I recently had the opportunity to taste several wines marketed under the umbrella of Dionysus Wines & Spirits. Their northern rep, Karen Faldien, provided me with some of the newer products which are now listed in the LCBO, and following that, I spoke with Alex Patinios, the company president.
Under Alex’s leadership, the company, whose name honours the Greek god of wine, has come to represent some of the best value brands in the LCBO.
They already carried the Argentinian favourite, Fuzion, and just a couple of years ago, Alex worked with suppliers in Spain to create Toro Bravo, which practically overnight became a huge sensation.
Toro Bravo, a blend of Tempranillo and Merlot, continues to sell for less than $9. The current vintage, the 2019, impresses immediately with a smooth entry of forward dark fruit, which is soon followed by a definite tannic grip. Those tannins will soften, but right now it will be at its best with food and is a great choice for barbecue.
The Toro Bravo line includes a white, a sparkling wine, and a rosé. Of the Rosé, Ontario writer Michael Pinkus wrote, "Made from Shiraz and Grenacha … quite pleasant (but it starts off slow) with honeydew-melon, floral, peach cocktail, then moves into subtle lemon zest with a pinch of lime. By the time you've sipped on it a few more times you realize it's quite quaffable with a good dry finish". He gives it three and a half stars, which, in his scoring system, ranks it as an excellent wine.
This Rosé, a blend of Shiraz and Garnacha (Grenache), certainly hits well above its price point, starting clean, and quickly establishing a solid fruit profile. It has a lip-smacking, thirst-quenching finish, and you‘re left ready for more. It offers pretty stiff competition to many more expensive rosés sitting on the LCBO shelves.
Alex, I believe, is willing to go much farther in bringing wines to our tables than many other agents and importers. When he sees an opportunity to fill a gap on the LCBO lists, he looks for ways to fill it.
In addition to Toro Bravo, he has recently worked in Niagara to develop, with the assistance of Strewn Winery, a reasonably priced and delicious Chardonnay, Popcorn, which is attributed to the “Garage Wine Company”. There is a ‘Popcorn Chardonnay’ in the States, but as trademarks are country-specific, the name was still available to Alex here.
Alex explained that a lot of wineries had excess fruit during Covid, and working with his relationships with producers, Alex was able to acquire wine still in tank and barrel. In one case, a buyer bailed out on a grower, so Alex purchased 4 tons of chardonnay grapes. Strewn ultimately did the blending, and a profile was established.
The 2019 Popcorn Chardonnay is the second-best performing new VQA wine launched this year. It has an ample and creamy mouthfeel at the start, but there is a tangy finish – Yin and Yang in one sip! The brightness on the finish lingers, providing a significant aftertaste. It is a great summer wine, and good fruit comes through in the middle.
When Toro Bravo first came out, Carolyn Evans Hammond of the Toronto Star gave it a 96. (Her approach is to judge wines against comparably priced wines in the same category.)
Of the 2019 Popcorn Chardonnay, $15.95, she had this to say: “The liquid gleams pale gold in the glass. The entry is smooth, crisp and cool with subtle suggestions of toasty, buttered popcorn shot through with bright, mouth-watering acidity that leaves the palate nicely cleansed. There’s even a hint of salinity on the finish. The wine won’t woo you with complexity. But it’s clean, well-made and has relatively low alcohol with 12.5 per cent. There’s a touch of sweetness — to the tune of 7 grams per litre — just enough to balance the acidity. And frankly, it delivers good value for money. Score: 93.
For the 2020 vintage, Alex purchased fruit specifically for the Popcorn Chardonnay. Strewn winemaker, Marc Bradshaw, told Hammond that he applied small-batch techniques such as sur-lie, blending and barrel fermentation, even though he is actually making 15,000 litres in all, a sizable production. From vintage to vintage the character may change as it expresses the fruit of that year, but overall the goal is “pure enjoyment” Bradshaw offered.
