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Good Value White Wines for Spring

There are dozens of white wines under $20 that offer excellent quality for the price. I love Sauvignon Blanc for just sipping by itself on the deck and Chile and New Zealand offer plenty of great value wines. Look for Marlborough on the label of Kiwi wines and the Casablanca valley on Chilean wines. These are the most respected regions.

The best value Rieslings come from Germany, Alsace, and Australia. Often German Rieslings can have a touch of sweetness, even at QbA level, and pair well with spicy food. Rieslings from Alsace are much drier, with crisper acidity and citrus flavors. Australians love their Rieslings too, but these can be extremely dry and only for those who like crisp, steely, austere wines.
Pinot Grigio from Italy will usually run you less than $20 a bottle and these are easy drinking wines. They mainly come from the cooler reaches of northern Italy, in Trentino Alto Adidge and Friuli. They are dry, light to medium in body and always marked by crisp refreshing acidity. Try them with scallops and crab cakes, or simply on their own. Pinot Gris is also the most planted white variety in B.C., so there’s no shortage of options from our own backyard and many of them are impressive quality for the price.

Gewurztraminer is under-rated and, as such, many of them are under-priced. It’s partly to do with the tricky pronunciation of the grape. But don’t let that put you off because these can be sublime, especially from Alsace and B.C. They can be very floral and tropical, smelling of roses and exotic fruits, and usually full bodied and heady.

When it comes to Chardonnay, look to Chile and Australia for real bargains. These are consistently well-made and economies of scale allow for attractive pricing. California is another option, as well as some entry level white Burgundies and wines from the south of France. If they are oaky then try them with richer foods, such as roast chicken.

The list could go on, given the multitude of other varietals lining our shelves, but we’ll leave the rest for another time. Oh, don’t forget Spanish sparkling wine, known as Cava. Now that’s a deal.

Douro Reds from Portugal

The wine world is excited about the quality of dry table wines coming out of the Douro valley. Why? With the decline in sales of Ruby Port the producers have to get creative and follow the market demand for dry red wines.

Some stunning wines have been produced. Barca Velha was the original benchmark, but now there are about a dozen producers who are becoming well regarded, and none more so than Quinta do Crasto. This is a dynamite producer and I consider the wines to be on a par with the some of the better wines in the world. And they could become some of the very best…
One of the issues that has hampered the success of Portugal has been the use of indigenous grape varieties with unfamiliar names. Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cao don’t exactly roll off the tongue. But this is now becoming a strength, an unique selling point, as some wine lovers tire of the standard repertoire of Shiraz, Cab, Merlot etc…

Expect these wines to be a bit rustic in the mid price range, and usually showing some chewy tannins, in a medium to full bodied style. They are a far cry from Napa Valley polished fruit bombs. Think steak on the BBQ or spare ribs.

Some of my recent favorites is Quinta Dos Quatro Ventos, Douro, 2005

This wine should be decanted for 1-2 hours. Quite deep in color with extraction from core to the rim of the glass. Good intensity with floral notes, more depth than the other wines, and a toasty charred oak wrapped in blackberries. Dry, full- in body, with good richness and weight, plenty of tannins to give structure, and nice overall balance. It would improve with cellaring for 2-4 years but decant it, let it open up, and then torch it with a leg of lamb.

Napa and Sonoma

Napa and Sonoma are some of my favorite places to visit. The hotels in wine country are fantastic. The restaurants are world class. And the wines can be superb.

California Chardonnay at the entry level to mid price range (under$30) offers you easy drinking wines. They are always dry but typically with a touch of residual sugar. They are at least medium to full in body, with soft acidity, and most lean towards a more tropical fruit style. Some are smothered in oak, but a few show more restraint.

These wines are like comfort food. They lack some excitement. But if you are looking for something to please a large crowd then it’s hard to go wrong with the ones I recommend.

