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The twelve wines of Christmas



Another year has come and gone in Whistler and that includes the remarkable emotional lift we all experienced during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Some would argue the economy isn't much better today than it was last December but there's more to life than business. Thankfully, the next few days of the year, when the majority will spend time with family and friends, is what reminds us of what is really important in our lives.

I've been thinking about the year that was and decided to look back at 12 wines that got my attention, in fact, ones that recalibrated and rejuvenated my palate.

That's right, even wine writers need recalibrating every so often and as I look ahead I only see a bright future for those of us who enjoy wine for what it is: a single expression of the people who make it and the place it comes from. My journeys took me from Chile to New Zealand, Germany and California, the Okanagan and back to Chile before ending in Argentina late last month. Each made a lasting impression.

We begin in British Columbia with a wine that at this point will only be in restaurants: Haywire 2009 Pinot Gris Switchback Vineyard Clone 52, ($20). Haywire is a study in subtlety and nuance. Expect a very subtle nose with hints of green apple skin, green peach and grassy, nettle aromas. The palate is similarly dry and delicate with a definite austerity. A winery is being built now and year one winemaker Michael Bartier (Road 13) will work with world-renowned wine consultant Alberto Antonini. Both are bent on making a wine that will tell the story of where it was grown - in Summerland in the beautiful Okanagan Valley - and not the grape variety it was made from.

Speaking of site, how cool, literally and figuratively, is the new Santa Carolina Oceanside Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($18) from Valle de San Antonio very near Chile's Pacific Coast? Run, don't walk to taste this delicious sauvignon which aptly illustrates the new Chile. Seawater, citrus and oyster liqueur are the gist of this crisp, clean white that is awash in minerality. A terrific buy for any seafood lover.

Organic wines continued to gather wide interest in 2010. The single best white wine value has to be the Cono Sur Organic Chardonnay 2009 ($14.50). An organic un-oaked chardonnay under screwcap that is ridiculously tasty for the price. You will love its juicy mineral, ripe fruit flavours. Load up the car.

Similarly pesticide- and herbicide-free is the Formiga de Vellut Organic 2008 ($30) from Priorato, Spain. All hail Priorato and this spicy, floral, curry, black pepper and licorice scented red. I love its dry, supple palate and its smoky, peppery, black cherry jam and meaty, licorice flavours. As the temperature drops try this with hearty beef or lamb stews. Solid value.