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Beppi Crosariol on wine

Try this purple parade of wines at Easter dinner Add to ...

I enthused in my Wednesday that my craving for white wine had been sharpened by daylight-savings time and the approach of spring. The vernal equinox occurs at 1:32 p.m. Eastern Saturday, by the way, not Sunday (the 21st) as commonly thought. I plan to celebrate with a white Burgundy.

I suppose one could say that the palette of my palate has begun to shift from purple to pallid. Austin Powers might say I was getting my grigio mojo back.

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Yet many people, I'm aware, prefer mouth-filling reds any time and all the time. So here's my conciliatory conceit for today's lapse back into the dark zone: Easter. The big Easter dinner - or, in my family's case, lunch - often lends itself to jammy red zinfandels and grapey shirazes as well as gutsy French and Italian reds, wines I think of as more purple than red. And isn't purple the Easter-vigil colour?

Perhaps it's the calorie count of the holiday meal, which begs for a bulky beverage to match. Maybe it's the presence and anticipation of chocolate. Zinfandel may be the best dry-wine pairing for chocolate.

Whatever the reason, here's an Easter parade of purples. Some are being released Saturday in Ontario as part of the "Easter entertaining" rollout at Vintages stores. Some are available in other provinces.

Gallo Family Frei Ranch Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2007, which is only available in Ontario ($34.95, No. 555599) and is not to be confused with a similarly labelled "reserve" edition selling for $24.99 in British Columbia, is a big wine measuring 15-per-cent alcohol and, yes, it's from a big company. But it is beautifully sculpted and balanced and a bargain next to some high-end zinfandels fetching $50-plus these days. Fat and rich with opulent dark-skinned-fruit flavour, the wine seems to be made of secret agent Powers's purple crushed-velvet jacket rather than grapes. Perfectly ripe, the fruit keeps at bay the syrupy-raisin flavours of so many poorly made zins. Incidentally, the Frei Ranch zin, of which just 1,000 cases were made, sells for $30 (U.S.) at the winery door in California. That doesn't include the 8.25-per-cent state sales tax of $2.48. And, of course, it doesn't include shipping. Most Americans - not to mention Canadians - would be shocked to know you can get it in Ontario for essentially the same price as the winery door.

It would be a conspicuous lapse to write of deep-purple wines without mentioning Australia's Barossa Valley. In the steamy Barossa, grapes develop extreme ripeness, so the wines tend to be big. A standout value right now is Two Hands The Lucky Country Shiraz 2008 ($15.25 in Ont., No. 145276; $19.99 in B.C., No. 170555; available in Newfoundland and Labrador in October). It's blended from Barossa Valley as well as crisper McLaren Vale fruit, but you can taste the 14.9-per-cent alcohol ripeness. I got a nostalgic whiff of black wine gum in this one. It's full-bodied and lusty, with generous flavour of dark berries, licorice, spice and cigar box. Silky and seamless, it ends on a dry, savoury note.

Rolf Binder Halliwell Shiraz Grenache 2007 ($23.95, No. 27318) is being released today at Ontario Vintages stores along with the next couple of wines. A truckload of dense, plum-like fruit gets a slap of new leather and a dusting of fennel and black pepper in this velvety effort from Barossa.

Francis Ford Coppola Director's Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($29.95, No. 161380) has more than novelty value going for it. This is a nicely crafted textbook California cabernet for the money. The core is silky smooth; hints of blackberry, cherry and spice, a light layer of fine-grained tannins and a touch of acidity bring it to a dry, satisfying ending.

On the lighter side but with pleasant jam-like fruit is Calera Pinot Noir 2007 ($31.95, No. 933044). Medium-bodied, it weaves between cherry jam and herbs. There's better acidity here than in many New World pinots. A good match for roast turkey or pork.

Perhaps the best-value red in today's Ontario Vintages release is Domaine Croze-Granier Cuvée Réserve Côtes du Rhône 2007 ($14.95, No. 736371). The medium-full-bodied palate delivers sweet berries and fresh herbs, notably mint. The word "pretty" popped to mind while sipping this wine. I can't remember exactly why I wrote that down, but it makes me want to try the wine again. Maybe I'll do so later this week, after I quench my spring thirst with a few more glasses of white Burgundy.

Picks of the week

The deal: Domaine Croze-Granier Cuvee [aigu]Reserve {aigu]Cotes du Rhone 2007 $14.95, No. 736371).

The splurge: Gallo Family Frei Ranch Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2007, which is only available in Ontario ($34.95, No. 555599).

The domestic: Inniskillin Okanagan Chenin Blanc 2009 ($14.99, No. 273573; B.C., Alberta and Manitoba only); Medium-bodied and round, with ripe peach and mandarin flavours and a tingle of lively acidity. Great for Asian fare.

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