Champagne and Other 'Champagnes'

Dec 28, 2009

...the girls' faces brighter than roses and the sparkle...
the hiss of sparkling wine-glasses...
- Aleksandr Pushkin

In just a few short days, 2010 will be here as the Old Year will replace the New. Typically, we celebrate this changing of the guard with kisses at midnight and the wines that sparkle. But as both Miguel Cervantes and Robert Frost once remarked, all that glitters is not gold, and if we think of wine, the same can almost also be said: all that sparkles is not Champagne.


For as long as I’ve known, Champagne will always be the by-word for sparkling wines the way that Kleenex has become synonymous with facial tissue. It’s here to stay. EU laws states that a wine must be from Champagne, in Northern France for it to be sold as Champagne. But when people say they are drinking Champagne when it's actually sparkling wine, they’re actually not that far off the mark.

Champagne, like many other sparkling wines is made using the traditional method (or méthod champenoise). The steps are as follows:

FIRST FERMENTATION: like every other wine, the producer has to make a still wine. So there's a harvest (in Champagne, there are three main varieties used: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay), the varieties ferment separately and wine is made. 

BLENDING:Each Champagne house has its own distinct style and taste so the blender will  work accordingly, aiming to stay consistent with the brand (some use just a bit of Pinot Meunier, the majority of the blend being Pinot Noir and Chardonnay).

Typically, the different wines will be non-vintage, meaning the wines for Champagne can be from any number of years. (If the vintage is stated, the wine must be 100% from that year.) Other things to keep in mind:

Blanc de Blanc – a wine made from white grapes only (i.e. just Chardonnay).
Blanc de Noirs – a white wine made from red grapes (i.e. Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier).

Veuve Cliquot - famous Champagne House - example of vintage Champagne

SECOND FERMENTATION: Before bottling, a small amount of liquer de tirage (a wine containing sugar, yeast nutrients and a clarifying agent) will be added to the now blended wine. Once in the bottles,  the second fermentation gets going. A temporary seal is then used as a closure and the wines are laid to rest horizontally.

In Champagne, the cellars where the bottles are placed are traditionally fairly cold - 
EQUATION : lower temperature equals slower fermentation equals complexity of the flavours.

The yeasts in the bottle work and eat away at the sugar, creating three important things: alcohol, CO2, and a final deposit (wait: why is the deposit important? wait and see).

While the wine slowly ferments, the gas is unable to escape from the bottle and slowly dissolves into the wine, thus giving us the bubbles when we pop the cork.

MATURATION: As the dead yeast cells break down and their enzymes interact with the wine (a process called yeast autolysis), the wine takes on new characteristics and the result is a ‘bready, biscuit, toasty’ taste. This is because Non-vintage Champagne has to be aged a minimum of 15 months and vintage, at least thee years giving the dead yeast cells time to intermingle with the other flavours of the wine.

RIDDLING: So now we have this wine with a deposit in it. How do we get rid of it?

Riddling is the answer. The bottle has been lying horizontally (sur latte) with the deposit on the side in a rack called a pupitre. The holes in the pupitre allows for the bottle to be placed at different angles. Over time, a skilled remueur (or I guess Riddler… if you wanted to be silly) will come along and skillfully, gradually, every so carefully give each bottle a gentle shake and twist and incline the bottle toward the vertical position.                                                            Pupitres in Champagne wine cellar

DISGORGEMENT: We’re almost done. Almost there.

Once this sediment has slid towards the cork and the bottle is nearly vertical, the neck of the bottle is frozen in a brine solution. From there, the bottles are placed upright on a conveyor belt, the ice holding the solid solution. The temporary cork is removed, the plug of ice with the deposit is ejected under pressure.

