This is a fantastic article from the Vancouver Sun printed in June 2010. Grab a glass!
The $20 sommelier: It’s all about the value
Trophy wines can be inexpensive if you know how to choose them. Here’s some good advice.
By Mia Stainsby, Vancouver Sun, June 26, 2010
Be a wine snob if you must, but you should know the rules have changed.
These days, it’s not necessarily how much you spend or whether it’s from Bordeaux or Burgundy. A trophy wine can be a good-value discovery under $20. And according to the local gurus, there are plenty to try.
At these moderate prices, you can afford to be adventurous and take risks. But even if you mess up, you’re not going to mess up too badly; it’s not as if importers, distributors and retailers don’t do any homework and stock shelves with any old plonk. “In the last 18 months or so, it’s been considered hip to find a good deal,” says Barb Philip, of Barbarian Wine Consulting. “After the economic downturn, it hasn’t been trendy to spend a lot of money openly even if they have it.”
She feels you can get “good” wines for $12 to $20 and “twice-as-good” if you close in on $15 to $20 choices. The under $12 finds are more difficult to find but “I wouldn’t say there’s nothing.”
“My view is, that’s where the real values are,” says Cru restaurant owner and sommelier Mark Taylor. “I’ve always felt it’s easy to fill a wine list with 90 points-plus wines from Wine Spectator. But under $20, that’s where the real fun is, where you’ll find the real gems.”
Michaela Morris, co-owner of wine consulting company House Wine, agrees. “Anyone who truly loves wine will look to the taste, not the label or cost. If not, they’re missing out. It’s about the pleasure of drinking, sharing good food. There’s so much pretension around wine. It’s a beverage. You gotta get over it.”
Here are suggestions from some local wine experts about wines to try under $20.
Michelle Bouffard, co-owner of House Wine
“Everybody buys the well-known regions like Burgundy and Bordeaux but some countries, for many reasons, offer better prices.” She points to wines from Southern Italy. “For a long time Sicily, for example, made bulk wines but now people are investing in that area.” Chile’s cheaper land and labour costs and its economy of scale offers great value, especially with the Cabernet Sauvignons.
- N/V Deinhard, ‘Lila’ Riesling Sekt, (Sparkling), Germany, $14.49
- 2009 Cono Sur, Viognier (White), Chile $10.99
- 2006 Peter Lehmann, Semillon (White), Australia $15.99
- 2007 Paiara, Puglia Rosso IG (Red), Italy $9.99
- 2007 Xanadu ‘Next of Kin’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Australia $14.95
- 2006 Ricossa, Barbera d’Asti DOC (Red), Italy $15.98
Michaela Morris, co-owner of House Wine
“In that price range, look for wines that aren’t fashionable. I look to Italy and Spain and indigenous grape varietals that most people haven’t heard of. We all know about Cabernet and Chardonnay but Spain has been growing grapes for hundreds of years and have a lot of them.”
- 2009 Susana Balbo, ‘Crios’ Torrontes, Argentina $17.99
- 2009 Storks’ Tower, Vino de la Tierra Castilla y Leon, Spain $14.99
- 2007 Trivento, Syrah Reserve, Mendoza, Argentina $12.98
- 2006 Castano, Monastrell, Yecla DO, Spain $11.99
Mark Taylor, Cru owner and sommelier
In this price range, Taylor likes old-school wines from southern Italy and France. In Italy, he looks to Puglia and Sicily. “The fruit that people like is often missing in these European wines where it’s more about the earth and terroir.”
Languedoc, Cotes du Luberon and southern Rhone in southern France are also good regions for good-deal wines, he says. “And we have the best value white wines in the market in B.C.”
- SYL Brut, See Ya Later Ranch, Okanagan, B.C., $19.99
- 2009 Pfaffenheim Gewurztraminer, Alsace, France, $20
- 2008 Quail’s Gate Chardonnay, Okanagan, B.C., $19
- 2009 Home Vineyard Old Vines Chenin Blanc, Road 13, Okanagan, B.C. $19
- 2008 Qunta do Castro Douro Tinto, Douro, Portugal, $20
- 2008 Crios de Susanna Balbo Syrah-Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina, $19
- 2008 Batasiolo Barbera d’Asti, Piemonte, Italy, $14.99
Barbara Philip, Barbarian Wine Consulting
The best way to find a good-value bottle of wine is to ask an expert, the master sommelier says.
“Don’t be intimidated. Whether it’s in a B.C. liquor store, independent or restaurant, these people work with wines all day. They’ll at least have three or four they’re really, really big on. The average consumer doesn’t really know how to.”
- 2009 Olivares Jumilla Rose, Spain, $13.99
- 2009 Grooner Gruner Veltliner, Austria, $17.99
- 2008 St. Hubertus Pinot Blanc, Okanagan Valley, $14
- 2008 Little Yering Pinot Noir, Australia, $14.98
- 2008 Chateau de Paraza Minervois, France, $17.99
- 2007 Cusumano Sicilia Nero d’Avola, Italy, $17.99
Mark Shipway, wine instructor at Art Institute of Vancouver
“Being in the business of education, I’d recommend if you really want to learn about wines under $20, the best way is to take a certification program. It gives you the skills to pick out value. That would be the ultimate.” But even an introductory wine course teaches skills to evaluate wine and understand value, he says. “You start to understand that depth, complexity, balance, length are critical. That’s more important than knowing the regions but the two are linked. You learn about regions, geography and places to find the value wines are as opposed to just cheap wines.”
- 2007 Selbach S Riesling, Germany, $15.99
- 2008 Touraine Sauvignon Domaine du Clos de Bourg, France, $15.99
- 2009 Stoneboat Vineyards Pinot Blanc, B.C., $17.90 (select private stores)
- 2007 Azul Portugal Palmela, Portugal, $16 to $20 (select private stores)
- 2007 Mezzacorona Pinot Noir, Italy, $15.99
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