Had enough of Dry January? I’m sick of it and I didn’t even participate. Simply reading all those five-step-cleanse and “blast the belly fat!” articles in the January women’s magazines (guilty pleasure, don’t judge!) about the virtues of temporary alcohol abstinence made me thirstier than a fish out of water. More specifically, a landlocked fish with a pint of peanut butter in its mouth.
In truth, Dry January remains an inconvenient option for someone such as me even if self-imposed restraint were a remote inclination. It’s occupationally problematic, like eating Thai green curry and smoking a cigar before sitting down to a professional wine tasting.
If you’ve been dry, I applaud your resolve. Also, the makers of Perrier, Booster Juice, Soda Stream and Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Tea would like to thank you for boosting their bottom lines. There’s light at the end of the cellar now. So, buff those Riedel glasses and get ready for Feb. 1, the Repeal Day of your own private Prohibition.
May I help you to step back off the wagon with a few suggestions from my not-so-dry January? Herewith, some big flavours for cold and thirsty times – plus a terrific domestic sparkling wine with which to toast your new well-being and trimmer physique. But I beg you to use glassware. It doesn’t matter how thirsty you are, it’s still impolite to drink straight from the bottle.
Glaetzer Amon-Ra Shiraz 2015, Australia
SCORE: 94 PRICE: $79
Where big and bold are concerned, few, if any, wine regions deliver like Australia’s Barossa Valley. It’s the land of plus-size shirazes and of winemakers who make no apologies for the valley’s grape-ripening heat. Ben Glaetzer is such a figure, descended from a German family that landed in Australia in 1888. In Egyptian mythology, “Amon-Ra” refers to the god of gods. How’s that for bold? This beauty is unfiltered and built for the long haul, matured in 100-per-cent-new French oak for 16 months. With sweetly intense, jammy fruit and peppery spice, it’s creamy, voluptuous and deftly executed. The 15.5-per-cent-alcohol is well-integrated, neither hot nor medicinal. Smooth enough for current consumption, to be sure, it should cellar well for at least 15 years. Available for online purchase from LCBO’s Vintages Classics Catalogue, vintages.com/classics.
Township 7 NBO 2016, British Columbia
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $33.97
This Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc is as sturdy as a hardwood tree. Fittingly, it’s also not entirely shy in the oak department. But the wood is well-handled, contributing smoothness and a strong savoury essence to complement the formidably ripe fruit. The wine’s name sort of sounds like a hip-hop group from the eighties but it in fact stands for North Bench Oliver, the sunny Okanagan Valley district that provided the fruit. Available direct, township7.com.
Noble Ridge The One 2015, British Columbia
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $34.70
“The One” sure sounds like a confident name. And this bubbly is so good it has earned the right to be confident. Crafted in the labour-intensive Champagne style, it’s a blend of 70-per-cent chardonnay and 30-per-cent pinot noir, matured en tirage for 28 months. Exacting owners Jim and Leslie D’Andrea have turned out a sparkling gem. It’s medium-bodied and bone-dry but with a sweetly rounded core that contributes to the wonderful balance. Creamy-rich and meaty, it exhibits orchard-fruit characters of apple, pear and citrus as well as yeasty, toasty baguette. Great depth of flavour, and perfectly tuned effervescence. Available direct, nobleridge.com.
Flat Rock Twisted White 2017, Ontario
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17.95
Twisted is the flagship white of a laudable, high-end Niagara winery that, unlike many of its peers in this country and beyond, has kept a sane lid on prices. The wine is a blend of riesling, gewurztraminer and chardonnay, and this is the first vintage under the eye of winemaker Dave Sheppard. Perfectly off-dry, intriguingly oily and – for the sake of a foreign frame of reference – voluptuously Alsatian. Plump and musky, it offers up flavours of apricot, peach and baked apple, like a mixed-fruit country pie. A well-crafted blend that combines riesling’s zip with gewurztraminer’s muskiness and chardonnay’s flesh. Available in LCBO Vintages stores in Ontario and direct, flatrockcellars.com.
Mission Hill Reserve Meritage 2016, British Columbia
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $29.95
Here’s a Bordeaux-style red blend that I’m convinced would rank well in a field of many Napa cabernets and merlots costing twice the money. It’s a mix of 35-per-cent cabernet franc, 32-per-cent cabernet sauvignon, 31-per-cent merlot and 2-per-cent petit verdot. Luscious and fully ripe, it’s soft, with slightly syrupy blackberry, cassis and dark-chocolate flavours joined by light spice, underbrush and a herbal lift for balance. Powdery but unaggressive tannins supply structure and welcome astringency. A substantial cab with energy. Available in Ontario at the above price, $26.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $29.99 in Nova Scotia.
Fitou Pur Schistes 2015, France
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $20.95
It smells a tad funky, but in a good way. And if I were a betting man, I’d cite Brettanomyces, the yeast that can be nice in modest concentrations. Medium-full-bodied, this red blend from France’s southern Languedoc region delivers a basket-full of forest berries, barnyard manure (the pleasant kind, from good French farms) and garrigue notes of lavender, rosemary and thyme. Lots of character here. Very French. Available in Ontario.
Xavier Vignon Lirac 2016, France
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $22.95
From down in the southern Rhône Valley, this is a red blend that’s certainly not short of ripeness, weighing in at a formidable 15-per-cent alcohol. Yet it’s perfectly dry, not syrupy, with satisfyingly gritty texture and supporting flavours of plum, black cherry and a herbal essence reminiscent of fine tequila. Creamy but with a velvet grip. Available in Ontario.