For those of us who get through a lot of wine in a month, it
can't all be Pétrus. In fact, let's face it: it can't even all
be $25 "finds" from New Zealand or California. Most connoisseurs
have a few favourites priced in the teens, and I do too. But there
are days when I want a bottle of wine and change from a ten-dollar
bill. On days like that, I reach for KWV Chenin Blanc from South
Africa - just $7.45 at the LCBO. I like its slightly floral nose
and then I enjoy its dry, ever-smoother, melon-citrus tang on
the palate. It's medium-bodied and not bad on the finish. But
I've never talked about it before.
I wondered whether some of Canada's leading oenophiles - people
who regularly drink and recommend very nice, very pricey wines
- had similar cheap secrets. So I asked. With prices ranging up
to $21.49, "cheap" is clearly in the eye of the beholder. But
here are some great recommendations from people who know great
Name: Stephen Beckta
Running his eponymous restaurant in Ottawa, Beckta is highly focused
on wine. He has worked as a sommelier in Manhattan and even blends
his own house wines at Niagara's Cave Springs.
Secret: Seaview Brut, Australia. $11.45 (LCBO) It's
a great inexpensive sparkler. It has many of the same flavours
of a high end champagne, but much cheaper. They use the classic
grape varieties (chardonnay and pinot noir) grown in a cooler
climate. It's been a classic of mine for a long time.
Name: Steven Ranger
Steven Ranger is president of Ritchies and he takes bids at Canada's
only commercial fine wine auction. His favourite style is Rhone,
"but I only raid my cellar on the weekend," he said. Ranger had
two "dirty little secrets," including the same Seaview Brut chosen
by Stephen Beckta. Here's Ranger's other pick:
Secret: Chateau Gourgazaud, Minervois, France. $11.65 (LCBO)
It's a syrah-grenache blend and it's on LCBO's general list.
It's consistently good year after year. It's like a Rhone, only
cheaper. It's one of my major day-to-day favourites.
Name: Igor Ryjenkov
Igor may well know more about wine than anyone else in this country:
he's a Master of Wine. Fellow holders of the International Wine
Education Guild's highest accreditation include Jancis Robinson.
Igor works at Canada's largest liquor store, the LCBO at Summerhill
in Toronto. Igor also sniffed out the cheapest recommendation.
Secret: Casal Thaulero Sangiovese, Abruzzo, Italy. $6.60
(LCBO) It's a decent wine that doesn't need any excuses. It's
my fail-safe wine for day-to-day drinking. It's medium-bodied,
not really heavy in alcohol or extract, it's complementary to
a wide range of foods, and it has character.
Name: Christopher Sprague
Christopher is the sommelier at Winnipeg's 529 Wellington. He's
been there over three years. Before that he was a wine steward,
and before that, well, he said he's "been in the restaurant business
since I washed my first dish at fifteen."
Syrah Rosé, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France. $9.69 (MLC) It comes
in a really cheesy, bent bottle and it's very pink. I like it
because it's spicy, it's got plenty of fruit to it, yet it's dry.
It's been a staple of mine for years.
Name: Dewey Von Noordhof
Dewey is sommelier at Calgary's Brava Bistro on trendy 17th Avenue,
and he's all about making a lot of good value wines available.
"About half our customers order by the glass, and regulars like
to come in a try whatever's new - Portuguese reds, Austrian whites.
We sorta like to get a little crazy." To keep it fresh, Brava's
wine list changes weekly.
Secret: Peter Lehmann 2001 Semillon, Barossa Valley, Australia.
$14.99 + GST (Kensington Wine Market) It sort of sits in the
middle: not as dry and crisp as a sauvignon, not as full as a
chardonnay. It's got melon and grassy characteristics and is very
food friendly. It's very approachable and a lot of people like
Name: Jayce Tomyn
Jayce is the sommelier at Carver's, a steak house in Saskatoon
offering quality steaks in addition to "inspirational local cuisine
like Saskatchewan bison and boar," he said. "We use Riedel stemware
and most of our wines are special ordered."
Secret: Amano Primitivo, Puglia, Italy. $21.49 (SLGA)
It's got lots of traditional old world dark cherry fruit flavours
with liquorice on the finish, and it's a great value wine. It
taste like it costs more.
Name: John Szabo
John earned his Master Sommelier stripes in London, England in
2004 and is the first Canadian to do so. He is active in the Canadian
Association of Professional Sommeliers and he runs the Centre
for Vine Affairs, which conducts tastings and events. He also
runs a consulting service maintaining wine lists for restaurateurs.