Another new venture has Patinios introducing a new Pinot Grigio, Mare di Sirena, from Abruzzi in central Italy on the Adriatic coast. At $8.90, it is an effort to fill a niche, providing a wine of quality at a very affordable price. The name means Sea of the Siren, and the label features a Mermaid. Working with a long-established and reputable producer, they together took advantage of the region's growing conditions, with good fruit developing in a warm climate that is ultimately tempered by the moderating breezes of the Adriatic.
The result is a wine with good density with the initial impression of fruit such as mandarin orange and pineapple. This is followed by sharper refreshing citrus notes, perhaps lime, and it finishes with a touch of bitter almond. The flavours are deep and lasting and are perfect for taking on the summer heat we’ve been experiencing.
At times, Alex tells us, Pinot Grigio could be labelled the Vodka of wine…water with 12 per cent alcohol – the implication is that it can lack flavour. You won’t have to worry about that with Mare di Sirena. Buy a bottle, and compare it with other PGs you might usually try.
Alex is very entrepreneurial, and not content just to represent existing products when he believes he can help to develop something good that the Ontario market needs. With Toro Bravo, Popcorn Chardonnay, and Mare di Sirena Pinot Grigio he has made some great contributions to our LCBO options.
Recognizing how much the market is growing for ready-made cocktails, Patinios has also developed the Amalfi Aperitivo Spritz, a ready to drink combination of sparkling wine (22 per cent) and soda, which is infused with “burnt orange and tangerine peels and a blend of herbs and roots including quinine” (as found in tonic water). Refreshing, it is not overly bitter at all. It is a good way to start an evening and set you up for the dinner to follow. At $12.95 for 4 355ml. bottles, it offers both value and pleasure.
That said, his portfolio includes some excellent brands. One of the most recent is the Bread & Butter line of wines from California, which is the biggest brand of the Winery Exchange, one of the top 20 California wine companies.
Patinios was successful in getting a listing in the LCBO for the Bread & Butter Cabernet Sauvignon just 66 days after being selected to represent the label. The wine keeps exceeding projections and has actually outsold the popular Josh Cellars two months in a row.
The Bread & Butter 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, $18.95, is harmonious and straightforward on entry, with significant blackberry, dark cherry fruit, and finishing with an impression of dark chocolate. After it has had a chance to breathe, the flavours integrate nicely, resulting in a smooth, full and polished impact. In all, a very satisfying wine.
The Bread & Butter 2019 Chardonnay, $18.95, provides a study in contrast with the Popcorn from Niagara. It has the typical deep colour we associate with California Chardonnay. It is very clean with a soft, round and silky texture. Subtle impressions of golden delicious apple and peach lead to some gentle spice on the finish, as well as a light touch of butterscotch. A deft citrus note gives a gentle grip at the end.
The line includes a good Rosé and a Pinot Noir, with the latter $2 off at $16.95 until August 15. It is a poised, lighter red, with flavours true to the varietal opening up mid-way –soft plum, perhaps raspberry, and the suggestion of herb at the finish. Thoroughly pleasant, it has been very well received in the U.S. and is a terrific buy here at a price that rivals its cost in the States.
The motto for this line is “Good. Honest. Simple. Do not overthink it.” The wines clearly meet this standard admirably.
Whether it is taking the initiative to actually develop new lines of wine for our market or representing some solid producers, Alex Patinios has charted a path that is working well for his Dionysus Wine & Spirits company and for those of us who appreciate good wines at a great value.
Alex, Keep it up!
Currently available are many interesting wines from the July 24 release.
Feudo Antico Organic Pecorino 2019, $15.95, from Italy’s Abruzzi region is quite attractive. "Delicate aromas of pear and melon eventually reveal more depth as this wine sits. Firmly medium in weight, the silken palate delivers coiled citrus, melon and white plum flavours lifted by saline and lemon zest. – 89." Wine Enthusiast.
