Most of us don't buy wines over $25 on a regular basis. I try and keep most wines I review in this column in the under-$25 range for this reason; also, the majority of wines on shelves in Liquor Marts and private wine stores are in this price range as well.
I'm also fortunate enough to try hundreds of wines in this price point every year as a judge at Wine Access magazine's International Value Wine Awards (IVWAs). Held every summer in Calgary, thousands of reds, whites, bubblies, rosés and dessert wines are scrutinized and discussed by a national panel of judges.
The wines are brought out pre-poured in groups based on the grape(s) from which the wines are made -- beyond that, judges have no idea about country of origin, price (other than they're $25 or less), or producer. The first couple of days of judging separates the average (or worse) from the good/excellent, with the latter moving on to the final couple of days of final-round judging.
A wine that judges score well (87 points or higher out of 100) and that costs $15 or less has a chance of making the Top 25 Killer Values list. These are particularly well-priced wines that deliver great-quality juice. A wine can also earn a Judges' Choice nod, meaning it's one of the best from a particular country or made from a particular grape.
While Wine Access isn't the only magazine that runs this kind of competition, what's useful to readers of this column is that the IVWAs are Canadian. This means most of the wines are available right across the country, including here in Manitoba. It also means Canadian producers are more likely to enter the contest, potentially bringing home the hardware for their great under-$25 wines.
Results from the IVWAs are published every year in the October/November issue of the magazine, which happens to be on shelves now. Wine Access has also been revealing the top wines in each category daily via their website (wineaccess.ca/ivwa) -- check back regularly for detailed results.
Since I came home with a binder full of tasting notes from the 2012 IVWAs, I figured I'd pore through my chicken scratch and pick out a few memorable wines (reds, in this case) that were particularly impressive to me. The scores are my own, and aren't reflective of how the wine fared at the competition.
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CASA SILVA 2011 DO±A DOMINGA OLD VINES CABERNET SAUVIGNON CARMENèRE (Colchagua Valley, Chile -- around $11, private wine stores)
The nose on this Chilean red blend grabbed my attention -- it's complex, showing anise, blueberry, herbal, chocolate and spice notes. Full-bodied and juicy, there's plenty of raspberry, cassis and chocolate flavours that are rich, while the underlying earthiness provides a food-friendly component as well. Try with stews or roast meats. 87/100
FLAT ROOF MANOR 2010 MERLOT (Stellenbosch, South Africa -- $13.25, Liquor Marts and beyond)
There was a hint of smoke on the nose of this South African Merlot that was the hat-tip to my guessing it as being South African, but it was in balance with caramel, white pepper, plum and blueberry aromas. Those plum and blueberry notes were there in spades on the palate as well, with secondary white pepper, mint and bell pepper flavours adding depth. A great burger wine. 88/100
FARNESE 2011 MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO (Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Italy -- around $13, La Boutique del Vino)
Graphite, raspberry, cherry and a hint of mint on the nose showed well here. It's a medium-plus-bodied red that offers lots of ripe fruit -- plum, blueberry, raspberry and cherry -- with some light tannin and a splash of acidity. Exclusive to La Boutique del Vino, try this with medium cheeses or marinara pizza. 87/100
DIAMOND ESTATES 2010 HAT TRICK RED (Ontario -- $13.08, Liquor Marts and beyond)
A Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Shiraz blend, this was my second-favourite Canadian red blend of the IVWAs. Vanilla, raspberry, cherry and spice notes dominate on the nose; it's chewy, ripe and full-bodied, with cassis, cherry, vanilla, mint, coffee and cola flavours providing surprising complexity. This would do well with spicier Mexican/Latin American fare. 90/100
HEARTLAND 2010 DOLCETTO & LAGREIN (Langhorne Creek, Australia -- $22.49, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Winemaker Ben Glaetzer and his team have taken two uncommon grapes (for Australia, at least) and worked some magic. White pepper, blackcurrant, ash, mint and a hint of shoe polish on the nose certainly grabbed my attention. Great concentration of ripe fruit on the full-bodied palate, accentuated by light acidity and medium tannin, kept it. Red blends did well at the IVWAs, and this Judge's Choice was near the top -- try it with lamb or game. 90/100