Secret: Vila Regia 2002, Sogrape, Douro, Portugal. $7.75
(LCBO) Very ripe, full, juicy, fruity and spicy. Even though
it's red, I like it chilled with cold, roasted chicken en plein
air - picnic style. Very drinkable.
Name: Mark Taylor
Mark is owner and manager of Cru, one of Vancouver's top picks
for fine wine and food. He was BC's Sommelier of the Year last
year and his wine list is on everyone's radar screen. He and his
wife Dana Reinhardt maintain a well-chosen list, complete with
helpful adjectives to guide diners.
Secret: Hecula, 2001, Bodegas Castaño, Yecla, Spain. $15.95
(BCLB) It's made from monastrel - mourvedre in France - and
it's a great little wine. I like its earthiness. It's both rustic
and complex. It's not a huge, deep "bomb", but that's not what
I want to drink after a busy night. It's got depth and it's nice
Name: Edwin Sutherland-Ives
Edwin has worked at Calgary's Teatro for ten years and has been
sommelier for the last six. Edwin says he maintains "a dynamic
list. We don't have a lot of museum pieces here. We've got an
incredible amount of 2000 Bordeaux that we're slowly putting onto
Secret: Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, Madiran, France. $19 + GST
(Metrovino, Calgary) It's a really nice round white wine with
good mouthfeel. Good acidity - there's almost a sauvignon blanc
crispness to it. Some really nice floral notes too. You get a
little bit of everything with it.
Name: Michael Laceby
Laceby is sommelier at the Blomindon Inn in Wolfville, N.S. He
and his family have run it for 17 years "and we've been Wine Spectator
recommended since 1999," he said. Laceby graduated from a sommelier
course in 2001 and manages a 7,000-bottle cellar.
Secret: J.F. Lerton Pinot Gris, Mendoza, Argentina. $9.82
+ HST (NSLC) It's a nice change from chardonnay. It's full-bodied
and very aromatic - the nose is quite pretty. It's round and soft
and finishes with an almost spicy tinge. It's quite nice.
Name: Gilberto Bojaca Gilberto is director of the Ontario
chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers.
He has worked in the restaurant industry for many years, both
in California and Toronto.
Secret: Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo,
Chile. $11.45 (LCBO) The price to quality ratio is excellent.
It's got a sense of place and is a good example of the varietal.
Soft tannins, elegant, with a hint of rusticity, and a warm, long
finish. Either for drinking or with "comfort food".
Name: Patrick St-Vincent
Patrick is sommelier and co-owner at Bu on St. Laurent Boulevard
in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood. Given its name ("bu" means
"drank"), the focus is very much on wine. Bu opened in 2003 and
its wine list changes every week - "it used to be daily," said
Patrick, "but that was too much."
Secret : Domain La Montagnette, Les Vignerons d'Estezargues,
Rhone, France. $14.95 (LCBO; consignment in Quebec) It's just
what we are looking for in the Rhone valley. A blend of syrah
and grenache and has animal aromas, earthiness - you really feel
the terroir - and there is nothing technical or modern about it,
just down-to-earth, well-made, organic wine.
Name: April Kilpatrick
Ontario's Sommelier of the Year, April will be competing in the
Canada-wide competition in 2006. She manages a 300-label list
at Ruth's Chris Steak House in Toronto. "There's a lot of big
reds," she said, and then offered quite the opposite as her favourite
Secret : Vineland Estates Riesling Semi-Dry VQA, Niagara,
Ontario. $10.95 (LCBO) It's just very clean and refreshing.
It's got very good acidity, but it's balanced nicely by a little
bit of sweetness. It's considered a dry wine, but it's a 2 on
the LCBO sugar code.
Name: Jay Jones
Jay is sommelier at West, which he joined when it opened in 2000.
Located in Vancouver's South Granville area, it's got a strong
local clientele. His 900-label list is focused on French, but
he says "pretty much every growing region on earth is represented".
Secret : Freixenet, Brut de Noirs, Cava, Penedès, Spain.
$12.95 (BCL) I'm a big fan of rosé champagne and the yeasty
character it has, but sometimes you just want something that's
quaffable on a hungover Sunday morning. This rosé cava is not
too complicated. The bubbles are invigorating and it's got nice
cranberry and strawberry notes. It's good.