It would seem 2016 will be the year of the American tourist in Whistler, and what a year it could be. With the U.S. dollar now worth $1.45 Canadian it means most everything in Canada that's for sale is half price. That can mean a lot when it comes to food and accommodation in Whistler, and even more when you relate it to liquor.
B.C. is a monopoly controlled liquor market with some of the highest liquor taxes in the world, so it figures that whenever you can cut your booze bill in half (as the American dollar is doing) it makes sense to try and take advantage of the situation. Remember, there is no wholesale price for wine or beer or spirits in B.C. In fact, Whistler restaurants and hotels that buy millions of dollars of liquor a year pay the same price per bottle as any local or tourist who buys a single bottle in a local liquor store.
Don't ask why. It's what makes us Canadian. But what you need to do is come up with a plan to maximize your money when buying wine in B.C.
Let's begin with local wines. Your choices are varied and the quality is good to very good in most cases. But there are no bargains in the under-$10 range, or even the $15-range. You'll have to spend over $20 for a good bottle and that means $40 to $50 in a restaurant. But it's not a disaster when you use that strong $1.45 American dollar, so consider at least exploring the local market, especially at the top end.
Here's how to look at it.
If you love sushi there are some great spots in Whistler to grab excellent takeout. In government liquor stores pick up a bottle of the Gray Monk 2013 Riesling ($13.89). Aromatic, fresh and pure, this delicious white will work with sushi or with an Indian curry. After taxes and exchange, you'll be paying about U.S. $11.
If you're a true chardonnay aficionado, one of the best in the province is the Mission Hill Family Estate 2013 Perpetua Chardonnay ($42.99). This is a beautiful, cool-climate style chardonnay with mineral, stony underpinnings and nutty, bright apple fruit characters. Perfect with chicken or creamy pasta dishes or a local favourite — halibut. After taxes and exchange, it will come in around U.S. $34.
If you're more of a big red wine fan, consider the Black Hills Syrah ($32.99) from the south Okanagan. This is gamey, savoury, vanilla, peppery, blackberry jam flavoured red with just enough softness to offset its power. After taxes and exchange, it's about U.S. $26. Almost a bargain, given its pedigree.
Turning to imports, there are some great buys from Argentina when malbec is on the menu. Two wines to look out for are the Clos de los Siete ($22.49) and the Catena Alta Malbec Historic Rows 2012 ($49.95).
The Clos de los Siete is a masterful blend of malbec, merlot cabernet sauvignon and syrah made by renowned Bordeaux wine consultant, Michel Rolland. This is an ideal wine for a steak and chimmichurri sauce. After taxes and exchange, you'll be paying about U.S. $17.75.
The Catena Alta Malbec Historic Rows 2012 is a perfect introduction to real malbec. The nose is awash in ripe, red and blackberry fruits, and the attack is juicy, refreshing, almost grapey, but with spice and sweet, round tannins and a long, smooth undercarriage. Stew, grilled beef or oven-roasted chicken would be a fine match here. Again, after taxes and exchange, it's about U.S. $39.50.
Despite a rising euro you can still find some terrific buys in the south of France where red blends are king. Using American dollars here should net some terrific values. One of our favourites is the Régis Boucabeille Les Terrasses 2014, Côtes du Roussillon Villages ($20.49). Farmed organically, this delicious juicy red is packed full of plums, smoky wild blackberries and raspberries, and dried wild herbs. Ribs are the ticket here. After taxes and exchange you will be paying a giveaway U.S. $16.60.
Still in the south of France look for Domaine de Cébène Les Bancèls 2013 ($27.99) from Faugères in the Coteaux du Languedoc. It would be easy to mistake this wine for more expensive Rhône reds. Expect a fresh, red-fruited wine awash in white pepper and a terrific acidity. The palate is velvety and fresh with a strong undercurrent of dried herbs or garrigue so prevalent in the south. Lamb and or beef is the match. Stock up. Should be on every restaurant list in Whistler. After taxes and exchange you will be paying about U.S. $22.
One of the star producers of the south of France is Gérard Bertrand. This larger-than-life, bio-dynamic grower has put the modern South of France on the wine map. You can buy the Gérard Bertrand Chateau L'Hospitalet La Reserve La Clape 2012 ($23.49) and get yourself a savoury red with aging power. Look for a smoky, meaty, black cherry, pepper nose that spreads out across the palate. Fresh and balanced, try this with grilled lamb chops or beef. After taxes and exchange you will be paying just over U.S. $18.50.
A personal favourite is the Pierre Henri Morel Signargues Côtes du Rhône Villages 2012 ($19.49) from the Rhône Valley. Grenache and syrah dominate here, offering you a friendly winter red. Black licorice, peppery, black raspberry jam, coffee, savoury, orange peel and dried herbs mark the palate. Splash decant, and serve with hamburgers or a meaty pasta sauce. After taxes and exchange, this is a giveaway at just over U.S. $15.40.
Finally, a full-blooded winter red you can serve daily is the Chateau Peyros Madiran Tannat Cabernet Franc 2010 ($20.00) from southwest France. We love the fragrant, bright, red fruit nose and the juicy rich meaty, smoky, black fruit flavours. Lamb would be a good match or marinated grilled flank steak. Again, after taxes and exchange, this is a giveaway at U.S. $16.50.
Welcome to Whistler, where at least for the moment, the American dollar rules.
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.
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