearth the flavour.  It’s 13% so be careful with it, because it can sneak up on you. Great for sipping this time of year or pairing with cheese and crackers.  At one time it was only sold in cases, now the LCBO sells it individually. Best of all, it’s only $10. Enjoy!

Wow! I get the feeling Steve kind of likes this Chenin Blanc. Actually, it does sound very good. By the way, the Chenin Blanc grape is originally from France’s Loire Valley. South Africa adopted it and has been growing it since the late 1600’s.

We’re going to stay with white wine for our next recommendation. A different grape but an equally refreshing choice. This one comes to the cellar from Pam on that beautiful hideaway just east of Kingston known as Howe Island.

Pam’s Pick: Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio
Trentino, Italy
750 mL  bottle  LCBO#:  302380

Pam tells me she is not a monogamous wine drinker. You are not alone Pam. She says, “I have few favourites and many likes,” and succinctly describes this Mezzacorona as “a lovely crisp wine that is almost tart.”

Since learning about it I wanted to know more about where this wine comes from.

The province of Trentino in Northern Italy

Trento. Italy

Trentino (officially the Autonomous Province of Trentino) and its capital, the city of Trento, sit a little northeast of Milan in a valley where the Adige River flows from the Italian Alps. It’s refreshing just thinking about that.

Our next reco comes from Cathy in London. She modestly claims not to be an expert on wine.

That makes two of us Cathy. 

Actually, that reminds me of a wonderful line I must attribute to someone who is a wine expert and also a very good wine writer; Natalie MacLean. She puts judging wine in perspective with this practical thought, “If you like it, it’s good.” 

Wise words indeed. Btw, if you want a great wine read, I recommend Natalie’s excellent book, ‘Red, White and Drunk All Over’.

Back to Cathy’s wine pick. She tells me she has a few favourites and one of them is this Californian Chardonnay. 

Cathy’s Pick: Sand Point Chardonnay
California, USA
750 mL  bottle  LCBO#:  11194

Cathy says, “I am definitely not a wine expert but I do have some favorites. I lean towards the Chardonnays and the oakier the better!!” 

Well, I’d say she knows what she likes. And as for oaky Chardonnays, there are more of them in California than there are Ray Bans and Porsches.

It’s time for a red wine reco. This one comes courtesy of Brian in Toronto who is taking us back to Italy where he has found a real beauty that he wants to tell us about

Brian’s Pick: Terra d’Aligi Tatone Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2016
Montepulciano, Italy
750 mL bottle  |   VINTAGES#:  994616

Here’s what Brian has to say. 

Tatone was a delightful surprise, to say the least. Located on the bottom shelf at the LCBO(a traditional bargain hunting ground for me), it was Tatone’s price that first drew my attention. I knew this wine was well-loved by its producers after raising the weighty bottle, appreciating its clean exquisite label, and feeling the deep punt. Bad wine rarely comes in well-made heavy bottles.”

Brian continues, “Tatone is a multi-layered wine from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo area of Italy that, in my opinion, should definitely not reside on the bottom shelf. This well-made red has the typical fruity flavour of the region, but it also has traces of cocoa bean and cherry to balance out a hint of cracked pepper.Bold yet balanced with excellent structure and a long finish. While the word Tatone is an affectionate nickname for grandfather, it’s also my new word for top-shelf.” 

Woah! I think someone’s cutting my grass!! That was quite the eloquent reco Brian. Now I know who to call if I ever want to take a month off.

I don’t think there’s any more for me to say.  Jim’s Affordable Cellar Dwellers have said it all. Thanks again to Steve, Pam, Cathy and Brian for doing the painstaking, grueling work of discovering and tasting the great wines they’ve told us about. 

It really is terrific hearing wine recos from others. If anyone has a best kept wine secret they want to share with the rest of us here in The Cellar, do let me know. 

I can always use ‘a little help from my friends.’

We’ll leave it at that for this month. Until next time, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer.


Thanks to everyone for signing up to my web page where you’ll see this each month as a blog. If you know anyone who is interested in following the newsletter, they just have to visit jimsafffordablecellar.ca to submit their email. The button is below the ‘back issues’. They’ll be notified each month, as will you, when each new issue is published. And the newsletter is a little more reader friendly there.

