Anthony Gismondi: A dozen top-value wine picks to kick off the new year

Anthony Gismondi offers tips on how you can be a smarter wine buyer in 2021 and 2022 and force the sellers to pay attention to your wants and needs

This past year has been a roller-coaster ride for consumers and producers across B.C. thanks to COVID-19. Many have fought for changes to help the local industry, be it producers, distributors, retailers or restaurants, but a glance at wine prices would suggest the burden of paying the freight remains with consumers.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about several changes to our archaic liquor laws, including allowing restaurants to sell wine to takeout customers and having them delivered by third party delivery services. It may be life-saving for restaurants, but make no mistake, it is consumers who are again being asked to pay more for their wine. Simultaneously, provincial and federal governments pocket more tax by collecting the 10 per cent PST and five per cent GST tax on a significantly higher restaurant price compared to already inflated retail prices in monopoly stores. It’s just another example of why tinkering with regulations founded 100 years ago only makes the mess messier.

There is only one solution — be a smarter wine buyer in 2021 and 2022 and force the sellers to pay attention to your wants and needs, and we can help with that. Today we unearth a dozen top value picks to kick off the new year to share with you, although unfortunately, they are not the tip of the iceberg. Bargain wines you can drink (there is lots of junk out there) have become increasingly hard to find in B.C., and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. You can use this list as a baseline for quality and price, although the latter is usually due to discounting or in-store sales.

Michel Chapoutier is one of the biggest names in the Rhone and he is gifting you two wines: M. Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge and M. Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc, both selling for $17.99. The red is a Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan blend, the white is a mix of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Macabeu. Buy them both you won’t be disappointed.

From Argentina, the Susana Balbo Crios Malbec ($15.97) offers all you could want in a ready to drink red that works with beef tacos, most grilled beef recipes, cheese and even chocolate.

An odd-couple white pairing could be the Monograph by Gaia Assyrtiko ($17.99) from Greece. It is a super fresh, sea salt and a mineral affair that should be a hit with seafood lovers and vegetarians.

Portugal is a good place to look for value. Look for Planalto Vinho Branca ($11.99), a blend of indigenous white grapes that is a perfect match with takeout barbecue chicken. A bargain red pick would be the Pedra Cancela Dão Selecção do Enólogo ($17.99), a mix of Touriga Nacional, Alfrochiero, and Tinta Roriz full of floral, wild cherry fruit best with hamburgers, beef stir-fries and or meatballs.

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Italian reds can be comforting and, in some areas, affordable. A favourite pizza will work with the Fontella Chianti ($14.99), a, soft Tuscan red that delivers authenticity for the price or the slightly richer Luccarelli Negroamaro ($15.99) and its ripe, earthy, Puglian plummy fruit. Bolognese anyone?

Australia has quietly been making strides in reorganizing its vineyards and grapes to prepare for the future. We like the Yalumba Organic Shiraz at $16.99 and its smoky, peppery, fruity flavours. South Africa thrives under $20 in B.C., but one of the best is the Spier Chenin Blanc Signature Collection ($13.99), a slightly skinnier, fresher style of Chenin Blanc that is less weighty and oily. Seafood works here, vegan dishes and a lot of greasy takeout — crazy value.

Finally, from B.C., where wines under $20 are super scarce, we recommend the Gehringer Riesling listed at $13.99, which might be the same price it sold for when it first came to market in 1985. Our red pick, even harder to find at this price point, is Church and State Lost Inhibitions Red ($17.99), a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot.

Pandemic or no pandemic wine prices are heavily stacked in everyone’s favour except yours, so stay sharp and get educated as much as you can, and if you are too busy, just leave it to us.

Weekend wine picks

José Maria da Fonseca Albis 2019, Setúbal Peninsula, Portugal

$9.99 I 87/100

UPC: 600470120002

Albis is produced and bottled in the Setúbal Peninsula, the source of the muscatel de Setúbal and Arinto varieties. Its barely off-dry floral notes, ripe pear and peach fruit, entice while the juicy, savoury minerality lights up a bright finish. Serve well chilled with raw seafood or vegetarian dishes and enjoy its simplicity.

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CedarCreek Pinot Gris 2019, British Columbia, Canada

$18.99 I 87/100

UPC: 778913023095

Look for a bright, fruity mix of grapes grown in the south and north Okanagan Valley. There is an evident touch of sweetness early on in the palate of ripe melon, pear, and red apple with a full measure of acidity and spice to balance out the finish. Simple, clean, and ready to drink and $2 off.

Front Row Shiraz/Mourvedre/Viognier 2018, Swartland, Coastal Region, South Africa

$9.99 I 86/100

UPC: 6009804300402

Front Row is a mix of shiraz, mourvèdre, and Viognier from Swartland. The fruit is purchased on long-term contracts to create a value-for-money blend. The style is light and fresh, with peppery, meaty mocha flavours and a touch of salt in the finish — a simple, straightforward red wine currently on sale at a great price.