DOSAGE: Of course during the disgorgement stage, some wine is lost. As I mentioned, each Champagne house is different and some want their wines sweeter than others. It is fair to say, the majority of Champagne is dry (it used to be sweet, the Russian Tzars drank sweet Champagne by the bucket-load) but during the dosage stage, the kind of wine used to top up the bottle can be high in sugar. Here are a few terms to consider when buying Champagne:

Brut Nature – absolutely dry (as dry as dry can be).
Extra Brut – very dry
Brut – very dry to reasonably dry
Extra Sec or Extra Dry – off-dry to medium dry (just a bit of sweet in other words).
Sec/Dry/Secco/Seco/Trocken – medium dry (a bit more sweet)
Demi-Sec/Semi-Dulce/Abbocato/Halbtrocken – a bit on the sweet
Doux/Sweet/Dolce/Dulce/Doce – really sweet…lush…

Crémant – besides Champagne, other French regions such as Burgundy, Alsace and the Loire also make traditional method sparkling wine. On the label you’ll often see Crémant de Bourgogne, etc… These wines can be made with other white wines such as Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Chenin Blanc.

Cava – Spanish sparkling wine is perhaps the closest you can get to the real thing (I swear by Cava and love it and some wine lovers can distinguish between them). The majority of the wine comes from the vineyards of Penedés in Catalonia (northeast Spain), the wine can be produced in other regions such as Rioja and Navarra.

For Cava to be truly Cava, it must spend a minimum of nine months in bottle before disgorgement (also the cork must have a four-pointed star on its base). It’s dry, easy to drink, low in acid and very similar to Champagne with that bready, yeasty taste. The main grapes, however are different and include Maccabeo (aka, Viura in Rioja), Xarel-lo and Parellada. Some producers are also using Chardonnay but unlike Champagne, Cava is rarely made for aging. 

New World – outside Europe, you can find some excellent sparkling wines made in the traditional method in New Zealand, California, Australia and South America. But you have to keep an eye out for the real deal. Some New World wines are made using other methods (Tank, Carbonation) and won’t have the same charisma and characteristics of Champagne. Be cautious and look for labels that explain the method (i.e. Made Using the Traditional Method, etc..).


The Cheap and the Cheerful for Christmas - Ontario Wines

Dec 18, 2009

Earlier in the month I recommended a few budget-friendly international wines. Today I'm going to devote an entry to some Ontario wines.

First things first, if you didn't get a chance to read Monique Beech's articles in the St.Catharines' Standard about the 'Cellared in Canada' wines then I have to say check the link. I know Jackson Triggs and Peller  Estates both have cheap wines but unless they're VQA (Vintner's Quality Alliance) they're not a 100% percent Canadian. If you want to support Canada 100%, you have to go the wineries or the VQA section at the LCBO.

But a lot of complaints I hear from friends and contacts is that Ontario wines are expensive. Compared to a cheap Chilean or Spanish wine, yes, they're not typically nine dollars but the thing is these countries have a lot more acreage devoted to vine land.

Ontario and especially British Columbia's wine regions are as far north as you're going to get in North American when it comes to grape growing. In order for the vine to flourish, it needs four seasons. In places like Brazil, there can be numerous harvests but because the vine hasn't experienced a dormancy period, it's very much close to impossible to produce a decent wine (unless you're high up in the mountains).

I am a firm believer in supporting our local economy (even it means spending $12.00 instead of $ what...?).


Chateau des Charmes  'Silver Label' 2006 Cabernet VQA
The French-Style chateau on York Rd is hard (extremely hard) to miss. I remember numerous Christmas afternoons passing the stately winery on the way to my aunt's for Christmas dinner. She served the typical fair (yams, buttery mashed potatoes, mouth-watering pork and turkey) along with Ukrainian perogies and cabbage rolls. During dinner, the guys watched sports, beer bottles in hand while the women, swirling their  wine glasses gossiped in the dining area. We kids traditionally got into trouble, usually doing something stupid in the basement (or nearly breaking a window with a bow and arrow - my bad....).

If you're looking for an easy way to support your Ontario wineries, this wine is a must. This wine is medium bodied with notes of seductive, solemn leather, earthy raspberries and black currants with just a zing of green pepper.

Get out of the Cellared in Canada section and buy this red VQA at $9.95!

