Value wines that deliver more than what you pay for
Dependable value wine picks from the Wine Access 2011 International Value Wine Awards
One of the lasting effects of the economic downturn of the last few years is how wine buyers have changed the way they think about wine.
Consumers want bargain wines
With so many consumers trading down (they are still drinking wine, but are spending less money on each bottle), the focus on value for money has never been stronger. Not surprising to this writer is how many unsuspecting fine-wine buyers have learned paying less no longer means you automatically have to settle for less quality.
Wine quality has zoomed upwards for more than 25 years and, in the new wine retail 2.0 world, many customers are no longer convinced just throwing money at wine will get them the best bottle, or, should we say, the bottle that tastes best to them.
There will always be too many people in the Far East chasing too few bottle of Chateau Lafite but, in the everyday world of wine, there is a new order. Once you get over the need to be seen spending $100-plus on a bottle of wine, well, you begin to see it’s almost never necessary.
Of course, there are rare wines and small production labels that deserve their high price, but those wines are seldom seen in the everyday retail wine shops that dot the city landscape. The challenge, as always, is in finding the bargains amid the collection of dross that clogs up retail wine shelves the world over. And while it seems a lot of folks still by based on price at both ends of the market, the bulk of that business is at the entry level.
Wine Access 2011 International Value Wine Awards
This month, we have a solution as we return to Alberta’s best and yearly wine moment when Wine Access reveals its annual results of the International Value Wine Awards. In one weeklong session some 25 judges from across the country met at the University of Calgary to assess some 1,200 wines selling for $25 or less in the Canadian market.
The full 2011 results can be found in the October/November issue of Wine Access, but, meanwhile, we thought it might be fun to share 12 picks from the competition that suit the upcoming fall season and the Alberta palate that is skewed to big and red wines. Look for the following winning labels that are some of my personal favourites and are widely available in Calgary wine shops.
Award-Winning Cabernet Sauvignon
One of two Cabernet Sauvignon Category Champions is the Famiglia Bianchi 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) from Mendoza, Argentina. In a huge category of 90-plus entries, this Argentine cabernet over-delivers with ripe flavours, savoury but not green, rich but not sweet and firm, but not dry and too tannic. This is the perfect steak wine and a prime reason why many think, in the long run, cabernet sauvignon may be a better bet in Argentina than malbec. Only time will tell.
Few wines captured the attention of all the judges, but the Carmenère Category Champion was an exception. The Errazuriz 2009 Single Vineyard Carmenère ($16) is outstanding. We loved the polish and weight the sweet spice and milk chocolate that entices, followed by plenty of peppery black fruit and a wonderful, long, smooth palate. The finish is like a long sunset, with bits of dried tomatoes, spice, tobacco and sweet ripe tannins.
Award-Winning Unoaked Chardonnay
Regular readers will recognise the Chardonnay Unoaked Category Champion: Cono Sur 2010 Organic Chardonnay from Valle De San Antonio, Chile ($14). This little gem of white continues to slay the competition providing an affordable, organically grown white wine made for book clubs.
Merlot has fallen on hard times since the movie Sideways, but the 2011 Merlot Category Champion, the Sterling Vineyards 2008 Napa Valley Merlot ($24), wowed the judges with its sleek, glossy textures and wonderful fresh fruit and subdued oak. It is a steak wine for those who want a little less alcohol and bluster in their reds.
Award-Winning Pinot Noir
After six competitions, there is strength in consistency, such as the Pinot Noir Category Champion Spy Valley 2010 Pinot Noir ($14) from Marlborough, New Zealand. What can we say every year other than it looks like pinot, smells like pinot and tastes like pinot? All-natural winemaking, and it shows. Incredible value.
Award-Winning Red Blends
The Red Blends Category spawned a number of excellent picks from almost 150 entries. The champions were as different as day and night. The Château de Cabriac 2008 Corbières ($15) from France is a delightful blend of syrah, grenache, carignan and mourvèdre, with a smooth, rich texture of black raspberry, black cherry and smoky licorice flavours, especially suited to grilled sausages.
Equally impressive was the Cameron Hughes 2008 Lot 208 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah that soared above the ordinary fat, sweet fruit that can plague Napa reds, but rather offered bits of pepper, earth, gamey notes and fine acidity. A perfect choice for lamb.
Space doesn’t permit expansion on the following red blends, but all should be on your to-buy list: Vistalba 2008 Corte C, Argentina ($20); Peter Lehmann 2009 Layers Red, Barossa Valley, Australia ($18); Emiliana 2008 Coyam, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($18); Canada’s Inniskillin Okanagan 2008 Dark Horse Vineyard Meritage, Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($25).
Award-Winning Canadian Wines
The two top-scoring Canadian wines were both excellent and easily subdued much of their competition. The Pentâge 2010 Pinot Gris ($18), from Skaha Bench in the Okanagan Valley, is a delightful mix of fruit minerality and honey, while the lively fresh flavours of Therapy Vineyard 2008 Chardonnay ($22) from the Okanagan’s Naramata Bench prove we can make cool-climate chardonnay that matters.
An Exemplary IVWA Wine
We close with a wine that is an excellent example of what an International Value Wine Award winner should be. The Sangiovese Category Champion, Frescobaldi 2009 Rèmole ($13.50) is a Tuscany red that simply over-delivers, challenging the old adage that you get what you pay for.
This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Avenue Calgary magazine.