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waters on wine

The Pian delle Vigne estate, located six kilometres southwest of Montalcino, was acquired by the Antinori family in 1995, the same year the first Brunello Pian delle Vigne was harvested.​ ​Courtesy of manufacturer

Increased demand for affordable wines continues during Canada’s coronavirus lockdown, but there’s also interest in special bottles from consumers looking to make a meal special or celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones at home.

Without the ability to go out for dinner and drinks, there can be a desire to make Saturday or Sunday supper more significant and enjoyable. Ordering a bottle off a restaurant wine list can easily cost $40 or more. Buy a similarly priced bottle online or at a liquor store, and you’ll get more wine for the buck considering it comes without the typical hospitality mark-up of two to three times the retail price.

With that mind, here is a selection of new and current releases that are worth a splurge. Most are recommended with the dinner table in mind, but their enjoyment factor isn’t tied to one specific gastronomic setting or occasion.

They’re all drinking well now, but most could also be tucked away for future enjoyment if that happens to be a trigger for purchase. There’s also a recommendation for a terrific Spanish red that always offers value for money but really hits the mark with the 2016 vintage. The current release of Bodegas Lan Crianza has real flair and appeal, especially given its price.

Nine wines that will transport you around the world

2027 Cellars Pinot Gris Falls Vineyard 2019 (Canada)

Rating:89 /100

PRICE: $25

Winemaker Kevin Panagapka and wife Jody are celebrating a new chapter for their boutique winery, which has grown from a virtual operation working out of borrowed spaces to a full-fledged retail shop and tasting room in Jordan Station to welcome guests once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. The expansion of the business has spurred growth in the portfolio, with the addition of this refreshingly crisp and fruity pinot gris, which is nicely balanced and flavourful. Drink now. Available direct through

Antinori Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino 2014 (Italy)

Rating:90 /100

PRICE: $61.95

This fragrant and complex red comes from one of the warmest parcels in Montalcino, which really helped push ripeness in an otherwise cool and wet growing season. This offers vibrant black cherry, fragrant herbal and spice notes that are approachable right out of the gate. This is a more elegant guise of Brunello that’s ready to drink now and through 2028. Available in Ontario, various prices in Alberta, $74 in New Brunswick, $63.23 in Nova Scotia, $71.39 in Prince Edward Island. The more serious and structured 2013 vintage is $73.99 in British Columbia.

Bodegas Lan Crianza 2016 (Spain)

Rating:90 /100

PRICE: $16.95

This modern-style red from Rioja is a terrific example of the bright fruity character of the tempranillo grape. It’s refreshing and flavourful, with nicely balanced juicy-fruit flavours and appealing oak-spice notes that make this a go-to for summer barbecues. Drink now. Available in Ontario and Quebec at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $21.99 in New Brunswick, $19.99 in Nova Scotia.

Cave de Tain Esprit de Granit Saint-Joseph 2015 (France)

Rating:92 /100

PRICE: $49

This savoury and enjoyable red is made from 100-per-cent syrah grown on terraced vineyards on hillsides in the northern Rhône. It’s richly concentrated, with ripe dark-fruit and spice notes and a nice refreshing finish. All in all, this is a textbook example of cool-climate syrah. Drink now to 2028. Vegan-friendly. Available in Ontario, part of the LCBO Classics Collection May release. Order direct through

CheckMate Artisanal Winery Fool’s Mate Chardonnay 2016 (Canada)

Rating:93 /100

PRICE: $80

Winemaker Phil McGahan worked at Williams Selyem in Sonoma County prior to coming to launch this ambitious chardonnay- and merlot-focused project in the Okanagan Valley. Right from the start, the wines have been as attention-grabbing as their prices, with Fool’s Mate being one of the more affordably priced releases. A blend of chardonnay grown at five different vineyards throughout the southern Okanagan, this shows an impressively rich and rewarding character that’s intense, flavourful and age-worthy. Drink now to 2025. Available direct through

Liquidity Chardonnay Estate 2018 (Canada)

Rating:89 /100

PRICE: $29

Based in Okanagan Falls, Liquidity is the newest addition to Anthony von Mandl’s ambitious Iconic Wineries of British Columbia, joining the likes of CedarCreek and Road 13. Chardonnay has always been a strong suit for the estate and winemaker Alison Moyes, and this attractive model conveys the crowd-pleasing house style. The mix of orchard- and tropical-fruit flavours are nicely accented by vanilla and nutty notes. Drink now. Available direct through

Nicolas Feuillatte Collection Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne 2012 (France)

Rating:91 /100

PRICE: $59.95

Made in a rich and crowd-pleasing style, this Blanc de Blancs offers serious toasty and nutty aromas and flavours, with peach and citrus notes adding fruit and freshness. This is more mellow than most 100-per-cent chardonnay-based sparkling wines, which typically are crisp, elegant and steely, making it a winning style to enjoy on its own or with a meal. Drink now to 2025. Available in Ontario at the above price, $57 in Quebec.

Upper Bench Estate Winery Altitude 2015 (Canada)

Rating:91 /100

PRICE: $40

Mostly merlot with 25-per-cent cabernet sauvignon grown in the Okanagan Valley, Altitude is an excellent new addition to the Upper Bench portfolio. This is a sophisticated, dry red wine that’s just starting to show its potential. Marked by firm structure, attractive dark-fruit flavours and serious complexity in the form of fragrant cinnamon and mocha notes, this is harmonious and succulent. Drink now to 2028. Available direct through

Winemaker’s Cut Syrah 2018 (Canada)

Rating:90 /100

PRICE: $34

This expressive and enjoyable red blends syrah grapes from two locations in the Okanagan to contribute the heady mix of flavours, ranging from dark-fruit, spice and smoked-meat notes. The wines are aged in a mix of American, French and Slovakian oak barrels to build complexity and structure. Classical music is played to the vines in the estate vineyards and the barrels in the cellar to stimulate growth and promote harmony in the finished wine. It’s a decidedly unconventional approach but might help to explain the smooth texture and warm, refreshing finish that adds to the appeal of this syrah. Drink now to 2026. Available direct through

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