Luxembourg is a tiny country with a big thirst. Care to guess where it ranks on the per-capita consumption chart? No. 1 – ahead of France, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland, in that order. In 2010, residents of the grand duchy knocked back an average of 52.5 litres each, according to statistics recently compiled by the California-based Wine Institute. Go, Luxembourg!
Technically, it was edged out by two other jurisdictions – Vatican City and Norfolk Island, the latter a territory of Australia – but they don't qualify as full-fledged countries. The Vatican's 800 faithful managed do down an impressive 54.8 litres each, but, hey, I'll bet they need not fear getting pulled over for erratic driving in the walled enclave around St. Peter's. Norfolk Island's 2,300 residents, meanwhile, consumed an average of 54.5 litres a head, a nice way to chill out while gazing at the wondrous night sky on a remote postage stamp of land in the Pacific between Australia and New Zealand. For Luxembourg, a heavily rural nation surrounded by France, Germany and Belgium, it's a thirst encouraged as much by economics as culture. Incomes are among the highest in the world, and alcohol taxes are blissfully low. In fact, Luxembourg is among the top consumers of alcohol, period.
To be fair, it's likely, too, that the country's world-champion status – celebrated on "Luxembourg Drinking Team" T-shirts and fridge magnets – includes significant sales to tourists from neighbouring states taking advantage of the drive-through bargains.
More laudably, Luxembourg does its share of producing, not just consuming. Though it boasts just slightly more than half a million people, its annual wine output is 13.5 million litres, roughly a quarter that of Canada's, with 60 times the population. Much of the wine is crisp, white and dry bubbly produced on the banks of the Mosel river, the same tributary system that yields some of Germany's greatest wines. With the exception of Belgium and Germany, which account for the vast majority of Luxembourg's exports, the world sadly sees very little of that wine. Some is quite good, especially the sparkling wine, typically made according to the bottle-fermented Champagne method.
A decent one was released this week through Ontario Vintages stores. It's not in the league of fine Champagne, to be sure, but at least it's a curiosity, like that fridge magnet you may have picked up in Luxembourg.
Bernard-Massard Cuvée de L'Ecusson Brut (Luxembourg)
SCORE: 87 PRICE : $16.95
Chardonnay and pinot noir, key constituents of Champagne, are joined by pinot blanc and riesling to create an intriguing blend. Lean and bone-dry, it shows a great acid spine and a touch of bitter citrus pith. It would make for a refreshing aperitif or pair nicely with fried appetizers, such as spring rolls.
Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (California)
SCORE: 95 PRICE: $79.95
I love this wine, and for the money I suppose I should. It's big and smooth and brimming with fruit, but there are layers of interest here that summon thoughts of fine Bordeaux, including herbs, cigar box and pencil lead. It's far, far better than a more expensive California red also featured in this week's Ontario Vintages release: Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red ($149.95), which is dreadfully overripe and a simple fruit bomb by comparison. That's crazy fine-wine economics for you. But the Pahlmeyer comes in a monstrously heavy bottle, which may impress some collectors. Don't fall for the packaging or for the overblown U.S. reviews – unless you happen to have a serious sweet tooth.
Callejon del Crimen Mistery Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Argentina)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.95
This intense, full-bodied red shows strong dark chocolate and cassis flavours as well as a pleasant dark-coffee bitterness. Pair it with steak or let it improve with up to five years in the cellar.
Rosehall Run Cuvée County Chardonnay 2010 (Ontario)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $21.95
Winemaker Dan Sullivan delivered impressive ripeness with this 2010 chardonnay from Prince Edward County. And it's beautifully balanced – full-bodied and round, with a buttery quality and flavours of peach and tropical fruit lifted by mouthwatering acidity. Crowd-pleasing and complex, it would be a perfect match for creamy squash soup. Available from Sept. 29 at the winery's retail store or online through www.rosehallrun.com.
Closson Chase Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay 2009 (Ontario)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $29.95
Complex and deliciously sculpted, this is a full-bodied white spanning the chardonnay spectrum – sweet tropical fruit, binned apple, nuts, buttery texture and a note of yeasty lees, with excellent acid freshness.Try it with grilled salmon or roast pork. Available in Ontario.
Pentage Hiatus 2009 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $20
A Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, this is a terrific red from a top Okanagan estate. Full-bodied and juicy, it offers up succulent cherry and spice supported by good acidity and a backbone of fine-grained tannins. It would benefit from a year or two in the cellar and pair nicely now with steak. Available through www.pentage.com.
Argiolas Perdera 2009 (Italy)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17.95
How's this for an unusual grape blend – monica, carignano and bovale sardo? The Italian island of Sardinia has its lovely curiosities, and this red qualifies. Medium-fullbodied, it's for adventurous palates, among which you can count me. Suggestions of tar, iron and dry dirt mingle with fruit and spices. Try it with lamb stew or sausages.
Bodegas La Casona de Castano Old Vines Monastrell 2011 (Spain)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $8.85
One amazing value here. I enthused about a previous vintage of this wine, as did a number of international critics. There's so much going on for the money: a smooth core enlivened by acidity and dusty tannins, with flavours of berry and a nuance of Rhône-style smoked herbs. The acidity may be higher than most bargain-red hunters tend to favour, but it adds important structure. It is perfect for roast lamb, grilled sausages or roast chicken.
Emperors Nero d'Avola 2010 (Italy)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $15.95
This crowd-pleasing Sicilian red is for those who like them ripe. Full-bodied and faintly sweet, it delivers rich plum and chocolate with mild spice and acidity. Think grilled lamb.