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Food and drink: Lucky strike for the holidays

Gismondi’s top 10 wine picks of the year for under $25

With most of Whistler hunkering down for an economically challenging ski season, visitors and operators alike are looking for deals. So I’m thinking, what about wine?

If you haven’t noticed, wine is big business in Whistler, and while some of the world’s greatest bottles have been flowing effortlessly in many local restaurants for a decade, this may be the winter best-value wines make their return to wine lists and wine shops.

Whether they do or don’t, you can save some big dollars and still drink some terrific wines just by checking out the list below the next time you go wine shopping.

But the question remains: where is the real value?

Each year I taste somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 wines, record their notes and keep track of my scores. It’s all recorded in my database at .

But this year I’ve gone one step further in search of great value wines. Recently, I’ve developed a new program that allows me to determine which of all the wines I’ve reviewed in a single year represent superior value. The complex calculation takes into account the score (out of 100) awarded the wine, its retail price, as well as when it was last tasted and how long it has been on the market. The resulting e-valuator numerical quotient measures and then ranks all the wines tasted in 2008.

So to herald the Christmas holiday season and wrap up the year, here are my picks for the current top 10 most valuable wines tasted in 2008. Each sells for less than $25 and most are sold in government liquor stores. It’s a great holiday shopping list for wines and unlike any other, this one really does over-deliver.


No. 10: Homegrown Mission Hill Sauvignon Blanc Five Vineyards 2007 ($14) from Okanagan Valley makes the list with this ultra-fresh and zippy white. The latest edition is creamier — a fine offset to the lime rind, kiwi fruit, pear, gooseberry and mineral flavours. Think white meats, white sauces, white fish when you reach for this very good white wine.

No. 9: Chile is capable of turning out delicious syrah as evidenced by this Chono Reserva Syrah 2006 ($18) from the Elqui Valley, the home of Pisco. I love its smooth, supple, forward style and liquorice, menthol, black cherry, meaty, white pepper flavours. Attractive style for current drinking.

No. 8: The Toro region of Spain is the source of Toro Tinta de Toro 2006 ($15, private wine stores only) . The grape is 100 per cent local tinta de Toro or tempranillo. Typically soft and fruity, this red is best when it is decanted vigorously to get some air on it. The Toro is mix of berries earth and spice, with just the right twist of rusticity and a glossy, smooth, dry finish. Think meat or spaghetti Bolognese. Delicious.

No 7: Back in stock and just a crazy value is Blue Nun 2007 Riesling ($11) from Rheinhessen, Germany. This wine over delivers, to say the least, with its bright fruit and zingy acidity. Do not confuse this wine with the sweet original Liebfraumilch, and do not underestimate its price/quality ratio. Surprise your guests with some Thai or Chinese food and Blue Nun Riesling.

No. 6: A perennial star in this market Finca Los Primos Malbec 2007 ($10) from San Rafael in southern Mendoza has “party red” written all over it, and that’s a lot of writing. Showy black fruit, liquorice and savoury notes fade into its soft and supple textures.

No. 5: Check out the latest Pentâge Winery Pinot Gris 2007 ($18, private wine shops only) grown on the spectacular Skaha Bench in the Okanagan Valley. The entry is ripe and round; the palate is fresh and elegant with pink grapefruit, lime and mineral flavours spiked with green apple skin, honey and light lees flavours. Love the citrus character with fine intensity and finesse. Good value here, and certainly now among the finest pinot gris made in British Columbia.

No. 4: Another Argentine bargain, this time from Rio Negro, is the Diego Murillo Malbec 2007 ($10) with its peppery, savoury, liquorice nose; dry, supple palate; and black cherry, meaty, licorice, savoury, spicy, plum flavours. Fine fruit in an easy-sipping style. A budget “turkey red” you should decant for maximum pleasure. Big value.

No. 3: Dow's Late Bottled Vintage Port 2001 ($24) is a very pretty port you can savour over the holidays. Look for ripe sweet black cherry fruit with spice, liquorice, coffee and tea aromas. Fresh and floral on the palate, with excellent balance and very pretty peppery, black cherry jam fruit flavours flecked with chocolate and smoke. A stylish LBV — simply open, pour yourself a glass, recork, and store in a cool place.

No. 2: Among the finest vintages of the past 100 years has spawned Quinta do Crasto Douro Vinho Tinto 2007 ($20) , with its fabulously fragrant black fruit nose. On the palate, it swarms the senses with rich peppery, black plum fruit with that quintessential cocoa/Christmas pudding finish. Super intense, yet fragrant, and with a surprisingly low alcohol level of 13.5, the result of cool nights in the Upper Douro. No oak, just the essence of the Douro. This is a special bottle.

No 1: I could have chosen a number of Cono Sur labels for this slot, from the viognier to the pinot noir, but my pick is the Cono Sur Gewurztraminer Limited Release 2007 ($11) . Much like last year, the ’07 is made from fruit grown in the cold Bio Bio Valley. It opens with big floral orange peel notes with bits of honey and spice. The flavours are fruit forward with ginger, orange, nectarine and grapefruit all with a splash of minerality. Perfect for turkey, but just as versatile with Indian or Thai food.

Happy Holidays, be safe and, please, drink responsibly!


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 .