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The LDB stocks more than a dozen decent Malbecs around this price, but this is consistently the first-class one. Owned by a group of Italian wine pros, the estate specializes in Malbec: crimson purple and bursting with black cherry and blackberry fruit, spicy meaty leather, and licorice. Good structure and balance along with ripe, lush texture make it a killer everyday barbecue red. Try it and you’ll see why Malbec from Argentina is fast becoming as popular as Aussie Shiraz in Vancouver cellars.
Andy Johnston reckons he makes the best Pinot Noir in B.C.; now he’s out to make the best in Canada. One of his most deserving wines is the 2008 Pinot Grigio, which, despite a cool wet summer puts most Italian Grigios to shame. Pale-greeny straw with a blast of fresh apple, bright grapefruit acidity, and a tropical finish, it’s sure to help Johnston in his mission to change the reputation of Vancouver Island wines. Screwcap.
This sunny blend of Grenache and Syrah sums up the south of France. The Costières de Nîmes—outside the French city that gave us denim—is an up-and-coming region that once made reds even enthusiasts could only call “gutsy” but now turns out enterprising blends at affordable prices. This one is straightforward, nicely chunky, all blueberries and herbs. Meant for flank steak rubbed with Dijon mustard, olive oil, and a sprig of rosemary then briefly grilled, it’s uncomplicated but delicious.
Loire Valley Vouvray isn’t very fashionable anymore, but by using its grape name—Chenin Blanc—Vancouver restaurateurs have made Gaudrelle a city favourite. It’s a lovely wine, all fresh summer garden with a bit of oiliness on the palate to give it that zippy “have another mouthful now” character. After that there’s sweet spice and smoke and a bit of honey and tropical fruit. Off-dry in the nicest possible way (what the French call “sec-tendre”), it’s a friendly, flexible wine that gets on exceptionally well not just with fish and shellfish but with mildly spicy food and just about any kind of noodle
Côtes du Ventoux is part of the southern Rhône Valley, a region where the wines have steadily improved over the last decade. Château Pesquié is a family estate with high standards, making wines with juicy fruit and real structure, especially during good years like 2006. The Terrasses—named after the traditional Provençal terraced hillsides—is 70 percent Grenache with the rest Syrah. Dark ruby in colour with loads of cherry, plum, and black currant, it’s dominated by the earthy, spicy, smoky flavours of the land. Worth decanting.
Anthilia is the old Roman name for the Sicilian city of Entella. This blend from one of the most successful family-run Sicilian estates is made from equal parts Ansonica and Catarratto, two local grapes that just about no one has heard of. Luckily that’s no barrier to the appeal of this delicious white. The attractive yellow-gold colour leads to beautiful, sweet peachy fruit with a good dose of lime acidity for elegance and finesse. It’s especially delicious with a big bowl of mussels or spot prawns.
The Hardys Stamp of Australia series is all about everyday drinking. The company, one of the largest in the world, is a big believer in interregional blending and delivers some of the best reliable values in the $10-to-$13 range. Its Riesling Gewürz blend (there’s also a deliciously juicy Shiraz Cab) has charm aplenty—the bouquet is all orange blossoms, rose petals, and jasmine, the flavour off-dry but still crisp, nicely citrusy with a spicy nutty finish. Its affinity for Asian food has made it the best-selling Aussie white in B.C.
One of the pleasures of the cooler months is the ripasso wines from Valpolicella, a style pioneered by Masi that basically referments the wine over the skins and lees of Amarone to give extra depth and concentration at a far more affordable price than its big brother. The 2006 is from an excellent five-star vintage. Try it with something as simple as pasta shells sauced with garlic melted in mascarpone, toasted new-season walnuts, and loads of parsley to show off its typically tart cherry fruit, peppery spice, and sound structure.
Vancouver’s only Master of Wine, Barb Philip, thinks that Pinot Blanc could be the province’s signature grape. Chardonnay’s younger sister, Pinot Blanc as we do it usually delivers a whack of green apple fruit followed by a peachy-creamy palate and lemony acidity with some tropical pineapple and mango. Mission Hill consistently makes a first-rate example, even better now that the price is so attractive. Always versatile as well as great value, it’s a treat with oysters and exceptionally good with salmon.
Rosé should be fresh, cheap, and young—it’s best the year after the vintage, which gives B.C. a great advantage, as the European ones are sometimes past their first blush by the time they get here. Just about every Okanagan winery is now taking advantage of rosé’s newfound popularity, but the Quails’ Gate is hard to beat. The 2008 was coral-pink, pretty as a pricey lipstick, and based in the French fashion on Gamay grapes. Rhubarb on the nose anticipates crisp, zippy strawberry-rhubarb flavours. Suits anything Mediterranean.
Syrah has been one of the surprise successes of the Okanagan, and Michael Bartier at Road 13 (formerly Golden Mile Cellars) is one of its top proponents. A true believer that it’s all about the dirt, Bartier takes grapes from the Black Sage bench and ferments them, Rhône-style, with a little white Viognier. The result is stylish and elegant with a perfumed nose, big blackberry fruit, and plenty of backbone—savoury and earthy, with something of the sagebrush in the vineyard. The 2008 should be out at the end of 2009. Screwcap.
Summer in a bottle from the highest vineyard in the Okanagan—and one of the prettiest, too. Lovely flowery aromas, all orange blossom and rose petal, plus warm melon and lychee fruit perked up with a touch of citrus and sagebrush make this Gewürz exceptionally tasty. Just off-dry, it’s perfect for the patio but also versatile enough for salads, seafood, and sushi. Screwcap.
Reds from Spain outsell whites 10:1 in Canada. Which means way too many people will miss out on this delicious blend made by a New Zealand winemaker in Castilla y León, an ancient winemaking region in the northwestern corner of the country. Strikingly distinctive, with an aromatic nose of orange blossom and apricot, it tastes of pears, peaches, and almonds, with the spicy, nutty Verdejo grape enriching the often single-minded Sauvignon Blanc. At $15, this wine—racy, vibrant, and versatile—fills a very happy niche.
B.C. Riesling gets better every year, and Tantalus makes wines that can vie with the best. Although Tantalus is new, the vineyard, near Kelowna, is not, with vines that are about 30 years old and a history going back to the 1920s. It’s impossible not to be smitten by the 2008, with its gorgeous flowery aromas and juicy tropical fruit with loads of lime and grapefruit to balance a slight sweetness. A wine that will be happy under just about any circumstances, it’s a delight with the pan-Asian flavours that Vancouver adores.
We have our vibrant restaurant scene to thank for the explosion of interest in white blends. Savvy sommeliers know that these often far exceed the sum of their parts, delivering wines that work both by the glass and alongside a wide range of dishes, especially small plates. The combination of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon is a staple of Bordeaux, but add a dash of Viognier and the result is a crisply appealing white that delivers pleasing texture and a lingering finish.