Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Drinks Part 3 - Red Wine

Sorry for the delay, but really you should be used to disappointment from this blog by now. I got absolutely buried by a Christmas cold/flu starting on Friday of last week and just now showing signs of abating five days later.

I do want to get Red wine recommendations out before the holidays so I'll go light on the rhetoric and heavy on the listings. Overall it was a mediocre year for me for red wine discoveries, my notes show lots of "pretty good", "reasonable value" but not a lot of knockout punches . The best red wine I drank all year was the 2005 Artist's Series Cabernet Sauvignon from Kenwood, but at $74 a bottle and impossible to find it's not something I can recommend .

Looking back over my notes I have lots of praise for the wines of South America, South Africa and Australia . The traditional European heavyweights of France, Spain and Italy still make my table on a regular basis, as do wines from Washington State. What is not on my table, with the exception of the occasional Zinfandel, are wines from California, I find little value from the Golden State in the sub $20 range.

Still enough editorializing, on to the list. In no particular order here are some red wines I can easily recommend at everyday pricing .


The home to full throttle, fruity Malbecs and some more refined examples as well.

At the bottom of the price spectrum is an easy drinking blend of Malbec and Shiraz Fuzion Shiraz-Malbec, #65177 at the ludicrous price of $8.99, no acidity to speak of but easy drinking and pleasantly fruity. For a few dollars more at $12.99 is Malbec Finca Flichman Misterio, #757245 which keeps the fruit full throttle but adds enough acidity to match with food, also out of Argentina and in our regular rotation is Bonarda - Colonia las Liebres, #369066 at $12.99 a delightfully balanced red that is great with red meats or pasta.

Basically I can state that if you want to spend $13-$16 in the Argentine section you'll probably come away satisfied .


The first South American country to make its' presence felt in the world market is now well established and accepted, top to bottom Chile makes great wines. The emphasis is still a little more fruit forward than I would like but I know I'm in the minority so I'll just drink and enjoy. Some notable Chilean wines available with wide distribution are:

Carmenere Anakena, #72157 $12.97, Carmenere Cremaschi Furlotti Reserva, #104596 $16.96. Carmenere is a "lost grape" in Europe but planted heavily in Chile where it was often mistaken for Merlot but it's fuller and less "green" in its' flavour than Merlot - try it .

Cabernet Sauvignon - Santa Rita, #218644 regularly $11.99 but on sale for $9.99 in December, it's soft and fruity but definitely Cabernet and at $10 it's a stupidly good deal. Pinot Noir Undarraga Sibaris Reservs, #761205 $14.99, anytime I can get Pinot Noir that tastes like Pinot Noir for $15 I'll recommend it.


For many years the bastion of good affordable red wine the Aussies slipped a bit when they fell in love with fruit and oak but they seem to be on the way back. The best wine under $20 I drank this year was Australian, Cabernet Sauvignon Xanadu "Next of Kin" a Margaret River Cab bursting with flavour but with a riveting backbone of acidity, a real "lead in your pencil" wine and great value at $15.99, #181610. There is also a nice Australian Pinot available at $14.99 Little Yering Pinot Noir, #616110.

A couple of old faves deserve mention here the Gamekeeper's Reserve from St. Hallet which blends Shiraz and Grenache with Touriga Nacional to come up with a full bodied beauty and the Jacob's Creek Reserve Shiraz, #556696 $18.99 which used to retail over $20 but the New World economic order4 has seen fir to give us a value here.

South Africa

The sleeping giant of the wine world still doesn't get much respect but there's lots to drink out there from South Africa. At their best the wines of the Cape combine New World fruit with Old World acidity and make for solid food companions, some South African reds I recommend are Shiraz-Viognier - Graham Beck #656629, $14.99 a nice use of the acidity of the white Viognier here, Roodeberg - KWV Paarl #7187 $13.99, this classic red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz has been a flagship wine for KWV/Paarl since 1949 and is still a great bottle at a great price and Nederburg Shiraz $12.99 #56457, a solid Shiraz at a reasonable price.

