Getting around Toronto using Uber cars last month reminded me that there's always an alternative to the norm, especially when the norm is no longer working. Big city taxis have been on the decline, in service and comfort, for decades leaving room for a new challenger like Uber, and the public loves it.
Could the same idea be infecting the wine business? For years, the classic red blends of Bordeaux have been getting all the coverage, but lately the competition and climate worldwide are closing in on the great wines proving, perhaps, that there are no givens when it comes to quality. Price and place have always been key measuring sticks for determining who is making the best wine, but that measurement is now questioned daily on the Internet.
The red blends of Bordeaux gained their fame primarily in and about the region of the Médoc and, more specifically, on the left bank in the communes of Margaux, Pauillac, St. Julien and St. Estephe. But with prices in the hundreds of dollars per bottle names like Latour, Mouton, Lafite, Les Cases, Palmer, Montrose and many more are fading from memory.
The out-of-sight, out-of-mind syndrome is plaguing the wines of Bordeaux in regular wine shops and with younger buyers, and the competition is only gaining momentum. Add to that climate change bringing more marginal, cooler sites, like the Okanagan Valley back into the game, and the rush to compete is on.
Here in B.C. the great wines of Bordeaux have been reduced to a one-day release (Oct 3) in select, government, signature stores when you have to show up early and line up. Even after you make it into the store the amount you can buy is limited.
If you have the time and money that might work for some, but the concept of having to be physically present to buy a few bottles of wine is becoming exceedingly foreign to young wine buyers who work the web and buy everything on-line.
In anticipation of the release we thought it might be fun to look everywhere but Bordeaux to see what the competition can offer this month. I can promise you that you won't have to get up early in the morning, get to a signature store, and stand in line to buy any of them.
One of the best red blend bargains in the market is Monte Antico 2010 $15.49, a Tuscan blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon that's essentially a mini-super Tuscan blend crafted by winemaker, Franco Bernabei, and importer, Neil Empson. One of the best we have tasted, it's packed full of juicy, plummy fruit spiked with dried herbs and soft textures. Roast chicken is the match.
I'm not sure I would have considered blending monastrell or mourvèdre with cabernet sauvignon but it seems to work for Sinfonia Monastrell Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 $11.99 from Jumilla, Spain. A tasty red that frankly over-delivers for the price and it's widely available. Try this with grilled meats. Should be on a lot of restaurant lists. Good value so stock up.
Père Anselme La Fiole Côtes du Rhône 2012 $17.49, is a Rhone Valley blend of grenache and syrah. Even if you don't know the winery's name, you will certainly recognize the distinctive s-curve bottle. Anselme's Châteauneuf-du-Pape has been a constant on our shelves for ages and many local drinkers' first (and only) knowledge of Châteauneuf du Pape. Expect a softly spiced raspberry, cherry scent with fine pepper and black cherry fruit. Best sopped up with weeknight chicken stew and dumplings.
The Domaine Boucabeille is a 28-hectare property in the south of France in the Côtes du Roussillon. It's planted on shale-covered slopes that were abandoned in the 20th century because it was too tough to farm and unprofitable. Today, 11 terraces of organic vines face southeast between 200 to 300 metres above sea level and the result is a delicious red blend labelled Régis Boucabeille Les Terrasses 2013 $17.49. Perfect with most any grilled meat or chicken.
Bodega Vistalba was opened in 2002 in Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza to explore traditional red blends of Argentina. Vistalba makes several blends or 'corte' using various amounts of malbec, cabernet sauvignon and bonarda. The Vistalba Corte C 2014 $19.79 is fermented in concrete vessels and then blended and aged in French oak barrels. Easily the most approachable version of this wine we have seen in years. The nose is warm and spicy, by the textures are supple and soft on the palate with rich, black fruits especially plums and prunes dominating. Elegance and style is the hallmark of 2014. Good value.
Back to France for an amazing mix of tannat and cabernet franc in the Chateau Peyros Madiran 2010 $20. Fragrant, bright red fruit is the ticket here that morphs into a dry, juicy red that is rich and dense yet elegant. You will love the rich meaty, smoky, black fruit finish. Youthful and needs time but you can easily pour it now with grilled flank steak. Another good fall value.
It's been a decade since we last saw a CedarCreek Meritage 2012 $19.69 from the Okanagan Valley. The latest iteration leads with 20 per cent malbec that seems to energize the rest of the 46/21/21/9/4 merlot/cabernet sauvignon/cabernet franc/petit verdot blend that is more old school than Bordeaux. The style is rich and jammy with floral blue and black fruit over spice and cedar boughs. This is a big red at a medium price that will need a year or two to settle but should be worth waiting for. If you must open it, serve it with lamb.
We couldn't leave without a classic pick from the Haut-Medoc: Chateau Beychevelle, St Julien, and Bordeaux, France $149.99. Beychevelle has always been a refined blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot. Still youthful, this 2010 is just beginning to wake up, showing classic stony notes with muted black cherry and white pepper and small-grained tannins. Given its fair but hefty price, you won't have to stand in line to buy it but you will have to go to Victoria because B.C. Liquor Stores remain a steadfast bricks-and-mortar retailer for reasons only they would know.
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.