Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wine When Cheap Is How You Feel...

By Julianna Hayes

One of the very first bottles that whet my appetite for wine was a German Riesling called Blue Nun.

I was attracted to it first by its appealing packaging – a tall sleek, iridescent cerulean glass bottle adorned with a virginal, establishment symbol. In my youthful, defiant eyes it was an amusing metaphor for everything I struggled against.
I bought it as a lark for a university dorm party, but I instantly loved its soft, off-dry style. Equally as important was its price. For a financially-strapped student, dollars always had to be factored into the equation – I could hardly justify blowing my book budget on a Chateau Latour, no matter how much I was into wine.

Blue Nun became a regular staple in my dorm room. Though there were a few other wines I indulged in, I frequently returned to this tried and true favourite. After graduation, I continued to buy and serve it at parties and dinners as I struggled to find my financial footing throughout the 80s.

My tastes and interests changed, my pocketbook expanded and the wine became a decidedly retro symbol in my eyes. I haven’t poured or tasted a drop of of it in close to 20 years. But Blue Nun certainly represented good value back in the day.

And apparently it still does.

The 2007 German Riesling was among 29 wines chosen as category champions in Wine Access Magazine’s 2008 International Value Wine Awards. At just $10.99 a bottle in B.C. liquor stores, it was tops in the Riesling category following a blind tasting earlier this summer by a panel of esteemed judges.

The Value Wine Awards are held annually by the magazine to reveal some of the best wine buys available in Canada for under $25.

“The results are simply some of the best information available to wine drinkers in the country who appreciate well-made wine, but do not want to spend a fortune to taste it,” said Wine Access editor-in-chief Anthony Gismondi.

In the sea of wines that now top $50, $75, $100, even $500 a bottle, this is an important competition that truly appeals to the average wine drinker.

What is interesting about the results is the overall regional breakdown. Among the top category winners were four from California, three from Spain, three from Chile, two from Germany, two from Argentina, one from South Africa, one from Italy, one from Portugal, one from New Zealand, and one from France.

And surprisingly perhaps to many, eight wines were from British Columbia. You do the math.

B.C. producers take a lot of heat for “overpricing” their wine. In fact, it’s the most common gripe I hear from readers. How can you explain that almost a third of the top wines in a blind competition that included hundreds of international wines of great value comes from our own soil?

I have my own thoughts, but I’ll let you stew on it for a while.

On to the local results:

* Therapy Vineyards, located on the Naramata Bench, was champs in two categories – taking the top spots with the 2007 Pinot Gris ($24) and 2007 Artist Viognier ($23) for those respective varietals.

* There was a tie between two B.C. producers in the Merlot category – Inniskillin Okanagan’s 2005 Merlot Reserve and Sumac Ridge’s 2005 Private Reserve Merlot both wowed the judges and pleased them with their prices.

* Another local tie for a best-of spot prevailed in the Aromatic Blends category between Joie’s 2007 A Noble Blend ($21.40) and Mission Hill brand Rigamarole 2007 White ($16).

* Despite the fact that Austrialian Shirazes are often considered cheap and cheerful, it was also an Okanagan wine that took the Shiraz/Syrah category. That honour went to Jackson-Triggs 2006 Proprietor’s Reserve Shiraz ($18).

* Rounding out the local success stories was Wild Goose, which won the top spot in the Rosé category with its 2007 Blanc de Noirs ($19).

These wines were in good company, winning alongside wine giants known for producing excellent value wines such as J. Lohr of California and Finca Los Primos of Argentina.
Here’s the complete list of category winners. I’ve included prices for those of which I found a listing in B.C.:
Leaping Horse 2007 Chardonnay, CaliforniaSANGIOVESE
Altesino 2005 Rosso di Toscana, Altimo, Tuscany, Italy ($21)

Torres 2003 Gran Sangre de Toro Reserva, Cataluña, Spain
Graham Beck 2006 Shiraz Viognier, Robertson, Breede River Valley, South Africa (tie)
Tin Roof Cellars 2005 Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast, California (tie)
J. Lohr 2006 Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California ($22)

Arboleda 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, Region de Aconcagua, Chile
Campo Viejo 2004 Reserva, Rioja, Spain
Therapy Vineyards 2007 Pinot Gris, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley ($24)
Blue Nun 2007 Riesling, Rheinhessen, Germany ($11)
Inniskillin Okanagan 2005 Merlot Reserve, Okanagan Valley (tie) ($18)
Sumac Ridge 2005 Private Reserve Merlot, Okanagan Valley (tie) ($17)

