Red means a refund during taxing times 

Hot picks for mulling over a $3 flat tax

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A quick glance at the calendar would suggest many of you will be getting your taxes in order over the next month. As spring begins to renew our souls and you strain to get those final income numbers into the "red" to claim a refund, I've come up with 10 affordable red wines just in a case you end up running short of disposable income.

There are plenty of forces working against you finding anything drinkable at the lower end of the market but none is bigger than the amount of taxes we pay for wine in B.C.

The latest BC Liquor Policy came up with 73 recommendations to "modernize" our liquor laws, but not one addresses the vast amount of tax we pay for wine. The government response is to say it wasn't part of the mandate. Maybe so, but there's only one elephant in the room and that's the price of wine in B.C., and that price is all about tax.

You may have read in this very publication about the notion of a flat tax and wholesale pricing. Both need to happen if B.C. consumers are ever going to enjoy a glass of wine at a reasonable price.

Did you know that if everyone paid a flat $3-per-litre alcohol tax the government would net more tax income than they do today?

The opposition says it will unduly affect the price of cheaper wine favouring those who can afford more expensive wine, but I don't see it that way. The facts are the vast majority of wine sold in B.C. sells for less than $20, and all wines in that price category are subjected to the highest mark-up tax in the system.

What a flat tax insures is that everyone who sells alcohol in B.C. contributes equally to provincial coffers, and when that happens every consumer will pay less for wine

As it stands now, the ad valorem tax, or the 117 per cent mark-up is added to the landed cost — all the costs involved in getting it to Canada — of your bottle of wine. Then a 10 per cent liquor PST tax is calculated on that number, and a similar calculation is used to reap the five per cent GST, all of which turns an $8 wholesale wine price into about $21 retail.

By the time that wine gets to a restaurant, it could sell for anywhere from $40 to $53. That's a lot of money when you consider the producer who spends two to three years making the product is getting about $2 for his or her effort.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but as the Canadian dollar continues to tumble against most major currencies import wine prices could jump an extra 10 per cent, and that amount will be subject to the 117 / 10 / 5 taxes, leading to some big hikes in wine prices.

OK, enough about taxes. Nothing will change until producers, retailers and consumers revolt. In the meantime here are 10 quality, affordable reds that look as if they will get harder and harder to find in 2014.

Spain is always an excellent place to look for bargain reds. Our pick is the Pablo Old Vine Garnacha 2012 $14. Expect a fresh, supple palate with light tannins and black raspberry, chocolate and orange peel flavours. Think lamb chops or a stew. 

Argentina is our next stop, the wine Famiglia Bianchi Malbec 2011 $19. A consistent style year in and year out, offering deep blue black fruit with fresh peppery cherry jam notes flecked with chocolate and licorice. Try this with a steak and chimichurri sauce, Argentine style.

Southern France is home to some super red values and among the very best in the entire market is the M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Rouge 2012 $16. Awash in floral, savoury, black fruit aromas and juicy, plummy, wild smoky, peppery, fruit flavour it is delicious from front to back. Roast chicken anyone?

California is a tougher value proposition with the U.S. dollar. Our first pick is Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $23.You'll love the bright, rich aromatic fruit notes of black cherry, tea and cassis. A delicious drinking round soft, juicy cabernet that is ready to drink. Another fine choice is Lake Sonoma Zinfandel 2010 $25 (owned by B.C.-based Quails' Gate). The attack is ripe and full with round tannins and brambleberry, black cherry, liquorice and peppery chocolate flavours. Barbecued meats or chicken would be a fine match.

Italian reds can be comforting and still in some areas affordable. Barbecue pizza works with the Luccarelli Negroamaro 2012 $15 and its coffee, chocolate balsamic aromas and smooth sweet plummy fruit with a barnyard finish. Slightly tighter and firmer is the Batasiolo Nebbiolo Langhe 2011 $18 with its juicy, black cherry, pepper and savoury, meaty, smoky flavours. Beef, lamb or fowl. It all works here.

I've just returned from Australia where red wine is king. The Peter Lehmann Weighbridge Shiraz 2011 $15 is a fun, smoky, peppery fruity style shiraz that's perfect for chicken. The Milton Park Shiraz 2011 $15 brings white pepper and floral notes with black cherry, liquorice, spicy flavours. An easy-sipping style for hamburgers and or pizza.

We finish with New Zealand now making the best affordable, pinot noir in the world. The Ned Pinot Noir 2012 $21 hails from Marlborough on the South Island where it's grown on deep clay loams. It is aged in 500L French oak puncheons for eight to 10 months. The result is bright and aromatic pinot with raspberry, spice and dried herbs predominating. The palate is similar with soft, juicy, fruit cherry berry flavours with a dusting of celery salt. Ready to drink with turkey or a simply prepared roast chicken.

There you have it — 10 hard-to-find reds that beat the brutal wine tax regime in B.C., and will save you a few dollars at a time when it seems government wants all your money.

Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in nearby West Vancouver. For more about these wines and many others check out www.gismondionwine.com.

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