Escorihuela 1884 Estate Grown Malbec 2018, Mendoza, Argentina

$17.99 I 87/100

UPC: 722358070008

Yields were back to normal in 2018, a year described as a classic for Mendoza with juicy, dark fruit and slippery tannins. 1884 is a much better proposition in 2018, offering up strong floral, savoury scents with ripe blackberry and smooth, chocolate, coffee, oaky notes that fit the bill at this price point. Serve up some sausages or burgers and crack a bottle or two and enjoy the evening.

Kaiken Selección Especial Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Mendoza, Argentina

$15.99 I 88/100

UPC: 715126555005

Kaiken has always been a good idea; having the Montes family of Chile working in Argentina is a very sustainable way to tell the land’s story.  After all these years, we finally see the results, especially as they filter down to the entry-level wines.  The fruit is pure and highly expressive, pitching fresh blackberry and blackcurrants from front to back. Add some savoury spicing, and for the price, it’s hard to beat. Think grilled beef as the Argentines do, and you will have a solid experience. Ready to drink, and the price is terrific.

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Chef Justin Cheung of Potluck Hawker Eatery's Hainanese chicken rice. PR Handout/Darren Chuang
Chef Justin Cheung of Potluck Hawker Eatery’s Hainanese chicken rice. PHOTO BY HANDOUT /Darren Chuang

Recipe match: Hainanese chicken rice

Chef Justin Cheung of the Potluck Hawker Eatery says this chicken dish is the “ultimate comfort food for any given day” for his family. The dish celebrates prime poultry. As Cheung put it, it’s a“deliciously simple and humble dish.”

Hainanese chicken rice

2-3 chicken legs with thigh attached (bone-in)

Kosher salt

Sesame oil

8-12 cups (2-3 L) of chicken stock (homemade, canned or water with bouillon will do)

Pandan leaves, optional

1 tbsp (15 mL) minced ginger  

2 stalks of green onion, finely sliced  

1/2 shallot, diced  

1 tsp (5 mL) minced ginger 

1 clove garlic, minced

Vegetable oil

1 1/2 cup (about 350 mL) jasmine rice

Cucumber, sliced

Salt chicken legs generously, about 2 teaspoon per piece. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate overnight until ready to poach.

Reserve 500mL of chicken broth for the rice. Bring remaining chicken broth to a boil. You may add some aromatics if you have such as garlic, shallot, coriander, lemon grass and ginger. Gently lower the chicken and return to a simmer. If chicken isn’t fully submerged, add some water and return to a simmer. Take off the heat and cover for 45 minutes. The chicken will continue to cook with residual heat.

Wash 360 mL of jasmine rice. Drain in a sieve and reserve. Add one teaspoon of oil to a small pot. Add chicken skin and render fat on medium heat. Add aromatics and continue to fry for another minute.

Add the jasmine rice to the pot and cook together for one minute on medium heat, stirring frequently and making sure the rice doesn’t stick the bottom of the pot. Add the chicken broth, bring to a simmer and cover slightly leaving the lid ajar. Continue to cook on a medium heat. Add half-a-tablespoon of salt, and stir after five minutes.

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Continue to stir the rice every few minutes until the rice has absorbed 75 per cent of the liquid. Turn the heat to low, add 2 knots of pandan leaves and cover with lid. After 12 minutes, take off the heat. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Fluff rice with chopsticks and keep lid on to keep warm until ready to serve.

For the green onion ginger condiment, heat 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a small pot. When oil is hot, carefully add green onion, ginger and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir and remove from heat. Reserve.

After 45 minutes of poaching, gently move chicken into cold water. If you have some ice cubes, you may use it to chill chicken faster. This will allow the gelatin to form beneath the skin of the chicken and allow the skin to tighten up. Change the water to make sure it stays cold. Let sit for up to 10 minutes.

Take chicken out of its cooling liquid. Let the chicken pieces rest for an additional 5 minutes. Massage a teaspoon of sesame oil on each piece.

Skim the broth of its fat, and season gently with salt to taste. If you’re able to find winter melon, add to the soup and braise for a few minutes until soft. Debone or serve on the bone with chicken rice, green onion ginger condiment, your favourite chili sauce, a few pieces of cucumbers and a side of chicken broth. Season as you like with salt and white pepper.

Recipe match

Hainanese chicken rice, a classic from Singapore, is all about the chili sauce, ginger and soy. We like new world Pinot Noir for the match.

Fern Walk Pinot Noir 2019, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $18.99

Earthy, light strawberry Pinot with fairly prominent acidity makes it a perfect foil to this fatty aromatic dish.

Spearhead Pinot Noir Cuvée 2018, East Kelowna, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada $40

Blueberries, blackberry and lively juicy red and blue fruit should be suited to complementing this classic rush.

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