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Story by Jim Tobler

From the Old World to the new; from Australia to the United States; and from the wine producing regions of California to Washington State: when it comes to wine, we’re always talking about studies in contrast. In this issue I’m going to offer a taste from each of these viticultural hotspots, ending finally with a special wine from our own British Columbia—this is one to age for a while. But first, to Australia.

A glance through our government liquor stores shows just how much Australian shiraz is available in this market; it’s a neat reflection of that country’s rise to wine dominance over the past decade or so. Will the trend continue? Some suggest not: after all, for sheer variety—always important when it comes to wine—Argentina, Chile, Spain and Italy tend to earn higher marks. Still, Australia offers reliable, indeed fairly exciting fruit-dominated wines that are great value for the money.

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Rolling Shiraz ($18) is a great example of this. It has strong structure, isn’t too complex and has some finish to accompany all that front-loaded fruit. Jim Barry’s venture in Coonwara, called The Cover Drive ($28) is made from grapes planted on a former cricket pitch, has a fine structure and shows typical Coonwara fruit: minty, with eucalyptus and chocolate notes. Back in North America, Oregon’s Columbia Crest Merlot ($17) demonstrates why this winery is still near the top of any bestseller list.

For the price it delivers a good, if simple, expression of the variety, with ample fruit and a plummy, jammy flavour. Or try the winery’s Grand Estate ($22) for another step up in intensity and finish. Heading south to California, Arnold Palmer has joined forces with Luna Winery in the Napa Valley; together they are producing some approchable, very likeable wines for around $25.

Both the chardonnay and the cabernet sauvignon are worth considering: they’re fairly soft in style but with generous fruit and a good finish. Mark West, where pinot noir has ruled the roost for many years, has made a nice comeback into this market with a pinot that scores high for value at $22 while still delivering all the generously fruity, extracted style California is known for. For a decided contrast, head to France to try the Perrin brothers’ Vacqueyras Les Christins ($20), full of smoky licorice and game meat notes and impressive structure at the price.

This wine, while reasonably typical of the Mediterranean climate’s offerings, offers something rarely found in any New World bottle. Villa Antinori’s Toscana ($18) is a classic sangiovese, a great food wine. It too is unique to its origins, full of spicy fruit with complex plum and cassis notes. For a splurge, go ahead and try the famous Banfi Estate Brunello di Montalcino ($65).

The 2002 shows the results of some of the warmer temperatures that region is experiencing: while long on structure and depth it is still very approachable. Finally, from our own wine country destination, the Okanagan, comes Prospect Winery pinot noir ($19).

A surprisingly complex offering at this price, it features some earth tones to accompany its nicely structured berry flavours. And Mission Hill’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($22) has a crisp, delicate style that speaks wonders for what can be done with this grape in the right hands (see sidebar).

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The right hands, in this case, belong to Mission Hill’s master winemaker, John Symes. Step by step and year by year, Symes is perfecting the areas from which he harvests fruit in order to craft each vintage of Oculus ($70), Mission Hill’s flagship wine. It’s a fine example of the fact that the sky now seems to be the limit in terms of the quality (especially for red varietals) emerging from the south Okanagan and its desert micro climates. Do try to resist temptation and lay the latest Oculus down for about three to five years, more if you can. You will be glad you did. And besides, there are plenty of worthy wines on our list this time to drink in the meantime.

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