20 Under $20 in BC : December 2016

Familiar favourites for holiday gatherings

‘Tis the season for entertaining, often unexpectedly. If you’re on your way to an impromptu gathering with friends, or your home is the site for the festivities, it always pays to have some well-priced, well-liked wines on hand. For some crowds, that means familiar favourites, while others might be keen to try something new and unknown. Here are 20 wines that cover all the options, get you through to the new year, and leave lots in your account for Secret Santa.

~ TR

BC Critic Team

You can find complete critic reviews and scores by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images below

Anthony Gismondi

Did someone say party? Okay, affordable, available, understandable but with a twist: these are real quality for your money and your guests. I’ve taken a varietal approach to meet this task and keep things simple, because let’s face it, we all need to simplify the season. Classic may be too strong a word but before blends and aromatics and off-the-beaten-track bottles, buying wine by grape variety was marketed as such so you the consumer could easily grasp what was going on in the bottle. It’s been very successful. The kings of varietal wine are chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Curiously there are no real scientific studies that I am aware of that explain why consumers are so attracted to the two best sellers, but you continue to buy them in numbers that would suggest little else matters in the market. So we will begin with some highly touted chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon and followed up with shiraz, malbec, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.

Hardys Nottage Hill Chardonnay 2015Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Peter Lehmann Portrait Shiraz 2013

Our first pick goes to pick goes to Australia’s Hardys Nottage Hill Chardonnay 2015. Crazy value here in a modern, tasty chardonnay that overdelivers for the price. A super party value.

Cabernet is never easy under $20. We are constantly surprised by the number of cabernet sauvignon lovers in BC who simply can’t get enough of the big minty, leafy, cassis flavoured red, but it seems your interest remains unabated. To you we suggest the Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, a classic Chilean cab from its balsamic nose to its bay leaf flavoured cassis fruit. Soft, round and ready to party it’s a fine match with beef or cheese. It’s mark downed $2 all month at BC Liquor Stores.

For all you shiraz drinkers, the trick is finding one under $20 that is ready to drink. My pick is the Peter Lehmann Portrait Series Shiraz 2013. A fun sipper for a charcuterie plate or to sip solo and enjoy its supple, juicy plum flavours.

Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Malbec 2015Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2015Mud House Pinot Noir 2015

Speaking of soft and supple, how about malbec? The choice is wider here but our pick is a surprise because it’s from France. The Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Malbec Gardemiel Vineyard 2015 is likely the best value red wine in the province under $20. This is uber-modern Euro malbec that will beguile you and your guests.

Sauvignon blanc is a versatile party white you can serve with or without food. Cool, fresh, bright, unwooded and under screwcap is the current model of choice. A personal favourite is the Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Leyda Estate 2015. The Valle de Leyda white from coastal Chile has is a lime rind and passionfruit affair that pleases. Super value. Bring on the appetizers.

Pinot noir is the last major varietal in this mix, but finding anything that has pinot character and that is affordable is always a challenge. Most of the wines you will see in this article are a distillation of 15 to 20 reviews; in the case of pinot noir, it is more like 35 wines. But dreams can come true in the form of Mud House Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015. There is something delicious about entry level Central Otago pinot noir and Mud House often hits the mark with its estate label. A soft, silky, red that is ready to party. Happy holidays, drink well.

Rhys Pender MW 

With holiday parties as our theme this month we want wines that don’t cost an arm and a leg but that taste like they do. It is a good chance to go away from those familiar, boring, big name brands and to some wines that are well priced for the exact reason that people don’t know about them. I’ve picked a number of reds good for this time of the year, and one killer white that should please all.

Domaine De Babio Minervois 2012Domaine Serres Mazard Cuvée Henri Serres 2011Torres 5g Five Garnachas Five Generations 2013Jumilla Monastrell Alceno 12 Messes 2011

I have recommended this wine before but it is excellent value. The Domaine de Babio 2012, from Minervois, France is savoury, meaty and quite complex, a great buy and tastes like it costs at least twice as much as it does.

