When it comes to wine, you don't get a lot for $12 these days. After you factor in the cost of production, profit, shipping, insurance, federal taxes, provincial taxes and the whopping B.C. liquor markup (tax), well, there just isn't much money left for flavour. It's a cross we bear In British Columbia and one the Premier's current B.C. Liquor Policy Review has yet to address and, frankly, is unlikely to do much about it.
If that wasn't a big enough challenge, the newest enemy of wine, and number one on my list, is residual sugar. The new flavour is sweet and it seems as if the large commercial wineries are betting the bank you won't be able to resist. They say it's all predicated on attracting new consumers to the wine world. But is it?
Could be what's really happening is substandard wine being "sugared" to cover up bitterness and unbalanced flavours — traits that are the bane of many a cheap tipple. And that leads us back to the challenge of finding quality and, mostly, dry wine with flavour when only a dollar or two of money is spent on the juice inside the bottle.
The good news is over the course of a year I'm given the opportunity to taste thousands of wines. Armed with that knowledge, I wanted to share with you a dozen doozies — 12 wines that exceed expectations and over-deliver at about $12 or less per bottle.
Believe it or not, that task becomes even harder because often at this price point wineries sell their red wines for an extra dollar or two more than their whites with no difference in quality or value added. Spoiler alert: you always get more for your money with white wines.
Notwithstanding the difficulty of the task here are a dozen picks that measure up and will barely dent your bottom line allowing you to better deal with those post-holiday bills and the ever-looming tax deadline of April 30.
If you do anything different when it comes to wine drinking in 2014, resolve to drink more vinho verde. Portugal's green wine is fresh, lean and authentic, and it really works well with seafood. Our pick is the Aveleda Casal Garcia Vinho Verde $12 with its light, frizzante attack, crisp palate and pear skin, lemon, lees, quince and apple skin flavours. Delicate, juicy and fresh. Love the value here.
Our second pick takes us to Argentina and the Finca Los Primos Syrah $12 out of the San Rafael district of southern Mendoza. Hamburgers, meatballs and other grilled meats are the match for this slightly lean and light syrah with classic peppery, black cherry, rooty, licorice/tobacco flavours. The palate is fresh and juicy with light tannins that will synch up well with the aforementioned dishes. Solid value.
Add Australia's De Bortoli DB Traminer Riesling Family Selection $12 to your refrigerator this week and get ready to look like a genius anytime someone orders spicy take-out. The nose is floral with ginger and light litchi. The palate is elegant with somewhat sweet baked apple, honey and citrus flavours. Indian curries are a perfect match.
The moscato craze has spawned a lot of junk sweet wines but well above that level is Down Under's Jacob's Creek Moscato $12 with its attractive floral, nectarine, lime and peach nose. The attack is fresh and juicy with a dash of spritz and honey, green apple, nectarine, ginger and licorice notes. At eight per cent alcohol you can sip this all day and night on the patio.
Back to red, our first stop in Spain is La Casona de Castaño Old Vines Monastrell $10.The attack is juicy on the palate with fine, middle-weight structure and black cherry, chocolate, pepper, mineral flavours. A delicious value in a dry, mid-week red for burgers, grilled lamb chops and chicken.
One of the top inexpensive chardonnays on the market is Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay $12. The style is fresh and perfectly leaned out for food with light aromatic peach and citrus notes, a touch of butter, and light lemon flavours that coat the palate. Perfect with chicken or seafood.
Gewurztraminer might not be your first Chilean wine thought but Cono Sur Bicicleta Gewurztraminer $11 should be your second. Fresh and dry, you get dried litchi, light sausage, ginger, rose petal and apple skin flavours throughout. A great effort and a steal at the price. Try it with Indian or Thai dishes.
Spain also gives us another tasty red, one with a slightly different twist on grapes: merlot with monastrell or mourvèdre. Lujuria Merlot – Monastrell $10.50 is built for grilled meats and mid-week dining. The palate mixes black cherry, pepper, floral smoky notes with raspberries and spice. A firm, dry red on the rustic side, it's a good match with grilled sausages or chicken.
Just discovered is how well the latest Finca Los Primos Torrontés $11 is tasting. A fresh mix of ginger, baked pear, lemon oil, honey and nectarine flavours, this screwcap-closed Argentine white is a fun party wine. Pairs well with appetizers, sushi or even grilled pork chops.
Italy southern Puglia region is home to Farnese Sangiovese Daunia $10 whose black olive, peppery, leather nose and plummy, sausage meat and licorice flavours make it a comfortable, easy sipping red you can pour liberally when it's barbecue time.
A South African contribution is Obikwa Sauvignon Blanc 2012 $10 with its softer, rounder style. Ripe grapefruit and a smooth slightly sweet finish suggest spicy tuna maki or spicy steamed mussels would make a great match.
The finish for our dozen doozies is a classic Spanish red. The Navarro López Pergolas Old Vines Tempranillo 2009 $12 surprises with its peppery, fruity, black cherry aromas and elegant meaty, cherry, orange and dried herb flavours. It's as far from the new, commercial sweet reds as you can get for $12.
What are you waiting for?
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com