Wine & spirits: Bottle a bargain
Many bargains are from the Southern Hemisphere, where weak currencies and lower labour costs equal great prices. Australia, New Zealand and Chile deliver rich, bold, sexy flavours. Shiraz and Cabernet blends satisfy our desire for extreme flavours.
Aussie stars include Tyrrell's Long Flat Red ($11), with brash blackberry jam flavours and thick, tongue-coating texture; and fruity whites like Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay ($10) and Lindemans Cawarra Semillon Chardonnay ($9), which are perfect with white meat like chicken, veal and pork.
Chilean red wines offer tremendous depth of flavour. For instance, J. Bouchon Chicureo Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva ($10) bursts with aromas of cassis and wild blackberry, while Santa Alicia Merlot ($10) is highly concentrated with blackcurrant notes.
Argentina contributes two luscious whites: Argento Chardonnay ($10) combines richness with lightness and delivers a fruity, almost minty undertone; J&F Lurton Pinot Gris ($9) packs even more punch, with honeyed peach and exotic spice notes.
France, Italy and other European countries have hurt their bottom lines with higher prices, but bargains can still be found. The red and white wines produced by La Vieille Ferme ($10 each) in the South of France are consistently good values; so are Caves des Papes Côtes-du-Ventoux ($10), which is also from France and features solid plum and raspberry notes, and Farnese Montepulciano d'Abruzzo "Casale Vecchio" ($10), from the warm Italian region south of Tuscany. The latter wine has profoundly deep flavours of black cherry, licorice, smoke and leather.
Both J.M. da Fonseca Periquita ($9) and J.M. da Fonseca Dao Terras Altas ($8) from Portugal have velvety textures and cherry-berry flavours that shine with steak.
Two of my favourite food wines hail from Germany, the world's least-trendy growing region. Balbach Estate Riverside Riesling ($10), which comes in a jazzy cobalt blue bottle, is the ultimate all-purpose food wine, combining crisp acidity and fine lemon-peach fruit. Its lower alcohol makes it very quaffable. Schmitt-Söhne Bereich Bingen Auslese/Select Late Harvest ($10) is worth the exercise in linguistics. Terrific as an aperitif, with richer dishes or as a comforting digestif, it goes with fish and fowl, pork and veal and a host of salty cheeses or ripe fruits. And, of course, the price is right.
All prices are for Ontario. Other provinces may charge a little more, reflecting higher taxes.