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Recession-Buster Reds (November 19, 2008)

That great 20th-century philosopher George Best once said, "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered."

Money spent on wine is never wasted, although I cannot attest to expenditure on the other two pursuits the famous Northern Irish footballer had in mind (and by "birds" he didn't mean Audubon). Since I am writing this on the day that the Toronto Stock Exchange dropped over 800 points – the largest one-day plummet since Noah frog-marched the animals onto the ark (yes, there were frogs too, otherwise there would be no frogs' legs on restaurant menus today) – we must all think twice about how we spend our disposable income on buying wine.

Now, if you agree that wine is a food group (like Lindt chocolate) and therefore must always be available on the dinner table, then it's time to scale back the wine-purchasing budget. Forget about those First Growth Bordeaux or Domaine-bottled Burgundies.

The prices of the very best wines are spiraling out of reach for all but Russian billionaires, rock stars, baseball players and winners of Lotto 649. (Incidentally, the newly minted millionaires in China and India are also getting into the fine wine game.) So I guess I won't be buying any Château Pétrus 2005 at $4,975 a bottle or even those highly desirable other red Bordeaux Châteaux Le Pin, Ausone or Lafleur from the same vintage that now fetch a cool $2,000 a bottle.

Okay, so what's my wine buying strategy in these turbulent economic times? Look for good, flavourful wines in the $10 to $15 a bottle price range until your Bre-X shares make a comeback.

This column is about drinkable red wines in the melt-down, bail-out, bargain basement category. Where do you find them? In Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, Spain, Portugal and even France. Cut this page out and stick it to the fridge with a magnet. Here are twelve reds that will see you through any financial crisis.

Flor de Crasto 2006 (Portugal)
$9.95 (LCBO #89870)
A bargain-priced table wine from Quinta do Crasto, a Douro Valley wine farm that also makes terrific port. This wine is made from three of the grapes used for making port. It's a gutsy medium-bodied wine with flavours of black cherry and spicy oak with soft dusty tannins on the finish.

J & F Lurton Les Salices Pinot Noir 2007 (Languedoc, France)
$11.95 (LCBO #28761)
A bargain-priced Pinot that tastes just fine. Ruby coloured with a dry black cherry flavour, quite full on the palate with lots of extract and soft tannins.

Robertson Winery Shiraz 2006 (Robertson Valley, South Africa)
$11.95 (LCBO #610949)
A well priced Shiraz with lots of flavour. Dense ruby colour with smoky black plum nose. Medium-bodied with sweet blackberry and plum flavours and a hint of pepper. Finishes with a note of smoky, charred oak.


Five Bargain Whites

Cono Sur Viognier 2007 (Chile)
$9.95 (LCBO # 64287)

Aveleda Fonte Vinho Verde 2007 (Portugal)
$8.45 (LCBO #5322)

Vina MontGras Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2007 (Chile)
$11.30 (LCBO #58362)

Nederburg Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (South Africa)
$11.45 (LCBO #382713)

Yellow Tail Pinot Grigio 2007 (Australia)
$11.20 (LCBO #68254)

Hardy's Nottage Hill Shiraz 2006 (South Australia)
$13.95 (LCBO #375964)
A well-priced Aussie Shiraz. Dense ruby colour; smoky black cherry nose with a note of leather; medium-bodied, sweet black cherry fruit with a solid acidic spine. Finishes on a minty note with soft, plushy tannins.

Bodegas Osborne Solaz Merlot Tempranillo 2005 (Spain)
$10.75 (LCBO #74021)
Dense purple colour with a nose of dark chocolate, earth and coconut; it's medium-bodied with plum and blackberry flavours. An easy drinking wine.

J. M. da Fonseca Periquita 2005 (Terras do Sado, Portugal)
$9.40 (LCBO #25262)
The Portuguese equivalent of Beaujolais. Deep ruby, cherry and strawberry aromas; light and easy drinking with soft tannins.

Caliterra Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Chile)
$11.90 (LCBO #257329)
Deep ruby colour; ripe red berry bouquet with an earthy note; medium-bodied, fruit driven with blackcurrant and red currant flavours; well balanced.

Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2007 (Chile)
$10.45 (LCBO #341602)
Deep ruby in colour with a spicy black cherry nose; medium-bodied, fruity with mellow tannins. Good varietal character.

Bodegas Esmeralda Argento Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Argentina)
$10.10 (LCBO #589523)
Ruby with violet notes; spicy, floral black cherry and oak bouquet; dry, medium to full-bodied with a sweet fruit core but finishes dry.

Lizard Flat Cabernet Merlot (Australia)
$12.85 (1000 mL; LCBO #20602)
Deep ruby colour; concentrated red berry fruit with spicy oak; soft easy drinking.

Mezzomondo Negroamaro Salento 2007 (Italy)
$8.40 (LCBO #588962)
Deep ruby; rustic, earthy, cherry nose; sweet plumy, savoury fruit with good acidity.




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