And please let me know if you’d like to share some wine you love with the rest of us. roamingbuffalo44@gmail.com 

‘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.


“How to pick a good wine? We all have our ways.”

Issue #12     March, 2020

Since we get together each month down here in the cellar to seek out wines that are both enjoyable and affordable, I thought it might be interesting to explore just how we go about making our choices to buy the wines we do. For many of us this is a process that is certainly personal and sometimes a little unexplainable.

Of course, there’s the old stand-by method; word of mouth. A friend or someone like me, mentions a great wine so as any self-respecting wine lover would, you give it a try. A close cousin of this approach is the ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ method. Basically this means you surreptitiously watch what wine the person next to you takes off the shelf at the LCBO and when he or she leaves the area, you grab yourself a bottle too.

Some wine shoppers employ purely visual techniques. They use the shape of the bottle or look of the label, or the name of the wine to make their decision. Personally, if I see any bad puns in the name of a wine, I smell vinegar.

A friend of mine chooses her wine by feel, using the uncommon method of inspecting the bottom of the bottle in question with her fingertips.

If that bottle has a deep indent, (actually it’s called the ‘Punt’) she deems it worthy of a purchase. If it’s mostly flat with no punt or a very minor one, her quest continues. Hey, it sounds nutty, but it works for her.

I’m sure there are other methods too but when it comes right down to it, it doesn’t really matter how we find our favourites, as long as we find them. So let’s.

Welcome back to Jim’s Affordable Cellar.


Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz/Cabernet 2017
South Australia
750 mL  bottle  VINTAGES#:  186114

Our red this month isn’t new to the shelves. It periodically shows up and is most always worthy of consideration. And you can’t miss the curious name on the label. I have no idea what it means but Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz/Cabernet is a very pleasing blend of two very pleasing grapes.

It has a deep plum colour in the glass with aromas of black raspberries, blueberries and basil. But when you tilt it mouth-bound you discover a silky, smooth flavour-burst thanks to the bold richness of Shiraz and the elegance of Cab Sauvignon.

This bottle has an impressive ‘Punt-factor’ of an inch and one eighth.

My translation,  Jip Jip Rocks, rocks!


Ribotta Pinot Grigio 2018
DOC delle Venezie, Italy
750 mL bottle  |   VINTAGES#:  12725

Now to the Venezie region of Italy for our white this month. Since March brings us the first day of Spring and reason to think of warm afternoons to come, a bright, light and crisp Pinot Grigio is in order. You’ll notice Ribotta Pinot Grigio 2018 on the shelves by it’s refreshing Sea Green floral patterned label.

In the glass you can’t help but behold its crystal clear, pear colour with scents of melon, lemon and peach.

Have a taste and you’re treating yourself to a perfect balance of acidity and smoothness. That’s wine talk for ‘this is really good.’ Of course it is, Ribotta Pinot

has a ‘Punt-Factor’ of over an inch!


Julia Florista Red Blend
750 mL bottle  LCBO#:  532358

Our under to radar wine this month is a bottle you’ll find hiding on the regular listing shelves of Portugal. I was drawn to it by the quirky, storybook label and the charming history behind it. That of Julia Florista, the infamous flower girl and spontaneous Fado singer of Lisbon. No matter how well she sang, for under ten dollars this wine named in her honour, hits all the right notes.

It’s deep garnet in colour with bright, fruity aromas and hints of leather.  It doesn’t scream at your taste buds, but softly sings to them in a smooth and tasty voice.

And as for the bottom of this bottle, it has a ‘Punt’ factor of just under an inch. Not bad at all.

This brings us to the close of our March visit together down here in the cellar at the old oak tasting table. In a month when we meet again, I’m planning to use yet another criterion for my selections. Perhaps a healthier one. Not the depth of the bottom of the bottle or the look of the label, but wine designated as ‘Organic’. So hold on to your Birkenstocks because we may have to break the $20 barrier. But it’s worth a try.

See you in April. Until then, keep your glass of wine close and you’re 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.