Pelee Island Gamay/Zweigelt 'Night Glider' VQA
If you bring this wine to a Christmas dinner or party, you might get a few people asking about the crazy bat on the label (it's actually a Southern Flying Squirrel... poor little guy).

Or... the other question: What the *bleep* is Zweigelt?

Well Zweigelt (or Blauer Zweigelt if you're in Central Europe) is one of the most popular Austrian dark-grape varieties. Dr. Zweigelt crossed Blaufräkisch and St-Luarent, combing the bite of the first with earth elegance of the latter.

The grape ripens early and in southwest Ontario, it's not a bad thing. Some experts feel the grape's name is hampered by the originator's difficult to pronounce name (sf-VAI-gelt).

For $10.95 you can get this dark chocolate, black currant and cherry charmer. Ideal with pasta dashes but would be a nice compliment to hearty stew.

Konzelmann 2007 Riesling VQA
I was a networking event earlier in the month (the same one, if you've read my Wine and Food Pairing for the Holidays entry where our MC jokingly said we all needed to check into AA) where myself and several other colleagues shared a bottle Konzelmann's 2007 Riesling.

It's always a bit more expensive in the restaurant (I won't tell you what we paid) but at the LCBO, for $11.95, you can't resist this pearl of a wine. Apricot, apple, hints of honey and light petrol, this wine is a scintillating dance of flavours, structured but sensuous. 

Best of all, the staff at Konzelmann are some of the best I've ever met. Friendly, knowledgeable and the most enthusiastic bunch next to those at Inniskillin. When I first moved back to Ontario after living six years in B.C., I headed over to Konzelmann. I kept coming back.

When the summer season is back in swing, I'll be back there trying the latest.

I know we had to tighten our spending. It sucks, we're all feeling the pinch. But for those who live in Ontario, it's our home and we make fantastic wines. I'd rather spend $12.00 on a spectacular wine than $9.00 on a passable international. In Ontario, the winemakers here rarely, if ever, make plonk. I think we can be proud of that. 



A Puccini Pairing - La Bohème and the Wines of France

Back in March of this year, I discovered that Austrian film director Robert Dornhelm had made a movie adaptation of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème.

The best part: Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko (the 'Golden Couple' - pictured below) played the starring roles.

I watched the preview on YouTube, falling in love with my dear Anna all over again and nearly sobbing (you have to cry… it’s the most painful of love stories ... and I'm a big baby so that doesn't help either).

I searched on-line, I dropped in at Sikora's (I was living out west at the time), one of the greatest classical music stores in Vancouver (let alone Canada), trying to find out if I could get a copy. No dice.Unavailable for the time being.

Then, recently, after moving back to Ontario, Amazon sent me an email, letting me know it was available. I snapped it up and yesterday watched it for the first time.

The only problem: I forgot to bring the wine.

Puccini was Italian down to the bone. He loved his food, his women and his fast cars. But if you look at his most famous operas, most of them take place abroad. Turandot is set in China, Madame Butterfly in Japan with Madame Lescaut, La Bohème and Tabarro all taking place in France. Gianni Schicchi (famous for “Mio Babbino Caro”) and Tosca are perhaps the only ones that truly take place in Italy.

So how do you match wine with a Puccini opera?

In the case of La Bohème I decided to match the region with the opera’s setting, namely Paris. Like I did with my ‘'Verdi and the Wines of Veneto' entry, I am going to give you my best advice on how to pair wine with the scenes and arias of Puccini’s most prized and passionate opera. (Note: I've provided some links to certain arias and duets. These are not scenes from Dornhelm's film version,  however, but here to help give an idea of the music and beauty of Puccini's work. I've also tried to find the best videos featuring both Villazon and Netrebko.)

Christmas Eve, Paris, the 1830s, the land of bohemians – poets, philosophers, paintings and writers. Rudolfo and Marcello are living in a garret with their friends, Schaunard and Colline. Rudolfo is trying to write a play while Marcello is painting the Red Sea, hoping the image of the desert will make him feel warm. They set the first few pages of Rudolfo’s play on fire, sizing Colline’s books up for potential fuel.