Middle-Earth Sauvignon Blanc, $18.95, from New Zealand, is a Wine Enthusiast ‘Editor’s Choice’, and is described as follows: “In addition to pineapple rind, red apple peel and lemon verbena tones, this wine offers gentle accents of warm stone and dried riverside vegetation, too. The acidity is bright and zippy and there's lovely purity of fruit on the palate.” – 92.
Miles Mossop The Introduction Chenin Blanc 2019, $18.95, from South Africa has the endorsement of Tim Atkin MW, who writes “Aged in old barrels, it's all about fruit purity rather than wood, with crunchy acidity, lots of citrus and Cox's apple fruit and a stony, palate-refreshing finish. – 91.
Foncalieu Prestige Fitou 2019, $12.95, from France’s Languedoc is new to the LCBO and hard to resist at this price. Winealign’s Michael Godel describes it as "rich, heady and notably wooded Fitou here, fully throttled, flavoured and present." Other members of the team were equally positive about it. – 87.
Heredad de Urueña Santo Terroir Tempranillo 2014, $16.95, from Spain is said to be “big-boned” with “full-on fruit” delivering “a good degree of complexity and structure” according to rodphillipsonwine.com. Having aged seven years already, it is clearly ready to drink and showing well. – 92.
Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, $17.95, is a great buy from South Africa. I am a fan of this estate because of its pedigree, as it was established by May de Lenquesaing of the renowned Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Bordeaux. Saying it over-delivers for the price, decanter.com tells us it has “a very pretty nose of florals, dried herbs and red and blackberries. The palate is elegant and understated with pure fruit and fine tannins.” – 93
Aug. 7 Release
I don’t know which wines on this release will actually be sent to the Sault, but these are some I would look for, or consider ordering online the day of release.
I Balzi Bio Grillo 2020, $14.95, from Sicily took Gold at the Gilbert & Gaillard International Wine Challenge – the company publishes a wine guide that is sold in 22 countries around the world and is translated into nine different languages. Vintages tells us the wine is crisp and vibrant with lifted citrus flavours and a saltiness on the finish adding depth and complexity.
Il Poggio Taburno Falanghina Del Sannio, $16.95, from Italy’s Campania region near Naples has Luca MaronI’s approval. He eloquently describes it thus: “Deep in its thick extractive net, limpid in its enological execution where fruit and flowers are protagonists. Thick, stainless is its olfactory glare. And its softness on the palate, harmonious synthesis of smoothness and acidity, yielding its splendid expressive taste of native grapes.” – 95.
Pesquié Èdition 1912M Ventoux 2020, $17.95 comes from one of my favourite producers in France’s Rhone region. A blend of Clairette, White Grenache, Viognier and Roussane, it offers “beautiful tension and freshness with citrus aromas (lemon and grapefruit), exotic fruits (litchees) and white fruits," according to the producers… and I trust them!
Domaine des Caarteresses Tavel 2020, $18.95, is from the very heart of Rosé country. We are told by winespectator.com that “Rose petal, strawberry and raspberry notes meld nicely in this subtly juicy version, with a red tea streak holding the finish.” – 89.
Bellina Comedia 2016, $15.95, is an IGT Toscana, which means it is a blend from Tuscany featuring some ‘non-Tuscan’ grapes, such as Shiraz. It has good body with lots of fruit, aromas of pipe tobacco and cedar, and a spicy finish with a smoky note. James Suckling suggests it should be drunk now and gives it a – 93.
Chateau Le Gardera 2017, $15.95, from a satellite region of Bordeaux is called a ‘best Buy’ by the Wine Enthusiast: “This rounded, ripe wine has a solid tannic structure to back up the black fruits and ripe acidity.” It should be at its best now as well. – 90.
Three Rings Shiraz 2018, $17.95 from South Australia has high praise from Vic Harradine of winecurrent.com, a Canadian wine blog. In addition to lots of dark fruit, it has a “creamy-smooth mouthfeel”, flavours which “surge over the palate…deft balance, persistent purity… [and a] delectable finish.” – 91