If you've only got time for one wine event all year, Montreal wine show La Grande Dégustation is the one you need to attend. Over 1,200 wines, beers and spirits are crammed under the Palais des congrès' roof for the show's sophomore edition and roughly 600 are private imports you'll be lucky to find on Quebec soil outside of this event. The good news? If you find a private import you like at the show, you can actually buy it, a big deal to those of us in the know on how oddly restrictive SAQ rules can be.
Having attended last year's La Grande Dégustation, I had the auspicious pleasure of spending a chunk of the day with one of the top 12 sommeliers in the world, Quebec's own Élyse Lambert, who last I checked, is still reigning sommelière at Old Montreal's Le Local.
And I challenged her with one request. Show me the best wines in this room that taste like they cost a small fortune. But cost very little, say less than $20.
Here's what she had me taste.
- Café Culture
Okay. I'm cheating here. I discovered this South African gem on my own. And what a fabulous coffee-inspired red it is. You heard me. Coffee. I ended up whining along with a random passerby taster, then Vidéotron Superclub director of operations Patrick Gingras, over why Café Culture is not available in SAQ stores. Considered an obscure novelty last year, coffee wines are reaching trend status this year. Café Culture is basically a Pinotage varietal wine with mocha flavors permeating its medium body and smooth tannins. And that chocolate coffee flavor? It's anything but artificial. It's a natural side effect of aging the grapes in a freshly charred barrel. Café Culture winemaker Bertus Fourie is apparently the expert on handling the Pinotage in this context and if memory serves me right, bottles were being sold as private imports at only $15 each at last year's edition. Get them while you can. Works with red meats, pasta and dessert.
- Coroa d'Ouro Pocas Douro 2003
I can't believe this Douro region red is only $14.40 at the SAQ. And that's the 2003 vintage! It's basically a blend of touriga nacional, touriga franca, tempranillo and tinta barroca grapes and is considered medium-bodied, though I found it leaning toward full-bodied. And oaky. A great choice and happy medium if your palate leans towards heavier Italian and Spanish reds but have dinner guests who tend to get overwhelmed by the latter.
- Antech Cuvée Expression Crémant de Limoux Mousseux 2008
What I like about wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon region is how you don't get unofficially taxed on the area's longstanding reputation and laurel-resting tendencies. In other words, you're far more likely to find an exceptional wine for under $20 from this region than you are from, say, Burgundy. Or Champagne. Case in point? Antech's Crémant de Limoux. A dry, fruity sparkling wine with small, persistent bubbles made using the traditional champenoise method -- that's wine-speak for ''using the same method as Champagne producers'' - this crémant is a bargain, priced at $18 and readily available at the SAQ. And for those of you with the cash to spare, give this a try. Buy a bottle of Antech, buy a bottle of $65 Champagne and challenge your friends to a blind taste test. I dare you. Note that Antech is not participating in the 2012 edition of La Grande Dégustation.