Wines to Buy for Other People (November 8, 2005)
Selecting a wine for other people is like walking through a social minefield. One wrong step and you could become the fellow who gets pointed at in restaurants; waiters talk about you in the kitchen and women with small dogs avoid you in the street. Avoid the embarrassment and self-loathing by following my wine buying advice. An easy way to side-step years of psychotherapy.
If you're buying a gift and you want to impress a) your demanding boss, b) your first date, c) your rich uncle, or d) your haughty hostess, the second-best idea is to order the most expensive bottle on the list. This will ensure that the wine in question is not consigned to the coq au vin and will make an imposing dent in your credit card.
Ontario Wine Guide
For years I've been hoping that someone would publish a pocket guide to Ontario wines that rated the wines produced by each winery. My wine writer colleague Konrad Ejbich has done us all a favour by doing just that and by tasting hundreds of Ontario wines over the years and telling us what we should be drinking and when. Laid out alphabetically, encyclopaedia style, this small volume is also a short course in wine appreciation, complete with annual vintage charts from 2004 back to 1988. A great stocking stuffer for the wine lover in your life.
(A Pocket Guide to Ontario Wines, Wineries, Vineyards and Vines by Konrad Ejbich, published by McClelland & Stewart, $22.99)
The best idea, however, is to choose a wine that all your giftees would have chosen for themselves because it punches above its weight. (This is a sporting metaphor that has nothing to do with taste, but I'm sure you get my drift.) One taste of the wine and the recipient will raise an eyebrow, say to themselves, "This only cost $17?" and immediately write the name down on the back of a Pusateri bill.
The wines I have chosen are all in the $12 to $20 range, the fastest growing category at the LCBO, I'm told. And each is a hidden gem.
Everyone should have Sauvignon Blanc in the cellar not only because this is my "desert island" white but because it's so versatile with food. I've gone with a Sauvignon from New Zealand rather than one from the Loire (which would be above my $20 limit): Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc a consistently well made wine with a flavour of passionfruit, gooseberry and freshly cut grass ($15.45, LCBO #426601).
Mission Hill in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley is one of wonders of the wine world architecturally, and John Simes makes wines there that live up to visual delight inspired by its neo-classical design. Vintages carries Mission Hill Family Estate Pinot Gris Reserve 2004 ($18.95, #537076). The wine has a nose of nectarines and citrus fruit; on the palate it's spicy peach with a touch of oak. (If you want to check which Vintages stores near you carry this or other Vintages selections I'm recommending, visit www.lcbo.com, key in the product number in the Search box and click on the wine name when it appears. Then click on Find Stores.)
Once the drinking classes have tired of Pinot Grigio, Semillon could be the next vogue wine. An excellent example of this flavourful grape is St. Hallett Semillon 2002 from Australia's Barossa Valley. Semillon is a wine that ages as well as Riesling. This one is neon yellow in colour with a nose of mace, peach and petrol. It's rich and mouth-filling with a lively peachy, spicy oak flavour and a nutty finish (Vintages, $18.95, #658005).
Willow Heights Chardonnay Sur Lie 2004 is an Ontario wine that you won't find at the LCBO, although you can pick it up from the winery in Niagara (3751 King Street, Vineland, ON; 905-562-4945, visit www.willowheightswinery.com. Or more easily, purchase through www.winerytohome.com. This is an unoaked Chardonnay in medium-bodied Chablis style. Fresh and crisp, it tastes of green apples, oranges and lemons a bargain at $11.95.
The renowned Torres company in Spain owns wineries in California (Marimar) and Chile (Santa Digna). For my first red I've chosen their Torres Santa Digna Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 from the Curico Valley in Chile. This wine is only available in Vintages ($13.95, #177451), but its price/value ratio is very good. It reminded me of a Bordeaux petit château with its elegant red berry bouquet, cedary note and firm structure.
The signature grape of Argentina is Malbec. Vintages brought in a well-aged version of this wine that is drinking well now: Weinert Malbec 1999 deep ruby colour, cedar and dried red berries on the nose; medium-bodied, intense, sweet raspberry flavour with an earthy note, very full on the palate (Vintages, $16.95, #556795).
Shiraz suggests Australia, but South Africa is making some mighty fine wines from this variety. Try Middelvlei Shiraz 2000 from Stellenbosch (Vintages, $16.95, #652602). The wine, dense tawny ruby in colour, has that characteristic blackberry and iodine nose; the fruit is sweet with a note of leather, a wine that lingers on the palate.
A good comparison between the two regional styles of Shiraz is to taste the Middelvlei against Hardy's Bankside Shiraz 2002 from South Australia. The colour here is dense purple-black; the nose, smoky, oaky blackberries; very elegant with sweet fruit and a firm finish.
Bouchard Père et Fils La Vignee Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2003 $17.65 (LCBO # 605667) is red Burgundy at an affordable price. The climate in Burgundy can be iffy, and for the Pinot Noir grape to ripen, it takes a lot of sunshine. In 2003 the sun really shone in Burgundy as it did throughout Europe. This wine has a deep ruby colour with a rich black cherry flavour and fresh acidity, but make sure it's the 2003 vintage you're buying.
My final red pick is also from down under Olsen Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 from Margaret River in Western Australia (Vintages, $19.95, # 689927). This wine is great value. Dense purple in colour; concentrated blackcurrant and spicy, vanilla oak nose; full-bodied, rich, sweet fruit, well extracted with a firm structure.
I can't leave this hit parade without a recommendation for my favourite sherry: Emilio Lustau Solera Reserva "Rare" Amontillado "Escuadrilla" (Vintages, $15.95 (375 mL), #660324). Deep bronze colour; nuts and raisins on the nose; medium-bodied, dry, elegant, great structure and balance with a long cashew nut finish.