You knew this was coming. It's Christmas and that means tradition and here at Pique that means a look back on 12 months of travel, tastings, meetings and tramping around vineyards across the international wine world in search of a dozen affordably priced wines you can serve over the holidays.
Much has transpired in 2013, including the collision of two new wine categories. On one hand there's the disturbing move to cheap and not-so-cheap sickeningly sweet red wines while, on the other hand, a small band of producers are heading in the opposite direction cranking out a fresher style red made with less new oak and more red fruits, a style that's more food-friendly when young.
But let's put that aside for the moment and celebrate the good this month with a selection of bottles we double checked at press time to make sure they're widely available in government stores and, in some cases, in private wine shops.
This year my travels took me to France, Spain, Italy, Niagara, Sonoma County, Napa Valley and to the Okanagan several times, as well as meeting scores of producers who travel regularly to Vancouver to visit the market. Here are some personal favourites.
On the first day of Christmas... We begin with the best value sauvignon blanc in the market and it doesn't come from New Zealand. The Santa Carolina 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva $13 from Leyda, Chile is crazy good and dirt cheap. Fresh, creamy and juicy, its floral, passion fruit, pink grapefruit, grassy, nettle flavours over delivers for its price. Shellfish, sushi and or chicken all work.
From the Okanagan, another steal and a super food-friendly appetizer white is the Gray Monk 2011 Riesling $15. The palate is all freshness and minerality with green fruits, lemon grass and mineral characters. It was the top scoring riesling, top Canadian wine, and best wine in the $15-$25 category at the WineAlign 2013 World Wine Awards.
Best Rhone white of the year has to be M. Chapoutier 2012 Domaine de Bila-Haut Blanc $16, a blend grenache blanc and gris with macabeo. It is round with a juicy, fruity, citrus/ginger nose splashed with orange peel, wet stones and salt. Calamari, chicken, or pair with creamy pastas.
My two favourite value chardonnays for 2013 have to be the Mission Hill 2012 Five Vineyards Chardonnay $15. Love the fresh bright style and the pear and green apple fruit with floral mineral support. Equally inviting is the Penfolds Koonunga Hill 2011 Chardonnay $15. Here pear, honey and butter aromas and flavours mix with light lees and brioche. Turkey is a fine match; so, too, is fresh cracked crab.
Consumers continued their love affair with pinot noir in 2013, attracted to its soft, round sweet fruit nature. Our pick is the Cono Sur 2011 Single Vineyard Block 21 Pinot Noir Viento Mar $20 from Valle de San Antonio, Chile. Dry, fresh, juicy, with savoury, celery, cherry, coffee and rhubarb flavours with a hint of tea and smoke on the finish. Good elegance and fruit intensity. Tough to beat the value here.
And on the sixth day of Christmas we always stop for sparkling wine. This year our champagne pick is Moët & Chandon 2004 Grand Vintage $81. Fresh, crisp and creamy with plenty of baked Granny Smith apples, quince, raspberry and toasted nut flavours. Try this with cheese sticks warmed in the oven.