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Top 20 Wines for Under $25

Our round-up of the city’s best inexpensive wines returns, as columnist Danny Hewitt brings together a panel of local experts

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Top20

Columnist Danny Hewitt and a panel of local wine experts hunt for the city’s best wine values.

This is our fourth edition of the Top 20 wines. We consider it our annual state of the wine market in Halifax, and an important barometer of which wines are both affordable and excellent. Each year we try to expand the variety of offerings, as the demand for wine, and our consumption of it, increases.

Since our first year we have evolved from a tasting panel of four experts to six. We have also raised the maximum price from $20 to $25, in recognition of the high pricing on wines in Nova Scotia, and to increase the quality of offerings. We kept the number of wines to a maximum of 50 entries, and took reader recommendations as the basis for this review. We also include the top five from the previous year. For the first time we also allowed the judges to nominate their three favourite wines.

This year, a wide range of regions and grapes rose to the top. Interestingly, only two wines in the top 10 came in over $20, proving that you can still buy great wine with less than a twenty in Halifax.

We also had a nice selection of Old and New world wines, along with two Nova Scotia winners. Italy yet again had the most awards with four, and California next with three. Our average score this year rose from 85 points to over 86 points, and both red and white wines were well represented.

What follows is an interesting tour of the wine world, including everything from French Malbec to South African Chardonnay. It is our hope that you will use this list as a basis to explore new wines, and share with friends.

The best

10. Chateau Haut-Montplasir Malbec 2009
Cahors, France, $21.99, Harvest Wines and Spirits.
Most of us know Malbec from Argentina. This wine is actually from the original home of Malbec, in France. The judges thought this wine was nicely layered with aromas of blackberry and tar. Lots of black fruits and a nice smokey finish.

9. Di Majo Norante Sangiovese
Molise, Italy 2010, $15.99, Cristall Wine Merchants.
A great value wine from Italy. Aromas of dried fruit and herbs. Has that nice cherry flavour typical of Sangiovese, with lots of chalky tannins. A great food wine.

8. Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Marlborough, New Zealand, $19.99, NSLC.
Number five from last year’s list drops three places, but still checks all the boxes for great New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Zesty acidity, citrus fruits and an intense finish.

7. A Mano Primitivo 2009
Puglia, Italy, $19.99, NSLC.
A popular wine from the NSLC, this one impressed the judges with its dark, spicy characters and peppery, leathery nose. Juicy and approachable.

6. Sea Glass Pinot Noir N/V
California, $14.99, NSLC.
A gulpable Pinot Noir for under $15. Classic California style of strawberry and cherry fruit. Clean and polished. Lighter in style than many, but offers a great introduction to the grape. A great apertif when chilled.

5. Campo Viejo Reserva 2009
Rioja, Spain, $22.99, NSLC.
A definite contrast to the Pinot Noir above, this wine carries all the classic weight and body of the Rioja style of red wines. Rich, and flavourful, with tons of dark fruit and rich vanilla oak. A great winter wine, lots of structure for the price.

4. Zenato Valpolicella Superiore 2009
Veneto, Italy $20, Bishop’s Cellar.
Last year’s number-one wine drops a few places but still comes out near the top with great balance, a ton of cherry fruit, and a beautiful, long finish. This wine never disappoints, and was the favourite of more than one of our group.

3. Anselmi San Vincenzo 2011
Soave, Italy, $19.99, NSLC.
This is a new General Listing at the NSLC and we know why. It has an intense perfume nose combined with a rich, balance mouth feel. It is herbal and ripe, and yet carries great balance. If you are looking to expand your white wine horizons, this one is for you.

2. DeMorgenzon DMZ Chardonnay
South Africa, $19.50, Bishop’s Cellar.
Our lone white wine entry from South Africa wowed every judge. All agreed finding great chardonnay in a sea of over-oaked and mass-produced wines is next to impossible. Finding one that is under $20, and has amazingly intense fruit balanced with a perfect touch of oak, and a long, rich finish is a miracle. This is a fantastic wine!

1. Falernia Syrah Reserva 2008
Elqui Valley, Chile, $19.99, Harvest Wines and Spirits.
Our new highest scoring wine had everyone on the tasting panel gushing with enthusiasm. Thevwords excellent and amazing came up several times. Descriptors like Rhone-like, peppery, cola, cocoa, blackberry, leather, dense but balanced, and great tannins were common. There was unanimous consensus that for $19.99 this wine performed at least $10 more than its price, and it is proof that great things are happening with Chilean wines.

The best of the rest

White

Martin Codax Albarino 2011.
Rias Biaxas, Spain, $19.99, NSLC.

Luckett Tidal Bay 2011.
Nova Scotia, $19.99, NSLC and Private.

Gaspereau Muscat 2011.
Nova Scotia, $19.99- NSLC and Private.

Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011.
New Zealand, $22.75, Bishop’s Cellar.

Red

Beaujolais L’Ancien Jean-Paul Brun 2010.
France, $23.99, Cristall Wines.

Las Roca Garnacha 2009.
Spain, $15.50, NSLC.

Domaine de Cristia 2011.
Cotes du Rhone, France, $19.99,
Cristall Wines.

Queen of Hearts Pinot Noir 2009.
California, $17.48, NSLC.

Wente Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon.
California, $19.99, Bishop’s Cellar.

Sandhill Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2009.
British Columbia, Canada, $19.99, NSLC.

The judging process

Take six wine experts and put them in a room together. (Thank you, Ela Bayer’s Lake). Brown-bag 50 wines, so that the judges have no idea what they’re tasting. Pour flights of four to six wines together of similar style and grape, to assist the judges in comparing and contrasting the wines. Judges then fill out a separate scoring sheet for each wine, with all wines evaluated on appearance, aroma, palate, finish and overall quality. Scores for each wine are tabulated on a 100-point scale. The average of the six scores for each wine is the final score. When scores tie, price is the tie-breaker.

Thanks to this year’s judges: Jeff Phiney, Mark DeWolf, Carman Mills, Pat White, Costa Elles, Alanna MacIntyre and Danny Hewitt. 

  • The top twenty is unfortunatelly a bit weak in the Nova Scotian white wines.. There are plenty of NS whites for this list.

  • Trevor J. Adams

    Thanks for the comment, Roland. The wines were judged in a blind-tasting process; judges had no idea where the wines they were tasting were from. Which Nova Scotian wines would you have included?

    It’s also worth noting that while no Nova Scotian whites made the top 10, there were two in the top 20. Considering they were competing with wines from around the world, that seems like a respectable performance.

  • Amanda

    The Falernia line, as well as other wines that have appeared on your top 20 have been sourced and brought to the province by wine buyer/sommilier Jason MacPhee, formerly of Cristals/Harvest Wines. Thank you Jason! We all benefit from your skill. Such a loss for Cristal’s and Harvest.

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