Over the years that I’ve been writing about wine I’ve learned a lot about what readers want wine writers to write about. It may surprise you to learn that the folks out there aren’t holding their breath waiting for my next word on Leroy Burgundies, ancient vintage Sherries I tasted at Williams and Humbert or my recollections of sipping Yquem with Comte Alexandre de Lur-Salouces at the Chateau. What wine readers really want is a list of really inexpensive wines that taste good.
Long-time followers of this blog (by which I mean the intrepid few who have read it over the last couple of months) will remember comments asking what good wines could be had at prices that didn’t punish the purchaser. Last month I put the question to Greg Dunlop, Category Manager for European Wines on the LCBO General list. He suggested that we look for evidence that a particular product is an “estate wine, a wine that has a mother and a father…a wine that has a specific origin and/or is made under strict controls overseen by the governing bodies of the region.” He offered AOC Cotes du Rhone and IGT Toscano as examples and noted that the product labels will have these terms clearly marked. In Ontario’s provincially owned stores “more than 220 Product Consultants can help with providing information or directing customers to the wines in question.”
Dunlop’s advice was a good start, but lots of folks interested enough in wine to read about it aren’t interested enough to read labels let alone select their own bottles. They want to be guided to specific wines that they can find, afford and enjoy without a lot of fuss and bother. I called Greg back and told him enquiring minds wanted more detailed expert guidance.
Understanding the situation at once, Greg enlisted the services of Bobby Panchu, Product Manager of European Wines (firstname.lastname@example.org and other staff) to present me with an exclusive tasting of a dozen estate wines from grapes grown in Europe and other continents all priced under $10 on the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s general list
Yup. You read that right. Anybody out there even remember what a sawbuck is? Tout court, it’s a ten dollar bill, and if you’ve got one and are of age, you can walk away from your retailer’s cash register with any one of the twelve wines described below and change in your pocket. How can such vinous bargains exist, you cry in delight and surprise? In each example the mix is slightly different, but mostly it’s because the wineries that make them don’t have sexy addresses (like Burgundy or Bordeaux) and can’t add “patriot fees” or “location bonuses” to their costs. Technical advances in viticulture and oenology have also helped keep prices down and virtually eliminated frankly “bad” wines. As a bonus, research has enabled producers to make and sell wines with friendlier, more interesting character.
Read on, buy what appeals to you in case lots, and enjoy a plethora of house wines to accompany your summer fare!
1) Aveleda Vinho Verde Fonte 2012 ($8.95, score 88+) is a blended wine from northeastern Portugal. It’s pale green-tinged straw coloured with a gentle fizz. It sports acacia flower, rich ripe tangerine, mango and peach fruit aromas and is sweetly green, very slightly off-dry, and mildly fizzy on the palate with very tasty citrus pith flavours. The rich and fresh mouthful lingers with a gently tangy long finish. It would work chilled as an aperitif, with fish, or poured over fresh melon balls.
2) Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2012, Colchagua, Chile ($9.95, score 89) is a pale straw gold wine with attractive ripe lemon pulp, apricot and peach fruit and sweet spicy and vanilla aromas. It’s is bone dry with a refreshing bitterness through creamy crisp lemon pulp through a rich lemon curd finish. It would be a yummy snappy companion to roast fowl.
3. Torrontes La Puerta Vineyard, Estate Grown and Bottled 2012 ($7.95, score 89+) demonstrates nicely what this Argentinian varietal can do. Straw coloured, the wine flaunts intensely mouthwatering sweet ripe lychee fruit aromas with elegant mineral notes. It’s creamy and ripely fruited with lemon and grapefruit, joined by snappy citrus pith on the palate. The long grapefruit-lemon pith bitter note hangs on through a long persistence. This white would stand up to sausages or grilled seafood.
4. Fonseca Periquita Original 2010, Vinho Regional Peninsula de Setubal ($7.95, score 90) is the current vintage of a perennial Portuguese favourite. A lovely black cherry-ruby colour, it’s sweetly spicy and ripe with focused cherry fruit and fills your head with vanilla/balsamic notes. Soft in the mouth with bitter grippy pillowy tannins, it’s long, mouth-watering, and refreshingly astringent. This wine would show well with barbecued red or white meat.
