Circle the globe using only your palette. What better way to experience the planet than with your taste buds? Armchair travelers can now crisscross the earth with Natalie Maclean’s delicious wine choices from some of the world’s most popular regions. The best part? Each wine is under $30! Bottom’s up!
Insider tips Look for wines from warm regions, like the Barossa Valley. Often the cost of production is cheaper because winemakers aren’t battling disease, rot, and weather as much as cool climate producers do. Therefore, there’s less crop loss and lower costs for production.
When it’s cold outside, drink wine from warm regions and when it’s warm, go for those from cooler climates. You’ll drink the full-bodied, soul-warming styles that are comforting in the winter and the lighter, more refreshing ones in the summer. The bonus is that these wines also complement the dishes we eat in the different seasons.
Twist and shout when you see a bottle closed with a screw cap! No longer does a screw cap necessarily mean that the wine is plonk. Many good producers are using this effective closure to protect their wine. The bonus is that no special equipment is needed to open your bottle.
Top Pick Wolf Blass Red Label Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon
Deep ruby purple color; dry and full-bodied with medium tannins, ripe blackberry and oaky vanilla aromas and flavors; long finish. Vanilla-cherry and cool mint on the nose, followed by lovely ripe blackberries and plums on the palate, rich, smooth and inviting. Food matches: prime rib, pot roast, brisket, red meats grilled or roasted; strong cheeses.
Insider tips Look for labels that have illegible gothic script and impossibly long names that are difficult to pronounce in the liquor store (or anywhere else). Few people can read them, so they don’t buy the wines and demand doesn’t push up prices.
Wines that had a bad reputation several decades ago are behind the eight ball in trying to reposition themselves as good-quality producers at reasonable prices.
Low-alcohol wines are often your most versatile food-wise because they can go with so many lighter dishes that we enjoy today without overwhelming their flavours.
Top Pick St. Urbans-Hof Kabinett Riesling
Sweetness Medium Dry
Riesling is a noble grape that produces some of the world’s finest, most long-lived whites. A light, vibrant white wine that often has citrus, floral and mineral notes. It’s mostly associated with Germany, but other well-known regions making it include Alsace, Washington, Niagara, Finger Lakes, Okanagan and Australia’s Clare Valley and Eden Valley. Styles range from bone dry to intensely sweet. Aromas and flavors include apricot, peach, wet slate, minerals, flowers and petrol (when it’s aged).
St. Urbans-Hof Kabinett Riesling offers enticing peach, apricot, lime, and slate aromas and flavors, with a touch of vanilla cream. Creamy, yet bright and pure, with persistence and a complex finish.
Insider tips While $25 to $40 a bottle may not seem like an inexpensive wine, value is relative. Pinot noir is expensive to grow and make. Niagara pinots are a bargain compared to those in Burgundy, which easily top $50 a bottle as a starting price.
When a region is stereotyped for one kind of wine, in Niagara’s case icewine, look for what else it does well, such as pinot noir and riesling. These are the best supporting actors that often offer stellar performances in the glass.
Growing grapes organically doesn’t guarantee you a better or more healthful wine, but it does mean that the producer is paying close attention to the vine health and the winemaking process. That increases your odds of getting a better-quality wine.
Top Pick Malivoire Wine Company Courtney Gamay 2003
Surprisingly terrific: This wine has opened my eyes to the potential of Gamay in Niagara. It’s nothing like Beaujolais. Try it and you’ll be hooked. Lovely aromas of black raspberry, blackcurrant and some pepper notes. Stunning!
Insider tips International trade bans are tough on any country, but it can motivate domestic industries to be more competitive afterward. South African wine has made amazing progress since the end of Apartheid.
Check your perceptions of which regions can make wine: South Africa benefits from the confluence of the oceans as well as the cooling breeze of the Antarctic. Who would have thought that this created ideal conditions for growing wine? Now you know.
There are so many terrific South African wines on the shelves these days. Start out with the familiar grapes, such as sauvignon blanc, shiraz, or cabernet sauvignon. Then, as you discover the producers you like best, branch out into their chenin blanc and pinotage wines.
