Value vintage: She said …

Natalie MacLean (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

I pride myself in being a wine cheapskate because I don’t think you should pay more for pleasure than is necessary. And these days, you don’t have to since there are terrific wines in the liquor store at great prices. Here are my top five bargain bottles at the moment.

Henry of Pelham Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($14.95, 430546)

Lovely aromas and flavours of ripe melon rather than the herbal notes in some Sauvignon Blancs. I like this medium-bodied wine a lot, and the price even better.

Cathedral Cellar Kwv Chardonnay 2011, Western Cape, South Africa ($14.95, 328559)

Terrific price for such a luscious, full-bodied Chardonnay. Bursting with aromas of green apple, butter and toasty goodness. Pair with roast chicken, corn dishes and a blazing fireplace.

Inniskillin Wines Pinot Noir 2011, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($13.95, 261099)

Loaded with mouth-watering cherry-berry flavour delivered on a satin texture with medium- to full-bodied weight. A blackberry-infused finish makes this wine go down slippery fast. A great match for holiday turkey, salmon carpaccio, grilled tuna and wild mushroom risotto.

Falernia Reserva Syrah 2009, Elquí Valley, Chile ($15.95, 208371)

A full-bodied palate-whacker that doesn’t take a bite out of your wallet. Lots of fleshy black fruit and coffee depth. Pair with a juicy rare steak, prime rib and meaty discussions about your vacation plans this winter.

Cuvée Georges Domaine Puig-Parahy 2010, Côtes Du Roussillon, Midi, France ($15.95, 171025)

Spicy dark fruit on the nose with layers of velvet texture on the palate. Full-bodied and generous: I like that in a wine. Pair this big beauty with a rack of lamb, grilled pork chops or great movie.

Natalie MacLean’s Top 5 tips for finding great wines

1 When a region is stereotyped for one kind of wine — in Niagara’s case, icewine — look for what else it does well, such as sauvignon blanc or Riesling.

2 International trade bans are tough on any country, but it can motivate domestic industries to be more competitive afterwards. South African wine has made amazing progress following the end of apartheid and offers extraordinary taste and value.

3 A bargain is not the cheapest wine. Niagara pinots, for example, are a bargain compared to those in Burgundy, which easily top $50 a bottle.

4 Look for wines from warm regions such as Chile and Argentina. Often, the cost of production is cheaper because winemakers aren’t battling disease, rot and weather as much as cool climate producers do. Therefore, there’s less crop loss and lower costs for production.

5 Ultra-fashionable wine regions such as France’s Bordeaux and Burgundy command high prices. Look for the lesser-known regions, like southern France’s Languedoc-Rousillon, for the best deals.

Natalie MacLean is a Citizen wine columnist and author of Unquenchable: A Tipsy Search for the World’s Best Bargain Wines now available in paperback for $19.95. Visit her website at nataliemaclean.com.

Connect with Natalie MacLean |natdecants@nataliemaclean.com