Food and drink: Red and white wines to beat the recession blues 

Taxing times call for relaxing wines

It's that time of year when traditionally many of us find ourselves short of funds. Toss in a recession and a fast approaching Revenue Canada deadline and, frankly, we could all use a glass of overtaxed wine. But will it go on sale?

Retailers in the United States are now saying that the new $40-wine is $25 and everybody is looking for value. How that shakes out in Canada, where the old $25-wine is $40, remains to be seen. Our provincial government, through its monopoly wine stores, continues to apply some of the highest liquor taxes in the world to its products, and it doesn't look like that will change, recession or no recession.

Trading down is the major retail strategy. That's where you trade down to lesser wines, and they more or less get the same tax revenue.

So our best advice is to use the recession to extract yourself from the expensive wine scene and get back to enjoying affordable, drinkable wine. The trick is locating those best buys, never an easy task.

If value means getting the most for your money, don't be fooled into thinking only inexpensive wine (such as those under $10) can offer value. There is wine value at all price points. Think about it - how much of that $10 you spend on your favourite wine represents anything to do with the cost of the juice in the bottle? Could it be a dollar? Possibly, but chances are it's even less than that, which gives you an idea of how difficult it is to uncover great buys in the $10 to $20 range.

This month we have gone in search of wines that over-deliver in flavour and mouth feel for the price. It's hardly a definitive list, but we want to at least give you a starting point.

Each pick should easily tide you over until all the holiday bills are paid or that fat refund check arrives from Revenue Canada. And if you feel the least bit antsy about serving your guests bargain wine, simply decant it into a clear glass container and serve it blind (just for a few minutes) and they will never suspect how little you paid.

I can promise you this - once your friends develop a taste for wines that over deliver for their price there's no going back to less for more. So let's get started.

We've previously mentioned the tasty Blue Nun Riesling 2007 ($11) from the Rheinhessen region of Germany, and because more has arrived, we can't resist reminding you to check out this crazy riesling value that definitely over delivers.

Another good pan-Asian food partner to experiment with anytime is Michel Torino Cuma Organic Torrontés 2008 ($12) from the high Calchaqui Valley in Argentina. Cuma means "clean and pure" in the language of the Aymara, the pre-Incan inhabitants of the Cafayate high plains, an appropriate name since both viticulture and winemaking at Cuma meet certified organic guidelines. As for the wine itself, it's an intriguing mix of roses, jasmine and green peaches/nectarines.

A local version of aromatic and tasty that over delivers is the Wild Goose Gewurztraminer 2007 ($19) from the Okanagan Valley. It's delicious stuff with spicy, litchi fruit flavours flecked with bits of rose petal and a crisp finish of lemons and tangerines.

Speaking of crisp, the Mount Riley Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($20) delivers a fresh, crisp, elegant style on the palate with grassy, lemon, grapefruit and gooseberry flavours. A great aperitif wine or match up with spicy chicken.

I also love the Rolf Binder Highness Riesling 2007 ($20) from the Eden Valley. The Oz riesling style is more in-your-face with its floral lime nose and delicious peachy, chalky fruit flecked with lemons and limes. Great with crab or a variety of sushi. Impressive for the money.

If you are a viognier fan, the Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2007 ($28) should be your go-to bottle. Bask in its honey, acacia, buttery, vanilla, orange and creamsicle flavours and savour the balance. One of their best efforts.

Turning to red wine, look to the Graham Beck Shiraz Viognier 2006 ($15) from South Africa to warm you up. The shiraz and viognier are co-fermented to heighten the spice and floral notes in what is a super-soft, ripe, red wine with big peppery, black fruit notes. Steak, anyone?

The Elqui Valley is a special place nestled against the Andes Mountain in northern Chile and home to another great value, Chono Reserva Syrah 2006 ($18). This is a big round, supple, forward-style red with plenty of licorice, menthol, black cherry and spicy, meaty, white pepper flavours made to drink now.

Spanish superstar winemaker Telmo Rodriguez loves B.C. and has given the province some wines most of the rest of the world never see. The Telmo Rodriguez Gago 2005 ($20) is tempranillo that will impress your pocketbook and your palate with its big smoky cherry, plum flavours with bits of orange, liquorice and vanilla flavours. Warm but well balanced with a long finish - think roasted meats or birds.

And the Pillar Box Reserve Shiraz 2006 ($20) makes our best-value list for those who love that over-the-top, hedonistic style shiraz. Look for milk chocolate, pepper, liquorice, vanilla, prunes, blackberry jam and tobacco flavours.

Our final red this month is the Norton Privada 2005 ($25), a malbec, cabernet sauvignon, merlot blend from the prestigious Luján de Cuyo region of Mendoza, Argentina. Peppery, smoky, licorice, black cherry jam fruit is the story here, mixed with dried herbs, savoury, minty, orange peel, mocha and chocolate flavours. Suave, with great fruit and acidity. Bring on the grilled meat entrées.

And just for pure fun, check out Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato D'Asti 2007 ($18) with its crisp, fresh, somewhat sweet, fizzy palate. Peach, spicy, litchi fruit is the story here. You can serve it before or after dinner anytime to keep any kind of blues at bay.

Good hunting!

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


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