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Into the future with reds and whites

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Guessing which wines will be trendy in 2006 is no easy task, but it can be fun to look ahead and, personally, I can hardly wait for the year to unfold.

If you haven’t been paying attention, British Columbia wine drinkers are recalibrating their palates at breakneck speed. Food and wine, wine-by-the-glass, wine for the cellar – it’s all up for renewal and everyone seems to want the latest and best.

What’s clear is white wine is back in vogue as consumers continue their quest to drink the best wine values in the market. Coming off years of drinking big rich reds they are looking for white wine with big flavour although not necessarily any obvious wood.

Three growing categories lead the charge:

Up first is riesling, and for that matter the entire aromatic spectrum of grape varieties such as gewürztraminer, ehrenfelser, chenin blanc, and viognier. Many are available under screwcap, making them the coolest white wines in the market and consumers are beginning to think so, too.

If the crisp, mineral, citrus/honey flavours of riesling appeal to you, look no further than modern Germany and the labels of Dr. L (Loosen), Lingenfelder Bird Series, Gunderloch Redstone or Selbach Kabinett (Green Fish Label). Award-winning Canadian riesling includes the likes of Wild Goose, Gehringer Brothers, Lang and CedarCreek from B.C. or Vineland, Chateau des Charmes, Flat Rock and 13th Street out of Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula.

Next is a fresh look at a pair of un-oaked or, at the most, very lightly wooded varieties: sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.

Oysters and sauvignon blanc are the poster child for fresh food and wine, and while they were once the domain of New Zealand producers the likes of Cloudy Bay, Nautilus and Kim Crawford, today’s standard bearers have gone global. Some personal favourites include Benziger (Sonoma), Sumac Ridge (B.C.), Mulderbosch (South Africa), St Supéry (Napa) and Palandri (Western Australia), Trio (Chile) and Jolivet from the Loire.

If white is the new red, the coolest of all may be the revamped chardonnay since 2000. Gone is the over-oaked, alcoholic icon of yesterday; in its place comes a modern, bright version full of green apple and melon fruit with a dash of creamy lees and mineral - and it hails from cool coastal climes.

Penfolds Yattarna and Shaw and Smith M3 (Adelaide Hills, Australia), Errazuriz Wild Ferment (Casablanca, Chile), La Crema Santa Barbara and Hartford Sonoma Coast (California) and Mission Hill SLC (Okanagan Valley) are but a few of the prototypes. Less oak, more acid and aromas that jump from the glass have everyone thinking food and wine.

It doesn’t mean that red wine is dead, only that consumer tastes are changing. Riper, smoother, sleeker style reds are what’s hot, and while merlot may be the former poster child for sipping red, pinot noir, shiraz/syrah and malbec are moving quickly to fill the gap.

Pinot noir’s star continues to rise in the wake of the hit film Sideways although the finicky grape with the thin skin isn’t as amenable to being trendy as some opportunistic producers would like. Translation: there is a lot of pinot junk out there so shop carefully.

What is clear is that Burgundy, once regarded a temple of pinot noir production, is now merely a place in France that produces some of the world’s best pinot noir.

After that you can turn to an ever-growing number of regions such as Central Otago, Martinborough, Canterbury, Nelson and Marlborough in New Zealand; Russian River, Carneros, Monterey, and Santa Barbara County in California; Leyda, Casablanca and maybe Marchigue in Chile. Throw in Oregon, Tasmania and Yarra Valley in Australia, parts of coastal South Africa, and British Columbia and Ontario and you get the picture the game is on.

As for pinot names to look for this year, I like Hartford, La Crema, Rodney Strong, Marimar Torres, Paul Hobbs, Byron, Cambria, Saintsbury, Cuvaison, Gloria Ferrer and Domaine Carneros from California.

CedarCreek, Quails’ Gate, Inniskillin, Coyote’s Run and Henry of Pelham are my Canadian picks. From the rest of the world Main Divide, Spy Valley, Shingle Peak and Felton Road are top kiwi labels to search out, as are Casas del Bosque, Cono Sur and Valdivieso in Chile, De Bortoli in Australia and Bouchard Finlayson in South Africa.

Finally, shiraz (or syrah as they say in France) will remain a quick-pick red for most everyone. From Yellowtail to Grange and everything in between, it seems we can’t get enough of the red some describe as merlot with flavour.

The big attraction here is the peppery, meaty black fruit flavours and soft supple tannins.

The totally hip in 2006 will be drinking Casillero del Diablo Syrah (Chile), Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz, Ben Glaetzer’s Stickleback or Thomas Hyland Shiraz (Australia). From South Africa’s count on bargain basement prices and plenty of flavour when sipping Obikwa and Bellingham Shiraz, while closer to home Cline Syrah from California or La Frenz and Jackson-Triggs Sun Rock all from British Columbia offer the ripeness everyone is looking for.

The new red kid this year will be malbec and almost all of it will come from Argentina, specifically Mendoza and environs. Soft, round and juicy with just enough savoury bits to keep it interesting, malbec is a terrific choice for grilled meats, and the prices at both the low and high end represent excellent value.

Now you are on your own. Good hunting.

Ten new tastes for 2006

WHITES

• Lindemans Bin 95 Sauvignon Blanc 2004 South Eastern Australia, $12

• Fish Hoek Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Western Cape, South Africa, $15 • Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc 2004 Valle del Curicó, Chile, $15

• Lingenfelder Riesling Bird Series 2004 Pfalz, Germany, $16 • CedarCreek Chardonnay Classic 2004 British Columbia, $17 • Blasted Church Revered Series Chardonnay 2004 Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, $26

REDS

• Santa Julia Malbec 2005 Mendoza, Argentina, $11

• Viu Manent Malbec 2004 Valle del Colchagua, Chile, $13

• Feudo Arancio Syrah 2003 Sicily, Italy, $16

• Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2004 Coastal Region, South Africa, $18 • Vina Casas del Bosque Pinot Noir Reserve 2005 Valle de Casablanca, Chile, $20 • Kenwood Pinot Noir 2004 Russian River, Sonoma County, California, $24

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