It's entertaining season. I'm sure your pepper-crusted ahi tuna canapés, Martha-worthy decorations and sparkling personality will make the evening a success. But you can probably do better. You can choose wines that aren't – how can I put this? – dull and predictable.
If you're not sure what I mean by "boring" in this context, think of it as the English word for pinot grigio, or as a synonym for your $10 Argentine malbec house wine.
Consider something more interesting or offbeat. If you can, spend a wee bit extra. And don't forget to start with something sparkling. To match your personality.
Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut, British Columbia
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $30.95
A blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris, with a very faint and attractive coppery tint (though you could consider it technically white). Bone-dry. Well-chiseled. Bright and energetic. With lemon, strawberry and peach flavours on a delicate frame, closing with a hint of minerality. Elegant and serious B.C. bubbles. Available in the West at $27.90 and in Ontario at the above price.
Flat Rock Cellars Riddled Sparkling 2010, Ontario
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $34.95
Medium-weight and actively frothy, with a considerably sweet core of apple, orange, honey and lemon pastry. It finishes dry, though, with bright lime giving the orange a zesty assist.
Giusti Brut Asolo Prosecco Superiore, Italy
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $18.95
Elegantly soft effervescence – not the runaway froth of some proseccos. It's also relatively dry, with flavours of peach, apple and citrus enlivened by a snappy tang on the finish. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Kim Crawford Small Parcels Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc 2017, New Zealand
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $24.95
Kim Crawford – you've heard of it. The New Zealand brand stars in billboards and on the sides of many big-city buses. The woman who sells me eye glasses is nuts for it. But let's be clear: This relatively small production Spitfire bottling is a step above the brand's flagship sauvignon blanc. The nose is punchy, veering strongly toward the flinty, grassy side of things. On the palate, the 2017, from a wet and cool season, tastes relatively lean, with a silky and simultaneously tangy feel and delicate notes of grapefruit and gunmetal (hey, it's a "Spitfire," after all). Tight, bright, heady sauvignon blanc. Great shellfish wine. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $25.99 in Manitoba, $27.80 in Nova Scotia, $30.51 in Newfoundland.
Haywire Secrest Mountain Chardonnay 2016, British Columbia
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $24.90
A different sort of chardonnay, this is hard to classify. Though you could certainly file it under S for "superb." It's unoaked, yet the texture is something to behold, creamy, silky and slippery, no doubt owing much to the fact the wine was fermented with native yeast and both fermented and matured in large, egg-shaped concrete tanks rather than steel. Pure, fresh orchard fruit flavours of pear, yellow apple and lemon are offered free of sweetness, with no oaky-toasty spice or vanilla. Well-integrated acidity provides a clean finish. Complex and – here's an odd word that occurred to me – nourishing. In a league of its own. Available direct, okanagancrushpad.com.
Fontaine de Clos Confidences 2014, France
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $17.95
Full-bodied, with a ripe, succulent core of plums and blackberry jam infused with licorice and black pepper. Terrific red Côtes du Rhône that drinks like a higher-priced Gigondas or, let's be frank, many Châteauneuf-du-Papes. Available in Ontario.
Jean-Luc Colombo Les Collines de Laure 2015, France
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.95
Great producer from the Rhône Valley. And, yes, this is a terrific white wine from the Rhône, a region is mainly known for reds. Specifically, it's made from the rolle grape (a.k.a. the Italian grape vermentino) along with viognier and sauvignon blanc. Medium-bodied, it's oily, with flavours of spiced pear, peach, baked apple, apricot and honey. Ripe and chewy. An enticing change of pace (are you listening, oaky-chardonnay lovers?). Available in Ontario.
Sacred Hill Marlborough Pinot Noir 2014, New Zealand
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
Medium-bodied and jammy, yet satisfyingly dry on the finish, with a dusty grip. Raspberry, blackberry, dark chocolate, baking spices and earth. A compelling, ripe pinot noir from New Zealand's sauvignon blanc capital of Marlborough, more warmly generous than most from Central Otago to the south. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico 2013, Italy
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $21.95
From a fine growing year in Tuscany, this medium-bodied red shows good ripeness and midpalate weight as well as freshness and elegance. Fresh cherry, dried cherry, light spice, a whiff of new shoes a salty, nervy quality. Worth cellaring for up to five more years. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta., $21.70 in Quebec.
Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2015, British Columbia
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $24.99
Rich, jammy and delectably sticky in texture, with raspberry fruit, spicy oak and toasty-tangy cedar characters. Available direct, www.fortberens.ca.
Domaine Autrand Côtes du Rhône 2015, France
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $13.95
Full and relatively smooth, though with a lively acid lift on the finish. Ripe plum, tobacco and forest floor. Solid red value from the Rhône. Available in Ontario.
Allegrini Di Fumane Veneto Rosso 2015, Italy
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $15.95
Smooth, full-bodied reds – the world can't get enough. This one's "smooth" with three o's (but my editor and Microsoft Word wouldn't let me get away with that spelling). Full-bodied but not tediously heavy, it comes across with cherry jam and a whisper of chocolate. Matured for just six months in large, neutral Slavonian-oak casks (and thus virtually unoaked), it's a crowd-pleaser and comes in an impressively heavy bottle with handsome label, the sort of packaging normally reserved for $30-plus wines. Newly and widely available in Ontario, $15.50 in Quebec.
Château Fongaban 2014, France
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $16.95
We don't see too many organic wines from Bordeaux. This one has two other attractive features going for it: It's very reasonably priced and well made. Medium-full-bodied and dry, it's a supple blend of 90-per-cent merlot with 10-per-cent cabernet franc, suggesting flavours of cassis, strawberry, lively spice and vanilla. Harmonious, structured and deftly oaked. Drink it within the next three years. Available in Ontario.