Perhaps you are still carrying the burden of a fine-wine shopping spree from the holidays on your Visa. Maybe you've been planning to tighten that wine-budget belt for a long time. Whatever your reasons for trimming the fiscal fat, there's no shame here. Not at Dr. Frugal's Wine Clinic. Please step into my office, take a deep breath and get ready to be a leaner, happier, debt-free you.
As satisfied patients will attest, I do not subscribe to extreme measures. A diet of boring, characterless wines is doomed to failure. Think of those weight-loss fads: low-carb, grapefruit, South Beach, Pritikin. And don't forget cabbage soup! How can humans be expected to stick to a program of draconian denial? It's the same with wine. There's got to be pleasure even in the sacrifice.
So, here's a list of affordable but not entirely dirt-cheap wines. It's by no means definitive. I have not recently conducted a comprehensive sampling of under-$10 wines available in every province. I suspect I could easily have filled a couple of columns with selections from Chile alone. This one focuses on reasonably priced offerings from my recent tastings, most newly released into the market.
Rabl Kittmansberg Gruner Veltliner 2011 (Austria)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $14.95
Many of the world's great wine values command low prices because they are not easily pronounced by English speakers. That's my theory in any case. Gruner veltliner is a case in point. Though popular with the in crowd, it has yet to conquer the mainstream. Too bad for Austria, the grape's homeland, where producer names often add to the pronunciation challenge. Rabl's 2011 Kittmansberg is light and dry, with orchard and melon fruit supported by a chalky, minerally character. It's terrific. Available in Ontario.
Olivares Altos de la Hoya Monastrell 2011 (Spain)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $13.95
A shining example of the new Spain, this is a bargain red from old vines grown in the lesser-known Jumilla appellation in the southeast. Monastrell is Spanish for mourvèdre, a red grape typically used to impart tannic backbone and depth to southern French blends containing peppery syrah and soft, fruity grenache. Here's a competent solo player oozing dark berries, a hint of tangy herbs and soft tannins. Available in Ontario.
Domaine Des Fées Côtes du Rhône 2010 (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.95
I have memories of stealing cups of wine as a kid from the fermenting barrel – half-finished juice still fresh with grapy flavour but far enough along the path that it delivered a bit of a buzz. Nice. This is something of a Proust's madeleine for me: grapey to be sure, but also a grown-up wine, with soft herbal-lavender notes on top of the black currant fruit and sticky, dry tannins. It would be nice with roast poultry. Available in Ontario.
Rio Madre 2011 (Spain)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.94
Rioja on a shoestring, this red strays from the typical regional grape formula that's heavy on tempranillo and garnacha. It's 100-per-cent graciano, a firm, deeply coloured variety. Fullbodied and ripe, the 2011 Rio Madre delivers velvety prune-raisin fruit, vanilla and floral characters, with a sweet core reminiscent of southern Italian primitivo. Nice for rich red-meat dishes, including grilled ribs and pulled pork. Available in Ontario.
The Ruins Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (South Africa)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $13.95
It's 51-per-cent syrah and the rest cab, and the syrah clearly and satisfyingly dominates. One could mistake this for decent Crozes-Hermitage, the syrah-specialized appellation in the northern Rhône Valley. It's full-bodied but not heavy, crafted in a juicy style that showcases cherry, blackberry, licorice and cracked pepper. $16.65 in Que.
Peninsula Ridge Merlot 2012 (Ontario)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.95
Niagara's warm 2012 growing season ripened the fruit to a sweet intensity, yielding a soft, cherry-like, medium-bodied red with lightly dusty tannins and good structure. Well done. Available in Ontario.
Domaine Jacky Marteau Sauvignon Touraine 2012 (France)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $13.95
Call this a baby Sancerre, grown from the same grape variety – sauvignon blanc – down river from the famed Loire Valley appellation. And it's an exemplary baby, with zesty grapefruit, lemon, melon and herbs. Crisp and elegant.
Primal Roots White Blend 2011 (California)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $9.95
I've come to approach California white blends with caution. They're too sweet generally, a profile based on the pioneering, superpremium Conundrum from Napa Valley. This major bargain is a pleasant surprise. A blend of viognier, French colombard, riesling and gewürztraminer, it's aromatic with in-your-nose characters of apple blossoms, peach, lychee and lime, balanced deftly by zippy acidity. Perfect on its own or with spicy Asian fare. $16.29 in Sask., $16.98 in Nfld.
Nederburg Winemaster's Reserve Shiraz 2011 (South Africa)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $11.45
Nederburg's Winemaster's Reserve line of reds and whites shines each year for value. The 2011 shiraz dishes up juicy berry fruit and faint smoked rubber against a tight fabric of grainy tannins. It would match nicely with rich red meats, including lamb and game. $12.99 in B.C., $12.99 in N.S., $15.99 in Nfld.
Botter Doppio Passo Primitivo 2012 (Italy)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $9.95
A ripe red from Italy's sunny south, this develops additional smoothness by means of a second fermentation. Part of the crop is harvested at the usual time. The pomace – or pressed grape solids – is then used to feed a second fermentation of the rest of the crop, which is harvested later in the autumn. The wine's a crowd-pleaser, to be sure, with sweet jammy berries and a hint of dark chocolate backed by dry tannins. Ideal for mature, firm cheeses and game.
Château La Bastide 2010 (France)
SCORE: 86 PRICE: $13.95
A full-bodied red from the Corbières district of the southern Languedoc region, this 2010 shows good concentration, with a soft texture and flavour of dried cherry set against a light dusting of tannins. A nice bistro-style wine. Available in Ontario.
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The Flavour Principle, a new cookbook and drinks compendium by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol, is in bookstores everywhere. Published by HarperCollins.