There’s no more fire in the fireplace, that is until Schaunard shows up with warm goodies, wine and logs to get them toasty again.

For the first half of Act I, I recommend an easy going Chinon or Bourgueil red wine from the Loire Valley. There are numerous ones to try. Cabernet Franc is the main grape (with some Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in for good measure in Chinon) and you can expect deep, delicious raspberries and herbal notes. Considering the first scene takes place in a garret around Christmas, the winter frost haunting the panes, chill your red to give you some impression of what nineteenth century room temperature wine must taste like.

It is also a wine to savour and sip for the best part of Act I:

There’s a knock at the door and who should be there, our tragic seamstress, Mimi. In the darkness, she misplaces her key. On their knees, searching, hands patting the floor, their hands meet.

Now you must prepare yourself. The next three pieces will warm your heart and hopefully, bring cathartic tears to your soul.

There’s Rudolfo’s Che gelida manina in which the poet comments on Mimi’s cold hand, his writing and his life. He tells her there are thieves in her eyes and she has stolen him.

Following this beautiful aria is Mimi’s reply, Si. Mi Chiamono Mimi “Yes, they call me Mimi but my real name is Lucia.” She talks about working as seamstress, working with embroidered flowers. When spring comes she’s alone (and when she says this, the music simply soars and as I write this, those cathartic tears are creeping out of my eyes).

Then the deal breaker – these two lonely souls, equally filled with longings and dreams sing together – O Soave fanciulla. Life is here to love and let’s love. Take my arm, come with me, he says. (In the film version, I like how Dornhelm takes them right into the bedroom after this scene – love and consummation at first sight, so to speak).
 Publicity poster for La Boheme - if you love opera, check out Opera Chic's blog

Ah, the honey moon stage. Rudolfo introduces Mimi to his friends at Café Momus. The streets are alive. It’s Christmas. The toymaker is selling toys, the parade is on its way.

But poor Marcello. Who should walk into the café but Musetta, his former lover and her latest catch, another sugar daddy, the old codger Alcindoro. Musetta, to inspire jealousy but also to attract attention sings her famous waltz, Quando me'n vo. She tells the crowd of café patrons that she indulges in their furtive glances, she wants to feel empowered by the desires of men. Marcello, broken -hearted suffers silently in his seat.  But all is not lost. Musetta, feigning a foot injury sends Alcindoro off to buy her some new shoes. Marcello rises to the occasion and re-declares his love for her. As for the bill, well the Bohemians can't pay. Musetta tells the waiter to put it on Alcindoro's bill. 

This is a scene for Champagne. The Bohemian are celebrating, they have a little bit of money. Champagne is the great sparkling wine from Northern France, a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The town of Rheims is the region’s centre.

There are many to chose from and each Champagne House has its different styles – there’s Veuve Cliquot, Mumm, Moët & Chandon and Krug to name the most famous. Considering this is an opera about love, I recommend a rosé Champagne from Moët & Chandon.

From Café Momus to a tollgate outside Paris, we’re in the midst of the dark New Year. The holidays are over, the honey moon stage has passed and the two lovers are separated. They fell in love with the illusion of each other. They wanted something, they looked and found it but it wasn’t really enough. The beginning of the act will remind you of the garret of the first act so get a blanket.

Mimi comes looking for Marcello. She needs to talk. Rudolfo is here, he tells her but no, she can’t see him. Why? Well, Mimi explains, he’s afraid of my dying. I’m getting worse.

Mimi leaves, ducks around the corner and listens to Rudolfo and Marcello talk. Mimi gasps, coughs, Rudolfo sees her and the two have a difficult discussion, she wanting to leave, he wanting her to stay (Donde lieta usci).

But it all works out. They’ll love again, the spring is coming, she won’t be alone. Marcello and Musetta have a comical tiff which balances the scene.

Considering the scenery, the snow fall, the fading hope, the plight of these bohemians, I recommend a wine from the south of France. Perhaps a Fitou, a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah or a Minervois (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre). Southern France is right on the Mediterranean. The region gets plenty of sun and with such an ideal climate, the region has become a great ‘wine lake’. The wines tend to be fuller in body, spicy and rich but are also easier for the budget conscious. A nice comfortable alternative to expensive reds from Burgundy and Bordeaux and a reminder of sunnier days.

