I'm a fan of tradition, especially at this time of the year. And after 12 months of travel, tastings and meetings, and tramping around vineyards, it seems appropriate to continue our tradition of producing a column of a dozen wines that not only grabbed my attention in 2012 but that you can buy at an affordable price and serve over the holidays.
I've doubled-checked each wine selected this month and at press time they're all still widely available in government stores. In some cases, you will find many of them in private wine shops, too.
This year my travels took me to Chile, Argentina, Australia, Italy, California, Niagara, Sonoma County, Napa Valley and the Okanagan Valley. As well, I met with hundreds of producers who travel regularly to Vancouver to visit the market. With all that in mind, here are 12 personal favourites to enjoy over the holidays.
On the first day of Christmas... We begin with an amazing value: the Mezzomondo Salento 2011 $10 from Puglia, Italy. Fittingly fragrant, this 100 per cent negroamaro grape is indigenous to Apulia. Its blackberries, plums and dark chocolate with a savoury undertone over deliver for the price. So round and fun to drink, it's ridiculous value for $10. I call this an extreme-value holiday party red.
The bookend white, price-wise, is an amazing value from France: Francois Lurton Les Fumées Blanches 2008 $14 from the Languedoc. Lurton always over delivers for the price and this fresh smoky, citrus mineral scented white is no exception. Balanced, refreshing and crazy value, it's sold under screw cap. You should back the truck up and load up. Seafood, anyone?
Another white made for food and entertaining is the Ogier Côtes du Rhône Heritages Blanc 2011 $17. A classic white Rhone, it offers up a floral, aromatic mix of peachy, lemon, ginger aromas flecked with almonds and chalk. The attack is fresh and juicy with more lime rind, honey, ginger, apple skin and lemon flavours. Perfect with one-bite appetizers.
Chardonnay drinkers who love the grape and not the oak should pick up some Kendall-Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2011 $20 from Monterey/Santa Barbara, California. Avant is a modern-style chardonnay with floral, butter, cream and mango notes. The attack is creamy and fresh with honey, ripe mango fruit, lemon, butter and baked apple, all with a touch of creamy lees — an impressive, fresh lean style with ripe fruit. Try this with chicken or fish before or during dinner.
Everyone is drinking pinot noir but finding a good one isn't easy. So I highly recommend Mud House Central Otago Pinot Noir $20. There is something delicious about entry-level Central Otago pinot noir and Mud House often hits the mark with its estate label. The fruit is grown at Bendigo and is gently de-stemmed, leaving a portion of whole berries that seem to deliver bright vivid fruit throughout the palate. Look for plums and dark cherries sprinkled with a savoury dried herbs finish — round and supple without too much oak showing through. Grilled chicken mains or salads would be a solid match for this terrific value New World red.