Value Hunting Under $15

Value Hunting Under $15

A Toronto newspaper recently kicked off 2007 by listing best buys under $10, and, although well intended to cater to drained pocketbooks, it struck me, with a couple of exceptions, as a dreary line-up. Can’t we get beyond $10 when taste actually matters? Jump to $15 as your median for buying good everyday wines and you will find many wines that are correct, show their varietal and regional character and attain good balance. They may not have the nuanced complexity, finesse and length of finish of more expensive wines, but they should be satisfying and problem free. January is the time to bargain hunt at the LCBO’s Vintages stores, and a few good under $15 bottles were released on Saturday. Here are 10—listed in decreasing price order—all showing availability at as of Monday morning, January 8. By the way, we are now providing LCBO product numbers to speed and narrow up Internet searches for wines at stores near you.

Fonseca 2004 Quinta De Camarate ***1/2 ($14.95, Vintages 357962)

A full Portuguese red for those who like mature-tasting leathery, cedary bough complexity amid ripe cherry and mocha. Gutsy, hottish and bit tannic; try it now with stews, lasagna, red meats and/or cellar through 2010.

Juan Gil 2005 Monastrell ***1/2 ($14.95, Vintages 13656)

Hails from the Jumilla region in southeastern Spain, where the monastrell (alias mourvedre) grape is emerging as a star, creating big, ripe, dark reds. This is all floral plummy-blueberry fruit with a touch of oak spice. Alcohol is a bit high: another winter red for this year or next.

D’Arenberg 2005 The Stump Jump GSM *** ($13.95, Vintages 606236)

An always popular Australian blend of grenache shiraz and mourvedre, the recipe of the southern Rhone. It’s a dark, plump, young purple and plump red with sweet blueberry cheesecake and spicy aromas. A bit hot and soft with good length. Aerate well if drinking now, should keep to end of 2009.

Yering Station 2005 Little Yering Chardonnay **** ($12.95, Vintages 24331)

Great value chardonnay with surprising complexity and poise. Flavours of cool pear-peach stone fruit rather than more typical Aussie tropical fruit. Great new wood adds well-proportioned peat smoke, clove and vanilla. A touch soft but avoids heat or bitterness.

Montez Champalimaud 2005 Paco de Teixeiro ***1/2 ($12.95, Vintages 21469)

From the maritime Minho region of northern Portugal, this blends four local varieties into juicy, balanced white with lime, spearmint, green apple and licorice flavours. Very fresh, screw capped white with a touch of salty minerality on the finish. Stick it away for spring.

Finca Flichman 2005 Malbec Reserva **** ($12.95, Vintages 746727)

Best red wine value of the January 6 release—stunning for $13. Great nose with classic cedar-juniper, leather, coffee bean and blackberry. It’s medium-full bodied, dense and loose in typical New World style, but hangs together. Very good focus and excellent length. Now to 2010. Quantities limited at larger downtown stores after big weekend sell through.

Sonop 2005 Organic Terroir Shiraz *** ($12.95, Vintages 999961)

Shows some of the meaty, mossy, mineral character typical of many South African reds, with very ripe cherry-fig fruit and clove spice. Surprisingly dense, plush and rich for the money, with excellent length. Try with spicy grilled sausage, pork tenderloin, London broil.

Chateau De Gourgazaud 2004 Cuvee Mathilde ***1/2 ($12.95, Vintages 958629)

Slightly pricier brother to always reliable Gourgazaud at the LCBO. Vibrant black cherry, pomegranate, black pepper and licorice scents. Straightforward and tasty dark fruit flavours with a touch of pepper and considerable alcohol heat. Drink 2006-2009.

Gonzalez Byass Nutty Solera Oloroso Medium Dry **** ($11.95, Vintages 035204)

Great value intro to aged sherry for a winter’s eve. Raisin, marmalade, toasted nuts and spices on the nose. Smooth, just a touch sweet with a walnut, marmalade finish. Very good to excellent length.

L.A. Cetto 2004 Petite Sirah ***1/2 ($9.95, Vintages 983742)

Mexico’s Baja region delivers a full-throttle, sun-drenched red with ripe, sweet blackberry, plum pudding, and youthfully grapy aromas, shot with licorice and herbs. Medium-full bodied, sweetish, open knit and juicy and a bit hot. Grab a few for burger BBQ season.