We’re back in Paris. Rudolfo and Marcello are both happy the spring is here but they don’t have anyone and sing a haunting tune (O Mimi, tu piu non torni). For some reason Mimi has gone off with a Japanese stock broker (it’s not really explained very well in the opera but that’s opera for you).

Colline and Schaunard come in and there’s some playful horsing around. But the joking doesn’t last. Musetta has brought Mimi to them. She isn’t doing well.

This is the end. Their final love duet – Sono andati? Rudolfo prepares for the worst, holding Mimi's cold hand. The friends give the former lovers time to themselves, pawning off possessions to get money for medicine and a doctor.

But it’s too late. Che ha ditto – Mimi’s death, a scene in opera that is incredibly moving but so simple. This isn’t Wagner’s Liebestod, this isn’t Violetta’s final flourish in La Traviata. Death comes in quietly, unnoticed, when Rudolfo’s back is turned. For a brief second we had hoped, we had prayed but this is opera, this is our modern cartharsis.

What wine to drink for such a scene?

I can’t think of any.

At this point I’ll take a glass of Cognac to calm my nerves. Cognac is the third largest vineyard region in France. The grapes are sold to distilleries, fermented into wine, then double-distilled into cognac. Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano) accounts for most of the wine used.

Following distillation, the Cognac is added in Tronçais or Limousin oak for a minimum of two years. The brandy (from the Dutch brandewijn—"burnt wine") mellows and softens and takes on flavours from the wood. You’ll find on Cognac labels the number of years the brandy has been aged - *** or VS (two years), VSOP (four years) and XO (six years).

I can’t think of a better way to recover from such a magnificent and heart-breaking work of genius. I’m going to watch this opera again soon – perhaps on Christmas and with the right wines. 


Wine and Food Pairing for the Holidays

Dec 16, 2009

 Christmas time, Christmas time, I drink.... all my wine...

Back in Grade 9 History class, my geography teacher would sing the above little ditty. And usually it was when he was handing out tests (his version of merry fun I suppose).

Recently I was at a networking event and the master of ceremonies asked everyone to stand up, talk about who they were, what they did and what they looked forward to for the holidays. Most of them said 'drinking wine'. By the end, the MC suggested we all check ourselves into AA.

But what better way to indulge ourselves than with wine, goodies and gifts. I know, I know, the recession is haunting everyone but I figure we only live once. So this Sunday afternoon, I've decided to write about wine and food pairing for the holidays.

Christmas means cookies and pastries for me. I love cookies, it must be the Dutch blood. So basically what I have to do is always get a wine sweeter than my treats. A dry wine tastes sour with anything sugary.

But a great wine with pastries then, with cookies? I highly recommend  Pillitteri's 2008 'Fusion' ($13.00 available from the winery) a blend of Gewurztraminer and Riesling with a dash of Icewine. Just imagine apricots, mangoes and pineapple on your palate then add some Christmas cake or better yet, white chocolate macademia nut cookies. In October I discovered that Gewurztraminer (the sweeter ones) and cookies can be good friends.

For die-hard chocoholics, Port wine, a fortified wine from Portugal is ideally suite for dark chocolate. Port is a fortified wine from Portugal made and imported by British wine makers. When it was discovered that wine could survive the trip from the Iberian Pennisula to England by adding extra alcohol, the Brits jumped all over it. It was sweet, it was great with conversation and lo and behold it matched perfectly with chocolates.

I highly recommend this: pick up a bottle of  Taylor Fladgate Late Vintage Port ($16.99) and invite a group of friends over. Have them bring chocolates, various kinds – nutty, fruity, Belgium, Swiss, German, Dutch, whatever kind they like. Pour your guests about two ounces each – the wine is potent at 20% alcohol – and try the various chocolates with the port. You’ll get some great food and wine matches here. Your palette, your tongue and your senses will die of chocolate/port ecstasy. Expect mind orgasms. Not for the faint of heart. And of course, pace yourself – a port hangover can be nasty if you go too far. (It’s like waking up with a tub of heavy syrup sloshing around in your brain…and the nausea is pretty bad…trust me….)

