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Beppi Crosariol's Wine & Spirits

Jazz up your springtime wine sips Add to ...

Forgive the sudden, uncharacteristic lack of humility, but I guarantee that you'll find today's topic colourful. The working title? "Blue-chip reds, uncommon whites and emerald greens." Translation:Bordeaux and Rioja, gewurztraminer and insolia and premium Irish whisky. I think that you're going to find the price-quality ratios attractive for the most part, too.

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Affordable red Bordeaux is not what I'd consider one of the world's exciting wine categories. Competition from such fair-weather places as Chile, Australia and Argentina has brought shock and awe to once-complacent producers, prodding them out of their slumber.

Now, we're seeing a lot of commendable new brands and much-improved old ones. A standout is Château Pey La Tour ($13.95 in Ontario, product No. 264986). It is being rolled out in Ontario and will soon be available in several other provinces (Quebec, where it costs $16.70, is still on the 2007 vintage). It comes from the large négociant Dourthe and is a blend of mostly merlot with cabernet sauvignon. This 2008 vintage of the familiar brand is remarkable for the money, full-bodied and very dry, with a focused cassis-like core and a hint of graphite.

Though modern and cleanly made, it still speaks with a strong Bordeaux accent, delivering a nice, astringent grip. I'd consider decanting this wine to let the air soften the tannins and bring out more fruit. The wine garnered a gold medal at a big Paris tasting last year.

The bold red, white and black modernist label of Vina Zaco Tempranillo Rioja 2006 ($14.95 in Ontario, No. 146209) might cause one to mistake it for a squeaky-clean Rioja that tastes more like California merlot. Not the case. Medium full-bodied, it's ripe and succulent, with notes of dark-skinned fruit and tobacco and a fistfull of dry dirt, plus firm acidity, fine tannins and a hint of classic Rioja prune-like oxidation from more than three and a half years of age.

If you like age on your wines, Duque de Medina Carinena Gran Reserva 2000 ($18.95, No. 148494) is also from Spain and very good. Released in Ontario last month, this is a bargain for a very decent 10-year-old red. Carinena, by the way, is a place in Spain and not to be confused with carignan, the grape. The wine is made from two classic Spanish varieties, tempranillo and garnacha. It's medium full-bodied and very ripe, with hints of plum, prune and old wood and creamy tannins.

The next wine is available only to lucky westerners. Blasted Church Hatfield's Fuse 2009 from British Columbia ($17.99, No. 734475) is a joy of a white wine. It's also a minestrone of grape varieties and a testament to the virtue of blending. This is what's in it: mostly gewurztraminer (53.5 per cent) with optima (a motley cross between riesling, silvaner and muller-thurgau), pinot blanc, chardonnay, ehrenfelser, pinot gris, riesling and sauvignon blanc. Medium full-bodied and voluptuous, it comes across like a dry fruit salad, with discernible notes of lychee, apple, apricot and white grape juice. Then it turns slightly spicy and finishes dry.

If you're a fan of the popular premium white from California called Conundrum, you'll like this wine - quite likely even more, as I did. It's a great choice for vibrant and spicy Asian dishes of all kinds.

Another good choice for spicy fare is the slightly sweet Lacheteau Les Loges Vouvray 2008 ($14.94, No. 525105). Though there's discernible sugar in this chenin blanc from France's Loire Valley, it's nicely balanced by crisp acidity, carrying flavours of lemon, peach and tangerine, with a lingering finish. It was just released through Vintages stores in Ontario.

More widely available across the country is the excellent Wynns Coonawarra Riesling 2008 from Australia ($16.95, No. 528216; soon to be available in B.C. and several other provinces). Though light in body, it bursts forth with crisp, lime-like fruit and a chalky, mineral-like essence. The fruit seems sweet at first, but the finish is dry. Perfect for grilled shellfish, but also very versatile at the table and lovely on its own.

Cusumano Angimbe Insolia Chardonnay 2008 ($14.95, No. 606350) also was released through Vintages. Insolia is a chief white grape of Sicily and Cusumano is a great-value, very modern producer. Medium-bodied, soft and caressing, the wine delivers good flavour concentration, with nuances of peach, pineapple and citrus.

And now to those whiskies. The major value, released in some parts of the country in advance of St. Patrick's Day, is Kilbeggan Finest Irish Whiskey ($34.95, No. 657247). There's fine balance here between notes of grain, fruit and spice. It's almost robust enough to be a good Scotch.

From the premium shelf, don't miss Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey ($99.95, No. 695445). It has become an annual March tradition to rave about Connemara in this column. As smoky as some heavily peated Islay single malts, this top-flight Irish whisky should appeal to diehard Scotch fans, bursting with notes of iodine, beeswax and a freshly extinguished fireplace.

And to underscore my theme, I'm going to sign off with a colourfully named brand, Green Spot Irish Whiskey from Mitchell & Son ($89.95, No. 699827). I've raved about this one in the past, too. Honey and caramel come to the fore in this elegantly poised, complex offering, which until recently was available only in Ireland.



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THE DEAL



The bold red, white and black modernist label of Vina Zaco Tempranillo Rioja 2006 ($14.95 in Ontario, No. 146209) might cause one to mistake it for a squeaky-clean Rioja that tastes more like California merlot. Not the case. Medium full-bodied, it's ripe and succulent, with notes of dark-skinned fruit and tobacco and a fist-full of dry dirt, plus firm acidity, fine tannins and a hint of classic Rioja prune-like oxidation from more than three and a half years of age.



THE SPLURGE



The major value, released in some parts of the country in advance of St. Patrick's Day, is Kilbeggan Finest Irish Whiskey ($34.95, No. 657247). There's fine balance here between notes of grain, fruit and spice. It's almost robust enough to be a good Scotch.



THE DOMESTIC



The next wine is available only to lucky westerners. Blasted Church Hatfield's Fuse 2009 from British Columbia ($17.99, No. 734475) is a joy of a white wine. It's also a minestrone of grape varieties and a testament to the virtue of blending. This is what's in it: mostly gewurztraminer (53.5 per cent) with optima (a motley cross between riesling, silvaner and muller-thurgau), pinot blanc, chardonnay, ehrenfelser, pinot gris, riesling and sauvignon blanc. Medium full-bodied and voluptuous, it comes across like a dry fruit salad, with discernible notes of lychee, apple, apricot and white grape juice. Then it turns slightly spicy and finishes dry. If you're a fan of the popular premium white from California called Conundrum, you'll like this wine - quite likely even more, as I did. It's a great choice for vibrant and spicy Asian dishes of all kinds.

Follow on Twitter: @Beppi_Crosariol

 

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