Taylor Fladgate 2002 Late Bottled Vintage Port, Douro Valley, Portugal ($25)
Torres 2006 Viña Sol, Catalunya, Spain

Casas del Bosque 2006 Pinot Noir Reserve, Valle de Casablanca, Region de Aconcagua, Chile ($23.30)

Soljans Estate N/V Fusion Sparkling Muscat, Gisborne, North Island, New Zealand
Castillo de Monséran 2006 Garnacha, Cariñena, Spain (tie) ($11)Illuminati 2006 Riparosso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy (tie) ($18)

Wild Goose 2007 Blanc de Noirs, Okanagan Valley ($19)

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan 2006 Proprietors’ Reserve Shiraz ($18)

Maison Chapoutier 2006 Belleruche Blanc, Southern Rhône Valley, France
Arboleda 2006 Carmenère, Valle del Colchagua, Valle del Rapel, Chile
Rodney Strong 2006 Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California ($23)
Viniterra 2005 Malbec, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (tie) Finca Los Primos 2007 Malbec, San Rafael, General Alvear, Mendoza, Argentina (tie) ($10)
Therapy Vineyards 2007 Artist Viognier, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley ($23)

Joie 2007 A Noble Blend, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (tie) ($21.40)
Rigamarole 2007 White, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada (tie) ($16)

Bürgerspital 2007 Scheurebe Würzburger Stein-Harfe, Franken, Germany

When I see results like these I’m always curious as to what people are willing to cough up for a bottle of wine. Indeed, there’s a profound difference of option between individuals who won’t spend anything over $12 and those who think a well-made wine under $25 spells good value. This contest speaks to the latter, though truly frugal enthusiasts will find some picks among the winners in their price range.

I’d like to know the average you spend on a bottle of wine - take my price poll.

Here are the results from the previous poll:

What percentage of the wine you consume is from B.C.?
* 13 per cent of respondents said they only drink B.C. wine
* 56 per cent indicated that B.C. wines make up more than half of their total wine consumption
* Only four per cent of respondents indicated they’re B.C. wines make up for less than 10 per of their consumption
* All respondents indicated they drink at least some B.C. wine

Wine Notes

These are my notes on three of the local Value Wine Award winners:

95-100 Sets the bar.
90-94 Outstanding, has wow factor.
80-89 Good to very good.
70-79 Average, may have minor flaws.
60-69 Drinkable, but not recommended.
00-59 Undrinkable.

Rigamarole 2007 White
Appearance: Clear straw colour
Aromas: Green apple, floral, peach skin, spice, lemon, touch of mineral
Flavours: Apple and peach skin, spice, grapefruit, mineral
Body and Finish: Clean entry with light crisp palate, sweet and sour finish
Overall Impression: Simple, drinkable, fresh style with just the right amount of residual sugar
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 86
Price: $16
Availability: VQA shops, BC LDB, private retailers

Inniskillin 2005 Merlot Reserve
Appearance: Dark, black cherry hue
Aromas: Black cherry, chocolate, vanilla, pepper, menthol, plum, dillweed
Flavours: Black fruits, vanilla, mocha, pepper, spice, herbaceous
Body and Finish: Rich fruit entry, nice mid-palate weight, slightly hot, extended finish.
Overall Impression: A quaffable red at a quaffable price, lots going for it.
Cellaring Potential: Drink now through 2010
Would I Buy It?: Yes
Score: 88
Price: $18
Availability: VQA shops, BC LDB, private retailers

Sumac Ridge 2005 Merlot
Appearance: Deep, dark berry tones
Aromas: Blackberry jam, black plum, toast, floral, dark vanilla, spice, cedar, touch of smoke
Flavours: Jammy dark fruit, baked pie crust, savoury hints, spice, smoke, chocolate, vanilla
Body and Finish: Super ripe and concentrated entry, soft mellow tannins, smooth easy finish.
Overall Impression: One of my favourite quaffers – what more can I say?
Cellaring Potential: Drink now and over the next few years
Would I Buy It?: I do
Score: 89
Price: $17
Availability: BC LDBs, VQA shops, private retailers

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