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waters on wine

Crop yields are lower, which makes it more expensive for farmers to grow.JacquesPALUT/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

The fortunes of garnacha continue to rise in Spain, even in Rioja, where local growers have traditionally referred to the grape as “la maldita,” meaning the damned. Unlike the angelic Tempranillo, which can be counted on to deliver healthy and bountiful crops to Rioja wineries, garnacha poses difficulties.

Yields are lower, which makes it more expensive for farmers to grow. Many have pulled out garnacha vines in favour of Tempranillo. The vines that remain are used to produce simple and affordable styles of red and rosé wines, or contribute to age-worthy blends, the region’s celebrated Reservas and Gran Reservas, where Tempranillo plays the leading role.

The family-owned Vivanco winery has another view. It established Vinedos La Maldita to focus on garnacha-based wines from Rioja, notably a rosé and a red. Other producers in Rioja, including Palacios Remondo, which produces the popular La Vendimia and La Montessa, are also putting their focus squarely on garnacha.

The current release of La Maldita Garnacha is featured amongst this week’s recommendations. The lineup highlights a dramatic array of red wines, many of which are well-suited to being enjoyed at the dinner table. The wines touch many parts of the winemaking world, including a recently released pinot noir from Okanagan Falls in British Columbia and complex cabernet franc and tannat blend from Uruguay.

Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico 2019 (Italy), $20.95

Rating:88 /100

Peppoli has been produced by the Antinori family since 1985. A traditional sangiovese red blend, this is aged in large oak vats and stainless-steel tanks to maintain the freshness of the wine’s floral and fruity character. A savoury and bright red, this is best enjoyed with a meal. Drink now to 2025. Available in Ontario at the above price, $26.99 in British Columbia ($23.99 until March 31) and Manitoba, various prices in Alberta, $29.99 in Saskatchewan, $23.75 in Quebec, $32.99 in New Brunswick, $28.98 in Newfoundland.

Bodega Norton Perdriel Cabernet Franc 2019 (Argentina), $19.99

Rating:90 /100

Norton is a historic producer from Mendoza known for its affordable range of red and white wines from Argentina. Each year, the winery produces a small amount of wine from its Perdriel estate in Lujan de Cuyo, including this gratifying cabernet franc. The fruit flavours are nicely concentrated with added complexity from spice notes from barrel aging. Drink now to 2026. Available in British Columbia at the above price ($17.49 until April 2).

Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Alexander Valley 2018 (United States), $29.99

Rating:90 /100

As cabernet prices from Napa continue to soar, this is a welcome reminder of the quality wines coming out of Sonoma County. Alexander Valley has long been celebrated for its cabernet, offering densely flavoured and deeply layered wines that offer ripeness and structure. This concentrated example comes from Frei Brothers showcases pleasant berry, tobacco and cedar notes. Drink now to 2026. Available in British Columbia at the above price ($26.99 until April 2), $20.99 in Manitoba, $25.45 in Quebec (2019 vintage), $38.99 in Prince Edward Island, $29.99 in Newfoundland.

Garzón Cabernet Franc/Tannat 2018 (Uruguay), $19.95

Rating:89 /100

While the tannat grape has helped make a name for wineries in Uruguay in general and Garzón in particular, this dry red makes cabernet franc the star attraction. An 80/20 blend, this delivers complexity and nicely layered flavours instead of robust fruit power. The leafy and herbal edge common to cabernet franc shines through on the nose and palate, along with blackcurrant and cherry notes. Drink now to 2025. Available at the above price in Ontario, $20.99 in British Columbia ($19.49 until March 31), various prices in Alberta,

Gérard Bertrand An 806 2018 (France), $17.95

Rating:90 /100

Here’s a full-bodied and ripe style of red wine with a well-structured and rich texture. A blend of Grenache, Syrah and mourvèdre from Corbières in the south of France, this shows tremendous balance of fruit, acidity and alcohol, with a nicely integrated tannins. The mix of ripe berry and cherry fruit and peppery spice make this a red with mass appeal. Drink now to 2025. Available in Ontario at the above price, $19.99 in British Columbia (2017 vintage),

La Maldita Garnacha 2020 (Spain), $14.50

Rating:88 /100

Made with garancha (a.k.a. Grenache) grown in Rioja, this simple and enjoyable dry red wine makes the most of its ripe fruit character. It’s fresh and fruity style makes it easy to appreciate. The dry finish makes it refreshing and balanced to enjoy with a meal. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $18.49 in Saskatchewan, $14.60 in Quebec.

Meyer Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Old Block McLean Creek Vineyard 2020 (Canada), $44.44

Rating:92 /100

This expressive and age-worthy pinot noir comes from the original plantings at Meyer’s home estate in Okanagan Falls. This is a flavourful and fruity pinot with winning complexity from the savoury and peppery notes that carry through to the appetizing finish. Drink now to 2030. Available in British Columbia at the above price, direct from mfvwines.com, various prices in Alberta.

Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2019 (Italy), $20.95

Rating:90 /100

Based in Montepulciano in Tuscany, Poliziano celebrated its 60th anniversary last year. The estate has grown to 170 hectares from the original 22 hectares purchased in 1961. This appealing blend of sangiovese and merlot is a terrific introduction to the family operation. It’s rich and structured character make for a red to enjoy now with a meal or cellar. Drink now to 2027. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $23.05 in Quebec (2020 vintage).

Ritual Pinot Noir 2018 (Chile), $23.95

Rating:88 /100

This organic pinot noir comes from Casablanca Valley and presents a ripe and fragrant character. Its aroma suggests red berries with savoury and spicy notes, the oak is quite evident. The flavours are more integrated and enjoyable, offering a sweet and spicy mix of cranberry, cherry and spice notes. Like many Chilean pinots this is full-bodied and flavourful. A red wine with complexity and mass appeal. Drink now to 2024. Vegan-friendly. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.

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