Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! One of the challenges of being a wine enthusiast is the fact that we can’t always drink the good stuff. For instance, a “good” bottle of wine for some people is $20 while for others, only $60 to $100 bottles will suffice. For those that enjoy a daily glass of wine, those price ranges can be unsustainable. As an everyday drink, many consumers turn to budget wines and will justify the dip in quality by the lower price they pay. Finding the compromise between price and quality comes with experience and understanding your personal preferences. Are budget wines any good? Is there value to be found in the sub-$20 category? Let’s take a look at two affordable Merlot wines from Canada!

Personally, the budget or entry-level wines are usually skipped because I’m focusing on other options to discuss but every now and then, I like to taste a few wallet-friendly drinks to see how they compare and if the value is worthwhile. With wine prices steadily increasing (among everything else), it’s always exciting to find a product we love for a great price. My search for inexpensive wines led me to two Merlots from the Canadian section of the liquor store. It is important to note that these bottles state “Product of Canada” on the back label and also, neither bottle has a vintage or specific region indicated. Why is this important?

Most liquor stores will separate the wines of Canada into two categories: Canada VQA and Canada. Wines that state VQA (Vintner’s Quality Assurance) on the label have undergone a rigorous analysis for quality and region of origin. This ensures the highest-quality for consumers and also protects the reputation of our country’s wines around the world. If you pick up a bottle of VQA wine, it should be consistently good if not great; however, there are hits and misses. Overall, this system works well and gives customers a starting point to make a purchasing decision.

In the other Canadian wine category, we have wines which are called “Product of Canada”. These wines are a blend of domestic and imported wines from around the world and the final blend is bottled or cellared in Canada. Wines that are designated or labeled as “Product of Canada” can still be quite tasty but they lose a sense of place or unique quality found in higher-end options due to the large amount of mass-produced wine used in the blend. For this reason, most of these (if not all) will not have a vintage on the bottle since it is such a large mixture of wines. Bolstering the confusion for customers is the fact that the majority of the wine inside a “Product of Canada” bottle can include up to 60 percent wine from another country. This means that the well-intended purchase of a Canadian wine is in fact not fully supporting Canadian wineries or growers but the companies that package them. It is not all negative though, as the more a Canadian company can make from their cheaper wines, the more they can invest in creating truly amazing wines worthy of the higher prices.

What are the major differences between these budget bottles and mid to high-priced wines? There are several factors to consider here including the overall texture of the wine (smooth, soft, delicate, harsh, rough, etc.), intensity of flavors, aging potential (budget wines are not for aging), complexity and balance. Entry-level wines put an emphasis on simple, fruity flavors and for that reason, they can often be drank alone and don’t require food pairings to enjoy. They can also be out of balance with heavy flavors and a lack of acidity. Producers want to create easy-drinking wines with some body and flavor but will stay away from heavier tannins and acidity; This makes these wines one-dimensional but often more approachable for the everyday person.

Onto the wines of the week! I actually enjoyed both Merlots I tasted and the JT (Jackson Triggs) came out on top due to its balance and simple flavors. Both wines gained and lost points for different reasons which is why they ended up with a rating of Good. The JT is drier with lighter intensity (normal for Merlot) and it aligns with the classic style of Merlot, flavorful yet subdued at the same time. The Screw it! on the other hand, goes for the flavor with higher intensity and more body. Even though Screw it! contains slightly more acidity, the wine is still marginally out of balance but it also brings the intense fruity flavor and a boost of juicy sweetness. I would recommend both wines, especially for the price. I preferred the JT but I know many people that would enjoy the Screw it! as well. No matter how much you decide to spend on your bottle of wine, try your best to judge it based on its flavor alone, not the price you paid for it. Here are my wine picks of the week!           

Jackson Triggs Proprietor’s Reserve Merlot: (Product of Canada). Off-dry to medium-dry red, deep ruby color. Medium-intense aromas of ripe berries, plums, fruit leather and raspberries provide a fruity, yet simple nose. The JT Merlot has a full body with a smooth and fruity character. Medium acidity makes the wine soft with just the right amount of zip which compliments the medium-plus intense flavors of dark cherries, hints of vanilla, plums and fresh raspberries. The mid-palate is quick and fruity with medium tannins providing a bit of grippy texture on the tongue. This moves into a medium-length finish of slight pepper heat with hints of bread. The balance is great with this wine and even though it lacks complexity, it is easy to sip and drink. Pair with simple meaty snacks or roast beef. Good! $12.50, 12.5% ABV

Screw it! Merlot: (Product of Canada). Medium-dry red, deep ruby color with a purple tint. The nose is intense with a burst of powerful dark fruits leaping from the glass. There are lots of concentrated cherry scents to take in including preserved/cooked cherries and cherry candy, fruity plums, currants and juicy berries. On the palate, the wine tastes flat at first with a full body and a rush of dark fruit flavors (cherries, plums, raspberries). Interestingly, the medium-plus acidity comes in after the initial flavors settle and tingles along with simple spice on the medium-length finish. Fruity and bright with smooth, medium tannins and a touch of bread/yeast flavor near the end. This one tasted a bit strange at first (flat) due to the delayed acidity but after a few sips, this simple red is quite easy to enjoy. Pair with burgers, red pasta sauces or cheese. Good! $12.50, 13% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!