There are certain truisms in the world of wine such as place matters, local knowledge is invaluable, and vintage is important. But to say you get what you pay for isn't one of them.
It's the uninformed who pay the most for wine and, unfortunately, there are a lot of uninformed wine drinkers. Even if you decide to devote a serious amount of time to learning about wine, trying to understand the machinations of pricing in B.C. can be nearly impossible even with decades of experience. In the end, most of us make decisions about wine based on its perceived quality and the depth of our wallets.
That said, we pay too much for wine, local and imported, because the marketplace for wine in B.C. is artificial. The only price that is real is the freight-on-board (FOB) or ex-winery cost at source. After that government intervention and the normal path of delivery spirals the price to a level that leaves you wondering how the $6.99 wine you liked in Washington or California, is $16.99 in B.C.
Take your pick — from greed to taxes, to exchange rates, to public- and private-sector stores, the game seems to be to confuse you, the consumer, to the point where you have no idea what any wine is worth.
Today, we look at how you can attack the problem as a wine buyer. There are wines that over-deliver for their price. The trick is to figure out which ones they are and use them as a benchmark for price and quality if you really want to become a more astute buyer in 2018.
In our first example, we highly recommend the Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($13.49) from Chile. Leaving the Loire and B.C. out of the picture, based on price, this sauvignon is very comparable to popular New Zealand labels but, on average, 30-per-cent cheaper. For the price, it's a delicious wine and it comes with a credible Casablanca sub-appellation. I think I've checked all the boxes, plus the bonus is drinking this wine will improve your knowledge of the sauvignon blanc grape.
Knowledge is power, and the Cims del Montsant 2012, ($14.99) is all about knowledge. First, it's a BC Liquor Distribution Branch exclusive, meaning it's not available anywhere except in government stores. Exclusives are often sold from the winery at low price to take advantage of wide distribution. So even though the LDB margin is likely big, you still get the wine at an affordable price. Monsant, which is located in Spain, is a stone's throw from the nearby and highly heralded Priorat region. The grape mix of carignan and garnacha is expressive, to say the least, and packed full of black cherries, intense wild blackberries and plummy licorice. We love the value here plus you can age this wine, too. Score one for the informed.
Not all white wine is made from chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. In the case of Ruffino Orvieto Classico 2015 ($13.49), a white wine from Central Italy, the grapes inside are procanico, verdello, malvasia, grechetto and drupeggio. You can become a master of wine memorizing the flavours and names of all the grapes but it's the texture, freshness and the versatility of this wine with seafood and vegetarian options that is the story, not to mention that price. The almonds, kernel, nut oil, orange oil and tangerine skin notes take you to Umbria, but it's the density without heft and the stony, wild herbs that make you want to finish the bottle. Think grilled halibut, sesame scallops, barbecued grilled vegetables. Did we mention the price?
I often wonder if it's the colour red that sells "red" wine, and not the grape variety. If so, maybe cabernet sauvignon and cabernet blends are not the be all and end all of red wine grapes.
Case in point: the Laya Garnacha Monastrell Vieilles Vignes 2015 ($14.49), from Almansa, Spain. In this case, the fruity grenache or garnacha plays the perfect foil to the muscular monastrell to produce a delicious, low tannin red that gets its heft on the palate from old bush vines surviving in the intense heat of Almansa. When you add altitude (700 to 1,000 metres) and calcareous soils, you bolster the freshness of this wine and, well, the rest is easy. Nothing but brooding cassis, black plum and floral fruits dressed in savoury dried herbs. In the over-deliver department, it packs a weight and complexity you seldom see in B.C. at this price point.
There are also some bargains from B.C. The large and mid-sized producers are often dismissed as lower-quality producers but they have the resources to turn out quality wine at a much lower price than most small, family-owned boutique wineries. The Quails' Gate Gewürztraminer 2016 ($15.99) is a good example. We like the leaner, fresher, lighter, style of this cooler, northern Okanagan gewürztraminer. You get the brightness and floral orange blossoms and lime pith with a litchi, honeysuckle palate that makes you swear it's from Alsace. The finish lingers with rose petals, a spicy, floral soapy characteristic of the grape. At 12.5 per cent, it's the perfect white for Thai scented rice and savvy wine buyers.
Your 2018 journey starts now. What you need, really, is all your senses to begin.
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home at the southern end of the Sea to Sky Highway in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com