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The best bang for your buck in red, white and rosé.
We are living in a golden age of BC wine. The number of wineries has grown, the quality and diversity have never been higher and wine tourism continues to expand into large swaths of the province. The only minor bump in the vinous road….prices have crept up. Now, prices have increased in everything the last year, so while it’s not exactly a doomsday scenario, the days of seeing endless shelves of under $25 BC wines is shrinking (and the number of wineries offering flagship wines above $50 is exploding). But the deals are still out there – you just need to do a bit of digging. Here are 5 that we’ve tasted in the past spell that have impressed us with their mix of value and quality.
I’ll admit to being less drawn to many Okanagan Pinot Gris’— not because they lack quality, but because they have such a consistent quality that they can skew a bit… expected. But I was recently reminded of how lucky we are in this regard when a visiting acclaimed Oregon winemaker gushed about the across-the-board high standard of our Pinot Gris and I had to admit he was bang on. So my PG choice is from the relatively new operation called Chain Reaction, and it gets the nod for two reasons. First the winery is run b a pair a serious cycling nerds—Joel and Linda Chamaschuk—and all their wines have cool graphics celebrating their fave pastime. More importantly they’ve hired the truly gifted Dwight Sick (Amulet, Seven Stones) to be their winemaker (I assume he agreed because he’s also a cycling nerd) and he’s crafted a PG that’s all ripe apple and apple skin and—key for a road rider— no flab. And while I have you, you should 100% put yourself on Amulet’s mailing/waiting list for some of the best Rhone-inspired in Canada (that always sells out very quickly).
Second labels are a big thing in Bordeaux, where the big Chateaux have their main “flagship” wines and then release another tier of slightly more approachable bottles at a lower price point. It’s a concept that’s slowly catching on here, and there’s no better example than Foxtrot—for years one of the country’s standard bearers for Burgundian-syle Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Foxtrot was one of the first wineries to break the $50 barrier for Pinot (dozens have since followed) and so they are a perfect place to utilize the second label. Here it’s called Foxly, and at $24, it’s perhaps the best-priced still-serious Pinot in the valley. It has plenty of fruit, but unlike some overripe examples this one mirrors its big sibling and skews to a drier version of raspberries and strawberries and a back drop of dried spice: sage completes the homage to the Cote d’Or. A real find.
Mayhem is a second label of sorts as well, this time to the great Meyer Family Vineyards. But instead of offering more approachable versions of their classics, this takes the form of new operation that has the same team but different goals (Poplar Grove’s Monster Vineyards works the same way). For example, Meyer doesn’t make riesling—but after tasting this low-cost effort from Mayhem… maybe they should. This is almost everything I want in a mid-level riesling—great concentration, not afraid of some sweetness but without ample acid to provide balance. And it’s juicy—and insanely good value for under $21.
Are you ready for a bold statement? Every wine Tantalus makes is underpriced…and that includes the $65.22 Reserve Pinot Noir. But there are two that fit our under $25 criteria and both will 100% sell out relatively soon. The first is the yearly release of their experimental Riesling Lab: it’s $21.74 and someone forgot to tell the Tantalus team that limited edition versions of your signature grape are supposed to sell for more, not less, than you main offerings. But given how we’ve just focussed on Mayhem’s welcoming version of the grape, we’ll pivot to their Bear Chardonnay. It’s only been a few years since the winery started releasing Chardonnay and I’m confident in saying that they’ve made up the ground in astonishing time. I’m even more confident in saying this is hands down the best value Chardonnay in BC—tasted blind I’d guess that it was $35 wine. A well-made $35 wine. It’s crisp and flinty in the way Chablis is, and with only neutral oak in play, it’s astonishingly pure for a wine of this price—the citrus and crisp pear dusted with a sprinkle of Maldon salt.
Hillside has been dialed-in to Merlot for as long as anyone in BC, and they’re committed to showing how the grape matures in the fertile soil of the Naramata Bench. And if you want to dive into their acclaimed single vineyard, Merlots prepare to (happily) pony up $40. But their entry-level version still contains 100% (pricey) Naramata fruit and doesn’t see any new oak, so you get a pretty pure take on their vision for the grape. This is no fruit bomb, but a nicely integrated treatise on cherries and cassis with a tinge of dried herbs. There’s not much tannins getting in the way here and as such, I wouldn’t feel bad about giving it a quick ice bath on a warm summer evening.