5. Sogrape Grao Vasco Dao 2009 ($7.95, score 88+) is a garnet wine with very attractive rich ripe focused huckleberry and loganberry fruit with earthy and volatile flavour notes. It’s elegant and deep in the mouth with bitter red cherry fruit, grippy velvet tannins and fresh acidity for good definition, and a pretty strong finish. This wine would stand up to all kinds of fare and spoil none of them.
6. Beso De Vino Seleccion Do Cariñena 2011 ($9.95, score 89+) is a Syrah/Garnacha blend from this region in northeastern Spain is a very deep and dark black cherry/ruby coloured wine with a sweet enchanting very Spanish nose. Ripe dried and sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit are framed in dusty new-sawn plank and sweet spice elements. It’s got grippy gritty ripe tannins and fresh acidity through a long fruit and tannin finish. You’ll enjoy this with roast lamb or a beef rib roast.
7. Castillo de Monseran Garnacha Cariñena 2011 ($8.95, score 90-) is another winner from the Cariñena region. Medium deep dark purple, it exudes raspberry and blackberry and blueberry pie aromas. It’s rich and ripe, very dry and built around mixed black berry pie filling fruit, fresh and buttoned down, with a long deeply tannic well-fruited finish. Think those roast quadrupeds and add your richer birds—or even a nice burger or pizza!
8. Luccarelli Primitivo Puglia IGT 2012 ($9.95, score 89+) can be seen as a poor-man’s Zin with a southern Italian accent. (It’s one of the “go to” wines in Bobby Panchu’s cellar.) Medium deep dark purple, the show starts with rich ripe mixed red berry fruit with a subtle Zinnish metallic mineral note. Fresh mouth-watering acidity and astringent fine rich ripe tannins carry the fresh and preserved fruit flavours along for a good while. This wine will elevate and enrich burgers as if it was made for them. I’d try it with hot Latin and Asian dishes too.
9. Argento Bonarda 2012 Mendoza ($9.95, score 89). Bonarda is sometimes blended with Barbera in Piedmont. In this Argentinian incarnation it performs solo with vital focused but ultimately weird black cherry and sweet spicy aromas and flavours which become deep, rich and ripe on the palate. It’s a velvety grippy wine with fresh acidity. This would be a fine base wine for a summer sangria.
10. Caliterra Riserva Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown 2011 ($9.95, score 90) is made from fruit grown on a single estate in Chile’s Colchagua Valley. It’s an opaque red with powerful and luscious blackcurrant, blackberry and blueberry fruit dressed up in intense sweet spice, vanilla, clove, nutmeg and allspice notes dancing with buttery toasty smoky notes. It makes for a grippy velvety mouthful with oak-inflected rich ripe deep mixed black berry fruit. Fresh acidity keeps it aloft through a long well-fruited smoky spicy oak finish Try this with any roasted meat or game, sausages, or even Buffalo wings. It was made to please.
11. Fuzion Alta Reserve Malbec 2011 ($9.95, score 90). It made me blush to assign a 90-point score to a Fuzion, but honesty is more important than pride in the wine writing business. This “reserve” bottling from Argentina’s home-run-hitting winery originated in the Mendoza Valley and comes to us as an opaque purple wine with very vibrant mixed black berry fruits and nice earthy dusty notes. It’s soft but grippy, with balanced acidity to carry the very deep rich ripe fruit through a long grippy ripe finish.
12. Deakin Estate Shiraz 2012 ($9.95, score 90+) came from Victoria in Australia and trumpets its origin with everything from its deep dark purpleness through aromas of rich ripe blackberry and dark cherry fruit, sweet spices and wood violet notes with a hint of smoke. It’s plush on the palate with pillowy tannins and fresh acidity to structure all that black berry fruit with a buttery note emerging on the finish. This will dance divinely with anything that isn’t white, delicate or subtle.