Wines Under $25

Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda 2008
$12.94  |  specialty listing
The foil around the cork says “ALH made this.” That’s Altos Las Hormigas, one of the best Malbec estates in Argentina. But this is Bonarda, an immigrant grape from Piedmont generally grown in vast quantity for cheap blends. Treat it with care and attention, though, cutting back on its lush growth, and it becomes a deliciously rustic spaghetti red. In the hands of a sextet of Italian winemakers—like Alberto Antonini, who is now consultant winemaker for the Okanagan’s Haywire Winery—it’s a star in its own right. Dark as red ink, full of bright fruit flavours untouched by oak, and spiced with licorice and smoke—it’s an unusual bargain.

Cono Sur Organic Sauvignon Blanc 2009

$14  |  private wine stores
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has disappointed a little over the last few vintages (overproduction makes one-dimensional wines), giving Chile a tremendous opportunity in our market. The Cono Sur organic range is great value across the board—the Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenère is a serious bargain—but you have to go to private wine stores to find this one. Just a sniff of it fires up the taste buds for classic cool green Sauvignon bursting with grapefruit, green apple, and lime. Sensational aperitif but really good with a garlic-and-goat-cheese soufflé.

Raimat Chardonnay Albariño 2009
$14.49  |  specialty listing
Albariño is of those lovely wines made in tiny quantities so that it’s inevitably expensive and hard to find. The Catalan firm Raimat has taken the grape from its native Galicia to Costers del Segre on the other side of Northern Spain and blended it with Chardonnay to delicious and affordable effect. A medium straw in colour, it delivers the aromatic herbal zestiness of Albariño with a bit of heft from the Chardonnay and lots of peachy fruit. Excellent with oysters or mussels, best of all with a big bowl of clams with lots of garlic and chorizo.

Gehringer Brothers Private

Reserve Riesling 2009
$14.99  |  specialty listing
The Gehringers have been making wine in the Okanagan for almost 30 years, not always with the credit they deserve for the beautiful, fresh, clean fruit they utilize to great effect. They specialize in well-crafted, delicious whites that are extraordinarily good value in a region where prices are often overly ambitious. Fifteen dollars nets a German-inspired, Okanagan-delivered local classic that combines lovely acidity with rich, typically Okanagan peach fruit, slightly sweet but perfectly balanced to stand up to anything with some spice.

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2009
$16.99  |  private wine stores
Winemaker Sandra Oldfield on the South Okanagan’s Golden Mile calls this a “deck” wine, made for sipping in the hot tub or around the barbecue. Certainly it suits the Asian food Vancouver adores—especially Indian or Thai or just a bunch of peanut-marinated chicken satay sticks. This is the lean, delicate version of Gewürz, not the luscious opulence of Alsace; dryer than previous vintages, it still knocks out with flavours of orange blossom, peach, and lychee streaked with mineral acidity. Every Asian restaurant should pour it by the glass.
Wente Vineyards Morning Fog Chardonnay 2008
$16.99  |  general listing
From the Livermore Valley just east of San Francisco Bay, where the fog rolls in every summer morning to keep the vineyards cool, comes this beautiful Chardonnay. The Wente family has been making wine here for more than 125 years. (This was the first estate in California to make Chardonnay.) With just a touch of Gewürztraminer, it’s fermented half in stainless steel and half in new French oak, balancing distinctive apple, peach, and citrus flavours with yeasty butterscotch and vanilla. Utterly delicious, especially with halibut and green-olive salsa.

Dr L 2008 Riesling

$17.99  |  specialty listing
Ernie Loosen’s one of the greats of Riesling, and his Dr L pretty much put German wines back on Vancouver restaurant lists. Gloriously peachy, it seems sweet as summer fruit then finishes with a bracing, invigorating burst of acidity. A natural with any kind of bold or spicy salad like Thai chicken with chilies, lime, and cilantro or a Mediterranean mix of peaches, tomato, red onion, and black olives, it’s equally good with a classic, quick chicken braised in more Riesling. And at only 8.5 percent alcohol, Dr L is just what Herr Doktor ordered, especially on a hot summer patio with David Hasselhoff playing seductively in the background.

Masi Agricola Masianco 2008
$17.99  |  specialty listing
The Boscaini family at Masi, one of the great estates of the Veneto, reinvented the ancient technique of appassimento, making contemporary wines from slowly dried native grapes. Applied to white wine, we get Masianco: “Pinot Grigio with some local Verduzzo, vinified semi-dried to beef up the palate—we sent it to the gymnasium,” says technical director Raffaele Boscaini. Without sacrificing the fresh casual appeal of Grigio, the Verduzzo adds layers of rich, creamy nuttiness to go with tropical fruits, bananas, and citrus. Good on its own, better still with grilled chicken or halibut.

Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallèle 45 2007
$18.98  |  specialty listing
Whether $15 or $50, reds from the Rhône Valley are a preeminent buy, offering lots of juice for the money, thanks to a string of splendid vintages. Parallèle 45 is a classic, made for more than 50 years, just on the 45th parallel, where the south—the Midi—begins. And with the 2007 vintage on top form thanks to new ownership (with redesigned labels to mark the break), this blend of Grenache and Syrah is worth buying again—a big, dark, meaty, food-friendly wine that’s all cherries and plums layered with very Southern Rhône smoky herbs. Source some braised beef cheeks would be just the thing.

Marotti Campi Luzano Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore 2008

$19.98  |  specialty listing
Move over, Pinot Grigio. Verdicchio’s back. Once a staple of red-check-tablecloth Italian restaurants, Verdicchio from Italy’s Adriatic coast has reinvented itself, now as classically elegant as an Zegna jacket. The best comes from around the ancient walled town of Jesi and tastes of lemons and almonds—and Marotti Campi’s Luzano is definitely one of the best. Yellow straw with a wild flower perfume, lots of exotic, honeyed fruit, steeled with citrus and a lovely bitter almond finish. Seafood is the traditional match and a big bowl of B.C. spot prawns would be perfect. A white that can easily take a decade in the cellar.
Parés Baltà Cava Brut
$19.99  |  specialty listing
From a family-run Catalan estate with a long history, big ambitions, and a pair of very talented female winemakers, this Cava is organically farmed from the traditional grapes of Parellada, Macabeo, and Xarel.lo and handsomely packaged. Lots of fine bubbles and zesty green apples, pears, and peaches with Cava’s typical mineral earthiness. It makes a fine aperitif but has enough weight to carry on with food, especially fish and shellfish, like the Catalan seafood stew of white fish, prawns, and clams sauced with almonds, tomatoes, and peppers. Buy by the case so there’s always a reason to celebrate.

Sandhill Gamay Noir 2008
$19.99  |  specialty listing
This South Okanagan estate has put an outstanding team of growers to work with winemaker Howard Soon. The Gamay Noir used here is grown by Richard Cleave on the Sandhill Estate, part of the hot, sandy Black Sage Bench and it’s nice to see both grower and winemaker sign the bottle. The Beaujolais grape in the South Okanagan takes on a distinctively dusty herbal character to go with ripe red fruit producing a crimson wine with a big smoky nose and lots of cherry fruit alongside the flowery sage and earth notes that are quintessentially Okanagan. Delicious with what our Aussie friends call a “sausage sizzle.”

Joie Farm Rosé 2009
$22  |  private wine stores
Five years ago, rosé—real rosé, not the gal pal sweet white Zinfandel or Portuguese Mateus, but the French-inspired food wines that go with almost anything—was a tough sell. Then Joie filled glasses on restaurant patios all over the city. Now almost every other B.C. winery aims to emulate their success. The 2009 Joie is quite different from the 2008, more Loire than Mediterranean. Deep pink, almost cherry red, very slightly sweet but gloriously delicious, it’s full of cherries and strawberries. Serve with salads, of course, but it’s fabulous with equally pink rare beef on a green-flecked tabouleh salad.

Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Pinot Noir 2008
$23.95  |  specialty listing
Villa Maria’s pioneering founder, Sir George Fistonich, calls this Pinot Noir “the biggest bargain in the world.” Even in highly taxed B.C., this is a standout value and an affordable introduction to the pleasures of New Zealand Pinot. With typical Marlborough flavours of cherries and raspberries and plenty of smoky chocolate spice, it’s brilliantly fresh and juicy, made for easy drinking but with enough structure to satisfy. It’s good for when your a hankering red with salmon, but extraordinary with duck.

Road 13 Rockpile 2008

$24.99  |  widely available
Road 13’s philosophy is that it’s all about the dirt. The winery on the South Okanagan’s Golden Mile knows exactly what types of soil it’s got, so no surprise their new blends are called after them. The white is Stemwinder, but romance won out over correctness with the red (called Rockpile, rather than the soil’s name: Ratnip). Mainly Syrah with some Merlot, its remaining 20 percent is Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Viognier. Dark crimson with lots of black fruit, spice, leather, and earth, it’s all about structure, says winemaker Michael Bartier. Taste the wine; taste the rocks.