A schedule switch has me writing only a few days ahead of Christmas and New Year's this month, so this column is for all you procrastinating wine buyers. The goal is to suggest some delicious wines, no matter what the price, and save you having to think about what to buy in the throes of that last-minute rush in stores. The selections have been vetted at press time to be available in government liquor stores but inventories are fluid at this time of the year. Many will be in private wine shops.
Let's start with some Christmas dinner wines. Getting the perfect match is less important on this busy day than serving generous, delicious wines with wide appeal. That means red wines with soft tannins and white wines with a reasonably fruity, aromatic demeanour. Modern riesling embraces the smoke and salt of many dishes and, frankly, is a terrific party appetizer wine, too.
Local rieslings are making some noise as well as the classic offerings from Germany. Names to look for include B.C.'s Gray Monk 2014 Riesling ($13.89), Quails' Gate 2015 Dry Riesling ($15.99), and Germany's Selbach Riesling Fish Label ($15.99) and Leitz Dragonstone Riesling ($18.99). Our pick is Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling ($17.99) from Washington. The minerality and acidity propel the fruit through this wine full of fresh-cut apples, pears, limes and sweet fruit. Turkey, anyone?
Vegetarians always seem to prosper at Christmas thanks to all those meatless, vegetable side dishes and trimmings, and they are easily matched by any number of aromatic whites from around the world. Some of our favourites can double as party wines and or gifts. Local picks to look for include B.C.'s Road 13 Honest John's White 2014 ($14.99) and Church and State Lost Inhibitions White ($15.99), and Spain's Vina Esmeralda Gewurztraminer Muscat 2015 ($15.99). Our top vegetarian pick is local this year — Quails' Gate Chasselas-Pinot Blanc-Pinot Gris 2015 ($17.49). Plenty of orchard fruit flavours and a squeeze of lime rind makes this the ultimate vegetarian dish energizer. Super value.
If meat or lamb is on the menu we like cabernet franc, syrah and syrah blends. It's the protein that tames the tannins and makes both items better. A sleeper pick is the Jean-Maurice Raffault Chinon Rouge ($19.49), a stunningly ripe franc from the Loire. Locally, Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2014 ($23.99) or the Poplar Grove Cabernet Franc 2013 ($33.99) each bring bold, rich, soft flavours. Our pick for lamb or turkey is a Spanish biodynamic red from Priorat: Cartoixa Formiga de Vellut 2013 ($31.99). Formiga is a juicy 60/20/20 mix of grenache noir, carignan and syrah swimming in mineral/black fruit flavours that can cope with big meat flavours, be they lamb or game.
If you are looking for last-minute wine gifts to make an impression and you're spending $40 to $50, think Italian red, as in Tedeschi Amarone 2011 ($48.99). Package it with a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano and you have a fabulous gift.
At $50 to $60, champagne works for most folks. You can buy the stylish Roederer Brut Premier ($58.99) and please a lot of people. Toss in some handmade cheese straws for the perfect match.
At $70-$100 a great gift is the ultra-plush Shafer Merlot 2013 ($80.99) from Napa Valley — the perfect choice for your steak-loving friends.
Given the time of year, we should mention a few ports, too. At this time of the year in Whistler there are endless opportunities to serve a glass of this amazing fortified wine, fireside, with a selection of nuts and fruitcake. Labels to seek out include Fonseca Terra Prima Organic Reserve Port ($25.99) where candied plums and blackberry jam intrigue. Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Porto ($24.99) opens with juicy, youthful, almost grapey fruit flavours that slide down effortlessly.
The big brother bottles are marked vintage port and the older the better. Our pick this year that is ready to decant and drink is Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas 1998 Port ($72.99). The '98 is ready to drink, but you could still add it to your cellar for depth in the port collection or it could be bought to mark an upcoming 20th anniversary in 2018. Drink with a great piece of cheese or hold if you have the patience.
There you have it. Many of the wines have been reduced in price for December and will move quickly so you'd best get shopping today. Remember, if you cannot find the exact match, store staff should be able to help you find something similar based on price and the style of our selections.
As always it is a pleasure and a privilege to bring just a little wine into your lives. Have a safe and responsible holiday season and please plan ahead — do not drink and drive.
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com