Chilean Carmenere

In 1991, Chilean grape growers were told that many of their vineyards were not actually Merlot, but a different grape variety called Carmenere. You can imagine the phone calls…

After a quick meeting with the Marketing department, the wineries decided that Carmenere should become the signature grape of Chile. After all, nobody else grew it, except for a few small pockets of vineyards in Bordeaux where it originated.

After some false starts, it seems like Carmenere is now producing very high quality wines. The best are deep in color, with aromas of black cherry and an herbal note, like fresh cut grass. The palate is dry but very fruity in a typical Chilean style, a touch jammy, but with medium to high tannins, quite full in body, and plenty of richness to the mouthfeel.

I think the varietal has the potential to make outstanding wines, although it may be hard to beat Argentina’s Malbec and California’s Zinfandel as signature varietals. But I was very impressed with the quality of the wines from Vina Maipo, Arboleda, and Tamaya. But if you want a superb wine then try Montes Purple Angel. That’s worth buying.

California Chardonnay

Napa and Sonoma are some of my favorite places to visit. The hotels in wine country are fantastic. The restaurants are world class. And the wines can be superb.

California Chardonnay at the entry level to mid price range (under$30) offers you easy drinking wines. They are always dry but typically with a touch of residual sugar. They are at least medium to full in body, with soft acidity, and most lean towards a more tropical fruit style. Some are smothered in oak, but a few show more restraint.

These wines are like comfort food. They lack some excitement. But if you are looking for something to please a large crowd then it’s hard to go wrong with the ones I recommend.

Sebastiani, Sonoma County, California 2007
Beringer, Napa Valley, California 2005

Life is Too Short…

“Life is too short to drink bad wine”, as the saying goes.

It’s about quality, not quantity. This means that I taste about twenty wines before I find one that will impress you. I always wondered why critics bothered reviewing mediocre wines, but then I guess they get paid by the word – OK, OK you’re cut off again…

A Crystal Ball on the World

One of my favourite things about my job is taking a group of people to visit chateaux like Haut-Brion, Palmer, Domaine de Chevalier, Pavie, Coutet, Yquem, Cheval Blanc, Margaux, Ducru and Pichon, amongst others. I must have a horseshoe somewhere strategic…

Anyway, it’s interesting to speculate where the wine world is going. Here’s some food for thought.

As a consumer, it won’t be long before we’ll be able to scan the bar code of a bottle with our phone, and download every major review so we know exactly what it tastes like, and what it pairs well with. This is already happening, with the Kiwi’s leading the way. Restaurant wine lists will be on iPads, and you’ll be able to click on links to get as much information about wines as you like, which is already happening as well.

Wine lovers will also have more of a chance to try wines before they buy them. The success of the Enomatic machines in retail stores is surely a trend that will grow. Surely someone will also develop miniature spray bottles that will contain the aromatics of a wine, so we can have a little sniff before we buy.

Winemakers will start to use super hi-tech toys like the electronic nose and electronic tongue (no sex jokes please) to evaluate dozens of critical decisions in the vineyard and winery. This already exists and is happening. It’s not romantic, and these machines can’t evaluate quality as accurately as components, so thankfully they’ll be a role for tasters. What a relief.

And some wines will be dispatched around the world by sailing ship, to minimize the carbon footprint. This is already happening too, and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte is building 3 huge ships to sail around the world and deliver their wine. Organic viticulture will become almost mandatory, and I pity those in areas where the climate doesn’t allow for it.

But one thing won’t change. And that’s the pleasure of drinking wine. It never has, and it never will.

A Wine’s Character

If a wine doesn’t have real character, a stamp of individuality, then it can’t be outstanding quality. Just like with music, the greatest artists follow their own path, they do things differently, take risks, and don’t care too much about what others think.

And so it should be with wine. Otherwise we’ll end up with an ocean load of fermented grape juice that tastes like Britney Spears. She’s OK for a Monday night sipper – but never memorable.