Calgary Wine Life: Value Wine Uncorked! (by Shelley Boettcher)

17 12 2012

[Cross-posted at www.calgaryisawesome.com.  This book was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Uncorked2013COVERYou almost certainly don’t need me to remind you that it’s December 17th.  By some true Christmas miracle, I managed to finish both my shopping AND my wrapping this past weekend, easily setting a new XMas Efficiency Standard for myself.  But if you happen to be using the eight days between now and the 25th to scramble madly around looking for last-minute gifts, fear not, because I can help you with two simple words:  buy wine.  Shopping = finished.  Everybody likes receiving a gift they can drink, and even if they aren’t sure about the wine you pick out on the first sip, by the fifth glass I guarantee they’ll be all over it.  Alternatively, if you don’t quite feel up to the pressure of picking out that perfect bottle for the people you love, you can do the next best thing and buy them a book that tells them what that perfect bottle might be.  Shelley Boettcher’s slightly pre-emptive 2013 edition of Uncorked! is one such book that is focused on finding that rarest of beasts:  good cheap wine.  All of its recommendations clock in at $25 or less retail.  It is also the only such wine guide that I have seen which is geared entirely to the Alberta market instead of to American or European audiences, each of whom have a remarkably different selection of vino to choose from than we do here.  If you live in the province, you should be able to find at least some of these wines at a shop near you; if you live in Calgary or Edmonton, you should have access to almost all of them.

This is the second edition of Uncorked!, the sequel to the inaugural edition of the book which was released in 2010.  Boettcher is in a unique position to put together a “Best Wines Under $25” list:  as the executive editor of Wine Access magazine, she has access to the yearly releases of most of the major producers worldwide.  She tasted a large number of bottlings before whittling down the list to the 125-odd wines that made the final cut, a few of which were holdovers from the 2010 guide but the bulk of which were new.  The book is written in a light, casual tone and geared towards casual drinkers and relative wine novices, steering clear of overtly technical terminology and giving general impressions and information about each bottle without lingering on vintage data or production details.  It’s a user-friendly recommendation guide rather than an educational text, but if you’ve ever stepped into a wine store and felt totally lost, it could be a great starting point for your vinous journey.

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The wines of Uncorked! are sorted by colour and then by country, with each review featuring the basic details of the wine (name, grapes, region, vintage, price), a short description of what it’s all about and what to expect from it, and then sidebars containing trivia about the bottle in question, recommended food pairings and suggestions of suitable drinking occasions.  Every bottle is concisely summarized on a single page, which also includes (highly useful) pictures of each label to help you find the bottle in your local shop.  Boettcher goes out of her way to include a number of Canadian wines in her value list, but the entire wine world is represented in the book, from France and Italy to Israel and Georgia (more on that last one shortly).  I certainly haven’t tried all of the bottles that Boettcher recommends, but I can wholeheartedly agree with a few of her choices, listed below in order of their appearance in the book:

  1. 19 Crimes Shiraz/Durif (red, Australia):  As mentioned in my own review of this bottle, I enjoy the label design, adore the corks and admire the restraint of this bottle, which combines exuberant Aussie fruit with impressive structure and surprising elegance for a sub-$20 wine.  Collect all 19 crimes listed on the corks!
  2. Waterbrook Melange Noir (red, Washington):  Washington State makes incredible red wine, but rarely does it come cheap.  Waterbrook pulls off that economic feat here, packing a bottle that you can find for $15 with tons of smooth dense flavour (not to mention 16 different grape varieties!).
  3. Rabl Spiegel Gruner Veltliner (white, Austria):  If you’re leery about venturing into the unknown world of grapes with strange names like “Gruner Veltliner”, consider this:  my friends served this Rabl as the lone white wine option at their wedding of 150+ people and it was a massive hit.  A fun and funky glass of wine.
  4. Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli (white, Georgia):  This wine will warp your mind.  From the old Soviet state of Georgia, made from a grape (Rkatsiteli) that I don’t dare try to pronounce, fermented and aged in giant beeswax-lined cement eggs buried underground, this tastes like nothing you have ever come across before, part parchment paper, part nectar, all soul-alteringly weird.  You owe it to yourself to try it, just once.  And when you have, move up to its big brother in loopiness, the Pheasant’s Tears Kisi.

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My lone source of disappointment from this book was that it did not include my personal King and Queen of Alberta value wines, the bottles that I have turned to religiously for the past few years for dynamite quality at an amazing price.  Of course, all palates are different, and Alberta has so many stellar wine options that they can’t all be shoehorned into a book this size.  But if you go to stuff someone’s stocking with Uncorked! next week, you may want to add a sticky note inside with the names of two additional bottles:  Juan Gil Silver Label Monastrell (red, Spain) and Kung Fu Girl Riesling (white, Washington).  I have waxed poetic about each multiple times, on Pop & Pour and elsewhere, but briefly, Juan Gil is the epitome of Spanish value wine, a glorious mix of juicy red cherry, sun-baked earth, smoky spice and pleasantly warming alcohol in a sub-$25 package, while Kung Fu Girl is a warning that cartoon labels can be deceiving, as its playful exterior hides a seriously impressive wine with searing acidity, a beautiful balance between sweet and sour and pristine minerality for under $20.  If you have a favourite value wine, I’d love to hear about it — just like Boettcher’s book aims to show, sometimes knowledge is the greatest wine gift of all.  Merry Christmas everyone!!

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