Regular Pique readers will know it's time for our annual look back at the year in wine. That means an assessment of 12 months of tastings, meetings, tastings, travel and, you guessed it, more tastings. The idea is to use all the information gathered to come up with a dozen affordably priced wines you can serve over the holidays.
It may sound easy but the liquor stores — private and public — are awash in cheap, sweet wine these days so finding 12 interesting and affordable bottles that you would like to drink is not as easy as it sounds.
This year our travels took us to France, Spain, Italy, Chile, Argentina, Sonoma County and Napa Valley plus several trips to the Okanagan Valley as well as the usual scores of producer meetings in Vancouver.
Here are some of the best wines we tasted this year that you can serve throughout the holidays without hesitation.
We've double-checked to make sure they are widely available in government stores and, in some cases, private wine shops, so locating them shouldn't be too much of an issue — at least it wasn't at press time!
On the first day of Christmas... We begin with one of the best white wines made in the Okanagan: Terravista Fandango Albariño Verdejo 2013 $25. This is the third vintage of this blend — unique in the country — and its refreshing peach, pear, honeydew and spice will entertain your guest between bites. Kudos to winemaker Senka Tenant and her tiny, perfect Naramata bench winery.
Some of the best sauvignon blancs made in Chile are coming from Aconcagua Costa, and one to look for is Errazuriz Don Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013 $18. We love the mix of citrus and dried herbs with just enough passion fruit to give it a fruity underbelly. The finish is long and creamy. The perfect party wine for appetizers.
From the Okanagan comes another steal and a super food-friendly appetizer white — the Red Rooster Riesling 2013 $15. Packed full of pear, lime, green apple aromas and juicy, racy lime, honey, nectarine and green apple flavours, this just off-dry riesling will pair with anything with a touch of spice or heat. Amazing value, especially for B.C. Load up.
Best Rhone white of the year has to be Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2012 $14. The mix is grenache blanc/bourboulenc/clairette and as fresh and as lively as you could want for the price. The mix of floral scents and tropical fruits is flecked with citrus and stony, mineral notes. The finish is crisp and dry, allowing for countless seafood matches or pasta dishes in a cream sauce.
It's been a while since we have seen a new chardonnay release from CedarCreek but the CedarCreek Chardonnay 2012 $18, with about six per cent pinot gris in the blend, is first rate for the price. The oak is subtle and supports the texture without killing the ripe, tropical fruit notes mixed with grass and citrus notes that gush from the glass. Refreshing stylish, light, bright and mineral. The new Okanagan.
Finding tasty inexpensive pinot noir remains a challenge but fortunately the Chileans are responding. Our pick is the Tabali Reserva Pinot Noir 2012 $20, from the Limari Valley. Red fruit aromas and flavours dominate while the palate is soft and alluring with more sweet fruit and a spicy finish.
And on the seventh day of Christmas we always stop for sparkling wine. This year our champagne pick is Champagne Le Mesnil N/V $55. It's easy to like this classy little bubble that brings purity and complexity to the mix pushing its delicate fruit into the background allowing the minerality and brioche notes to play a prominent role in the bottle. A rare grand cru at this price that easily over delivers in the Champagne category. Gougere, anyone?
Australia is the theme of the upcoming Vancouver International Wine Festival and one of the reds under $20 that impressed us this year is Caravan Petite Sirah 2012 $17. Johnny Q makes friendly red wines and this 100 per cent durif or petit sirah is all that and a bit more. Soft, smoky, ripe plum fruit with a twist of spice and warmth make it very easy sipping. A party red you could also pour with turkey.
A favourite Italian pick for the year has to be Verso Rosso Salento 2013 $20. Delicious soft, juicy red with a touch of "appassimento" (dried grapes). The colour is dark, the nose spicy, the palate southern Italian rustic but with smoky, silky textures. Perfect for beef appetizers, meatballs and cheese.
Argentina makes the Christmas list this year with Crios Malbec by Susana Balbo of Dominio de Plata 2013 $17. A 95/5 mix of malbec and bonarda from fruit grown above 1100 metres, you'll love its aromatic floral/violet, black fruit nose and savoury mix of black fruit, spice in a balanced measured way. A wonderful dinner wine for the holidays.
Our German pick is the delicious Selbach Riesling (Fish Label) 2013 $16. Awash in a juicy, delicate palate with a nice sugar-acid balance, it presents on the less sweet side. Honey, floral, guava, orange, green apple and lime flavours. Fine elegance and fruit in an easy-drinking, food-friendly style. Great with Thai food.
We returned to real California zinfandel this year with Rock Wall Wine Co. Obsideana 2012 $30, made by veteran zin guru Kent Rosenbloom and his daughter. Obsideana is a 50/50 mix of zinfandel and petite sirah. It's a rich, heady wine and delicious. Smoky barbecue meats are the perfect match.
And on the twelfth day of Christmas... we relaxed with a delicious bottle of Dow's Late Bottled Vintage Port 2008 $26 from Portugal. The Dow's LBV brings a slightly drier style of port to the early drinking port market. These black fruits, spice, black licorice, orange peel, dried fig and smoky, tobacco flavours will work with Christmas cake, chocolates, roasted nuts or a great fire and a good book.
Happy holidays! That's it for 2014 — we'll start all over in a couple weeks. And remember be responsible and don't 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.