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White Burgundy

I was excited to taste a range of top class white Burgundy. To me, when you get a good one, they are the best Chardonnays in the world, hands down.

Why? Great white Burgundy can have a level of complexity and depth that you rarely find in other Chardonnays. They are also usually drier and more minerally on the palate than most New World wines, with a natural acidity that dances across the palate.

The top appellations to look for are Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. It’s often a good idea to cellar these wines for a few years, and I would also consider decanting them. Also, don’t serve them too cold, and remember they can be a beautiful way to end a meal with some soft cheeses. When these wines are on they’re some of the best white wines in the world.

Chablis

If you don’t like big oaky Chardonnay then maybe Chablis is the ticket. This region, in the northern reaches of Burgundy, makes the most minerally, crisp and lean Chardonnays on the market.

The colors are always pale and the green tones not only indicate youth but can possibly lead you to a Chablis. The nose can be very light and delicate, without much intensity or definition. I always hated Chablis in blind tasting exams because of their neutrality. But the best wines show more intensity, a purity and focus, with notes of wet stones, lemon rind, and granny smith apples.

The palate is always bone dry, with many of them in the light to medium body camp, and defined by this chalky mouthfeel and vibrant acidity. At their best these are stylish wines that are elegant and refined, without any oak, or obvious signs of it. If most Australian Chardonnay is like Dolly Parton then Chablis is more like Kate Moss, minus the coke.

If you go big and buy the Grand Cru wines then make sure you cellar them for at least 5 years before opening them. Great Chablis can cellar 1-2 decades, or more.

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.

A Good Bottle of Wine for $10?

For red wines that’s pretty easy to answer. Malbec from Argentina and Merlot from Chile are the best quality wines on the market that I’ve tasted for under $10. In fact, I’ve often found them to be as good as wines priced at $15-$20 from a host of other countries. The reason that these are such a good deal is because land and labour cost a fraction of what they do in most other countries, and the weather is pretty reliable enabling producers to get the grapes nice and ripe almost every year. If you’re looking for a European wine, I find that Portugal can offer amazing value, although the wines often seem to be much tougher, more rustic, and need some food to soften them up.

When it comes to white wines, it really depends on what type of grape or wine style you like. There are some good German Rieslings on the market for around $10, although these often have some sweetness. Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is the best value for a clean, crisp, snappy white that you can sip by itself. Australian Chardonnay has changed in style and is not as oaky as it used to be, and frankly most people have a tough time telling them apart from a $60 white Burgundy.

The bottom line is that there are some pretty decent wines on the market for less than $10. To put things in perspective, when someone pays over $100 for a bottle they are, at least in part, paying for a dream, an image, or a notion that they want to associate themselves with. Buying luxury goods can make you feel good, and some wineries like to be priced in a zone that is “reassuringly expensive”. Obviously expensive wines can be much better quality than your sub $10 bottle, but sometimes I wonder if the factor of price to quality can be justified.

To be a Mediterranean Vine…

If I was a vine I would want to be planted along the Mediterranean coastline. My ideal vineyard would be perched on a hillside, where I could bask in the sunshine whilst looking out to sea.

After all, the Mediterranean is a more inviting climate compared to being planted in the frigid parts of northern Europe. In cold climates vines can struggle to ripen the grapes and sometimes people would criticize me for producing acidic and astringent wines. And the blistering heat of fiercely hot climates isn’t that appealing either. The grapes might get over-ripe, resulting in raisin and cooked flavors. What’s worse, the French would tease me about making confiture (jam) rather than wine.

But in a pleasant Mediterranean climate, where the winters are mild and the summers are long, I would thrive. Plus I’d get to take 2 hour lunches and have a siesta in the afternoons.

And so it is. The wine regions that sit along the Mediterranean coastline are responsible for a huge percentage of the world’s wine production. In short, the climate is well suited to viticulture and can produce very good quality wines that are well balanced.

