20 under $20 for September 2015

Monthly picks from our Quebec Critic Team

Ah yes, the end of the month. It’s the time when we pay for our excesses over the previous weeks. Well, fear not, this doesn’t mean that you still can’t drink well. Our four critics have chosen for you their favourite five under $20 wines that they have recently tasted. No cash? Still thirsty? No problem! Here is the first Autumn version of the 20 under 20.

Chacun son Vin Critic Team : Bill, Marc, Nadia & Remy

Bill Zacharkiw’s picks

While Mother Nature is being unreasonably kind to us, last night it was a cool 3C in the Laurentians. But autumn is one of the best times to eat as vegetable gardens are still producing tomatoes and squashes, mushrooms are abundant and yes, oysters are in full season.

So let’s start with oysters. I want everyone to drink more bubbly year round and if you are a fan of shucking and eating raw oysters, open a bottle of Freixenet’s Elyssia. Great length and with exceptional aromatics, and dry and mineral enough to match perfectly with oysters.

Seafood fans who want to eat such things as shrimp and scallops, but don’t want to spend too much on a wine will be delighted to know that under $12, you can drink the 2014 Marques de Marialva. Fresh, juicy and mineral with just enough texture to handle most seafood recipes.

Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut CavaMarquês De Marialva Bairrada Colheita Seleccionada 2014San Fabiano Calcinaia Casa Boschino 2013Barahonda Barrica Monastrell Syrah 2012Château Rouquette Sur Mer Cuvée Amarante 2012

I am making tomato sauce weekly these days, and to properly pair with this high acid sauce, nothing does it like sangiovese. The 2013 Casa Boschino is 70% sangiovese with cabernet and merlot rounding out the blend, organic, and exactly what you need for any tomato sauce driven recipe. And for under $15, an exceptional deal.

I have started harvesting wild mushrooms more and more, and cooking them up with nearly everything. One of the more interesting matches I have made with the wild fungi is the 2012 Barahonda. Made with monastrell and syrah grown in the Spanish region of Yecla, for under $18, it is an impressive mix of dark fruit and spice.

Finally, as we gravitate toward heavier dishes and more red meats, I am always on the lookout for more flavourful, bigger reds. Try the Languedoc 2012 Cuvee Amarante from Château Roquette Sur Mer. Classically Languedoc, full of fresh fruit herbs and ripe tannin.

Remy Charest’s Selections

I’m just back from South Africa where I was impressed by the diversity and personality of the wines I tasted during the country’s triennal national wine fair, Cape Wine. After making a return to international markets just over twenty years ago, the country has been progressing by leaps and bounds. You can see this progress through both large-volume wines that offer great value, as well as those of the artisan vignerons of Swartland and elsewhere who are showcasing some terrific old vines and/or creating styles that are refreshing, both figuratively and literally.

With over 150 wines available at SAQ, and about half of those under 20$, there’s plenty of interesting inexpensive wines to be found. There are certainly several chenin blancs in that category, like the ones from Robertson (simple and really inexpensive) or from the energetic Ken Forrester, or the fresh and mineral version produced by Fairview in the coastal region of Darling.

Fairview Darling Chenin Blanc 2014Fairview Pinotage 2013Douglas Green Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Babylon's Peak Shiraz Carignan 2014The Goatfather 2013

Fairview also produces one of the good pinotages available at the SAQ – a wine style that was once clumsily vinified. Now, the varietal wines are getting fresher and more supple, and that’s good news for all.

As far as QPR goes, the Douglas Green Cabernet Sauvignon is pretty hard to beat. For just over 11$, you get a well-defined cabernet sauvignon with bright fruit and good structure, that actually tastes like wine, rather than a technical beverage. At that price, that’s saying something.

Swartland is one of the most creative regions in South Africa, with many producers making natural wines and unusual approaches to more classic styles. Those by Adi Badenhorst are probably the most representative of that trend, but the syrah-carignan by Babylon’s Peak is also worth a look with its intense dark fruit and rustic structure.

Another example of the growing diversity of South African wines is The Goatfather 2013, an expressive blend of barbera, sangiovese, nebbiolo and cabernet sauvignon. A unique blend  that speaks with an Italian accent. Also: it doesn’t show even a hint of burnt rubber character, a cliché about the country’s reds that really should be dropped once and for all.

Nadia Fournier’s selections

Telmo Rodríguez demonstrates once again his talent to produce wines which have an international feel yet still harken notions of antiquity. His mencia is so drinkable, loaded with fruit with notes of dried flowers, peppercorn and aromatic herbs. Lots of wine for a small price.

Rioja come in many styles. But if you have ever stopped at a local roadside restaurant in Spain’s countryside, there’s a good chance that the wine you order to accompany your snack will taste, thankfully, just like this young rioja.

Gaba do Xil Mencía 2013Coelus Rioja 2013José Maria Da Fonseca J M FMission Hill 5 Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2014Domaine Les Brome Cuvée Charlotte 2014

One of the better new listings at the SAQ comes from Fonseca . An excellent little red wine made with castelão and aragonez. Rich and supple and at under $10, yet another excellent quality price wine  amongst the many great inexpensive wines hailing from Portugal.

Over the last few years, I have come more and more to appreciate the charm and subtlety of Mission Hill’s pinot blanc from British Columbia’s Okanagan. Serve this around 12°C, so not too cold to better appreciate the nuanced flavours.

The entry level cuvee from Quebec’s Léon Courville put the emphasis on acidity and vibrancy, with lemony notes coming from the seyval grape combined with the floral touches of  geisenheim.

Marc Chapleau’s picks

Let’s call it the spirit of contradiction: the days are getting shorter, the evenings are cool, and here I go recommending three whites and only 2 reds. So let’s at least start with the latter.

At under $16, the Château Eugénie 2011 simply flabbergasted me. Am I being overly enthusiastic? No, I loved it. The wine is ready to drink, generously fruity, and with tannins that are both supple yet grippy.

A touch to the east, the red Versant Syrah Foncalieu 2014, in the region of the Pays d’Oc, has just enough power, has a peppery finish and ultimately is just so refreshing. And at just over $15, no need to overthink this purchase.

Château Eugénie 2011Foncalieu Le Versant Syrah 2013Pfaffenheim Cuvee Jupiter RiesChâteau De Chasseloir Cuvée Des Ceps Centenaires 2012Birichino Malvasia 2013

Now onto the whites, let’s start in Alsace and the Riesling Pfaff Jupiter 2013 – focussed, precise with engaging aromas of citrus.

From the Loire, the Muscadet Comte Leloup 2013 is a fidgety white, as you would expect. But with lots of flavour. Its smokey accents, perhaps this is how it expresses its minerality, made me think that perhaps, though erroneously, that it had spent some time in barrel.

Finally, from California, the Malvasia Birichino 2013 is wonderfully perfumed, reminding me of viognier in many ways with its rich texture. Keep this wine for that cheese plate at the end of your meal, another sign that the evenings are indeed cooling down.

Cheers !

The complete list: 20 under $20

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