If you are obsessed with finding wines that represent good value, you may want to consider getting off the major varietal wine trail. Forsaking your favourite chardonnay or merlot could pay multiple dividends if you manage to find a wine that both appeals to your taste and costs less money.
A good place to begin your search is with labels that are unfamiliar.In fact, the stranger sounding the grape name (and the tougher it is to pronounce), the more likely it will be priced below its true value because so few buyers reach for it.
Viognier is a fine example of a delicious white wine that for all its press is really struggling to penetrate the mainstream -- most likely because few can pronounce the name Vee-OWN-yay. The grape originates in the northern Rhone, but the bargains are not there. There are, however, some diverse offerings from the rest of the globe that might pique your interest.
Cono Sur in Chile has done a fabulous job with viognier, and it sells for less than $11. Yalumba and Smoking Loon have set a new standard at the $16 to $18 mark with viognier that will scare you they are so good; the former is made in Australia, the latter in California.
Our pick this week is the Clay Station Viognier 2007 from Lodi. Look for a fresh white wine with hints of musk melon and orange blossoms. A more delicate version of this variety without the oily notes, it attracts with its honeysuckle and melon notes. All in all, it is an interesting outcome for this variety from the Central Coast.
Closer to home, local wines struggle to offer bargain prices, but there are a number of aromatic wines that offer excellent summer value such as the See Ya Later Ranch Semillon Barrel Fermented 2007, from Okanagan Falls. The nose is a mix of grassy, herbal and grapefruit with buttery, leesy, honey and lemon peel notes. It is dry, round and elegant on the palate with buttery, grassy, herbal and grapefruit flavours. The finish is a mix of mineral and vanilla notes. Try this one with squid.
The triple whammy of value is the un-oaked white wine category. Not using oak keeps the cost down. No oak means fresh, clean, hip-tasting white wine. And since white wine is currently unpopular, it's always a dollar or two cheaper than its red varietal cousins.
Our pick is the Danzante Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2008 from Veneto, Italy. Danzante has quite a history with pinot grigio and its style is now more or less set. The nose is fresh with nectarine skin and tropical fruit. The palate is dry and crisp with more tropical notes of papaya with kiwi, lemon grass and minerality. It scrapes the palate clean, so be sure to pair it with some shellfish or light seafood dishes or grilled vegetables.
Other wines that can over-deliver for the price are Spanish or Portuguese reds grown far from established DO's such as Rioja or Penedčs or the Douro. Case in point: Castillo de Liria 2007 from Valencia Spain. It's hard to beat this soft easy-sipping $9 red that blends the indigenous bobal grape and shiraz. Love the meaty, roasted pepper, tobacco, herbal, cherry aromas and the black cherry, licorice, tobacco, herbal flavours. A tasty barbecue red at a fair price.
Spanish rosé is also a great bargain given its food-friendly nature and flavourful profile that has little to do with sweet North American blush wines. The latest Espelt Coralí Rosé 2008 from the Costa Brava is a carbon copy of last year's excellent offering with its "coral-like" colour. The grape mix is merlot and black grenache and the result is a smooth, stylish, fresh rosé with an abundance of lemon/citrus fruit characters. Refreshingly dry and clean, this has summer salads written all over it. This is an impressive style of rosé that deserves wide distribution.
Looking for value usually means staying away from labels that sport words like Grand Cru, Premier Cru or Reserve because they invariably cost more. On the other hand, look for solid brand names capable of producing high-quality, inexpensive table wine.
Wineries and brands that quickly come to mind include Yalumba (Y-Series) or Penfolds (Koonunga Hill) from Australia; and Concha y Toro (Casillero del Diablo), Torres (Santa Digna) and Santa Rita (120) out of Chile.
The current Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon Yellow Label 2007 from South Australia meets the test. Its spicy, black olive, peppery, cassis, menthol, saddle leather aromas preview a tasty dry, round palate. The flavours are a mix of peppery, cassis, smoky, herbal, black olive and tobacco. Balanced as it is, a hamburger would pair perfectly with it.
Becoming a savvy wine buyer is akin to becoming a savvy wine taster: It takes time and plenty of practice.
The rewards, though, are a lifetime of enjoyment.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Clay Station Viognier 2007, Lodi, Central Valley, California, United States
Remarks Clean fresh tasty delicate wine with honeysuckle and melon notes.
See Ya Later Ranch Semillon Barrel Fermented 2007, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Remarks Dry, round and elegant on the palate with buttery, grassy, grapefruit flavours.
Danzante Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2008, Veneto, Italy
Remarks Tropical notes of papaya with kiwi, lemon grass and minerality.
Castillo de Liria 2007, Valencia, Spain
Remarks Easy-drinking barbeque red at a fair price
Espelt Coralí Rosé 2008, Empordŕ, Ampurdain-Costa Brava, Catalunya, Spain
Remarks Refreshingly dry and clean it has summer written all over it.
Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon Yellow Label 2007, South Australia
Remarks Peppery, cassis, smoky, herbal, black olive, and tobacco flavours.