A huge reason for the way a wine tastes relates to the composition of the grape at harvest, namely, the balance between sugar and acidity. If the climate is too hot then wines can sometimes lack acidity and taste soupy. If the climate is too cold then the grapes can lack sugar and flavor, and taste thin and astringent. It’s rare that you see these excesses or deficiencies in wines from around the Mediterranean.

What I like the most about wines from this area is that they are usually made from indigenous grape varieties. This means that they deliver flavors that differ from the usual repertoire of international grape varieties, such as Chardonnay and Shiraz. There is also an abundance of choice. The wine regions of the Mediterranean produce a prolific number of different wines.

Let’s start with sparkling wine. Spanish sparkling wines, known as Cava, come from an area called Catalunya. Barcelona is the major city here, and responsible for guzzling huge volumes of the local bubbly. The main grapes are indigenous Spanish varieties such as Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo. Try letting those roll off the tongue at your next dinner party. Intriguingly, Spanish Cava is made in the same method as Champagne, with the second fermentation taking place in bottle. They are excellent value for money and the perfect way to kick off a party.

But Spain is not the only country producing sparkling wine. In north western Italy, within striking distance of the Mediterranean, is the small DOCG of Franciacorta. This region lays claim to making the finest dry sparkling wines in Italy. The varietal mix and the methods are closely modeled on Champagne, with excellent results. I recently tasted the range from Ca’ del Bosco, arguably the leader in the region, whose wines are considered amongst the best sparkling wines in the world. Sublime.

In dry white wine, the Mediterranean also produces a plethora of choices. The most unique has got to be Retsina from Greece. This white wine is flavored with pine resin. Yes, that’s right, pine resin. The reasons for this date back centuries to a time when resin was used to help preserve wines. Over time people became accustomed to the taste of resinated wines and so it became its own style of wine. Retsina certainly has its followers. Be aware that the wines can actually smell of pinesol cleaner so shall we say “it’s an acquired taste”.

More my bag would be a Viognier from the south of France. This varietal has beautiful aromatics of honeysuckle, peaches and floral notes. If you like Gewürztraminer then Viognier might hit the mark. The wines are dry, usually with a touch of residual sugar, quite full in body, with a pleasant richness in the best ones. Try a Vin de Pays D’Oc Viognier with roast chicken or a white fish.

In Rose, the beautiful wines from Provence rank amongst the very best roses in the world. They typically show vibrant pink colors, aromas of spice mingled with fresh strawberries, dry and crisp, and bang-on in the rose stakes. These are perfect for sipping on the deck; they pair well with a fresh seafood salad, and are liquid romance whilst watching the sunset. Take me to Saint Tropez.

In red wines, there is such a huge choice that making a handful of recommendations is no easy task. If you are looking for a classic wine, something big and burly but with depth and concentration, then look no further than Priorat in Spain. Many of the very best are made from Garnacha and Carinena (Grenache and Carignan in France). This is classic stuff, and 100 points from Robert Parker is not unusual.

Then you have a huge number of high quality wines from appellations in southern France like Corbieres and Minervois. Here, you can expect Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre to feature in the lead roles. These are the best value red wines in France and would go well with a steak frites.

It would be unfair not to make mention of the wines from Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily. Now we start getting into the really unusual grape varieties. How about a glass of red from the Nielluccio grape in Corsica? Grapes such as Nero D’Avola from Italy are gaining a following as some wine lovers tire of the world of Chardonnay and Shiraz. Most are such good value that it’s not a fatal experiment if you don’t like the flavors.

Lastly, fortified wines are also alive and well in the Mediterranean wine regions. My favorite is Banyuls. This exceptional wine comes from the steep terraced vineyards in the foothills of the Pyrenees, where France meets Spain. Grenache is king in this fortified wine, known as a vins doux naturel. The winemakers suggest that these Port-like wines are paired with chocolate. A bottle of Banyuls, a chocolate mousse, and you’ll ascend into heaven.

So the wine regions bordering the Mediterranean offer an abundance of unique and exciting wines. The indigenous grape varieties offer the wine lover new flavors to discover. So give them a try. Besides, as you sip your way through the bottle you can dream of those gorgeous vineyards perched on a hillside, overlooking the Med.