A foodie friend once pulled a waiter over to the restaurant table in disgust. "This pasta primavera on the menu - do you know it's February?" he asked. "Yes," the puzzled waiter responded. "And do you know 'primavera' means springtime in Italian?" my friend said. To which the server nonchalantly replied, "Our peas and asparagus are imported fresh from places like California and Chile. It's always spring or summer somewhere in the world."
So much for the locavore movement. So much for cooking with the seasons.
That said, I'm about to assume the role of seasonally blind waiter - or sommelier, as it were. With wine, the rules are different. Seasonal sipping - light wines for summer, heavy reds for winter - is about the beholder and his or her thirst, not the wine's peak of freshness. It's a preserved product, after all, like pickles. Sometimes heavy shirazes and cabernets are bottled in summer, not the ideal time to enjoy them, unless you're sitting down to a medium-rare sirloin. Many good, crisp whites come on the market in February.
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So, I'm going to lead off with the new vintages of some light whites, including a few great bargains, just because they're available. I'm talking grassy sauvignon blancs from Chile and New Zealand, a floral torrontes pinot grigio blend from Argentina, and a deliciously sweet-bitter gruner-veltliner from Austria. Vini primavera. Maybe they'll get you in the mood for spring.
Caliterra Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Chile)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $8.95
Silky yet crisp, initially sweet but totally dry, this white is expertly crafted for the price. It's as though a lemon kissed a grapefruit and accidentally fell into a wine bottle - zesty, light and fresh. Serve it with shellfish or on its own.
Tarapaca Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Chile)
SCORE: 86 PRICE: $9.95
A popular brand in Canada, Tarapaca has done another nice job with this crisp white for the 2009 vintage. It's smooth, with gooseberry, grass and mineral-like flavours, a sort of cross between the sassy New Zealand and tame Loire Valley styles of sauvignon blanc - at a bargain price. If Ontario residents hurry, they can get it for $1 off, at $8.95 - till Sunday.
Fuzion Alta Torrontes Pinot Grigio 2010 (Argentina)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $8.95
The torrontes grape, a signature white of Argentina, has a muscat-like flavour. Think white table grapes, the kind you eat. Here the pronounced taste is tamed by relatively neutral pinot grigio. The blend works. I like the gentle spice in this fresh, dry, balanced wine. Great for sipping all by itself, and it's a bargain.
James Oatley Tic Tok Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Australia)
SCORE: 84 PRICE: $14.95
Not my style, but it's in the mix because I suspect many people will like it. Silky and technically dry, it leaves the impression of sweetness with its mouth-coating extract, more than you'd expect from a sauvignon blanc. Think peaches and limes with the ambition to become lollipops. It should be nice with pork or tangy cheeses.
Cornerstone Chenin Blanc 2009 (Ontario)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $19
A white grape associated with the Loire Valley gets nice varietal expression here, with pear and honey in the centre and lively acidity and a stone-like nuance around the edges. Good for sautéed freshwater fish, such as trout. Available direct from the Ontario winery, www.cornerstonewinery.com.
Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (New Zealand)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $18.95
Lots of vegetal, herbal notes in this new vintage of a widely available kiwi white. Lean and racy, with asparagus and a veritable fairway of grass running through it. You're almost tempted to mow this wine instead of drink it. Nice style.
Leth Gruner Veltliner Steinagrund 2009 (Austria)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95
This is textbook gruner veltliner, a white grape with a delicious sweet-sour balance. It's perfectly dry, with a rounded texture, flavours of orchard fruit and a bitter kick on the satisfying finish. It could pair well with sushi or slightly spicy Asian dishes as well as simply prepared fish. Available through Vintages in Ontario.
Pond Paddock Te Muna Pinot Noir 2008 (New Zealand)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $24.95
This would have garnered a higher score but it gets a demerit for being a tad overripe. I almost wanted to serve it Corona-style, with a lime wedge. It's also almost more syrah-like than pinot-like, with notes of game meat and licorice. But it's good drinking. Available through Vintages in Ontario.
Duo de Conseillante 2007 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $54
This is the so-called "second" - or baby - wine of Chateau de Conseillante in the Pomerol district of Bordeaux. Pomerol is where merlot reaches its zenith, and Conseillante has some esteemed merlot neighbours, among them Petrus and l'Evangile. Herbaceous cabernet franc plays a supporting role (at 10 per cent) to the smooth merlot, giving it firm backbone. Medium full-bodied and seamlessly smooth, this red shows bell pepper and spice against a ripe plum-like core. Minerals and juicy acidity linger on the finish. Perfect for lamb and worth cellaring for three years. Available only over the Internet in Ontario from www.vintagesshoponline.com (product No. 100883).Report Typo/Error