The past 12 months have been good to wine consumers in Ontario. I would be hard pressed to remember a time in recent memory when so many good value wines were available on such a consistent basis.
The under $15 niche success can be attributed to many things. A sweeping renaissance in wine making has taken hold across the globe, from the vineyard to the stopped bottle. Manifested in the Old World, we are seeing an unprecedented ability to offer wines at this price. New World locales like Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand can match the quality, but as a general rule, the $15-20 range is their sweet spot.
What I am most pleased to note is the increased quality in Canadian wine, especially from Niagara, in the under $15 zone. Lead by the likes of Fielding Estate, Vineland Estates, 13th Street and Mike Weir Wines, finding quality releases that won’t break the bank gets easier with every passing vintage.
More than anything, the ability to taste 1000’s of wines by the generous efforts of Ontario agents, trade commissions and through local events has allowed us to uncover the gems. A year-end set of props has to go out to David Churchill and team for setting the table every week for to sample 1000’s more wines from the bi-weekly and on-line VINTAGES releases.
Here are my top 10, under-$15 VINTAGES released picks for 2012.
1. The grapes: Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Pinheiro and Jaen
Where: Portugal, Dão
Encostas De Penalva 2009 (293423, $14.95) is downright Joycean in unusual intelligence, sensitivity and character for a blend from a Portuguese cooperative. Soft perhaps, but nary a bitter deterrent mars this cup of crushed raspberries. A young artist’s deep portrait of Dão colour, forged of surreal fleshy extraction, verbose and flamboyant. 90
2. The grape: Nero D’avola
Where: Sicily, Italy
Morgante Nero D’avola 2010 (40816, $14.95) burnishes purple to black in sheen, perfume and vim. Like incandescent charcoal. Welling hematoma of Aussie licorice, baking spices and lingonberry. Maxes out Nero D’avola’s ability to defend itself against all food comers. Even pancakes and pigs in a blanket. It should be noted that a second sample was corked. 90
3. The grape: Albariño
Where: Rias Baixas, Spain
Pazo Pondal Leira Albariño 2011 (115816, $15.95) may sport the hue of Cava and indicate bubbles spinning around like a frotteur but its “gotta have no illusions” about itself. A hint of seltzer in a sparkling, platinum hue swirls to honey and paraffin. Acts and looks sharp yet remains in balance. 90
4. The grape: Sauvignon Blanc
Where: Loire, France
Domaine De La Colline Sauvignon Touraine 2010 (169656, $12.95) is the workday done sun-downer few Sauvignon Blancs can match for IVR* assurance. Eglantine and apple tisane. Bony and blanched shallot driven by the Loire’s rocky truffeau, with a smokey persimmon fini glacé. 88
5. The grapes: Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault
Where: Rhône, France
Delas Frères Saint Esprit Côtes Du Rhône Rosé 2011 (224964, $12.95) offers up strawberry, rhubarb and cream with a savoury accent. Subtle pale, pink, see-through hue and warming humidity. Great value here. Rosie you’re all right. “Looks like it’s me and you again tonight.” 88
6. The grapes: Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot
Where: Tuscany, Italy
Perta Zingari Toscana IGT 2008 (224228, $13.95) from the VINTAGES August 6, 2011 release deals value in quarto from varietals Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot. An unusual blend from the Maremma coast for sure but throw me down in the snow if it isn’t unmistakably Tuscan. Iron, leather, pure snappy, fennel fruit and tannic tang are all there. Primary yes, but what more can you ask from $14? Held up 24 hours later for a second go round. 88
7. The grape: Sauvignon Blanc
Where: Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
Mike Weir Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (686972, $14.95) swings from the left side like its brethren on that side of the Gironde. A game built on concentrated gooseberry juice, tangy green fruit and a streak of chippy acidity. Sneaky long and straight down the fairway. 88
8. The grape: Pinot Blanc
Where: Alsace, France
André Blanck et Ses Fils Rosenburg Pinot Blanc 2011 (626606, $13.95) is your weekend summer refresher, your sundowner, your all-purpose white. Oily, mineral-driven, long, acidity at its PB best, full finish. For appetizers, salads and mains. Versatility be thy name. 88
9. The grape: Garnacha
Where: Catalayud, Spain
Filón Garnacha 2010 (280602, $14.95) is actually a bit of a misprision because of its black fruit character. Re-enacts Tuscan IGT and the most modern of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Tar, asphalt, bitter chocolate and sanguine Kirsch and very, very ripe fruit. Grand oak and tons of wine at $15. 88
10. The grape: Melon De Bourgogne
Where: Loire, France
Michel Delhommeau Cuvée Harmonie Muscadet De Sèvre-Et-Maine 2010 (164624, $12.95) scatters nether and beyond the stereotypical need for oysters pairing. Light as the sky, “a free man in Paris…unfettered and alive.” Like I said before, it offers up more complexity, flesh and sea bone than its brethren. Courts shrimp, sparks smoked chicken and even ventures into baby back rib territory. On the card at Barque. 88
The grapes: Alvarinho, Arinto and Loureiro
Where: Vinho Verde, Portugal
Casa Do Valle Grande Escolha 2011 (276220, $14.95) while unmistakably Portuguese Vinho Verde, this could be a ringer for Greco di Tufo or Viognier. The long visit to the haberdashery at once wears baking spice, Mezzogiorno mangia cake at Christmas and then white rose, honeysuckle Hermitage. Lofty comparisons for sure but this exceptional IVR* treacle is a chef mastered sweetbread of a double “V.” 89
Good to go!