Food and drink 

The Twelve Wines of Christmas

As far as I know there are still 365 days in a year but it seems to me 2009 has moved along at a pace that would suggest I missed a few.

A year ago the economy was in the dumper and value wines were all the rage.

This December, according to industry types, value wines are mostly all you are buying. As for the economy, well, it remains a work in progress.

While wine is taking a longer route back to the mainstream, I wanted to suggest 12 wines for the holidays that meet the value quotient but which deliver something much richer - a story and a sense of origin that makes you want to know it better.

Of course, feel free to use them for entertaining or to serve on the big day.

We begin in Chile's cool, Leyda Valley with the Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2009 $12 . The nose is an attractive mix of zesty grapefruit, jalapeno, lemon, nettle and passionfruit aromas while on the palate this versatile appetizer wine is packed full of grapefruit rind, lemon grass, granny smith and smoky jalapeno flavours. It's a very bright light for Santa Carolina and Chile, delivering a modern, important single appellation wine at an incredible price.

Speaking of killer value, the Pascual Toso Malbec 2008 $14 from Mendoza has been making a habit of over-delivering for the money. Consistency is the story of Toso. Always rich and savoury, it offers plenty of liquorice and sweet black fruit up front and a warm, minty, peppery, smooth back end. A crowd pleaser without a lot of complexity but plenty of long showy fruit. Steaks, anyone? Or serve it as a holiday party red.

Grab a bottle of Torres Vina Esmeralda 2008 $14.50 and take it to Christmas dinner if turkey is on the menu.  Esmeralda has really elevated its game under screwcap. The Upper Penedès white blend of 85/15 gewürztraminer/moscatel jumps out of your glass with bright fresh aromatic fruit and zesty, bright lychee, green apple, lemon lime and tropical melon flavours. You can serve it solo before dinner but it will be great with the bird, too.

Organic wines are saving the Earth one bottle at a time, and you can participate with the Emiliana Adobe Syrah Reserva Orgánico 2007 $15 . This wine has been impressive from its first release and the latest is no exception. Look for smoky blue and black fruits with peppery, spicy, mineral, notes on the nose and in the mouth. The palate is slippery with a lush dense weight New World syrah finish. Great value here.

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