The Avis car rental company’s famous slogan, “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder” was wildly successful because it was so believable. It launched in the ’60s and was one of the most lucrative ad campaigns in history. The company turned a profit the first year, after losing money for more than a decade. “Of course, they’re giving it their all,” people thought. They have to if they’re chasing a competitor. The idea applies to wine, too.
Wines striving for market share are certainly likely to try harder than coasting competitors. Maybe they shave a bit off the price to enhance the value, they grow or source more concentrated fruit, or they simply put in more effort all the way around. The only question is, which of these under-sung wines overdeliver? Here are my picks for four great values that range from $16 to $30 but could sell for more.
An alternative to Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio
2021 Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio IGT, Alto Adige-Trentino, Italy (Vintages $21.95)
If you like the ever wildly popular Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio Valdadige DOC, Italy (Vintages Essential, $22.95), you’re not alone. It’s a bestseller for a reason. But you can save a dollar by reaching for the delicious 2021 Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio IGT from Alto Adige-Trentino in Italy (Vintages $21.95) instead. Each swirl of the glass takes you to a rocky riverbank after the rain with its damp, stony-cool aroma. Then, the silvery liquid floods in with glassy purity and quiet suggestions of lemon zest, sliced pear and dried bay leaf as well as a sprinkle of sea salt that lingers on the finish. Despite the generous middle-palate weight of this dry wine, it clocks a mere 12.5 per cent alcohol. It’s the kind of wine every Pinot Grigio wants to be when it grows up. Score: 93
An alternative to Ruffino Chianti
2020 Melini Chianti DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($16)
If Chianti is your go-to wine style, you may reach for the ever-popular Ruffino Chianti from Tuscany (LCBO $17.60). A smart alternative that’s $1.60 less is the 2020 Melini Chianti DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($16). This gem delivers exceptional value.
First, there’s the fragrance of sweet cherries, plump plums and black earth laced with pink, green and black peppercorn. Then, a slick lick of earthy, berry-rich fruit slides in tasting sunny and saturated before cascading with fruit-spice-nuts-and-a-touch-of-olive. It’s just the medium-bodied, crowd-pleasing red you can count on this time of year. So much fun to drink and just 13 per cent alcohol. Score: 92
In case your curious about the unusual shape of the Melini bottle — it’s a nod to those straw-covered flasks known as fiascos that Chianti was bottled in traditionally.
An alternative to Gérard Bertrand Côte des Roses Rosé
2022 Hampton Water Rosé, Languedoc, France (Vintages $29.95)
If you find you enjoy the bestselling rosé, Gérard Bertrand Côte des Roses Rosé from the Languedoc region of France (Vintages $19.95), consider taking it up a notch with the 2022 Hampton Water Rosé from that same region (Vintages $29.95). This elegant, sophisticated-tasting wine with the cool label and glass stopper — like the Côte des Roses Rosé — is a beauty. Made from Grenache with a splash each of Cinsault and Mourvedre, Hampton Water is a pale coral-coloured wine with light rose-gold inflections that shine starbright in the glass. Then, it draws you in with airy scents of wild strawberry, cherry blossom, candied almonds and nougat. All of that echoes delicately on the palate along with an attractive note of bitter orange zest that comes into focus on the finish. Just a delightful medium-bodied, bone-dry rosé with 13 per cent alcohol. Proof fine wine now comes in three colours. Score: 93
Fun fact: Hampton Water is a partnership between musician Jon Bon Jovi, his son Jesse Bongiovi and the same French vigneron who makes Côte des Roses Rosé — Gérard Bertrand.
An alternative to Apothic Red
2020 Lost Poet Red, California ($19.95)
If you gravitate to Apothic Red from California ($17.95) time and time again, you’ll love the 2020 Lost Poet Red from that same sunny state ($19.95). It’s two dollars more but worth it.
The 2020 Lost Poet Red from California is a wine partnership between anonymous poet Atticus whose books are New York Times Best Sellers and Winc Wine Company. The wine emits burnt embers, strawberry jam and black coffee on the nose before sweeping in with palate-drenching generosity, riveting the attention. It’s forward, yes — just like Apothic, but slightly drier. You’ll find flavours of toast and jam, black coffee, fire-roasted meat and more — all of which link to memories — before tapering toward a bonfire and cherry-vanilla finish. This oaked, red blend of 68 per cent Merlot, 24 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and eight per cent Petite Syrah is dry but not too dry and clocks 14 per cent alcohol. Score: 91
According to Atticus, “A good bottle of wine should take you on a journey. It should make you feel something.” To support that idea, the back label of every Lost Poet Red bottle includes either a poem or a blank space for you to write your own.
So next time you stroll into the LCBO, consider one of these wines instead of your usual go-to. After all, spring is here and it’s a new day. Make it count.
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