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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Two pinots and a syrah to try, each less than $20

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A few weeks back, I was lamenting that I hadn’t been able to discover what I considered was a really decent pinot noir for a really decent price.

I sang the praises of the 2011 Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from California. It’s primarily cherry aroma had just a hint of earthiness, which is one of the qualities I adore about good pinot. Velvety smooth and delicate, this wine still had plenty of backbone, and I loved it.

What I didn’t love, however, was the $25 price tag. Same went for the Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir, also from California. A little more barnyardy than the Rodney Strong, but with almost the same delicacy, I thought the Meiomi was wonderful as well. But it, too, was $25.

So I was MORE than delighted when I was treated to dinner at Grey Owl on the Hill a few weeks ago, and my dinner companions ordered the Block Nine Caiden’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. It was lovely! Hefty and ballsy enough to be fulfilling, but at the same time subtle and elegant, it seemed the solution to my pinot problem.

With lots of red fruit and a pinch of flowers, leather and toasty oak, the Block Nine is a great compromise for those who are — and aren’t we all? — picky about their pinot. It sells at Manitoba Liquor Marts for $17.75. And while I realize that price point still makes some people shudder, it’s a price I’m willing to pay for a wine that is not merely serviceable, but very pleasant.

I think it’s really cool that the makers of Block Nine have created their product specifically because consumers were demanding moderately priced pinot. A family company, Block Nine makes ONLY pinot noir. It’s a small-production wine, and with only a single focus, is able to offer a fine beverage for an acceptable price. I salute them, and will be a Block Nine Pinot buyer from this point on.

But another option, the Sileni Cellar Selection Pinot Noir, which I also discovered at the Grey Owl, is also a reasonable pinot and works well especially with something citrusy. I tried it with schwein schnitzel I made at home and garnish with lots of fresh parsley and lemon. Multi-talented hospitality instructor at the Manitoba Institute of Culinary Arts, Kyle Zalluski, suggested the Selini is a little more acidic than the Block Nine, which has a bit more barrel influence, and his assessment was bang on. With my lemony schnitzel, the Sileni’s acidity worked perfectly. And another bonus — the Sileni is $14.49 a bottle.

I had another pleasant surprise lately, too. I rediscovered a wine that I’d loved for years, and that really put a smile on my face. I’d kind of gotten away from shiraz/syrah the last while, and I’m really not sure why. I was always fond of that varietal, but I particularly like it with lamb and with venison. And we haven’t been having much lamb lately, much to my dismay, and we seem to be having venison in forms other than the grilled backstrap I used to adore pairing with shiraz.

So when I was reminded by Liquor Mart South product consultant Kevin Kotyk that the fabulously lush, black-fruity and peppery Marques de Casa Concha 2010 Syrah from Chile ($19.95) still existed, I bought a bottle. Two, in fact. Kotyk said it had been named one of the top 100 wines of 2013 by the highly regarded Wine Spectator Magazine.

The mag ranked it at number 62 on its list and awarded it 91 points. Wine Spectator suggested the wine needs aeration, but boasts a "long finish of savoury grilled game, cured olive and mocha." It also suggested that cellaring the wine would be a good idea — that the Marques de Casa Concha Syrah would be drinking well from 2014 to 2018. And in case you want to stock up, there were 5,500 cases of it produced.

However, my husband and I discovered the wine almost three years ago in Barbados — I believe it was then the 2009 vintage — at a restaurant called 39 Steps Bistro and Wine Bar. We paired it with some sensational chicken liver pate, as well as with lamb shanks, and I was in love. For a wine so widely hailed, it’s a real deal for $19.99. I plan to pick up several more bottles and put them on my wine rack (I wish I had a cellar but I don’t — does it count that the rack is in the basement?) to age just a bit more. Of course, that doesn’t mean some of it won’t be consumed long before 2018. Patience is not my strong suit. Especially when it comes to wine.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 15, 2014

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A few weeks back, I was lamenting that I hadn’t been able to discover what I considered was a really decent pinot noir for a really decent price.

I sang the praises of the 2011 Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from California. It’s primarily cherry aroma had just a hint of earthiness, which is one of the qualities I adore about good pinot. Velvety smooth and delicate, this wine still had plenty of backbone, and I loved it.

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A few weeks back, I was lamenting that I hadn’t been able to discover what I considered was a really decent pinot noir for a really decent price.

I sang the praises of the 2011 Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from California. It’s primarily cherry aroma had just a hint of earthiness, which is one of the qualities I adore about good pinot. Velvety smooth and delicate, this wine still had plenty of backbone, and I loved it.

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