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waters on wine

In 1989, when the Wagner family released a blended white wine from California called Conundrum, they were going against the grain of wine lovers who were clamouring for more chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and other wines sold with the names of the grape varieties on the label.

Originally known as Caymus Conundrum, the wine wasn’t buttery or creamy like the popular chardonnay style of the day. It was a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, sémillon and muscat made into a fruity wine with some sweetness that was inspired by the Wagner family’s roots in the Alsace region of France.

Each grape variety in the Conundrum blend is fermented individually and aged separately until being blended by the winemaking team a few weeks before bottling.

Its success with consumers in the United States and around the world inspired the Wagner family to expand operations outside of the Napa Valley. Conundrum became its own brand and production moved to a new winery in Monterey, California, which also produces a red, rosé and sparkling wine to complete the range.

It also inspired huge interest in the blended white wine that continues to this day, as winemakers around the world conjured up their own Conundrum-style wines.

Over the past three decades, Conundrum White’s profile has changed, becoming more refreshing and vibrant in nature, with more zesty sauvignon blanc character shining through. The latest release is one of this week’s featured recommendations alongside other popular brands and styles of wine that also evolved over time.

Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2017 (Italy), $29.99

Rating:89 /100

Allegrini’s ripasso-style red wine seldom disappoints. A ripe red with smooth texture and rich complexity, this 2017 vintage is flavourful and approachable. Terrific balance and structure makes it ideal to enjoy with a meal. Drink now to 2027. Available in British Columbia at the above price ($28.99 until Nov. 27), various prices in Alberta, $24.30 in Quebec (2018 vintage), $29.99 in Nova Scotia.

Conundrum White 2019 (United States), $18.95

Rating:89 /100

First released in 1989, Conundrum popularized a style of flavourful and aromatic white that inspired wineries around the world to create their own variations. The 2019 vintage offers pleasing fruit and floral notes with a refreshing finish. Drink now. Available at the above price in Ontario, $21.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $23.49 in Saskatchewan, $16.99 in Manitoba, $18.95 in Quebec (2020 vintage), $23.99 in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, $23.19 in Prince Edward Island.

Hidden Bench Terroir Caché 2017 (Canada), $44.95

Rating:91 /100

Hidden Bench’s attractive red blend has settled nicely into a style that’s mostly merlot with malbec and cabernet franc to support with charm and complexity. The 2017 vintage offers generous fruit, terrific structure and length. The mix of plummy fruit, tobacco and cedar combine to positive effect with the marked acidity that’s usually typical of a cooler vintage. Drink now to 2028. Available in Ontario at the above price or direct through hiddenbench.com.

Longshot Pinot Grigio 2020 (United States), $15.95

Rating:87 /100

This fresh and fruity white would be useful to have on hand for entertaining – or any given Tuesday night. Its bright and lively character makes it easy to appreciate on its own, while its structure and fruity intensity make it a food-friendly style to enjoy with a meal. Available at the above price in Ontario ($13.95 until Nov. 28), $14.99 in British Columbia ($12.99 until Nov. 27), various prices in Alberta, $15.49 in Saskatchewan, $13.99 in Manitoba, $18.99 in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, $15.99 in Nova Scotia, $16.84 in Newfoundland.

Robert Mondavi Oakville Fumé Blanc 2018 (United States), $49.95

Rating:92 /100

A blend of sauvignon blanc and sémillon from vineyards surrounding the iconic Robert Mondavi Winery in the Napa Valley, this rich and rewarding white is truly impressive. There’s an attractive mix of concentrated fruit (mostly citrus with some apple and tropical-fruit notes), herbal and floral notes that give this nicely layered wine tremendous depth of flavour. Drink now to 2026. Available in Ontario at the above price, $47.99 in Nova Scotia.

Ruffino Modus 2017 (Italy), $29.95

Rating:92 /100

One of Ruffino’s more modern red wine styles produced in Tuscany, Modus is an equal blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, which is aged for one year in small French oak barrels. The result is a concentrated and silky red wine with a mix of cherry and plummy fruit and savoury spice notes that are nicely balanced. Drink now to 2030. Available in Ontario at the above price, $31.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $32.99 in Manitoba, $29.75 in Quebec, $37.99 in Nova Scotia.

Satellite Pinot Noir 2018 (New Zealand), $22.95

Rating:89 /100

Produced by Spy Valley in Marlborough, this enjoyable pinot noir makes the most of its fresh and fruity character. Its supple texture and core of juicy red fruit makes for a wine that’s easy to appreciate. Serve with a slight chill to play up its refreshing nature. Drink now. Available in Ontario.

Noval Black Reserve Port (Portugal), $22.95

Rating:89 /100

A modern style of ruby port, Black Reserve is made to be enjoyed on its own or used as a cocktail ingredient. Its sweet, concentrated character is easy to appreciate, with spicy and chocolate notes adding complexity and some gripping tannins providing structure. A blend of traditional port grapes from different harvest years, this is meant to be enjoyed now. Available in Ontario at the above price, $23.35 in Quebec, $28 in New Brunswick.

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (New Zealand), $18.45

Rating:90 /100

The latest release of Villa Maria’s popular Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc continues to deliver plenty of refreshment with its succulent fruit flavours and crisp, rewarding finish. The focus is on citrus and tropical fruit, with little of the grassy green character that was once fashionable. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario and Quebec at the above price, $19.99 in British Columbia ($16.99 until Nov. 27), various prices in Alberta, $21.49 in Saskatchewan, $19.99 in Manitoba, $22.99 in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, $20.99 in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

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