Off the beaten track 

Getting the biggest taste bang for your wine buck

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By nature Canadian wine is expensive, but bargains are out there, such as Calona Artist Series Chardonnay, Quails Gate Limited Release Pinot Noir or the Mission Hill Five Vineyards Riesling.

Juicy New Zealand pinot noir is a wine category that over-delivers for its price, as do inexpensive screw-capped, German rieslings, and many new exciting Spanish reds grown far from established appellations such as Rioja or Penedès. Sauvignon Blanc from the Western Cape (South Africa) is another regional/varietal best buy.

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.

Stay 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 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; Concha y Toro (Casillero del Diablo), Torres (Santa Digna) and Santa Rita (120) out of Chile. Calona, (Artist Series) from B.C. and Talus by Sebastiani in California also meet the grade.

Becoming a savvy wine buyer is akin to becoming a savvy wine taster – it takes time and plenty of practice. But the reward is a lifetime of enjoyment.

A CASE OF BEST BEST BUYS

Serame Viognier 2003, Pays d’Oc, France

This is first class inexpensive viognier with a fresh floral nose and honey/mineral flavours. Quiet, understated introductory Euro-style viognier. $11.40

Flagstone Noon Gun 2004, Western Cape, South Africa

The nose is fresh and cool with a hint of menthol. On the palate it refreshes with limey, fresh fruit flavours. A fun blend of riesling, chenin blanc, chardonnay, pinot blanc, sauvignon blanc and sémillon. $13

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Dry Riesling 2003, Okanagan Valley, B.C.

Green apple and peach notes mixed with honey – the kind of riesling we’ve been waiting for and it comes with a screw cap to boot. Load up for summer. $13

Delas Côtes-du-Ventoux 2003 Grenache - Syrah, Rhone Valley, France

Black cherry, smoky, spicy red with orange, licorice flavours and a bit of grip. Well done. $17

A Mano Primitivo 2002, Apulia, Italy

Loads of peppery, spicy, chocolate, savoury fruit streaked with cardamom and black cherry jam and licorice flavours. A full-bodied red for the BBQ. $17.45

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