Quest for the $10 Wine (February 29, 2008)
After 30 years of chasing the grape around the world one of the things I have learned is that a $100 bottle of wine doesn't taste ten times better than a $10 bottle of wine. Yet $100 bottles seem to be easier to find these days than a drinkable $10 wine. No prizes if you guess the question I'm most frequently asked. ("What's a good wine under $10?")
The LCBO, in their never-ending quest for great profits, tried to elevate our spending on wine to the $12 to $15 price bracket. Now they have given in to public demand to supply wines at a price most people want to spend on their everyday, house wines. But not all $10 wines are born equal. In the spirit of parsimony, may I offer this guide through the Minefield of Plonk.
First off, what makes a $10 wine good value? It has to be clean; it has to taste of the grape(s) from which it is made and it has to be in balance. By that I mean all its elements have to be in harmony the fruit, the acid, the alcohol and the oak (if it has spent any time in wood or been subjected to oak chips for flavouring, which is rather like using a tea bag to make tea).
If some of the wines listed here are marginally over $10, remember you get 20 cents back when you return the empty to the Beer Store. (Note: do not attempt to return champagne bottles you have sabered. For some reason they won't accept them even though the glass is going for crushing. I would imagine it has something to do with broken glass and Workers' Compensation.)
The best value in "cheap and cheerful" you will find at the LCBO are magnums for example, Cono Sur Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot (LCBO #257170) costs $13.95 for the equivalent of two bottles, which works out to under $7 a bottle. If you tell me that you can't drink a magnum at a sitting even if you have help, my advice is to keep a clean screwcap bottle handy and pour half the magnum into it. If you top it up as far as it will go, excluding as much air space as possible, you can refrigerate the bottle and keep it for a few weeks. The trick is to allow as little air as possible to remain in contact with the wine.
The other trick in selecting a house wine as cheaply as possible is to look for a good product in tetrapak. This format comes in the 1000 mL size so you're getting 25 per cent more wine than you would in a standard bottle. The best wines I have found in tetrapaks are from Australia Lizard Flat Cabernet Merlot (LCBO #20602, $12.85) and Lizard Flat Chardonnay Verdelho (LCBO #20610, $12.85). If you do the math, these tasty wines work out to about $9.50 a bottle once you get your deposit back.
Here is a list of my top wines including those cited above that should give you change from a $10 bill.
- Barefoot Cellars Pinot Grigio 2006 ($9.90, LCBO #53983) California
- The Little Penguin Chardonnay Riesling ($9.90, LCBO #37366) Australia
- Spinelli Quartana Chardonnay 2006 ($7.15, LCBO #474239) Italy
- Baluvini Rocca Ventosa Trebbiano D'Abruzzo 2006 ($7.15, LCBO #430249)
- Moselland Bernkastler Kurfürstlay 2006 ($9.45, LCBO #15875) Germany
- Hillebrand Artist's Series Rosé 2006 ($6.95, LCBO #49742) Ontario
- Robert's Rock Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2006 ($8.90, LCBO #544668) South Africa
- Jackson-Triggs Cabernet Shiraz N/V (off-shore blend) ($9.90, LCBO #560698) Ontario
- Aliança Foral Reserve 2006 ($8.10, LCBO #239046) Portugal
- Charamba Douro 2005 ($8.60, LCBO #352963) Portugal
- Farnese Sangiovese Daunia ($7.40, LCB0 #512327) Italy
- Tarapaca Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($8.95, LCBO #249599) Chile
- Negroamaro Mezzomondo ($8.40, LCBO #588962) Puglia, Italy
Cut this out and stick on your fridge to remind you to keep to your budget.