Have you gone back to basics for January? Holiday exuberance can be costly. Like me, you probably spent more on drink than expected in December. That little guy on your shoulder is talking now, trying to march you out of the Burgundy aisle into the malbec section. Belt-tightening time.
Problem is, it's hard. The fine bottles you may have enjoyed recently raised the bar. Simple wines that satisfied in November can fizzle in January. It's all relative. The same phenomenon lies behind a cardinal rule of wine service: humble before great. If you start a meal with Grand Cru, it's all downhill from there. The palate takes time to readjust.
I prefer to ease back to cold reality so the shock isn't so severe – at least until the Visa bill arrives and the hard truth of holiday excess hits like a Jagermeister hangover.
The wines below are not cheap, but I think they represent good value (take that, little shoulder guy) for their categories. Most are released today at Vintages stores in Ontario.
Domaine Machard de Gramont Pommard Clos Blanc 1er Cru 2008 (France)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $43.95
Here's a medium-bodied pinot noir that delivers impressive fruit concentration without departing from the classically elegant, Burgundian style.
Pure berry flavours are joined by herbs, spice and minerals, while solid acidity and finegrained tannins provide satisfying structure. It would excel with pan-seared duck breast and could improve with two to four years in the cellar.
Domaine du Grand Montmirail Vacqueyras 2009 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $24.95
A big red based on Grenache and syrah, it's packed with dark-skinned fruit, herbal flavour and a seductively earthy quality. Sticky, astringent tannins and balancing acidity play on the long finish with just the right amount of warmth from 14-per cent alcohol. Great for hearty red-meat stews.
Domaine de l'Arnesque Cuvée Capalane Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $39.95
A smooth texture carries hints of sweet candied fruit, coffee, herbs and mineral wrapped in a fine film of tannins. It should cellar well for five to eight years or pair nicely now with braised red meats.
Summerhill Pyramid Cipes Rose Pinot Noir (British Columbia)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $29.95 in B.C.
If you didn't get your fill of sparkling wine during the holidays, this is an elegant way to extend the festive season. Cherry pink in colour, it's well-rounded, more in the "extra dry" bubbly style than bone-dry brut, with fine effervescence, a strawberry-like core and herbal and stone-like mineral notes. A gold-medal winner at the 2011 Pinot Noir Summit in San Francisco.
Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc The Fume 2009 (California)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $18.95
Medium-bodied and fleshy for a sauvignon blanc, this excellent white oozes ripe peach, orange marmalade and melon flavours on a smooth texture, with a hint of smoke on the long finish. Try it with seared scallops.
Uggiano Prestige Chianti 2009 (Italy)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.95
A Chianti bargain, this medium-bodied red delivers pure cherry-strawberry and floral notes with an earthy backbone and modestly tannic grip. Try it with grilled meats or eggplant parmesan.
Château Lamargue Cuvée Aegidiane 2009 (France)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $18.40 in Quebec
A red blend of 80-per-cent syrah and 20-per-cent grenache from the Costieres de Nimes, it's full-bodied and leathery in texture, with dark fruit, vanilla and light spice. Try it with red game meats or stews. Available only in Quebec.
Jean Perrier & Fils Cuvée Réservée Roussette de Savoie 2009 (France)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.95
Medium-bodied and silky, this offbeat white based on the littleknown roussette grape offers up notes of brown butter, apple, nuts and honey along with a refreshingly bitter kick on the finish. Chicken in cream sauce or shellfish seared in butter would pair nicely.
Duca di Castelmonte Baglio Kelbi Inzolia 2010 (Italy)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $14.95
Sometimes spelled insolia and alternatively called ansonica in Tuscany, the white grape is a trademark of western Sicily, where it also is used for fortified Marsala. As a dry wine, it's usually fresh and sometimes nutty. Here it's medium-bodied and floral, with notes of plum and lemon and lively acidity. Try it with light fish or shellfish dishes sautéed in oil.