The Holiday Contingency Case
Omigod—the wine! Two weeks of holiday dinners and drop-ins ahead, not to mention parties where you need to bring a bottle for the host. Don’t delay heading to the LCBO for a last minute contingency case of inexpensive wines. Here are 10 of varying style, for various holiday situations. And if you have no time to read to the end, get a mixed case of the first three. All are LCBO general listings with the exception of Tio Pepe at Vintages. Hoping you savour every sip and cherished moment this season.
All-Purpose Red Bargain of the Year
One of the great bargains of 2006 is also one of the most versatile reds available, rich and smooth enough to sip, and complex enough—with deep berry fruit, chocolate and herbs—to go with most poultry, red meat and pasta dishes. Simply huge value. It’s Concha Y Toro’s 2005 Carmenère **** ($12.45), a specialty grape of Chile related to cabernet sauvignon and merlot. It has wowed ’em wherever it’s poured. No matter what, you should buy two; one won’t be enough once you get going.
All-Purpose White Bargain of the Year
Chances are, most white wines will simply be sipped over the holidays, and this soft, rich yet refreshing tropical fruit, honey and citrus charmer is all that’s required. But it also has the weight to sit down at the table with roast pork, ham, perhaps even Christmas turkey. It is Lurton 2006 Pinot Gris **** ($11.20) from Argentina, the country that has risen to stardom in 2006. But, again, buy two—no matter what.
All-Purpose Sparkling Wine Bargain of the Year
Bubbly can be much more than a toast at New Year’s, with most French champagne being versatile enough to match with both elegant hors d’oeuvres and light meals. At about one-third the price, Spanish cava offers that same ability. My pick for the best bubbly buy of 2006 is Segura Viudas Aria **** ($16.95) a mid-weight, dry, mineral wine with interesting almond and lime flavours—ideal with smoked salmon, oysters, shrimp cocktail. For some reason the LCBO has discontinued this wine but fairly large stocks were still in stores as of December 19. Back up plan is Freixenet Cordon Negro ***1/2 ($13.25).
For the Oyster Platter
The most communal and primeval of holiday pre-dinner snacking ideas gets the juices flowing. Steely, mineral muscadet and chablis are the classics from France, but there’s a cheaper idea from the Marche region of Italy’s Adriatic coast (where tables brim with seafood). Yes, I’m recommending the Fazi Battaglia 2005 Verdicchio ***1/2 ($10.95) that comes in the distinctive green, amphora-shaped bottle. This vintage is very good.
For the Veggies & Dip
When enjoying healthy snacks—celery, olives, carrots, sliced red peppers—accompanied by zesty, cream dips, try something just a little different and serve cold fino sherry like Tio Pepe ***1/2 ($15.05) with its brisk, dry, yet powerful flavours. Also works with nuts and any more strongly flavoured tapas-style plates. This was kicked off the general list but can now be found in Vintages stores.
For Guests who Only Drink Red
You know them: newly avid red wine drinkers who like ‘em rich, soft and plentiful, food or no food. Australia figured out those palates long ago. Yalumba 2004 Shiraz Viognier **** ($14.00 ) is ripe, round and plum full of spice and ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit, the white dash of white viognier softening the blend just a bit more.
This is the time of year for a decadent brunch, especially after the Christmas Day onslaught. Wine for brunch may seem over-the-top but Bottega Petalo Il Vino dell ‘Amore *** ( $12.10) is the fruit juice of wines, a lower alcohol moscato-based, sweet fizz you can mix with orange juice or serve solo with almost the same refreshing effect. Serve cold.
Christmas Dinner White
Assuming turkey is on the cutting board, spiked with herb-laced stuffing (and served with gravy, winter root vegetables, perhaps a corn pudding), you need a white with gumption. If not pulling out a fine, top-notch chardonnay from Burgundy, California or Niagara, try, on a budget, the Peter Lehmann 2004 Weighbridge Semillon-Chardonnay ***1/2 ($11.95) from Australia, with ripe fruit, rich, almost waxy texture and squirt of lime-like citrus to refresh.
Christmas Dinner Red
Drawing inspiration from the tried-and-true matching of cranberry with turkey, the traditional choice is pinot noir, which I recommend if spending $30 or more. On a budget, complex pinot is more difficult so move to Bordeaux such as the mid-weight Château des Laurets 2001 Puisseguin Saint-Émilion **** ($18.15) with ripe raspberry, cedar, underbrush and herbal notes of maturing merlot and cabernet franc. A real find.
After an Evening Walk
After you’ve strolled through the neighbourhood to look at the Christmas lights—we can’t guarantee a snowy eve—it’s time for a nightcap that captures tranquility yet warmth. Spread out some strong, creamy cheeses and open a bottle of Dow’s 2000 Late Bottled Vintage Port **** ($16.95). It is rich and silky with maturing ripe fig, cherry, leather and mocha flavours. And to all a good night.