Iconic wines, affordable prices

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Famous wines fill cellars everywhere, made by houses of pedigree and produced from the most recognizable grapes. There is Piedmont’s Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay out of Burgundy and Champagne, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Napa Valley and Bordeaux. Unless you began collecting some 25 years ago, chances are your stock piles are low when it comes to varietal inamorata. While there exists a minority that sees the trophies as simulacrum, the majority continue to run down dreams. Icons for less than $50? No more. A once unthinkable, magical $100 mark is a fiscal cliff in the rear-view mirror. The question begs. Has the peak been reached?

Related – More from the VINTAGES January 5th, 2013 Release

McCannian “collision of curse and whisper” finds the state of the union bound by a new world order where social media driven wine purchasing decisions fluctuate with every fleeting tweet. Expansion and saturation are in. First Growth and Grand Cru need’ms are waning in popularity, having priced themselves beyond the reach of mere mortal geeks. Andrew Jefford certainly disagrees, noting, “…it’s no surprise that wine has become just another vacuous totem of wealth.” But the Decanter scribe is not writing about a state of Ontario affairs. There are substitutes around every turn and where there is effort, there is a wine-altering way. Diamonds can be unearthed out of the proverbial rough, certainly not at will, but with patience and poise. Champion producers lay in wait within the lesser, unheralded corners of the world’s most famous wine appellations. They can also be found in nooks not yet trusted. More often than not they are the by-products of familial labours of love, small parcel productions, fruits of wine vernacular passed down through the generations.

Here are four unreal wines from iconic grapes, ready for the taking and affordable to all.

The grape: Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Bordeaux’s Left Bank star finds richesse and success in South Australia

The lowdown: Located in the sub-region of Marananga in Barossa Valley and farmed by 6th Generation family member, Damien Tscharke. Shiraz may have put Barossa on the map but my red Oz consciousness leans Cabernet Sauvignon

The food match: Braised and Pulled Beef Inside Round, barossa brie, toasted ciabatta

Tscharke Barossa Gold Marananga Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (289884, $15.95) is really good stuff. Tight attack, bold and tannic, brimming with figgy black fruit, dark chocolate, spirit cake and white pepper. The oldest Barossa Neoproterozoic Schist and Siltstone rocks impart piercing minerality as if the Marananga were blasted out of a cannon.  Tests any Napa Cab under $50.  89  @tscharkewines

The grape: Chardonnay

The history: Family domain in the Mâconnais, lead by Jean-Paul Paquet, along with wife Monique and son Yannick

The lowdown: Old vines (parcels of 50+ years) and barrel ageing combine for layered results

The food match: Sage Roast Chicken, schmaltz confit yukon gold potatoes, parsley

Domaine De Fussiacus Vieilles Vignes Pouilly-Fuissé 2010 (276444, $23.95) gratifies in an instant and holds on seemingly forever with remarkable depth of fruit. The tang and tin-effect of Bresse Bleu is merely a hint, smothered over by almond and vanilla extract, green olive pit and the taste of creamy, balmy, citrons doux, bergamot marmalade. A fatty, poularde glycerin texture really ties the dude, er wine, together. Plenitude for a song.  “Sometimes, there’s a man,” I’m talking about Jean Paquet here, and I can just imagine him thinking, “we can be heroes,” working a land that finds him surrounded by stupid expensive Chardonnay.  90

The grape: Nebbiolo

The history: Makes for Italy’s most regal wines, Barolo and Barbaresco

The lowdown: The Marziano Abbonna stable trots out this entry-level Barolo with expert success vintage after vintage

The food match: Murray Farm Heritage Roast Turkey, roasted chestnut stuffing, cranberry-lemon sauce

La Pieve Barolo 2008 (213132, $28.95) does what few other sub-$30 Baroli can do; offer a taste of the real thing. Though initially a touch reductive, it hits a chord of correct notes, including chestnut tisane, tar and rose petals. Firm Nebbiolo, frank and aggressively forward, wanting to share more drupe but it’s not quite there. Time will help flesh out the hidden stone fruit and sweet red pepper flavours.  89  @CAbbona

The Splurge

The grape: Aglianico

The history: From Campania, Taurasi is believed to be derived from the pre-Roman (probably Etruscan) taur[o] meaning mountain.

