I’d venture to guess that most wine drinkers prefer never to cross the colour barrier. I hear it all the time.
“How about a glass of wine?” I’ll say as a host.
“Sure. Red, please.”
“How about a spätburgunder? There’s a bottle already open in the fridge.”
“Sounds good. Is it red? I only drink red.”
It gets me every time. How could colour, not flavour, trump all else? I can think of certain gamays, dolcettos and cool-climate pinot noirs (hello, German spätburgunder) that tend to taste lighter and more acidic than many lavishly oaked, warm-climate chardonnays. Stylistically, one could argue they share more in common with the average medium-bodied white wine than with such big, smooth reds as Argentine malbec or Australian shiraz. Why ask for a colour when you’re after a flavour profile? It’s like insisting on a “brown” soft drink. There are many brown soft drinks – Pepsi, Coke Zero, Dr. Pepper, root beer, Brio Chinotto and so on. Are they all preferable in flavour to Sprite or 7-Up merely because they’re brown?
Yes, I know. There can be real or perceived health concerns for preferring red over white or vice versa. Many people stick to white to avoid so-called red-wine headaches. Others steer clear of white either because it tends to be higher in gastric-distressing acidity or because they want to avoid white wine’s generally higher sulphite levels. But, for the most part, colour preference is not a health issue.
As I sampled a couple of hundred wines over the past few weeks, some of the most interesting ones were imbued with odd flavours that jammy-shiraz or buttery-chardonnay fans – to cite two mass-market stereotype groups – would find jarring. Those chief virtues would be lost on people who think of wine as having only two “flavours,” red and white.
For example, there was a leafy, oxidized Lebanese red from a storied producer that farms organically, employs native yeasts and famously shuns added sulphur. There was a Brunello di Montalcino redolent of mushrooms and decayed foliage. And there was a Chilean carménère-syrah blend that came across to me with a prominent note of cured meat. Among whites, there were an Austrian grüner veltliner and a German riesling whose biggest aromatic attractions were, respectively, uncanny suggestions of stone dust and diesel fumes.
Oh, yes, I did enjoy more than a few smooth and decidedly fruit-forward offerings as well. So, I won’t impose an entire column of salami and gas station tasting notes on you. Let’s start with five of what I’d call easy-to-like wines and finish with a few that might be described as harder to love.
Bel Echo Terroir Broadbridge Sauvignon Blanc 2015, New Zealand
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $22.95
Silky and fleshy, this is smartly tuned Marlborough sauvignon blanc from an estate founded by the French family behind the Henri Bourgeois label of Sancerre in the Loire. Ripe peach, mango and grapefruit flavours mix with just a whisper of green pea and grass. Available in Ontario at the above price, $29.99 in Nova Scotia.
La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo 2014, Spain
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $14.95
Minimally oaked, this exhibits cheerful gummy-raspberry fruit carried on a polished texture. Perfectly ripe – thanks to the fruit of mature, 55-year-old vines in the Navarra appellation. A crowd pleaser yet anything but banal or manufactured. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Château des Charmes Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015, Ontario
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $14.95
Hard to find a better-crafted, honest-tasting (as opposed to oaky-engineered) chardonnay for this money anywhere. It’s not meant to wow on the first sip; it’s about the balance. Medium-full, with ample peach and tropical fruit supported by deftly light touches of vanilla, caramel and toast. Available in Ontario.
Zorzal Terroir Unico Malbec 2014, Argentina
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.95
Gutsy and juicy, with classically smooth-ripe Argentine tannins, yet it’s nowhere near as wimpy as the simple, grapy malbecs that dominate this end of the price spectrum. Available in Ontario.
Arca Nova Vinho Verde 2014, Portugal
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $12.95
This is still – not crackling – vinho verde, with classic delicacy at just 10.5-per-cent alcohol, yet it has a silky, uncharacteristically smooth texture that offers up notes of green apple and peach. A bargain. Available in Ontario.
Quercecchio Brunello di Montalcino 2011, Italy
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $33.95
Some wines taste like an orchard or meadow (think New Zealand sauvignon blanc), and some taste like the forest. This falls into the latter camp, with mushroom and underbrush notes that mingle with slightly evolved, plum-prune fruit, backed by sticky tannins that should continue to soften with four or five more years in the bottle. Perfect for roast lamb or pork or herb-crusted T-bone. Available in Ontario.
Château Musar Red 2009, Lebanon
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $61.95
The winery is famous for relying entirely on ambient yeasts and using only traces of sulphur, if any, to guard against oxidation. Released seven years after harvest, an unusually long time in the wine world, a new bottle of Château Musar often tastes as mature as a 25- or 30-year-old cabernet from, say, Napa Valley or Bordeaux. The 2009 flagship red is in relatively fresh condition (the operative word being “relatively”), with attractively leafy and nutty oxidative notes and only a faint balsamic, volatile-acid quality. Enjoy it now with roast beef (if you appreciate the style) or cellar it for another 10 years to develop even more classic Musar flavours. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta. The good 2007 vintage sells for $52.99 in British Columbia and $48 in Quebec.
Mayu Reserva Carménère Syrah 2014, Chile
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $15.95
Terrific wine for the money, but there’s a caveat here. It’s made in large part from carménère, Chile’s signature red grape, which can be tough going for some palates because of its herbal overtones. This one’s also got a heady essence of cured meat, though that may owe more to the syrah in the blend. Still, there’s a crowd-pleasingly creamy density here along with notes of dark chocolate, leather and espresso. Hearty stewed-red-meat dishes would flatter this chocolate-covered, espresso-dusted salami of a wine. Available in Ontario.
Haart Piesporter Riesling Kabinett 2014, Germany
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.95
Fair warning: This is a close shave sweeter than off-dry. But it’s riesling, so you can expect it might have substantial balancing acidity, which it does. Ripe peaches and pears collide with a petrol-diesel quality and stony aromatics – orchard fruit and rocks next to the autobahn. Good choice for light curries. Available in Ontario.
Anton Bauer Gmork Grüner Veltliner 2014, Austria
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $18.95
Light-medium bodied, silky and succulent for a lean, 12-per-cent alcohol white. But the star attraction is the stony-mineral quality. A beauty. Available in Ontario.Report Typo/Error