I pride myself in being a wine cheapskate as I don't think you should pay more for pleasure than you have to. And these days, you don't have to as you can find terrific wines in the liquor store at great prices. Here are my top five bargain bottles at the moment and some tips about how to enjoy them.
Natalie MacLean's Top 5 Tips for Finding Great Wines
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1. When a region is stereotyped for one kind of wine, in Niagara's case icewine, look for what else it does well, such as sauvignon blanc or riesling. These are the best supporting actors that often offer stellar performances in the glass.
2. International trade bans are tough on any country, but it can motivate domestic industries to be more competitive afterwards. South African wine has made amazing progress quickly following the end of Apartheid and they offer extraordinary taste and value.
3. A bargain is not the cheapest wine but rather than best price/quality ratio, Pinot noir is expensive to grow and make. Niagara pinots are a bargain compared to those in Burgundy, which easily top $50 a bottle as a starting price.
4. Look for wines from warm regions, such as Chile and Argentina. Often the cost of production is cheaper because winemakers aren't battling disease, rot and weather as much as cool climate producers do. Therefore, there's less crop loss and lower costs for production.
5. Ultra-fashionable wine regions often get all the attention for any particular country, as do France's Bordeaux and Burgundy. The command high prices. Look for the lesser-known regions for your best value bottle, like southern France's Languedoc-Rousillon, where the deals are to be found.
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Niagara Escarpment, Ontario
Lovely aromas and flavours of ripe melon rather than the herbal notes in some sauvignon blancs. I like this medium-bodied wine a lot, and the price even better. Bring on refreshment as well as white-fleshed fish, oysters, goats milk cheeses and crisp fall walks. Drink: 2012-2015. Product No: 430546 12.3% D $14.95 Score: 89/100
Western Cape, South Africa
Terrific price for such a luscious, full-bodied chardonnay. Bursting with aromas of green apple, butter and toasty goodness. Pair with roast chicken, corn dishes and a blazing fireplace. Drink: 2012-2014. Product No: 328559 14.7% XD $14.95 Score: 88/100
Loaded with mouth-watering cherry-berry flavour delivered on a satin texture with medium- to full-bodied weight. A blackberry-infused finish makes this wine go down slippery fast. This wine is a great match for holiday turkey, salmon carpaccio, grilled tuna and wild mushroom risotto. Drink: 2012-2016. Product No: 261099 13.5% D $13.95 Score: 89/100
Elquí Valley, Chile
A full-bodied palate-whacker that doesn't take a bite out of your wallet. Lots of fleshy black fruit and coffee depth. Pair with a juicy rare steak, prime rib and meaty discussions about your vacation plans this year to warmer climes. Drink: 2012-2015. Product No: 208371 14% XD $15.95 Score: 89/100
Côtes Du Roussillon, Midi, France
Spicy dark fruit on the nose with layers of velvet texture on the palate. Full-bodied and generous: I like that in a wine. Pair this big beauty with a rack of lamb, grilled pork chops or the Netflix release of that great movie you missed while in theatres. Drink: 2012-2016. Product No: 171025 14.5% XD $15.95 Score: 90/100