Good Inexpensive Wine

What is considered cheap or inexpensive depends on who the consumer is. It is a very relative term.  For example, to some people an inexpensive wine is one with a price point under $50, for others it may be one under $10.  The definition of inexpensive or cheap is as individual as the person making the purchase.  For the purposes of this discussion, I am considering a value of under $20 as an inexpensive bottle of wine. 

If a wine is too cheap there are those who believe that profit is being achieved mainly by producing large volumes sacrificing quality.  Producers operating in this manner have minimal control over the quality of the grapes or the manner in which they are produced.     Under these circumstances vintners purchase grapes from a number of different growers whom they have limited or no influence over how the grapes are produced.   However, each producer should be judged on their own merits.

I love the challenge of scoping out good inexpensive wines, especially those that need to mature for a few years before enjoying.

Finding the Diamond in the Rough

There is certainly some luck involved in finding great inexpensive wines but there are ways of putting the odds in your favour.  The clues are often right under your nose starting with the label on the bottle.  Don’t forget to check out the label on the back of the bottle as well.  The label will provide the name of the vintner and often identify the varietal(s).  Selecting a varietal you enjoy will increase the odds of you selecting a wine to your taste.

It will also identify any quality designation that the wine has been provided by the nation where the wine was produced.

The country of origin will also provide clues as to the wine’s flavour and intensity.  Generally speaking, wines produced in hotter climates have more intense flavour.

The label will also display any sustainability or organic qualifications that the wine has.

Information regarding the wines offered for sale will often be provided by the seller.  Look for information in brochures, catalogues, or stock cards that may be available in the store or on the merchant’s web site. 

Many wineries have their own web site which may provide detailed information pertaining to the various wines they produce, including such information as the varietal(s) contained, how the wine was aged, tannin content, acid levels, etc., all of which impact the flavour and help determine if the wine may be a good fit for you.

However, when all else fails or you like to select wines solely on how the label inspires you, simply standing and gazing at the wines on the shelf may be the only information you need.  This is how my wife does it and though I am aghast at this process I cannot argue with her success rate.  Her most recent victory was in selecting a 2019 Fantini Sangiovese which is now our general house wine.  The price is a whopping $8.95.

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BC’s Okanagan Valley Wine Region

Viticulture began in British Columbia around 1859, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that a quality-focused approach saw the emergence of consistent, comprehensive excellence in their wines. The Okanagan Valley is situated in the rain shadow of the Coast and Monashee mountain ranges, which protect the valley from rain and help create ideal conditions for over 60 grape varieties to flourish.

The valley stretches over 250 kilometres, experiencing a temperature differential of about 5°C from north to south which, along with numerous site-specific mesoclimates, has a significant impact on the style and type of wines produced.

With 84% of the province’s vineyard acreage, the valley stretches over 250 kilometres, across four sub-regions, each with distinct soil and climate conditions suited to growing a range of varietals from sun-ripened reds to lively, fresh and often crisp whites.  The four sub-regions are Golden Mile Bench, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls and Skaha Bench.

With both quiet family-run boutique vineyards and world-class operations, the Okanagan Valley wineries are rich in tradition and character, consistently ranking among the world’s best at international competitions.  Nearly every style of wine is produced across the whole spectrum of sweetness levels that include still, sparkling, fortified and dessert wines—most notably ice wines.

The more than 60 grape varieties grown in the Okanagan include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Auxerrois Blanc, Marechal Foch and Cabernet Franc. Additionally many German varieties are still found throughout the Okanagan including Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Bacchus, Optima, Ehrenfelser, Kerner and Siegerebe.

Recently, growers have been planting warmer climate varieties typically not associated with the Canadian wine industry. These varietals include Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo, Trebbiano, Pinotage, Malbec, Barbera and Zinfandel.

The Okanagan Valley is on my bucket-list of places I would like to visit once we reach the post-COVID-19 era.  The valley provides not only great wines but is a hiker’s and biker’s dream, with awe-inspiring vistas, theatre, music, boating, art galleries, craft breweries, boutiques, artisanal bakeries and great restaurants.

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The Wines of Switzerland

Switzerland may be a little known wine producing nation but it has been making wine for more than two thousand years. Swiss wine’s lack of fame is not due to any lack of quality or quantity, but because it is produced mostly for the Swiss themselves.

The Swiss consume nearly all the wine they make. In 2016, Swiss residents drank 89 million litres of domestic wine which made up only about a third of the total 235 million litres of wine they drank.  They export only about 1% of their wine production and the majority of that goes mainly to Germany.

Things are gradually changing as the world is beginning to discover the high quality of Swiss Pinot Noir and white wines made from the locally grown Chasselas.

Switzerland possesses multi-cultural influence.  The Germanic wine influence is demonstrated by a preference for varietal winemaking and crisp, refreshing wine styles, and is most prevalent in the German-speaking north between Zurich and the Rhine. French influences are felt mostly in the French-speaking south-west in Geneva, Vaud and Valais.  Switzerland’s favourite grape varieties – Chasselas, sometimes referred to as “Fendant”, Pinot Noir, Gamay and Merlot are all of French origin.

Do to the terrain, Swiss wines are some of the world’s most expensive. Many vineyards are inaccessible to tractors and other vineyard machinery so most work is done by hand.  This substantially increases production costs.  This does have an advantage; when grapes are harvested by hand, there is an obvious incentive to favour quality over quantity.

The Chasselas white wine grape is gradually giving up production to more popular ‘international’ varieties like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer are also grown in Swiss vineyards.

Red wines now outnumber whites in Switzerland. Pinot Noir, also known as Blauburgunder, is the most widely produced and planted variety in the country, making up almost 30% of wines produced.  Chasselas represents just over a quarter of all wines.

The next most popular wine in the red category is Gamay. It is often blended with Pinot Noir to produce “Dôle” wines.

Also significant among Swiss red wine grapes is Merlot. Syrah has also done well here, even if only in the warmest parts of the country.

Wine has been produced in Switzerland for more than 2,000 years. As in France, the spread of viticulture during the Middle Ages was mainly driven by monasteries.

Today the Swiss wine industry has about 16,000 hectares of vineyards that produce about 100 million liters of wine each year.

The government body in charge of the Swiss appellation system, the OIC, has a separate title for each of the country’s three official languages: “Organisme Intercantonal de Certification” in French, ‘Interkantonale Zertifizierungsstelle” in German and “Organismo Intercantonale di Certificazione” in Italian.  The OIC is responsible for delineating the official Swiss wine regions and creating wine quality guidelines and laws. The OIC is reportedly in talks to bring their labelling practices into line with European standards even though the country is not a member of the European Union.

I myself have never had the opportunity to try Swiss wine but I will keep an eye out for it whenever I cruise the aisles in the Vintages section of my local liquor store.

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