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.


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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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