Old World

The quality is there but the prices have crept back up, especially from Italy and Spain, still from Spain I regularly drink the Rioja Crianza - Campo Viejo, #190629 $14.99 and the venerable Tempranillo from Penedes Penescal - Barcelo Estate #343434 $12.99.

From Italy there is Montepulciano D'Abruzzo - Dino Illumati at $16.99, #328997 or the delicious Carpinetto Dogajolo for $18.99 #141721 but under $15 it's a "Buyer beware" scenario .

France brings us a reasonble Corbieres Chateau de Cabriac for $14.99 #315119 and the always dependable Perrin Reserve from the Rhone for $15.99, #363457 but little else.

The Portuguese are making wines much like the Spanish these days, with an emphasis on fruit and not so much on tradition, but the full flavoured Porca de Murca from the Douro is good value at $11.99, #114322.

Well I had hoped to get more in depth with the reds but this will have to do, enjoy the Holidays, I might find time to write about Christmas Day.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Drinks Part Two - Whites and Bubbles

Well I'm rolling now, in between shopping, wrapping and occasionally working I'm blasting towards shattering 2009's post count.

Last post I spoke of Beer, and Cider, and in this missive I shall discuss some white wines, and sparkling ones, that might be good to have around this holiday season. I don't drink a lot of white wine but when I do I prefer lighter styles and a general easy hand with the wood aging. I only ever drink white wine as an accompaniment to food so acidity is a must, no flabby "oak soup" Cali-Aussie chardonnays for me thank you . I also want a balance and a fullness of flavour so most of the cat-pee sauvignon blancs can be left out as well,

My two fave white wine grapes are Chenin Blanc and Riesling, two grapes which can be made into many varieties and styles of wine, from crisp acidic to full blown fruit and dessert styles. For the purpose of this post I'll stay with the drier end of the spectrum, and I'll step outside the Riesling/Chenin Blanc box as well.

Without further ado here are some white wines, in no particular order, that I enjoy and which would be welcome at any festive occasion:

Chenin Blanc - Spier Signature - South Africa, CSPC#659037, $13.95

Chenin Blanc - Man Vintners - South Africa, CSPC#474197, $9.99

Chenin Blanc, or Steen as the South Africans refer to it, is the most commonly grown white wine grape in South Africa. These are two good examples of the style, dry but with nice, melony, tart apple flavour, good acidity (especially the Spier) and nice long finish.

Vina Esmeralda - Miguel Torres Spain, CSPC#165316, $14.99 - an interesting blend of Muscat and Gewurztraminer this long time fave is medium bodied with a lush fruity nose and "not quite bone dry" taste. It's perfect with spicy foods and can compete with the Christmas bird as well.

Sauvignon Blanc - Brancott New Zealand, CSPC#129528, $15.96 - I know I said sauvignon blanc wasn't top of my list but this bottling isn't as assertive as many other Kiwi SB'. The Brancott is more cut grass than cat pee and it's long clean finish is great with rich foods so it makes the list.

Riesling - Pfaffenheim France, Alsace, CSPC#612127 $17.99 - Alsatian whites are the consumate food wines and this dry Riesling is a great example. Full bodied with fruit tones but great acid plus it's Pfaffenheim and I love to say "Pfaffenheim", really try saying it - it's fun.

Bantam - Red Rooster Winery British Columbia, Naramata Bench CSPC#533216 $13.99 - another blend, this time 6 grapes mostly Pinot Auxererrois. This wine is off dry with pronounced floral aromas and lots of fruit on the palate, it's easy to drink alone, or with the cheese board or mildly spicy foods - pass on it with the turkey though as it lacks the heft to battle with Tom.

Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie - Haut Censy France, Loire CSPC#553602 $14.99 - made with Melon de Bourgogne Muscadet might be the ultimate seafood wine, perfect with oysters or shellfish it is dry, light and refreshing, this bottling is a very good example of the style

Chablis "Champs Royaux" - William Fevre France, Chablis, Burgundy CSPC#25270 $26.99 - sometimes it's ok to splurge at Christmas and for a mere $27 this wine is a classic Chablis, dry, rich and long it reminds us of what Chardonnay can be when not all tarted up - save this one for dinner .

