Wine & Spirits

Wine & spirits: What a steal!

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Wine & Spirits

Wine & spirits: What a steal!

When the biggest-selling red wine in the country costs about $19, it signals that the Canadian wine drinker has become one of the most sophisticated sippers on the planet. In most other countries, imbibers tend to search out the cheapest brands with little regard for quality. For example, in the U.S. last year, one of the top-selling brands was Two Buck Chuck, a $1.99 US tipple with little more than price as an asset. (With government monopolies controlling liquor distribution in this country, Two Buck Chuck could easily be renamed Eight Buck Chuck.) So keeping that $19 ceiling in mind, I let my fingers do the walking through several liquor-store price books and found plenty of good-value wines for less. Here are some of my favourite cheapies that are definitely worth buying by the case.


Chile is the source of many good buys. Vina San Pedro's flagship brand, Castillo de Molina Reserva 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon ($13), has dense flavours of black fruits, oak and toasted nuts. It's a prime choice with a prime rib roast.

Rosemount Estate 2002 Diamond Shiraz ($16) was one of the first Australian wines to impress me years ago. Its garnet colour, rich blackberry aroma and solid aftertaste offer immediate satisfaction. Lamb chops are my favourite partner for this wine.

Wine snobs will bristle at drinking mere Beaujolais, but I adore Georges Duboeuf, 2002 Beaujolais-Villages ($14). It's a happy wine with juicy, upfront strawberry-cherry flavours and refreshing acidity. Chicken legs, beef stew, sausage pasta – any food will do.

From the southernmost regions of France comes Chapoutier 2000 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Rasteau ($15), a bold wine with aromas of black pepper, licorice and spice and a rich taste of blackberry, raspberry and plum. It deserves a savoury hunter's stew.

Italy has long been high on my list of worth-a-detour wines, but in recent years prices have accelerated like a Ferrari in the hands of a high-school punk. One exception - Umani Ronchi 2001 Serrano Rosso Conero ($10), with its concentrated bouquet of cranberry, black cherry, roasted nuts, saddle leather and cedar. It's ideal with gourmet pizza with toppings of lamb sausage, roasted peppers and goat's milk cheese.

When it comes to whites, we're a nation of two solitudes. Half of us like light, crisp fruity wines, while the other half prefer the big, bold, buttery, oak-dominated style. I swing both ways.

From northern Burgundy, Bouchard Pére & Fils, 2002 Petit Chablis ($18) is refreshing and muscular with apple, lemon and mineral flavours and bracing acidity. Heavenly with raw oysters, it pairs well with most seafood or fish. Another lip-smacking French white is Calvet 2001 Reserve Blanc ($11), which hails from the Bordeaux region. Its gently oaked, herbal nuance makes a wonderful opener at any meal.

The full-bodied fruitiness of Columbia Crest 2001 Chardonnay ($14) from Washington State is fine on its own for sipping. Honeyed pear and citrus flavours also go with grilled trout or a breast of chicken.

If I had to choose one Canadian entry, it would be Quails' Gate Limited Release 2001 Chardonnay ($14) from British Columbia's Okanagan Valley. The tropical aroma of apricot, canary melon and pineapple enthralls the nose, while an opulent, full-bodied taste satisfies the palate. Perhaps a case isn't enough!

(Note: Prices listed are for Ontario. Other provinces may charge more.)

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Wine & Spirits

Wine & spirits: What a steal!