Wines for whatever November throws at us.

Issue #20 November 20, 2020  (how crazy is that?)

I think it’s fair to say, the month of November can have a bit of a nasty disposition. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t get the brilliant leaves of October. Perhaps its nose is a little out of joint because festive lights and joyful hearts are reserved for December. The fact is, November can be downright moody and dark.  And it can certainly give one the cold shoulder. For the most part, November can be just plain disagreeable. After all, the first two letters in its name are ‘No’.

That said the November we are currently living with has been uncharacteristically friendly this year. But don’t be fooled friends. I just don’t trust it. This is a month that can turn on you faster than a competitor on Survivor

So let’s fortify our defenses and brace ourselves for the days ahead by getting to know three powerful wines that can go toe to toe with whatever November (the wolf currently in sheep’s clothing), eventually throws at us.

Welcome back to the cellar.

Let’s start with a muscular red that hails from the Barossa Valley in South Australia. This beauty pays tribute to the legendary Peter Lehmann; one of Australia’s most respected and innovative winemakers. 

Sadly, in 2013 he left the vineyard shall we say, but he left a great legacy of superb winemaking and some wonderful wines to remember him with.

Peter Lehmann The Barossan Shiraz 2018
750 mL  bottle  VINTAGES#:  522235
South Australia, Australia

The Barossan Shiraz 2018 is as deep and dark as November’s sky at 5pm, thanks to Daylight Saving Time. It’s a brooding heavyweight with aromatic layers of currants and black berries. And when it hits your taste buds you discover its robust, rich and smooth character with flavours of ripe cherries and dark chocolate.

A very good friend recently brought me this bottle and I just couldn’t wait to talk about it here. Thanks Steph. And thank you Mr. Lehmann. Forever you will be, The Barossan.

If there’s anyone you’d like to have your back, when November remembers it’s November, it would be the guy on the label of our next red.  

The story goes, back in the 1600’s he was known as a friendly sort of fellow, but based on the portrait, he doesn’t seem all that jovial. Maybe he was having a bad hair day. 

El Gorú
Monastrell/Syrah/Petit Verdot
750 mL bottle VINTAGES#:  44394
$13.95 (Always Available)

El Goru is made from a blend of three grapes, with most of the heavy lifting being done by Monastrell (also known as Mourvedre). This Spanish grape tends to produce strong tannic wines. In fact, it’s mouth-drying tannins earned it the French nickname Etrangle-Chien (the dog strangler). No wonder so many wine-lovers have wrapped their hands around the neck of this bottle.
El Goru is an intense wine. Considering his glare, that’s probably stating the obvious. But it’s a hearty taste treat of ripe dark fruit, black pepper, vanilla and mocha. Enough to make anyone happy. Even Goru himself.

Sadly, I’m finding that apart from a rather worn Visa card, my reading glasses are required equipment when I venture out to my local wine merchant, (aka, the LCBO). Happily, our white this month is easily recognized on the shelf by its striking green label with a pair of glasses on it.

J. Bookwalter Readers Chardonnay 2018
750 mL bottle  |   VINTAGES#:  634162
Washington, U.S.A.

J. Bookwalter Readers Chardonnay comes from Washington State’s Columbia Valley.
Reading the label tells you it’s a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Viognier. The Viognier gives it aromas and flavours of peaches and pears with a nice crispness.
It scores high on my refreshing metre too because that classic Chardonnay roundness comes with a welcome edge.

I guess you don’t have to read between the lines to tell that I quite like it.
Jerry Bookwalter started the winery in 1976. And it has grown from one of Washington’s oldest wineries to become one of Pacific Northwest’s most recognized boutique wine brands.
Try it. Readers or not, you’ll see what I mean.

Well, it’s time to get out of the cellar and see if November is showing any signs of living up (or down) to its reputation.
I hate to bring this gathering to an end. But soon December will be upon us and while perhaps it won’t be like any other December we’ve ever known, we will be able to get together once again back in the cellar.

Until then, keep your glass of wine close and your friends even closer,
in a warm, don’t you dare enter my six-foot bubble kind of way, of course.


‘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.