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Summer Wine Review

heard it through the grapevine

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Story by Jim Tobler

Summer wine, as commemorated by the Nancy Sinatra song, is emphatically not what is in demand these days. For backyard enter taining, for sipping while lounging on the deck, hopefully avoiding any wasps lurking about, there is a nearly bewildering array of great wines to choose from, some starting at below ten dollars, and you need not, in any case, spend a fortune, even for some of the best wines out there. The key is always value for cost, true for cars, and true for wine.

The idea that value wines under $15 can compete readily with wines, say, over $25, is not so much an idea but a myth. Still, there are great values at all price points, and our mandate here is to find the best, the most fail-safe wines that will impress guests, and reward your efforts in finding them.

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A little education not only goes a long way: it leads to more education, and for this summer, what better way to learn more about wine than having a party, inviting a half-dozen or more people over, and opening several bottles, so each person can try a bit of each wine. You can start with some cool, lean, stylish whites, such as the Gazela Vinho Verde (Portugal, 141432, $10), the Calona Artist Series Pinot Blanc (B.C., 261024, $14), Gray Monk’s Pinot Auxerrois ( B.C., private wine shops, $15), Sandhill Pinot Blanc (B.C., 541185, $18), and the Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio (B.C., 563981 $17).

All are straight forward fruit, easy to like, and with very good varietal expression, a little body, and each is ideal for sipping or with light canapés. In fact, British Columbia wines are beginning to hold their own against international brands at these prices, and while we have proven ourselves to be remarkably loyal to the local product, there is always a new vintage or exciting new bottling to explore. For a touch more cash, you can find Nepenthe Tryst (Australia, 459032, $19), a lovely blend of semillon, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc, great with shellfish. Or venture into the mineral and hay notes of the lovely Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand, 100594, $22), a wine that might need some seared tuna or a grilled trout to make it really sing.

The same can be said for another stellar effort, the Casas Del Bosque Sauvignon Blanc (Chile, 740878, $18), lively and fresh, with delicious citrus notes and crisp acidity to accompany the full- throttled fruit. If it is not already, many of us would like the riesling grape to be a staple on your table this summer season. It is in vogue all around the world, with some great bottles from Australia, the U.S., including Washington State, the riesling capitol of the New World, Ontario, and B.C. available to you.

But why not start with something from Germany, where the grape hits heights that are pretty much unimaginable elsewhere. Dr. Pauly Bergweiler (Germany, 141218, $20) is a great food match, but boasts such explosive fruit you may want to savour the first glassful on its own. Then again, it is always fun to drink great wine we made here at home, so do look at Wild Goose Mystic River Riesling (B.C., private wine shops, $22), and the Tantalus (B.C., private wine shops, $25), both superb and fine with a wide variety of foods. Some people swear by a match of quality riesling and barbecued ribs. Now is your chance to try it

Red wine has its pride of place in summer, too. You may not want to test out that vertical of first-growth Bordeaux, or a tannic monster from California, when the temperature still sits at plus-15 after sunset. But there has never been a better time to explore relatively inexpensive but big on flavour reds. From Puglia, in Italy, Paiara (Italy, 378182, $10) is a great place to start. At this price, you should not expect too much complexity, but this wine delivers concentrated, rich fruit flavours and great balance that make many wines twice the price blush (pun intended).

The Castano Monastrell (Spain, 731620, $10) is a spicy, chocolate cherry wonder, big enough to even handle your grilled chops. Castillo Monseran Garnacha (Spain, 197806, $11) is slightly earthier, with nice acidity and soft, ripe fruit. The back label tells you this wine can be slightly chilled and served as an aperitif, and that is true. I prefer it to any sangria, to be honest. Terra Andina (Chile, 626275, $9), is a cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend, that provides considerable pleasure and true

varietal characteristics, quite an accomplishment at this price. The spectacularly good Southern Most, from a winery called Del Fin Del Mundo, in Patagonia (Argentina, 99999, $13), is for me the find of the past month or two. It has a graceful balance, enough forward fruit to charm but such finesse and balance and finish that it seems like the pricing is improbable. My guess is it will find a comfort zone around $15, so find some now, and stock up. Pinot Noir is always a good choice in the lazy hazy days of summer, and Cono Sur (Chile, 341602, $10) has enough substance to distinguish itself from the low-price pack. From France, of all places, you will find a great value Pinot in Bouchard Aine’s Pinossimo (France, 143420,$14 ),

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delightful game elements and some fresh strawberry. The stalwart of my summer sipping is the Sandhill Gamay Noir (B.C., 627687, $19), light on its feet, but balanced, full-bodied and easy to drink with almost any food. We simply cannot leave the Australians out. DeBortoli Petite Syrah (Australia, 336750, $12) is fabulous, dark fruit, good acidity to brighten it up, great with pretty much any grilled food.

Sister wine Deen De Bortoli Vat 4 Petit Verdot (Australia, 80358, $18) is a slumbering giant, a fairly obscure varietal that delivers incredible fruit, dark, vibrant, rich, with an acidic backbone to bring it all into harmony. Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache (Australia, 531228, $24) is bursting with cherry, a hint of mint, some lively darker berry elements, and is big value. Bonterra Vineyards Syrah, completely organically grown (U.S., 573709, $20), is charming.

A little up the scale, and with an attendant amount of complexity, is the Kaesler Stonehorse GSM (Australia, 25841, $28), a Rhone-style blend of grenache, mourvedre and syrah, but all new world in style, certainly not shy about the fruit, but with great depth and finish. Should you wish to climb the scale a bit, for a special occasion, or as a topper to the evening, Heggies Vineyard Eden Valley Chardonnay (Australia, 536235, $28), Quintessence (France, 92916, $30) and, for an exquisite bottle of a rustic old-country varietal done to contemporary standards and beyond, the Tormaresca Primitivo (Italy, 149195, $24). Finally, what would I do tonight, for a special dinner for four? Sandhill Small Lots Viognier (B.C., private wine shops, $29), and Santa Rita Floresta Petite Sirah (Chile, Mark Anthony Wine Shop, $29). One bottle of each may not be enough. All hands, and stemware, on deck.

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