Top Pick Goats do Roam Shiraz Blend 2007
Sweetness Extra Dry
A supple, medium- to full-bodied red with attractive notes of black plums and berries. Judicious and well-integrated use of oak. This wine would please many palates at a party.
Insider tips Ultra-fashionable wine regions often get all the attention for any particular country, as do Italy’s Tuscany and Piedmont and France’s Bordeaux and Burgundy. Look for the lesserknown regions for your best-value bottle, like Sicily in Italy and southern France’s Languedoc-Rousillon.
Some of the most ancient wine-producing regions are now the “newest” ones in that they’ve revitalized their techniques and styles. The advantage is that they have a deep knowledge of their soils and grapes, and often, family-run operations aren’t paying high capital costs since these have been paid off long ago.
Regional food and wine matches often make sense since the food and wine “grew up” together in the same soils and climatic conditions. It’s not a rigid rule, but a great starting point when you’re looking for pairings.
Top Pick Ajello Majus Nero D’avola 2006
Deep ruby with clear aromas of ripe black plums, bittersweet chocolate, and earthy herbal layers mixed in. Dry, with very lively fruit and acidity, and pleasant chocolate replays on the finish. Enjoy it tonight with sausages or grilled lamb marinated in rosemary and garlic. Generous and juicy, loaded with fleshy black raspberries and blackberries. Smooth and generous with a satisfyingly long finish. Food matches: peppercorn steak, rare roast beef, bison.
Insider tips Take a chance on lesser-known grapes. Varieties like malbec just don’t have the “brand awareness” and cachet of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Therefore, producers must compete more aggressively on price. In this book, you’ll discover lots of grapes that you may not have heard of before.
Go for regions where the currency gives you an advantage. Canadian and American dollars are much stronger than Argentina’s pesos, so that builds in another discount on the import cost.
Look for late-bloomers: regions that entered the North American wine market after a number of other countries had already established themselves. These newcomers have to prove themselves, both in terms of price and quality.
Top Pick Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec 2007
Sweetness Extra Dry
Great depth and complexity with full-bodied aromas of dark fruit, coffee and vanilla spice. Supple and generous texture with amazing concentration of flavors. Balanced with great length on the finish. Food matches: asado (barbecue) steak, pasta with tomato-meat sauce, bacon dishes.
Insider tips Ten-year-old tawnies represent the best values on the liquor store shelf because the prices of tawny port roughly double with every decade, but their quality doesn’t.
Portugal’s native grapes are not well-known to North Americans, but that translates to great values. Varieties like tinta roriz and tinta barroca just don’t have the “brand awareness” and cachet of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Therefore, producers must compete more aggressively on price.
The best-known vintages for port will always command the highest prices, just as they do in Bordeaux and Tuscany. So seek out the well-rated vintages close to a star vintage. For example, 2007 is considered one of the best in decades, so try 2006.
Top Pick Sandeman Vau Vintage Port 2000
Love it! Savoury cherry liqueur with cedar goodness. Rich layers with a long finish.
Insider tips Forget those notions of pink wine being sweet: today’s rosés are bone-dry and refreshing. With Provence, you’re guaranteed to get a dry rosé.
Look for wines that have never been taken seriously by connoisseurs, always considered lightweights. You’ll find pleasure at a pittance there.
Rosé is best served chilled, as it’s more refreshing. So here’s a tip that will give wine snobs a coronary: if your wine’s too warm, drop an ice cube in it for ten seconds, then scoop it out. It has an immediate chilling effect and doesn’t dilute the flavours—and after all, we’re not trying to ice Château Margaux, just an everyday good value wine. Consider this your license to chill.
Top Pick St. Tropez Carte Noir Rose 2006
Sweetness Extra Dry
A light, simple, refreshing rose with pretty aromas of strawberries. Food matches: veal tenderloin, grilled white fish, herbed chicken, garden salad.
Excerpted from Unquenchable by Natalie MacLean. Copyright © 2012=1 by Natalie MacLean. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday Canada, a division of Random House of Canada. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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