Open your mind: these wines may surprise you

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      It’s hard not to judge a book by its cover—or a wine by its label. As much as I try to be objective, my subconscious does play a part. There’s a multitude of ways this can happen. If I’ve tried hundreds of wines from a certain region and had a negative experience almost every time, I’ll most likely approach said region’s wines with a little trepidation. The other side of the coin is when a long-admired winery releases a new vintage: it can already be a few steps ahead of the game before I pull the cork. It’s human nature, and it happens to all of us. But I don’t let negative biases become obstacles. When tasting, I give all bottles the benefit of the doubt and give most wines another chance.

      This week, I tried a handful of wines I thought I had figured out in one way or another. I came away impressed after swirling, sniffing, and (sometimes) spitting.

      Demorgenzon 2013 DMZ Chardonnay (Western Cape, South Africa; $19.95 at B.C. Liquor Stores)
      It pains me that a lot of the South African wines we have here in B.C. are ultracheap and industrially produced. Never having been to South Africa, I’ve always heard that the good-quality stuff stays in their market, and it’s all of the lowbrow product that gets shipped our way. I’ve grown tired of revisiting so many of these lower-tiered South African brands and writing down aroma and flavour notes like “onions”, “garlic”, and “burnt rubber tire”. So I’m absolutely delighted not to have to employ those words with this bright and lively Chardonnay awash with pears and apples and shining with crisp minerality, a reflection of granite and sandstone soils. A hearty pour will go down a treat with fish and chips, fried chicken, creamy seafood pastas, or bacon-wrapped scallops.

      Giacomo Sperone Neirano 2009 Barolo (Piedmont, Italy; $32 to $36 at private liquor stores)
      What could possibly have given me pause about Barolo? Hey, I love Nebbiolo, the grape from which this wine is crafted, its exuberant character loaded with truffles, tar, and roses. It was the price tag that made me doubt the potential quality; to put it bluntly, this is pretty damn cheap Barolo. Luckily, the cost is the only cheap thing about it. Amid all of the typical characteristics is a wave of red fruit, making it juicy and quaffable right now. After the first few sips, hunger pangs should kick in and any combo of red meat and mushrooms will do just fine. I’ve recently spotted this bottle at Legacy Liquor Store (1633 Manitoba Street) and Liberty Wine Merchants on Granville Island (1660 Johnston Street).

      Blue Grouse 2012 Cowichan Station Estate Pinot Noir (Vancouver Island, B.C.; $23 at the Blue Grouse website)
      It can be tough to grow wine grapes and make decent wine on Vancouver Island. Vineyards there don’t have the heat that the Okanagan Valley enjoys, so getting heartier fruit to optimal ripeness isn’t often in the cards—the main reason why we don’t see big Cabernets or Syrahs hailing from here. When it’s handled properly, you can make a go of Pinot Noir, but the examples I’ve had from various producers have fluctuated wildly in quality.

      Blue Grouse winemaker Bailey Williamson has seemingly handled the noble grape with kid gloves and not gotten too meddlesome, allowing the Island’s best terroir attributes to be expressed in the glass. Aromas akin to a strawberry patch after a light rain leap out of the glass, and on the palate it’s textbook cool-climate Pinot. A host of pretty cherries and plums sings throughout, with a touch of wild mushroom-y notes on the finish. Lovely stuff that’s tailor-made for local salmon, simply grilled with butter and herbs.

      D’Arenberg 2011 The Stump Jump Red (McLaren Vale, Australia; $14.99 at B.C. Liquor Stores)
      Australian wines at this price point, cheap considering our expensive wine market, can often be overripe, way too sweet, and awfully boozy. The Stump Jump, however, is made by globally praised winemaker Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale, a region that does Rhône varieties like Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvèdre very well. That’s the blend in question here, and this has to be one of the best bargains on liquor-store shelves today. Raspberries, Italian plums, a few twists of the ol’ pepper mill, and black licorice come together without unnecessary sweetness, and even though the label says it’s 14.6 percent alcohol, I find the heat negligible. A good wine to have kicking around should company pop by unexpectedly.