Another great Southern French red from close by is the Domaine Serres Mazard 2011 Cuvée Henri Serres, from Corbieres. Quite long and complex and great value for under $20.

Spain is a great place for value and here are two excellent hearty reds at a great price. The first is the Torres 2013 5G Garnacha from Campo di Borja, Spain. This is true Grenache in its vibrant red fruit but with a lovely and exciting savoury side.

Another Spanish star region is Jumilla. Old vines Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre) can be amazing. The Alceño 2011TW Twelve Monastrell, from Jumilla is perfect around the fire for those who like hearty reds.

Ormarine Picpoul De Pinet Les Pins De Camille 2015Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2016Leyda Reserva Syrah 2014

A great value white that is a perfect wine with many shared appies is the Ormarine 2015 Les Pins de Camille, Picpoul de Pinet from France’s Languedoc. Crisp, juicy and great value.

You might still be able to find a little Beaujolais Nouveau around too. This year the offerings were pretty tasty! Much maligned by some grumpy folks, this is a fun wine and a nice light juicy red to pair with a wide variety of foods. Try the Georges Duboeuf 2016 Beaujolais Nouveau. #GoGamayGo.

Another pretty killer deal out there is the Leyda 2014 Syrah, from Chile’s Leyda Valley. If you like cool climate Syrah then this is amazing value. Peppery, juicy goodness.

Treve Ring

Stock up on these for a festive holidays, and if there are any bottles left you can comfortably drink well within your wine budget for January.

Of course, always fizz. Vancouver Island’s Averill Creek NV Charme de L’ile is a real delight, a Charmat-method fizz that captures the freshness of the Wine Islands perfectly. Pinot gris and pinot noir show light florals, crisp pear, green apple and ample minerality on the lively palate. Fantastic value, very impressive.

I drink dry white port year round, and there is always a bottle of Fonseca Siroco (and artisan tonic) in my fridge. This opens with a nice cut of citrus, orange and lemon pith. A fine vibrance and snappy acidity on the gently citrus sweet palate.

Averill Creek NV Charm De L'ileFonseca Siroco Extra Dry White PortCloof Bv Bush Vines Chenin Blanc 2016Quinta De Chocapalha Arinto 2015

Western Cape’s Cloof 2016 BV Bush Vines Chenin Blanc is as youthful as it gets, with pear, yellow apple and white peach kissed with zippy acidity, and ready for prawn appies or lighter curries.

Portugal remains exciting, especially with values like Quinta De Chocapalha 2015 Arinto. Arinto is one of my favourite underdog grapes of Portugal. Light and fresh, with that hallmark herbal lemon and pithy grapefruit pervading the linear form. Sea salts season the brisk finish. A fruitier, livelier choice than Chablis, and just as at home with oysters or spot prawns.

Arinto also features in the Alentejo’s Alandra 2014 Branco, along with other indigenous grapes antão vaz and perrum. Youthful and round, with a kick of residual sugar acting as a foil to the sharp, green-edged and herbal orange.

Alandra Branco 2014Borsao Garnacha Selección 2015Cims Del Montsant 2012

Echoing Rhys’ sentiments above on Spain, the value in Borsao 2015 Garnacha is hard to top. Garnacha, tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon are kept bright with stainless steel, leaving medicinal-kissed cassis, wild blueberry, blackberry thorns, bramble, espresso and dark violets on the palate, one fleshed out with the generosity of the hot Spanish sun.

Spain also brings us the Cims del Montsant 2012, from the neighbouring region that rings regal Priorat. This smokey and modest carignan and garnacha picks up potentcy from the powerful llicorella and còdois soils, as well as the hot and wild terroir (and altitude; this is from 530m). A great value from a challenging region, and ideal for steak frites or lamb sausages.


WineAlign in BC

In addition to our popular 20 Under $20 shopping guide, we publish the monthly Critics’ Picks report which highlights a dozen of our favourites from the last month (at any price point), as well as Rhys Pender’s BC Wine Report, a look at all things in the BC Wine Industry. Lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out the month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential critic.

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


Beringer Knights Valley
Vancouver International Wine Festival