There are a few I've missed but that's a good start and should keep you rolling through the holidays.

Another thing that gets a lot of play over the Holiday season is sparkling wine, either on it's own or mixed with OJ, fruit puree or fruit liqueurs. No matter how you serve it there are lots of reasonably priced bubbly options available. Prosecco is the "hot bubbly" these days but I find it often lacking in acidity so I tend to look to France, Spain and Australia for my sparkling options.

If you are mixing the sparkling with juice/puree whatever I suggest looking at cheaper bottles like Veuve de Vernay Brut from France (#209023, $13.99) or Codorniu Classicao Brut from Spain (503490 $12.99) if you are toasting and want a nice clean bubble I'd look at Australia for the Emeri Pink Moscato (#588392 $16.99) or the traditionally made Seaview Brut (#216333 $16.99) . On another note a fun beverage this time of year is the strawberry infused bubble from Chile Fresita, it's a little too sweet to drink much of but a small glass with chocolate is fun (#299404 $14.95) .

Moving up the price scale I enjoy the Cremant de Bourgogne - Blasons de Bourgogne a sparkling wine from Burgundy that is, to my tatse, every bit as good as most "true Champagne" but half the price, this wine retails for $24.99 (#657742) and is a value at that price.

Anyway, all this typing about wine has made me thirsty so I'm going to sign off - enjoy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Drinks Part One - Many things Beerish

OK it's full blown December with only 14 days until Christmas and I promised I'd write about Christmas beverages at some point this year so here we go.

First off despite my "nom de Blog" I drink as much beer, well more in total volume, as wine so it's a subject near and dear to me. The first beverage I have post work is always a beer and over the course of the Holiday season many hops will have given their lives so that I, and mine, can be happy.

Please spend a few extra pennies over the holidays to drink quality over quantity, remember "Friends don't let friends drink Kokanee" or PBR for that matter

Beer is a wonderful thing, this summer I explored the many facets of Hefeweizen but cooler weather calls for more hops so here are my "Beers of Christmas".

CutThroat Pale Ale is a delicous hoppy Pale Ale brewed in the Okanagan by Tree Brewing. Tree has gone through many changes since it's inception in 1996 but they are now making excellent beers across the board and this full bodied hoppy "Classic" pale ale is a great beer......period . It's available in 6 pack bottles ($10.75 for 6X341ml), or even better in 500ml cans ($2.15 per) at most BCLDB stores.

Pilsner Urquell is the original Pilsner and still a classic example of the Pilsner style, please don't compare this to the Pil with the bunnies on the label . Urquell was the original Pils and along with many Euro varieties offer crisp hoppy goodness year round - $12.99 for 6X330ml bottles or $2.34 per 500ml can.

If you find Urquell too assertive I recommend trying out the lighter German Pils such as Konig $2.25 per 500ml can, or the newly listed Wernesgruner Pils, $2.10 per 500ml can.

Last of the beer, but definitely not least is Guinness, there used to be a Guinness and campaign back a few years with the tag line:"Guinness, in a can .....Brilliant . Truer words are rarely spoken, the classic sweet/bitter velvety Irish stout in a 440ml can of "Draught" is a holiday tradition in my house and generally my choice of beverage while cooking the Christmas dinner (8X441ml cans $21.78). The only drawback is the smaller can, 500ml is my preference for serving size, but we all have to make concessions.

One further "beerish" product of note is Weston's Organic Cider . This is a dry. crisp cider made in the traditional English style, it's not cheap at $4.85 for a 500ml bottle but it is far and away the best apple cider I've tasted in a long time . Delicious chilled it's also great when "mulled", ie: heated with some nice aromatics like cloves and cinnamon . Perfect for wassailing .

In the next day or two I'm going to move on to bubbles and white wines for the holiday season so keep checking the blog.