Published Oct 11th, 2011

By Anthony Gismondi

Great Taste, Great Value

Wines that give you more than what you pay for

One of the lasting effects of the economic downturn of the last few years is how buyers have changed the way they think about wine.

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 settling for less quality.

Wine quality has been zooming upwards for more than 25 years and, in the new wine retail 2.0 world, many customers are no longer convinced that just throwing money at wine will get them the best bottle, or, should we say, the bottle that tastes best to them.

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 prices, 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 buy based on price at both ends of the market, the bulk of that business is at the entry level.

This month, we have a solution as we look to Alberta’s best annual wine event when our sister magazine, Wine Access, reveals its annual results of the International Value Wine Awards. In one weeklong session some 22 judges (including myself) from across the country met in June at the University of Calgary to assess some 1,100 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 six picks from the competition that suit the upcoming fall season and the Alberta palate that favours big and red wines. Look for the following winning labels that are some of my personal favourites and are widely available in Edmontonwine shops.

One of two Cabernet Sauvignon Category Champions is the Famiglia Bianchi 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) from Mendoza, Argentina. In a huge category of 87 entries, this Argentine cabernet over-delivers with ripe flavours, savoury but not green, rich but not sweet and firm, but not dry or 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 ($13) is outstanding. We loved the polish and weight of the sweet spice and milk chocolate, 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.

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.

In the 2011 Merlot Category Champion, the Sterling Vineyards 2008 Napa Valley Merlot ($25), 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 alchohol and bluster in their reds.

After six competitions, I've discovered there is strength in consistency, such as the Pinot Noir Category Champion Spy Valley 2010 Pinot Noir ($24) from Marlborough, New Zealand. What can we say every year other than it looks like pinot, smells like pinot and tastes like pinot? How about: All-natural winemaking, and it shows. Incredible value.

The Red Blends Category spawned a number of excellent picks from almost 150 entries. The champions were as different as night and day. The Château De Cabriac 2008 Corbières ($12) 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.

Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who is the editor-in-chief of Calgary-based Wine Access magazine.

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