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Ten Top Wines Under $20 (December 10, 2009)

There are 2.7 billion cases of wine produced every year around the world. Tough to get your head around that number, but if all the empty bottles were laid end to end someone would have the mother of all headaches. But what is more significant is that 70 per cent of these wines are sold at under $10 a bottle. And, according to Jean-Charles Boisset, the man who gave you French Rabbit in tetrapak, 70 per cent is drunk between 28 minutes and three hours after purchase. And 70 per cent of the cost of these wines goes into the packaging and the supply chain. "In the wine industry," says Boisset, "we're all selling each other landfill."

If you raise your sights from Fuzion and its ilk (the Argentinean Malbec blends at under $8 that are flooding the stores) and you are willing to spend a little more on wine, you will find that there is a great leap forward in quality as you enter the $14 to $20 price bracket. With this in mind I offer you ten wines that are new to our market that will repay in pleasure the extra dollars you're spending.

Sabor Real Viñas Centenarias Tempranillo 2005 (Toro, Spain; Vintages #122325, $19.95). The vines from which the grapes were harvested for this wine are over 100 years old. Toro is a very warm growing region, which means high sugar readings that ferment to alcohol. This wine is 15 per cent. Dense purple in colour, it has a nose of spicy chocolate and blackberries and black cherries. Try it with venison or rich stews.

Waimea Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Nelson, New Zealand, Vintages #714295, $17.95). The Nelson region is located in the very north of the South Island. The weather here is cooler than Marlborough, which is the spiritual home of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand. Light straw in colour, the wine has a bouquet of green plums and nettles. It's crisply dry with a tart gooseberry flavour and lively acidity, which gives the flavour great length. Match it with goat's cheese or seafood salad.

Domaine Valéry Renaudat Les Lignis Reuilly Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (Loire Valley, Vintages #141093, $18.95). When I tried this wine for the first time I thought it was another Sauvignon from Nelson – it had a similar taste profile to the Waimea above, fresh and zippy with grassy, grapefruit and gooseberry flavours, unlike the wines you'd expect from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. A perfect wine for shellfish.

Pala Crabilis Vermentino 2008 (Sardinia, Vintages #52068, $13.95). If you've never tasted a white from the island of Sardinia this bargain wine is a great place to start. The Vermentino grape is a late-ripening grape related to Malvasia. Bright yellow straw in colour, the nose and palate are complex and full on the palate with flavours of lemon oil and peach. The wine has enough concentration to match with lobster or with pork dishes.

Hahn Family Huntington California Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (California, Vintages #994491, $18.95). California Cabs of quality rarely come this inexpensive. You can tell by the dense purple-black colour that this wines is going to be full-bodied with loads of flavour. The nose has that characteristic blackcurrant, cedar and vanilla oak notes; the sweet, spicy fruit – a mix of blackcurrant, black cherry and chocolate - is punctuated with smoky oak that finishes firmly. Serve it with rack of lamb.

Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Western Australia, Vintages #606624, $19.95). Margaret River is one of my favourite regions in Australia, making elegant, more restrained wines. A beautiful balance of cassis and cedary oak with a core of sweet fruit. What gives this wine distinction is the floral note on the nose and palate. A wine for red meat dishes, simply prepared.

Louis Bouillot Perle d'Ivoire Blanc de Blancs Brut (Burgundy, Vintages #48801, $18.95). This Crémant de Bourgogne is the poor man's champagne. Pale straw in colour, it's dry and light on the palate with flavours of apple and crusty bread. A fine aperitif.

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris 2007 (Okanagan Valley, Vintages #537076, $19.95). We don't see many BC wines in our market. This one is deeply coloured with a peach and vanilla oak nose; it's full-bodied with a sweet peachy fruit balanced by citrus acidity. Try with roast chicken.

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Loueiro 2008 (Portugal, Vintages #132688, $15.95). Vinho Verde is usually a summer drink but this wine has enough concentration to serve with seafood dishes. Minerally, spicy, citrus nose with a tart lemony-green apple flavour. Tangy with a long finish.

Quinta de Ventozelo Reserva Port (Douro Valley, Vintages #141028, $16.95). On anticipation of the cold winter nights, a bottle of affordable port. Rich, full-bodied flavours of sweet plum and mulberry with a spicy note. Match with blue cheese.




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