Regular readers will know I often spend a week in the late summer and early fall searching for the best value wines in the country at the World Wine Awards of Canada run by WineAlign, an online website dedicated to wines sold in Canada. The goal of the annual competition is simple: find the best value wines in the country under $50.
To do that, we assembled 18 talented Canadian tasters and tasted through hundreds of wines that sell somewhere in the country for less than $50 to see which wines deserve a "best value" moniker. In fact, the vast majority of entries were under $25 and after all was said and tasted, the results remain as interesting as they are useful for wine lovers. Of course, value is one of those words that means a lot of things to a lot of people. So what do I mean by "value"?
Philosophically, the goal is to find the wines that literally rise above their pay grade. The ones that make you want to rush back to the store because the quality and value of what's in the glass really outweighs its price.
More practically, each wine is scored by an experienced panel, tasting blind, first in its price range by type, and then again among a group of the highest-rated bottles to come out of that same category, regardless of price. The results are then run through a complex, pure mathematical formula that maps out the competition's best value wines using score and price with no further human intervention or bias. It's about as transparent, and as fair, as it gets and the results are, to twist a metaphor, something you can take to the bank via your local retail wine shop.
The findings were further simplified by organizers in 2015, eliminating country and price categories and simply awarding gold, silver and bronze "value" medals based on a wine's final rankings after the aforementioned formula was put to work. You can see all the results on the WineAlign website but I have broken down some of the more relevant choices that make sense to folks living in British Columbia.
If you haven't noticed, quality wines at an affordable price are disappearing at an alarming rate across B.C. under the new government monopoly wholesale system that appears to be little more than a personal distribution company for its own retail stores. At the same time, the new rules and regulations regarding pricing and markups are complicating the lives of just about everyone else buying or selling wine in the province. It's as if the strategy is to destroy the private wine store sector in advance of handing over the business in some giant backroom deal to grocery stores, allowing government to dump its stores and employees in one fell swoop. But I digress — so let's get started.
We begin with gold and silver medal chardonnays: the Marisco Vineyards 2013 The King's Legacy Chardonnay $17 and the Stoneleigh 2014 Marlborough Chardonnay $14.29 from New Zealand. Joining the Kiwi whites are the Jacob's Creek 2014 Reserve Adelaide Hills Chardonnay $13.99 from Australia and, from B.C., the Prospect Winery 2013, and The Census Count Chardonnay at $11.49. Modern, fresh, bright and fruity with enough acidity to keep them interesting in the glass and ready to support a variety of foods.
B.C. made an impression in the gewürztraminer department, led by a solid gold medal steal: the Tinhorn Creek 2014 Gewürztraminer listed at only $12.99. Equally valuable is the Cono Sur 2015 Bicicleta Gewürztraminer $9.49 from Chile, which grabbed a bronze value medal. Both picks are ready to serve with sushi or, even better, they can freshen up a favourite curry.
You don't get a lot of great imported riesling for less than $25 a bottle, which may explain the northwest sweep by 50th Parallel 2014 Riesling $18 and the Gray Monk 2013 Riesling $13.89, both from the Okanagan Valley, just edged out a very good bottle of Kung Fu Girl Riesling $19.49 from nearby Columbia Valley, Wash. It appears modern versions of Pacific Northwest rieslings are the equal of most anything we are getting from Germany at similar pricing. These are tasty wines for roast chicken or salmon dishes.
Malbec lovers who enjoy the soft, savoury, easy-sipping red from Argentina can choose between the Santa Julia Malbec $12.99, Alamos Malbec $11.79, or the Finca Los Primos Malbec also listed at $11.79. How good can they be? Tasted blind, they topped 33 other entries in the malbec category. If you're planning on a large party in the near future, these are terrific red bets.
The category that grabs everyone's interest is cabernet sauvignon, and working through some 40 entries we found huge value in the Errazuriz Estate Cabernet Sauvignon $13.29. But using the formula, we give similar kudos to the Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $23.49, the Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon $18.79 from Chile, and the Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon $15.79 from Australia. If steak is on the menu, all of these are built with enough fruit and tannins to take on a smoky, grilled piece of meat.
Price and score combined to give three pinot noirs big-time value gold medals, which are never an easy task in this category. Our picks include the Robert Mondavi Carneros Pinot Noir $33.99 and Schug Pinot Noir $33.99, both slightly richer, rounded California-style pinots, along with a fun, juicy Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir at a very affordable $15.99. Fall dishes sporting salmon, chicken or mushrooms all work here.
Finally, a few personal favourites that can help you to develop your own personal benchmarks to track value for money wines: From Spain's Rioja region the silky, soft ripe Campo Viejo 2013 Tempranillo $15.49 is a wonderful wine you can serve with lamb chops. A solid red blend from Côtes-du-Ventoux is the Chateau Pesquié 2013 Terrasses Rouge $17.49, a perfect match for rustic fall stews or cassoulets. A peppery, dry, intense Chilean syrah you shouldn't miss is the Errazuriz 2012 Syrah Max Reserva $17.49. Try it with roast beef.
Last but not least, the Ogier 2013 Heritages Cotes du Rhone, a grenache and syrah mix at $16.79, and a delightful, red-fruited Paul Mas 2014 Grenache Noir $11.29 from the Languedoc, which can complement delicious mushrooms and pastry flavours, round out my picks.
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.