Scarves, boots, mittens, cheap wine and pricey Scotch - it's that time of year. Your holiday credit statement has landed with a thud and merlot money is tight. But Robbie Burns Day is nigh, supplying handy rationalization - if the weather weren't enough - to splurge on primo Scotch. It's a tale of two booze budgets. And retailers know it.
B.C. Liquor Stores has been promoting 1.5-litre bottles to "stretch your dollar further" and "Great Value Winter Fare Wines Priced at $14.99 to $15.99." In Nova Scotia, the Save & Savour event offers up to 30 per cent off many products. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario this month features a "Shop & Save" event with new specials each week, a blissful contrast to the days when alcohol discounts were considered a bigger threat to public safety than assault rifles.
Value is relative, of course. There's a terrific Côtes du Rhône out today in Ontario Vintages stores - Château de Saint Cosme - that isn't cheap at $19.95, but I consider it a bargain because it drinks like similar reds from the nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape district costing twice as much. From the same release, Isle of Arran Robert Burns whisky, at a relatively affordable single-malt price of $39.95, is not what I would call bottled poetry.
Most of the products at right are available through Vintages, although some are available across the country.
Domaine Bernard Defaix Côte de Lechet Chablis 1er Cru 2008 (France)
This one is not cheap, but Chablis is generally under-priced compared with the rest of Burgundy, especially when it comes to premier and grand-cru wines. Medium-bodied, with a creamy-buttery core and nutty tang on the finish. It's versatile at the table but especially good with fish.
Creekside Estate Butler's Grant Riesling 2008 (Niagara)
Off-dry yet tangy, this impressive domestic white serves up minerals on stone fruit and lemon, with good balance between sweetness and crisp acidity. A great aperitif, it would pair nicely with all sorts of fish dishes.
Château de Saint Cosme Les Deux Albion Côtes du Rhône 2008 (France)
Plenty of wild-herb essence, or garrigue, in this ample-bodied red. Blackcurrant, peppercorn and earth round out the picture. A demerit point here for overbearing alcohol; it's 14.5 per cent, not stunning in these high-octane times, but you can taste it. Serve it with rich red-meat dishes such as stews or leg of lamb.
Domaine de la Bastide Les Figues Côtes du Rhône 2009 (France)
A medium full-bodied red with relatively austere fruit, leaning toward the savoury side of the Rhône ledger, with pronounced mineral, leather and peppercorn. Youthful and tannic, it's a blend of mostly syrah with grenache and carignan and could cellar nicely for four to six years. Try it with braised meats.
Altesino Rosso di Altesino 2008 (Italy)
Altesino's Rosso consistently ranks as one of the smartest buys in Ontario for a serious Tuscan red, and this 2008 vintage does not disappoint. Medium full-bodied and subtly earthy, it offers up a succulent cherry core lifted by lively acidity and salty finish. Try it with mushroom risotto or pasta with a braised-meat sauce.
Mirassou Pinot Noir 2009 (California)
It's tough to find a pinot noir at this price that's potable, let alone tastes like pinot noir. This one passes both tests, though you probably wouldn't want to break it out for your Burgundy-aficionado future father-in-law. Medium-bodied, soft and creamy, with an essence of fresh berries - simple but stylistically correct. Note: the price will be reduced in Ontario to $10.95 from Jan. 24 to 30. (It's $14.99 in B.C.; $14.85 in Quebec; $15.48 in Nfld.)
Lindeman's Bin 50 Shiraz 2010 (Australia)
PRICE: $11.49 in B.C., $11.95 in Ont.
Widely available across the country. Lindeman's is a big-volume, easy-drinking brand, yes, but it delivered impressive quality with this 2010 vintage. It's medium full-bodied, with plum and dark berries, a rounded, seamless texture and hint of vanilla. Nice on its own.
Tabali Reserva Carmenère 2008 (Chile)
This is bone-dry and well-ripened, with a pleasant herbal undertone that stops short of that stalky quality that plagues many a Chilean carmenère. Firm acid and tannins add grip. Serve this full-bodied red with medium-rare beef. Decant it or swirl it in the glass to soften the tannins.
Tierra del Fuego Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Chile)
A perfect sauvignon blanc for cozy winter sipping, this is light, rounded and sexy-soft, with tropical fruit and herbal notes. It would pair nicely with shellfish.
Ardbeg 10 Years Old The Ultimate (Scotland)
This is a classic smoke bomb, with a megaton of peat delivering fireplace and iodine flavours. The sweet, malty core is never obscured by the combustion and it finishes with salt and spice. It's lean, too, for such a potent single malt, belying its 46-per-cent alcohol. It's gorgeous, and even cheaper in B.C. ($94) and Quebec ($90).
Springbank 12 Years Old Cask Strength (Scotland)
A Campbeltown single malt bottled at 54.6-per-cent alcohol. Spicier than all get-out, as though chef Emeril Lagasse had done his "Bam!" cayenne sprinkle over your glass. But there's an opulent texture here and sumptuous undercurrent of raisin, orange pekoe tea, chocolate and licorice. In B.C., look for the also very good Springbank Longrow ($89.99).
Editor's note: Due to an editing error, incorrect information appeared about The Domaine de la Bastide Les Figues Côtes du Rhône 2009. It has been corrected.