The lowdown: Taurasi must be aged for at least three years before it is released, with at least one year in wood. No one can dissertate more eloquently or knowledgeably on the subject better than Feudi’s Export Manager Maurizio de Rosa

The food match: Braised Beef Short Ribs, caramelized onion, carrot, aglianico jus

Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi 2007 (956011, $39.95) is lush and gorgeous. The most immediately gratifying young Aglianico yet such an infant. Earthbound red berries, perfectly ripe plums, biting tannin and off the charts acidity. Epochal verve of Middle Pleistocene volcanic rocksSouthern Italian equivalent to Southern Rhône reds, offering tremendous value under $50 where Bordeaux and Tuscany pedantically fall short. Should join the ranks of recent great vintages, ’01 and ’04.  93  @FeudiDSGregorio

Good to go!

The year of drinking better wine

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“I don’t mind the red wine or the pick-up line as long as it’s cheap.”

Only two days into the New Year and already the familiar refrain replays. So much talking up the wrong vine. That heinous recurrent smoke and mirror theme blurring the path to righteous wine.

VINTAGES January 5th, 2013 Release

In December caution gyrates in tossed abandon, swirling figure eights in the wind. Industry folk bear witness to a wild meritage month of over-spending and reckless wine activity. Then New Year’s is followed by a hangover that causes a confused, annual parade of resolutions. So many swear away indulgence and when it comes to wine, personal restocking gets stymied by rigid, penny-wise action. Know this ‘smart buys’ buyers and beware. You should never drink bad wine. Life really is too short.

Try drinking outside the box. Look to varietals and regions never before considered. Return to old favourites dissed for years. Broaden your wine mind. Take chances. Live a little. Your goal for 2013 must be to drink better wine. Here are five current releases under $20 to re-shuffle and reconsider in the New Year.

The grapes: Chardonnay and Viognier

The history: A South African twist on traditional Burgundy made unusual with the 5+% addition of a Northern Rhône white grape

The lowdown: Remarkably rich and robust for the price and at 14% abv it defies logic. And seriously, what’s in a name anyway?

The food match: Chinese-Style Steamed Tilapia

Bellingham Chardonnay With A Splash Of Viognier 2010 (295345, $13.95) is a chewy white, at first like bubble gum, with juicy fruit flavours that don’t quit. Melds butter into batter, slowly caramelizes and pops out toasty, seeking roast turkey. No Tom foolery here, this plugged in Wellington bruiser, Skinny Legs and All, sports a Jet Airstream design equipped with a battery that lasts and lasts.  87

The grapes: Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon

The history: Stainless Steel fermented juice grown out of La Viña Cooperative in Valencia, at a range of altitudes from 300 to nearly 900 meters above sea level

The lowdown: 10% Cab elevates the Molet to mini, Super-Tempranillo status

The food match: Potato, Bacon and Gruyère Soup

El  Molet Tinto 2009 (305904, $14.95) goes optimum in freshness, ripeness and balance. A full complement of fruit; purple to red to black to blue. Vibrant, piquant, chalky and contused. Presses all the right Tempranillo buttons.  89

The grape: Pinot Grigio

The history: Euro trash wine often so hard to distinguish one from another

The lowdown: Hillebrand’s winemaker Craig MacDonald has come out and rolled a natural

The food match: BBQ Shrimp Grits, preserved lemon rouille

Trius Pinot Grigio 2011 (316414, $15.95) burnishes patina copper and works an unprecedented, osphretic angle for the Niagara Peninsula. Diced pear, lemon pepper, herbs and honey roll prodigally from the glass, pausing to allow for analysis and lingering longer than would be thought. Wholly unique and satisfying. Out of the shell Ontario white.  88

The grape: St. Laurent

The history: Varietal from Alsace, having made a stop in Germany before settling comfortably in Austria

The lowdown: Like Pinot Noir, this varietal sheens best by the light of day

The food match: Loaded Sweet Potatoes, roasted garlic

Rabl St-Laurent 2009 (301960, $15.95) is flat-out delicious, peppy, peppery and buoyed by bright flavours . The kind of wine that makes you wonder if it’s red or white, makes you “not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.” A rebel, pretty in a volcanic way, in full make-up, fresh yet firm. “Hot tramp, I love you so!”  88

The grapes: Sangiovese, Sagrantino and Merlot

The history: Sagrantino of Montefalco produces Umbria’s most iconic red. When blended (typically with Sangiovese), the result is the Rosso di Montefalco

The lowdown: Though Sangiovese leads with 70% in the blend, the Sagrantino’s blackberry and deep earth character cannot be held down

The food match: Smoked Paprika Braised Beef

Arnaldo Caprai Rosso Montefalco 2009 (303065, $19.95) simply has the ‘it’ factor. I’d walk over the hills and far away for this super-Umbrian. A high-flying Zeppelin of pencil lead and animale perfume balanced by ultra-ripe red berries, verging to rapturous black. “Hey lady you got the love I need.”  90

Good to go!