Port also goes well with cheese - cheddar, brie (personal favourite) and stilton - as well as figs and dried fruits. 
Port and Stilton are best friends

If Port isn’t your thing or you’re too worried about suffering from sheer bliss (or a syrup brain), then grab a handful of nuts, raisins, almonds, pecans and walnuts and a glass of sherry. I know what you are thinking. Sherry is the crap your grandmother served you every Christmas for twenty years. The same bottle, the same sickly sweet taste. Forgive grandma and pick up a bottle of  Williams and Humbert Dry Sack Sherry (only $12.85 and give some to grandma, she’s probably been drinking the same gut rot for too long). This is the kind of wine that you don’t expect to match with anything. If you like cheese, try Manchego, the cheese of Spain.

The wine is lush and beautiful to absorb with notes of syrupy fig and overripe pear. Take a swig and you might think almond cake, mango and pineapple. This is the kind of wine to enjoy with Christmas cake or even a warm apple pie. Pumpkin pie as well.


What about Turkey dinner? Oh, well, that’s a tougher one. Most critics, food and wine writers have some idea but really, just go to town. Bring what you love to a Christmas dinner and drink it with friends. Turkey doesn’t really have a taste, so as long as you love the wine, drink it.

The right wine, however, can accompany the accoutrements. How does mom or dad prepare the bird? What kind of sauces? What kind of yams and potatoes. If your potatoes are buttery and gooey, then an Inniskillin  Winemaker's Series Three Vineyards Chardonnay ($18.99 - available from the winery) would be perfect, a wine with a vanilla body with touches of toasty nuts and bright butter. 

If you’re going to smother your bird in apple sauce or gravy, try a fantastic  Konzelmann Riesling ($11.95). This wine is apple and pears and just shy of being full-bodied. It won’t overpower your pallet but it might help you digest the dry portion of the bird.

A great wine with the cranberry sauce… well if the sauce is not sweet (and some tend to be sweet) I recommend the Malivoire's Ladybug Rosé ($15.95) - cherries and raspberries and a definite hit with turkey. If you want a red, I recommend a Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel ($17.95). Think stewed  and black fruit, mocha and spices.


Well, what are you drinking at New Year’s? Forget the Veuve Clicquot or Mumm’s, all that expensive stuff is just meant for the show-offs (I welcome it though because I'm not paying).

Champagne is great, it’s fine but for some it’s way too expensive and really, if you’re not used to the “bready”, “yeasty” taste of a sixty-dollar bottle, I recommend Asti or Cava.

Asti from Martini & Rossi ($13.75) is made from the muscato grape. It is a sweeter sparkling wine and not high in alcohol (only 7%). If you’re the designated driver and want to toast the New Year’s Eve without getting sauced, this is the ideal sipper. (It also pairs extremely well with sweet crepes.)

If you want a wine that is similar to champagne (Asti is not made in the traditional style of the champenoise), then pick up a bottle of Freixenet Cordon Negron ($13.95) from the Cava region in Spain. The bubbles are frothy and tickling, the acidity high and the wine will remind your palette of apples, lemon and a yeasty taste similar to traditional Champagne. But with Cava, you get quality and you can expect to save at least forty-dollars (and who really remembers who brought what to the New Year’s Party – let the show offs lose their money).Cava is great with oysters, salmon spreads and caviar. Spend your money on the expensive nibblies and save on the wine.

I can’t think of anything else accept don’t kill yourself buying gifts. Christmas is over in a day, as usual. But with the right bottle, a wine can help those good drinking memories last for years. (And no syrup hangovers, alright.)
Poor Charlie, he didn't see it coming...


The Cheap and the Cheerful for Christmas

Dec 7, 2009

This time of year you really have to pick your shopping moments at the LCBO. Sometimes you get in and its just perfect, you pick a bottle or two, fly through the cashier and you're out the door, nothing to it.

