While nothing is certain in these uncertain times, comfortingly familiar wines like Chianti and pinot grigio come close. Weeks into our sheltered existence, priorities have shifted.
Champagne sales around the world have plummeted. Wine sales continue to boom, but the focus has moved to value-for-money selections like never before. While there’s always been steady interest in decent, well-priced bottles, they’re increasingly the sole focus for cooped-up wine lovers across Canada.
European markets have long been familiar with table wines – simple, affordable and unassuming wines that refresh your palate between bites. But one person’s house wine is another (much more opinionated) person’s plonk.
In my tasting notes, I tend to categorize thirst-quenching styles as bistro wines or sometimes just write “pizza, pasta, burger wine” as a note to self.
These are typically wines with refreshing fruit flavours, which typically means higher acidity for all colours and styles, and red wines with lower tannin levels. They’re also wines that you don’t have to think about too deeply, which can pair with anything from a pizza to a slab of grilled steak or tuna.
Inexpensive Beaujolais, grenache-based wines from Southern France as well as Chianti and a vast assortment of bargain-priced reds from all across Italy are classic examples. A host of red wines from Portugal and many popular South African cheap and cheerful brands also rank.
The more serious structure and character of cabernet and merlot usually rules them out, although more affordable selections from California, Chile or Australia can fit the bill. Many robust and flavourful wines don’t fit the type either. Food-friendly red wines typically need a co-star to be a top performer. They’re often not the sort of wine you’d enjoy as a solo sipper.
Refreshing white wines are easier to cast as an everyday house wine. Vibrant and mouthwatering styles of sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio and drier rieslings can add a lift to a meal, with a clean sweep of acidity on the finish that freshens your palate between bites.
I’ve recommended an assortment of bottles, with a range of prices, that fit the pizza, pasta, burger wine bill this week. If they’re unavailable, keep your eyes open for similar styles. There’s no shortage of well-made selections that fit the bistro type. These are also usually the styles of wine on offer from restaurants selling wine, where available, with take-out or delivery orders. If the price is decent, it’s a great way to support businesses that are struggling to cope.
Bodega Argento Comuna No. 3 Chardonnay Pinot Grigio 2019 (Argentina)
Established in 1998, the Argento winery has long been a source of well-made and enjoyable wines from Mendoza, which makes the launch of a new value-priced label even more attractive. Named for the two neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires considered to be the birthplace of tango, Comuna No. 3 is range of varietally labelled wines and blends, like this dry and flavourful blend of chardonnay and pinot grigio that offers tropical and peachy flavours. The straight pinot grigio, which is available in Alberta and Nova Scotia, is also worth a look. Drink now. Available in Ontario.
Bollini Pinot Grigio Trentino 2018 (Italy)
Located on the southern slope of the Alps in northern Italy, Trentino Alto Adige is rightly considered the country’s best region to produce pinot grigio. The cooler foothills allow the grapes to develop richness and flavour you won’t find in warmer areas. This expressive white wine offers classic pear and apple aromas and flavours, with some floral and spice notes and the slippery smooth texture common to Bollini’s style. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Castano Monastrell Tinto 2018 (Spain)
Now in its fourth generation, Bodegas Castano has a winning formula that combines tradition and innovation to make a star out of the unsung monastrell (known as mourvèdre most everywhere outside of Spain and mataro in Australia) grape variety and the remote Yecla region. The family owns 400 hectacres of land, including a treasure trove of old vineyards, which provide the raw materials for a range of affordable and compelling red wines. This offers a mix of lovely, ripe and juicy red fruit flavours that gain complexity from some savoury and meaty notes. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, $12.49 in British Columbia, $13.99 in Manitoba and $12.90 in Quebec.
Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2017 (Italy)
Always one to watch, Le Volte shows more concentration and stuffing from the hot and dry 2017 vintage. Still bright, savoury and floral, the classic style of Tuscan red wines, the new vintage offers more intensity and a riper core of fruit than usual. A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sangiovese, this is ready to drink or hold. It showed better on the second day, so decanting is suggested for best enjoyment. Available in Ontario at the above price, $32.99 in British Columbia ($29.99 until May 2), $32.99 in Alberta and $25.60 in Quebec.
Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve White Meritage 2019 (Canada)
This exciting new release from Mission Hill in the Okanagan Valley is fresh and flavourful, with the waxy richness of semillon and zesty intensity of sauvignon blanc in full effect. Fruit from estate vineyards in Oliver and Osoyoos was blended to produce a bright and balanced white that is drinking now and will develop nicely over the next few years. Great to see sauvignon blanc and blends continue to climb in quality level and sophistication at Mission Hill. Available direct through missionhillwinery.com.
Monte Antico 2015 (Italy)
A lighter and refreshing blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, this Tuscan red is best enjoyed with a meal. It’s a dry red with vibrant acidity, tart red fruit flavours and earthy accents. The acidity from a tomato-based sauce, salt, say from pecorino or Parmesan cheese, or proteins from meat will bring out the best in this bottle. Available in Ontario at the above price, $16.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $15.90 in Quebec, $19.95 in New Brunswick.
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