I'm not a travel agent, but I feel I could justifiably stretch the truth about it on my CV. Friends call with questions, you see. Readers write. Even my doctor has taken to defusing that awkward prostate-exam moment by probing me with small talk about winery tourism. I should keep a running list of favourite estates to visit around the world. People clamour for a critic's inside scoop.
Wine has become big travel business. And no wonder. The drink goes hand in hand with beautiful vistas, great country dining and warm receptions from people who work at jobs they tend to love. But in a sense wine itself is a form of travel, the sort that happens in the mind. It can vicariously transport the drinker to those same romantic destinations by way of taste memory.
I'll always think of the chilly, limestone hills of northern Burgundy when I drink a fine, flinty Chablis, or the wild herbs of the Mediterranean shore when I smell a lavender-scented grenache or syrah from the southern Rhone.
I raise the subject because this is vacation season, and because the only destinations of note that I've visited in recent weeks are my fridge and wine cellar. Yes, it's staycation time. Perhaps you're in the same boat this summer. If so, I've got a few recommendations from my staycation world wine tour. I should have tweeted a few selfies, but the empties are already in the recycling bin.
Villa Mangiacane Riserva Chianti Classico 2009 (Italy)
SCORE: 94 PRICE: $48.95
Luscious and perfectly ripe, this high-end Chianti comes across with great mid-palate weight, delivering concentrated fruit, a touch of spice and a salty-tang hit on the long finish. The ample tannins are pleasantly sticky. Drinking beautifully now, it should improve with up to 10 years in the cellar. Available in Ontario.
Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (New Zealand)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $24.95
It's hard to imagine a more invigorating yet refined white. Light-bodied and zesty, this comes from a great producer and mixes bright grapefruit and lime fruit with notes of jalapeno and grass. $28.49 in B.C. (on sale for $26.49 till Aug. 29), various prices in Alta., $29.79 in N.S.
Joie Farm "En Famille" Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $40
Blended from the winery's best 15 barrels, this is a new standard-bearer for Canadian pinot noir. Ripe and concentrated with suggestions of black currant and plum and laced with peppery spice and an earthy essence, it's firmly structured with a strong tannin and acid grip. Available direct, joiefarm.com.
Antica Masseria Jorche Primitivo di Manduria 2011 (Italy)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $21.95
Primitivo is the Italian name for zinfandel, but this offering from Puglia on the heel of Italy's boot kicks most California counterparts at a similar price out of the water. It's big, at 15-per-cent alcohol, with rich notes of dark cocoa, coffee and leather – like munching on chocolate-covered espresso beans in the handbag aisle of a Prada factory outlet. Available in Ontario.
Chateau de Treviac 2012 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $16.95
From the Corbières appellation in sunny southern France, this overachieving red blend of syrah and grenache is chunky, chewy and smooth, offering flavours of dark-skinned fruits, herbs, licorice, white pepper and smoke. Available in Ontario.
Seven Falls Merlot 2012 (Washington state)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
Many people expect merlot to taste the way it sounds, smooth, round and maybe a little bit sophisticated in a French sort of way. Most merlots unfortunately don't, but this one does. Full-bodied, it's soft and tastes like a trip to the ice cream parlour, redolent of cherry, vanilla and chocolate dusted with fine tannins for backbone. Various prices in Alta., $22.99 in Sask.
Penfolds Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Australia)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $23.95
A newcomer to the Penfolds lineup, Bin 9 is fine Australian cabernet for the Volvo crowd – not cheap but not conspicuously expensive. And it's well-engineered, with classic cab notes of cassis, mint and olive supported by nuances of cedar and cured meat. Slightly grainy tannins bode well for five to 10 years in the cellar. Various prices in Alta., $24.99 in Man.
Ktima Kir-Yianni 2011 (Greece)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $18.95
A blend of xinomavro, Greece's tannic, high-acid grape, and softer merlot, this red walks with a foot in the future and one in the past. Medium-full-bodied and bone-dry, it displays ample cherry-like fruit set against old-school chalky-chewy tannins and an evolved, earthy quality, framed by subtle, food-friendly bitterness. Available in Ontario.
Vicente Gandia Nebla Verdejo 2014 (Spain)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $14.95
Spain's northern Rueda region deserves wider recognition for its generally well-priced, crisp whites, and for its signature verdejo grape. Here's a good example from a 130-year-old Valencia-based winery with some of the most innovative marketing practices in the industry (including a charity-wine series whose labels are drawn by various stars, such as George Clooney and Jackie Chan). On the lighter side of medium-bodied, the wine serves up uncanny peach-like fruit laced with fresh herbs, lifted by zippy acidity. A consummate oyster wine. Available in Ontario.
Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2013 (Niagara)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $13.95
Light-medium-bodied and crisp, with plump flavours of tropical fruit, grapefruit and subtle smokiness. More poise than you'd expect at this price. Available direct, jacksontriggswinery.com.