But then, if you're unlucky, time pressing down on you, you get stuck behind that one customer who has to buy for the party and you might be standing there for awhile. Some of these shoppers look absolutely exhausted, (my father was telling me the other day that our  modern equivalent to battle fatigue is surviving the holidays - another reason why I can't stand Christmas) and some look excited - not a lot, mind you.

It must be difficult to plan a party or be the one on the liquor run. So I’m writing this blog for those that need some decent, cheap wines to please everybody.


‘Candidato’ Cosecheros Y Criadores – Tempranillo/Garnacha 2006
This is one of my favourite value wines available. The wine, a vino de tierra de Castilla has been sourced from grapes grown throughout the region of Castilla-La Mancha, the endlessly flat landscape of windmills and distant mountains made popular by Cervantes' Don Quixote.

Tasting Note: With six months in barrels, this wine is seductive and spicy, red fruit reminiscent of strawberries bathed in vanilla and nutmeg. A great party-pleaser, easy to drink.

Price: It was the Spanish who said Good wine ruins the purse while bad wine, the stomach. This wine does neither at $7.95.

Beringer ‘California Collection’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Beringer is part of the multi-national corporate Foster Group which owns such famous wineries as (to name a few) Wolf Blass, Lindemans, Penfolds, Rosemount Estate in Australia, Chateau St. Jean, Etude and Stag’s Leap Winery in California and Matua Valley in New Zealand.

The Beringer name has gone back generations with Jacob Beringer leaving his home of Mainz, German in 1868. He met up with his brother in New York and by 1876 had set up a winery in California.

Tasting Note: An easy going character: fresh cherries, red currant with a vanilla blackberry backbone.

Price: For those office Christmas parties, Beringer is a nice fit at $9.95.

Domaine Boyar – Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Eastern Europe is not what many of us typically associate with vineyards and wine but the former Eastern Bloc countries were known for their value wines. Bulgaria is perhaps the most famous when it comes to making cheap alternatives to French Bordeaux and in the 70’s and 80’s supplied British supermarkets not to mention satisfied the Soviet Union’s taste for wine. When Gorbachev came to power, the anti-alcoholism campaign started up (amongst other things) and Bulgaria felt the hit soon after the fall of communism.

Domaine Boyar is huge and if you visit their website you’ll need to know Russian and be able to read Cyrillic (by the way, the Russian alphabet was devised by a Bulgarian monk).

Tasting Note: This wine is all fruit and fun flavor. Candied strawberries and raspberries with ripe acidity and mellow soft tannins. Easy to love, easy to drink

Price: Incredible value at $7.85. Harasho (Xopoшo) as the Russians might say.

Chile, like Spain, is another country known for its value-driven wines. There are many to recommend: Cono Sur 1.5 L ‘Tocornal’ Series (my favourite is the Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend at $13.95 – green pepper and blackberries with dashes of light smoky oak), the Mont Gras Sauvignon Blanc at $9.95 (for those that want a cheap alternative to New Zealand’s Kim Crawford or Babich, this wine offers nice grassy notes with lingering pineapple and citrus).

For those in search of a white that will wow, I recommend the Santa Alicia Reserva Chardonnay 2008. The fruit for this wine was sourced from the Maipo, a wine region just south of Santiago, known for its world-famous Cabernets. Santa Alicia won the 2007 Best Wine Producer in the International Wine and Spirit Competition.

Tasting Note: I know there are numerous ABCers out there (the Anything But Chardonnay crew) who just can't stand the oak flavour of chardonnay (a Nova Scotia woman I once met called it the 'barfy taste') but this wine has just a speck of oak. You'll get lush pineapple, white grapefruit and apples. The label says 'buttery texture' - I would argue more of a soft, fruity creaminess.

Price: Just $10.95 for an excellent Chard.

I know there are others out there but these are my favourites. I'm hoping to get a Canadian Cheap and Cheerful out by next week. I'll see what the lineups are like at the LCBO.


About This Blog

My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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